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Youthful Fumblings: A Pre-Sexual Revolution Valentine’s Day

The late great British poet Philip Larkin once wrote: “Sexual intercourse began/ In 1963/ (which was rather late for me)/ Between the end of the Chatterley ban/ And the Beatles’ first LP.” In other words, before the ’60s really hit, sex between consenting, possibly madly in love young people, was furtive, fumbling and shameful — even if it was also hot. In this collection, listen up for cringeworthy boudoir scenes and the euphoria of new freedom. From premature ejaculation to creepy nicknames to diarrhea, happy Valentine’s Day.

  • Before becoming the Grand Old Man of American literature, Philip Roth built his career on chronicling the sexual frustrations of the Jewish man (see Portnoy's Complaint — the protagonist infamously masturbates with a piece of liver!). Goodbye Columbus was his first book, including short stories as well as the title novella about Brenda Patimkin, the perfect Jewish princess and Neil Klugman, her swain from the wrong side of the (New Jersey) tracks.... Theirs is a doomed love, from the first mention of Brenda's nose job to silent lovemaking by the flickering shadows of her family's basement rec room TV to Neil's extravagantly loose bowels brought on by overconsumption of plums and cherries from the Patimkins' designated "fruit refrigerator." Romeo and Juliet they're not, but the tragedy is just as clear: Assimilation is stronger than passion. And too many unwashed nectarines can really catch up on a guy.

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  • If ever there was a book that argued the case for premarital sex, it is On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. In 1962, Florence and Edward are newlyweds, both virgins, and their wedding night is…British. Perhaps that's an unfairly pejorative adjective, considering the Anglophone romps of other books in this group, but this wedding night is definitely of the "Close your eyes and think of England" variety. McEwan's writing is meticulous yet... florid — the candied cherry garnish atop the bride and groom's appetizer cantaloupe becomes a succulent symbol of Edward's desire and Florence's fear. When she gives him the fruit to suck off the tip of her finger, he assumes it indicates her lust, while in fact she is nervously ill with fear. It is a tribute to the writer that the reader feels equally touched by both characters.

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  • Lynn Barber was 16 when she met Simon Goldman, an older man of mysterious means and origins. For two years — those crucial pre-sexual revolution years, from 1960-62 — Simon squired Lynn to restaurants and plays, and took her for "dirty weekends" in Paris. Her parents, upright middle-class Brits, seemed not to mind their daughter's slow seduction. Instead, they welcomed Simon into their home and family, until the day all of his... tall stories finally fell apart. Barber's prose is both biting and self-deprecating. When Simon refers to himself as "Bubl" and to his schoolgirl paramour as "Minn," Barber wrings the full sexual ickiness out of the nicknames; deflowering her, she writes, he asks if "Minn would do Bubl the honour of welcoming him into her home." Ewww.

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  • On the other side of the decade — from the late '60s through the even more free-lovin'
    '70s — is Miss O'Dell. Now 20 years sober, O'Dell recalls her days of working for the Beatles' Apple Records and "assisting" the Rolling Stones (finding girls for Mick to bed — herself included — and scoring drugs for Keith). Longtime best friends with Pattie Boyd, she was present when George Harrison lost Boyd to his... friend Eric Clapton. And O'Dell herself slept with Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr and…Was she a groupie? Well, when it comes to the mores of Sexual Revolution (mis)behavior, is that even a relevant question? Unlike the fictional heroines of Amis, McEwan, and Roth, O'Dell is not overtly symbolic. Like Lynn Barber, she was just a girl —one who happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right people: post 1963, after the Beatles' first LP.

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