Terence Blacker: Does sex need to be encouraged?

What was once seen as self-pollution is now presented as useful exercise

Related Topics

The Government's pledge to use the London Olympics as a way of encouraging lazy Britons to take exercise grows ever more ambitious. Last week, we heard that frisbee-throwing, baton-twirling and arm-wrestling would be eligible for government grants. Now a more traditional form of exercise is being promoted to teenagers.

"Health promotion experts advocate five portions of fruit and veg a day and 30 minutes' physical activity three times a week," reveals a new national health leaflet, which is being distributed in schools. "What about sex or masturbation twice a week?"

Younger readers may need to be reminded what a turnaround this is. From the Victorian age until the second half of the 20th- century, the very activity which is now being so eagerly marketed was regarded as both physically debilitating and morally corrupting. Complicated strap-on contraptions were invented to prevent it taking place; breakfast cereals were created to conquer the urge to do it; learned pamphlets on its terrible effects – blindness, madness, impotence, hairy hands – were published.

Our own version of the same fearfulness could be found in much of the advice given to teenagers over the past 20 years – gruesome warnings about sexually transmitted diseases, or hopelessly nannyish appeals for sex to be associated with that slippery, rather adult concept, the "loving relationship".

The health message of the NHS leaflet is more down-to-earth. Its title, Pleasure, is defiantly pro-sex. What was once the unnatural vice of self-pollution is presented as a useful form of exercise. Pleasure's clarion call to its young readers is simple: "An orgasm a day keeps the doctor away".

There have been mutterings, naturally enough. Nothing is more guaranteed to stir alarm than the subject of sex education. We want to convey information to children but worry that they might want to use it.

A more relevant worry about this orgasm-a-day campaign is whether it is not a complete waste of time and money. The message of Pleasure is in the air that teenagers breathe, in magazines, online, on TV, above all in songs. Urging them to enjoy their own bodies is a bit like encouraging cows to eat grass or birds to fly. It may be uncomfortable for adults, but solo sex is part of growing up. If scientists could work out a way to connect the busy hands of Britain's teenagers to the national grid, there would be enough renewable energy to power an eco-town.

The leaflets convey the faintly alarming tone of the target culture at work. It is not enough to promote sexual exercise but the weekly amount should be estimated. Are we on the brink of a new government initiative? Will a masturbation tsar be appointed to oversee nationwide orgasm league tables? Could Lord Coe and his Olympic "Let's Get Britain Moving" team, become involved in some way?

The NHS has enough problems without poking its nose into the private life of schoolchildren. We live in a highly eroticised society. Everywhere that young people look, sex is being glamorised, primped up and marketed.

There can surely be only one response to the idea that teenagers need a leaflet to tell them that sex can be fun. Duh.


React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
'Unbiased': Former M&S boss Sir Stuart Rose  

So, the people who always support the Tories... are supporting the Tories? Has the world gone mad?

Mark Steel
Crofter's cottages on Lewis. The island's low population density makes it a good candidate for a spaceport (Alamy)  

My Scottish awakening, helped by horizontal sleet

Simon Kelner
War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police