(This was the weekend that THAT movie based on THAT book was released in South Africa.)
When I was a teenage reader the only place I could find out anything about sex was in novels. The information was sketchy, erratic, disjointed and usually unexpected.
I’d be happily reading away and all of a sudden I’d trip over a couple of fornicators. Equal parts embarrassed and intrigued – and more, rather than less, confused – I would stumble ahead in the book, but keep going back to that part, feeling like a voyeur. Though of course at the time, I had no idea the word “voyeur” existed.
It’s odd to read about something that is both forbidden and fascinating. I was dying to know more about this thing people in books were doing, but I had no one to ask and no experience to draw from. My only experience to that point was that sex was a deeply scandalous and dangerous something-or-other, and not a topic for discussion.
Skip ahead a decade or a two and my curiosity had gone from an academic interest in the existence of such an odd pastime as getting naked with someone else, to the opinion that the repression of conversations about sex was damaging in all kinds of ways.
It damages people. It damages thought. It has contributed to the violence surrounding sex. It has damaged our society.
A few years ago I edited a collection of short stories called Open (Oshun) in which I requested South African women writers to contribute stories in which sex featured. This was before the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, and while I might have contributed in some small way to opening up conversations about women’s more positive experiences of sex (or that’s what I thought I was doing at the time), I certainly didn’t hit the graphic-sex-in-literature wave on time to make myself or the contributors any significant money.
Since then, Helena S. Paige (three South Africa women writing under one name) has garnered international book deals with a series of sexy books. Joanne Hichens has recently brought together a whole lot of wonderful short stories in which sex features in the book Adults Only. And, perhaps most noteworthy, is that an Afrikaans writer, Fanie Viljoen, has penned a book for young adults called Uit, a book that I think breaks new ground in the discussion of sexuality amongst young Afrikaans readers. I do hope it’s going to be translated into at least three of our other national languages.
I welcome these developments while at the same time, I’m bored silly by pop culture’s obsession with sex.
It borders on rabid, with everyone clamouring to say or do or show something new about sex in pop lyrics and videos, in adverts and slogans, in TV shows and magazine features.
Sex is so ubiquitous now it has become as boring as it once was forbidden.
Perhaps this is just the backlash: an over-the-top obsession with talking about sex in as public and graphic way as possible in order to get over the repressed past.
Maybe only when we’ve exhausted ourselves will we be able to stand on some sex middle ground, where neither shame and fear, nor braggadocio and victory are the main elements of the discussion. – Karin Schimke