Do you still have sex? I only ask because, according to a new report, just published in the journal Reproductive BioMedicine Online, it may be a dying art. The report predicts a future where, within a decade, using IVF will have become better than sex as a form of reproduction. Modern fertility techniques mean it will be possible to produce embryos with a success rate of virtually 100 per cent and cultivate them in computer-controlled storage facilities.
It sounds like the dark dystopian vision of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (where handmaids are assigned to bear children for elite couples that have trouble conceiving) or films such as Gattaca and Code 46, where a genetically engineered population means everyone is physically perfect. But no, scientists insist. This is progress. "Natural human reproduction is at best a fairly inefficient process," says John Yovich, a co-author of the report.
So is physical congress with another live human simply quaint – especially in these days of sexting and Second Life and live web-cams? Because it's not just couples desperate to have kids who are banishing sex. Talk to any single woman over 35 and she'll tell you how bloody hard it is to get a potential date to actually leave the house.
What's the problem? Laziness, high standards, the prevalence of internet porn? Maybe dating has just lost its allure. As one 50-year-old man frankly explained to me – faced with the prospect of a strong woman, eating late and conversation into the night, many men may prefer themselves for company (sex on tap) rather than another 3D person. Especially if there's work the next day. Even after passionate love-making has taken place there is often an ominous silence. I've lost count of the female friends who have phoned me, bewildered. "Don't they want to do it again?"
People accuse women of being picky. But it seems men are the impossible romantics. They want poetry and the meeting of true minds. But actually they'd rather be lonely in their bedsits. The funny thing is when we're growing up, our mothers warned us that men "just wanted one thing". We were put on red alert about men trying to take us to bed. Any place. Anywhere. Any time. It sounded fantastic. Like one long Martini advert. Can I tell you just how untrue that proved to be? It's hard work luring platonic dates round for candle-lit suppers on a school night. It does rather hurt your feelings when they "aren't ready" for a weekend break.
It's very easy to find reasons not to have sex, of course. Poor body image. Incompatible careers. Unhelpful public transport. As you get older, taking your clothes off is an act of faith (maybe we can come to an agreement about that one?). Even in 1973, Woody Allen was flirting with the idea of the Orgasmatron in Sleeper.
But you know physicality – another person in the room – is the price we pay. What makes another human being sexy is enthusiasm. The desire to take a risk. To lose sleep. To wake up somewhere different – and take on board a different point of view. Otherwise sex just becomes an irritating booty call, an itch that needs to be scratched. Two people pretending they're not actually having a relationship. Which is why Liz Hurley turns out to be my unlikely heroine this week. In a magazine interview, she dubs her husband Arun – "my current affairs friend". What a fantastic phrase. I want one of those – for kissing and (consecutive) conversation. Someone who knows the minutiae of your life. Who'd rather see you than not.
Hurley is fairly pragmatic. There are, she insists, many kinds of friendship that sustain a life. It's not all hanging from the ceiling and champagne after 40. We have platonic friends and devoted siblings and, yes, an enduring relationship with the ex (step forward Hugh Grant). But we do need that precious commodity – chat – to sustain life between the sheets.
Has sex reached its sell-by date? It's time-consuming, messy and frankly very 20th-century. But until they invent something better, I vote we choose flawed intimacy over the lab – or laptop.Reuse content