Thursday, September 27, 2007

Partying Direct Dot Com

I am not a party animal, never have been. And usually, when I get an invitation to a press launch, or whatever, I mysteriously find I have to wash my hair, again.

But last night was different. Dating Direct, the website for which I'm a consultant psychologist - held its annual fest to celebrate National Dating Day. Of course, it involved a swish London club, lots of Very Beautiful People, acres of canapes and gallons of cocktails (thrown together by the Bar Wizards, who did an incredibly impressive choreography right there on the floor in front of us.)

But so far, so standard. What made this party unusual - and for me, truly enjoyable - was what underpinned the hype. Because I've worked with these people, know the focus and commitment they put into the DatingDirect site, know how good the product is, know how we've all worked and worked - particularly over the past six months - to add extra features, put in extra quality controls and relaunch the product in the service of all those single people out there who deserve love.

I don't mean to sound like an endorsement, but for once the champagne seemed absolutely appropriate. We deserved to party.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Having it all

Two studies hit the headlines today - and most papers have bundled them into one article. They both ring very true to me.

The first study, from Princeton University, suggests that compared to the Sixties women still do just as many jobs that they rate 'unpleasant' while men have cut back on such tasks - the gap between the genders' commitment to teeth-gritting has widened.

The second study, from the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that compared to the Seventies, men are happier while women's satisfaction has remained the same. Again the gap between the genders - this time when it comes to life fulfilment - has widened.

I'm not going to go off on a women's lib rant here - and I do think it's great that men are in general more contented. But it does make me sad that women are not. Compared to my mother, I have more opportunities, a better standard of living, a better chance to work at a job that fulfils me, the choice of whether to have children or not. Yet still my gender is no happier.

The 'why' could well, of course, be precisely because we have so many more opportunities in life. I'm absolutely not saying that women shouldn't work... or shouldn't have children... or shouldn't travel - quite the opposite. But while the above-quoted studies show that men have kicked back a little in life and are not demanding quite so much of themselves, we women are working just as hard if not harder in order to have it all and do it all.

I wouldn't swap my life - or the benefits I have compared to previous generations of women. But I long for the time when we can have it all without having to do it all - career development, childrearing, housework, eldercare - 24/7 and with a smile.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Seven year folly...

Just looking at the story today from Berlin, where controversial German politician Gabriele Pauli is suggesting a seven year limit on civil marriages to allow couples to renew their commitment round about the time of the fabled seven year itch.

Ms Pauli seems to present a coherent argument for allowing couples a natural break where they could choose to stay together or part amicably. And certainly from the biological viewpoint, it makes every sense. We humans are programmed to fall in love - ie, to make babies - in the initial stages of a relationship; but thereafter our hormones shift to create a more stable, less exciting, set of emotional connections. Seven years into an affair is one of the times where we might be tempted to break away, to seek excitement once more and wander off to pastures new.

Which is exactly why, of all the bad ideas I have ever heard politicians make, this leads the field! Tying in a renewal of commitment to the very point in a marriage where the bonds are most frail and partners are feeling most disillusioned seems to me the height of folly. Divorce is always traumatic, always a crisis life event that changes lives - for the partners involved, and for their innocent children. What we ought to be promoting at that point is not breakup but extra resources - increased support as partnerships struggle to survive, society's backing for partners to help them stay together and make it work.

For actually, couples can make it work. My work as an agony aunt in general - and my work with Relate in particular - tells me that time and again, if partners hunker down and get through that seven year watershed, they have a great chance of weathering the storm and ending up with a solid, loving and lifelong commitment.

By encouraging them not to hunker down, but to cut and run, Ms Pauli does her constitutents - and their families - no favours at all.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Birds, Bees and embarrassed Dads...

First, major apologies... a whole slew of deadline work has kept me away from my blog this week. But I just had to come back to it when I read the headlines yesterday about the new research from Parentline Plus about why Dads don't talk to their children about sex.

Yes, I totally understand that the fathers deeply believe that the reason they don't is because it would ruin the time they spend with their kids. Particularly if parents are separated and visits to children are limited, it makes perfect sense that Dads don't want to start talking about the birds and the bees on Saturday afternoon access visits. Besides, sex talk - Dads apparently feel - deals with tricky subjects, ones that could lead to defensiveness or argument.

Oh dear. Here's a chance for fathers not only to be of use to children - children who talk to their parents about sex are significantly more likely to have sex later and less likely to get pregant. It's also a chance to strengthen the bond, to talk about real stuff, not just whether Liverpool should have slaughtered Portsmouth or whether Kylie is going to be any good on the Christmas Dr Who special.

How to handle emotions, how to build relationships, how to have enjoyable and responsible sex lives - these are the things that Dads should be talking to their kids about. The fact that they are scared of doing so - for I do believe that's what underpins these fathers' views, whether they realise it or not - is deeply, deeply sad.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Sex and the pill (no, not the one you think I mean)

Yesterday I took part in Radio 4's Case Notes, a half-hour's digest presented by the thinking girl's doc, Mark Porter. This week's programme was all about sex problems (part of the Radio 4 The Sex Lives of Us season) and Mark, sexual physician John Dean and I batted about several topics including erectile dysfunction (for him), anorgasmia (for her) and loss of desire (for both).

Despite the fact that I was the only non-medic present, Mark gave me a deal of leeway to argue against medication for sexual problems - and he and John happily agreed with my stance. Yes, medication is a wonderful way forward for some problems; you only have to look at the eye-watering alternative treatments for ED (pumps, injections, surgery) to acknowledge that sometimes medication is by far the best option. But I am still wary.

For a start, pill-popping may hide an underlying physical issue. During a recent pilot scheme to dole out the little blue pill through Boots the Chemist, 9 out of every ten men who turned up tested positive for diabetes or heart disease and needed to be referred to a consultant rather than simply prescribed the pill.

Secondly, however, many sexual problems are not physically caused. The woman with low sexual desire may be tempted by the upcoming range of testosterone patches - whilst ignoring the fact that she's exhausted, depressed, in an abusive relationship, and with two under-fives to look after. Sort that lot out and she not only would be less likely to need the patches, but more likely to live a fulfilled and happy life.

John Bancroft, head of the famed Kinsey Institute, once famously said that the traditional role of the penis has been to tell its owner the truth... whether or not he wants to hear it. And whilst I don't wish to underplay the role of physical issues, I suspect many sexual problems serve the same function for both men and women.

So let's not medicalise or medicate where inappropriate. Instead, let's regard any sexual disorder as carrying a message that both its sufferer and their physician needs to hear...

Sunday, September 9, 2007

And now for something completely different...

On Thursday and Friday of this week, yet another of those projects that make me feel that I have the best job in the world. A whole two days spent explaining to interested journalists the real truth behind the little known disease of rheumatoid arthritis.

Fact: it's an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks itself, destroying and deforming the joints. Fact: it's not just a disease of the elderly but can strike three month old babies - the classic RA sufferer is a woman in her mid-thirties. Fact: it's an irreversible and lifelong condition that can render the sufferer disabled and in constant pain. Fact: it can shatter self esteem, end careers, destroy marriages, tear apart family life. Fact: There are 400,000 sufferers in the UK alone.

So, you may ask, what's the joy there? Where's the fun in talking about that?

The fun is in giving those facts - plus the additional fact that new treatments, practical aids and emotional support can now give an RA sufferer back their life - to dozen of journalists who, at first neutral, then became fascinated, then actively fired-up to cover the condition in health features across a wide range of magazines.

Result - not only a good job well done (by myself, by Sue Oliver the arthritis nurse consultant with whom I was working and by the PR company who hired us). But also a result for the issue of arthritis care.

If you want to know more about rheumatoid arthritis, click here.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

What is a saint?

As you may have gathered, I've been up to my eyes in work over the past five days - so the blog has suffered. But I'm back now, the big piece of work for Dating Direct done and dusted.

In between the work, however, I had time to notice the coverage in today's Daily Mail of new 'discoveries' about nursing heroine Florence Nightingale. Seems that rather than silently ministering to the sick with a weak smile, she was much more likely to be demanding extra resources, stroppily complaining about conditions and generally making a nuisance of herself.

The thing that fascinated me about all this was the constant implication - in the Mail and in other papers - that because she demonstrated this behaviour, Nightingale was therefore, by definition, not as saintly as she has been painted by history. Excuse me? Does being assertive and demanding in the cause of good - for noone is suggesting that she saved any fewer lives or achieved any less in her lifetime because of her manner - render one less deserving of sainthood?

In my opinion, saints are not necessarily quiet mice. They're robustly human, with human energy for getting things done - be that by nursing, praying, or by assertively throwing money lenders out of temples.

Or as George Bernard Shaw wrote. "“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man"

Let's hear it for unreasonable men and women....