Health: Battle of the sexes in and out of bed

Britain on the couch
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The Independent Culture
MEN AND women are at odds with each other in bed, as well as in the workplace. The stresses of trying to personify contradictory sex roles are showing up in the divorce rate.

Twenty-five-year-old Juliet is the acme of modern womanhood - independent, successful, intelligent, assertive - and her account of what she wants of a man is the caring, sharing New Man. Yet this is not what she really wants for herself.

"My main sexual fantasy at the moment is of this successful bloke at work. I'm lying there and being completely sprinkled with a million rose petals and just being told that I'm the most heavenly creature on earth. And then there's some involvement with croissants and honey, and there's lots of sunlight, and choirs.

"That's what I want! I just want to be treated like the most precious thing on earth. I would let him do that in reality. I've never been given flowers in my whole life by a bloke, never; I can't believe it; I feel so affronted."

Juliet is not alone. A yawning gulf has opened up between the politically correct version of what we should feel and what the scientific studies demonstrate. The studies reveal substantial and consistent world-wide differences between the sexes as to what attracts them, what they fantasise about sexually, and what they want in bed. Believe it or not, there is little doubt that what you are about to read is true of the average man and woman all over the world today.

Compared with women, men:

Value physical attractiveness more highly than women, whether it be for marriage, a date or casual sex;

Prefer partners younger than them, and marry younger partners;

Care less about the social status and wealth of partners if they are physically attractive, or even prefer lower status and wealth in partners;

Place a higher premium on sexual intercourse;

Are keener on the idea of casual sex and more indiscriminate when considering it, think more often about sex, are more unfaithful, and have more partners in practice;

Fantasise about a greater variety of partners, masturbate more, are more explicit about sexual acts during fantasies, picturing precise features of partners' anatomy, and are more likely to base their fantasies on real people and situations;

Fantasise more about "doing things to", rather than "things done to";

Are more jealous of sexual infidelity.

Compared with men, women:

Prefer and marry partners who are older than them;

Place a higher value on wealth and status of mates, even if they are themselves of high status and wealth;

Are more influenced by negative information about a potential mate;

Place less emphasis on sexual intercourse as a goal, are more faithful, and have fewer partners overall;

Fantasise less about sex, are less sexually explicit in their fantasies, focus more on the build-up than on the climax, focus more on the emotions and settings of fantasies, are more likely to ascribe partners a profession and personality, and are more likely to base the fantasy on their imagination than on real people or situations;

Are more jealous of emotional infidelity than sexual infidelity.

Whatever their cause (genetics or socialisation), these differences are an impetus for a new gender rancour, an intensification in the battle of the sexes, because they are contrary to the official version of what our desires should be, to which most of us pay at least lip-service.

If men admit to themselves that they are most attracted to young and pretty women, they risk feeling guilt, frustration and depression. If they admit these predilections to other men, they risk criticism. If they admit their feelings to women, they risk alienating or upsetting them.

If women admit to themselves that they are attracted to older, wealthier men, they are in danger of feeling that they have "sold out", or are "not being true to" themselves. If they admit such leanings to other women they risk sneers or hostility. If they admit such feelings to men they risk feeling dominated and powerless.

It can result in a self-contradictory position in which a woman may be cursing "the lack of real men who are not just wimps" in one breath, and complaining of the arrogance or domineering behaviour of men in the next.

If it is true that most men still basically want to have sex with as many Spice Girl lookalikes as possible, as often as possible, then these desires will clash with the contrasting desires of women listed above, and with PC reality. If most women still basically want a "good catch" who will make a solid breadwinner and father, and if they are less focused on sex, and intercourse in particular, these desires will also conflict with the desires of men.

No wonder both sexes feel resentful and betrayed. When the man leaves his wife for a "younger model"; when the woman dumps her low-achieving estate agent for a merchant banker; both victims cry "he/she was only after one thing".

This gender rancour directly contributes to our increased depression and violence compared with 1950, and indirectly impacts on the divorce statistics. Depression has increased tenfold since 1950, and violence fortyfold. Women are suffering an epidemic of self abuse - suicide attempts and eating disorders - and men are more aggressive and depressive.

This is partly because there may never have been a time when men and women were less on each other's side and more at each other's throats, in, as well as out of, bed.

Oliver James's book, `Britain On The Couch - Why We're Unhappier Compared With 1950 Despite Being Richer' is now available in paperback (Arrow, pounds 7.99)