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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sex and Death

Back in the sixties when Timothy Leary held an influential sway on new social possibilities and we wore Loons and mini skirts to advertise it, we also brushed against religion with our growing, mystical wings. The influence of Alan Watts’ Zen translations was strong on me. I remember an aphoristic question of the time, or perhaps it was more a loose allegory but it went, “How does a goldfish know that there is a God?”. The answer was, “Because how else is the water changed twice a week?”. Along with that there came the philosophical nicety that the one thing that a goldfish could never know, is water, itself. It is much the same for humans. Much of what we, ourselves, swim in, we don’t understand. We exist in so much invisible, intangible stuff that we don’t even see. We postulate that there is ‘dark energy’ blasting the universe apart and dark matter, grimly trying to hold the galaxies together and that everything in the universe is so filled with space, from atoms to molecules to our very bodies that we ought to be able to drive trams through each other.

The sixties was also a time of an emerging cognizance that sex was an atomic driver in the broad spectrum of basic energies. The Victorian religious zeal that had promoted fundamentalist strictures to keep sex for procreation was suddenly eroded, though, as any strict Catholic will maintain, echoes of it still remain. Even as we got to grips with the potential of Tantric sex and the Kama Sutra and reading Lady Chatterley, there was still an awkward stumbling for words, an embarrassment if it became a matter of public discussion round the dinner table with friends, never mind strangers.

From the taboo of sex we gradually moved on to the taboo of ageing. The myth was born that old age was the period of post-sex. The lines on the face and the flapping of once-toned muscles became signals of the lost fight against mortality. A great proportion of the elderly are maltreated daily by their families and in their care homes. Their images appear in the Sunday magazines as either pitiful victims of abuse or, at best, the subject of aesthetic camera work which sees them not as people but as intricately marked miracles of the ravages of time. Asexual subject matter. Like detailed shots of the moon’s surface.

The two foci, sex and ageing, have come together in recent research which, the NHS affirms, proves that orgasms delay ageing. The more we get it on, the less wrinkles, the less cancer and the less mental senility. This could lead to an interesting conflict in social attitudes. Sex is big business in the media which likes to reveal as much of our jig-a-jig as it can, always pushing back the envelopes of our skin. But what will it do when the skin is somewhat leathery, the bones protrude and the muscles waste ? Will the camera, no matter how much it is tuned to the wonderful filigree of lines on their ancient faces, ever show us two lovers, fighting back the last tides of mortality, heaving in ecstasy with the Karma Sutra opened beside them on the shag-pile carpet?

Or will these acts remain a taboo; dark energy and dark matter, something we know is all around us but will we never see?


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