Television Review

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The Independent Culture
MAN WAS BORN free but everywhere he is in chains. Or, if not in chains, then at any rate in PVC underwear and nipple-rings. Swingers - Faithful to You in My Fashion (ITV) opened up a nether world of sexual licence, as a succession of teachers, computer consultants, hoteliers and clockmakers talked about the pleasure and freedom they found in "open" relationships. Andy and Fiona, plus their "maid" Audrey-Anne, enjoyed threesomes and fetish clubs (Audrey-Anne is a man - Andy explained how his/her interest in fetish was aroused after a visit to Submission. Fiona interrupted: "It was Torture Garden"). Bob and Sue liked to include another man in their love-making ("We never get involved with a person at all. After the sex is over - out"). Kath and Geoff held "erotic" dinner parties at which the guests were encouraged to have sex at any time (fingerbowls presumably provided).

A sort of swingers' manifesto was offered at the beginning by Andy. "What gives you the right to say what I want is wrong? To enjoy life to its fullest, and enjoy what you're doing, and enjoy your sex to its ultimate - what's wrong with that?" Quite a few things, the programme went on to suggest. In Andy and Fiona's case, what was wrong was that he was a good deal freer and easier about sex than she was. He insisted that he loved her and would never be really unfaithful ("I'll have a tamper and a touch and a fiddle... for the pleasure, without the emotion"). But that assurance did not square with her distress at his escapades, or with his hectoring, nit-picking defence of his behaviour. When interviewed, he explained that the only thing that could destroy their relationship was Fiona's jealousy - the idea that he might have provoked that jealousy did not occur to him. The film showed a series of escalating rows, which ended with Fiona walking out.

Swingers undoubtedly aimed to appeal to the voyeur in most of us, but it had an ethical case to make. Sex without emotion is nice in theory but the chances are that somebody is getting hurt or exploited. Bob talked of the "sense of power" he had when directing Sue's flirtations with other men. Nan, a teacher, described how she had inveigled her husband and a woman with whom he was besotted into a threesome as a means of reigning in their affair. Kath and Geoff's relationship was on a more even footing; but Kath's references to unhappy affairs in the past, suggested that for her, like Nan, sex without feeling was a form of damage limitation.

Is freedom always a disguise for some inhibition or dependency? Coming Clean (BBC2), a new series of Video Nation, is looking at attitudes to housework. "A Mug's Game", last night's first programme, was about people who never do any household cleaning. For Ian and Jennifer, slobbishness seemed to be a form of defence, the litter of unwashed clothing and mouldering cigarette butts a barricade against intimacy: "I don't want people in my home," Jennifer said. "It shows too much of me." The camera ranged over scenes of appalling squalor, while Ian explained that he couldn't see the point in cleaning the toilet just for himself. Breathing the air of freedom suddenly seemed a rather unattractive option.