You heard it here first, reader: sex is dead

Thanks to George Galloway, I've been taken back to an age where a touch could electrify – and sex was still a serious business

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The Independent Online

Nietzsche wasn’t right about everything. “Gott ist tot,” he told us. Wrong. God is still very much with us.

He lives on as a derangement in the minds of people who kill to express their love for Him, or kill to assert His non-existence. If Gott were really tot we’d hear His name invoked less often.

But modern man has to be convinced he’s put something behind him – some system of belief, some style in art, some way of looking at the world. So if God isn’t dead, who or what is? My candidate is sex. Reader, you read it here first. Sex Is Dead.

We could start in Soho, where chocolate and cupcake shops have replaced the heartbreak peepshows and masochistic parlours in which, for the brief illusion of rapture, young men once threw away their inheritances and their health. But let’s start instead with George Galloway and Cristina Odone – the Tristan and Iseult of current affairs broadcasting. Last seen burning up our screens on Question Time.

Galloway has since referred to Odone as “the saintly figure with wandering hands”, thereby attesting to the sexual friction between them. That they don’t like each other goes without saying, but sex isn’t always an expression of liking. The possibility of attraction where there is hostility is a troubling discovery that all men and women who are honest about their emotions make early, what they go on to do with that discovery often determining the sexual course their lives will take.

I know nothing of the sexual course of Cristina or George’s life, though I do recall seeing the latter on his hands and knees lapping milk from a saucer like a cat – unless I dreamed it after eating too much cheese. Maybe I also dreamed his elegant meditation on sexual misunderstanding: “Not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion.”

As for the gestes de tendresse exchanged with Odone on Question Time, it is worth noting that Galloway had already been softened up by the calm severity exercised by the journalist Jonathan Freedland. Softened up in the sense of being made to look intellectually clumsy and politically foolish, but the encounter could also have acted as a sort of foreplay, rendering him the more susceptible to Odone’s “wandering hands”.

She appeared to touch his arm anyway, in the crazed hope of persuading him to a point of view that wasn’t his own, whereupon those juices that make men say and do impetuous things flooded Galloway’s being. “Take your hands off me!” he cried. Not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion, but no means no.


How salutary, in these morally slack times, to be reminded of the importance of a touch. It was as though we’d been returned to the world of the Victorian novel, only this time it wasn’t an outraged maiden saying, “Unhand me, you bounder!” It was George Galloway.

For returning me to such a world, if for nothing else, I feel indebted to the Respect Member for Bradford West. He is right: a touch can be momentous. It’s because a touch matters that readers of Jane Austen all but faint when there is the subtlest intimation of one.

I have previously, in this column, confessed to perturbations of the heart when Captain Wentworth, assisting Anne Elliot into her carriage, lays hand upon her. I don’t read Jane Austen to be aroused, but if arousal is what you’re after then Anne Elliot confounded by the abrupt intimacy of Wentworth’s intervention offers a thousand times more of it than you will find in any of E L James’s heroine’s lucubrations on the size of her lover’s erection. To wit: “It springs free.” He slips a condom “onto his considerable length”. (Oh, Sir Jasper, what considerable length you have.) “Holy cow!” exclaims she, in erotic wonderment.

It isn’t only that the author of Fifty Shades of Grey lacks the ear, the passion, the wit, the adroitness, the seriousness and the sense of the ridiculous of a Jane Austen – or a Danielle Steel, come to that – it is that she lacks the gravitas of a George Galloway for whom, at least in the instance detailed above, even the smallest physical advance is fraught with significance.

Reader, we are grown too light in the consideration we show our bodies and in the messages we exchange through them. And where there’s no weight in the contact, and no seriousness in our interpretation of it, there is no sex worth the discussing. I don’t say you have to be desperate to be inflamed by Fifty Shades of Grey – though you most certainly have to be sheltered – I say you have to be cowardly. You have to want sex without the sex.

So, to be clear, while I do think explicitness is usually the end of the erotic, which is why Henry James wrote hotter novels than Jackie Collins, it is not in the name of prudishness that I say so. I can take as much filth as the next man or woman. It’s possible I can take more. But filth, too, exacts obligations. We talk about pornography as though we know its precise delineations and limits, where it fails as art, at what point it degrades love. But pornography is not a discrete entity. In sex, and so in art, we move in and out of it.

Degradation and even violence visit us in sex, often when we don’t expect or welcome them. It can seem sometimes that sex is a little death flirting with the idea of a big one, and who’s to say where that flirtation will stop?

Writers of true pornography such as De Sade, Bataille or Pauline Réage recognise that their subject lies on the far side of that line, where to deal with sex means to deal with life in extremis.

They are nothing if not in earnest. Sex dies when it’s reduced to lightly perfumed tales of couples locking one another into panda-skin handcuffs bought from Ann Summers. Lovers who take greater risks call this vanilla sex. I wish readers a happy Valentine’s Day. But not a vanilla one.