Sixties’ ‘free love’ is too cheap

30 October 2008

It seems impossible to escape the claws of ‘it’. That dreadful thing: so tempting, and yet so destructive. How many relationships ruined; how many unwanted pregnancies; how many awkward mornings? And yet, intercourse can be the greatest expression of our love for another human being. In the same way that people who consider themselves vampires drink each others blood to show their intimacy; most of us who are not undead demonstrate our bond via the exchange of other bodily fluids.

There is a mistaken belief that a good sex life equates to a good relationship. Not necessarily. Many relationships are sexless and are perfectly harmonious. The reason the sexual liberation of the 1960s failed in its most radical form was that it did not provide relationships with an adequate alternative to sex.

Indeed, the only marked difference between today and the 1960s is that we are more aware of sex. We are not necessarily any more or less promiscuous. There is little evidence to suggest that our ancestors had markedly fewer sexual partners than most people do now.

It is ironic that the great sexual awakening was less about having more sex and more about talking about it. Instead of making us enjoy sex –

I have been told most people do anyway – it simply sort to change the way we thought of sex. The separation of the private and public spheres is one of the biggest casualties of the 1960s. Sexual intercourse was once thought of in terms of the ultimate expression of relationships; while in private, people were promiscuous. By making the private sphere overtake the public, we no longer think of sex in terms of relationships, but of pleasure. Sex may have always been about pleasure, but it was collectively publicly conceptualised as the expression of a bond between two people.

Of course, this is not the whole story. It is impossible to discuss sex and relationships without making a distinction between most relationships and marriage. Although the 1960s did cause the merging of the public with the private sphere pre-marriage, there was only limited success post-marriage; but still some success.

Hence the huge problem with enjoying sex in a long-term relationship. If sex is thought in terms of pleasure, as soon as it becomes monotonous, it is no longer pleasurable. This is despite the fact that sexual intercourse with the same partner should remain pleasurable in itself.

The act of sexual intercourse is the ultimate expression of one’s love for another human being. As such, the pleasurable aspect is purely coincidental, and is therefore not necessarily diminished over time. But, if a relationship is irrelevant to sex – sex is just sex; it has nothing to do with expressing love – then its be all and end all is pleasure. And for most, that will diminish.

Sexual intercourse may be all about having a good time, but it should always be thought of in higher terms. That is what the 1960s got so wrong.

James Arthur Sharpe is a 3rd year reading History.