Suffolk Woman does it .. not that much

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The Independent Online
THE most cheering piece of news this week has got to be that extremely serious study of Sexual Behaviour in Britain, published in the Independent on Sunday. It's best summed up as Only Moderate Sex Please, We're British.

The first table I turned to (wondering whether I was missing out) was the one showing the number of times people say they have sex. The median for both men and women was surprisingly and reassuringly achievable. Twice a week seemed pretty good going, whatever a person's age, sex or the longevity of the relationship. In other words, the majority of us like sex, but do not live for it. As the survey's authors observe, it is something most of us have to fit around other time-absorbing, if less enjoyable, activities, such as going to work, watching television or coping with that untidy by-product of sex called children.

The survey's reliability as a pointer to modern practice was further underscored for me by its finding that oral sex was increasingly popular, especially in the higher social classes: three quarters of men and two thirds of women had experienced it. It is also increasingly common in the newspapers, most recently in reports of a certain libel case involving allegations of oral sex taking place in that icon of prosperity, the Range Rover.

But if this survey is as spot on as it seems to be, then it surely has a number of implications for some venerable institutions. Last week several of their Lordships were debating in the Upper House whether there was too much sex on television. Perhaps they are not such fogeys after all. Armed with the report, a modern Mary Whitehouse might well argue that if British television, and the BBC in particular, is a mirror of our society, then perhaps there is.

Conversely, perhaps some of us like to watch it on television because we're British, we're not rampant sexual athletes, and we don't get to practise as much as we might wish.

Women's magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Company, which are awash with sexually explicit articles, might also pause to wonder whether they are advancing beyond readers' tolerance. This survey surely helps to explain why it is easy to go too far: a clutch of explicit magazines, such as Ludus, aimed at women have recently closed after only brief spells in the newsagents.

Its also clear that 'back to basics', that troublesome slogan, was adopted so enthusiastically because it rang true to life with many people who are not MPs. I'm not terribly keen to be over-run by Suffolk Woman values, but the vast majority of people questioned seem to lead, or expect others to lead, fairly moral lives, even if this morality is imposed by social pressure.

The majority view across all age groups is that monogamy, or at least serial monogamy, is the correct form of behaviour, and that it also provides more worthwhile and enjoyable relationships. Two-timing is frowned on by unmarried singles: the teenagers I know are surprisingly fierce on this subject.

Further, four out of five people think that extra-marital sex is always, or nearly always, wrong, even if they have practised it themselves. In this context recent events in the Tory party all seem like scenes from a publicly staged morality play.

Where this rather prim moral code tends to dissolve is when people, and women in particular, have jobs that take them away from home. Which is exactly what happens to many MPs. As with high-powered businessmen, or successful professional women, they are freed from certain social constraints, or simply presented with more opportunities, which they sometimes exploit. The problem is that MPs are supposed to represent the people.

Yet do we really expect everyone to lead tidy, correct lives? It is, as always, this sexually active, even glamorous elite which the rest of us rely upon, from time to time, for entertainment. It is the sinners who provide the best story lines. This week I've been giggling at Edwina Currie's steamy novel, A Parliamentary Affair. Her main character, entirely fictitious, is an ambitious, newly elected woman MP, who on arrival in Parliament starts an affair with one of the whips. Both BBC and ITV, sensing another House of Cards, are bidding for the rights. No doubt it will be turned into a sex and power serial that the moral majority will lap up on Sunday evenings - and their Lordships attack.