Alternatives to the differences between men and women

We live in an unshockable society. That's what some people would like to believe. If you're a liberal, you talk about all the progress we've made and how far we've come since the bad old days of the 1950s.

If you're a conservative, you talk about the licentiousness of modern Western society and how we've come off the rails and gone wrong. Both sets of people quote the same statistics, about marriage break-ups and single parents, some seeing it as freedom and independence, some seeing it as the breakdown of civilisation. It's just a pity that both groups are wrong. A recent radio feature proves that we haven't moved as far as we may have either hoped, or feared. If you've ever listened to 'Woman's Hour' on the BBC, you'll know that they like to talk about women's issues and concerns. A recent item concerned couples who were experiencing problems having children.

The interviewees were complaining that they couldn't talk to the doctors. Now, you'd probably assume that medical staff can be quite candid about human relations. Well, it turns out that they get as easily embarrassed as the rest of us. One husband said that he had been asked if he was having intercourse 'regularly'.

He was baffled. After all, four times a year can be 'regular'. So can four times a week! He didn't know what to say, and when he asked for clarification, the fidgeting doctor changed the subject. The next question was whether everything was 'all right in the bedroom'? What was he expected to comment on? The décor? The medic refused to be more specific. The conversation went nowhere and was totally unenlightening.

A nurse was interviewed. She said that she had been trained to offer counselling to couples who were having problems having children. She said that the men and women she talked to were relieved to be given the chance to discuss things. Often, they had more questions than answers. They wanted to know if they were doing the right things. The nurse commented that she was able to help, because sometimes they weren't.

She said that she was staggered by the ignorance of some people. How can that be, you may ask? After years and years of lessons in the classrooms, how is it that some people still don't know everything there is to know about intimacy? Well, I remember my own experiences. In the first year in High School we studied flowers and frogs, rabbits and dogs. We then spent two weeks talking about how human beings had babies. It all seemed a bit irrelevant to me, but a year later my body started changing and I wanted to know, everything. The information I had been given was unhelpful and incomplete.

I did what everyone else did: completed my education in the schoolyard. Nowadays we have the internet. I know that most people can be shocked when they first get on-line by the graphic and adult material that offers itself, often uninvited. I learn to press the 'spam' button, but I admit that I've sneaked a look at what's available, sometimes.

One thought struck me: if I had been able to see this when I was a teenager, I would have had a lot less questions. In my day, we made love in the dark and didn't talk about it. If I knew how women's bodies were made and what they were meant to look like, and what the average man looked like also, I would have had a lot less to worry about. Still, that doesn't seem to occur to most parents, that when their kids are surfing the web, they could be looking for information and enlightenment, as much as titillation.

We assume that today's teenagers know it all and need no help. It seems we are wrong. How ironic that the popular view of a growth in public openness and freedom to discuss the most intimate details of human relations, hasn't led to a true improvement in knowledge or happiness. The fact is that the great majority of people still find it difficult to discuss either their relationships or their experiences, and that, despite the upsurge in celebrity gossip and tittle-tattle. It seems that the human capacity for hypocrisy has grown in proportion to the changes in society.

The modern public persona of blasé, knowing cool hides the private life of fear, embarrassment and ignorance, just like it always did.

Mike Scantlebury is an Internet Author, who, as we all know, are people who are easily embarrassed. He has written many books and articles from his base in Manchester, England, but doesn't like to talk about it. Well, you can check out his writing at one of his many websites. Try http://www.mikescantlebury.info

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