Room for Sex


Richard J Williams in Aeon Magazine:

Morningside, a late-Victorian suburb on the south side of Edinburgh is an extremely good-looking place, possessing an architectural integrity rare in Britain today. Never threatened by wartime bombs, post-war developers, or the vicissitudes of the housing market, this suburb has a direct line to the ‘Victorian city’ — and its morality. Its moral character is there for anyone to see: in the bay windows watching over every inch of street, the church on every corner, and the sheer solidity of the stone. Morningside is propriety in built form.

The suburb’s respectability was a huge attraction for me at the anxious moment of buying a flat. But after a few years of living there, that same respectability had become a bore. Then it became oppressive. The buildings began to represent a desiccated social life, defined by emotional reserve and obligation. Patrolled by curtain-twitching killjoys, Morningside seemed determined to put a stop to fun of any kind.

In retrospect, Morningside itself probably had little to do with it. Moving there coincided with the moment at which my wife and I became fully grown adults. It was a structural problem. With two careers, two kids and no money, there was little time for pleasures, sex included. Of course, we bore it all stoically and, after a while, we learned together that this was simply what adult life was like, a mess of contradictory demands, with neither the time nor the space in which they might all be satisfied. We were hardly alone: every other couple we knew seemed to find themselves in the same situation. Still, our feelings were real enough, and being an academic, I set to reading about them.