The dangerous ecstasy of sex in the 1990s

The rise of Aids had a profound impact on the sex lives of many young people

‘The time between the introduction of the pill and the emergence of Aids was an interval of strange hubris’: sex in the 1990s.
‘The time between the introduction of the pill and the emergence of Aids was an interval of strange hubris’: sex in the 1990s
‘The time between the introduction of the pill and the emergence of Aids was an interval of strange hubris’: sex in the 1990s

Last modified on Tue 15 Dec 2020 13.52 EST

‘Sex in the 90s’ was the cover tease for the Observer Magazine of 29 November 1987, when Suzanne Lowry’s short story synthesised some of the contemporary fears about Aids. It was ‘a fantasy about the meritocratic middle classes… a cautionary tale to show what could happen to them, caught between the old selfish libertarianism and the new hypocritical conformism’.

Reflecting that ‘the time between the introduction of the pill and the emergence of Aids was an interval of strange hubris, the only period of history in which people believed that sex was a wonderful “safe” recreation,’ Lowry foresaw a ‘growing return to a more “normal” perception of sex as being dangerous as well as ecstatic’.

The cast included Joe London, ‘a famous has-been: a 60s swinger turned media man, hack and novelist’ and his 18-year-old daughter Nadira (‘shrewd, streetwise but pregnant, she is renouncing casual sex and drugs in favour of a safe marriage’). Joe has a ‘ballet-dancing, non-fornicating girlfriend’, Esmerelda.

Nadira’s mother, Annabel, a fashion PR and Joe’s ex-wife, is having an affair with a ‘marvellous French angel boy’ – her assistant, Estèphe – who has just announced he has Aids. He’d been a prostitute in Paris and hadn’t told her about it.

It transpires that they’re all sleeping with each other and as the introduction stated, ‘The lesson of Aids is that when you sleep with someone, you sleep with everyone that person has ever slept with.’

In a postmodern twist, we realise that Joe is writing this as fiction even though it’s real. On his way out to meet his ex-wife for sex, Joe ‘picked up a pack of personalised Richard Branson SuperMates II’. The only thing that was even more of a passion killer was the sign-off: ‘Next week: Peter Kellner’s projection of the political scene in the 1990s.’