In 2012, two retired college teachers, long-time friends, accepted my invitation to talk about their intimacy experiences at the end of the 1960s, at Portugal. We gather in Sintra. In His place. It was a winter day. I brought a dessert for lunch. We stayed there for a whole afternoon, watching the fire consuming wood. He was 26 in 1969. She was 23. Born in Lisbon, under a privileged social context, they travelled, read and discuss politics, cinema, literature in the cafes at Praça de Londres and other places. What follows is a small excerpt of our conversation. Before giving them the word, I leave four notes that can help to think about the end of this decade so inspired of the desire of self-determination in gender and in sexuality.
One year before becoming Prime Minister, in 1967, Marcelo Caetano publishes an article regarding youth. He was worried about the new daily interaction liberties between boys and girls, about the careless conviviality at beaches and swimming pools, with the body’s exhibition, with the helplessness of children and teenagers, growing up without their mothers at home, exclusively dedicated to their education and protection.
In March of 1968, two months before the youth rebellions in France, the magazine O Tempo e o Modo publishes an edition about Marriage, which the censorship hurries to seize. Helena Vaz da Silva and Alçada Baptista invited lawyers, engineers, psychanalysts, philosophers, journalists, priests, theologians and writers (mostly men, but also some women) to think about sexuality between singles, the erotic exploration limits in marriage, fidelity and divorce.
Some of these reflections mention an on-going sexual revolution in the world, far from the Portuguese panorama.
In 1972, three Portuguese writers claim it is «time to shout: enough». And to built «one block with our bodies». It’s absolutely important to read Novas Cartas Portuguesas, the book written by Maria Isabel Barreno, Maria Teresa Horta, Maria Velho da Costa (known as the three Marias), in 1972, and to search for the feminine quest for sexual pleasure, one of the dimensions of the women’s fight for their political and social emancipation:
«[…] a woman votes, goes to college, has a job; a woman drinks, a woman smokes, a woman competes in beauty contests, a woman wears mini-skirts, ‘hot pants’, ‘Tampax’, says ‘I’m menstruated’ in front of men; a woman takes the pill, shaves her legs and under her arms; wears a bikini; a woman goes out at night, goes to bed with her boyfriend; a woman sleeps naked, a woman understands, knows the meaning of some words, such as: orgasm, penis, vagina, sperm, testicles, erection, frigidity, clitoris, vulva. Women between themselves, in the intimacy of the toilets of public offices where they are employed, in school yards, in colleges, in bedrooms, rooms, beyond closed doors, even tell dirty jokes, certain intimate bed details and in secret take some language liberties, and this way they modernize, free themselves, promote themselves… Here we are, sisters, in the total freedom era of the Portuguese woman…[…]» (Barreno, Horta e Velho da Costa, 1974, 285-286).
Him & Her
Him - I read [Herbert] Marcuse for the first time in 1968. It had a lot to do with a certain idea of party, of body liberation, but that was only understood in Portugal later. We were very attached to a resistance fight, of political victory over dictatorship of Salazar and Marcelo [Caetano]. Sexuality problems weren’t much associated to a political revolution. Sex as pleasure was lived as a personal question. And our conceptions were strongly influenced by a misogyny that came far from back. What May of 68 brought was the politicization of what was considered a personal matter. Anyway, I would not establish such a direct relationship (unless a farther one) between some sort of change of individual sexual paths and the May of 68, although there was an existing atmosphere… the zeitgeist.
Except minor fringes, the idea of liberation, of the body, of individual pleasure, didn’t have a real expression.
Her – We were in fact a minority. That minority who read Marcuse, [Henri] Lefebvre, even [Wilhelm] Reich, with an idea of youth’s sexual rebellion. We, as generation, a fringe of the average bourgeois, intellectual, we are very influenced by that. The repression was enormous. I had a project with friends, of renting a small house at Alfama [typical neighbourhood of Lisbon], meant to be the house of shag. We didn’t say shag or fucks. It was the house to make love. I think… I think our generation started to say it. I don’t know how it used to be said… there were some more technical terms: having sexual intercourse.
Him –Going to bed.
Her –Going to bed. Did you went to bed? Yes. That was what we used to ask between friends. We couldn’t take anyone home (I also never let my children take anyone to my home, but they could spend weekends out, they had much more freedom). We didn’t. In addition, there was a fear of registering at a hotel. We couldn’t have a normal sexual life, it was impossible. To us, the theory was Reich and Marcuse, Lefebvre, Simone de Beauvoir, Roger Vailland, Cardoso Pires, with «Cartilha do Marialva», which was enough – to us, women – to catalog a guy. We evaluate the ‘marialva’ and the ‘marialva’ was to throw away! Was poop! No worth. We had that idea of having sincere sexual relations, too sincere, we had the illusion of transparency. Telling what we did in some holiday amourette somewhere! «I went to Paris, got a girlfriend there and went to bed with her». This would ruin the relationship completely. It was irrational. An aberration! We would swallow camels, rocks, and more. But then we also did the same. Both, men and women, were entitled to do the same. There was this canon… each person had to be liberal. It was the new bible! A thought of magic-religious nature, in a way. The idea of the so-called open relationships was the prefiguration of hell. One person can’t feel rested, knowing that suddenly there’s a friend at the corner, who one can get laid, go out, having dinner, the full course meal, as we used to say it. And the other person had to accept or was labelled as ‘marialva’, reactionary and so on. It didn’t work for me!
Him – I never had that experience of open relationship. Where did that wave come from?
Her – I believe that it was related with the contexts. And as time goes by there was a spread of these ideas, not so much theorized, in urban contexts and so. But there’s also something we shall not forget. The birth control pill. That eased life a lot. Sometimes I read those 19th century romances, with the ladies shagging here and there, and I think: «What a horror, what a fear!» Such desire, to run into all that risk! Of course they would have techniques, but those are not pleasant.
Him – During that time it was unthinkable that the family would talk to us about questions related to sexuality. My parents used to be away, and in one of those absences I received at home one lady with who I had an educational «professional» relationship. The baker saw her leaving at 5am and told to my father, who thought that she was a prostitute, and gave me a reprimand to having taken the woman home. The greatest problem of these sexual revolutions (or these sexual behavioural changes) is the need of education. We should have an education for life and for sexuality. The young man or young lady should have the opportunity of having their initialization with someone older, that would have more experience, that could teach (and not with a prostitute).
Her – In that point it would have to be several, because each person in bed is different. Knowing how to move in bed is something that we learn. We were too young. We learned in practice, and we were claiming, well, were guiding ourselves. I want this, not want that. Don’t do it like this, do that.
I think a certain verbal capacity is needed.
Him – In the 1970s, maybe the woman was starting to have a consciousness, at least of the needs, of the lack of reciprocity in pleasure. But the dominant norm was a lot of the peasant, of screwing, and the woman wouldn’t open her mouth to claim. It’s done. And that was perhaps the norm. And in groups with more education that… consciousness starts to appear. It’s an area that maybe still complicated for several couples. Wisdom is in this capacity for understanding, of feeling as the other...
Her – I think nothing needs to be much said. It’s the bodies that talk.
Caetano, Marcello. (1967). «Juventude de hoje, juventude de sempre». Rumo (Separata), 126: 5-21. Casamento, Cadernos O Tempo e o Modo, 2, Março de 1968.
Barreno, Maria Isabel; Horta, Maria Teresa; Costa, Maria Velho. (1974). Novas Cartas Portuguesas. Lisboa: Futura.
Imagem:Sofia e a Educação Sexual, Eduardo Geada, 1974 (still)