Real people: Never say never to makin' love

John Travolta and Kelly Preston refuse to say no in the bedroom, but it couldn't work in Britain, says TIM DOWLING

In a recent interview, actress Kelly Preston revealed that she and her husband, John Travolta, just can't say no. They're not allowed to. Their marriage is based on several rules, one of which is that "sex is always OK. Nobody ever gets turned down with 'I've got a headache'."

While one presumes the "nobody" extends only to Kelly and John, this little rule still sounds faintly unwholesome in a way that is hard to put your finger on. Obviously they can do what they want - they're movie stars - but is sex on demand really a recipe for a healthy and happy marriage?

One wonders who came up with this rule. My money is on John, since it's hard to imagine that Kelly has any trouble getting her serious offers accepted. And anyway, it is widely presumed that men never say no to sex. One just can't picture the average married man saying, "Not now, I'm brooding about interest rates!" Men simply don't say "I won't"; they only ever say "I can't". The truth is that we rarely need to say either, since most of us can already count on hearing "Get off, pig!" at least once a week.

British women, as everybody knows, prefer gardening to sex, and as soon as you marry one she earns the right to reject your advances with a breezy cruelty that would make a squirt from a CS canister seem charitable in comparison. And there is a perverse comfort in such brutal honesty. My wife never attempts to spare my feelings in such matters, so I am secure in the knowledge that she would no more fake an orgasm than she would iron my shirts. At least we know where we stand.

It's difficult to imagine the average middle-class British marriage operating under the Preston-Travolta system of mutual accommodation. It would be a bit like allowing pubs to stay open all the time. For a while we might hail the arrangement as the height of continental sophistication and enlightenment, but we'd soon come to regret the whole thing. For a start, a man would never know whether his wife actually wanted to have sex, or whether she was just being agreeable (to be honest, men never really know this anyway, but regular rejections do lull us into believing that when she does say yes, she can't be too put out).

In circumstances where one partner is clearly less than enthusiastic, most couples are content to broker a settlement, or some form of quid pro quo arrangement. If neither partner were permitted to say no, this traditional system of barter would come to an end. Dishwashers would go unloaded, backrubs unadministered. People would start having sex for its own sake, and the very fabric of society would begin to unravel.

In my own marriage, I can easily see this Ask And You Shall Receive rule degenerating into a vengeful game, the object of which would be to demand sex at a moment least convenient for the other. Cries of, "But my ice cream is melting!" and, "I'm right in the middle of ER!" would fill the house, but no compromise would be brooked. Eventually, you would only request sex when you were really angry with your partner, and even then you'd hesitate, wondering whether it was worth the certain reprisals.

Bluff would precede counter-bluff, until things got badly out of hand. We had a very similar problem with water balloons once, and a truce was a long time coming. In the end, a new corollary would have to be appended to the Ask And You Shall Receive rule, one which read simply: Do Not Ask.

Admittedly, it is very unlikely that I will ever find myself caught up in the mess that Mr and Mrs Travolta have got themselves into. My wife finds the notion of their golden rule "deeply alien", and is convinced that I just made it up. She cannot conceive of a situation in which she would make use of it, and in truth, neither can I.

In my experience there is really only one circumstance that will prompt a wife to demand sex in a heavy-handed fashion, and that is when she wants a baby, and has her sights set on a date in early-to-mid February. Under these conditions, it is impossible to refuse her anyway, or even to escape from the room. Like some kind of possessed Kelly Preston, she won't take no for answer, and she keeps coming back for more until she's got what she wants.

It is at times like these that even the average married man knows how Travolta must feel when he's cowering under the duvet and whining: "Please let me sleep! Just for an hour!". Fat lot of good it will do him.

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