There was an item on the BBC News Channel last night in which two teenagers were explaining how the Scout movement had now introduced sex education into the curriculum to join tent erection and tying knots in ropes. For some, there might be no distinction. The newscaster asked if there would be a badge for it. The answer, sadly, was No.
Then, this morning in the bath, I turned on Radio 4 and – blow me – Woman’s Hour was talking about sex education.
What is going on?
In my day, sex education was non-existent but, from peripheral evidence, it seemed to involve stamens on flowers and the human bowel system.
I am old enough to have hit puberty before the Penguin English Dictionary was published. This was the first widely-available UK dictionary which included 4-letter words and defined clearly what other sex-related words actually meant.
As my parents were Scottish, my sex education came largely through reading the News of the World on a Sunday (and looking at the pictures).
Sex for me was a strange world of naughty vicars, women with large lines between their squeezed-tightly-together breasts and evil people of opposite sexes who were “living in sin” together, mostly in flats and bedsits. The News of the World would expose these people in long articles with pictures. They were not celebrities, just seemingly normal people who were, in secret, immoral and evil and had started to live with each other without being married but – ever vigilant – the admirable News of the World and, to a lesser extent, The People hunted them down and exposed their sinful ways in print.
My sex education also involved Carry On films at the cinema – breasts and a lot of running about and screaming seemed much involved in sex.
At home, we had a large pre-Penguin dictionary circa 1935.
This tended to confuse me.
When the News of the World and The People reported sex cases, the key words mostly seemed to be “rape” (as both a verb and a noun) and people having “carnal knowledge” of each other.
When I looked up “rape” in the dictionary, it said it was an agricultural crop grown in fields and further investigation uncovered the fact that seeds and oil were a related outcome. This “rape” was a noun and there appeared to be no verb for the word. So it seemed unlikely it was what was being described in the News of the World; but it was worth my keeping it in mind, just in case.
The alternative definition for “rape” – a verb – was to “carry off by force”. I knew this was a good definition as I had vaguely heard of The Rape of the Sabine Women, in which the Romans carried off female members of some tribe or other – well, it must have been the Sabine tribe, obviously. I was a very good researcher, so I also knew this incident had been turned into the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. So that also obviously involved rape, too. But this didn’t help much. Though I did know the Italians and French made sex films with lots of large naked breasts which were shown at small cinemas in London’s West End.
This whole carrying off by force lark was presumably akin to kidnap though some of the cases reported in the News of the World did not seem to involve any carrying off to other locations. It was a puzzle.
Then there was the problem of what “carnal knowledge” actually meant. The dictionary defined “carnal” as “fleshly”, so “carnal knowledge” meant “fleshly knowledge” so, presumably, these people being exposed in the News of the World had seen other people of the opposite sex without their clothes on and that was what the big hoo-hah was all about.
It was all a great mystery to me and still is.
If anyone can help, I would be very grateful.