Every writer knows that sex sells; indeed, it’s why my own articles are so erotically charged each week. But some writers sell it more expertly than others, and there can be no doubt that when the average person hears the word "sex", they immediately think of Bettina Arndt, no matter how much they may not want to.
Bettina Arndt is a "sex therapist", which means she helps people who are having trouble in their sex lives. "If you Arndt having sex, come see Bettina!" she likes to say, demonstrating her zany, impish approach to the issue of serious sexual dysfunction. But never before has she made such a momentous contribution to the cause of mass sexual satisfaction as with her new book, The Sex Diaries.
For those of you who are too busy, prudish or functionally illiterate to read the whole book, allow me to give you the gist of it: Arndt argues that the greatest cause of unhappy relationships between men and women is the discrepancy between the male and female libido.
Cannily, Bettina has put her finger right on the very crux of today’s problem: "These days unless women want sex it just doesn’t happen," she writes, a damning indictment of the sorry pass "feminism" has brought us to. In what other sphere of life do we allow such situations to occur? Do we say, "unless people want to pay taxes it just doesn’t happen"? "Unless murderers want to go to jail it just doesn’t happen"? "Unless Palestine wants to get bombed it just doesn’t happen"? Nowhere else do we let ourselves be held hostage to such soft-centred notions of personal choice and new-age drippery. So why do we allow it in the bedroom?
In a nutshell, Arndt is saying that to achieve a satisfying sex life, both partners have an important role to play: the man’s being to honestly, openly and without embarrassment, ask for sex; and the woman’s being to, equally fearlessly, say yes. Tit for tat, share and share alike, you scratch my back and I’ll lay flat on mine, etc.
"Just do it", Arndt says, as she advises women everywhere to submit to their husband’s desires just as third-world populations have submitted to Nike’s. Embrace your inner sweatshop, Bettina is saying, and you can be as happy as those joyful workers. Whether sewing sneakers or spreading thighs, the principle remains the same.
"The notion that women have to want sex to enjoy it has been a really misguided idea that has caused havoc in relationships over the last 40 years," Bettina says, and indeed, why should one only enjoy sex that one wanted to have? It’s as ludicrous as suggesting you can’t enjoy a complimentary bottle of champagne, just because you didn’t ask for it. And yet nobody’s crying "rape" when the free bubbly comes round, are they? Occasionally they do so several hours later, but this is tangential.
Believe me, I know whereof I speak. Like most men, I have for many years been enjoying sex that I didn’t actually want to have. On several occasions I have enjoyed sex that I didn’t even realise I was having until about halfway through. Because men are troopers. Even when they really don’t want to have sex, they are willing to roll up their sleeves and pitch in for the greater good. And lo and behold, once we’re doing it we find we quite like it.
Arndt illustrates this with a pithy metaphor: "Once the canoe is in the water, everyone starts happily paddling". The theme of canoes, in fact, is central to Arndt’s entire argument. "You put the canoe in and you have pleasure," she said on ABC TV’s Lateline, and ain’t that the truth?
There’s no point in keeping your sex-canoe in dry dock your whole life. If you ever want to experience the joys of the river of intercourse, you have to get your canoe off the shores of abstinence, negotiate the rapids of foreplay, and tip yourself over the penetration waterfall. The American Indians knew this, but somewhere along the line we have lost the eternal truth of canoes.
Of course, it is possible that once the canoe is out, the woman might discover that she’s not actually enjoying it. Well, that’s canoes for you. Watersports are not for everyone. But would she rather not have a canoe? Would she rather her husband left her for a woman with bigger oars? In summary, the message is this: boating metaphors are less sexy than you might think.
But let’s get serious here. This is no time for bawdy jokes and light-hearted banter. Imagine how you would feel if you were in a relationship, as Bettina puts it, where "there is one person who wants it, yearns for it, physical intimacy, and is being rejected". Many a broken heart, and not a few serial killers, is born of such tragic circumstances.
The stories Bettina tells are heartbreaking in the extreme, such as the woman who would lie awake night after night, "worrying that the hand was going to come creeping over" — a tale that countless married women and Japanese horror film enthusiasts can readily identify with. Or the 66-year-old man who agreed not to make any sexual advances towards his wife, and consequently has not had sex for eight years.
Yet in that last story lies a major part of the problem. Think about it: who wants to have sex with a 66-year-old man? Nobody! Can we blame this man’s wife for not wanting to entangle her fragile body in a heaving morass of giant underpants and ear hair? As a matter of fact, the problem is even more basic: men are fundamentally unattractive, and women are fundamentally gorgeous. For example, Miranda Kerr is a woman, while Leo Sayer is a man. Coincidence?
And it’s not just our appearance that we men need to improve. Our approach to sex itself leaves a lot to be desired. Unbelievably, recent surveys indicate that most men don’t even know what a clitoris is, or where to buy one. Almost half of the men surveyed were unable to name more than one sexual position, and more than 20 per cent couldn’t even get that far.
So clearly, if men want to persuade women to engage in sexual intercourse with them, they are fighting a losing battle. Which is why it’s such a blessed relief that Bettina Arndt has, yet again, come to the rescue to solve the problems of the ordinary male. Not for nothing has she been frequently called "man’s best friend" — admittedly not in those exact words. Men everywhere owe her a debt of gratitude for standing up for their sexual rights, defying the feminism industry to give men a sporting chance at sexual happiness.
And now, hopefully, if the world heeds her call, men everywhere will finally be able to experience their dearest wish: reluctant, mechanical sex stemming from a grudging sense of duty.
And that’s a canoe I think we’d all like to be paddling.
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