I would like to say ‘consternation gripped the nation’ but in truth the first on-screen under-duvet copulation on British TV seemed to pass by with barely a mention in the media.
The producers of Teen Big Brother may have had an inkling that putting a mixed group of eighteen year olds in the same bedroom might have led to some hanky panky, but as far as I could tell the expectation was not ‘sexed up’ and outraged parents were not sitting glued to their TV sets ready to fire off horrified letters of complaint.
Most people would have thought little about the touching scenes next day when Tommy and Jade were expected to explain themselves. Both used the word ‘dirty’ to describe the act. Both looked sheepish and said they felt guilty. Jade was worried about appearing ‘easy’. They were awkward with each other and could barely make eye contact – behaviour which would have been expected from most teenagers in similar circumstances. In fact all the consternation seemed to be in minds of the participants of the sexual act itself, which naive commentators believe to be a model of unalloyed pleasure.
Freud would not have been surprised at the poignant expressions of guilt and confusion by the TV lovers. In his three famous papers on the psychology of love he examines some common but contradictory aspects of love which reveal unconscious reasons for our sexual behaviour.
The second of these papers, with the cumbersome but illuminating title “On the Universal Tendency to Debasement in the Sphere of Love”, brings together the problem of psychical impotence (when there is no physical reason for the inability to perform the sexual act) to the tendency for men to overvaluate women on the one hand (as a ‘mother’ or ‘madonna’ figure) and degrade them on the other (as a ‘whore’).
It is as if men find it difficult to bring together feelings of affection with feelings of sexual desire, while for women the sexual act itself may diminish their self-respect. In Freud’s view, our first sexual feelings are directed towards incestuous objects, and are forbidden and dangerous; we are left in later life with a residue of guilt and conflict that is impossible to eradicate.
Thus a contradiction is revealed in the nature of sexuality which allows a separation between desire and performance, and, stranger still, between desire and pleasure (“a state of affairs that is more common than one would think” says Freud).
But there is a paradox. Human beings become habituated and bored in their love lives. The continued influence of early sexual prohibitions can destroy the ability to perform sexually but is also necessary for the establishment of sexual desire. If obtaining sexual pleasure becomes ‘easy’, its value is diminished, and even life itself seems less worth living.
“An obstacle is required in order to heighten libido; and where natural resistances to satisfaction have not been sufficient men have at all times erected conventional ones so as to be able to enjoy love. This is true both of individuals and of nations” (p256-7)
But this does not seem to be the case with other instincts, says Freud, and in one of his more elegaic passages, he offers a telling example.
“Consider, for example, the relation of a drinker to wine. Is it not true that wine always provides the drinker with the same toxic satisfaction, which in poetry has so often been compared to erotic satisfaction – a comparison acceptable from the scientific point of view as well? Has one ever heard of a drinker being obliged constantly to change his drink because he soon grows tired of keeping to the same one?… Does one ever hear of a drinker who needs to go to another country where wine is dearer or drinking is prohibited, so that by introducing obstacles he can reinforce the dwindling satisfaction that he obtains? Not at all. If we listen to what our great alcoholics, such as Böcklin, say about their relation to wine, it sounds like the most perfect harmony, a model of a happy marriage. Why is the relation of the lover to his sexual object so very different?” (p257-8)
Readers will be gratified to learn that alcohol was forbidden in the Teen Big Brother household.