Rich and Mad

My first experience of pornography came at the age of nine. As a day boy at a mostly-boarding prep school I was secretly commissioned by a boarder to buy him a copy of the News of the World, so he could look at the semi-naked women. I couldn’t see the point myself. A few years later, now myself at boarding school, I was allowed to look at a friend’s pack of five black-and-white photographs sent in a plain envelope from Amsterdam. I was overwhelmed.

Today any teenager can see full-colour full-action hardcore video porn for nothing at any time they desire. One survey claims that by the age of eighteen, 93% of boys and 62% of girls have watched internet porn at least once. I don’t blame them. If I’d had their access I’d have been glued to the screen.

But I also remember other longings from my teenage years, which were just as powerful. The hunger to be loved, and the desperate need to be approved in my uncertain maleness. These longings were partly sexual, but they were also intensely emotional. When at last I had sex for the first time, with my first ever girlfriend, who I adored beyond all reason, the whole experience was one of glory and wonder. True, a purist with a stopwatch could have clocked my performance at well under fifteen seconds, but the glory and the wonder is with me still.

In more recent years, now as a writer of books for children and teenagers, I found myself looking back on those days with affection. My own children, it seemed to me, could never know such innocence, such ignorance, such excitement. But then I thought: why not? Are they so very different? Just because they can look at sexual acts I could barely imagine at their age, does it mean anything else has changed?

When I was in my teens I knew all about my own fears and longings, all of which revolved round girls; but I knew nothing about girls. It seemed to me that they had all the power – to grant me status, joy, respite for my passions – while I had none. No source of information told me otherwise. I learned the technicalities of sex in the usual muddled ways. I followed the love affairs of characters in books and films. But nothing really connected the two. There was nothing that told the story of love and sex, and how they affect each other, for better and worse.

I think there’s still nothing today.

For all the sex-saturation of our present world, the stories on offer remain segregated. They’re either romantic or they’re pornographic. The victory of pornography is so total that writers and film makers are afraid to include explicit sex in their stories lest they’re branded pornographers. So the battle is lost. Sensitive, intelligent, truth-telling writers – I aspire to be one such – abandon the field to talentless exploiters. As a result a generation is growing up in the belief that porn is all there is of sex; that the ritualised sequences of suck, lick and poke are how it’s done, and are all that’s to be experienced.

My other books for young people are in the end all about love. I resolved that in my new book I would take the next step, and explore the world of love and sex. Rich and Mad is my attempt to tell girls what boys are feeling, and to tell boys what girls are feeling – boys like the boy I once was. It’s my attempt to be truthful about sexual fears and longings. And it’s my attempt to convey the glory and the wonder I felt all those years ago.

One reviewer has called it ‘definitely national-curriculum-approved sex within a loving relationship’, which is true, but makes it sound like an instruction manual. My book makes no claim to any authoritative status. It’s not based on statistical research. It’s a story, made up the way all writers make up stories, out of their own lives and observations. It’s meant to be truthful the way fiction can be truthful, in that readers respond, Yes, I’ve felt that way too. The book is only just published, so I have yet to learn whether I’m right.

The story ends with an account of my characters, Rich and Maddy, having sex for the first time. I have been warned that such explicitness will be offensive to some, perhaps to many, and that teachers and librarians will feel unable to make the book available to their young charges. We shall see. I for one refuse to leave all depictions of sex to the pornographers.