TELEVISION / That sink feeling

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The Independent Culture
WHAT kept 40 Minutes (BBC 2)? Channel 4 ran a half-hour documentary on those explicit sex- technique videos about eight months ago. 40 Minutes only got there last night. Then again, given the topic, perhaps there was something appropriate about being able to hold out for ages and then, at the vital point, last for 10 minutes longer.

Subtitled '100 Years of Sex Advice', the programme contrasted yesterday's 'marriage' guides (motto: it makes you go blind) with today's video manuals (motto: feast your eyes). Naturally we got loads of the saucy bits from Lovers' Guide 7 and Supervirility 19, plus the inevitable location report from the set of Completely Bonkers 6, just to convince you that the programme wasn't in it for thrills, but had some sort of objective angle. Not that anyone will have been fooled for a second. That documentary footage is television's way of saying, 'It's not for me, it's for a friend.'

Dr Andrew Stanway, who does the Lovers' Guide videos, shucked off the moral objections with an anecdote about an Irish priest who thoroughly approved of his work, but in the light of the Bishop Casey affair, this didn't look like the firmest ground to be standing on. Still, the programme's broader point was that there were plenty of Dr Stanways around 100 years ago, but they were saying exactly the opposite of what they say now. A Victorian guidebook maintained that sexual urges could be seen off by regularly washing the affected parts under a cold tap. On one of the modern instructional videos, we watched a couple having it off in the sink. This seemed as succinct an expression as any of how far sex education has come.

For our grandparents, sex was the devil's practice. For us, less complicatedly, it's just something to practise. Two of the Doctors of Sex here compared improving between the sheets (or, as it may be, between the taps) with mastering the violin, though the fact they chose the violin as opposed to, say, the tuba or the sousaphone said much about their determination to prettify sex.

And accordingly, in the video scenes, young things tumbled decorously in piles of clean High Street linens, pausing only for the occasional fluted glass of Sainsbury's champagne. Even the sink was farmhouse-style. Sex has become overt and discussable and performance-led, but above all, apparently, it's become middle class.