I saw this article a few days ago, and I’m still thinking about it. The premise is that (married) men are showing less interest in sex:
Relate, which provides counselling, sex therapy and relationship education, said there had been a 40 per cent increase in male clients admitting that, despite being physically able to have sex, they can’t be bothered.
‘Men used to come to us with impotence – now known as erectile insufficiency – but Viagra has sorted some of that problem,’ said Peter Bell, Relate’s head of practice. ‘What we have is a lot of men who say, as women did in the Fifties: “I can have sex, but I don’t want to. It’s not rewarding”.’
Unsurprisiingly, the article itself engages in a combination of thinly-veiled evolutionary psychology (“men are turned on by the thrill of the chase”) and thinly-veiled blaming of women:
Bell said the problem is ‘partly because women are more aware of what they want sexually and are prepared to ask for it’. He added: ‘I think it’s also that men and women are more sexually similar than they like to think. It is traditionally believed that, while women only enjoyed sex if it happened in the context of a positive and nurturing relationship, men could always be turned on by visual cues alone. But what we’re seeing is that, once the thrill of the chase has disappeared and the sex is happening in a committed relationship, the libido of both men and women is affected by the quality of the relationship they are in.’
Oursin, who pointed at this article, suggests that this situation may always have been true and now be coming to light, which I also find plausible.
But I keep thinking about yet another explanation. Before I clicked Oursin’s link, I was already thinking about the role of Viagra, and was pleased to see that the article mentioned it up front.
Another unaddressed question is what else these married men are doing. Do they have mistresses? Are they seeing prostitutes? Are they jerking off?
Then there’s the piece I find particularly interesting. In a purely physical sense, human women are effectively always “ready” for sex. For tens of thousands of years, it has been physically possible to have penetrative sex with a woman regardless of her emotional or mental state or willingness to participate. Historically, (most) men have needed a wide variety of special circumstances and preparations to get hard. Viagra and its brothers have changed all that; a man can be physically ready at the crush of a small blue pill.
So maybe part of the story is, as Peter Bell would have it, that “men and women are more sexually similar than they think.” Maybe when married men are as readily “available” to their wives as wives have historically been to their husbands, the power dynamic shifts. Maybe it’s not so much that wives know how to ask for what they want as that husbands are in unmapped territory. Before, their penises told them whether or not they were “ready” for sex at any given time; now, it’s much more complicated.