Can accessories improve your sex life?

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I'M TALKING to Anthony, wondering if I should tell him the truth, which will hurt him, or some weaker version of the truth, which will . . . also hurt him, and I'm looking at a men's glossy magazine - not porn - concentrating on a double-page fashion spread on underpants, with a topless girl wearing a pair of male briefs, which look baggy on her. Anthony is a heavy consumer of glossy mags, of the insecurity they foster, the hope they hold out, the advice they give.

He says: 'What should I do? Should I . . . call her?'

I should say: no, for God's sake, you'll only embarrass yourself, it's obvious she has no interest in you sexually, she's not an absolute moron, you've hinted and flirted and it's done no good at all - surely you don't think she's teasing you? I look at the fashion spread, which says: 'The woven boxer has at last given way to the updated Y-front.'

I say: 'You . . . could call her, but . . . '

'. . . but I should strike while the iron's hot, right? I mean, if I don't, someone else might . . . step in ahead of me . . . '

'Well . . .'

'You're right. I should . . . act, right? I could blow it if I just ponce around doing nothing. Couldn't I?'

'Uh . . . right.'

'Apparently, or so I read, women, you know, they . . . like a bit of firmness.'

'Well, I suppose . . .'

My God. Is it my imagination, or are more and more men getting like this? We're talking about sexual chemistry here, brute nature, and we're edging into the world of glossy magazines, where these things don't just depend on chance, on the unknowable natural selection process, but can be tampered with if you're a skilled user of products - the telephone, hair gel, the right kind of underpants. The magazines tell you: you can make a difference. They tell you don't leave it to chance. They get you in the right frame of mind to buy the perfumes and the shaving kits and the underpants, which are advertised in between the articles.

This is courtship advice, the stuff that, until not long ago, could only be found in women's magazines. Here's an example, from a recent Company: 'A flirtatious note, or a message left on your answering machine, can be very seductive. The key is to strike the right balance between sexual promise and wit.' And here's another: 'There is nothing so seductive as the promise of the touch of silk or satin against smooth flesh.' In the same magazine, an ad for: 'Day cream . . . It protects your skin from the external factors that encourage ageing, and helps to keep it velvet smooth.'

So how would I feel if a woman left me a message, striking the right balance between sexual promise and wit? Or if I saw, held out in front of me, the promise of the touch of silk or satin against smooth flesh? The answer is: if I fancied her, I'd feel great. But if I didn't I'd feel . . . awkward, embarrassed, hounded, or just indifferent. If I didn't fancy her, that would be that. The smoothness of the flesh, the skill with which she used the answering machine, or anything - her knicker know- how, her ability to mix pastel woollens, her eyeshadow-applying genius - wouldn't make a blind bit of difference. She'd have wasted her money. Which, of course, is the idea.

But wasting your money is not the worst thing that can happen. Here's some more courtship advice, this time from Esquire: 'Women are still, deep down, terrified of appearing too keen.' This means: she may not look like she fancies you, but . . . you never know. And: 'Persistence will generally pay off. Don't be deterred if your quarry demurs on being invited out.' This means: she may have rejected you, but . . . hell, she probably doesn't mean it. Also: 'She would prefer it if he didn't look as though he'd have a heart attack on top of her; she might even admit to a sneaking penchant for a nice firm bum and she will definitely fantasise about trim hunky male movie stars.' This means: get in shape] An ad from the same magazine reads: 'ExerSkier gives you a superior cardiovascular workout that tones and shapes all the major muscles in your entire body.' That's your entire body, right? So, does this mean that your bum could be the nice firm bum she might admit to having a sneaking penchant for?

Not at all, of course. It means you might develop a nice firm bum, a nice firm bum which you could even enhance by covering it with the updated Y-fronts which are taking over from the woven boxer, such as the Hom 'Xaffe' denim cotton shorts (approx pounds 25), or the Antoni and Alison black cotton trunks ( pounds 18.50), or the Moschino white cotton briefs ( pounds 45 for pack of three). But that's where the story will probably end.

Anthony says: 'Maybe I could just . . . turn up? Call on her? Or she might prefer a message on the answering machine, which suggests that I might turn up . . .'

'. . . on a pretext, you mean?'

'Right. I mean, that's like being direct but not too direct, which is supposed to be what they like . . . yes?'

This is the moment. I should jump in. The point is: the girl either fancies you, or she doesn't. If she doesn't fancy you, it doesn't matter what you do, how you get your hair to look, how big your motorbike is. And if she does fancy you, you can't fail. You can be as inept and disgusting as you like. Never mind the hair gel and scruffing lotion, never mind fretting about the woven boxer short and if it really has at last given way to the updated Y- front, or the 'jersey boxer' - you could be wearing Terylene dungarees covered in sick, for all the difference it will make.

So I say: 'Sure. Yeah. She might . . . appreciate a call from you.'

'Yeah? Do you really think so?'

It's a while before I answer, because I've realised that you can buy Paula Cavali cotton shorts in Sock Shop for pounds 8.99, which look nearly as nice as the ones from Emporio Armani ( pounds 35). As the catchline says: 'After all, everyone needs a little support.'