A-Z guide to love in the 00s

The love industry is booming. Online dating sites across Europe attract nearly three million registered users annually, and, as Valentine’s Day approaches, UK romantics are set to spend around £50 million on cards and £35 million on flowers. But is there more to modern romance than getting us to part with our cash? Karin Goodwin provides an A–Z guide to love in the 00s

Al fresco sex Scots are happier than ever to admit doing it outdoors. Whether it’s about getting back to nature, Lady Chatterley’s Lover–style, or something a little more sordid (think Stan Collymore), 69% of us claimed to have had sex in the open air in last year’s Sex of the Nation survey.

Big business Valentine’s day brings with it a booming industry. According to the UK Greetings Card Association we send about 23.7million cards every year, worth £47.2m, while other statistics show that the total spend on flowers, including 9m red roses, is £34m.

Classical romance Nothing swells the heart like a symphony orchestra in full flight. The Royal National Symphony Orchestra’s Valentine’s Day concert (in Glasgow on Thu 14 Feb and Edinburgh on Fri 15 Feb) is guaranteed to do what it says on the tin – it’s packed with romantic classics from Chopin, Ravel and Tchaikovsky and topped off by Mancini’s ‘Moon River’.

Distant lovers Love is not always enough to keep couples together – at least not physically. Long distance love is a modern phenomenon. According to researchers, a significant proportion of the two million people ‘living apart together’ – LATs – are committed twosomes living in separate cities due to study or work.

Environmentally friendly sex toys This is not just about fruit and veg. These days cheap and toxic PVC is out, while sleek, silicone, glass and eco–lube are in. If you want to go green, Edinburgh’s Organic Pleasures stocks a host of ethically–produced and hypo–allergenic adult toys and accessories. Alternatively, check out Coco de Mer’s fairtrade wooden spanking paddle. But perhaps leave the solar powered vibrator for sunnier climes …

Films for lovers Woody Allen may be notoriously hopeless in love, but the gala opening of his new film, Cassandra’s Dream, starring Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell at the Glasgow Film Festival, on 14 Feb, makes a great alternative date and ticket price includes entry to the festival shindig afterwards. Others options on the same day include Billy Wilder’s romantic comedy The Apartment at the Filmhouse, Edinburgh.

Gender play According to the experts, ‘gender play’ is big news in 2008, with women particularly keen to explore their masculine side in the bedroom. Possible props include boxers, ties and fake moustaches, while the more adventurous could try pegging – apparently a popular pursuit in the US this year – which involves a strap–on and a little imagination.

Humanist weddings Since Humanist weddings were recognised as legally binding in 2005, Scots who want to say ‘I do’ without involving God are growing in number. Last year a rise in demand of 59% was reported. Recent venues have included back gardens, a windswept beach and the top of a Munro.

Infidelity Said to be a ‘growing epidemic’ among married couples, infidelity is the most common reason for divorce with 11m Brits admitting to having an affair. The stats also show women are just as likely as men to play away. In the UK we take cheating more seriously than other EU nations: 40% of Russians claim it’s not wrong and many French citizens don’t consider it taboo.

Just friends Despite the myriad of sexual options out there, from swinging to polyamory, many say no to sex. Up to 6% of adults in Scotland claim they have never done it, and across the UK 18% are living without sex at any one time. Sometimes it’s about choice, other times circumstance. But if the real reason for restraint is unrequited love, beware. Psychologists claim you really can die of a broken heart.

Kindred spirits It’s cheering to discover that, while we might drool over Daniel Craig or Angelina Jolie, a study by US psychologists found that positive personality traits can make up for what is lacking in the looks department. Those described as honest, amusing and intelligent scored highest for both sexes. Even in terms of appearance we’re looking for kindred spirits – potential partners that mirror our own features get the thumbs up.

Ladies choice Getting married hasn’t been so unpopular since mid–Victorian times – fewer than 30,000 couples made it down the aisle last year. But maybe that number would be higher if so many women didn’t sit back, wishing their man would go down on one knee. Come on girls: waiting to be asked is so uncool. This is a leap year, and with 29 February the traditional day for ladies to propose, there are no excuses.

Museum The UK’s first sex museum – Amora, the Academy of Sex and Relationships, which opened in London last summer – aims to have ditched sleaze in favour of interactive exhibits that help visitors understand the act of love. Its six zones cover everything from erotic fantasies to sexually transmitted disease. Future expansion outside the capital is planned. Watch this space.

National Review of Live Art This could be your chance to tell your Valentine how you feel. On 9 Feb, performance art company ‘Uninvited Guests’ are staging ‘Love Letters from the Heart’ at Glasgow’s Tramway, a show exploring the cast’s feelings towards their loved ones, with song dedications. Audience members are invited to send in their own dedications to info@uninvited–guests.net, which will be incorporated into the event.

Online dating While surveys tell us that only a quarter of people using online dating services – from Match.com to Dateline, Plenty of Fish or Gaydar – are confident of success, that doesn’t put them off. According to consultancy firm Jupiter Research the 2.8m paying users across Europe are set to reach 6m by 2011, catering for an anticipated singles population of 16m in 2018.

Palmstar Poppy Composer David Paul Jones’ sumptuous cycle of Songs in Search of Love Lost at Sea, at Edinburgh’s Traverse theatre from 14–16 Feb, takes you on a journey across a landscape of high hopes and heartache. The story of a sailor’s voyage in search of his dead lover, for piano and voice, it is full of lush, rich melodies that will tug at the heart strings.

Quirkyalones Don’t worry if you don’t have a Valentine – you’re not a sad single, you’re a quirkyalone. The movement, founded by US author Sasha Cagen, is about choosing to fly solo rather than settle for the sub–standard coupledom offered by Mr or Mrs Wrong. It also offers an alternative to Valentine’s Day – International Quirkyalone Day – also on 14 Feb, which celebrates love in all its forms.

Remains of St Valentine Glasgow may be known for its kiss, but is not renowned for romance. Surprising, then, perhaps, to find the supposed remains of the patron saint of love at the Blessed St John Duns Scotus Church in the Gorbals. Said to have been a priest who was beaten and beheaded for refusing to give up his faith, the church claims St Valentine’s bones, displayed in a casket, are a reminder that martyrdom is the highest form of love.

Science of scent The jury is still out on how pheromones, those natural scent sex signals that drive animal attraction, work on humans but we remain fascinated by the smell. Scientists have found everyone has a unique signature scent that’s capable of driving the opposite sex wild with desire and yet we still spend more than £1bn on perfume and aftershave in the UK each year.

Textual intercourse How did we hold down relationships before the text message? Early text flirtation is tantalising while heated picture messaging and no–holds barred texts can get hearts racing later on. If everything goes wrong, let’s hope your paramour has the decency to tell you to your face. Text dumping is the height of bad manners.

Utter Gutter Grab a woman, grab a man, or anyone in–between and get yourself down to Utter Gutter’s Broken Hearts Fancy Dress ball at Glasgow School of Art on 9 Feb. Glasgow’s leading alternative gay (but hetero–friendly) night instructs you to ‘stop giving Hallmark your money’ and ‘come find yourself a real honey … just in time for Valentines.

Valentine’s verse Poetry and romance have a chicken and egg-like relationship, making this February’s events at the Scottish Poetry Library a perfect celebration. Bring along your favourite poem to read aloud at a lunchtime session on 14 Feb or join John Hegley the following evening for a Valentine’s Poetry Party, complete with flowers, candles and kir royales.

Wine tasting ‘Only somebody who really takes the time to understand pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression,’ Miles explains to Maya in the wine tasting road movie Sideways. Claire Blackler of Case Studies Wine School also believes pinot noir to be the most romantic of grapes. Uncover its sensitive side at the school’s candlelit dinner and tasting on 14 Feb at Henderson’s, Edinburgh.

X–rated research Of the growing army of researchers monitoring our sex lives in the 00s, Brett Kahr reigns supreme. His UK survey of 13,000 people, conducted in collaboration with YouGov, found a third of the population have low frequency sex (less than once a month), 44% medium (between once a month and twice weekly) and a fifth made love three times per week or more. Men and women have roughly the same average number of partners in their lifetime – 15.7 for men and 14.6 for women, though 1.8million people had over 100. But not all is fair in love and sex – though 71% of men reached orgasm every time, only 28% of women make the same claim.

Younger men While research shows that women still averagely opt for a man 3.4 years older than them (and men prefer their women to be 2.6 years younger), having a toyboy is no longer taboo – think Madonna, Sadie Frost or Demi Moore. Last month, speed–dating agency ‘Pocket Change’ launched in New York, aiming to give women the chance play the role – customarily taken by men – of the rich old codger snaffling up young talent. Only women over 35 with a minimum annual salary of $500,000 need apply. To sign up, boys must be young and beautiful.

Zinc Considered an aphrodisiac, zinc plays a key function in male sexual function, making it an ideal ingredient of any St Valentine’s dinner. Cue the entrance of oysters, which contain more zinc per serving than any other food. Sales of this sexy seafood grow by 150% each February in Scotland.

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