Terence Blacker: Why sex surveys are going to the dogs

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The Independent Online

This month, some startling new statistics have come to light. A higher proportion of Britons find Sir Cliff Richard a powerfully erotic fantasy figure than they do George Clooney. Between Carol Vorderman and Nicole Kidman, it is the Countdown presenter who is found to be the more arousing. Eight million British adults, crushingly described as "neo-virgins", have become sexually inactive, while a plucky 1.8 million (you know who you are) have had sex with more than 100 partners. In Scotland, people have significantly more orgasms than in London.

It is sex survey time again. It seems that hardly a week goes by without new revelations about who does what, with whom, and how often, lovingly compiled by the army of erotic specialists out there counting orgasms, but a forthcoming book by the Hampstead psychotherapist Brett Kahr is no sexological quickie. Called Sex and the Psyche, it is, we are told, the real thing.

Kahr has put in the hours at the coal-face. From 6.45 every morning, individuals and couples unburden their intimate lives to him. With the help of YouGov's grandly named British Sexual Fantasy Project (an internet questionnaire, basically), Kahr has a database of 18,000 fantasies. "To the best of my knowledge," he writes, "this study constitutes the largest possible survey on the psychology of adult male and adult female fantasies."

Everyone likes reading about the sexual peculiarities of other people, and a survey taking itself this seriously was bound to be widely covered. Well before his book is published, Brett Kahr has been all over the press, getting the double-page spread treatment in The Observer and The Times. There is to be an event at the ICA on 5 March. Talking to him, one interviewer invoked the great pioneers of this kind of work, Alfred Kinsey and Nancy Friday. Kahr sees himself, apparently, as "a liberating force".

The question is whether we still need to be liberated. When Kahr reveals that one of his patients' fantasises about having sex with the Queen and Mrs Thatcher, the jaded British reader is unlikely these days to be shocked, but merely bored. We have heard it all before.

Kinsey was genuinely liberating. Nancy Friday's collection of fantasies, My Secret Garden, was something of a revelation - a surprising number of American housewives claimed to be having sex with their dogs, as I remember - but it would be absurd to claim that its huge success was based on sales to serious-minded readers who wanted to evaluate developments within contemporary sexuality. It was a clever project, offering erotic stimulation and occasionally amusement under the cover of apparent seriousness.

Like Nancy Friday, Brett Kahr has waded deep into the pool of human muckiness and deserves the success that probably awaits him. To judge from some of the fantasies ("Melchior... wishes to be a on a boat with a bevy of busty beauties"), the Great British Sexual Fantasy Project did not always live up to its name, but that is to carp. In general, this seems a harmless book which will bring comfort to lots of people, and will be kept in the bottom drawer of many a bedside table.

But could we not now have a rest from the work of the sexology industry? I cannot be the only person who finds that the difference between the number of orgasms people have in Edinburgh and London is of remarkably little interest or relevance. When it comes to sex surveys, I hereby embrace neo-virginity. From now on, I've got a headache.

A hero is not the same as a celebrity

An unlikely hero has emerged from the three-nation international cricket tournament in Australia. Paul Collingwood turned in a series of astonishing performances with the bat, fielded brilliantly and even took some wickets with his bowling. Almost single-handedly, he managed to redeem a miserable winter tour.

Yet the papers have shown little interest in him, and there is scant chance he will cross the line that separates the talented player from the sports celebrity. Like the brilliant footballing midfielder Paul Scholes, he is admired for his skills but lacks that certain something - the Flintoff/ Beckham factor - that quickens public interest.

Perhaps it is because both men have red hair - apart from John McEnroe and Chris Evans, celebrities are rarely ginger. But the truth is more profoundly biological. Fortunately for him, Paul Collingwood does not possess the celebrity gene.

* If, in an unlikely moment of religious fervour, the advertising industry were to seek a patron saint of marketing, they could do worse than to make a takeover bid for St Valentine. Today may, as we are reminded by the commercials, be associated with love but what is truly being celebrated on St Valentine's Day is the power of marketing. The card companies make a fortune. The flower shops double their prices. Couples are encouraged to buy expensive presents.

It is not love that is being tapped into here, but guilt. In a stressed-out world, people are less attentive to one another than they should be. The St Valentine's market is built on the premise that money can make it better. So here's to the Valentine's Day Scrooges who prefer to express their love in the old-fashioned way throughout the year - without the humbug of greedy commercialism.

terblacker@aol.com

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