TELEVISION / No sex please

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The Independent Culture
EVERYMAN (BBC 1) took a hard look at celibacy and pondered the question: is it catching? The thrust of the argument was this: we're led to believe that everyone is preoccupied with having more sex and making it last longer, whereas, actually, increasing numbers are concentrating very hard on having no sex at all and making it last for ever. Thus Marj Thoburn from the counselling agency Relate could refer to the existence of 'a vast raft of people who choose not to be involved in sexual activity'.

A small band of these stepped on to dry land to attest to the 'potent kind of freedom' which lies in the realm beyond sex. Sally Cline, the author of The Genital Myth, questioned the idea that physical relations make you happy. Clearly for some, this is not the case - in fact, all the abstinents questioned here seemed bright-eyed and cheery, though it should be said, a worryingly large percentage of them displayed a tendancy to join fringe spiritual organisations.

In support of the cause, the programme wheeled out the old sociological nonsense that pleasurable sex is a relatively recent invention, for which it credited, as usual, Woodstock, Jimi Hendrix and the invention of the oral contraceptive. 'Sex could now be recreational,' we learned - as opposed, presumably, to our ancestors' time, when it was a dire chore like washing the dishes or bringing in the coal.

Speaking up for calming down were Carol Vieira, an actress who was resting (in the sexual sense), and Angus Mackinnon, a journalist working for the men's style magazine GQ. Both were in that state which one might in the past have called 'between partners'. But these days, no fashionable person wants to be thought to be merely drifting, and both presented their situations as a purposeful choice from the rich and varied menu of lifestyle options.

Vieira said she was 'taking a break from the demands of sex' - a phrase which spoke eloquently about our age's ability to regard absolutely anything as stressful. ('How was it for you?' 'Really demanding.') Mackinnon, meanwhile, said he had realised that privacy was important to him - always a tricky claim to make on television.

Some argue that there's a streak of masochism in the abstinent. Still, neither of these arguments will be bothering Mackinnon now, nor indeed Carol Vieira, both of whom, it was revealed at the end of the programme, are back with partners again.

On Teenage Diaries (BBC 2, Saturday), 13-year-old Polly recorded her hatred for her school, her refusal to go there and her parents' patient compliance in finding her alternative arrangements. During some great scenes of dumb-play at a cider-and- Woodbines party, it was brought home again how, though filmed and overseen by teenagers, these programmes unerringly target nostalgic adults. They are a bright insight into the teenage psyche in those innocent years before the decision not to have sex.