Forget sex and the six-inch rule - let me get on with the cleaning

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Spring has sprung, the grass has riz ... time, therefore, for a panic about young people and sex. This week, the headmaster of a Scottish independent school reintroduced the "six-inch rule" - neither a modified form of corporal punishment, nor something to do with reassuring insecure boys, but a rule prohibiting male and female pupils from getting too close (closer than six inches) to each other, on the grounds that "spring is in the air".

John Robertson, headmaster of Dollar Academy, Clackmannanshire, told the 1,100 pupils - whose parents pay £8,000 a year for such pearls of wisdom - that the school by-law was being brought back after pupils were (horrors!) seen kissing in the streets near the school. Those that infringed the new rule would be disciplined (with a 12-inch rule, perhaps?).

On one level, the six-inch rule shows a laughable grasp of human sexuality. If sexual attraction ends at seven inches, then Mr Robertson will be most confused by pornography and virtual sex - presumably acceptable at the Dollar Academy on the grounds that they are thought crimes only. And if Mr Robertson has never heard of the return of the repressed, he will surely appreciate the story of Adam and Eve: forbidden fruit is often the most lusted-after.

My own Sixties generation parents - kaftans from the Apple Shop, family outings to see the Rolling Stones play in Hyde Park, Mick Jagger at the bus stop, cannabis in the greenhouse - took a strict Freudian approach: in our house, sex was so cool I was desperate not to have any. Soon after my 17th birthday, a boy I'd met at a party in Bristol came to visit me. There was no question of him sleeping in another room, and I spent an exhausting night, alternately fighting him off and trying to come up with excuses why I didn't want to have sex with him. I eventually caved in to peer pressure, and got rid of my virginity at 18.

There is, of course, a much more serious subtext to the absurd Dollar Academy rule. Repression, silence, prohibition and misinformation mark the British approach to sex education. And it has been a disastrous one: UK teenage pregnancy rates are the highest in Western Europe and the second highest in the Western world, topped only by the United States. This figure is not unconnected to the fact that, although 94 per cent of young people feel their parents should be the main source of sex education, they get most of their (mis)information from friends and the media. In a survey carried out by the Family Planning Association (FPA) and Middlesex University, one in eight teenage mothers said they only discussed contraception with their parents after they became pregnant.

Which is why the FPA this week launched Sexwise, an information campaign for young people. Ads in teen magazines, posters in pubs, clubs and discos, plus radio advertisements featuring The Word presenter Terry Christian and rap group LTB, are alerting listeners to a 24-hour helpline staffed by specialist sex and relationship advisers. Calls are free, confidential and will not appear on telephone bills. The FPA "Sexuality" booklet is also freely available.

Unfortunately, the campaign lasts for three weeks only; is funded (by the Department of Health) to the tune of £330,000 only (that's a little more than 41 annual school fees at the Dollar Academy); and is concentrated in London and Manchester, not Scotland. Let's hope the youth of Clackmannanshire take matters into their own hands: at one well-known English public school, an attempt to introduce a six-inch rule had to be abandoned when outraged boys started kissing each other in protest.

For married matrons such as myself, the sap doesn't rise much, even in springtime. March is a time for cleaning. Actually, household hygiene is a year-round interest of mine, something I like to regard not as starter- home competitiveness, or sexual equality backlash, but simply a trait inherited from my father, who washes fruit and vegetables in Jeyes Fluid and has ruined many a tea-towel, left to soak overnight in a tub of dilute bleach. Actually, it's all rather post-feminist as hobbies go: leg-waxing nail-buffing and other girly body maintenance fads are my idea of hell.

Among my vast collection of household polishes, cremes, gels and liquids, I am currently most excited by some "Houseplant Leaf Shine Wipes" from Homebase, which come in a handy green plastic dispenser. Such discoveries aside, my abiding passion is bleach (must be extra-thick and directable), my enthusiastic use of which has now become something of a joke among friends. The downside of all this magical stain-busting is, sadly, environmental guilt: bleach simply isn't friendly to dolphins.

Still, I vowed to be Extra Environmentally Conscious this week, with the launch of the "Bag It & Bin It" campaign against flushing into our seas and rivers unsightly and dangerous used toiletries, including nappies, cotton buds, sanitary towels, plasters, syringes, et al. Sadly, I can't see many men joining in the campaign by responsible disposal of condoms, razors, and the like.

Sainsbury's is supporting the campaign with lavender-coloured disposal bags that smell, overpoweringly, of old ladies' toilet water. Embarrassingly unbutch. Perhaps my dad would like some.

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