Just to set your minds at ease. This is not about sex with or by Bill Oddie. This is a review of the Glasgow book festival Aye Write, where I attended two different sessions – one about David Spiegelhalter’s book Sex By Numbers and one about Bill Oddie’s new book Unplucked. But… I made you look you dirty chook!
David Spiegelhalter has a unique talent. He can take something as awkward as (hushed tone please) _sex_ and make it humorous, and then take something as dull as statistics and make it interesting.
One statistic that sticks in my mind is that year on year of the Natsal survey (National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles), men routinely report having twice the number of sexual partners as women. This is apparently statistically impossible. And when scientific methods test this (with something like a lie detector test), it is shown to be categorically false. There are many theories as to why this is, mostly revolving around ‘social desirabillity bias’ but disturbingly, includes women refusing to acknowledge encounters where consent wasn’t given.
Spiegelhalter gave us a tour of sex through history, highlighting just how contested women’s sexuality has been, and how every single generation has been and will presumably continue to be concerned about the sexuality of its young people. He reflected on how the public health approach to sex has shifted from avoiding disease and pregnancy to current interventions which are about consent and relationships. It made me wonder whether those terrifying ads about AIDS in the 80s would still be endorsed today.
Meanwhile, Bill Oddie is short, hairy, quite round and likes to talk about swallows. Through a series of vignettes he explained his love of bird-watching, which included a reenactment with a toy puffin. He passionately questioned whether breeding 50 million pheasants and partridges a year in the UK to then kill them was anything less than an indictment on human civilisation. He also did a mini rendition of ‘Funky Gibbon’. What’s not to love?
In two hours I learned that Malta recently held a bird referendum because of the threat to migratory birds passing over on their way over to Europe (it was very narrowly defeated). I also learned that everyone is having less sex than they used to. I don’t think even David Attenborough could help me accumulate such wisdom in such a short space of time.