Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

On Television, on Billboards, in Poetry, at Dinner Parties and Even on the Tube - Sex Is Everywhere

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

On Television, on Billboards, in Poetry, at Dinner Parties and Even on the Tube - Sex Is Everywhere

Article excerpt

The most memorable scene in Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita was provided by blonde, buxom Anita Ekberg splashing about in Rome's Trevi fountain. In its spontaneous and joyous exhibitionism, Ekberg's water frolicking captured the optimistic excesses not only of Italy but of the 1960s postwar boom. For life to be sweet, Fellini seemed to say, extravagance must reign.

Thirty years on, extravagance is suspect - yet balance, Aristotle's golden mean, remains inadequately understood, or even sought.

A new collection of essays from Demos valiantly tries to resuscitate the classical Aristotelian concept. Different writers examine different areas of our existence - from marriage (see Penny Mansfield's piece, reprinted on page 30) to genetic manipulation (by the NS's own Caroline Daniel). To succeed in one area to the exclusion of others, the authors warn, is not conducive to happiness.

Yet in highlighting the dangers of excess the Demos collection overlooks the one aspect of modern life where it has become acceptable to forgo any form of restraint: sex.

Our culture does not readily forgive promiscuity (at least, not among gays or women); but it does promote it. Newspaper articles, television programmes, contemporary plays, advertisements all urge adults, and impressionable children, to overcome inhibitions, overlook propriety and go for it.

Our society can't get enough of sex. Our collective addiction is out of control. We talk about it and think about it (yes, ! admit it - I've been quoted as saying that, far from being a good Catholic girl who never thought about sex, I thought about it 9,000 times a day) non-stop: how could it be otherwise, when what was once taboo is now discussed at dinner parties and openly displayed in Tube station clinches? How could we escape its clutches, when subliminal and overt messages target us from displays in Boots and Wonderbra billboards, EastEnders plotlines and how-to books?

Money may no longer be regarded as the sure-fire path to happiness; work is no longer considered the passport to security; sex, however, remains the solution to every problem. The conspiracy is perpetrated by endless manuals and relationship fixers, lonely hearts columns and dating agencies. Feeling blue? Have sex! Feeling old? Have more sex!

Not content to treat sex as a cure-all, we also insist on regarding it as fascinating. Where once artists hailed romantic love as their great muse, they now focus on sex, interpreting its every detail as if it might yield profound truths about our psyche and our heritage. …

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