Middle-aged men behaving badly should keep quiet

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The Independent Online

The recent claim by Gene Simmons, the lead singer of the heavy-metal band Kiss, that he has had carnal relations with over 4,700 women will doubtless be dismissed either as boastful exaggeration, or some kind of playful postmodernist joke, but I tend to take it seriously. He has, after all, taken the trouble to keep nude photographs of most of his lovers, evidence which he keeps in a Beverly Hills vault – "I had to keep a record, just like a tourist," he says.

To judge by a recent press profile, he is still adding to his collection. During an interview at the Plaza Hotel in New York, the veteran rocker startled a journalist by breaking off mid-answer in order to nip into an adjoining bedroom to visit his girlfriend of the day. After a few intimate noises off, he returned, refreshed and ready for the next question.

For me, a more interesting statistic than Simmons's score-sheet – if you make a living singing songs called "Love Gun" and "Lick It Up" such things are almost a professional duty – is that of his age, 52. Here, probably for the first time for some years, the old boy is part of a trend. Plain and paunchy middle-aged men have always behaved as badly as anyone else, possibly more so; now they have decided to tell the world about it.

Last year, that ardent self-promoter Professor John Bayley claimed – falsely, it was later discovered – that, after the death of Iris Murdoch, he had been seduced by a couple of younger female admirers (not at the same time). More recently, a rather ludicrous report suggesting that sex improves with age prompted the usual band of media show-offs to boast in print about their erotic prowess.

Most were women – nothing unusual there – but the writer Geoffrey Wansell joined in, volunteering the information that, at the age of 56, "you can't go on and on for hours – at least not without putting your back out." Sex was better for him now than it was when he was in his 20s, even if "I may have to take a rest in the middle."

Enough, please. There is something terribly sad about men over the age of 50 revealing this sort of thing. While Barbara Windsor can get away with chatting about her younger boyfriend, speculation this weekend that Philip Windsor, the Duke of Edinburgh, has a special female friend is oddly off-putting.

The imagination can just about cope with the idea of Joan Collins on her honeymoon with a partner 30 years younger than her but similar thoughts of, say, Phil Collins would be inexplicably disgusting.

Women are simply better at this game. The American writer Susan Minot has just written a novel which, from beginning to end, is built around a single 12-minute act of oral gratification. It is rather a clever idea, an erotic reworking of Nicholson Baker's 15-minutes-in-a-lift story The Mezzanine, yet one senses that, if any male author tried the same trick, it would end up seeming seedy and boastful.

Can anything be done to reverse the trend? Apparently not. Last week, a new TV series called Manchild was launched, aiming to apply the formula that worked so well for Sex and the City – the adventures and insights of four attractive young women looking for sex in Manhattan – to a group of British men in their 50s. Distressingly, the Sarah Jessica Parker role, a narrator supplying a knowing voice-over commentary, is played by Nigel Havers.

Let us all hope that the sheer ludicrousness of building a drama series around the fantasies and erotic adventures of a group of middle-aged smoothies will act as aversion therapy, and that sheer public distaste will make John Bayley, Geoffrey Wansell, Gene Simmons and other ageing Romeos think twice next time before going intimate on us.

terblacker@aol.com

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