Photo by Marharyta Marko

No sex, please, you’re unvaccinated 

The puritanical streak in the British character has gone into overdrive with Covid-19

Artillery Row

Being candid about sex was never a British strongpoint. The 1973 British comedy film No Sex Please, We’re British, based on the same-named play, poked fun at the British tendency to get our knickers in a twist about the beast with two backs. 

In the film a clerk in a small-town British bank is appalled to receive a package containing pornography, rather than the new calculator he expected. His efforts to rid himself of the unexpected delivery, while avoiding detection, result in a farcical series of events.

Back when the film came out, Brits could at least recognise and keep a sense of humour about the national inclination for being more uptight compared to other more passionate nationalities. But the never-ending strictures of Covid-19 diktats are taking us into a whole new territory of sexlessness and joylessness. 

The government’s recent announcement that from September vaccine passports would be mandatory to access nightclubs and “other large venues” is yet another state intervention that penalises the young and interferes with the usual pre-requisite for being able to have sex in its traditional form: meeting someone else.

Hypocrisy and callousness of many in government has been a hallmark of the pandemic response

During the past 16 months there’s been little frank discussion in media or among the commentary glitterati—and there still isn’t amid the continuing doom loop—about the impact of social-distancing restrictions on, at the more lustful end of the spectrum, the ability to get your end away to satisfy that primal urge and avoid clawing the walls, and at the more meaningful end, the ability to fall in love and everything that goes with it, such as starting a family. 

Might this partly be because those who decide policy, and who write and talk about it, are often already married or in relationships, and hence have access to sex—or at least a mundane version of it—and so needn’t worry about the implications of turning society into an atomised social disaster zone?  

For those who weren’t in a relationship when the pandemic broke, the last 16 months have morphed into an enormous Covid-19 chastity belt that keeps acquiring additional layers of armour plating. For anyone who had come out of a relationship before the Covid-19-response sledge-hammer fell, the subsequent nights of solitude set against lush and still vivid memories of the five senses on fire has surely been a particular agony.

It’s not just over sex that the hypocrisy and callousness of many in government and among the general population has been highlighted through their support of restrictions that they can better weather than others in less fortunate situations. It’s been a hallmark of the pandemic response: ranging from thumbs up to lockdowns and working at home from those in nice spacious middle-class homes to the closure of pubs, churches and community spaces being cheered by those who no longer use or need them.

But there’s something darker happening when a government feels increasingly empowered to control the loins of the nation. Announcing the requirement for vaccinations to dance the night away, Boris Johnson pronounced “some of life’s most important pleasures and opportunities are likely to be increasingly dependent on vaccination”, and that the government reserves “the right to mandate certification at any point”.

Just how wide-ranging could that “some” become, both in terms of what the government pushes and what society accepts, given the acquiescing evidence so far? Perhaps, deeper down in the collective subconscious, there are other motives at play. The American journalist H.L. Mencken defined puritanism as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy”. Has this fear mapped onto the already strained British relationship with sex, compounded by intergenerational tensions generated by Covid-19?

It’s not easy getting old. The energy wilts, the body sags, while the young have everything you are losing in abundance: vitality, looks—and wild sex, damn them. As if that’s not unfair enough, then Covid-19 comes along to imperil your last years, and those frisky whipper snappers enjoying themselves could spread the new disease.   

The government and society’s response to the perceived danger has been taken to such extraordinary lengths, that it risks—if it hasn’t already done so—driving a permanent wedge between generations. The young are witnessing a continual sacrifice of their life chances for an older generation who don’t appear willing to acknowledge the need for reciprocation. This could have profoundly negative implications for British democracy.

“Satisfaction with democracy in Anglo-Saxon countries drops off significantly in younger generations,” Sam Ashworth-Hayes writes in the Spectator article It’s no surprise younger voters are losing faith in democracy, which describes how faith in the British State, and the role of government as a benevolent social planner that redistributes resources for the benefit of all, was already floundering badly before Covid-19 restrictions:

“Years of austerity cuts combined with triple locking pensions ensured that while working-age families—particularly those with children—lost out, pensioners were protected. When Covid-19 reached Britain, those same young people were asked to stay at home to once again protect the elderly and did it willingly.”

That willingness can only go so far. As younger generations increasingly experience Britain as, in Ashworth-Hayes words, “less a democracy than a gerontocracy”, it should come as no surprise “if their interest in alternative ways of governance with markedly more left-wing economic outcomes strengthens”.

There’s a darker element to all this too—both to the conceit of the benevolent state and to protecting vulnerable grandparents nodding sagely to government’s restrictions on younger generations that extend all the way into the womb.

Back in March 2020, with everyone focused on the pandemic’s arrival, the UK Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) published legislation that would allow a woman to have an abortion at home without medical supervision, representing the most significant change to abortion legislation since the 1967 Abortion Act.

“Pressure had been mounting on the government on this issue for years until March 2020 when the abortion lobby saw the opportunity it had long been waiting for,” Andrea Williams, director of Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre, wrote in her Critic article One year on from home abortions.

Too much sex on the one hand, too little on the other

Given more permissive abortion and the sex-denying trends of Covid-19 responses coming on the back of plummeting birth rates in the West, one wonders where the government plans to get its next batch of merry taxpayers from. This challenge won’t be helped by talk of a revolt against sexual liberalism as people turn against an overtly sexualised society and the problems it’s bestowing. In true British tradition regarding copulation, things are increasingly muddled: too much sex on the one hand, too little on the other. 

Who knows where this current No Sex Please, We Are In A Global Pandemic comedy of errors goes next? Might we eventually have to wear masks when having sex with an unvaccinated partner? Given another variant, will we have to apply for a government sex passport, based on both lusty parties being tested and allocated a government-approved window of opportunity to get your rocks off?

Considering where we have gone from the end of 2019 to where we are now, who knows what is feasible. It might not need government to censor: people are already asking for vaccination evidence on dating apps and then virtuously Tweeting about it. Cupid must be weeping.

Regardless of what comes next, great damage has already been done to trust and belief in the social contract among the young, whose demands are not excessive or that different to generations before. 

“They want stable employment, affordable housing and to be able to start a family—for which gig economy jobs, skyrocketing rents and whippet hybrids in posh dog beds are poor substitutes,” writes Ashworth-Hayes. “Above all, they want to live in a country that takes their wellbeing seriously, rather than viewing it as an irritating constraint on the ability of the state to extract every last drop of blood from them in service of the grey vote.”

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