Have women's magazines just been brainwashing us over the years with their hundreds of articles about women and sex? They've droned on about everything from the importance of orgasms to waiting to being in love before having sex, but have they been getting it all wrong?
It seems that they might have had done. A book out shortly called Why Women Have Sex has caused a storm by revealing the results of a survey of 1,000 women in America. And the reasons women have sex has turned out not to be, in the main, because they are madly in love, passionately attracted to their blokes, dying for babies or aching with lust. No, it turns out to be what I've always suspected – that although all those factors can play a part, women often have sex for a host of much more humdrum reasons.
Sometimes they've felt that having sex with their partners will stop them straying. On occasions they've had sex to finish an argument or resolve a tense situation – it's a way of resolving things without risk of him resorting to sulks or violence.
Some women have had sex as a kind of payment for being taken out to dinner ... and certainly I can't be the only one who, having been out to a party with a bloke and worried about him eyeing up another woman, had sex to stop him dwelling on the object of his desires. There's also guilty sex with a boyfriend – when you've just have sex with someone else.
The more ruthless among us can use sex as a bartering tool. Apparently loads of women – one in 10 – give sex in return for presents. And quite a few women give their men sex in return for simple chores, like putting the rubbish out, or doing the washing-up.
And – rather sweet this – some women have given sex to unattractive men because they feel sorry for them. Certainly I've often had sex with friends who've been going through a hard time. If I haven't been able to cheer them up by flattery and kindness, a quick spin in bed has usually made them feel a lot better.
I know I've occasionally had sex with a man if I've won hands down in an argument, for instance. To make him feel less lowly-worm-like, I'll suggest having sex to make the score equal, as it were. And other women have sex to relax and, even, to relieve boredom – presumably when conversation runs out and there's nothing left to do.
What strikes me as odd, however, is that these motives are attributed only to women. I've always seen sex as a tool, if you'll forgive the expression, that's used equally between the sexes, partly for fun and affection, but often as a kind of commerce. I know I've been placated by a man who has sex with me to avoid a row.
And men have often buttered me up (oh, dear, it's impossible to write a piece like this without it being littered with double-entendres) with sex before they want to suggest some preposterous idea which they know that in any other mood I might find rather unwelcome – like going away for a stag weekend, or spending Christmas apart.
Indeed, I'm pretty sure that, although it makes me feel rather queasy to admit it, with one younger man, I've been offered the "compensation" of sex if he couldn't afford to contribute to an expensive restaurant meal.
And why not? If this generous and warm gesture is sometimes used as a kind of currency between the sexes, is there really anything to complain about?
Virginia Ironside's 'The Virginia Monologues: 20 Reasons Why Growing Old Is Great' is published by Fig Tree