Sex always gets people talking, and Australia is no different. Over the past week, the media have buzzed with responses to the argument by sex therapist Bettina Arndt, who says that Australian women should have sex even when they don’t feel like it. (You can check out her website, which appears to have been inspired by a Robert Palmer music video, here.)
Arndt asked 98 Australian couples to diarise their sex lives over six to nine months. Her book, called – who would have guessed it – The Sex Diaries, is the result. Central to her argument, and the ensuing controversy, is this: “It simply hasn’t worked to have a couple’s sex life hinge on the fragile, feeble female libido. The right to say ‘no’ needs to give way to saying ‘yes’ more often.”
Sex, she argues, should be on women’s “to-do list”, because if it isn’t their relationships with their partners will suffer. “How can we justify simply shutting up shop or forcing a man into a life spent grovelling for sex?”
The revelations have naturally attracted plenty of attention. Conservative columnist Miranda Devine sniffed at the negative responses by some feminists. Suggestions that men didn’t get enough sex because they didn’t do enough housework were an old excuse, she said, and not born out by the facts. Men and women, she argued, “do about the same amount of work in total — about 50 hours a week each. It’s called division of labour and it has long been the negotiated settlement of marriage.”
Wendy Frew wonders whether male attractiveness has something to do with it.
“Maybe, just maybe, some women shy away from having sex with their men because they’re just not that into them.
They might have been once. They might still, occasionally, get themselves interested.
Cocooned in married bliss, well fed and watered, with someone else changing the sheets and washing the towels, they quickly go to seed. Their beer bellies swell, body parts droop and their breath goes sour, and don’t they get all of us in the mood.”
One male reader of the Sydney Morning Herald argued:
“It would not matter one iota if a man did all the housework. It is just a fact of life that, generally, a woman’s libido is seriously out of whack with a man’s. It is a lucky man who is under the influence of a nymphomaniac, but these are few and far between once children have been produced and the seven-year itch has taken hold.”
A woman retorts here:
“If “things have been equal for year” like BB says, why is it that when my husband gets home from work he gets to sit in front of the TV for hours on end, whereas when I get home from work I have to organise dinner, take the kids to sport, wash up, bath the kids, oversee homework and reading, get the kids to bed, do a load of washing, iron some clothes and make the sandwiches for the next day. I rarely get to bed before 11pm every night. On the weekend my husband mows the grass. I do more washing, more ironing, clean the bathrooms, vacuum, put away the clothes, prepare dinner, etc, etc, etc. Where’s the equality in that???”
Another woman argues: “The real issue is simple. Sometimes in life you can’t always get what you want. The more interesting debate is why women seem to learn this lesson far more quickly and easily than men.”
Right, no agreement here then.
This issue is interesting, not just because it feeds into the anxieties that revolve around relationships and commitment, but also what it reveals about broadly Westernised culture. (It’s hard to imagine women in traditional African societies, for example, refusing sexual advances from their husbands, when even getting men to use a condom is often a battle.)
Still, the notion that women have the power to withhold sex has a history that goes back at least to the ancient Greeks. In his comedy Lysistrata, Aristophanes depicts the tale of a woman who persuades the women of Greece to end the Peloponnesian war by withholding sex from their husbands.
Perhaps Arndt’s argument should be seen in the context of other sex memes doing the rounds right now, notably the have-sex-every-single-day-no-matter-what meme. The notion that women should put up and shut up for maximum relationship happiness seems to be gaining currency (which is interesting, given that, until relatively recently, the emphasis seemed to be more on getting men to be better in bed).
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Jerry Seinfeld would say. Just an observation. If it floats you boat, and all that. Let’s just hope that Arndt’s take on the matter leads to better relationships and happier couples, rather than just another skirmish in the battle of the sexes.
Somehow, though, I doubt it.