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I'm puzzled by all this argument about sex education. You see, the school I went to treated sex, not as an offshoot of biology, nor even as a rather shady part of religious studies, but as an integral part of media studies. Yes, believe it or not, the only sex education I ever got was from the man who also lectured us on advertising and mass communications. I can well remember the first day that Mr Smithers bounced on to the podium and announced that today he would tell us all we would need to know about sex.

"I cannot help noticing that the lecture room is full today, for the first time this term, " he said drily. " I am well aware why. But what I am going to tell you about sex today may prove to be more shocking than any of you could have realised. Sex, you see, is probably the most successful advertising and marketing operation in the history of the world."

There was a slight shuffling at this. It wasn't exactly what we had come to hear.

"Think about it, " said old Smithers. " Here you all are, crammed into my lecture room, in a way which I do not see you crammed for 'The Art of the TV Commercial', or 'Marshall McLuhan, Ten Years On'. Sex seems to have been sold to you rather better than that. Why?"

"Well, sir," said one student braver than the rest, " maybe it's because sex affects us all directly and Marshall Mcluhan doesn't."

"Maybe so," said Smithers. "But the nature of existence also affects us all. The big questions of free will, and the existence of a deity - all that. Yet the chaplain tells me that his classes on philosophy and the nature of things are not well attended. Why not?"

"Because we won't pick up any hints on our dating techniques from him, " said the student, to laughter. Smithers ignored him.

"Sex," he said, "is nature's marketing campaign for procreation. Nature is convinced - don't ask me why - that human beings should multiply as fast as possible. Now, the average human being, if he had any nous at all, would run a mile from having children. Children are expensive, they are noisy, they are a nuisance, and they are stupid until persuaded otherwise. They are, in fact… Anyone?"

"Very like us," said a voice.

"Very good. So, procreation, if left to our own initiative, would not happen. Who would want children, given the choice? The human race would probably die out, which would be good news for the future of Planet Earth if nobody else. But nature does not want this to happen. And the reason this has not happened is that nature has mounted a most ingenious marketing operation which we call sex, and which fills us full of pleasurable sensations and thoughts, which lead to our purchasing the dull product known as procreation. Sex is the free gift stuck on the magazine of procreation!"

There was an uncomfortable silence at this.

"Any questions?" said Smithers.

"Sir," said the same brave student, "if what you say is true, then surely we the customers have outwitted nature. We have discovered not only many ways of enjoying sex, but many ways of preventing it. The twentieth century is the age of birth control."

"Maybe," said Smithers. "And then again, maybe nature wants you to think that. After all, if this really is the century of contraception, how do you explain the fact that the population of the world is increasing faster than ever? Would you not say that this looks like a victory for nature rather than the condom?"

This time the silence was not broken.

"Just remember," said Smithers, "When you come to have a sexual relationship in the fullness of time, if you have not already, that whatever people tell you about being a responsible, mature adult, you are actually a customer standing in the check-out queue of the supermarket we call Life, picking something out of the 'bargain' tray marked 'Physical Gratification'."

Thanks to Mr Smithers, that image has constantly recurred to me during the more intimate moments of my life, and more than one love partner of mine has been surprised to hear me call out, in the privacy of a darkened bedroom, " Could I have a receipt, please, miss ? "

The Independent DECEMBER 8TH 199

© Caroline Kington