Is male desire a woman's responsibility?

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Last year, I went to the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne to hear the sex therapist Bettina Arndt speak. What followed was 45 minutes of mindboggling retrosexism in which much mention was made of terrifying creeping hands, impenetrable jungles and men paddling canoes through sinister canals.

With the weekend publication of this piece, it's interesting to see that nothing has changed for our pre-eminent sex therapist. And when I say "interesting", I of course mean in the sense that Arndt-Women-Awful has managed to crack the time-space continuum to not only broadcast to us direct from the 1950s, but to do it Groundhog Day style. If I hadn't been too busy banging my head against the wall, I might have been able to learn how to play jazz piano.

This latest outing sees Arndt advising her readers of new advances in what's been called "pink Viagra", a pill to increase sexual desire in women. The idea is that women experiencing fading desire well into their relationships might be able to kickstart things to get back on the horse – so to speak.

It's not that I entirely disagree with Arndt's premise, which is underpinned by the idea that partnered women's libidos and sex drives decrease as they grow older. According to Arndt, the fate of long-term couples is to potter towards a future as sexually exciting as an overcooked bowl of diet porridge and twice as dry. This may be true in and of itself – I can't claim to have canvassed the same number of people as Arndt, nor counselled them in their sexual dissatisfaction. It would be foolish to think there wasn't some truth in the basics – that as the average couple heads towards and beyond 50, the shades of their sexcapades start to inversely decline. I'm 31 and have started making an inadvertent "oof" noise whenever I get up from the couch. Add 20 years and I'm not surprised some people weigh up the odds of hip dislocation occurring from a gently encouraging nudge and think, "Nah."

I jest. Withering libidos aside, of course older people are capable of inventive and satisfying sex lives. But that some of them aren't having them seems, according to Arndt, to be entirely the fault of women happy to shut up shop, simply refusing to have sex - and expecting their husbands to just suck it up. Pity the poor blokes lumbered with such a Betty Draper. The truly lucky man is blessed with a sexually generous woman, one who believes in taking one for the team!

"You're misinterpreting Arndt!" I can hear some of you furiously screaming. "You're putting words in her mouth! Where's your proof that this is what she thinks?"

Well might you ask my friend! And it's a good question, because if there's one thing that exists in abundance where Arndt is concerned, it's generalisations and stereotypes. To put your mind at ease, my suspicions were first aroused when Arndt wrote, "There are plenty of women happy to shut up shop, simply refusing to have sex - and expecting their husbands to just suck it up.” They were later confirmed when Arndt penned the words, "The truly lucky man is blessed with a sexually generous woman, one who believes in taking one for the team."

When you put it like that, it's not hard to understand why so many women in long-term partnerships are withholding. Nothing slays a lady boner quicker than the idea that their involvement extends to "taking one for the team". Arndt advises men to seek out the kind of woman who "sees it as part of her responsibility to keep sex on the agenda" – who needs pink Viagra when you have thoughts of duty to get your juices flowing? Ladies, prepare to expel a torrential flood of liquid AND I THINK YOU KNOW FROM WHERE I'M TALKING ABOUT.

The truth is that Arndt is like a Level 82 wizard-troll. Under the guise of fostering healthy relationships between men and women, she reinforces the kind of dynamic that can only result in women's sweet spots sealing like stone caves protected by an ancient magic. How else can you explain her casual inclusion of lines like, "[Women] spend hours searching shopping centres for his favourite Y-fronts when a 10-minute bonk every so often would make their man a lot happier." To be frank, if women ARE doing this, I'm not surprised they'd rather spend hours trawling shopping malls searching for underpants rather than sexing up their lover-sons. Does Arndt expect her to cut his steak up as well?

Almost everyone I know – women and men – has engaged in the kind of maintenance sex that Arndt advises. It's not that big a deal. What they don't want is to be told it's their responsibility, and for that conversation to be so heavily directed towards the penis-freezing Medusas making life difficult for sensitive men everywhere. Arndt covers her tracks when she says she tells men with low libidos the same thing. Unfortunately, she consistently addresses them as an afterthought – a way to justify the fact that almost all of her argument discusses the myriad of ways in which women are letting their partners down. (In fact, other research suggests that women's sexual desire fades in long-term relationships because they're ultimately less interested in monogamy.

The thing is, I've never seen Arndt ask these deprived men what they might be doing to inspire lust in their partners. Her vision of domesticity positions women as unpaid servants, mopping floors, cleaning ovens, buying clothes, slaving over three course dinners – all things that she also declares are done in order to please their male partners. How much easier would it be to create harmony, she asks, if women understood that a quick 10-minute wristy would do the job just as well?

Ignore for a moment the deep and abiding romance in that image. Women on the whole don't engage in unpaid domestic labour in order to please their husbands. Just because Arndt is living in a wormhole of time doesn't mean the rest of us are. If women are doing these things, it's because it's largely expected of them to shoulder the domestic burden, (they're still doing more than men). We don't need to bring in Columbo to figure out why a woman wouldn't be inclined to attend to her partner's sexual needs when she's spent all day looking after his domestic ones. Maybe, just maybe, if home labour was distributed equally these woeful men wouldn't have to subject their disinterested, annoyed partners to that "creeping hand across the bed". If more of Arndt's bewildered clients viewed their participation in chores as vital to their own domestic harmony and not the infuriatingly viewed act of "helping out", they might find their partners began to view sex as a mutually pleasurable activity and not just another responsibility they were expected to fulfil.

108 comments

  • Being non gender specific about this one: I think it goes beyond taking one for the team. If a partner just lays there and lets the other simply have there way with them, thats little more than wanking and using the other person as a better hand - coma sex may be better than self pleasure but only by a skidgen.

    What a rewarding sex life lives on is shared fantasy, imaginative sex where both partners are present , getting into each others heads to really get them off. Playful sex, kinkey sex, non vanilla sex. Trying to be Good, Giving and Game: "one should strive to be good in bed, giving "equal time and equal pleasure" to one's partner, and game 'for anything—within reason' "

    Is there a pill for that ?

    Commenter
    Steve
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    June 04, 2013, 8:43AM
    • The thing about a therapist such as Ms Arndt is that she is not a medical doctor, and she certainly doesn't specialise in the anatomy of Getting Older. Things change in the natural world. As women progress towards their Cronehood, their bodies start doing things that really piss them off. As one of that category, I know that my hormones are all over the place; certain bodily functions are happening in different cycles, and there is barely any time in that cycle for feeling warm and fuzzy toward my significant other of 31 years.
      I just wish people like Arndt wouldn't go around spouting their stuff to make the population that hears it feel any worse than they might already do. People will listen to, or read this stuff, and it has an impact on them, when maybe, in the scheme of their relationship, their partner understands; is sympathetic and quietly not really all that bothered either. Making people feel inadequate is just plain mean.

      Commenter
      Getting older
      Date and time
      June 04, 2013, 1:23PM
    • "Coma Sex" - what a horrible idea. Someone who is prepared to use another person as a sex doll, to ignore their humanity that way, shouldn't be in any relationship ever.

      Commenter
      Kitteh
      Date and time
      June 04, 2013, 2:44PM
    • @GO "The thing about a therapist such as Ms Arndt is that she is not a medical doctor, and she certainly doesn't specialise in the anatomy of Getting Older."

      And that is the irony. Ms Ford is not a medial doctor nor does she specialise in the anatomy of Getting Older either, but both in their own way have prefectly valid points.

      Commenter
      Carstendog
      Location
      Here
      Date and time
      June 04, 2013, 5:12PM
  • Well said. Had to comment to give you props for the "The truth is that Arndt is like a Level 82 wizard-troll" line. Best thing I've read today!

    Commenter
    Amy
    Location
    Brisbane
    Date and time
    June 04, 2013, 8:53AM
    • I loved that too - describes Arndt perfectly. So does "Arndt-women-awful". This is the same troll who whines about women wearing clothes she doesn't approve of and thinks sex when one partner doesn't want it is fine dandy - at least as long as it's the man pushing and the woman who's reluctant.

      Commenter
      Kitteh
      Date and time
      June 04, 2013, 2:43PM
  • That is such crap. The only person responsible for my desire is me.

    Commenter
    Jim Moriarty
    Date and time
    June 04, 2013, 8:55AM
    • "In fact, other research suggests that women's sexual desire fades in long-term relationships because they're ultimately less interested in monogamy."

      And a similar loss of interest doesn't happen in men? Particularly when the sex life in the monogamous relationship undergoes severe long term atrophy?

      "We don't need to bring in Columbo to figure out why a woman wouldn't be inclined to attend to her partner's sexual needs when she's spent all day looking after his domestic ones."

      There it is: women all too often see sex as a chore, and a low-priority chore at that. It's not supposed to be a chore, it's supposed to be satisfying and FUN. In case anyone has forgotten, sex ranks higher on a person's hierarchy of needs than mopped floors and cleaned dishes - and that goes for both men and women.

      Commenter
      Spadeboy
      Date and time
      June 04, 2013, 9:00AM
      • The reason women don't want to have sex is because their partners no longer turn them on or please them sexually in bed (if they ever did). It is estimated that 40% of women NEVER have an orgasm from intercourse with a partner. That would be NEVER! If men had the same satisfaction rate, not only would the world end as we know it, with a sate of emergency declared in every nation on the globe, but I suspect male libidos may just drop as well. The reason men want sex more is not about differing levels of desire, it is because they have almost a 100% guarantee of physical pleasure and satisfaction through orgasm. In my experience, it is vastly lower for women - even women who have high levels of desire. If the average length of sexual penetration during intercourse is 6 minutes, as has been recently reported, what more do you need to know? As relationships progress and foreplay, if it ever existed, fades away so all women are left with is a reaching hand across the bed after a long day, you can see why they are not jumping at the chance for their 6 minutes of thrusting. What woman can be sexually satisfied by that?? I certainly need more than that, even when I'm horny as hell. If men want more sex there is one way to do it, and it is NOT by doing more housework! It is by being better lovers that understand not only how to ignite a woman's desire, but deliver a pleasurable sexual experience for the woman. Of course, women have responsibility in owning their own pleasure, but they can't force a man to spend the time and energy it takes to deliver a rewarding sexual experience.

        Commenter
        JenXFreeman
        Date and time
        June 04, 2013, 10:28AM
      • No JenXFreeman, I don't agree that it's mostly or always the man's fault. Often times it can be a complex host of factors, many of which have little or nothing to do with the man. It is still entirely possible for a man to be rebuffed even he makes a sincere and earnest effort to please his partner sexually and open up a sexual dialogue with her. If she just doesn't want to come to the party, then there's really not much the man can do.

        40% of women don't have an orgasm? That is terrible, but it doesn't mean you should just give up! I for one am far more satisfied when I know that my partner has had a genuine orgasm. But then I get told by my partner that "orgasm really isn't that important for women" and chastised for "pressuring" my partner into having an orgasm! So I stop making an effort and I get told that I am a selfish lover who just wants a glorified masturbation session. Damned if I do, damned if I don't!!

        Don't like the way your sexual interactions go? Then TALK to your partner about it in a CONSTRUCTIVE manner. Practice makes perfect, and there are far more men out there than you think who are willing to put in the effort in order to achieve the payoff of having a mutually satisfying sex life.

        Commenter
        Spadeboy
        Date and time
        June 04, 2013, 10:54AM

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