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Welcome to the locker room

TONY PARSONS asked some (male) friends around for a chat about - you guessed it - women. Are you ready for The Truth?
When Tony Parsons wrote a feature that appeared in this newspaper earlier this year about what men want from their partners, the response - both positive and negative - was overwhelming. Now he furthers the debate by talking to three men, Jo Hagan (40, engaged), Robert Twigger (34, married) and William Leith (38, lives with girlfriend), about monogamy, career women and - what else? - sex.

Tony: Women have spent 30 years thinking about who they are and what they want. Men don't seem to do that. Is that because we're happier with our lot, or because we're less inclined towards reflection?

Robert: In the past, things were going quite well for men, so there was no need for them to think about themselves or where they were going.

Tony: Our fathers thought vaginal orgasm was a Richard Branson company. We don't. Every woman any of us has ever been involved with has been touched by feminism and we have to react to that. But what women don't understand is that it's not just they who have raised expectations. Men have, too.

Jo: Men don't want a submissive woman.

Robert: We live in a consumer culture and we're taught to consume relationships. But you can put up with an awful lot of displeasure if you feel this is a meaningful relationship and you're experiencing things together. Ultimately, what counts is the mental attitude you have to the relationship. What would happen if your wife ballooned up? Would you still love her or would you walk away? I think you have to think about that before you even get into a relationship.

Tony: The climate today is such that a man isn't allowed to say he might stop loving someone if she got really fat. But a woman is allowed to say it about a man. Plenty of men turn into slobs on the sofa watching satellite television and drinking too much. Yet it works both ways.

William: A man's slobbishness has come to mean he's in his own world; he doesn't want to recognise anything to do with her or the home. But a woman's getting fat is to do with her insecurities - or that's the way it's thought to be. You see a lot of these things on daytime television where you've got a really fat wife and a horrible guy says, "I don't want you now you're fat." And all the audience is calling him a swine.

Jo: Male sexuality isn't perceived on a physical level. Men can get away with a lot more.

Robert: A lot of fat women get laid, though.

Jo: They do, yeah, but there's an incredible pressure from the media and society at large for women to be physically attractive.

Tony: Thank God! Are women more realistic than men? Do they expect passion to tail off in a relationship, while men are more likely to expect it to last?

Jo: In a long-term relationship, passion takes a different form. At the start of a relationship, you can be quite distanced from the sex, whereas in a long-term relationship, the sex becomes a lot more complicated, more loaded.

Tony: You both grow into a sexual relationship. I never had great sex on a one-night stand.

William: I think you can have great sex with someone because you're never going to see them again.

Tony: Men certainly have an enormous and endless capacity for meaningless sex. And the fact it's meaningless is part of the attraction.

William: It's interesting what sexual history means to a woman. You meet someone, and on the third morning you ask them, "So, how many guys have you slept with?" And they always say eight. Then later she says, "Oh, I was with Gary in France..." and you say, "Wait a minute, isn't that nine?" And then she says, "Did you ever meet Barry, my ex?" And you say, " Barry makes 10." And in the end, it's always 20.

Tony: So, you're saying women always lie about the number of men they've slept with?

William: They feel it's wrong to have slept with more than eight.

Tony: Are we comfortable with sexual histories that reflect our own? In all honesty, I wouldn't feel comfortable with a woman who'd had as many partners as me.

William: Why's that?

Tony: Because I would think she was a bit of an old slapper. Are men monogamous by nature? In my experience, casual sex for a man tends to be a lot more casual than it is for a woman.

Jo: Women are just as unmonogamous as men.

William: But women want it to mean more than it does. That's biological.

Robert: Men are unfaithful because they have a sense of adventure. Getting women is an adventure. I find that if my life is boring, then sexual adventure is a lot more attractive. But if things are happening, like if I'm travelling abroad, I'm not interested in it. I think that, for a lot of men whose lives are quite boring, the only adventure open to them is sexual adventure. I don't know if it stems back to hunting expeditions, but I think that for a good relationship, women should allow men to piss off as often as possible.

Tony: How do we feel about working with women? I don't think of myself as a particularly enlightened man, but I like working with women. It's easier than working with men.

Jo: You can have more of a laugh with women in the workplace because men are far more competitive.

Robert: But the trouble with a woman boss is that you can't take a swing at them. One of the things that's coming out of this discussion is that men want a quiet life.

Jo: We don't want a mad bird.

Tony: No mad birds, please! None of us wants to be pussy-whipped saps.

Jo: You can't stop yourself being a pussy-whipped sap. If you're at all worried about being one, then you are one.

William: Hey, who said I was worried? But women change. Women are different when they're getting you than when they've got you.

Robert: And some women, dramatically so. There's the farting issue.

Jo: Honestly, that farting thing ... I've just been to Las Vegas with some of my architecture students. I shared a room with a friend of mine and we just constantly farted. It's a bloke thing to fart all the time.

William: Claire Rayner says that the moment when couples truly find intimacy is not the first kiss, or when they have sexual intercourse, but when they fart together.

Robert: Ah, farting in unison.

Jo: Women have never had it as good as they have it at the moment. Men are much more rounded characters and are more prepared to own up to their weaknesses.

Robert: Too much! The whole politically correct culture is in women's favour. Look at advertising. In almost every ad that features a man and a woman, the bloke is a dunderhead. And the woman is smart and streetwise and sassy and good looking. Now reverse the roles - maybe that's what advertising was like 30 years ago, but it would be unacceptable today.

Jo: I find the stereotype of the sexually aggressive woman in advertising very attractive.

Robert: Look at that car ad - "size matters". Size matters? Try doing it the other way round - "Tightness matters, the suspension on that Mitsubishi Shogun is really tight. It grips really well." No way!

Robert: "This car's had too many owners!"

Tony: If women knew what men were really like, would they want to know us?

Jo: Most men, if they see an attractive woman, fundamentally want to sleep with her. But when most women look at a physically attractive man, they don't necessarily want to sleep with him.

Tony: Why is that?

Jo: It's because we're blokes. It's because we're biologically predetermined to spread our seed as much as possible. I don't think we're rabid idiots who are going round trying to stick our dicks in everything that's there. Because you think something, that doesn't mean you do it. That's civilisation.

William: How do you like women to dress?

Tony: I suppose I like a kind of private sexiness. I like the mini skirt in the kitchen.

Jo: A whore in the kitchen.

Tony: No, no - not a whore! You want a woman to be attractive and then you want to take her off the market. It doesn't work like that with us. A woman doesn't say: right, now we're in a relationship, stop wearing those tight trousers.

Robert: Almost the reverse, in fact. She says, now we're in a relationship, put on your tight trousers.

William: It's such an insult.

Robert: Women always want to change you. They want less dirt. They want to feminise you.

Tony: One thing women in 1999 don't seem to understand about men is that nothing is a bigger turn-off than desperation. That's why Bridget Jones will never be happy - she wants it all too badly.

Jo: That's true for men, too. When you're really desperate to get laid and you're really on the sniff, they can tell. They know what you want and they're not going to give it to you.

Tony: There are always more sexual opportunities when you're not looking for them.

William: It's easiest to be unfaithful when you really love someone. Because then you know that [being unfaithful] means nothing. But you try explaining that!

A longer version of this article appears in the June issue of `Red'.