Sex may be here to stay

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The silly season has definitely finished when stories about sex scandals stop dominating the marginally better Sunday newspapers. Politicians and film stars have stopped paying for sex. We are clearly living in an improved society when we read, on the front page of that famous organ the Sunday Times, no less, that people are now paying good money not to have sex. It seems that lawyers and public relations executives, all good moral members of society - no doubt others, too - are prepared to fork out up to pounds 10,000 to avoid a physical relationship regarded as a chore.

My good friend Sam Abdalla, director of the excellent test-tube baby clinic at the Lister Hospital in London, says sex is a casualty of modern life. Apparently his fashionable clientele are so preoccupied that they find it simpler to pop into the Lister Clinic in Chelsea Bridge Road, have a quick egg collection and embryo transfer and let the tube take the strain. This lack of interest in sexual intercourse is not only confined to the busy executives of west London.

Dr Goswamy at the Churchill Clinic, almost at the very centre of the metropolis, thinks this trend is on the increase. "There seem to be more of these people than five years ago," he says. Where the Lister and the Churchill clinics pioneer, you can be sure that my innovative colleagues at Bourn Hall Clinic up in Cambridgeshire never really trail too far behind. The esteemed director, Peter Brinsden, appears to regard celibate relationships as not necessarily harmful. "If we think a couple would make perfectly good parents, we wouldn't refuse to treat them," he is reported as saying. And I say he is absolutely right. But then (I realise it is not in the slightest bit relevant), what if he does not think a couple would make perfectly good parents - and how does he know?

But you know, in spite of the concerns of my colleagues at these famous private clinics and the anxieties of the Sunday Times's indefatigable journalists, sexual activity is possibly here to stay. Some years ago, when the most scientifically spirited and inquiring of my children was six, one breakfast he looked at his brother and sister crunching their cornflakes and then peered quizzically at me and said: "Dad, tell me - are more babies born by the test-tube - or by the other method?" I reassured him. A few weeks later, he looked round the table, looked up and said: "Aren't we lucky? You've done it three times and there are three of us."

Perhaps, after all, it is not sex that is a casualty of modern life - but thinking about it. Perhaps infertile couples deserve a bit more privacy. Infertility is unpleasant enough without journalists imputing sexual inadequacy as part of the problem.

The writer is professor of fertility studies at Hammersmith Hospital, London.