Jeremy Laurance: Why men and women really can’t get any satisfaction

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Amid the gloom of swine flu – a fan letter! Rare enough at the best of times, this one contained an added bonus. "I am 76," wrote Mary, "and it has taken me all this time to write to you about sex."

She was, it turns out, entertained by something I wrote some months ago for an Independent guide which observed that men's and women's bodies were wrongly designed for mutual sexual pleasure. "It was the first time I had seen this important fact written down anywhere," she said.

"Women and men think that they have something wrong with them for not reaching mutual orgasm during intercourse. This may account for all those adverts about penile dysfunction. Women know that men are not essential for reaching orgasm. Do us all a favour and make more of this hugely important physiological fact."

Well, Mary, here I am doing my bit for womankind. But, as I acknowledged in the piece, the insight is not mine – it is Shere Hite's. The American author of various "Hite Reports" made it plain that the old cliché about men being from Mars and women being from Venus applies not only to their psychology but to their anatomy, too.

"Do not get me wrong, we love men. We love their maleness, their warmth and affection, their closeness, their strength and their tenderness," added Mary, kindly.

I commend to her and to anyone else puzzled by the difference between the sexes the card my wife gave me last Christmas. The top half is labelled "Men" and shows a single on-off switch. The bottom half is labelled "Women" and is packed with dials and switches, all awaiting, er... attention. It sits on the mantelpiece in our bedroom now – as threat or encouragement, I am never quite sure.

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One thing the swine flu pandemic has exposed is the depths of our ignorance about the flu virus. Despite 50 years of study, we still know remarkably little about why it behaves in the way it does. Why has it flared up in summer? Why is Britain so hard hit? Why did it come from the west (Mexico) and not, as expected, from the east? To all these questions, the scientists respond with a regretful shake of the head.

Perhaps ministers would do better to emphasise how little we know rather than how much we have prepared. One thing we do know is that the flu virus mutates more rapidly and more frequently than other viruses. That is why it is worrying. It looks mild now, but we don't know what it may do next.

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The Royal College of Nursing has moved from outright opposition to assisted suicide to a neutral position, neither for nor against. But it is not the first Royal Medical College to do so. The British Medical Association was also neutral on the issue until 2004, when it reverted to opposition. For how long will the RCN hold its stance, I wonder? The temperature of the debate over end-of-life care has certainly risen in recent years, but it has not been accompanied by any increase in light.

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