Monday, October 09, 2006

Sex and Bombs

Sex and Free Love

From the introduction of the contraceptive pill 1960 until the panics over Herpes and then AIDS in 1981 there was a generation which lived without having to worry about the costs of sex. Throughout all previous history women had paid the highest price for sex because of pregnancy; but men also faced costs because of sexually transmitted diseases. The most known of these were syphilis (which eventually leads to dementia) and gonorrhea. Antibiotics were the magic bullets that allowed sex without worry of disease (other STDs were not really considered), and then the pill made pregnancy an option.

What followed was a sexual free for all - at one stage there were straight bath-houses where people could drop in for sex after work (e.g. Plato's Retreat in New York). All this changed almost overnight in 1981. Within a couple of months women's magazines were full of horror stories about herpes, a disease that was sexually transmitted, and was incurable. There was a full blown panic, and one that preceded worries over AIDS. Then along came AIDS, a disease which (at that time) led to a quick and horrible death.

The period of freedom of worry about the cost of sex was over. Condoms were promoted, and for the first time the costs of sex became more or less equal for men and women. The whole cultural change was so fast that those of us who lived through can still use it as an example of just how fast social mores can change.

Mutually Assured Destruction and the Bomb

For most of my lifetime children grew up with the knowledge that we might all die in a nuclear war. Both sides in the Cold War were armed to the teeth with mega-death weapons. Movie after movie depicted cold war tension, and several (e.g. Threads, Mad Max) imagined life after a nuclear war. We all grew up knowing that if politicians got it wrong, we could all die, and with the moral problem that we were electing governments which were committed to using indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction.

And then came 1989. The Berlin Wall fell, and the Soviet Union soon collapsed. For the past 17 years there has been a generation of children who have not had to worry about nuclear war. Terrorism is horrible, but it does not instantly destroy the world, and for most people in the West (outside big cities) it is not really a daily threat.

And then came today. North Korea has exploded a nuclear bomb. A scraggy poverty-ridden thug state has found a way to make itself a world player. The possibility of nuclear proliferation has now become the actuality.

The seventeen years of freedom from worry about the bomb may now be over.

No comments: