Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Love's labours lost

If one thing has changed dramatically over the years, it's the freedom people now have in pursuing sexual relationships. When I was young, suffocating restrictions made it very hard to follow your natural desires.

It all sounds absurdly draconian now, but in those days parents monitored their children's behaviour very closely. You couldn't simply fancy someone and let things take their course. That was unheard of.

Parents would have very strong opinions on the person you fancied and would strenuously resist any "unsuitable" match. Sexual activity, or even what was called "heavy petting", was strictly prohibited until you were married.

You were expected to "go steady" for a suitable period, then get engaged for another year or so, after which you would get married (that is, if your parents still approved of the spouse-to-be).

The fiancé would of course have to ask the fianceé's father for her hand in marriage, while the alternative of cohabitation was still unthinkable.

Once married, sexual activity was strictly confined to the missionary position, and any kind of "kinky" or non-vaginal sex was considered abnormal. The only natural relationship was the heterosexual one, homosexuality being firmly in the closet and preferably never spoken of.

Nowadays, after the steady erosion of one quaint restriction after another, the situation has changed out of all recognition, with the young having almost complete freedom to form whatever relationships they like and let them follow their natural path.

Parents have been relegated to their proper position, interested bystanders who will only give advice if it's asked for and will always try to support their children's choice of partners.

Youngsters today are incredibly lucky to have such freedom, and not knowing what previous generations had to contend with, they mostly take it for granted. Which is not surprising.

Of course some of them take these new freedoms too far and make a mess of their lives. But better that than being bound hand and foot.

17 comments:

Thriftcriminal said...

I dunno, when my daughters are older I reckon I can voice my disapproval from a distance of several hundred yards through the scope of a sniper rifle. Probably just wing the the suitor initially, keeping the kill shot in case they don't get the message.

Liz said...

Nice-mannered boys still ask for father's permission to marry his daughter!

Baino said...

Thrifty did you hear about the father who shot his 15 year old daughter's bedmate three times in the leg on Monday! That'll teach him.

I approve of the new sexuality Nick. I would rather my daughter and son feel comfortable bringing their partner home and enjoy a healthy relationship. I used to get locked out if I broke curfew! On the other side however, Australia is now instigating an education campaign for British backpackers who seem to enjoy a sexual sojourn across the globe and thanks to unprotected sex are introducing some rather nasty bugs into the Australian population! Sexual freedom has it's glitches!

Nick said...

Thrifty - By jove yes, live bullets, it's the only language they understand!

Liz - I guess that's true. But supposing daddy says no, will they persist anyway?

Baino - I read about the STD problem in Oz. I hope the education campaign has some effect, otherwise harsher measures will presumably be introduced.

Leah said...

I was lucky in that my folks let me have nearly complete freedom--sexual and otherwise--trusting I wouldn't really make a hash of things. And they were right, I didn't, when all was finally said and done.

Really, they never voiced disapproval, no matter what sort of unsuitable boyfriend I brought home. I wonder whether I will be so tolerant with Hedgie...

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I was raised by extremely repressive parents who valued my chastity far more than my mind and spirit. They believed that they had the right to choose my husband, and turned their backs on me whenever I rebelled against their wishes, no matter how stifling and unfair.

My children, needless to say, were raised differently. They always knew that I loved and trusted them but did not consider them my property, and also that when they made poor choices I would always welcome them home and try to help.

To your post, I say "Amen."

Megan said...

I remember while my grandmother was still alive, my sister would not allow her boyfriend (now husband's) voice on the answering machine, just in case grandma called.

I remember my uncle standing outside the church at his son's second wedding, because it was not something he wanted to officially recognize as being possible. Never mind that the first one was a complete disaster and never should have happened.

But on the whole, I agree with you. Kids today don't know what they got. Isn't that always the way?

That said, a young friend of mine wrote a post not all that long ago, about being reprimanded by authorities for nothing more than sitting on the grass with her friends.

We still have a ways to go.

But it's nice to think about how far we've come, too!

Nick said...

Leah - Very sensible and trusting parents, by the sound of it. And you seem to have made good choices in your life, so their trust was well-placed.

Heart - And awful parents in your case. Good that you didn't repeat the same pattern but made a point of bringing up your kids differently.

Megan - So your uncle refused to come into the church. Amazing that someone can be so stubborn. And did he eat his words later or was he still opposed?

conortje said...

I always wondered why a father's permission was needed - was the daughter's decision not enough - equally I always hate the idea of being given away at the altar by the father. To me it all sounds a little too much like 'women are men's property' rather than good manners.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Note to Conortje,

And what about the vow many women are still forced to take that they will obey their husbands?

I'm sure you're right about the giving away by father custom, which probably originated because in former times, a woman went from her father's stewardship to her husband's.

Los Angelista said...

I think being so repressive is awful but I think I'm taking a more moderate approach to all this with my sons. For example, I want them to ask for both parents consent to be married because they're marrying into a family. I'd rather they have a healthy relationship with their in-laws so they know by the time they ask that they'd be approved of and welcomed into the other family. And as far as the sex, my husband and I are going to teach them them to keep it in their pants the best they can- mainly because not doing so can have a LOT of negative health consequences. Or baby consequences. I'm not trying to be a grandma when they become teenagers in a few years! :)

Nick said...

Conor - I think Heart's right, it all goes back to the idea of men passing on female property to each other.

Heart - Indeed, why should a woman obey her husband rather then voluntarily agreeing to something? An absurd anachronism.

LA Liz - Good point about ensuring that the in-laws will actually get on with the new relative. We all know families where the continual tensions are electric. And yes, keeping it in your pants as the default position is excellent advice. STD rates are quite shocking.

Thriftcriminal said...

Correcting for wind, fall off over distance due to gravity....

Grannymar said...

My comment is lost in cyberspace! :(

My father had his own solution:- Any young man who took me out had to collect me at home. Having met my parents, he headed out but as we reached the front door my father's voice reached us from the living room "Mary Kate" his pet name for me on such occasions, "I hope you have two pairs of drawers on, I don't trust that fellow"! After that no fellow dared lay a finger on me.... Would you?

Nick said...

Thrifty - You've lost me. I used to shoot at school but I didn't get that sophisticated about it....

Grannymar - Two pairs of drawers eh? Yes, I think I'd be pretty daunted by the prospect of removing at least two layers....

Rummuser said...

Nick, I often comment to older or younger people complaining about the generation gap that there is nothing like that and it is just a memory gap. Many things happened in those good old days too, but clandestinely. I can speak from personal experience that I had as much fun during my bachelor days, as the modern youngster, and perhaps it was more fun because of the clandestine nature of it!

The dangers were there then as well as now too. We just need to be honest about these things!

Nick said...

Ramana - That's true that plenty of wild behaviour went on clandestinely, despite the best efforts of parents. Rules are meant to be broken etc.