Right. Deep breath. I have something I want to say. It's about sex. But I am sitting here in my paisley pyjamas as my coffee goes cold and my deadline gets closer and closer - and I find it even more difficult than usual to get started. I fear the consequences.
I know what it feels like to be shamed when you write the wrong thing. If I say what I really think, I fear what kind of response I will get. Even from people who know me. "God, you really put yourself out there." (Fortunately my boyfriend just looks up from Trackside and says "Write whatever you want, babe").
When I mentioned nonchalantly on Facebook I might write about sex I got 128 comments, many of them critical and shaming already, and I hadn't even written the bloody thing yet.
"Don't." "Ew, seriously who wants to read about that." "Gee - why?" "I fear for the reaction, never mind what tack you take." "Be careful what you say, you have children." "Personally I think you will regret it." "Once words are out there you can never take them back and others have to live with them forever. False friends will urge you on. Don't."
Someone said observing my recent posts on Facebook they were not comfortable with me writing about sex - I think they were referring to me posting a lot of gratuitously flattering selfies. (But if you knew what I looked like as a deeply unappealing teenager you might understand.) "Aren't all of your columns basically about sex?" "Still the biggest taboo." "I worry about you revealing too much of yourself." My favourite answer: "There are only three themes in great columns: Sex, the royal family and pets."
It's quite likely I will regret it. I often get a preliminary "shame hangover" after I file this column but before it has been printed. I turn over in bed at 3am and groan, thinking why did I write that? How much public shaming am I going to get? And I'm not even on Twitter.
Monica Lewinsky, remember her? Who at the age of 22 fell in love with her boss and discovered the consequences, just came out publicly to talk about losing her reputation and her dignity, and almost losing her life. She feared she would be humiliated to death, literally. And that was before social media. Journalist Jon Ronson's new book So You've Been Publicly Shamed looks at case studies of people who have been humiliated in the public eye - and concludes all these people's punishments by far outweighed the gravity of their so-called crimes. He also talks about the shaming of columnists who write ill-considered articles - er, that would be me - and how the shame leads to mortification, "a word that should give us a strong clue as to its ultimate consequence".
Some scientists believe all violence has its roots in shame. But now that I have given that long preamble - more coffee - I do want to talk about sex. I love sex, the act itself, all of it. But that's not what I want to say.
The revelation I have had is that it has taken me 47 years to realise I simply can't manage to fulfil the feminist sex-is-just-sex, zipless f*** ideal. I can't. When my marriage ended I had no end of friends giving me advice that I should just have a fling with someone young, hot and emotionally meaningless. An amuse bouche, if you like. Sex was seen as some kind of detached emotional panacea, a sort of upmarket yoga. And I believed it. I was brought up in a generation where if you had read Germaine Greer and were stroppy and determined not to be dominated by men, you felt you should be able to have sex with a barista just for fun, like doing stand up paddle boarding, as a sign of your liberation. (Although come to think of it baristas hadn't been invented then, let alone SUP.)
The ultimate aim was to be independent. Able to have a shag without engaging your heart. And that was before Friends with Benefits. Sorry feminist sisters, I have studied attachment theory and I have come to the conclusion this is impossible. Pretending you can be frightfully modern and have sex and walk away is a big con.
In fact, attachment theorists have identified the dependency paradox, the more effectively people are dependent on each other, the more independent and daring they become.
But we live in a society which tends to scorn basic needs for intimacy, closeness and exalts independence.
We are supposed to be emotionally self-sufficient. But attachment theorists know we need to be close. Dependency is not a bad word. I have always had a passionate "skin hunger" and need for touch and intimacy, and have felt self-conscious by what I thought was my weird neediness. Everyone else seemed so nonchalant. (I may be wrong, as it is not something people talk about.) So I might be ashamed of this column today but no one is going to make me ashamed of needing to be held close, naked, loved.
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