Before I write another word, I should caution that I will be straying a long way from my habitual territory this week to touch upon matters sexual.
Those who prefer more salubrious reading material at the breakfast table should turn the page now. As for any who choose to stick with me, well, don’t say you haven’t been warned.
I blame Jess Phillips MP (of whom more in a moment). Anyway, here goes.
Getting on for 50 years ago, as a smutty-minded schoolboy of 17, I sent a newspaper cutting to the satirical magazine, Private Eye, in the hope of being paid for having spotted it.
Labour MP Jess Phillips has said that girls should be taught about orgasms during sex education lessons at school
At the time, I thought it one of the funniest things anyone could hope to read — and I blush to realise that, to this day, I remember it word for word.
The year was 1971 and controversy was raging in the media over an explicit sex education film, Growing Up, made for use in schools by a so-called sexologist, Dr Martin Cole. Traditionalists who believed the sexual revolution of the Sixties had already gone too far were up in arms.
They included the formidable clean-up TV campaigner Mary Whitehouse and her co-founders of the Nationwide Festival Of Light anti-pornography pressure group, Lord Longford and the journalist Malcolm Muggeridge. How we mocked them, we sophisticated metropolitan schoolboys who thought we knew it all.
The then-Education Secretary, an obscure politician called Margaret Thatcher, told the Commons she was ‘very perturbed’ at the thought of the film being shown in schools and advised local education authorities to consider it ‘with extreme caution’.
Cue a newspaper report of a lecture given by Dr Cole to schoolchildren, during which his film was screened.
The account contained the following lines, which struck the teenaged me as hilarious: ‘A 15-year-old girl said she found Dr Cole’s lecture very interesting, but the only thing in it that she hadn’t heard about before was masturbation. About 50 members of the Festival Of Light anti-pornography league demonstrated outside the hall.’
Women’s expectations ‘should be greater’, said Mrs Phillips, a 37-year-old mother of two. They should start ‘demanding more’ during sex
For reasons that mystified me, Private Eye chose not to print my contribution. Had the editor failed to pick up the double entendre in the word ‘demonstrated’? Or did he just think it too unfunny, or too tasteless, to defile the pages of his magazine?
Anyway, I was reminded this week of my puerile failed attempt to earn a fiver from Private Eye when I read Labour MP Mrs Phillips’s demand that girls should be taught about orgasms during sex education lessons at school.
Her remarks were apparently prompted by a Kinsey Institute study, which found that only 65 per cent of heterosexual women ‘usually or always’ climax during sex, compared with 95 per cent of men.Here was yet more evidence of cruel sexual inequality, suffered by women in our wickedly patriarchal society.
Women’s expectations ‘should be greater’, declared Mrs Phillips, a 37-year-old mother of two, who will be familiar to viewers of the BBC’s Have I Got News For You. They should start ‘demanding more’ during sex.
‘I’m not suggesting we teach children how to masturbate,’ she said. ‘I’m suggesting we talk to them about the things they’re doing anyway.’
I’m not entirely sure what she meant by that, or quite what form she thought these orgasm lessons should take. But it was clear that her intention was to open up a new battlefront in the feminist war for equality with members of my sex.
I pictured mass rallies in Parliament Square, thronged with protesters holding placards demanding ‘A Woman’s Right To Sexual Fulfilment’. Before long, the Government would be cowed into action, perhaps sending inspectors into the nation’s bedrooms to advise us on where we’ve been going wrong.
After all, to a Labour MP there is no inequality too intractable to be remedied by state intervention — and no human activity too private to be shielded from Big Brother’s all-seeing eyes.
Two thoughts immediately sprang to my mind. The first was that, these days, Mrs Phillips would be hard pushed to find a 15-year-old, of either sex, who had never heard of masturbation. Heaven knows, there were few enough around even in 1971, before Dr Cole and his followers made it their eccentric mission to tell girls and boys all about it.
Though I may be wrong, I suspect a substantial majority of today’s teenagers have seen it demonstrated (if I may use that word again) in all-too-graphic detail on the internet. Their generation must be the best informed in history on what we might call the mechanics of sex.
Tom Utley suspects that a substantial majority of today’s teenagers might be the best informed in history on what we might call the mechanics of sex – thanks to the internet
My second thought was that if lessons were really needed on how heterosexual women could achieve satisfaction, they would surely be better directed at boys than at girls. I cannot stress too strongly that I claim no expertise in this area. But if I had to guess, I would suggest that all this aggressive hammering away on the internet, accompanied by yelps of ecstasy, might be misleading to the young lads of today. They might find a little tenderness would sometimes be more appreciated.
Indeed, as feminists now admit, Mrs Whitehouse and Co had it right when they argued that pornography and the modern world’s obsession with sex do a grave disservice to women.
But then what do I know? Born in 1953, I missed out on the sort of lessons pioneered by Dr Cole, with all the visual and audio aids schools now use to help pupils understand the process of human reproduction and associated matters.
Indeed, my entire formal sex education was confined to the five-minute ‘Leavers’ Talk’, delivered to a group of a dozen 13-year-olds by an acutely embarrassed headmaster at my prep school.
The awful thing was that we all knew exactly what he was going to say, because the Leavers’ Talk had been gleefully mimicked in the dorm by generations who had gone before us — complete with the nervous tics the poor man had suffered since his days as a prisoner of the Japanese during the war.
As he gave the talk, you could tell he would marginally have preferred to be back in that POW camp.
‘I am not going to tell you the facts of life, because you all know them already,’ he began, as we tried desperately not to catch each other’s eyes, for fear of bursting into uncontrollable sniggers.
No, he just wanted to warn us about a ‘dreadful crime’ we might encounter at our public schools.
We had probably noticed, he said, that when there was a bitch on heat in the neighbourhood, the local dogs became so confused that they sometimes attempted to mate with each other. So we should all watch out if any older boys tried to become over-friendly with us. He left the rest to our imagination.
And that was that — the beginning and end of my formal sex education.
Indeed, I can’t remember where, when or how I learned the facts of life. My parents certainly didn’t pass them on to me, and I’ve often thanked God that our four boys never asked me how babies were made (I was going to tell them, gently but firmly: ‘Ask your mother’).
But the boys’ very existence suggests I must have picked up the basics somewhere along the line — from a whispered word behind the school pavilion, perhaps, or a well-thumbed page in Encyclopedia Britannica. Like generations before me, I knew how it was done from a very early age without needing official guidance.
As for Mrs Phillips’s demand for orgasm lessons, I fear this is one battle for equality between the sexes she may never win. I just pity the poor teachers she expects to pass on the mysteries of sexual fulfilment to classes full of giggling girls.