A couple of weeks ago I was talking with an American businessman in a quiet restaurant. It was a pleasant conversation, but inevitably it turned to sex as the evening wore on. He passionately explained away the sexual urges of men according to "scientific fact." I listened carefully, nodding away between sips of my beer. But I'd heard it all before and it was the usual mishmash of pseudoscience that people use to justify their own incomprehensible stupidity.
All the while I noticed a man at the next table eagerly listening in on our conversation. He was about 50, and strikingly handsome. Suddenly he addressed us.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I couldn't help but overhear your conversation. It's extremely interesting. Might I join you?"
It turned out that he was an American doctor who had come to Latvia to conduct a four-day "pilot study" (sic) into the women here. He showed us a notebook that was filled with neatly squeezed together appointments with women he had met through the Internet: 12 p.m. - Marina, 12.55 p.m. - Baiba, 1:30 p.m. - Kristina, etc. He was clearly on a tight schedule.
The American businessman seemed confused. "But you're such a catch (sic)," he said to the doctor. "Why would you need to stoop to the Internet?"
The doctor explained that he'd been married for 20 years. Now, aged 52, he wanted nothing more than sex, albeit civilized sex. He wanted to find a beautiful young woman, take her out to dinner, then perhaps to the opera afterward if he could hold out for a couple more hours, and then take her home, light a candle, and shag her. Yes, all very civilized. No doubt he would utter tender words of appreciation as he wiped her face down with a handkerchief afterward.
I must admit I was fascinated by it all. The lovely young waitress, on the other hand, was clearly disgusted by what she'd heard. She slammed a round of beers down on the table and glanced at the three of us with undisguised contempt.
As the businessman and the doctor enthusiastically shared tips about the subtleties of dating desperate middle-aged women from Daugavpils, I sat there feeling utterly bemused. Would I be like the doctor when I reached his age? Surely not?
Sex has become an almost grotesquely misconceived act. Where once it served as a battleground for meaning, now it is just a wasteland for idle recreation. I remember once reading an article by a renowned English geneticist who humorously rejected the notion that biology can explain away every peccadillo. "Sorry darling," he wrote. "It wasn't me that did it - it was the ape within."