Friday, February 6, 2009

Joy coming home to roost...

I've spent, in my role as Joy of Sex spokeswoman, the last six months talking about sex - to journalists, TV presenters, radio hosts. And the one thing they always ask me is how things have changed since the book was first published 37 years ago. Typically I list the scientific changes, the rise of the Internet... and eventually come round to the fact that in 1972 there was an atmosphere - how can I put this - of naive optimism.

The orignal book reflected those times, those heady, postpill, sexual-revolution times when (to paraphrase Alex Comfort) a sexually transmitted infection was seen as slightly less problematic than a dose of flue, and infidelity was seen as par for the course.We look back now and wince...

And wincing is very much on the menu this week as reports come through of a sharp rise in sexual cancers in the wake of said revolution. The study, from King's College London, points out that the rate of cancers triggered by the HPV virus have rocketted since the Swinging Sixties and Seventies. And we all know why.

I was there - and contrary to the cliche, I remember it! Thank heaven I was informed and sensible enough to keep my sexual contacts safe and loving - but that wasn't the norm. We genuinely thought that if we were on the pill we were safe from all harm - and that meant we could play without protection. And it is deeply sad that we are now paying the price for our ignorance.

But let's remember that it was ignorance - and let's steer clear of the moralising about those times that is already appearing in the popular press. Please don't blame us. We weren't evil, we weren't immoral, we didnt' set out to have orgies. We were young and hormonally fuelled - and most importantly we just didn't know how dangerous it could be to have sex.

Now society knows, and is much more wary (though interestingly of course, it is this very generation that still doesn't quite realise that they are in danger - the 40+ cohort is currently the one where STI rates are rising highest.) And that in itself is sad.

Because, for all the illness, all the abuse, all the unhappiness that unconsidered sex can cause. we still need to remember that - safely and happily done - sex is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!

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