LAST week I was getting all hot and bothered about the disappearance of embarrassment from the national adolescent curriculum. I'd always hoped that my children would be more relaxed about sex than I was. I just don't want them to be relaxed about it in front of me. Is this unreasonable? After all, among the crucial separating off experiences of one's youth is the act of seizing on certain aspects of life (sex and fashion, for example) and pretending your parents are laughably ignorant. My daughters are getting on well with this fiction at the moment, discussing dressing up for discos as if the idea never even occurred to their mother's generation. Daft, I know, but this is as it should be. What I find less healthy is the way that Sarah, my 14-year-old, will insist on talking to me about sex.
In a way I'm flattered to be trusted this much (although I proved pretty useless at the '10 ways to know you are a lesbian' quiz we did together). However, I do draw the line at tampon jokes which seem to be going the rounds at the moment. The diry joke has a role in society. It is a closet act of communion between two or more people whose level of intimacy goes beyond normal propriety. Whether those initiates be lovers, a class of 14-year-old girls or the lads down the pub, the dirty joke is an act of special inclusivity by dint of the fact that other people (such as teachers and bosses) are specifically excluded from its risque humour. Take away the existence of those who aren't supposed to hear and its cachet is lost.
Well, speaking personally, I want to be excluded from my daughter's smuttiness. Not because I disapprove, but because I think it's healthier for all concerned that I'm not counted as one of the girls. Embarrassment has a value, though I'd begun to despair of finding any in the younger generation. So I was pleased to hear 12-year-old Ginny counsel Sarah against repeating one particularly outrageous limerick in front of their mother.
"Oh God, that would be awful," Sarah agreed. "Imagine if she didn't get it!" Now that really would be embarrassing.