Dear Virginia, Reute My best girlfriend's getting married and she's insistent I go to her hen party. One of her friends has organised a sex-aid party in the afternoon, for a laugh, another is making dinner at her house, then we're all going to play charades and strip poker, and a third has got a male stripper. Each of these events fills me with horror. I'm no prude and have a great sex life, but I hate party games and feel embarrassed at the idea of a male stripper. Should I just not go, or go and try to make the best of it?

Reute Yours, Maria Reute It all depends on what Maria means by "making the best of it". If she can practice a few hoots and whistles and a raunchy: "Co-or!" to fool everyone that she's having fun, then she should put on the act and go. But I suspect Maria's one of those people who just doesn't find sex funny. Or doesn't find sex funny in company. And if so, the icy tension she feels will radiate through her frozen smiles, and however much she forces her body into a relaxed pose, her knuckles will still gleam white.

There will be three possible reactions from the other guests, each equally appalling. One is that her anxiety and tension will be spotted at a conscious level, and everyone will start passing remarks such as: "Come on, Maria, loosen up, relax!" - terrif y ing strictures that will only result in her tensing up even further and turning bright, glowing red.

Or her embarrassment will be spotted at an unconscious level - in which case if she feels strongly enough it is quite possible for her reaction to affect the whole party. One person radiating psychic misery can thoroughly dampen the spirits of everyone else.

Or her embarrassment will be spotted - but only by one person: the male stripper. Clocking her as one of nature's victims in these circumstances, he will prance up to her and waggle his bottom in her face until she only wishes it were possible to die of embarrassment.

When she tells her friend she can't come, a last-minute migraine would be a far better excuse than the truth. If told the truth, her friend would feel obliged to cajole her into coming. She might also feel extremely hurt because Maria's absence would imply criticism of the sexy capers on offer. And there's a school of thought which argues that the only reason women enjoy laughing about sex in groups - through sex-aid parties, strippers and sanitised male sex shows like the Chippendales - is because laughter takes the fear out of it. For some women, to go into hysterics with other woman is a way of combatting what they see as a masculine threat.

Perhaps this would comfort Maria. Because despite the fact that Maria's reaction might appear to be shy, the truth could be that the hens are far more scared of sex than her.

Finally, she should remember that if this friend is really on her side, she'd hate to force her to go through half a day of torment. A hen party, like all parties, is designed to be fun for everyone. No one would be surprised if Maria said: "No" to a fungroup parachute jump. Since this particular female jolly is going make Maria just as terrified and anxious as leaping from a plane, she should refuse.

Anyway, presumably she's going to the wedding, usually a gruelling enough event in itself. Why put herself through anything else?

Reute "Grow up, woman, and stop being such a coward!" is what I would say to Maria's reluctance to go to her best friend's hen party. Dreading going to a hen night just because a male stripogram has been hired and a round of strip poker arranged sounds downright childish to me.

There is nothing to be afraid of. Hen nights are just good fun for everyone and a good excuse for a girls' night out. It is not as if anyone is asking you to sleep with this man, after all. We are not raving nymphomaniacs or sex-starved hussies if we look at naked male bodies, especially in the safe context of a hen night, so why should Maria feel so bad about going?

Most men have no qualms about going to stag nights and calling in female strippers in the name of good, clean fun, so there is no reason why it shouldn't be the other way around, too. Why should we suddenly become tarts or sluts if we do the same? For years, men have been openly ogling naked female bodies, whether in advertisements, in magazines and in movies. It has now become part of our society.

Don't let your best friend down on her big night. Go and let your hair down - the whole point of a hen night is to have a damned good night with your friends. Have a laugh and, who knows, maybe you'll even enjoy yourself! Yve, London Reute "You seem to have got the wrong idea," my soon-to-be best man explained. "Tonight's about humilition." How right he turned out to be. Friends had been called, a club booked, an Indian restaurant forewarned.

Don't get me wrong: I was looking forward to this. My idea of a good night out is pitifully unsophisticated. But nothing could prepare me for Jack's Club, not even the sea of lager in which I happily bobbed before I arrived there with 20 of my finest. This afternoon underground drinking dungeon was to be my torture chamber for the night. You don't know the meaning of the word humiliation until you've become part of the Jack's floorshow. Jack's was humming when we arrived: another stag night in full cry.It was clear, even to my swimming vision, that the poor sod strapped naked to a chair would soon be me.

The ultimate nightmare: queuing, naked, until summoned for what turned out to be the worst 20 minutes of my life. I remember thinking: "Can my friends really be enjoying the sight of a pasty fat drunk simulating sex with a skeletal hooker with `Mam' and `Dad' inked on her forearms?" And, "What possessed the friend who photographed the whole floor show and sent them to the address I shared with my wife?" Oh, and "Wait until it's their turn."

How I sympathise with Maria! Tony, London Reute Reute Dear Virginia, Reute My mother, aged 90, has always been a very determined woman and in the past has often made me swear that I would never put her in a home. But her behaviour's getting increasingly bizarre. When I went round this week she had left a gas burner on, the phone was off the hook, the cat had not been let out for days and the place was stinking. She has a home help, but even though I've found her a room in a lovely nursing home very nearto me, she is adamant that she won't go. She says she will die in her own home, and that if I move her into a nursing home I will kill her - though I have a feeling that if I really used every inch of emotional blackmail, she might agree. She has already had two very bad falls and has days when she's very confused but still manages somehow to struggle on. She refuses to see the doctor. I am sick with worry. Have other readers had to face this problem?

Reute Yours, Gemma Reute All comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a Dynagrip 50 ballpen from Paper:Mate.Please send your comments and suggestions to me at the Features Department, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14


DL; fax 071-293-2182, by Tuesday 3 January.