NO REASON FOR THE PICTURE, TAKEN 13 YEARS AGO ON MY HEN NIGHT IN DUBLIN, EXCEPT THAT MOST OF THE TIME, IT'S STILL HOW I FEEL.
It seems there really is a price for anything, and the price for a television company coming in and re-modeling your garden/decorating your house/cleaning your oven/disciplining your children is privacy. They will come and change your life, but first you have to reveal yourself to be anything from a bad gardener to a slovenly housekeeper or a bad mother. There is an obvious progression here. How we all used to stutter with tense disbelief when the ‘ordinary couples’ had their made-over rooms revealed to them in changing rooms. Lucky them, we used to think. I wish that could happen to me! Now we are on the edge of our seats watching while some hapless mother allows her four year old whack her six month old over the head with a meat mallet under the head-shaking supervision of a TV nanny. Thus type of programming reached an all time low for me recently when James, a twenty six year old paperboy who lives with his parents in a soulless English suburb was taken to some wacky sex clinic in Amsterdam to lose his virginity. We watched as James was coaxed into sex over a three month period by three matronly looking “sex counselors”, old enough to be his mother. It was painful, yet compelling viewing and markedly un-sexy. These women were not prostitutes but dingly-dangly therapist types and their methods involved the sprinkling of essential oils, learning-about-your-body massage in a ‘motherly’ way (euk!) lots of miscellaneous tugging about and some which was not nearly miscellaneous enough. By far the low point was familiarizing complete ingénue James with the female ‘privates’. (They did not use the word ‘vagina’ which I thought was strange. Maybe they felt that was too much information.) They did this, not through a black and white illustration, which my husband described – with admirable accuracy – as looking like a “fruit bat”. His white-haired counselor then pulled up her skirt and James was invited to have a good old look for himself at the real thing. I found this excruciating beyond belief but my husband said that, for technical reasons, he thought it was rather a good idea. As we followed the James from a very sad, painfully shy, newspaper delivering virgin into a slightly more hopeful, more confident paper boy who had had sexual intercourse, I just thought how horrendously exploitative and screwed up we are to be glued to the private parts – inside and in this case also out – of this fellow human being. At one point the gravitas-laden voice of the narrator, (because, after all, this was not mere titillation but a serious ‘documentary’), asked James how he felt about being in the program. Did he worry what other people thought of him? “No,” James asserted, “I am doing this for myself.” Or rather, the TV company were doing this for him in return for all the gory details captured on film. It would be interesting to know who the researchers found first – the virgin in need of help or the nutty sex counseling clinic in Amsterdam. Who was serving who? Despite this, by the end of the program I found that, for me in any case, James had retained his dignity. Because in his innocent candor and his willingness to expose him self – literally and physically – he perhaps deserves more respect than those of us who cling to our privacy as if we are something special. Who hide our weaknesses and are afraid to present our vulnerabilities to the world. In that sense James had more courage than most so perhaps we all have something to learn from a man willing to lose his virginity on television. Although, cynically, I doubt that was the producer’s intention.