True romance gives way to sex in stilletos

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The Independent Online
'DARLING, I want you to be mine for ever, to cover that dear little face with kisses.' Savour these fine phrases while you can, because you won't be able to read them for much longer: Argus Publications has announced that it is to suspend publication of its True Romances, True Story, and Love Story magazines pending a raunchy relaunch. So farewell, lovelorn secretaries and saturnine bosses, inching decorously towards each other around the filing cabinets; from now on it's sex on the desk in stilettos.

Station bookstores stock shelf upon shelf of erotic fiction written by women for women (odd, because a train seems hardly the wisest place to read it). Black Lace, erotic novel specialists (formula: 'kinky sex, sex toys, and sex in unusual places') sold 500,000 books last year. And this year Maureen Freely, Helen Zahavi and Yvonne Roberts have all produced dirty books designed to turn readers on, under the guise of feminist messages about personal growth.

But something odd is happening to men as women strip off their negligees and show their suspenders. They are getting so worried about pornography that they've set up a self-help group so that they can have meaningful discussions about it. John Jordan, an artist and one of the co-ordinators, says he can only speak for himself, but 'porn is compulsive. It gets in the way of relationships, and of running your life.' Rather confusingly, he also says it offers a 'space free from responsibility, in which a man is under no pressure to perform or take the sexual initiative, in which he's wanted unconditionally. It's utopia.' So far he and his two co-founders have only had three other men come forward to join them in their probings, but he's undeterred: Men and Porn is ahead of its time, he says. Perhaps what's needed now is a male version of True Romance, full of fierce feminists who need only the love of a sweet boy in a pinny to make them complete.

WOMEN have to be raunchy, though - even it seems, in pregnancy. A special edition of She magazine and a new publication, First Steps, from D C Thompson, both out this autumn, set out to tell you how to have a baby. But since there's a limit to what you can tell people about having a baby, and most of it's boring anyway, there's a lot of sex in these magazines. Then there's Julie Myerson's novel, Sleepwalking, whose heroine embarks upon an affair in the late stages of pregnancy (very likely). The message of all these fantasies is that pregnancy is a time of wild experimentation and 'new positions'. Presumably ones in which you are less likely to push your partner over with your stomach.

IF NEW positions don't seem to offer much in the way of personal growth, you could be a candidate for the new London Personal Development Centre, with its 'unique programme of almost 300 courses, workshops, seminars and lectures'. (A friend has received three mailshots from them in the past week). The Centre's founder, Gina Lazenby, believes 'it is possible both to develop spiritual awareness and succeed in business': to that end her courses are a mixture of psychobabble, management-speak and New Age drippiness. Ms Lazenby claims to have taken off her shoes and walked over hot coals after attending one of them, though she doesn't explain why she wanted to. Nor is it clear why we should be interested in learning from Dorset Campbell-Ross, who discovered Rebirthing in the United States, then had various 'brushes with the law as he acted out his old rebellion against his father'. One course, 'Making friends with money: setting up your own holistic financial plan' seems to sum up the Centre's thinking, with its implication that a healthy mind (ie, one dimmed by happy-speak) leads to a healthy bank balance. I think I prefer porn.

The Daily Mail - endeavouring, not unusually, to make smug people more smug - chose to highlight an aspect of the Chief Medical officer's report no other newspaper even mentioned, possibly because it was old news. Dr Kenneth Calman referred to a Joseph Rowntree study showing that girls brought up in stepfamilies were more likely to become teenage mothers and leave home early. The small, embattled charity Stepfamily was understandably irritated by the sensationalism of the Mail's splashy front-page coverage, as were many of those (I confess an interest here) bringing up the two and a half million-plus children who now live in such families. The impulse to stigmatise on the part of those who think they have all the moral answers can be very depressing. Of course, some stepfamilies are insecure and unhappy. Others represent a reinvestment in family life: you'd think the back to basics lot would be pleased. Newly-published research by Fergusson, Lynskey and Horwood, undertaken over 15 years in new Zealand, suggests that there's no reason why children in stepfamilies should fare worse than those in regular families: what matters is how the split is handled and the children's subsequent relationship with their natural parents. Which probably only goes to show that you can find research to back whatever you want to believe.

LORD Longford has published an autobiography. Even without my feelings of personal pique (he once spoke to me most intemperately when I profiled Myra Hindley and forbore to say she should be released) I think I'd conclude that for any man to publish five complete autobiographies is a bit much. I am not sure how much this fifth one adds, except that the many references to his successes at Eton sit rather comically alongside one boy's reported remark that he was the most unpopular person in the school, and his own confession that only one fellow-pupil ever invited him home. But you'd think that having had so much practice, he could have avoided the story about Sir Oswald Mosley on page 147. It was pretty tedious when he told it on page 72.