I was an opinionated little boy. Ask ten-year-old ILB and he would tell you that he was a pacifist. At nine, he became a vegetarian. At eight, he cried to his mother that he was upset by boys in his class using the word ‘gay’ as an insult. At two, a Tory canvasser came to the door and he squeaked “Vote Labour!” while sitting on his father’s shoulder.
I had my moments at the age of eleven, just after I started secondary school. A woman in uniform came to assembly to recruit young children to be cadets and I got up and walked out. My head of year said we had visiting rats who came to the playground after dark so I left food for them in hidden corners. I complained loudly about the school selling Nestlé products and refused to use the tuck shop unless they stopped (they didn’t stop; I stopped buying tuck).
My one blind spot was sex.
I’ve known about sex since I was about two, but the concept never appealed to me. I’d missed out on the year 5 sex ed video because I was sick that day, but I didn’t miss anything I didn’t really know. I knew, basically, the mechanics of it all, but I considered it dirty, and disrespectful, even – that is to say, I pretended I did. In reality, I was starting to get interested in sex; I still didn’t want to have any, but I found the concept a fascinating study.
And this was a rapid change.
A teasing young girl came up to ask me if I was interested in someone I’d never heard of before. When I said that I wasn’t, she answered with “So you don’t think she’d be good in bed?”
“I don’t know what it’s like in bed,” I said theatrically, with an eye-roll. Later that day, I tried to envision what it would actually be like. The following day, I did the same. And again, and again, and again…
My brain invented my sex machine once we’d had the biology module and I knew what sex could actually look like. By this point, I was too far gone – and, although I wasn’t masturbating (because I knew that was wrong), I had come around the idea that sex, although it still wasn’t for me, was okay.
By the end of the year, the eleven-year-old boy who wrote the sentence “I don’t know why humans would want to have sex other than to have children” was twelve, standing in his RS classroom, making a speech about how sex outside marriage was perfectly OK, consent to such an act was perfectly dependent upon the individual, oh, and that there was nothing wrong with being gay. (That wasn’t in the question: I just added it on.)
Young ILB grew quicker than he would have liked, but his opinions kept coming. He fiercely defended his opinion on gay people in year 9 when his History class seemed resistant to the concept. He stood outside biology classes when they dissected animal hearts. He stopped fights by standing between the belligerents, preferring that they hit him instead of each other.
And, by the time he was fourteen, he was a full-on sexual justice warrior, fiercely defending the right of people to have sex when, how and if they wanted to – talking freely about consent, what an orgasm was, how to use a condom, and wondering exactly what periods were, since they didn’t tell us that bit. I even tried to talk to my parents about sex (they were a little abashed).
At 17, I was one of the first (and few) young people in my year to lose his virginity; by 18, I was one of the… two? three? ish? people in the year who was actually having regular sex with a regular partner. I was dumped when still 18, and until the age of 21, while not having any sex at all I was getting in touch with my sexual identity, pleasuring myself all the way through university.
36-year-old ILB looks back and wonders where the binary switch was.
And now it comes to me that maybe I wasn’t alone here. Maybe everyone had a moment where they woke up and suddenly a “sex is gross” / “sex is great” volte-face clicked into place. Possibly a single epiphanic event or possibly a number of experiences. Or, like me, it just happened.
It’s just occurred to me that I’ve never really asked anyone.
So I suppose I’m doing that now.