“I can tell you that I did have a lot of sex in the ‘70s,” says Liz.
“With a lot of different partners. They were mainly one night stands, not very many of them led to a second date. But then we were all doing that.”
“One of my girlfriends, we went to a party and she boasted – we were in the toilet, and she said ‘I’ve had sex with three men today’. And I said, ‘And it’s only six o’clock!’.”
Liz laughs. “I didn’t do that personally. But we didn’t go, ‘Oh, you slut’. It was ‘Good on you’.”
In the early years of the same decade, Liz was kicked out of a pool in Richmond, west of Sydney.
The day was going well. Tanned, blonde, twentysomething, and decked out in a great white bikini, Liz “felt like it was Christmas”. And then a pool attendant brought it all crashing down.
“The guy came up to me, he said ‘I’m sorry Miss, but you’ll have to leave’. I said ‘Why?’. He said ‘Your bikini is too skimpy’,” Liz, now 65, tells BuzzFeed News.
“I was so embarrassed.”
The rule was, at certain beaches and pools, bikinis had to be three inches down the side of the leg – and Liz’s didn’t make the cut. Lifeguards armed with tape measures had the unenviable task of asking women to leave if their swimsuits were unsatisfactory.
“It was in exact opposition to the sexual revolution,” Liz adds. “I mean, come on.”
Liz should know – she grew up in the thick of it. Born in 1951, she was 10 when the pill first hit Australia, and spent her teens and twenties in the swinging ‘60s and ‘70s, when everything the world had thought about sex was turned upside-down.
But now, the sex lives of people who grew up in that period go largely ignored. People don’t like to think about their grandparents having sex, or even sexual desires. But, the fact is, they do. And a Sydney Festival show, provocatively titled All The Sex I’ve Ever Had, wants to overturn the taboo.
Liz is quick to clarify that the show, which features six Sydney locals, doesn’t quite cover all the sex she’s ever had. “That could become a little repetitive and boring,” she says. Instead, the show uses sex to connect the life experiences of the participants.
They’re not actors, just people aged 63 and older with stories to tell. Liz fell into the show by chance, when a friend of hers received a call from her niece asking “Do you know any really old people?” The friend thought of Liz – who, at 65, is not that old – figuring she’d roll her eyes and decline. But she didn’t.
“A little voice inside of me thought, yeah, why not?”
The only hesitation was that her son, 28, might not be totally on board. But she explained what was happening, and he’s fine. “He’s enthusiastic and supportive,” she says. And despite worrying the show would take her out of her comfort zone, Liz says it’s one of the best experiences she’s had for “a long, long time”.
“It’s been a revelation,” she says. “Not that I’m a prude, but I’m a pretty private person. But they create such an atmosphere that it’s normal.”
With the stigma of “old person sex” set aside by the intrinsically candid nature of the project, the six seniors get on fabulously. They have a good time reminiscing, too.
“Someone will mention a song, and we’ll all go ‘Oh yeah, I remember that!’,” she says. “It’s a generational thing. We’ve gone through the same eras together – politically, educationally, socially.”
Sydney in the ‘70s was a wild time for Liz. She had moved to the city from the quiet country town of Wagga Wagga and shared a Clovelly flat with a friend, their kitchen cupboards stocked with glassware stolen from a nearby pub. The Rolling Stones and Bowie graced the airwaves.
At the time, Liz says, they weren’t cognisant of the huge social upheaval that young people today see as taking place during that era.
“We didn’t buy magazines, I didn’t even read the paper. We were just into having a good time,” she says.
Socially, the taboos around sex – the pill, one night stands, even affairs – were no big deal.
In the media, it was another story. TV was more straight-laced, but one show broke the mould. Australian soap Number 96, which ran from 1972-1977, was the most radical thing on television, with most other shows at the time not reflecting the more relaxed sexual values of the era.
“Number 96 was the first show when they had an openly gay man on the show, it was the first show when they had full-frontal nudity,” Liz says. “It broke a lot of boundaries.”
“I never missed an episode. I loved it.”
Liz said she’s not shocked, per se, by modern depictions of sex in the media – but she is “disturbed” by shows like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. She says it's a "shallow, fabricated" way of meeting people, that's just based on first impressions.
“Men and women subject themselves to be scored every week, and dismissed,” she says.
“You’re all standing here, and this man – Blake, who I didn’t think much of, by the way – he’s deciding who he’s going to give a rose to. And as the roses dwindle, the camera goes to the girls who are left. And I think, you’re beautiful. You’re intelligent. Just don’t worry about it.”
“To me, it’s quite cruel.”
For the same reason, Liz doesn’t like online dating. She reluctantly went on RSVP after her niece signed her up, but found the platform encouraged people to be shallow.
“Somebody goes through and looks at your photo and goes ‘Yep. Nope. Yep.’,” she says. “I don’t want to put myself in that forum, where someone can make a snap decision on whether I’m interesting or not just by reading a little bio and looking at my photo.”
Liz herself got sucked into the game. “I did it to them!” she says. “I looked at a photo of a guy and he had this huge big beer gut. He had a wife-beater singlet on, and I just thought ‘No’. He could have been a really interesting and nice person.”
“I’m a bit old fashioned, I think if it’s going to happen, it’ll happen walking down the street, sitting in a coffee shop, reading a book somewhere. I’m a bit of a romantic – you’ll look across and think ‘he looks nice’.”
For the entire interview, Liz is verbose – but her unreserved nature slips away when we move to romantic clichés, her answers imbued with regret.
“Do you believe in finding your one true love?”
“Did you have someone in your life, who you felt was that person?”
“Yes, I did,” she says, with a tight smile.
He’s long gone. It wasn’t a long term relationship, either – Liz says the longest relationship she had was with the father of her son. She never married.
“And how do you feel about not growing old with that person?”
On broken hearts, she opens up a little more. Asked if she’s had one, “oh, yes”.
And what does it feel like?
“Like you’re never going to get over it.”
Liz says time is the great healer – the only healer – of being ripped apart by love. But you can’t let yourself be consumed by it.
“I did it once and it was the worst thing I could have done,” she says. “I stayed inside, I drank, I wrote crappy poetry that I thought at the time was wonderful. But it doesn’t help.”
Liz is single now, has been for a while. She’s not having any sex – but if the opportunity arose, she’d totally be up for it. She also says she’s happy living the single, sixties life.
“I’ve got lots of male friends, I’ve got lots of girlfriends. We go out to movies, I read a lot, I drink a lot. I do what I want.”
And after watching the father of her son “turn into an old man before his time”, she tries to stay young, at least mentally.
“Sometimes I think I’m still back in the ‘70s. The way I think, you know,” she adds. “Getting old’s a bitch when you’re not ready for it.”
But some aspects just can’t be avoided: Liz had a bilateral knee transplant a couple years ago. She talks wistfully about being an attractive young woman, describing herself in that white bikini she wore to Richmond Pool.
And, she thinks, there’s a lot young people can learn from the old when it comes to sex and love.
Asked if she thinks youth is wasted on the young in this field, she rapidly fires back “yes” – but then backtracks. Being part of All The Sex I've Ever Had, reliving the ‘70s, it all made her think about it.
“Maybe it’s a bit harsh to say youth is wasted on the young. Maybe a better phrase is the old cliché: I wish I knew then what I know now.”
What does she know now?
“I know now that a broken heart’s not going to kill you. It’ll hurt for a while but you’ll get over it. It’s not the end of the world if you haven’t got a date, or a party to go to on New Year’s Eve,” she says.
Finally, Liz says, when she was young, she didn’t look “deeply into the person”.
“A few men that I met who obviously loved me, for some reason, I nitpicked them. I thought I could do better,” she says. “I was more affected by looks, job, money.”
Now, with the sage benefit of hindsight, she would have focused more on love. But everyone, she adds, has their regrets – and she’s happy.
“It is what it is, and it was what it was,” she says. “You can’t go back.”
All The Sex I’ve Ever Had is on at the Sydney Opera House January 21 - 24 as part of the Sydney Festival.
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at email@example.com.
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