The best sex we can hope for

TV confession time:  since the start of the first lockdown Jo and I have watched every episode of the acclaimed ‘dramedy’, ‘This is us’.  Season 6 is now airing on Prime and we’re hooked again.  The series follows 3 generations of the Pearson family, switching backwards and forwards from the 60s to the present day with occasional future-flashes.  The characters are well developed and endearing and the stories well told but the thing that grips these two middle aged caring professionals is the true-to-life reverberation of action and consequence through generations.  The six series deal with addiction, adoption, cancer, relationships, war, abuse, crime, politics and dementia and chart the effects of these events on whole lives and on the lives of following generations.

Last night’s episode was fascinating.  Not because of any generational cause-and-consequence thread but because of the way it juxtaposed two present day stories. 

Smart, sassy, second adopted generation Pearson, Deja travels to Harvard to see her single parent, long-term boyfriend Malik.  Despite an appearance from his ex, the study and parenting pressures on Malik and the down-at-heel circumstances of his digs, they have a wonderful time, including gently and realistically suggested but unseen first-time sex.   The implied sex was consensual, safe, exclusive, intimate and beautiful – as good as most Western parents could hope the next generation’s early sexual encounters could be. 

Meanwhile first generation Pearson Uncle Nicky makes an unannounced trip to visit old flame Sally for the most awkward dinner in history with his sister in law Rebecca, her second husband Miguel and Sally’s husband Eric.   Nicky recalls a swinging sixties sexual encounter in Sally’s camper van over the meal and speaks about his subsequent 40 years of emotional pining.  Nicky speaks of his ‘deflowering’ without regret.  Indeed it was portrayed as another consensual, safe, exclusive, intimate and beautiful moment in a previous series – one of the high points of Nicky’s messy life.  But it’s clear to the viewer that the aftermath of that night in Sally’s campervan where Nicky does not join her at Woodstock is part of the matrix of tragedy, loss, and alcoholism which darken the next 40 years of his life.

The stories of these two sexual encounters side by side was a refreshingly realistic telling of the beauty, power and risk of sexual intimacy.  The episode also highlights the context of sex as key in harnessing this power, beauty and risk.   Nicky’s encounter with Sally was not set in the context of any stability, hope or commitment and so, for all it’s beauty, it became a source of regret, and angst.  Deja and Malik’s relationship seems pretty solid, but we haven’t seen Malik in the future-flashes YET.   Could this sweetness yet sour?  

I read recently that David Cameron’s dad advised his kids never to sleep with a virgin.  I think Western parents could want better for their kids.  Yes, sweetness and consent and gentleness and intimacy and beauty in the moment.  But how about a context that harnesses that raw emotional power for a lifetime of love and joy and thick-and-thin stability.   Call me old fashioned, but I do think there is a lot to be said for marriage as the context of sex.  Not just because God says so, but because in all of the cause-and-effect joy and life and brokenness and death I observe in the real world, I am yet to see a better idea.  Rebecca Pearson’s two very different, but very strong marriages seem to point that way too.