By Linda Kelsey
A controversial book claims feminism and the rise of ‘new men’ have killed off women's libidos...
Corporate lawyer Amy, 38, goes to work in killer heels and a pencil skirt, commands a mega-salary and has a team of assistants at her beck and call.
‘At work, I’m always the one in control and I admit that I like it that way. It’s exciting and it’s sexy being an Alpha woman,’ she says.
But when it comes to her partner Max, who is also a lawyer, albeit with a less high-profile job, she often finds herself feeling confused about who calls the shots — especially when it comes to sex. ‘When I get home, I no longer want to be the power broker, the one who’s always in charge and in control. I need to be wooed and
seduced, and to feel that Max has power over me,’ she says.
‘Sometimes he fulfils the role, but sometimes he doesn’t and I feel disappointed. It does make me wonder why I’m reluctant to take the initiative in bed when I’m confident and in charge at work.’
Amy’s desire to be dominated in the bedroom certainly appears to be at odds with her behaviour at work, but does it follow that if you’re adept at giving orders in the office, you’ll want to bark orders between the sheets as well?
According to the authors of an explosive new book, A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What The World’s Largest Experiment Reveals About Human Desire, the answer is a resounding ‘No’.Using the internet, neuroscientists Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam analysed half a billion sexual fantasies, preferences and practices, then correlated their findings with animal behaviour studies and the latest findings in neuroscience, to come to the very non-PC conclusion that when it comes to sex, women are wired to find sexual submission arousing.
And that gender equality, far from liberating women sexually, actually inhibits desire.
‘If you feel compelled to approach sex with the same gender attitudes as the working world, it’s going to be difficult to be aroused,’ says Ogas.
Feminism, to put it as bluntly as these two do, is bad for sex, and is the prime reason why increasing numbers of women are seeking help for problems associated with low libido.
Nearly half a century on from the start of the Swinging Sixties and the birth of modern feminism, these pronouncements come close to heresy. But do these well-qualified scientists have a point worth paying attention to?
According to Ogas and Gaddam, we can learn some important lessons about female sexual behaviour from observing rats in the laboratory.
They insist that if you put a male and female rat in close proximity to one another, the female will start to come on to the male, performing actions associated with sexual interest — running and then stopping to encourage the male to chase her.
But after a bit of kiss-chase, the female rat stands still, adopting a submissive stance until the male takes action. They also claim that almost every quality of dominant males — from the way they smell to the way they walk and their deep voice — triggers arousal in the female brain, while ‘weaker’ men, who are not taller, have higher voices or lower incomes, excite us less.
What they seem to be suggesting is that the cavemen were right all along and that what women really want is to be dragged by the hair, all the while feigning reluctance, by macho men waving clubs.
When I put this proposition to my friend Katie, 42, who runs a successful event planning business and is married to Geoff (who gave up a job with the police force that he hated and is doing a stint as house-husband, looking after their sons, aged three and six), she blushed with embarrassment.
‘It seems so disloyal to admit this because Geoff is so lovely in every way. He’s brilliant with the children, he does all the shopping and cooking, but the truth is I’m just not turned on any more,’ she says.
‘He knows how tired I am at the end of the day, and though he’s just being considerate, instead of asking me if I’m in the mood for sex, I long for him to be a bit masterful and say: “I want you. And I want you now.”
‘On the few occasions when we do make love, the only way I can get excited is by having a lurid fantasy about being taken by force by a man in uniform.’
Psychotherapist and author Phillip Hodson thinks Katie’s response is not as strange as it appears.
‘In her rational, conscious mind, a woman might tell herself she has worked hard and fought for independence, and no man is going to tell her what to do in or out of bed,’ he says.
‘But she may have been raised with different expectations of the male role, and find it difficult to express herself sexually and emotionally with a man who earns far less than her or who is sexually less confident.’
As further evidence for their theory, Ogas and Gaddam cite the continuing popularity of erotic fiction. Certainly, if you were to judge by the still booming sales of Mills & Boon novels you would find it difficult to disagree.
Three million books a year are sold in Britain alone by these purveyors of not-too-naughty erotica. For best-selling novelist Jilly Cooper, this is no surprise.
‘Men are so beaten into submission these days. They’re so weak and worried and confused that one simply has to reach into romance novels to find a proper hero,’ she says.
Ogas and Gaddam’s findings have hit a nerve, but they don’t take account of all the reasons a woman might suffer loss of libido — from tiredness to financial worries or constant rows.
As for female sexual fantasies, the counsellor and psychologist Linda Young offers a word of caution.
‘The kind of guy that stars in a woman’s sexual fantasy is not necessarily the same one who shares her values or shares parenting,’ she says. ‘And, yes, women - including feminists — are often aroused by “bad boys”. But to say feminism is causing loss of desire is misleading.
'Feminism is about social, economic and political equity, and is independent of what turns someone on in a bedroom or a fantasy.’
There is plenty of evidence to counter the claims made by Ogas and Gaddam. One major study, involving 27,500 people conducted in 29 countries by the University of Chicago, showed that men and women aged 40-plus reported less satisfaction with the quality of their sex lives in countries where men have a dominant status over women, such as the Middle East.
In relationships based on equality, couples reported sexual lives more in keeping with both partners’ wishes.
This certainly holds true for Bill and Dana, in their 50s and married for the second time. ‘In my first marriage I was the little wife, bringing up the children, doing the housework and looking after my husband’s every need,’ says Dana.
‘He expected sex on demand, but took no interest in pleasing me.
‘When I went back to college as a mature student, I met Bill. We shared interests and eventually began an affair. For the first time I felt free to express myself sexually. Sometimes he’s in charge; sometimes I am. Sometimes it’s wild, sometimes it’s gentle. But always there’s a sense of mutuality. ’
This is a view echoed by Phillip Hodson: ‘There is no reason why each of you can’t be sometimes dominant, sometimes neutral, sometimes submissive. What makes for successful long-term sexual relationships is that you can surprise and delight one another.’
Women are still coming to terms with the incredible pace of change in their lives over the past half-century. To admit to sometimes having fantasies of submission is nothing to be ashamed of. Even if you’re a feminist. It’s all part of desire’s rich tapestry. And there’s nothing remotely wicked about that.