Maybe Philip Larkin got it wrong. Maybe sexual intercourse began before 1963 and the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles' first LP.
Uncle Merlin found these old Listerine ads on ebay the other night. (He didn't buy them. He just sometimes hunts around ebay the way other people hunt around flea markets, trolling for laughs.) Seems that in the late 1940s and early 50s Listerine ran a series of magazine ads in the form of illustrated short stories. I'm sorry to say that the text isn't easily readable here, even if you right click for the larger image, but the gist of this first one is clear from the cutline.
This dates from 1948 and the only mystery to people looking at it back then would have been why the ad execs in charge of the campaign thought that three years after the end of World War II a target audience full recently demobbed soldiers, sailors, and Marines would identify with this smilin' smoothie. He looks like the kind of 4F who worked in mid-level management for a widget-maker and routinely called the Rosie the Riveters in from the factory floor for friendly "chats" about the quality of their work. But readers would have have known exactly what he planned to do for fun on his vacation, which, incidentally, the copy says is at a "Beach Club," and that he was packing the Listerine right beside the rubbers.
The next one, from 1951, is not any subtler, but it is a bit more coy.
What happened to Annabelle is that she was on the train to California, intending to take Hollywood by storm, and in the club car she tried striking up a conversation with a man she hoped was somebody in the movie business who gave her a quick brush-off. Guess why.
That's what the text says happened. The picture tells another story.
If she got the push in the club car why is she shown sitting on her bed in the sleeper car? Supposedly she's come back to her berth to think over the snubbing she just got and being very slow on the uptake. But the bare foot, the drooping flower at her breast, calling attention to the plunging neckline of her slightly rumpled dress, the pouty, bruised-looking lips...come on! We know they made it back here before her halitosis turned him off.
And, as the story continues in the copy, Annabelle---in a bit of embarrassingly casually racist dialogue with a porter---finds out that the man who'd rebuffed her is a famous Hollywood producer. If only she'd used Listerine, is the message, she wouldn't have blown her big chance. But casting couches were an old and familiar joke even then. Sex is a subtext of the ad as surely as the fear of social failure. Sex and fear have been the mainstays of advertising since the cave paintings, if we could only decipher them correctly, and the ideal is to devise an ad campaign that plays off both.
You don't see it?
That's ok. You don't have to. That's the beauty of it. Popular entertainment has always been full of sex. But in the U.S. in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, it was possible for people who wanted to pretend it wasn't there to pretend it wasn't there. Can't do that now. Now things are pretty straight-forwardly pornographic. And I think that when people complain about the hyper-sexualization of pop culture, most of them aren't longing for a return of Victorian repression (which may be a myth anyway) or for any Puritanical eradication of joy, sexuality, or naughtiness. I think what they want is a return to the days when it was possible to say it all with a wink and a grin and to ignore it if you weren't in the mood to play along. Or if the kids were in the room.
The trouble is that it's very hard to reproduce an effect without reinstituting the context. Yes, people were coyer, more teasing, even classier when it came to talking about sex back then. But then sex back then was a trickier business, because it had consequences we don't have to deal with now (yet). Shame, social ostracism, shotgun weddings, orphanages, botched abortions, many dark and deep and bolted and barred closets, and lies, lots and lots of lies.
And a thing sometimes called guilt but which was really the cruellest form of self-loathing.
It wasn't sexual intercourse that began in 1963, it was relief.
As Larkin wrote, up until the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles' first LP, there'd only been:
A sort of bargaining,
A wrangle for a ring,
A shame that started at sixteen,
And spread to everything.