For a long long time in Northern Ireland the two communities, Protestant and Catholic argued, fought and caused a lot of heartache. It became almost a reflex that one side would take the opposing view of the other side, especially amongst the community elders and local politicians. However, there was one subject that all community elders were united on and that was sex, and sex education. Despite the need to reproduce, community elders were determined that no young person in Northern Ireland was going to have sex out of wedlock (and probably not in wedlock either). I suspect not much has changed these days in Norn Iron.
They say that ignorance is bliss, but I’m not convinced, they also say that sex is hereditary, if your parents never had it then neither will you. My parents never had sex. No-one in Northern Ireland ever had sex, at least that’s the impression I got from my parents as a testosterone sodden teenager. It was a taboo subject, never ever to be discussed, (exactly the same as when I asked our minister what happens to you when you die, uncomfortable silence), discussion to be avoided at all costs. I find it kind’a ironic that sex was never discussed but my parents were obviously engaging in it as I had eight siblings so they had engaged in it at least eight – oops I mean nine times. The big family next door obviously engaged in it a lot more. You’d think the penny would have dropped and that the community elders/politicians/local government would have actually pushed for sex education as the birth rate went in the opposite direction of the rest of the western world. They even fought against contraception, the pill took a lot longer to reach Northern Ireland than the rest of the UK and down south in the Republic of Ireland contraception was actually illegal until 1980 and then severely restricted.
It’s interesting how attitudes have changed, if my mum found a packet of condoms in my pocket when I was a teenager or young adult I think I would have got roasted alive, however these days mothers are practically forcing them onto their teenagers. I have visions of some mum shouting out to some teenager as he’s leaving with his pals “Johnny, don’t forget your packet of rubber Johnny’s” much to his embarrassment.
We never had the Birds and the Bee’s talk and school certainly didn’t do sex education, at least not in the 70’s. Consequently my generation grew up in blissful ignorance about sex which lead to a couple of unfortunate and embarrassing incidents with my parents. I never had to suffer the embarrassment of a parent finding condoms in my jeans but there is indeed an endless list of things I did do as a teenager in all innocence (mostly) and looking back now I wish I could press that magical rewind button and erase a few (more) selected moments of my life.
I remember being about thirteen or fourteen and watching telly one Saturday afternoon. As usual it was crap weather outside so we were all glad just to be indoors and reasonably warm doing our favourite past time – watching the box. It was some BBC Bristol nature programme about Shire horses and of course didn’t they start talking about reproduction and siring the next generation and next thing you knew the farmer was getting one of the Shire horses to mount the mare.
Two things happened simultaneously at that moment in time, (a) I discovered what the term ‘hung like a horse’ really meant and (b) my mum jumped up out of her chair (a rare occurrence, let me tell you) and immediately pressed the buttons to switch channels (before remote controls) to ITV and complained about that nature programme being ‘very boring’, not sure if she meant the pun but we settled down into The Dukes of Hazard and once again two things happened simultaneously; (a) the ubiquitous saxophone music started playing as Daisy Duke started taking off what remained of her skimpy clothes and (b) I discovered what the term ‘voyeurism’ meant.
My mum was horrified and once again jumped up and tried switching the channels quickly only to return to the horses going at it with great gusto, and then did what she always did on these occasions, she had a sudden urge to engage me in intense conversation about my school work in a transparently obvious attempt to stop me watching Daisy Duke getting her kit off, one of the few times she asked me anything at all about school, I half answered as I tried to see past her and get a much better view of Daisy’s dukes.
It was pretty obvious that my parents weren’t going to educate any of us in the ways of making whoopie despite the fact that sprogs continued to keep popping out with startling regularity but I can’t really blame them, they weren’t really equipped to deal with that kind of discussion, like everyone else my age I got my sex education from my peers and it wasn’t comprehensive or indeed all that accurate. To be honest I’m pretty certain that the last thing I wanted to learn from my parents was sex education, I’ve no idea just how that conversation would go but considering the very formal relationship I had with them then I suspect it would be pretty awkward.
One afternoon not long after the Shire horse episode I was asked by my school to bring in my birth certificate for some exam. My mum kept all that sort of stuff in a large trunk in her bedroom so rather than disturb her – she was chatting to my sister-in-law Cathy- I went on ahead and rummaged through the trunk trying to find my birth certificate. I couldn’t find it but found this strange object instead. It was about six inches long, was made of cream coloured plastic and for all intensive purposes it looked like a torch, it had an on/off switch but instead of a bulb and lens it was sealed at the end. I thought this was strange, I tried twisting the end off like a cap to see if the bulb was under a protective cap but it was stuck firm so I switched it on and had the biggest fright of my life when it started vibrating. I almost dropped it but was immediately enthralled, being very mechanically minded I loved to take things apart and figure out how they worked but this contraption was a mystery to me. So I switched it off and took it downstairs to the kitchen where mum was talking to Cathy and stupidly I switched it on and asked mum what was it for..
To say I was taken aback at the reaction would be an understatement, mum was immediately furious but strangely embarrassed, she swiftly grabbed the ‘torch’ out of my hand, put it in a drawer and whacked me on the side of the head really hard. I had no idea why but she told me to go to bed immediately and I went upstairs with my tail firmly between my legs wondering WTF just happened. Doh, press that Rewind Button please.
The other incident that highlighted my glaring lack of knowledge about sex happened around the same age. I had been at school with my friends and someone had used a word I’d never heard before, so that evening at home and surrounded by the extended family I thought it would be a good time to ask the following;
“Mum, what’s cunnilingus?”
Shocked pregnant pause..
Much older brother “It’s a terrible, terrible disease”
I couldn’t work out why he started laughing. Really hard.
I finally worked it out a while later. Doh, I’m still looking for that rewind button and it’s not just when I was a teenager but in more recent times too. I’m not sure if this only works in the UK but if you send a text to a UK landline number then British Telecom has this system which enables the phone to ring and when picked up then a computer program reads the text in a voice that used to sound like Stephen Hawkings but nowadays sounds like Tom Baker.
A few years ago I sent quite a somewhat risqué text message to my then girlfriend but rather than select her mobile I mistakenly selected her landline and pressed Send before I realised my mistake. She told me the next day that her dad who was visiting stumbled down the stairs at two o’clock in the morning and answered the phone only to shocked to hear Doctor Who talk dirty to him. Ouch! Press the Rewind button please.
I suspect it’s not going to be the last time I reach for that rewind button..