The secret desires of men, and why they go unfulfilled
Illustration: Edd Aragon
We are awash with an appetite for romantic and sexual fantasy. Call it the Twilight phenomenon. It merely adds to the sexual suggestiveness which permeates our lives. But underline the word ''fantasy''.
Almost 40 per cent of marriages end in divorce. Of the rest, the majority end up in ruts, financial compromise, sexual arid zones, or all three. The great majority of sexual relationships end in break-up, sexual mediocrity or no sex at all.
Arndt is a one-woman battering ram against the suffocating excesses of feminist victimology.
Today, at the National Press Club in Canberra, Bettina Arndt will return to this treacherous emotional sea when she talks about her new book, What Men Want - In Bed. In the process, she will remind her audience why she is much more popular with men than with women. She is a one-woman battering ram against the suffocating excesses of feminist victimology, with its irritating assumptions of moral superiority.
Arndt's previous book, The Sex Diaries, published last year, built on a foundation of diaries kept by 98 couples, plus a survey of the relevant research. It concluded that the majority of woman experience a precipitous fall-off in sexual interest as they grow older, especially after having children, and/or being with the same partner for a long time. This erosion in sexual interest is not as marked in men, leading to a host of predictable problems.
The methodology is not as rigorous this time around. For What Men Want - In Bed, Arndt recruited 150 men to write to her over the course of a year about what they want from women, which in most cases meant their wives. What they want can be summarised in two words: more sex. What they get, in the majority of the case studies, is the opposite.
This disparity has been exacerbated by technology, the Viagra revolution, as millions of men have been able to arrest the inevitable decline in their sexual potency by simply popping a pill, at about $10 a shot, of Viagra, or Cialis, or Levitra, and feeling like a 20-year-old again. Ageing men are not taking the hint from nature. Pill-popping men pervade the book, sometimes to the delight of their partners, sometimes to the consternation of women who would rather have a cup of tea.
Most of the 150 male correspondents in the book don't have much to say or aren't quoted. The load is carried by a startlingly frank minority. Some of these men are sensual boofheads, with poor communications skills and stunted ideas about sexuality. But even the boofheads suffer from a mismatch not of their own making - the changes in physiology than can make a woman drift from being sexually charged to sexually fallow.
Arndt told me her favourite person in the book is a transsexual, Anita Wolfe Valerio, who became Max Wolf Valerio, and wrote a memoir about the metamorphosis from woman to man. In The Testosterone Files, published in 2006, Valerio confronts, from first-hand experience, the divide caused by differing male and female testosterone levels: ''Now that I am Max, I see this rift, this fundamental chasm between men and women's perceptions and experience of sexuality, is one that may never be bridged. There certainly can be no hope for understanding as long as society pretends that men and women are really the same, that the culture of male sexuality is simply a conflation of misogyny and dysfunction. That the male libido is shaped and driven primarily by socialisation that can be legislated or 'psychobabbled' out of existence.''
What Men Want - In Bed is a mixture of first-hand information from a self-selected group, a survey of the literature, racy jokes, and a manual on the issues around erectile dysfunction. There are sensible insights and she comes up with one excellent slogan: ''Give it up to get it up.''
Perhaps linking smoking and erectile dysfunction is a magic bullet that can make young men think before they take up smoking. And young women. Men and woman who like to both drink and smoke with enthusiasm are going to be incapable of sexual dynamism.
In her speech today - she gave me a copy of the draft - Arndt will also make a political point: ''A comparison between governments' response to breast cancer and prostate cancer raises some disturbing questions. After skin cancer, prostate cancer is the next most common form of cancer in Australia. The most recent figures (2006) show about 12,600 cases of breast cancer diagnosed each year, compared to 17,444 for prostate cancer . . .
''Why does our government treat male cancer victims so differently from women? Women with breast cancer receive substantial government funding to help with the costs of rehabilitation. Yet men with prostate cancer are given no funding for essential treatments necessary for their well-being . . . There's no logic to the differential treatment. How can male sexual needs be so cynically disregarded?''
In her book, Arndt is scornful of ''commercial impotence clinics which are exploiting men by offering hugely expensive treatments that don't work''. Consult a GP, not a sex clinic. But the best advice is nothing new: the most potent sexual organ is the brain. Empathy is everything. Empathy for the other is the building block of every possibility.
At the end of her narrative, she concludes with this parting sentence: ''Sharing a laugh together is truly a great way of staying connected.'' Amen to that.