A girl I once snogged has published a book about spending a year maintaining a vow of chastity. It’s hardly a claim to fame for me. It was only a brief snog, and it didn’t even occur during her period of abstinence, but I was still mightily surprised to see her striking a coquettish pose on the front page of The Guardian.
The book, so far as I can tell from excerpts, is a mildly toe-curling confessional memoir that gives a personal angle to that old chestnut: how much sex is too much?
Is there a rule of thumb, like the one for the lowest acceptable age for a sexual partner (half your age plus seven)? Or is it entirely subjective, and only a reflection of your self-esteem?
I reckon it is like years of age or pints of beer. You start off thinking you haven’t had enough, then lose count, and later, when you finally add it all up, wonder whether it’s too much. Like years and pints, it turns out that it is quality of experience that has any meaning rather than the numbers.
Hephzi’s vow of chastity is an interesting gimmick, but it is questionable whether it provides any insight. Her main point is that there is an expectation in society that you will have sex in certain contexts – principally at a certain stage of a relationship – and that refusal to meet this expectation causes people to make judgments about you. This isn’t revelatory stuff. It is true of all social bonding activities, from shaking hands upwards. If you arbitrarily refuse to do something that most people consider normal then of course people are going to think that you have a hang-up about it. And the thing is, they’re probably right.
Sex, as the most intimate social bonding activity of all, may seem like a special case, but it isn’t. It is only when you treat sex differently from other social bonding – by venerating it, or being embarrassed by it – that it appears to be complicated. Hephzi’s experiment does nothing to demystify sex. It does the opposite: it introduces an arbitrary barrier that makes sex seem abstract, remote and threatening.
But perhaps I’m missing the point. It’s not a self-help book, after all. Did Hephzi achieve what she set out to do? If her mission was to package her attitude to sex in such a way as to make a saleable book then I’d say she has succeeded.