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The best and worst sex stories of 2004

December 22nd, 2004

Dr Petra

2004 is drawing to a close, and what a year it’s been for sex and relationships!

As far as the media was concerned, 2004 was the year of the affair. If celebrities weren’t dogging or being bisexual, they were having illicit text sex, or keeping a number of lovers hidden away.

It would have been nice to see papers take a more enlightened angle on all the coverage of affairs, considering non monogamies, or perhaps provide advice to anyone in a similar situation. But all we learned this year was that we had to blame someone for a partner straying – preferably the cheated-on wife or mistress.

Not that sex experts were much more help. Many of them happily jumped in with judgemental views, some even proclaiming ‘down with dogging’ (or similar) when their role was to provide information and advice on all forms of consenting sexual behaviour.

Perhaps that was because this year was also marked by the rise in the celebrity ‘sexpert’ – glamour models, television chat show hosts, and ex-MPs who now front the advice columns in many of our magazines and newspapers.

Did I mention the bisexuals? Oh yes, 2004 was definitely the year for being bi. From Big Brother contestants to frisky PAs, being bi was the number one fashion accessory. This could have been a great opportunity for the press to flag up the positive aspects of a sexuality that’s often put down as being a ‘phase’ or just sexually indecisive. But whilst we got the saucy side to being bi – alleged girl-on-girl action, we didn’t hear about bi-boys at all, or the abuse many bi (or gay) teens and others suffer – even though research out at the end of the year proved just that.

But not to worry, the papers were quick to identify another ‘new trend’ in sex. Asexuals! Having spent a year outlining as many new sexual activities as could be managed, the papers finally got bored and revealed that the hot new sexuality was, well, no sexuality at all. Nobody appeared to spot the research completed on asexuals was based on data over ten years out of date (from 1993 to be precise). Nor that most large-scale sexual surveys consistently report a subgroup of people with no interest in sex. It doesn’t really matter, sex coverage in the media always has to be new – and in this case news moved from covering raunch, to suggesting we could all try living without sex. Only for a short while though, those who consistently do not desire sex were still demonised in reporting.

Asexuals aside, there was plenty of other sex coverage to keep people happy. Boots, Debenhams, and other high street stores proclaimed they were going to begin selling sex toys, prompting great anxieties from radio shows. The weekend after the ‘Boots selling vibrators’ story broke I completed over twenty radio interviews on the subject. In virtually every case they asked me to please ‘be careful’ and not mention ‘where vibrators go’.

See? You can report sex toys will go on sale, but despite our assertions we’re sexually liberated, you still can’t mention ladies bits.

It’s probably not such a happy end to the year for some working in the pharmaceutical industry though. Procter and Gamble had flooded the media with press releases excitedly promoting their new ‘Intrinsa’ patch, designed to increase desire in post-menopausal women. Most journalists didn’t check out things like the quality of the research behind the patch, conflict of interest of the researchers, or the wider issue of medicalising women’s sexuality. Instead they re-ran the Procter and Gamble press releases unquestioningly. Luckily other academics and activists were more inquisitive, and at a hearing in December questioned the FDA who decided the patch hadn’t been adequately tested, and it held many possible health risks. Perhaps this case could be one to learn from – question all press releases – they may sound great, but that doesn’t mean they are great.

This year was also characterised by papers, parents and others getting into a state about rising rates of sexually transmitted infections. Again, people looked around for someone to blame, and it was the media (particularly teenage magazines) and teenagers held responsible. The Minister for Children even felt it might be an idea to set teenage mothers up as an example, suggesting they go into schools to show other girls how not to turn out like them. Luckily this scheme doesn’t appear to be catching on.

Most people don’t know that school sex education isn’t mandatory, and many schools do not offer it, or the standard of advice is poor. Many newspapers operate under the impression that it’s school sex education that causes STIs and teenage pregnancy. Sadly it’s the lack of education that’s leaving so many young people (and adults) at risk.

In terms of the number of sex stories, it was a very good year. And while some of the coverage was excellent, some of it missed the point completely, and at the close of the year there was a very worrying new development of making a sex advice programmes fit the same format as ‘how clean is your house?’, which had sex therapists, counsellors and health professionals up in arms.

Nevertheless we got to talk about sex a lot – let’s hope the conversations continue into next year, but the quality of the chat gets better too.

Enjoy your Christmas break. I’ll be back at the start of 2005 with my sex and relationship predictions for next year.

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