I was 12 when I discovered sex was a taboo subject. And now, 50 years later, it once again feels like the provocative act that dares not speak its name.
I blame Marc Bolan.
Back in 1971 I was staring at the cover of his album Electric Warrior when I noticed a new word.
There among the credits was the acknowledgement: “Conception – June Child”.
As an inquisitive kid I was always running to Mum asking what things meant. But this time she looked startled when I asked her what conception was.
She choked and ran into the kitchen, shouting: “Ask your father.”
When she subsequently heard me playing a song of Marc’s that mentioned breasts, she put a lock on my bedroom door and called Aunty Cathy for a family crisis meeting.
Incidentally it all turned out to be a storm in a D cup anyway.
June Child was actually Marc Bolan’s wife, and the conception in this case was more artistic than reproductive.
But this policy of denial would add up to the sum total of sex education from my parents.
Dirty mags and soft porn films – sex education 1970s style
Thankfully adolescent explorations would soon encompass undercover readings of Oscar Wilde, DH Lawrence and Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch after lights out.
Less cerebrally, me and my friend Ewan would borrow copies of Forum magazine during our Saturday jobs at the newsagent in Dundee bus station and read the bawdy letters during our tea breaks.
Sex then was something other people did, a club you were just aching to join.
My biggest sexual triumph of 1974 was successfully bunking in to see the top grossing film of the year, the soft porn Confessions of a Window Cleaner at the Odeon.
I was under-age, spotty and gauche, so the cashier must have felt sorry for me.
Seeing this tawdry romp became a calling card of adolescent achievement though.
It was the first time many of us 70s kids had seen moving naked bodies which weren’t our own.
No wonder sexuality is a myriad jewel. And no wonder Britain was – and remains – so repressed sexually.
Sex or stairlifts – don’t make me choose
Fast forward 50 years and the idea of talking about sex still feels taboo to me.
But for different reasons.
There seems to be consensus that sex actually wasn’t invented until 1990. And as such we old timers simply shouldn’t be having it.
Or if we are having it, we certainly shouldn’t be enjoying it, or talking about it.
But the fact is – for every person over 60 who claims to have lost interest in sex there are many others who are at it like rabbits.
I know because I’m one of them.
As a rampant Joe Orton once said to the unhappily celibate Kenneth Williams: “You must do whatever you like as long as you enjoy it and don’t hurt anybody else.
“Enjoy sex. When you’re dead you’ll regret not having fun with your genital organs”.
I’m all for that, especially right now when there are plenty who want to impose their reactionary, bigoted Victorian values on our society.
19th April 1978. Carry On Emmanuelle. pic.twitter.com/Y4HOXm32QQ
— Kenneth Williams (@DiariesKenneth) April 19, 2022
There is so much that happens to you when you get to 60.
And if it doesn’t involve false teeth, a hearing aid and support hose then you’re meant to count yourself lucky.
Sixty is officially regarded as old.
Even the most dazzling autumn must make way for winter.
This is when you’re meant to start looking at elasticated waist trousers and thinking: “Ooh, they look comfy.”
This is when you secretly look at pictures of stairlifts and wonder if they’re hugely disruptive to install.
And this is the age when you’re supposed to aim for 10,000 faltering steps every day in order to keep your heart beating on that inexorable path to a grateful retreat from the world.
In many, many ways this is the age when you become invisible.
Let’s talk about sex and silence the shame
This will be especially apparent to anyone who is over 60 and single and reading this.
And as usual women and LGBTQ people have known it for years.
Which is why so much of the fight back against ageism has come from them.
But at 60, one of the main things that happens is that you stop giving a damn what strangers think about your behaviour.
And that brings with it a very real sense of liberation.
It’s not that different to being 16 really, but with more nasal hair.
That’s why I think it’s crucial to be open with others – and to live your life joyfully and with confidence.
At 62 I don’t want to live in a world of OAP concessions, much as I love my free bus pass.
I want to live in a world of celebration and admitting to loving sex post-60 is a big part of that.
Only by being open about desire can we hope to dispel those preconceptions that stand in the way of us living a life free from shame and regret.
As the song goes – let’s talk about sex.