Bettina Arndt has been a tireless campaigner for improving the sex lives of Australian men and women for nearly four decades. Most recently, her book What Men Want sheds light on the often misunderstood nature of male sexuality. We ask Bettina if the differences in what men and women want can ever be reconciled.
There are a lot of men who are unhappy about the gap between their sexual desires and their reality – particularly within a loving marriage. They are enduring a lifetime of grovelling for sex, or, having sex doled out to them like meaty bites to a dog, as one man put it.
I am not saying sex is essential for a happy relationship. There are couples where sex is not a priority. The problem only occurs when one person yearns for sexual intimacy and the other is not interested. Those who are yearning are mainly men, but sometimes it’s the women who are being rejected.
One of the major reasons men lose interest in sexual intimacy is the fear of failure. Many men are nervous about their sexual performance, so it becomes easier to avoid it than to risk failure. I hear this a lot with prostate cancer support groups, where I meet women in tears, who say they did not appreciate how much their sex lives meant until their husbands were unable to continue.
Our society is lacking information about sexual intimacy. There is never too much information on this subject. This is one of the reasons I wrote What Men Want. I wanted to explore what it’s like to live in the age of Viagra, and other erection treatments. There are very good new treatments, but what impact are they having on couples? There’s no good research on how men and women feel about the new treatments, what works for them and what doesn’t. Reactions can be highly individual; if you test 10 men they can all respond totally differently, just as 10 women will respond differently to the various contraceptive pills.
Click NEXT to discover what men really want The biggest problem is that men don’t talk to each other, nor to their doctors. And many doctors are embarrassed by these issues. This is a new area of research in which they have received minimal training. It’s shocking, for instance, how little urologists are taught about helping couples cope with the changes in their sex life after prostate cancer treatments. The penis is the urologist’s bread and butter and the sexual functioning of that vital equipment is a really big deal for men.
GPs also say they don’t know enough about sex – but that it is a large part of their business. Every second man over fifty has erectile problems. This rises to 60% of 60-year-olds and 70% of 70-year-olds. Each year 20,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer. The tragedy is that many of the men with these problems end up not seeing their local doctor but paying thousands of dollars to organisations that rip them off with treatments like nasal technology that don’t work. Stay away from those sharks. I’m happy to help people find experts to help them.
There are no miracle cures. Men should never sign a contract for ED treatments. Companies that ask patients to sign expensive contracts are simply trying to rip them off.
Monogamy does not have to mean monotony. There are older couples who manage to keep the flame alive for decades and that is usually because they work hard to constantly light the fire. I’m amazed by couples who after years together are still having sex two or three times a day – where do they find the time? But they are the lucky ones.
Men don’t want sex for sexual relief. They all know they can masturbate. It’s not about getting their rocks off, it’s about intimate connection. They want to be wanted. Without this intimacy, men feel their relationships are missing that critical sense of closeness. Most men don’t want to live with a female roommate or sister. They want a lover.
Click NEXT to discover what men really want I asked men and women to keep sex diaries to hear both sides of the story. Writing about how they negotiate their sexual desires helped couples to stop blaming each other, to start to talk and to listen to each other. The men stopped blaming women for their lack of desire and women learnt their partners were not trying to annoy them, they simply wanted to be closer to them.
There has been a big shift from the 1950s when the assumption of wifely (sexual) duty meant the woman couldn’t say no. Now women are feeling totally entitled to shut up shop. Ask women what they want and they’ll talk about wanting more help around the home and more emotional intimacy. Ask men and they will generally say they want more sex. Many men go for years with no physical intimacy– like the 50-year-old I quote in What Men Want, who went for 20 years craving to have his arms around his wife. He didn’t want affairs, but couldn’t bear to spend the rest of his life without passion or desire.
Men get a raw deal from government. Given the massive numbers of prostate cancer diagnosed each year – some 20,000 – how is it that there is no government funding for erectile treatments for these men? We all understand the blow to a woman’s femininity from mastectomy and her need for breast reconstruction, but why don’t men receive government support for restoring their sexual functioning after prostate cancer treatments? I’m amazed men aren’t campaigning about this unfair treatment.
Another major concern of mine is death with dignity. Euthanasia is a burning issue for many of us, despite the lack of action by government. My mother was a fierce advocate and even though she had a living will, she died an awful, undignified death. Palliative care does not solve the problem because so many people die in post-surgery hospital wards – like my mother who’d broken her hip – or in nursing homes where palliative care isn’t available.
Click NEXT to discover what men really want I have a weird working life. My day job now is public speaking, with over 50 engagements so far this year. This means I spend a lot of my time travelling, from Broome to Mackay and other places across Australia. I receive letters and emails everyday from people seeking help, and from organisations and groups wanting me to talk to their members. It’s great fun travelling around and meeting people after all those years writing books alone in my Sydney home office. It’s also really interesting to see how people react. At a talk in a NSW country town, I was approached by a woman who said, “I think you have saved my marriage–I never thought about what I was doing to my husband.” She had tears in her eyes. It was very moving.
A typical day, if I’m in Sydney, sees me at my desk by 8.30 or 9.00am– ready to tackle the hundreds of emails I receive, or work on an article for newspapers or magazines. My hobbies include playing bridge with a group of girlfriends every Sunday night, walking my dog, Hershey, and riding bikes – I love being outdoors. I’m a passionate reader and am now delighted to have an iPad–wherever I am, I can download books to fill in hours waiting at airports.
I am most at home in my tiny row house in Woollahra. It’s just lovely–a light,bright haven. What brings me the most joy is my children, without a doubt. My daughter Taylor, 23, is a Sydney University medical student who’s about to work in Africa. My older son, Jesse is based in LA, but is working in Mackay at the moment. And my younger son Cameron, 21, is still studying at the College of Fine Arts. No, I don’t have one particular love interest at the moment. Let’s just say there are a number of contenders.
Interview by Kaye Fallick
What Men Want – in bed
Melbourne University Publishing
The Sex Diaries – Why Women Go Off Sex and Other Bedroom Battles
Melbourne University Publishing