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A Happy Marriage

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By Jennie Curtin
Forty years after liberated women felt able to say "no" to their partners' demands for sex, they have been urged to say "yes" more often to keep their men happy.

Sex therapist and psychologist Bettina Arndt said different libidos were creating a generation of men who were "miserable, angry and really disappointed" that their need for sex was "being totally disregarded in their relationship".

Arndt has written a book based on the diaries of 98 couples, who kept records of their sex lives for periods from six to 12 months. The Sex Diaries , an excerpt of which appears in Good Weekend today, revealed women dreading bedtime and men hurting from rejection.

A woman, 54, from Hobart spent the first 10 years of her marriage fighting about sex, always nervous about an unwanted advance. "He'd be snoring loudly and I'd still lie there worrying that the hand was going to come creeping over."

On the other hand, a 43-year-old Townsville man wrote: "I just feel so lonely. We get on really well, we don't fight or argue, but when it comes to intimacy, or sex, she doesn't want to know."

Arndt said while giving women the right to say "no" to sex was an undisputed success of the women's movement, "the female libido tends to be a fragile, easily distracted thing that gets buffeted by normal life and a couple can't afford to have their intimacy reliant on that fragility".

"Mismatched desire is the burning issue, it's what is filling the waiting rooms of sex therapists all over the world," she said. "I have spent half my life hearing from sex-starved men and the women saying, 'Oh, do I have to?"'

Arndt was surprised at the openness of the men, who traditionally have been reluctant to discuss such matters.

"They don't know what's hit them," Arndt said. "They listen to what women want, try to please them and this need that is so important to them is totally ignored. Sex is just one area in relationships where men now are on the back foot."

She said one man, a 66-year-old from Darwin, eventually gave up and told his wife: "I'll make no advances or ask for sex until you ask me." The result? "In the last eight years there has been no sex in our marriage at all," he wrote.

Arndt said low-libido partners, which are mostly women, needed to put sex on the "to-do list", even if they didn't feel like doing it.

"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."

With the right approach from a loving partner, if women were willing to be receptive "and allow themselves to relax they would enjoy it", she said.

By Jennie Curtin

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