The trouble with sex on TV is not quantity but quality. It's time producers made some really top-class porn

Readers may or may not be surprised to learn that I come up with the ideas for my weekly column on my own. But this week, for the first time ever, my editor actually rang me at home to suggest a subject for this week's column: sex on television. Perhaps I should have been indignant, or ashamed, or said, "I'm afraid Mr French isn't at home. Have you tried Laurie Taylor?" But I couldn't resist it.

When I read the report that the Broadcasting Standards Council was planning to make a distinction for the first time between "erotic, titillating sex" on the one hand and the "non-titillating, informative" variety that appears in documentaries on the other, I was vigorously in favour. I, too, was tired of those absurd documentaries on some aspect of the sex industry. But then I realised that these were the ones they wanted to keep. It was the "erotic, titillating" ones - in other words, the fun ones - that they wanted to ban.

I should say at this point that there is a long and honourable tradition on the coverage of this subject in the New Statesman. When Julian Barnes was television critic of the magazine in the late seventies he conducted a personal campaign for "more sex on television". Twenty years later there is certainly more sex. The issue is now one of quality. It says something about the general absurdity of British culture that we have something called the "Broadcasting Standards Council", that it is chaired by Lady Howe, and that it pontificates about the appearance on television "for its own sake, of erotic material". Whereas it is justified if it appears in some worthy context.

It reminds me of the time Kenneth Tynan was asked to appear for the defence when John Cleland's 18th-century novel Fanny Hill was charged with obscenity. The defence lawyer asked him what he would say in court and Tynan replied that he would argue that it was a legitimate function of art to arouse the reader sexually and that Fanny Hill did this very effectively. The lawyer drew a hasty halt to the conversation, making it very clear that Tynan would not be called.

It might be more useful if the BSC acted according to its name and demanded that the standard of pornography on television be raised. So far as I can see, the basic style in Channel 5 porn is less reminiscent of sex as we know it than of a man with BO reluctantly playing Twister in the nude with a bored woman with bad breath while waiting for the cheque to arrive.

Would it be possible to make good pornography, or is that necessarily a contradiction? Writers have managed it. Most notably, Candy by Mason Hoffenberg and (mainly) Terry Southern (which was reissued by Bloomsbury last year) is both funny and erotic - to the extent that it was banned in Britain for many years. When Pauline Kael acclaimed Last Tango in Paris as a cultural event on a par with the premiere of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, she wrote that this wasn't how she had expected the sexual breakthrough in cinema to occur. She had thought it would be something like Candy, both amusing and a real turn-on. But in fact the film version of Candy, starring Marlon Brando and Ringo Starr, was a disaster in every way.

In the late seventies, United Artists paid Gay Talese the most money ever paid by a studio for a book in order to option his book about the sexual revolution, Thy Neighbour's Wife. The film would, it was promised, feature real sex. It was never made, partly because the company was bankrupting itself with Heaven's Gate. But it also proved impossible to find a director. There is a good scene in Steven Bach's book Final Cut about his time at the centre of that debacle in which he describes a lunch with Sidney Lumet discussing Thy Neighbour's Wife. Lumet agonises about his children seeing it and whether "my God! Could it be that I'm a prude?"

By this time, Terry Southern himself had written another pretty funny novel, Blue Movie, about a Hollywood director making a porn film with top stars and expensive production. (The film is made but never released because it is seized by agents of the Vatican.)

Obviously there is a disgusting side to pornography, which is the industry that produces it, the milieu, the association with crime. The simple answer to that would be for the British companies to make it themselves. It would at least be a step up from Kilroy and Jim Davidson.