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21 years of Just Joan; The Record's agony aunt comes of age.

Byline: Joan Burnie

FOR more than two decades, I've been handing out advice in the Daily Record's agony column.

When I first took the job on it was supposed to be temporary, a six-week trial only, but here I am, 21 years on and 20,000 problems later - and still Just Joan.

When I began, with few qualifications other than a failed marriage and two kids to bring up, the world was a very different place.

Not just politically - although it was also the start of Mrs Thatcher's reign, while Tony Blair had not yet become an MP - but in every way.

Instead of a computer, I thumped the words out on a typewriter, something now as redundant as a horse and cart. All those things we now take for granted, from mobile phones to emails, were yet to come. No Pokemon and Teletubbies, no Lottery lolly or EastEnders.

The majority of us not only married, but stayed married and children usually came after a wedding ring, not before. The first test-tube baby was still a miracle of modern science and wombs were not rented or sold. Cigarettes could be advertised on TV, but not campaigns against domestic violence.

Meanwhile, PC meant a policeman and not political correctness.

There was no BSE, no Aids and no HRT - or, for that matter, Viagra. Gays hid in their closets and nice girls never slept with man on the first date. Or if they did, they didn't tell anyone.

Big hair and shoulder pads were in along with avocado bathroom suites and men in Fair Isle sweaters.

Prince Charles was still a bachelor and the virginal 18-year-old Diana Spencer wore Laura Ashley and worked as a nanny.

There was no Channel 4, never mind 5, no men's magazines such as Loaded and no laddettes either. Porn was something dirty old - and young - men had to actively go out and look for, not find with a click on their computers.

John Lennon had not been shot and we didn't have boy bands or girl power.

And Just Joan, of course, appeared once a week instead of every day.

Some things, however, have remained much the same. Rod Stewart continues to chase blondes, everyone wants to be slimmer, richer and happier, and women and men still meet, mate and make each other miserable.

We long for hearts and flowers while they prefer sex and sex and we both can't get no satisfaction.

Male or female, we expect our rights in and out of bed and sometimes forget we also have responsibilities - not least to our kids and also to those whom we have sworn to love and honour in sickness and in health.

Readers, too, are certainly franker and much more direct. Words once taboo or whispered now trip easily off the page. The old, cringe-making euphemisms are gone - a penis is now a penis and no longer "down there".

But whatever the problem, one thing is absolutely certain - the last 21 years have been a huge privilege.

After all, not many people are invited day in, day out to poke their opinions, as well as their nose, into others' lives and I thank each and every single one of them

For without the readers and their letters, there would be no column.

And, no, to answer the question everyone asks, it isn't made up. It doesn't need to be. For one thing, far more letters flood in than can ever be used, though I promise every single one is read.

It's always been real people with real problems and that is how it always will be.

So sometimes those problems can seem ridiculous to others, but not to the person involved. But I also have 10 commandments, which you can read on the next page. I can't, however, tell anyone what to do. I simply set out the alternatives and leave people to make their own decisions and choices.

In fact, writing out the problem often helps people to start solving it themselves, if only because the act of getting it all down clarifies the situation for them.

Of course there are occasions when I think people deserve a sharp verbal slap and, as you have possibly gathered, I am not backward at delivering it.

But over the years, I have myself changed and been changed by the times.

Before I joined the Record, I worked on Cosmopolitan magazine as an editor where I helped sell the mantra that women could and should have it all - the brilliant career, the fantastic marriage and the wonderful, well-adjusted kids.

Experience has taught me that anyone who manages to achieve ONE out of those three isn't doing too badly. Women now may have more choices, but they also lead much more complicated lives.

But really it's still just love, pain and the whole damn thing.

The problems in that first column are not so very different from last week's. Men and woman are still largely a mystery to each other, which means the same things have come up again and again ... and again.


1. Sex: too much

What is TOO much anyway? For some women, it will be twice a week, for others twice a night or twice a month. It all depends, not only on a woman's mood, but on her circumstances.

Kids make a difference. Sadly, men don't give birth, so they cannot guess how exhausting it is, not least if she is also holding down a job.

But with or without children, there will be times when men want more sex than their partners are willing to give. In a long relationship, desire ebbs and flows. Passion seldom lasts even when love does.

Sensible couples negotiate and reach a compromise.

And women are lucky - they can fake it. It's not a crime and besides, if you do, it need only take a couple of minutes max, then you can get to sleep.

2. Sex: too little

Same as above. Men are allowed to have headaches, too. Stress, redundancy and fatigue can all affect their performance. So can fear of failure. And men are fragile creatures. They're always worried that your previous lover was bigger, better and lasted longer.

So, encourage them, but accept that if they can't, they can't - and keep a decent book on your bedside table and - if you must - a vibrator in the bathroom cupboard, a LOCKED cupboard.

3. Sex: not at all

There is more to marriage than the next orgasm and a sexless relationship is just about possible.

But if you want sex and he won't or can't, it's serious. And the longer it goes on, the worse it will get. It could be another woman. It could be physical. It could be anything, but it has to be discussed.

Therapy and counselling will help, if not always. But men can be taught to satisfy a woman in other ways.

4. Sex: how can he possibly ask me to DO that?

Thanks to Monica Lewinsky and President Clinton, we're all aware that there is more to sex than the missionary position. Nor is there anything wrong with a little experimentation. You never know, you might enjoy it. It doesn't mean he's a pervert if he wants you to dress up as a French maid or whatever.

What a man and woman do with or to each other behind closed bedroom doors is their business. The golden rule is if you don't like it or you feel it degrades you, don't do it. And if he won't accept it, you go.

5. Why does he like porn?

I don't understand the obsession myself. Real men should want real women, not this virtual, disgusting reality.

A few women don't object and indeed will say it makes their sex lives better and, of course, there's porn and porn. Some of it is soft and does no harm, but a man who prefers the hard stuff is to be avoided. He's bound to be lousy in bed.

6. Adultery and infidelity

It happens. The scientists will tell you it's written in the male genes, if not in their stars, and that men can't help themselves. Oh yes, they can.

But if they have, they should at least make sure no-one finds out. Unfortunately, they too often are found out, then they swear it was meaningless - except it's never meaningless to the women they betrayed.

FACT: The majority of men don't want to leave their wives.

And marriage or a long relationship can survive infidelity, but only if they both want it to. Sometimes the waiting game is best because most affairs don't last. As the majority of divorces are instigated by women, they have the whip hand. They shouldn't be too quick to forgive nor to forget. But once they have decided to stay, they really have to forgive.

7. His mates

You can't stand them. You think he spends far more time with them than he should. They make him drunk and keep him late.

But remember everyone should be allowed off the leash sometimes, so long as it's not every night.

It's healthy to get away from each other from time to time. Like his mother, never ever criticise his mates. Unless they make a pass at you.

8. His ex

Nearly every single man will have an ex, official or otherwise. By the time he is 23, the average guy will have had a dozen sexual partners. Don't think about them. If they are former wives, accept they were once a big part of his life. If they have kids, they will always be connected because kids are non-negotiable and can't be divorced.

In fact, any man who dumps his children is the worst possible bet - as is one who demands a woman chooses between him and her kids.

9. He hits me

You walk - better still, you get him to walk. Have him charged and get him out of your home and your life.

But, of course, I know it's not easy. Especially when you love the man, though you hate what he does. But she can and she must. Once a batterer, always a batterer.

10. He won't do his fair share of the chores

Simple. Withdraw your labour. Get in your food, cook your meal, do your washing and so on. So it causes a row. So what?

Keep a sense of proportion. No-one ever died because the floor isn't vacuumed or the dust is allowed to lie.

And if all else fails, REMOVE that lavatory seat.
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 24, 2001
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