TELEVISION / Caught in the act

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The Independent Culture
YOU can't show an erect penis on television. But you can in The Lover's Guide and The Gay Man's Guide to Good Loving and all those other video sex manuals - 'the hottest new product to hit the High Street in years'. Has the sex industry found a loophole? Check Out 92 (C 4) was looking into it.

There is a pernicious argument going around that, far from being instructional devices and as innocent as Salmon Fishing with Ted Jarvis or The Housebound Person's Easy Work-out Programme, these videos are pornography under a thin veil. As unlikely as it may seem, people are fast-forwarding through the parts in which a 'qualified counsellor' explains your right to a richly rewarding sex life, to get to the scenes of couples having it off in different positions. Check Out 92 wanted to know why. Or how. Or something.

It would, of course, be merely perverse to ask the question; last night's Check Out 92 - educational or just titillation? This was a responsible and high-minded analysis of a modern consumer phenomenon and its attendant moral issues. It just happened to come with a giant helping of saucy bits from the items under scrutiny.

Tina Jenkins, our presenter, took her investigation as far as the set where they were filming Better Sex II. A couple with implausibly even tans lay on some carefully rumpled sheets while cameramen stumbled around them, looking for angles. The moment when the make-up woman leaned in to apply the buffing sponge tended to confirm that what was being constructed here was a fantasy sequence. It was like watching sex between consenting rubber toys.

Old footage revealed how similarly controversial 'sex education' films made during the 1960s and 1970s tended to favour couples joylessly humping on a single mattress in what appeared to be recently vacated prison cells. The modern approach is to position the lovers in homely settings but, as a result, some of the sequences we watched last night bore witness to a still more deeply troubling absence of taste. The matt black angle poise lighting unit, the grey and purple striped Habitat duvet cover and matching scatter pillows. . . Disgusting.

Is anyone buying these videos purely for research purposes? (Apart from the Check Out 92 team.) Dr Margaret White pointed out that 'anybody who needs to be taught how to masturbate doesn't need to masturbate.' And anybody who needs to be taught how to masturbate is going to be right out at sea when it comes to mastering the controls on a video machine. Which seems to suggest that the alleged target audience is a front.

Still, it's a popular front. Check Out 92 enlisted 120 couples to 'road test' a selection from the currently available range. 81 per cent would have liked a bit more penetration and 77 per cent were a little disappointed by the absence of shots of male ejaculation (the last taboo). These were intriguing figures, but it was a little wanton of Check Out 92 not to point out the possibility of some kind of bias in the sampling. If you're the kind of person who says 'yes' when someone stops you in the street and asks you to try out a fistful of sex videos and report back, the chances are you are fairly convincingly pre-disposed.

Still, in a poll to establish the viewers' favourite sex video presenter, 'Dr Andrew Stanway, of the Lover's Guide, came out on top'. Lucky Dr Stanway.

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