SUZANNE HARRINGTON: No thanks, Barbara. I’ll have what he’s having

In a charity shop, I stumble across a copy of Barbara Cartland’s 1962 socio-cultural masterpiece, Etiquette Handbook: A Guide To Good Behaviour From The Boudoir To The Boardroom.

While much of the handbook deals with what to do should you find yourself in the same room as the queen, what is fascinating is how to behave in the bedroom. Of course it is. It’s what drives us.

What I want to know is what Barbara Cartland would have made of Tinder, or the fact that 91 million of us are using dating sites, and that 30% of all internet traffic is for — ahem — adults only. Barbara advises us to place a advert in The Times if an engagement has been broken off — how would she suggest we manage ghosting, bread crumbing, catfishing? What would be her thoughts on polyamory?

“Never smoke a pipe at the theatre,” she warns. “Gentlemen always take their hats off in a lift if there is a lady passenger.”

Yes, but where’s the fetish party etiquette? Does one compliment the spouse of someone you’ve just rogered at a swingers party, or smile discreetly and move on? Or, as Philip Larkin suggested, was sexual intercourse not invented until 1963, a year after Babs’s book?

Modern romance would kill Barbara Cartland stone dead, had old age not already done so. Gentlemen don’t take their hats off in lifts — instead they send photos of their willies to those who might be interested, and to many who are not. Ladies don’t take chaperones on weekends away to seaside hotels with their fiancés, or remain in coy ignorance about all things sexual, other than regarding it as a chore.

God no. We have come far — pun intended — since Barbara suggested that “the happiest marriages are always where the man has the brains, the money, and the ambitions” — and the interest in sex. No, darling. We ladies love sex — and our very own cash, earned by our very own brains — as much as the next man; it’s just that, traditionally, the gentlemen have shouted the loudest.

It is also some gentlemen — except they are categorically not — who mistake female sex-positive attitudes with female consent. The fact that the complainants in the recent rape trials in Belfast and Wales didn’t scream for help was part of both trials. “She did not call out to anyone at all,” remarked the defence lawyer in the trial of an international swimmer. “From that you may infer that she did consent, or may have consented.” Verdict? Not guilty.

An unfortunate theme of sport / DIY has crept into the sex lexicon, lending sexual activity a tone of competitive trophy hunting.

Getting one’s kit off; first base, second base; scoring; nailing, banging, screwing. Smashing it.

We do not need this vocabulary.

While the world of Barbara Cartland is thankfully extinct, and our sexual freedom a treasure to be celebrated, sex is not sport. Women are not trophies.


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