It’s hardly rocket science, is it? Ground down by the pressures of everyday life in, say, Wolverhampton, we pack our little suitcases and Ryanjet off to sunnier climes. There, fuelled by an all-too-willing suspension of both reality and stress levels, we bonk like rabbits with whoever happens to be lying on the next sunbed.
Fourteen days later, we repack our little suitcases and Easyair back home, where we find that bonking like rabbits is the last thing on our minds as we hunker down once more to the pressures of everyday life in Wolverhampton. Casual Holiday Sex explained.
Except…except. Beneath the surface of the Bleeding Obvious there’s actually a fascinating underbelly of largely unconscious sexual psychology that’s a little deeper than just sun, sea and sangria.
Because the question is not why we so often let go of our inhibitions on holiday, rediscovering our lust within about thirty seconds of picking up our room key from reception. No, the question is actually why we don’t let go of our inhibitions all the time, with anyone who crosses our path. Why aren’t we constantly turning to the person on the next sunbed, at the next desk, or in the next tube seat and asking them to do the horizontal tango?
The answer is not just around work-based tiredness sapping desire, home-based stress levels undermining performance, and the impracticability of oral on the Circle Line as opposed to the Villa Mimosa. The answer is also to do with social inhibition. For even in this gloriously sexualised world we are from the earliest of ages trained out of our erotic impulses.
We are taught – via lessons from our carers, via the norms of our peer group, via punishment for infringement and reward for compliance – to repress our urges and hold back from leaping upon the nearest available potential sexual partner. However much we may want to make contact, take pleasure and produce babies, we learn what’s permissible. And we largely conform.
On holiday, however, all this training falls by the wayside. On holiday, we not only have the urge to bonk spontaneously, but the restraints against spontaneous bonking are stripped away. On holiday, our lifelong inhibitions are – through a combination of factors – magically suspended for fourteen days. The result is often a temporary sexual liberation.
Because to begin with, the essential physiological impulse to have sex is greater on holiday. It may be hot. We’re probably relaxed. We’re likely drinking more or indulging in some less legal stress-reducer. Even if on a City break, we’re likely to be surrounded by less-than-usually clothed bodies, the fact of which will fire us up even if we ourselves are not in the A team when it comes to Fit and Hot.
The drive to copulate is also psychologically high. But here’s the surprise. We humans are not only driven to sex when we feel calm and secure. We’re so driven – sometimes even more so – when we feel stressed and insecure, powerless and helpless, abandoned and alone; some part of our desire rises up when we are under threat, perhaps to ensure the propagation of the species, perhaps simply as a statement that we aren’t willing to go gentle into that good night. To misquote Ian McEwan commenting on the World Trade Centre Bombings, “there is only sex and then oblivion.”
Isn’t that getting not only a bit heavy but also a bit unrealistic? Holidays as intimations of mortality?! But I hold my ground. Holidays may be fun, but they are also anxiety-prone. The pressure of preparation, the stress of schedules, the carefully-choreographed disempowerment that travellers are subjected to, the scarcely-controlled panic in this age of the security alert, the tension of being away from home and without one’s comfort blanket of choice. Little wonder that we turn to each other for soothing and security, or that we want to reaffirm our power and immortality by performing the ultimate life-affirming act.
And, on holiday, we can do just that. For away from home, particularly on foreign soil, inhibitions fall at a rate of knots and it suddenly seems acceptable to be sexual. The normal regulations seem suspended, the lifetime rules seem suddenly not to apply. We are placed in a situation that offers as near as our society can get to the active facilitation of sex, where instead of having to overcome barrier after barrier to contact, the natural precursors of courtship are presented on a plate, a glorious erotic smorgasbord.
Being lodged together with strangers – in the same hotel, the same gated Club, the same beach resort – creates an instant sub-community with almost instant intimacy. Being crammed together with strangers – on the same tourbus, at the same restaurant, in the same club – breaks down the distance-markers that normally keep us from fondling each other in public; it’s no coincidence that once people in the western world approach nearer than a foot and a half, they are far more likely to have sex.
And proximity also breaks down the alienation and makes us feel emotionally close. See someone yawning at breakfast, near-naked at lunchtime and half-cut in the evening, and you can’t but feel that you know them intimately even if you’ve only spent 24 hours in their company. Spend extended time with anyone who fits the basic erotic parameters of still having a pulse and they become a potential sexual partner. Open up about yourself – in the way you can only do when you are strangers on a train or pedalos passing in a beach resort – and the other person becomes, if only temporarily, a potential life partner. And in that case, why not follow up the mental intimacy with the more carnal variety?
And then there’s the icing on the cake – the fact that, psychologically, we are more likely to take risks on holiday than at home. We are more likely to risk rejection (and so be more prepared to make sexual overtures). We are more likely to risk relationship breakdown (and so be more willing to embark on a casual liaison). And of course we are more likely to risk pregnancy and infection (and so be more willing to leave the condom in the packet.)
Why do we throw caution to the winds? Partly, it’s down to the whole fantasy of holiday perfection – given the blue sky, the white beach and the bronze tan, we can’t believe that anything so insolently intrusive as heartbreak or chlamydia is going to ruin the dream.
But it’s also because being on our own off home territory reduces our unwillingness to do things outside our moral norm. We’re not with the cohort (parents, friends, colleagues) that acts to hold our values firm; we’re literally a thousand miles away from those who would hold us to account if we acted irrationally, irresponsibly or plain unethically. Hiding in the holiday crowd, we have no public self – we’re not going to be monitored, caught, judged; on the contrary, other travellers we meet won’t dare to disapprove of our adventures, and are highly likely to want to join in.
On holiday, to some extent we lose our minds. Or rather, we lose that part of our minds that at home holds us back. We simply aren’t thinking of such pertinent questions as ‘is this person someone I can love?’ – or even ‘is this person someone I can like?’ The consequences don’t matter, the long-tem impact on our lives doesn’t seem real.
In any case, we’re on holiday, that time of the year where one gets payback for all the slave labour one has put in at work, at home, with family, with friends. So is there any reason why we shouldn’t treat ourselves?
Is this where I give you a cautionary lecture? Relax. I won’t. As with the Saturnalia, I suspect it’s very healthy to have a break from inhibition, to call a moratorium on social prescription, to simply let rip once in a while and follow one’s instincts rather than society’s conventions. Yes, there’s a strong caveat; no messing if one is not ‘free’ to do so, and at all lengths avoid the problems of sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies and broken hearts that litter my postbag in early September every year. But otherwise, why not let a holiday be a holiday – from sexual continence as well as from the nine-to-five.
So let’s make 2010 the summer of holiday love. Let’s revel in the fact that two weeks offers an awful lot of chandelier swinging. Let’s leap in to strike up that conversation with the person next to us at the check-in queue, offer to buy a drink for that stunning fellow tourist at the bar, invite the charming neighbour in the next villa for dinner.
And let’s welcome with open arms the fact that, at the end of the evening, the route home not going to be a sober car journey or a sobering tube ride, but a short moonlit walk to our beachside hotel room. After which, let the revels begin.