I just want to let you all know that in the following article there will be mention of a Celtic sex goddess, breasts, fixation on the male member and fornication.
So now if you should want to continue reading, please do, and then phone a national radio station to complain if you see fit.
It's a highly charged time we are living through. People are on edge. They can have too much time to think. They are seeing too much of the people closest to them or not enough. The millennials can't do Tinder. So sexual tension is rising.
Wanting it and having to wait for it is, of course, sexy. The anticipation. Then a drama comes on the telly with two young people having sex and everyone is talking about it. I'm sure the makers of the drama couldn't believe their luck when Joe Duffy's switchboard lit up.
The vast majority of people in today's Ireland didn't bat an eyelid at the 'sexual' content of the show but a few complaints can go a long way for the PR department. To hear the people on Joe Duffy using the word 'fornicator' was in fact, oddly quaint. There was something almost nostalgic about this fearful and negative attitude to sex.
It was like being back in the good old days when there'd be a fuss over a condom being sold in the Virgin megastore, or the mega virgin store as we used to call it.
The people complaining to Joe were like the last kick of a dying old animal. An animal that had once been all powerful and ruled the Irish countryside. The animal took guidance on all matters sexual from Rome. Now, the church does have a point that sex has been commodified by western capitalism for many years, but nevertheless the church's attitude to sex itself and especially female sexuality has always been utterly weird and hard to fathom.
Female sexuality has always been an enormous threat to not only the church but all male authority. Our own Celtic goddess Sheela-na-gig carved into temples and castles featured huge genitalia held apart by both hands and bent legs offering a fantasy of unlimited sexual licence. No wonder conquering tribes and Christian priests defaced and tried to scrape them away.
I remember being both terrified and turned on when I read my first account of unlimited sexual licence. There was a well-thumbed book of the porn classic Emmanuelle going around the lads at school. I took it home and felt a huge excitement but then a kind of shame and guilt at the explicit depiction of acts that up to then I didn't know existed. And it was only words on a page.
Imagine if I'd had access to the porn they have today. The hundreds of categories and all combinations thereof… Sweet Jesus I would have combusted on the spot.
The complaints over Normal People reminded me of a different TV age in Ireland. In 1978 there was huge uproar over a home-produced drama set in a tough inner-city school called The Spike. In episode five a life drawing class features the briefest glimpse of a middle-aged woman in the nude and RTE was inundated with irate letters and phone calls and county councils up and down the country passed motions for the axing of the programme. JB Murray, head of the League of Decency and a staunch campaigner against The Spike from the outset, suffered a heart attack while phoning the papers to complain about the nude scene.
In the end RTE bowed to this pressure and it was taken off the air. Jack Lynch, the then Taoiseach, supported the cancellation of the show - even though he hadn't seen it. People would get hot under the collar about long-running farming serial The Riordans from time to time, like when Benjy's wife Maggie asked her doctor for contraception, and there were many secret fantasies about Gabriel Byrne when he arrived on the scene. But you couldn't witness the sex act itself anywhere on the home channel.
There was one portal left, however, in the corner of the town square, where sin and carnality could get through. The Savoy Cinema in Edenderry. Most notably at the late shows on the Friday and Saturday night.
They were packed with people after the pub and courting couples. They usually featured low-brow English sex comedies like Confessions of a Window Cleaner or Rosie Dixon - Night Nurse.
The cinema manager had to dutifully use a marker to black out the offending breasts on the posters. It was against the law to have them on display. When I was in my teens I watched with bated breath expecting to see some of what I had only previously read about in the Emmanuelle book. But really they were quite tame. A lot of nudity OK but in the same school as the Carry Ons. Cheeky picture postcard humour but no actual sex.
Indeed the action in the back rows was probably more explicit then anything going on up on the screen. And then in 1982 came the massive phenomenon that swept Ireland. That was the low budget Canadian sex comedy Porky's.
This was a huge hit all over the country. In Edenderry it ran for three weeks. This was unheard of. Not even Gandhi or ET would run that long. Everybody went to it. All strata of society. It was set in a high school with a group of guys trying to lose their virginity. Porky's was more risque than previous offerings, most notably a scene featuring a guy sticking his penis through a hole in the wall of the girls' shower room and it being grabbed by a butch female gym teacher and pulled until he turned blue. Indeed there was a lot of references to the male member and all its shapes and sizes. The main protagonist was called Pee Wee and another guy was called Meat. It was aimed squarely at 14-year-old boys but that's where Ireland was back then in terms of sex. We had all the emotional maturity of a 14-year-old boy so Porky's was perfect for us.
Sex could be sniggered at and not treated seriously. We could hide our real complicated sexual desires behind a wink and a nod. Bury them down deep.
So this is why the sex scenes in Normal People are a breath of fresh air. They are very real and a million miles away from the way sex used to be depicted in blockbuster Hollywood films. Sex in these movies was like the car chase or the explosion. A necessary ingredient but in itself utterly devoid of any meaning or nuance. Back lit with some awful pop song on the sound track.
The sex in Normal People is about sex. How two people connect with it. The focus is mostly on their faces. On the effect it is having on their psyches. And it manages to be sensuous as well as truthful and honest. So hats off to Lenny Abrahamson and his two brilliant actors and hats off to Mary O'Rourke and her positive support for the show, saying that it was only young people doing what comes natural to them.
Good woman! You can be an older Irish Catholic and still be positive about sex. You can grow with the times.