Sophie Morris: Sexual pleasure is not offensive (unlike this ad)

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Permit me a Mary Whitehouse moment, if you will, but at what stretch of whose imagination is showing children a group of women climaxing on prime-time television a good thing? I'm referring to a Durex advertisement (below) for a female "pleasure gel", which features young women reaching orgasm to the "Queen of the Night" aria from Mozart's Magic Flute.

Fine choice of music, no doubt, and Clearcast, the body which vets all television commercials, initially cleared the ad for broadcast, but only after 11pm. Channel 4 then decided to show it at an earlier hour, prompting a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which has assumed the role of arbiter of national taste and decency.

Yet again, the ASA has ruled on the wrong side of common sense. On reappraisal, it was decided the orgasm montage was fit for purpose before 11pm.

Before you accuse of me of being stuck in a rigid straitjacket of glutinous mud, let me clarify: the ad was described as "offensive"; female sexual pleasure is not, far from it, nor is orgasm a dirty word. Both should be celebrated and not swept shamefully under tightly fitted carpets.

That doesn't mean they should be paraded in front of children below the age of sexual consent. Yes,they need to know about the birds and the bees, but that must not amount to a show-and-tell while they're eating their Rice Krispies.

This comes at a time when the broadcasting regulations for advertisements about contraception and abortion are to be relaxed and permitted before the pre-9pm watershed. Cue lots of indignant complaints from anti-abortionists and their ilk, but there is a distinction that must be drawn between education and entertainment.

Educating minors – who always have and always will have sex – about how to use a condom is a sensible move given Britain's pitiful record on teenage pregnancies. Advertising a sex toy, which is what the Durex gel is, albeit without cause for batteries, is akin to displaying porn mags among the penny sweets.

Discovering sexual pleasure is hit and miss, a journey characterised by disappointment and enlightenment, often in the wrong proportions. Distilling such an experience into a short ad won't do anything to liberate female sexuality, it simply gives children the chance to watch other people having sex. Dogging for kids, by any other name.

Even worse, I suspect that had the ad featured a group of men masturbating the outcry would resonate for months. For men are seen as predatory, voyeuristic and harmful in their sexual endeavour. They lead women astray, not the other way round. Whereas women are naïve and harmless; pretty, passive pictures. Get real. It's all sex, folks, and while the age of consent may not be in line with the onset of sexual desire, a line has to be drawn somewhere as to the age at which we actually show sex to children, while reserving the right to educate them as far as pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and diseases and the emotional implications are concerned.

In films with a 12 classification, sexual activity may be implied and certain references to sex are permitted. For a 15, sexual activity may be portrayed "but without strong detail". Can we not apply these same guidelines to television advertisements?

Apart from the fact that Channel 4 was knowingly flouting regulation, they chose to broadcast the advert before showing the film Venus, which is certified 15. Venus is an excellent film starring septuagenarian Peter O'Toole, and explores his relationship with a 20-year-old woman. It was a brave topic to take on and does not skirt around the issue of sexual desire across the generations, but it does sidestep actual sex. Showing the Durex ad before a film which masters the complexity of desire brings it all back to basics.

Give Defra a break – at a bongo workshop

Am I the only one tickled by the idea of government vets bonding over a good bongo-drumming session? £500,000 is a lot of money for Defra to have spent on light-hearted away days, but unless you're an MP, working in public service offers little in the way of perks.

While City workers mourned cut-price office bashes over Christmas, civil servants were forking out for their own pub lunches, as usual. Council workers don't enjoy the same catering and gym benefits as the private sector.

Defra employees might spend weeks slaughtering healthy cattle or culling badgers. They deserve a little hippyish downtime.



*In terms of tanning categories, apparently I'm a "binge tanner". This means I turn my nose up at sunbeds, but am happy to hit the beach for weeks on end.

Sure, I wear factor 50, but that's not quite the same as covering up or keeping indoors.

Skin cancer is the most common form of the disease in women under the age of 30 and artificial sunbed tans always get the blame.

More and more young women are working and travelling in hot climes for long periods and they should be reminded that overexposure to natural sunlight is just as damaging as those fluorescent strips of tanning lights.

M&S should trade Helvin in for an older model

Marie Helvin, must be delighted to have landed the gig of selling M&S's clothing range for "older" women, but its customers might not take too kindly to the appointment. At 56 Helvin is no spring chicken, but nor is she old. She is certainly older than some, but so is everyone save the newest born babe.

Not so long ago, 40 was being celebrated as the new 30. All of a sudden, 70 is the new 50 and this time it is more than a catchphrase. No one wants to be ushered into comfortable shoes and winceyette nighties before time, and aligning the very youthful Helvin with the concept of "older" is sure to annoy women in their fifties, whether dynamic career types or busy mothers.

There are plenty of working models in their seventies, why not use one of them?

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