The Gentleman’s Entrance

We have a sex therapist in the practice and she was saying to me how incredible it was that Irish people don’t have a proper vocabulary to describe their genitalia. The next patient who came in to me happened to be a 76-year-old woman from the Coombe. She said, “I have a bit of an itch, down below.” I feigned blankness. She looked at me, amazed, and said, “You know what I mean. In me privates.”

I still looked blank, and eventually she said, “The gentleman’s entrance!
The sex therapist said that summed up Irishwomen’s attitude to sex. But at least she had a name for it.
–Dr. Emer Keeling, GP, interviewed in the _Sunday Independent_, 15 Feb 2004

She’s right. We are prudes, for all our fondness for swearing. When my sister first moved in with the step-toddlers in Ottawa, we were startled to hear them in the bath calmly discussing each others’ bits in the grown-up terms that still make Irish adults stutter.

    “Why? What did you call genitalia at that age?” asked their father.
    “We didn’t call it anything!” I hissed. “We didn’t talk about it!”
    “It was all called ‘bottom’. We didn’t make any distinctions beyond that,” said Claire. “We didn’t know there were any distinctions to be made.”
    “Daddy,” said Aidan thoughtfully, “does Car have a bagina or a teenis?”

20 thoughts on “The Gentleman’s Entrance”

  1. When I moved to Ireland, my drunken Irish friend provided me with this advice (despite the fact that I’d brought my wife):

    “Darren, if you have any sexual confidence at all, you can have all of the Irish women you want.”

    In retrospect, I’m uncertain if this was a trade negotiation or just friendly advice, but it stuck with me.


  2. What we lack in confidence we compensate for in alcohol. Ireland still breeds while drunk. I’d thought this was just college life, but it looks to be still true ten-plus years on. A pessimistic interpretation of the Irish dating scene is that it’s less of a scary committment to sleep with someone dead drunk than to ask them to the cinema while sober. Judging by my pals, the only decent alternative is to end up with someone you’ve known for years, preferably from college or before. Which leaves slim pickins’ for single grown-ups, unless they’re prepared to go to Canada–which I highly recommend!


  3. Dervala, that’s certainly true of all of the married Irish folks I know. In fact, 6 or 8 of them admitted to more or less pairing off post college. The last two apparently married each other because there wasn’t anybody else left.

    I have fond memories of reclining at a cafe in Temple Bar and watching the dead-drunk, scantily-clad girls attempt to negotiate the cobble-stones in stilettos. Equally-drunken, tight-shirt-sporting men rose to their aid at every turn.


  4. Growing up in an Irish-American household, we too had scant discussions of these parts (see I still have a hard time with this)and therefore had few proper words nor needed them. As an adult, my sister’s husband asked me the definition of “hinny” as he thought it incredulous. Confirming my sisters meaning and usuage, we all had a good laugh. However, the lasting effects are rather sad.


  5. Well I am not so sure that Dervala proves her point here.

    I can’t remember what pet names i called my intimates ( ahem) when I was young. However, I am sure that most societies have some level of propriety about how this stuff is named; or do american kids go around using the c-word that rhymes with dock, or the c-word that rhymes with runt to describe their “bottoms”, and get applauded by their liberated elders?

    Not at all: i note that the FCC is bringing in it’s Bono ruling, where NBC gets fined for allowing Mr. B to use the F word on air; and Stern is off the air for good it seems. Turn on the BBC, or RTE, past the 9pm watershed, however, and there is ( we colloquially say) lots of Eff’ing and Blinding.

    Irish people get together in pubs and clubs because it is easy to do so, and there are a lot of one night stands in the Big City, facilitated by house parties and numerous Night Clubs.

    Because that is easy there is no need to have the formal dating scene, so necessary in America’s publess surburbia.


  6. Eoin, sorry if I wasn’t clear. My point is that every toddler I know in North America matter-of-factly refers to “my penis” and “my vagina”, while Irish grown-ups stutter out the playground slang of “dick”, “cock”, “pussy”, “backside”, etc. It’s as if we insisted on talking about “pins” or “Shank’s mare” rather than “legs”. A woman who may have given birth to ten children can’t say “vagina” to her doctor–even though she could probably tell said children to get up them fuckin’ stairs!

    As for the dating scene: New York is the world capital of Big City. And of course people hook up all the time here. But they don’t do it so drunk (or so apparently drunk) that they can routinely pretend it didn’t happen by text the next day. There’s nothing quite like being in an Irish (or British) bar at 1 am when a glazed guy (or woman) veers over, determined not to go home alone. The perpetual drunkenness adds a whole other weird dimension to an already bizarre relationship culture. My selfish genes are glad to have skipped it!


  7. It must have given the sex therapist in question great moral pleasure so to tease the old dear with the irritated vagina, especially to make so excellently smug a point. No doubt this 76 year old needed to be chastised thus for her own future good. At least she always went with gentlemen, if I understand aright.

    Is that the point of the story? And now, if I may be excused, I must practice saying testicles in front of the mirror like a good modern fellow.


  8. Derv,
    Is it not falacious to reason that Irish people continue to be sexually dysfunctional because of a gulf in boldness between 21st century US toddlers and erstwhile Irish babbies of the 60s and 70s? Modern Irish toddlers might be astonishingly liberal for all we know.

    Arguments like this are typical metropolitan provincialism, if you know what I mean.


  9. P,

    I guess two unrelated–or perhaps related–points came out of this post, and more usefully, the comments.

    1. I believe Irish adults still have a strained vocabulary for their genitalia. I used the example of the North American toddlers to illustrate my own difficulty with this. They get their vocabulary and their openness from parents our age.

    2. As Darren (Canadian-in-Dublin) observes, Irish dating culture relies heavily on drink, and people seem to be shy about expressing interest without it. Single friends I’ve spoken to–more than five–tell me that this makes it hard to find love there, both in Dublin and outside Dublin. I believe them.

    These are my observations, which may well be metropolitan provincialism. So sue me!


  10. I’ve engaged a brief.

    As a stranger to the loathsome puke and fuck culture of meat markets like Copperface Jacks and Break for the Border, I was under the impression that Irish people met and fell in love in the normal way – through interconnecting relational circles of friends, family, school, college, work etc.

    I think your friends might have difficulty finding suitable “long-term” partners in a night-club setting in any city in the world; although sex with a foreign lounge lizard might be the more rewarding for not being beer addled.

    Stick that in your metropolitan pipe, and smoke it.


  11. Wow, Nerd of The Rings – no need for mention of pipes. I actually do agree that people in Ireland generally hook up with their friends, or within a larger circle; and that that does happen, mostly, under the influence of booze. We should not mistake that with booze driven one night stands, for these people may have been friends in a group for some time, or friends at work.

    Dervala’s single friends are in a position where they would be in the States if they were at a certain age: for, at a certain age your circle of friends inevitably declines. In any case, many Americans do not particularly like the American dating scence either; and think it a different form of the meat market.

    I think – from reading her log – that Dervala has not, in fact , erally experienced the dating scene in America or Canada.

    Her experience in Canada was definitely not the same as the American “date” which often amounts to a double interview with a stranger, both sides interviewing each other for the position of lover.

    I should make the point that societies have different ways of organising this stuff; I prefer the Irish method of knowing, and falling for, people in advance even if it takes dutch courage to obtain the first snog :-).

    Americans, however, need a different methodology because it is a more fluid society, more mobile, more individualistic – with widely variating circles of friends – thus they get the interview scene; which they are pleased to call a dating scene.


  12. Hear, hear, Eoin. I’d wouldn’t wish for the US “interviewing” scene either. I haven’t experienced either North America or Ireland first-hand for this stuff in a long time, but I’m nosy enough to ask endless questions of those who do (and you can’t sit in a Brooklyn cafe without listening in on a Life Partner interview).

    I think the Irish method of choosing long-standing friends works well if you’re lucky enough to benefit. But it is tough for those who lack such a circle–ex-pats, returned emigrants, and those who simply weren’t ready during the first round of coupling up, which is pretty early. You’re right that American labour mobility means cities like New York couldn’t cope with such a constraint, so they develop these other meet ‘n’ screen systems that scare the bejesus out of me.


  13. Perhaps, I’m being too harsh. I’m impossibly handsome myself, so the dating problems encountered by the merely mortal are to me the stuff of rumour, whispered through televisual and other media memes, but never actually encountered.

    Also, I’m horribly rich.


  14. ‘I think the Irish method of choosing long-standing friends works well if you’re lucky enough to benefit. But it is tough for those who lack such a circle—ex-pats, returned emigrants, and those who simply weren’t ready during the first round of coupling up, which is pretty early.’

    Now there’s an interesting point — will Dublin have to developing a dating scene if labour mobility increases?

    (I reckon the US dating scene is entirely a result of the high degree of mobility — people routinely (well, relatively routinely) uproot and travel to a new job in a new town, thousands of miles away from their prior social circle.)


  15. I think it’s happening already. I heard a lot about speed dating and online personals while I was over. Tickles me to think how this must work in Ireland–Justin, we’ve never met, but I bet that given twenty minutes in Bewleys we’d come up with five or ten people we know in common, all waiting for the reports!


  16. The entire population of the emerald isle experiences no more than two degrees of separation from Caoimghín Ó Bacun.

    I’ve even heard of the Hanleys.


  17. “Justin, we?ve never met, but I bet that given twenty minutes in Bewleys we?d come up with five or ten people we know in common, all waiting for the reports!”

    Correct. And some of them even read your blog.


    What’s more notable is that I believe that Darren owes me a pint.


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