Friday, January 18, 2008

Marriage on the rocks?

I am an optimist at the worst of times. But even I was slightly wobbled today by a report published today - albeit by a firm of divorce solicitors - reporting that of the 2000 adults they surveyed, nearly 60% were unhappy in their marriage.

Half of husbands thought their partnership was loveless. 59% of wives would leave tomorrow if they didn't have to worry about the money. Many were holding back from divorce for fear of losing contact with their children. Others were holding back from fear of losing the roof over their heads.

I pay tribute to those who are hanging in there, trying to make it all work. But I do think it is tragic that - for whatever complex reasons - the love that we all see as central to our lives so rarely succeeds in working.

Which is one reason why I liaise so closely with - and support so enthusiastically - the work of Relate, the couples counselling service. If only those 59% of spouses who reported being so unhappy had thought of trying marriage guidance, I bet that statistic would be much lower. If you're among the unhappy majority, log on to

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hats off to the hypnotherapist

I dont' usually do endorsements, but today's news that Paul McKenna has just become Britain's highest paid TV personality has stirred me to one. Because actually I think McKenna is on the right lines when he advises about eating habits.

The ideas he puts forward are by no means new. Back in the Eighties, a book called Diets Don't Work put forward the same, then revolutionary concepts. The theories were then recycled with a feminist slant by Suzie Orbach of Fat is a Feminist Issue fame, under the title On Eating. McKenna has now espoused them in his book I Can Make You Thin - and probably made ten times more money in the first month's publication of that one book than the other two tomes have in their entire history.

But I don't begrudge him, because as I said, the concepts work. They're very simple. Eat only when you are hungry. Eat only what your body wants to eat. Stop eating when you are full. Sounds obvious? It is - naturally slim people do just that - but the advice none the less valuable, particularly when you look at all the other diet guidelines.

Because much of the rest of the slimming industry is based on the presupposition that people need to be told what to eat and how much to eat - and that unless they are, they will not lose weight.

Now, calorie (or carb, or unit) counting can be effective short-term, no doubt. It's the long term I query - the fact that most diets, as the original book suggested, don't work longterm, because they alienate people from their bodies, and train them to override signals both of hunger but also of the kinds of food one needs and doesn't need, and the signals of satiation. The result is that, in the end - given body fascism, media hype and endless amounts of peer pressure - most of us end up eating what we think we should, not what our bodies need. We end up eating foods that we are told are 'good for us' even if we then have bad reactions to them, and avoid foods that are 'bad for us' even if we end up malnourished as a result. Most importantly, we learn to mistrust our bodies, eat through emotion rather than true hunger, and overeat in order to cope with the stress of doing both of those things.

So, unusually for me, an endorsement - not specifically of McKenna, but of the approach he takes. If you want to lose weight, bin the counting charts. Instead, learn to listen to your body signals, eat exactly what you need, in the amounts you need, and simply stop eating when you are full.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Cause and effect... or is it?

Rather hysterical coverage in the press this morning on teenage pregnancy. David Paton of Nottingham University Business School has just analysed Department of Health figures and come up with the statistic that more than 20 girls between 13 and 15 become pregnant every day.

Of course this is sad news. And I totally agree with Professor Paton's analysis that social deprivation and family breakdown are key factors influencing these figures. Where I disagree with Professor Paton is where he claims that because deprivation and breakdown are key causes of teen pregnancy, sex education doesn't figure in the equation - more, that knowing about contraception (here I quote) "leads to an increase in risky sexual behaviour."

I do understand that you've reviewed the figures, Prof Paton. And I do understand that you've drawn conclusions that appeal to the moral majority. But they just don't tie in with what I'm seeing in my postbag from real teenagers who open up to me. Not a single one of these young people reports that knowing about condoms makes it more likely that they will have risky sex. Not a single one says that having available family planning services normalises sexual activity. Why? For the blindingly obvious reason that those who use these services are those who take precautions and don't appear in the statistics you're quoting.

What I read in my postbag are cries from the heart. Yes, these are very often linked with family breakdown and social deprivation; if a young girl feels unloved and insecure - and if her family members are also thus struggling - then it makes every sense in the world that she will cling to whoever will give her love, even if the price of that love is sex, ignorant of protection and contraception.

What everyone seems to miss here is that 14 year olds - like their adult counterparts - don't have sex in order to be irresponsible, rebellious and pregnant. They have sex in order to be accepted, valued and loved. Unless we take that on board then all the statistical analyses and horrified press coverage in the world will never get the teenage pregnancy rate down.

PS: going to Argentina to dance tango for twelve days. I'll be back writing after that.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Happy New Year!

As regular readers of this blog will have noticed, the last few weeks have been marked by a singular absence of entries. Not because of Christmas festivities but because I have been working up to the final deadline for the Classic Sex Book, which I have now - whoopee!!! - handed to the publisher.

Can't be too free with the details yet, as it's still slightly under wraps, but it's due out in September... watch this space.

As for 2008, I thought that for the first column this year, I'd turn my attention to New Year's Resolutions. No, not mine - though I do have a list of about ten which I'm beginning to action - but resolutions for others, resolutions which, if adopted, would make the world a much happier place.

So here goes. For 2008, I wish that..

1: ... "your condom or mine" was as normal a chat up line as "do you come here often?"

2: ... twenty somethings realised that the first few months of a relationship are hormonally fuelled, and therefore not necessarily a sufficient foundation on which to get pregnant.

3: ... fifty-somethings became aware that in terms of sexually transmitted infections, their longer history makes them even more at risk than twenty-somethings

4: ... every engaged couple believed that having pre-marriage preparation isn't unromantic nor a lack of faith but instead a great start to a successful married life. (If you're interested, log on to Relate's website on and search for 'Couples Course')

5: ... every man knew what to do with the clitoris and every woman knew what to do with the frenulum.

6 ... every couple struggling to stay together could realise that counselling really does help and that it's not a sign of weakness to get outside support. (

7: ... everyone recovering from a relationship loss could accept that it takes time to recover - and that rebound relationships may dull the pain short term but long-term are likely to be either a bad choice or doomed to end.

8: ...every parent started taking responsibility for resourcing their children around making confident sexual decisions - information, emotional support and positive role models.

9: ... Ed Balls (British Secretary of State for Education) can carry through on his just-announced promise to drag Britain's sex education teaching into the 21st century (no, that wasn't how he expressed it but you know what I mean.)

10: everyone would back a new campaign just launched that hopes to bring an end to cervical cancer. If you want to add your signature, log on to

Happy New Year!