Published by You Magazine, the Mail on Sunday June 13th 2000
When William Hague flew off on his recent honeymoon, there was one unspoken question. Would the leader of the Tories require hours of love on a bed of crushed violets? Every new bride is of course confronted by the same problem. What does her man expect from a modern sexual partnership? In my counselling experience, there are as many different types of marriage as there are people. Contrary to outward appearances, the world is full of hot John Majors and cold Tony Blairs. Men pretend to be ever-ready like the battery but are just as likely to have the headaches. Despite what men say, the sexes are identical in their distribution of desire. A few people have extreme sexual appetites (great or small) while the rest of us come somewhere in the middle. Women are apt to be discreet about their amours. Men make propaganda out of theirs. Men are also hard-wired differently from women with less acute emotional radar, tending to imagine girls are like boys with breasts on. Where women can be generous to men’s physical imperfections and are mainly turned off by their emotional failings, men tend to undervalue the human context in which sex is supplied. “I don’t mind if a woman fails to appreciate me emotionally”, says the Martin Clunes character in “Men Behaving Badly”, “so long as she still gets her kit off”. Men even regard sex like food. Their characteristic reaction to sex-refusal is puzzlement: “Why is she on hunger strike? We all need to eat to survive”. Hence men’s ability to divorce “needs” from feelings. As the husband in one Roddy Doyle novel says to his wife immediately after a row: “I suppose a ride is out of the question?” In seeking comfort, men still solicit sex.
So when you first fall in love, be aware that your young man has only just emerged from the highly competitive world of telling lies to his friends about his sexual performance and experience. You may want him to know what he’s doing. Believe you me, he wishes the same. A lot of masculine identity rests on the slippery slope of sexual success. Sexually, men hit their peak at around 20. A massive eightfold rise in male hormones at 13 or 14 means your beau is now thinking about sex every six minutes. But it’s triplethink. First, he craves a passionate union with you. Second, he fancies the same with other women. Third, he’s a natural spin doctor – eager to impress peers and partners alike with his virility stories. When your lover is this inexperienced, it pays to be reassuring. I don’t mean accepting lousy service. But if he pretends to know your body better than you do, or handles you as roughly he would himself, or tries to put his legs outside yours when it’s wiser to adopt a less ambitious posture, guide him. Express your desire encouragingly – “I love it when you do X” – rather than – “Not that way, silly!” If his erection fails or the climax is premature, don’t turn a drama into more than a crisis. Just carry on kissing. There’s almost certainly nothing physically wrong with him, so it’s best to let caresses move elsewhere till you’re satisfied. Young men can bounce back.
Is no guaranteed aphrodisiac so make the most of the honeymoon phase. Frequency of sex in the early days depends on temperament and libido but most couples appear to start out with thrice-weekly lovemaking declining to once a week or fortnight by Year 2. A minority begin by making love up to five times daily and even after several years this only dwindles to about three times a week. However, it’s all too easy for your love-life to succumb to the pressures of parenthood. Men probably have more difficulty here because they are less child-directed and sometimes feel less child-rewarded. Obviously you won’t relish daily intercourse throughout a pregnancy (especially in the first and last trimesters and soon after giving birth). But a wise woman makes hay in her middle months while offering comfort and relief at other times. To paraphrase model Jerry Hall: “I don’t let him leave home with a weight on his mind”. Equally, don’t be surprised if your partner wants MORE sex when there’s MORE conflict. For a man, emotional healing takes place as a result of having sex whereas for a woman, the emotional healing often needs to come first. Some men literally cannot be touched – physically or emotionally – until they make love. One client said to me: “When she rejected my lovemaking, she rejected me. I left with a capital ‘F’ for ‘Fail’ stamped on my forehead”. As I’ve said, you have good, female reasons for withholding sex but parenthood is a prime time for men to stray – either with your best friend or a total stranger. My advice is to seek professional help sooner rather than later when sex becomes a battleground. There’s an uncomfortable correlation between making love less than once a month and getting divorced.
All middle-aged men have different responses to this transition. I met one panicked individual who suddenly began making love to his wife six times daily. Sadly, it’s not the norm. Most men over 35 discover that work, age and family take their toll. Hormones play their part. There’s a long-term decline in available testosterone throughout male adulthood which means by the age of 75 a majority of men are functionally impotent (unless they correct the situation with drugs like Caverject or the soon to be available MUSE). Amongst middle-aged men, impotence remains hugely under-treated and this obviously impacts on partners. Dr Alan Riley, Chairman of the Impotence Association, estimates there are 5 million sufferers in the UK but only one in ten seeks help. A woman’s self-interest might dictate that she be the one to call the Impotence Helpline on 0181 767 7791. Men are just too embarrassed. Mid-life also produces depressing changes in job and lifestyle. These may be reinforced by a secondary loss of desire due to marital boredom. This is probably the Number One sex problem in marriage – how do you keep things novel for up to 50 years? My answer would be “It’s the same as a good conversation. If you only mouth clichés people will stop talking to you”. It’s a help to think up simple surprises which change routines. If possible, go on holiday to break the stress cycle. Try getting in on his side of the bed or wearing different nightclothes. Try mutual massage with aromatherapy oil. Get a blindfold. Buy a copy of Anne Hooper’s Ultimate Sex Pack (Dorling Kindersley £17.99). Read him sexy stories or make up some of your own. Play a game of truth or dare. Serve champagne at midnight. Rent a copy of his favourite Kim Basinger movie. But don’t be daunted. If you make time for love it will make time for you – and needs no more thought than the throwing of a good party. I know there are pressures from all sides. Couples are amazingly busy looking after jobs, homes, kids, friends and family. But they are equally busy looking after boilers, cars, computers, clothes and watching telly. “It’s not finding the clitoris that’s the problem”, said one client of mine, “it’s finding the time to enjoy it”. The bottom line is simple too: many couples put more energy into servicing their cars than their relationships. No need to despair. One couple I saw recently changed everything round. They managed to sneak home for a morning hour of bliss after taking the kids to school. They also reserved Friday nights for themselves and a couple of weekends in the run up to Christmas. All this while holding down jobs, doing professional exams, extending the kitchen and nursing a sick mum-in-law. As for rekindling the spark, remember that the phrase “I never denied him sex” is the most depressing in the English language. Men out of boyhood aren’t interested in promoting quantity over style. As one husband put it: “Single lust is a feeble squib – I want fireworks!”. He needed his partner to share both his enthusiasm and sense of adventure. Many husbands justify their affairs by saying wives refuse to experiment in bed. It’s high time this bluff was called. Nearly all sex surveys show men are rendered daft by shiny black underwear. The world of fashion in the past two years has also blended with the underworld of sex. It is not uncommon to find couples experimenting more boldly with garments whose only role is risqué. “Will you dress up for me?” is no longer an unreasonable question to ask – or be asked. If your reaction is to feel foolish, remember that no one looks at your body as critically as you can and since it takes place in private, why NOT try a little sex with your clothes on?
THE THIRD AGE
Recent research brings the good news that regular sex, like a stiff drink, prolongs active life. Age is no barrier: “What stops you from having sex,” says Dr Alex Comfort, “is the same thing that stops you from riding a bicycle – except it’s later for sex”. However, your man will undoubtedly worry about it . I get literally hundreds of letters asking why does it take so much more effort to produce a really hard erection, why does my erection appear to soften so quickly, why do I lose it at the moment of penetration, why does it take so much longer to reach a climax, why is the climax so much less forceful and sensational, why is the refractory period between orgasms getting longer, why in fact do I have to work so hard to achieve in many minutes what used to happen in but a few seconds? Or as the great memoir-writer Frank Harris once lamented – “Why has my repeater rifle become a single-shot muzzle-loader?” The fact of course is that a man of 50 will probably need twice the penile rubbing and touching to stay erect and achieve an orgasm as any man of 20. Whereas a boy of 17 will probably suffer from UNWANTED erections and premature ejaculation, the older chap may need a lot of attention from a loving and skilful partner. He may also find one orgasm a day is his limit. However, the last warm and cheery word goes to Mr JB of Smethwick: – "I’m 81 years young and my wife is 61. Our love life is great – making love at least twice a week after plenty of cuddles and lots of foreplay. We’re both fit travelling the country every other month. If we can’t make love, we go Old Time Dancing…” I hope Ffion Hague learns her steps.