The truth about young love, sex and relationships (he's scared, she's in control)

Women know what they want when they get into bed - and, increasingly, they know how to get it. No wonder that young men in particular feel intimidated, writes Steve Bloomfield
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For decades, the boys have had it their own way in the bedroom as well as the boardroom. No longer. To the delight of women and the terror of men, a sexual revolution is officially under way.

For decades, the boys have had it their own way in the bedroom as well as the boardroom. No longer. To the delight of women and the terror of men, a sexual revolution is officially under way.

According to one of the most comprehensive surveys into the changing nature of Britain's attitudes to sex, women are now in charge, following a seismic change in our sexual dynamics.

New research into attitudes towards sex and relationships over three generations, to be published today, reveals that young men are under far more pressure to perform sexually than ever before.

"Sex now plays a completely different role in the relationship," says Anne Weyman, chief executive of FPA, formerly the Family Planning Association, which carried out the survey. "It is inevitable that men are going to feel under more pressure.

"Women can enjoy sex and their experience of sex has increased. Before contraception was this available, women were so frightened of getting pregnant they would be reluctant to have sex at all."

Around six out of 10 people believe that men can no longer get away with having sex that merely satisfies themselves. Instead, young women are gaining the upper hand, with most 18- to 24-year-olds agreeing that women are now in charge, compared with previous generations.

The power shift in the bedroom reflects the change of balance in society in general, according to the leading sex therapist and author, Phillip Hodson.

"Men have ruled society for up to 10,000 years but the male chauvinist empire has collapsed and the fallout is still affecting men," he says.

"This is the first generation of free women. They gain confidence knowing they are outperforming males at all levels of education. Women do not need a man to get a house, car or job and this reflects their confidence in the bedroom."

Yet this does not stop men from thinking about sex - constantly. They are still obsessed with it, even in their sleep, according to a separate piece of research to be published this week by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and the Future Foundation think-tank. Their survey found that 44 per cent of men admit to having dreamt about sex in the past 12 months, compared with only 18 per cent of women.

But according to Mr Hodson this too may be a sign of anxiety: "It does seem men dwell on the subject. They're wondering if it will go well; will it go too quickly; will it be perfect. Or will it ever happen to them again."

The FPA research also paints an intriguing picture of young people's attitudes towards sex. New technology is blamed (or, in some cases, welcomed) for making it easier to cheat on a partner. Some 61 per cent believe it is now possible to keep more than one partner on the go thanks to the advent of email, mobile phones and, in particular, text messaging.

Lucy Phillips, 21, a student at Cambridge University, says: "You can even be in one place with one guy and text another - I just make sure he's not looking over my shoulder while I do it."

Relationships are seen as increasingly fragile, with 59 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds admitting that they are more likely to break down due to unrealistic expectations. More than two-thirds believe that people have more fun sexually than they used to.

Responsibility for contraception, believe nine out of 10, lies as much with men as it does with women.

The media plays a large role in people's views on sex: 72 per cent believe the media encourages women to be more sexually confident and to take more control. But programmes such as Sex and the City and Footballers' Wives were blamed by one in three for encouraging people to be less responsible about their sexual health.

Mr Hodson adds that if men lack confidence in their sexual performance, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. "Without confidence men cannot perform. This anxiety prompts erectile dysfunction."

Paul Merrill, editor of the weekly "lads' mag" Zoo, is not surprised that young men are suffering from the pressure to perform. "Blokes are bombarded with stories of footballers who do it five times a night and singers who shag their way round Chinawhite," he says. "Basically if David Blunkett's getting his end away and you're not, then you're bound to feel inadequate."

Ms Weyman says: "The past 75 years has seen a huge change. Contraception has enabled women to determine what they do with their lives."

What they want...

Women: 'We can be strong and independent'

Kate Mackonochie, 24, says her generation of women have more power over men than her parents' did.

"Sex plays a big part in women having the upper hand. We have power in sexual relationships - men often have a desire to have sex a lot.

"Women have it too but it's not as controlling - it doesn't take over our lives. A woman can still be weaker and play up to it - I do it all the time. We can be strong and independent but still get the boyfriend to change the light bulb. The point of life now is not just growing up, marrying and having children."

33% think women have the upper hand in sexual relationships

72% say the media encourages women to be in control

76% support women's right to abortion

18% of women dream of sex

Men: 'Our generation is a lot more sexually aware'

Rob Tillier, 23, is in retail

"Because sex is talked about more widely, people get worried that if you perform badly the girl will tell her friends and everyone will know. If the woman is experienced, that would scare off a lot of guys because she'll be able to compare him to others. Our generation is a lot more sexually aware - it isn't a taboo any more.

"Because we aren't getting married young, people are having different sexual partners so they are able to compare. There is a lot of pressure to perform."

57% Men feeling under pressure to perform

44% of men dream of sex

59% Relationships more likely to break down

62% say new technology makes it easier to cheat