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The Empire Strikes Back: This new design for the Union Jack ups Britain's sex-appeal factor, don't you think?

Are You Being Served?

When it comes to sexual repression, nobody does It like the British. Or at least that's what supposedly groovy Californians like to think. Now, an exile from the Empire sets the record straight.

By Sarah Phelan

As a British expatriate living in California for the past decade, I have gradually come to wonder about two opposing sexual myths, namely that the Brits aren't into sex, and that Californians are into free love.

Maybe it was the "I-say-old-chap!"-spouting breed of Upper Class Twits that first got Americans believing that the only things getting stiff on the Brits were their upper lips. That's at least understandable, and, hey, if nobody ever did have sex with such a twit again, it would do wonders for ending the class war. But I digress.

The weather, an endless topic of conversation in cloud-covered Angleterre, could also be a contributing factor to the stereotype of the sex-shy Brit. Just because you don't see the English in too many revealing outfits doesn't mean their morals are as tightly buttoned as their cardigans--it's simply a function of almost nonstop rain, drizzle and mist.

I could try blaming the film industry for cranking out those predictable period pieces in which British Battle Ax Mother advises Penniless Peaches and Cream Daughter (newly wed to Rich and Repulsive Lord ) to "close your eyes and think of the Empire." But since such epics usually end with Repulsive Lord having it off with Scantily Clad Chamber Maid while Peaches and Cream rolls in the hay with Muscled Stable Boy, such films actually give the impression that Brits are into sex--as long as it's of the Kinky Klassist Kind.

Let's Ado It: Shakespeare was one Brit known to get a little randy.

Fancy a Tumble, Guv'nor?

Which brings us to Americans and their kinky obsession: the British accent. Believe me when I say a British accent works like an aphrodisiac on most Americans. If you don't believe me, just think about that other British bombshell--Bond. James Bond.

Now, this accent obsession makes absolutely no sense, especially considering the total lack of American appreciation for other British things, such as the food, the climate and the corgis. Maybe it's just that hearing people speak like they have plums in their mouths gets Americans thinking about plums and mouths and ... sex? Whatever launches your boat, as they say.

Still, we're talking about a nation of people who say "How lovely!" when really they mean "That's gross!" So you can see how the rest of the world developed the notion that Brits are singularly unable to do anything directly, including each other.

The thing is, it's all a load of rubbish. Even a quick perusal of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales--written in the 14th century, for God's sake--blows the prudish-Brit myth sky high. Chaucer's tales reveal a whole lot of bawdy goings-on, including the domination and dominating of medieval women, with virgins trying to hang onto their maidenhead, while wives cuckolded their husbands, who were oft times visiting the village harlot. And since print reproduces and spreads what originally only existed as oral sexual terminology, I guess we can blame Chaucer, Shakespeare and the rest of the British scribes for ultimately triggering the BDSM movement, the sexual revolution, and from there, San Francisco's Summer of Love.

Bummer of Love

Which brings me to California, and the realization that if there ever was a period of free love here, that time is truly dead and gone now. Consider the cost--in rent and clothing, not to mention hair products--involved in maintaining the appearance and space typically required to make love to an interested party, and any notion of "free" goes right out the window.

Sure, there's the beach and the forest, and let us not forget the dreads-in-pajamas look as the ultimate Santa Cruz fashion statement, but fear of AIDS, of not sounding politically correct, of having to make a commitment, of getting a bad case of poison oak--all these fears have made more and more Americans afraid to directly say much more than "Have a nice day!"--which filtered through Brit Speak roughly translates into "Why don't you go jump in the lake?"

Or could it be that navel gazing has reached the point here that people are more in love with themselves than anyone else? Recently, I ate a silver foil-wrapped chocolate--the kind of candy that traditionally is supposed to trigger the basest of amorous instincts. Written on the inside of the wrapper was the message, "Make Time for You," which kind of sounded like an invitation to masturbate. Or navel gaze. Alone somewhere. And for the first time, it hit me how deeply California is immersed in this culture of self-love, where so many people are so caught up in their diets, workouts, careers and spiritual practices that they simply don't have time for sex--even with themselves, let alone A.N. Other. Which is kind of too bad, given "time's wingéd chariot," as British poet Andrew Marvell wrote, back in the 17th century. "Had we but world enough and time/This coyness, Lady were no crime."

Sex, Bugs and Rock & Roll: Guess the 'lady' part is a misnomer.

No Sex, Please, We're British Ladybugs

Forget that--British flora and fauna are in the living room, gettin' it on, and they ain't leavin' till 6 in the mornin'

By Sarah Phelan

Even as we were dealing with the myth of the sex-shy Brit, two breaking news stories made us realize that it was time to turn our attention to the British birds and bees--or to the British ladybirds to be more exact, which is what they call ladybugs in those parts.

Turns out a sexually transmitted disease has infected a rare species of said ladybugs, a disease the insects seem to pick up from hanging around wood ants. No, they don't have sex with the ants--their sole interest is in eating the nice juicy aphids that the ants farm for sugary honeydew secretions.

So, where's the rub? By having a steady food supply, ladybugs can reproduce for longer periods, but disease-bearing mites that hang around the aphids get transferred when the ladybugs mate, and the particular STD the mites carry can leave future generations of ladybugs sterile.

Australian entomologist Dr. Chris Reid describes ladybugs as "highly promiscuous" and claims they mate as quickly as possible to avoid infection. But just how do you define promiscuity among bugs? And how would the ladybugs "know" to mate fast to avoid STDs? Unless, of course, British kids are singing them a new version of the ancient nursery rhyme: Ladybug, ladybug fly away home/your aphids are infected, your children all sterile. (Hmm. Doesn't have quite the same ring as the arsonist's version, but we'll keep working on it.)

Legal and Eager

Meanwhile, mites seem to be a common theme in the dysfunctional sex lives of British flora and fauna. Take the rare Yorkshire moss that has just ended--get this--130 years of celibacy. And you thought you'd gone too long.

As in many cases of celibacy, not having sex wasn't a conscious decision on the part of the moss, but a product of circumstances, namely an invasion by a certain group of mites that, er, eat the female moss' sex organs.

In the intervening 130 years, said moss managed to continue to grow on Yorkshire's traditional limestone walls, but as the walls deteriorated, so did the moss' spread. And though at some sites both sexes of the moss co-existed, they were often set a yard or two apart, which was way too far for the moss' teeny-weeny sperm to swim.

So, how did the moss finally get it on? Apparently, a new fruiting occurred when male and female moss met on a wall near the village of Penyghent, after being washed or blown down from nearby. All of which suggests it's time for a new proverb, like "A rolling stone helps fertilize moss." Hey, all we need now is for that ultimate example of British prudery, Mick Jagger, to date supermodel Kate Moss, and the whole thing would be on a ... roll.

Metro Santa Cruz's No Sex Issue

More insights into abstinence from Metro writers

Sex Dwarfed: Valentine's Day is the Halloween of the Sex Machine. But hold on there, tiger--have you considered celibacy? Yes, indeed, there's a fine tradition of folk who claim we've all got something to gain from keeping it in our pants. And no, Gandhi was not just jealous because he couldn't get any. (Mike Connor)

Valentine's What Now?: The road to double happiness lies in forgetting all about that Valentine's crap and partaking of an alternate holiday. One billion Chinese can't be wrong. (Rebecca Patt)

The Joy of Sex Substitutes: Lube jobs, hot wax, warm fluids, exotic rituals--it's like we never gave up sex. (Rebecca Patt)

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From the February 12-19, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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