Saturday, 24 October 2020

Sex in a time of pandemic

In March there was little one could focus on apart from the immediacy of the pandemic and related lockdown measures. As the year has progressed I have found myself trying to place Covid-19 in an historical and cultural context. In large part, this has entailed watching various programmes looking at the cultural output of previous pandemics. As you might expect BBC Four has been a regular secondary source.

One piece of literature was repeatedly referenced. The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio. I do not recall hearing of it prior to this summer, yet seemingly now I cannot go more than a couple of days before hearing a reference to it in podcasts, television programmes or artwork. For those who are not familiar with the text, it was written in the early 1350s and based upon the story telling among 7 young women and 3 young men all of whom were aged between 18 and 28. The ten were staying in isolation outside of the plague-ridden city of Florence. The tales told contain humour, love, tragedy, morality and sex. A lot of sex, not infrequently involving members of religious orders. The craft of the euphemism to describe the act is taken to quite the extreme of both inventiveness and amusement. 

The examples are many, but let me cite this passage from the Tenth Story of the Third Day:

 "Rustico, what is this, which I see thee have, that so protrudes, and which I have not?" "Oh! my daughter," said Rustico, "'tis the Devil of whom I have told thee: and, seest thou? he is now tormenting me most grievously, insomuch that I am scarce able to hold out." Then:—"Praise be to God," said the girl, "I see that I am in better case than thou, for no such Devil have I." "Sooth sayst thou," returned Rustico; "but instead of him thou hast somewhat else that I have not." "Oh!" said Alibech, "what may that be?" "Hell," answered Rustico: "and I tell thee, that 'tis my belief that God has sent thee hither for the salvation of my soul; seeing that, if this Devil shall continue to plague me thus, then, so thou wilt have compassion on me and permit me to put him in hell, thou wilt both afford me great and exceeding great solace, and render to God an exceeding most acceptable service, if, as thou sayst, thou art come into these parts for such a purpose." 


I shall presume that you managed to work out the context of the passage above. It is certainly not an isolated incident in the book.

And thus, perhaps when I logged onto Twitter to see the term #dogging trending, there was a form of parallel, albeit somewhat less creatively described, with the culture of pandemics past. The trigger for the trending terminology was a clarification from the Prime Minister that couples who live apart in Tier Two or Three restricted areas of England could not meet indoors. The alternative proposal of 'dogging' was a tongue-in-cheek (wait, am I doing it wrong?) solution to the predicament.