There are multiple answers to the question of where we come from: early hominins, monkeys, primordial goo, or the Big Bang, to name a few. Today’s answer, though, has probably, just a split second ago, popped into many readers’ minds. Today’s answer is sexual intercourse, a.k.a. “bleeping.” So let’s go back to the beginning, hundreds of millions of years before we invented euphemisms and censorship, and let’s ask: How in the evolutionary world did sex begin?
Half a century ago Oliver Reed and Kate Millett each had a career-defining moment involving D H Lawrence: Reed when he played Gerald in Ken Russell’s 1969 film adaptation of Women in Love, with its celebrated wrestling scene, and Millett the following year, when she staged one of the great critical assassinations of Lawrence, in her Sexual Politics. Reed’s character in Women in Love feels humiliated by Gudrun’s attacks on his masculinity, tries to kill her and ends up slipping into a snowdrift, where he freezes to death. Reed had his own well-documented problems with toxic masculinity, notably when his encounter with Millett on Channel 4’s After Dark descended into a drunken assault. I wonder how much distance there is these days, in the public mind, between Reed’s brainless aggression and Lawrence’s patriarchal dogmatism, so memorably skewered in Sexual Politics. For decades now, Lawrence has endured a reputational deep-freeze. Frances Wilson’s attempts in Burning Man to bring him in from the cold show bravery and steely determination.
From 1949 to 1990, East and West Germany were test cases pitting the capitalist and communist Cold War philosophies against each other. While East Germany was losing battles on the fronts of industrial success, culture exports and not having a police state, research findings emerged in the 1980s that shook West German confidence to the core: East German women were have more orgasms and felt more satisfied after sex than their West German counterparts.
“These findings were so uncomfortable, especially for the West that they replicated many studies,” Professor Kristen Ghodsee, author of Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism (originally published last November and re-published this month in German for the first time), tells SLEEK over the phone. “Different studies found different results, as this was all self-reported, but what was so fascinating about these studies is that East German women were reporting much higher levels of satisfaction than West German women. More importantly, they were asked if they were happy after their last sexual encounter—most of them were.”
In 1723, Jean Pillot and Marguerite Perricaud began to see each other often. They both worked in textile production in Lyon, France’s second city. They went out for a year and he promised marriage. She told him he had to ask her father. They took long walks together after work and on Sundays, during which they developed a physical and emotional intimacy that paved the way for marriage. Marguerite told a co-worker that they loved each other. Young couples’ talks about sex were tightly woven into discussions about matrimony. Neighbours often saw them together. Their relationship developed as a public matter in view of the community.
Allowing glimpses into a world often only experienced firsthand or in fiction, the UK director Zac Beattie’s touching film approaches the complex business of intimacy, loneliness and therapy with due nuance and care, revealing the many ways that relationships shape the human experience – for better or worse.