Sex without a happy ending

rotk.funnyface2I don’t remember the theme of my high school dance.

It might have been “Night of a Thousand Stars” or “20 000 Leagues Under The Sea” or “Arabian Nights”. In the mid-1990s my school was trying hard to nurture compromise and broad-based discussion so it’s even possible we ended up with “20 000 Arabs Under The Sea At Night”, and I went dressed as the commander of a vast Saudi submarine fleet. I really can’t remember.

But I do know that for my teachers, all dances had the same theme: “A Heaving Orgy Behind The Bicycle Shed Climaxing In A Baby Boom Sometime Late Next Year”.

The school was fairly religious, a wood-polish-scented mix of Methodist optimism and Anglican defeatism shot through with a crackling bolt of old-timey Baptist brimstone. A polite détente existed between the old guard and a handful of godless radicals who padded around the staff room in Birkenstocks made of hemp. Tradition and modernity wrestled like Jacob and his angel. But as our dance rolled closer like an inexorable pram full of babies spawned to Ace of Base, traditionalists and reformers found common ground. It was time to warn. It was time to educate and empower. It was time to show us The Film.

Our hopes were high as we shuffled into the hall. At last, we thought, some proper sex education. With pictures. Perhaps moving pictures. And some moody saxophone music, and maybe a thin plot featuring a wealthy heiress whose air-conditioning has broken, and because she’s just so hot – so, so hot – she has to phone for a repairman.

Some of us probably knew a little about sex. Some of the boys, the ones who could shave, had condoms in their wallets and even knew how to use them (you don’t over-fill the condom with water or you can’t tie the knot properly). For my part, I was about 40% sure that sex didn’t involve either birds or bees, although I was willing to be convinced that birds and bees sometimes had sex with each other, which was possibly where hummingbirds came from. But generally, sex education in Cape Town’s southern suburbs was like reading the laws governing LBW decisions in cricket: awkwardly formal and very specific and yet still almost impossible to understand without diagrams.

I gather that the teens are experimenting with Alain de Botton now

Of course, a few brave teachers had tried from time to time over the years, starting their explanations with a long, shuddering sigh before revealing that when a man and woman are deeply in love and married, they sometimes feel the urge to stimulate each other. When this happens, the man and the woman sit down on facing sofas and read each other extracts from The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell. (I gather that the teens are experimenting with Alain de Botton now, which explains why they are out of control, “consoling” each other in dark cinemas and hedges and wherever else teens congregate.)

Thus aroused, the couple will now start touching each other’s erogenous zone, which is a strip of land between North and South Korea. It is now time for the spouses to begin something called “forp lay”, named after the ancient Saxon festival during which forps were laid on the roof of the family hovel and then set on fire to ward off ice zombies.

Soon the lovers are swept up in their passion, and set about caressing each other’s most sensitive parts, such as the eyeball and the back of the throat. These caresses have a powerful physiological effect, as a specific part of both the man and woman become engorged. This part is known as their “sense of duty”. Determined to do their duty, the man and woman sink out of sight next to the bed, at which point Satan enters the bedroom.

Disappointingly, the film covered none of that. Instead, it opened nine months later, with blood and screaming and the rending of flesh and poop and crying and more blood. We were plunged face-first into the miracle of birth, an entire wall lit up by a vagina and a baby’s head. There was no music. The plot was simple: sex ends with a screaming, bloodied parasite bursting out of a screaming, bloodied woman.

Half an hour later, a hundred teenagers walked out of that hall determined never to touch another human being again for as long as they lived. Even self-love was out of the question. Yes, it seemed unlikely that sperm could go airborne and impregnate someone a few kilometres away, but who really knew? Just that year we’d seen Arnold Schwarzenegger get pregnant in Junior, and if Emma Thompson could agree to appear in that movie then surely anything was possible?

I don’t remember the dance, but I’m pretty sure when MC Hammer started up, telling us “U Can’t Touch This“, we gratefully obeyed.


First published in The Times and Rand Daily Mail.

Published by Tom Eaton

Tom Eaton is a columnist, satirist, screenwriter and sometime-novelist.

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