During the handful of years since I left school I have noticed an interesting phenomenon; namely that mine seems to be a generation of young people rather ambivalent about leaving home. Of course, being me, my question is, what effect is staying at home having on our sex lives?
First of all it’s important to understand why we aren’t leaving home. I think there are a variety of factors and none of them are “our parents are so fantastic that we don’t want to leave them”, despite the fact that living at home does provide us with a certain parental-given security. I think, on the whole, we are staying at home because of money. My peers are middle class kids who have grown up with comfort and relative security and moving out would, for most, mean slumming it on estates and in crowded shared houses. This is something our parents weren’t afraid to do; when they first came to London my Mum shared a tiny room at the top of a towering building in Wandsworth with her young aunt, and my Dad was a squatter in a rundown house in Peckham. (Although it didn’t stay that way for either of them for very long.) Perhaps life is too comfortable, too easy at home for us to contemplate living in places like that. It’s certainly something I take into account.
Then of course there is the prevalence of university education. When a close friend of mine enrolled at university straight out of school I sighed and said I felt like I was wasting my time, not planning for my future; she laughed at me and said university was just another way of “delaying life”. Now that she has graduated and been forced to move back to her parents’ house I can see what she meant. I wouldn’t say that university was a waste of time for her – not in the slightest! – but I do see her frustration at being back to square one with nothing but a diploma to show for her time. Of course, at university, in halls or in a student house you do at least get freedom for your sexuality, and space away from your parents. But ultimately my peers all seem to finish their years of studying and return to their parents’ homes.
Then there is the general lethargy of our generation. We grew up watching TV and being driven around in cars and excitedly watching the progress of video games; trying to simply get us up and out can be something of a challenge. Where this it the case I think the problem usually lies with the parents. By that I mean that it is the parents who are desperate for their kids to leave. (As an aside, this reminds me of Lee Evans recalling the three stages of growing up: as young children our Dads yelled “get down!”, then as young teenagers they yelled “get up!”, and by the time school was finished it was all “get out!”. This is funny because it’s true.)
So what about sex?
The first thing that springs to mind is that we are a generation very used to having sex in strange places for utterly unkinky reasons. My personal list includes a stationary cupboard, a classroom during the holidays, a club bathroom, a chapel, and a friend’s sofa. But my friends’ lists are even more extraordinary; a moment’s thought brings a hundred claims to mind: the girl who sucked her boyfriend off in a falafel van, the chick who had a one night stand on a pebble beach, the guy who made use of his little brother’s garden slide, the rather disturbing couple who chose a graveyard (more than once!)… the list goes on. Of course most of that would be fair play when we were teenagers, but these are events that occurred when the people involved were in their twenties.
From conversations I’ve had with slightly older friends and (uncomfortably enough) my parents, two aunts, and an uncle, I get a strong impression of a generation of serial monogamists: relationships seemed to be more common, but shorter-lived, and they also seemed to be considered more casually. (I grew up thinking relationships were like this, based on the seemingly endless stream of exes-turned-friends that my parents hung out with on Saturday afternoons. I spent half my childhood in the photography studio of my Mum’s most significant ex. Basically, to my far too conscious child mind, all friends had dated all friends.) Nowadays, drawing on what I know of my friends, we seem to be having less sex, but with more people. Very few of us manage to persuade someone more than a couple of times that sex in the bathroom of a club, or in the backseat of a car is a good idea. Or maybe we don’t want to do that either. We are all now 5 – 10 years into our sexual lives and a single sexual experience is still an event to be discussed – in excited, girlish voices, mostly. Sex is rare (and often extraordinary).
Funnily enough, despite our hunger for entertainment and comfort, and our demand for instant gratification in many many things, we seem capable of waiting weeks, sometimes months, between sexual encounters.
Maybe our parents sleep better at night (in the next room, snoring loudly), but I think it is hampering us somewhat. We may be liberated enough to have sex with strangers, but without the familiarity of a regular partner, most of my friends report events of pretty unimaginative nights (almost exclusively) spent in the missionary position. Most of us have barely skimmed the surface of our sexual desires because they are not logistically possible.
But why aren’t we fucking at home? Well, for a few there is an issue of privacy, but we were all quite happy fucking at home as teenagers. It’s now that we’re ‘grown ups’ that we’ve ceased to make use of our own bedrooms. I think partly it’s to spare our partners the embarrassment of talking to our parents over breakfast, but more often it’s our own embarrassment at living at home. This is ridiculous given that if we’re fucking people our own age – and most of my peers are – they will probably be in the same situation at home themselves. And if they aren’t, then sex is possible at his/her house. Still, to some degree, we are ashamed of living at home.
And what of the few who managed to move away from their childhood bedrooms? Here I’d like to cite my friend Rosalind. Lovely, dancing Rosalind. Penniless but practical, she actually did manage to escape the clutches of home life. She moved to London from the north of England and trained to be a dancer. Upon finishing her training she found she was far from ready to leave the big city. She was forced to move from flat to flat, scraping rent together – in fact, on Saturdays, she could be found busking for change in Hammersmith – and just about keeping herself in knitted jumpers and wearable boots. Last year she had to spend a few months sharing a room with a friend. She managed fine but, understandably, the stress of living in such close quarters and the lack of privacy, and the sheer amount of time she had to work in order to keep the meagre quarters meant she stopped dating altogether and became involuntarily celibate for some time. To say she was cranky would be quite the understatement. (Thankfully she has just acquired a room of her own.)
On the flip side, we have Scarlet and Schäfchen, two of my school friends. They both lived in a small village in the countryside, near our school, with very few potential sexual partners to choose from. Neither of them came from particularly wealthy families which meant they both developed excellent work ethics. They were willing and able to work their way out of their homes. And then some! In fact they both left the country – Scarlet to Australia, and Schäfchen to Germany – leaving in their wake very few lost loves and broken hearts. In their new homes they both, within a matter of months, met people and became ‘we’s. Schäfchen has been happily in love with his girl for three years now, with no view to changing that situation, and Scarlet went so far as to move in with her surfer, although it ultimately didn’t last. These two went from zero to sixty in a matter of months. And THEY are the ones exploring their sexuality properly. Schäfchen is the one person I know who openly told me he and his girlfriend enjoy analingus. (And by the way, that is the moment the mystery goes out of a friendship.)
(I haven’t spoken about my own sex life much in this article, and I’ll tell you why: I almost exclusively fuck older men. This takes me, somewhat, out of the sex equation, though not out of the living situation. However, I wouldn’t offer it as an answer; fucking older men comes with it’s own set of problems.)
Given the success of Scarlet and Schäfchen, perhaps this is a problem almost exclusive to young people living in London – which is, undoubtedly, an expensive city. But we are quite a large demographic! 33% of London is under 25. And about 75% of the people I know who are under 25 in London, live at home. That’s a lot of sex not to be having.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any answers. It’s a strange thing to say in earnest, but the economy is fucking with my sex life, and not in an ironic, satirical way. In an “I’ve had sex once in the past month and it cost me £50” kind of way. So for now, it seems, we have to decide whether we want to hide in cupboards, or go cold turkey for a while and find our way out of the family nest. At the moment we are choosing to make do with home life, something we probably need to make our peace with.
In the mean time I’ll be watching closely to see what we all get up to as we approach our thirties.