They may tell you they 'need their space', but just try getting a man to agree to sex without strings, says Annalisa Barbieri

the day I learnt to separate sex and love was a good day for me. That morning's dawn shone brightly. Liberation at last. No more waiting for a potential Mr Barbieri before I got myself into a pants-off situation.

I thought I had joined the men's club, and I had always thought men had it good - sex when they wanted it, no emotional hang-ups, no getting too involved until they wanted to. Whereas women needed to hear the words "I love you" before they dropped them.

So surely now that I was more like a man, a life of bliss awaited me? I'm not talking about one night stands. Just sex with no strings, no hassle, with some guy you like and fancy but just don't want a big thing with.

Suddenly my girlfriends were thinking the same way. We'd done the steady relationship stuff, weren't ready to settle down, yet still wanted sex. There would surely be takers queuing round the block. Sadly this is when I discovered that men cannot handle being used for sex.

Sure, they spout this stuff about needing space (big heads), don't want to settle down (can't remember your name). But when it comes down to it, men like women who conform. Women who give them hassle about where they've been, who ring them constantly and get upset when they don't call them back.

Take an ex of mine, let's call him Mr Merchant Banker. We split, we still fancied each other, we were both single. "Let's use each other for sex," I said, "if you're sure you can handle it." He was lying. "What a great way to rekindle our relationship," he sighed after our first non-relationship fandango (this was after I had practically written out a contract stating my intentions). "Um, Merchant," I said, "this isn't a relationship, this is an arrangement."

But oh no, as soon as he saw that I meant what I said, he freaked out big time. No "Look, sorry I can't handle this". He was out of control and he hated it. So he would ring me up, and say: "Are you getting turned on? Well tough 'cos I'm going to bed".

Case history two. We had pagers. We paged each other when we felt like sex. Great stuff. It worked like a treat for six months, then the crap started. He would get pissed off that I didn't call him more often (although I always returned his calls). The sad fact was that he had no lines for this particular situation. He couldn't say "give me space/ don't hassle me/ I don't want anything heavy" because I did/ didn't/ didn't either. But he used them anyway, at the slightest provocation.

Few men can handle it if you don't want to practise writing their surname with your first name. Even fewer men can handle it if you call them and say: "I have an hour to spare before I start work, fancy a shag?" What gets me is that none of them seem able to admit this. They just get screwed up and want to take you with them. I, too, want to fall madly in love one day, and breed and make jam and wear long Paisley skirts. But I also like sex (if my mother is reading this, sex is a new pop group). What am supposed to do while I await Mr Right?