I love today’s story. I’ve posted it before. It’s certainly in my book. I was prompted to re-visit it after reading Tariq Ali’s exploration of a defining year, 1963, in today’s Guardian. A year so monumental that Philip Larkin felt moved to write a poem about it.
One of the things that got me as I researched this era was the realisation that the 1960’s wasn’t quite as ‘free’ as people would have you believe, particularly for women. There is a great quote in Cate Haste’s book ‘The Rules of Desire’, that goes something like, ‘yes, it was all about free love but in practice, this was often an excuse for men to make women feel guilty about not wanting to have sex within five minutes of first meeting them.' Walls may come tumbling down, contraceptive pills may be invented but it can take slightly longer than five minutes to change a mind formulated by years of patriarchy. (Not to mention the fact that yes, whilst it is more culturally acceptable for a woman to hop into bed with a man she’s only just met in 2013, five minutes, ten minutes, hell, three years to think about it is and always will be your prerogative, wherever you come from).
This aside, today’s story illustrates nicely how, once the tipping point started tipping, there was no stopping it, much to the irritation of today’s story teller. Sandra Jones went to extraordinary lengths to have sex and avoid pregnancy in 1963. When it all went horribly wrong, there was no question, she was married to her lover in a flash and became the mother of a new family shortly thereafter. But 18 months later, her younger sister got to move in with her boyfriend without a wedding ring on her finger. Nobody blinked. How very annoying.
Sandra Jones. Born 1943. Lost virginity in 1963 aged twenty
Growing up in rural Wales in the fifties was interesting because I grew up in what was a Methodist environment, where anybody could drink or smoke. It was considered to be backward not to. My parents smoked, my grandparents smoked, we all smoked. I started when I was sixteen or seventeen and it was taken as read that I would.
Although I grew up in a Methodist area, we were Church of England and we went to church. My father was a highly respected person within the community but he was also a compulsive gambler which nobody knew about, so there was that dual life, if you like. I grew up loathing hypocrisy with a vengeance as a result of that.
In those days we used to spend a lot of time out on the hills playing with other children. We really had that freedom that children don’t get anymore. There was a boy that used to knock around with our little gang called Johnnie Reeves and it was around about that time, the twelve or thirteen stage, that my sister Rose and I realised that we had no idea what Johnnie Reeves looked like without his clothes on. In those days we used to spend a lot of time out on the hills playing with other children. We really had that freedom that children don’t get anymore. There was a boy that used to knock around with our little gang called Johnnie Reeves and it was around about that time, the twelve or thirteen stage, that my sister
Rose and I realised that we had no idea what Johnnie Reeves looked like without his clothes on.
One day we jumped him and removed everything. We took all his clothes off and Juliet Denton, who was with us, had got a little brother so she knew a little bit about the way little boys were made. Once we’d got Johnnie Reeves down on the ground, we were inspecting him very closely and we were literally sitting on him to stop him running away and Juliet Denton piped up, ‘Johnnie Reeves, get it up.’ I shall remember this until my dying day, because Rose and I both said at the same time, ‘Get it up? Get what up?’ I can remember Johnnie Reeves replying, ‘I can’t. Honestly, I can’t get it up.’ We were completely ignorant.
There was no sex education at school and no one told us anything at home. We found out a lot when we went to stay with my grandmother. She used to buy Woman’s Own and we got a lot of information from reading the problem pages despite the fact that the problems were never spelt out. We had to do an awful lot of reading between the lines to guess what they were talking about.
As I developed into a teenager, I became a terrible flirt because up until I was thirteen years old, I was a tomboy. I was always up trees and jumping rivers in the woods and I really wasn’t aware of my sexuality. Then when I was about fourteen, I started to grow my hair because I was becoming aware of music and I was going for the ponytail look, which you had to have and all of a sudden boys started taking an interest in me in a different way and I liked that.
For a few years, I dated just about every boy possible and I did an awful lot of snogging. But no sex and I never let them touch me. I was very well conditioned that if they tried to touch you anywhere, you didn’t let them. It was a strange time to grow up because nice girls simply did not do it. If you did, you were nasty.
We were also living in this community where the Methodist preachers were very powerful. The chapel was the life and soul of the community and ‘rock and roll’ was considered to be the work of the devil. Of course I got into rock and roll as soon as I heard it. I was eighteen years old and I was a beatnik.
Around that time, I got together with Ian. I had been on a canal boat for the holidays, we were hitching back home and Ian had picked us up and given us a ride. That was really the first time that I thought to myself, I have got to be noticed by him. He was part of the desirable set in North Wales, they had cars and they did things. So I started going out with him and I fell in love with him.
He was inexperienced and I was inexperienced so we started with snogging at first and then heavy snogging. And then we started to pet: kissing, tits, feeling each other, the usual routine. We tried not to fuck. We really tried not to go all the way so we spent a lot of time petting. When I say a lot of time petting, I mean about eighteen months’ worth of petting and all the while it was getting hotter and hotter and we were wanting to do it more and more. And then we did.
It was a pretty disappointing experience but we did manage to get it in and then afterwards we had a total faff about what to do if I got pregnant, which we hadn’t thought of before because we hadn’t planned on doing it.
He was a medical student and that becomes relevant here because he knew that a solution of vinegar and water would kill the sperm and wash it out. So I turned myself upside down and he poured vinegar and water solution into me and that was our answer to the birth control problem.
But of course now that we had done it once, we couldn’t stop doing it and the combination of not being able to stop having sex and the constant vinegar and water gave me what we later learnt was ‘honeymoon cystitis’. I related this cystitis to going ‘all the way’, so I didn’t go straight to the doctor because I wasn’t married and in Ian’s studies he hadn’t got to the stage where he’d learnt about cystitis so he was as baffled as I was.
In the end I actually became quite ill and I developed a kidney infection so I had to give in and go to the doctor and get antibiotics. The doctor must have known that I had had sex but he never said a word.
Once I’d finally done it, although it wasn’t particularly good, I knew that I liked it. It was to be explored. Ian and I were so immature and unknowing as to do with sex. It was only because we had both studied some psychology and we were both interested to know more that we did get better. We got the Kama Sutra and we read it and we experimented. If Ian or I heard something interesting from any of our friends, we shared it and we’d have a go. We played.
The pill was only just becoming available but you had to be married to get it. We had discussed Ian getting rubbers, as we called them in those days, but he was too shy to ask for them. For a Methodist, as he was, you had to admit you were having sex to ask for them. Apart from the vinegar and water, we hadn’t taken any precautions. It worked for a while and then just after I finished university, I got pregnant.
I could have had an abortion. As soon as the doctor realised Ian was a medical student I was offered an illegal one straight away, which other girls would not have been offered at that time. I didn’t consider it at all, I knew I wanted to keep it even though that was really very difficult timing. We had to get married, of course. There was no question. Ian’s mother and father were big names in their Methodist
You could have said that a new dawn came with me getting pregnant because it was the sixties and within two or three years of us getting married, everybody was bonking, but more significantly, they were saying that they were bonking. That was when times really began to change. My sister actually lived with her boyfriend before she was married. Now she was only eighteen months younger than me. But that’s how quickly times were changing, because there was no way Ian and I would have got away with living together just a couple of years previously.
Do not ever suggest that we should go back to how things used to be. Younger generations have got access to information and it is a very good thing. It was really hard for us to get information because nobody told us anything. When I was reading those Woman’s Own magazines at my grandmother’s house, it was like a little mystery tour. You were having to pick up the clues in the stories because nothing was ever directly named or said. Hypocrisy just ruled when I was young. I could have quietly had that abortion, even though it was illegal. No one would have known and I would not have been expected to talk about it.
We made sure that your generation were never brought up as ignorant as us. I never saw my parents without any clothes on. I had no idea what a naked person even looked like.