Newsweek cover.

Influential ... the cover of the April 2012 edition of Newsweek.

Sex and feminism are intimately connected. Feminism is a multi-faceted movement, but a permanent point of negotiation has been sexual freedom for women. The contraceptive pill was made available to women both married and unmarried in the 60s, bras were burned in the 70s, Fatal Attraction did nothing good for women in the 80s, and Madonna simulated masturbation on stage in the 90s.

But in April 2012, Newsweek turned back the clock. The influential magazine's cover article, complete with an image of a blindfolded female model, critiques how women are having sex. According to the author Katie Roiphe, the fantasy of being sexually submissive is running rampant because women have too much power in the workplace. Burdened by ''free will'' and the responsibilities of breadwinning, the generations who've grown up with more power than ever before are reverting when it comes to sex.

Roiphe suggests women have an uncomfortable relationship with power: ''It may be that equality is something we want only sometimes and in some places and in some arenas; it may be that power and all of its imperatives can be boring.''

Chief among her evidence is the success of the New York Times bestseller by E.L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey. It's a story of a man who wants to dominate and a woman who's willing to submit to him out of love. More damningly, says Roiphe, it's selling like hot cakes among women.

Roiphe's complaints are many. One of them is that women are policing other women in bed. Specifically, she says straight-laced feminists are making other women feel guilty about what they really want.

But the connection drawn between the ascendance of women in the workplace and their wish to give in to men in bed is absurd. The analysis she cites of 20 studies on what professional women want to be doing in their bedrooms, published in Psychology Today, is useless since we're not in a position to know if the results are new. Polls on this matter haven't been historically commonplace, so there's not a lot to compare it with. ''Would you vote for Tony Abbott in the next election?'' ''Do you support the carbon tax?'' ''Do you prefer handcuffs or a riding crop?''

True feminism embraces a range of sexual behaviour among women and, indeed, men. Feminists do not tell other women not to have fantasies that feature submission. There's strong support among feminists for sex-positive feminism, which is precisely what it sounds like.

More to the point, would we even bother to consider this fantasy as something out of the ordinary if it were a male one? Would a magazine editor expect us to be shocked by it? Would it make the cover of Newsweek?

What flare-ups like this signify is that equality between the genders is far from a done deal. Women have made substantial gains in the realm of sexual freedom, but a double standard still applies: a woman who likes sex runs the risk of being seen as promiscuous, whereas a man who likes sex is more likely to be seen as just a man.

The right-wing American radio host Rush Limbaugh reminded us of this archaic distinction in February. He flexed his muscles when the congressional committee convened to address President Obama's proposal that the contraceptive pill be paid for by health insurers. His target was a 30-year-old Georgetown law student, Sandra Fluke, who was there to advocate for contraceptive coverage. He called her a ''slut''. He suggested she distribute sex tapes since taxpayers would be subsidising her sex life.

President Obama and the media were all over Limbaugh for his comments, but no one can say this attack on women's sexual health and sexuality was without precedent.

The Republican debates in the race for the presidential nomination were a forum for more assaults on women's rights. Rick Santorum's policy prescriptions on abortion and contraception - suggesting birth control is ''not OK'' - brought up the question of what contraception says about the women who sign up to use it, and it happened with enough publicity to make it echo way beyond American shores.

Notions of how a woman is supposed to behave in bed, in the office, or reading a book in the privacy of her own home persist with more strength than is appropriate in 2012. Women have access to more freedom than ever before, now let us get on with it.

Emma Young is a Sydney writer.

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