Group sex

To all Googling perverts who ended up here cos of the title: I’m happy that you’ve come, but understand that you are possibly neither of these things.

I recently read a book, School Ties, by the excellent William Boyd. In it are two screenplays influenced by his time at a British boarding school, and which are prefaced by an excellent introduction in which Boyd describes his experience of the boarding school regime.

I am the product of boring, rather than boarding, state schools. For those of you not familiar with the British education system, private schools are ones where Mr and Mrs Hodges-Wilkinson pay fees for Farquar or Jemima to receive generally top notch education whilst wearing straw boaters. Farquar and Jemima usually then go on to hold political office or produce progeny in line to the throne. In contrast Mr and Mrs Pleb do not have to pay for Kevin and Sharon’s free education, possibly because of the accounting complexities of calculating exactly how much should be deducted from school fees during pregnancy and knife-related injury absences.

Obviously my school wasn’t that bad – only three girls in my year got pregnant, and nobody got stabbed during school hours – but put it this way: when I receive an email telling me that an ex-classmate has updated her account on Friends Reunited.com, it is rarely to inform us that she been awarded a new government portfolio.

My father told me a while ago that he and my mother briefly considered making sacrifices and sending me to private school, but dismissed the idea as being at odds with his lefty anti-Thatcher egalitarianism. My mother holds no known notions of egalitarianism, and I can only assume that this decision was over-informed by my father’s alleged egalitarian ideals, and was taken unilaterally in the style of great leftist totalitarian leaders of yore. Full respect for the class war brother Fidel, and let me reassure you that perfectly decent old people’s homes are available to those with even the most limited earning potential.

But back to Boyd. What really struck me about his introduction was his description of the way in which the strict sexual segregation then enforced shaped and marked the boys who endured it. One bit particularly stood out:

“The sexual apartheid to which we were subjected all those years utterly warped our attitudes and precluded us from thinking about girls and women in any way but the most prurient and lubricious. The female sex was judged by one criterion – fanciable or non-fanciable, to put it rather more delicately than we did.”

He then goes on to describe what happened when the few unfortunate female members of staff at the school came into contact with the boys:

“Their encounters with the boys, three times a day at meals, were characterised by a one-sided traffic of sexual banter of the vilest and coarsest sort. Given the opportunity, more daring boys actually molested them – squeezing, pinching, feeling…I think our attitudes to them brought out the very worst in our natures: it was male lust at its most dog-like and contemptuous…I dare say any male sodality – rugby team, army platoon, group of Pall Mall clubmen – can descend to this level for a while, but what is depressing and degrading about the male boarding school is the unrelieved constancy of the tone, year in, year out, for at least five years. It must have some effect.”

Reading this I immediately thought of Egypt where verbal and physical harassment are, as we know, a regular occurrence. Attempts to explain this phenomenon as it manifests itself in Egypt frequently make reference to the ‘socioeconomic and cultural contexts’ (must you be wearing a polo neck in order to be considered suitably qualified to say this?) – that is, poverty precluding marriage, strict sexual mores and so on. But as someone who has walked past a British building site on several occasions, and been in a British pub at closing time on more occasions than I care to remember, I have always been suspicious of these explanations. Britain abolished marriage in the 80s, and the limits of its sexual mores is the edict that it is bad manners to bonk a family member, and yet the same vocal crotch lust exists.

My experience tells me that the potential for such behaviour lies dormant in all men, and that as Boyd seems to be suggesting, it is when individuals are subsumed in a group (boarding school, football team, Egyptian society, sometimes) that repressed behaviour finds an outlet in the approval and perhaps anonymity of the group. Rather like when normally tame packs of dogs turn on small children, or when women find themselves in all female company and deem it acceptable to bore their interlocutors for two hours about the meaning of Him Not Returning a Text Message.

No, men are not lust hungry atavistic wolves (that’s us ladeez!), but they are sexual beings – as are women. Can men tell me why it is being in an all-male environment seems to be the heat which brings otherwise simmering water to the boil? And ladeez, why is it that we don’t feel a similar urge to commend male strangers on their bottoms at loud volume? Or if we do, why don’t we act upon it? Is there some fundamental difference between male and female sexuality, or at least the expression of this sexuality in groups?

*Clarification*
May I say that this is most definitely not an anti-men tirade. Men are fabulous creatures, and I am constantly impressed by their ability to grow chest hair, and by the straightforward, even keel, cause and effect nature, of their emotional lives.

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