Are Young People Scared of Sex? (No, No, No)

Here’s my Battle Of Ideas Speech:

First, I’d like to apologise. I’m only here because I wanted to meet Camille Paglia and, because, like an idiot, I thought I could answer the question. You see it struck me like something you read on the cover of a women’s magazine. Such as ‘Is Your Manicurist A Sex Slave?’ And I love those questions because the only thing I know for sure is that I don’t know a damned thing about anything. But bugger me, I think: I can answer that one. Because I do not have a manicurist so she can’t possibly be a sex slave…

And I’ve been out in Clapham Junction on a Friday night, amongst hordes of scantily clad young people, who feast on each other like zombies in the streets. And all summer I sat in a hot, green park where teenagers melted into each other like ice cream. And every day I witness some millennial mount another in a manner most repulsive to the naked eye. And maybe I’ve got sex on the brain, but I see it everywhere I look. So I thought OK. I’ll simply stand up, eyeball the lot of you in a petrifying manner and ask, ‘Are Young People Scared of Sex?’ And answer, with Margaret Thatcher-style certainty: no No NO. And then you’ll know the answer to this question you so desperately want answered you all turned up. I’ll sit down and shut up. And we can all listen to the goddess Camille Paglia.

But then I was told I had to make a five minute speech so… as I said I apologise.

When I think of young people and sex I get Philip Larkin in my head, who said sex was invented in 1963, (which was much too late for me…) Only it turned out, after he died, that Larkin had oodles of sex and was pretty perverted, really, and then a lot of idiots started denigrating his poetry. I believe that every generation believes there is some variation in the amount of sex to be had and throughout history the mass of sex has been pretty much constant. Because sex is a human urge – it affects us like hunger or thirst. And although there may be young people who are afraid of eating, we call them anorexics and don’t diagnose a whole generation as food deprived. I’m sure for every squeamish and rarefied young person talking to Vice magazine or Janet Street Porter there are at least 100 who are utterly debauched.

I think this sex thing – like the rest of the Stepford Student- Generation Snowflake stuff – originates with a very vocal minority totally unrepresentative of the whole. I reckon they’re upper middle class navel gazers rather than the swelling mass of brazen youth. When people tell me about safe spaces in universities I always think, yeah… I think most of them are still spending three years very very drunk. If students have changed in recent years, it’s only that they’re worried about finances. But sex is still free. Or at least it’s more cost effective than – I don’t know – trampolining.

And why would young people be afraid of sex? We have the pill – thank god – and have done since the Sixties. There are effective precautions against STDs. And most of us are godless so we don’t have to be worried about getting smote down. Or have to marry before we do it. When I was a young person I had no fear of sex at all. I thought I was very liberated and did not to give a damn about it. And so I had sex with some really hideous people. And aside from an utterly depraved poet, who taught me a thing or two – the sex wasn’t really worth the men.

So I think today the only thing young people have to fear about sex is sex itself.

And this is where I’m changing tack. Because I’m still going to insist that the young aren’t scared of sex. But, I’m going to say, they probably ought to be.

I think fear is something you learn. You’re not afraid of fire until you get burnt. Or heights until you fall. And I wasn’t scared of sex once, but I am now, because I think sex, when done right, is about making a connection with another human being. And a lot of how sex is treated today is about bodies colliding without connecting and this sort of sex is no good for the human heart at all.

Vanity Fair tell us we are living through the Dating Apocalypse. It described New York in the age of Tinder, where men who sound like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho boast of penetrating and discarding women on a nightly basis and feeling next to nothing. And maybe these oily young coves get pleasure out of that sort of thing but I doubt many of the women do.

And I worry girls – who are stupid like I was, will subscribe to this Tinder bullshit– and think themselves very modern and cool although these encounters are straight out of Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies, when Nina says: ‘All this fuss about sleeping together. For physical pleasure I’d sooner go to my dentist…’

Whenever I think of what I want from sex, I think of Andrew Marvell’s line: ‘The grave’s a fine and private place/ But none, I think, do there embrace.’

And when I was young I would not have thought about that – that sex if done right should be an embrace. I’d have been thinking about my bra and my knickers. But I learned over time that an embrace is not just what I want it is – as a human – what I need and what I deserve. And I hope all these young people feasting upon one another have that. But if sex isn’t that for them now, I hope they get a bit scared, so one day it will be.


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