Beverly Whipple and Barry Komisaruk's discovery is not actually as trivial as it sounds - they hope that within 12 years it will bring therapeutic benefits to women with spinal injuries or other disabilities - but that isn't why it has hit the headlines. Excitable male journalists have seized upon the chemical's potential as a sex aid that will finally enable women to dispense with the services of men.
It's the kind of story that makes you look twice at the date at the top of the page. There is something deliciously Sixties about the idea of an orgasm tablet. Barbarella may have been a satire but it was firmly rooted in the Sixties, Tomorrow's World obsession with an ultra-modern labour-saving existence - machines for every function and a pill for every ill.
What does this fascination with instant gratification say about our attitude to sex? Is it the labour-saving aspect that we find so appealing? Sexual research, an area clouded by pathological fibbing, may suggest that 50 per cent of women reach mutual orgasm on a regular basis but the eagerness with which "thrill pill" stories are taken up suggests that there is a deep-seated male insecurity about penetrative sex as a source of female satisfaction. First it was turkey basters and cloning that enabled women to bypass the male role in the reproductive process and now orgasms in a bottle make a whole gender virtually redundant. It might be news to some of these gentlemen but I suspect that many women entered a digital age some time ago that gave them full control of their basic pleasures.
It is hard to imagine the target market for the synthetically induced orgasm. A serviceable fantasy and a quick feel could solve any urgent problems and there are always men as a last resort. The obvious drawbacks of the traditional route to sexual satisfaction are the personal inconvenience (shaving the legs, curling the eyelashes, waxing the moustache, polishing the glass eye, varnishing the wooden leg and so on) and the time factor (whole evenings wasted in finding partner, establishing meaningful relationship, bickering about where to eat etc).
But on a good night there is a great deal more to good sex than the climax at the end of it. Even supposing you didn't actually enjoy it that much, conventional coitus does have several fringe benefits/side effects.
Even the "average" act of intercourse (which "research" informs us is a grim business perfunctorily performed once every six days and lasting all of five minutes) uses up roughly 300 calories, triples the heart rate and doubles your respiration. He may turn out to be rubbish at it but as cardio-vascular exercise goes it has to be better than 20 minutes with the Stairmaster - and you don't need special Dayglo cycling shorts to participate.
We've heard it all before, of course. Quite apart from the widespread use of illegal drugs to enhance performance, an innocent visit to your GP may have unexpected consequences. Only two years ago researchers discovered an unsuspected side-effect of the anti-depressant clomipramine, which caused 5 per cent of women taking it to orgasm every time they yawned. Boring man seeks depressed woman with a view to fulfilling relationship. "Doctor, doctor. I have an orgasm every time I sneeze". "What are you taking for it?" "Snuff"n