Sociologist Dr Catherine Hakim is nothing if not controversial. She’s known for her strong views, and even just from the few emails we exchange to set up an interview, I can tell she’s not going to be swayed by my arguments.
London-based Hakim, who is widely considered to be in her 60s but wouldn’t reveal her age to me, has been angering feminists for decades.
Most recently, however, it’s her views on the apparent “male sex deficit” and its dangerous consequences that has had people up in arms.
Hakim’s argument is that there’s a fundamental gap between men’s and women’s libido, and it’s getting worse - hence the male sex deficit.
“There’s a massive – not big, not small but massive – difference between men and women in sexual motivation, sexual desire and sexual interest,” she tells The Independent.
Men are three times more likely to have frequent sexual fantasies, to use erotica of all kinds and to masturbate regularly than women, according to Hakim.
“One third of women say they’ve never ever done it. So the gap between men and women is dramatic,” she claims. (However other studies suggest two-thirds of women masturbate at least three times a week.)
And Hakim, author of The New Rules: Economies of Desire, says this gap increasing for three reasons:
Firstly: The economic independence of women
“Women have their own jobs, their own income, their own financial autonomy to a much greater extent than in the past,” Hakim says, and she argues that because we can now get our own mortgages and have “comprehensive financial autonomy,” more of us are choosing not to have sex with men.
So men are getting less sex because women are either choosing not to marry or are marrying but deciding to sleep with their husbands less.
“Women are imposing their own terms and conditions – they can do that now, whereas they couldn’t to the same extent in the past.” Essentially, the man provided the money and the woman had to be sexually available.
“That was the deal,” Hakim says. But no longer. Because women are earning their own money and don’t need to ply men with sexual favours in order to ensure a roof over their head and money with which to put food on the table.
Secondly: The imbalanced sex ratio in the population
According to Hakim, we are now facing a six per cent surplus of males for two reasons: fewer men are dying in wars and immigration is skewing the sex ratio, she controversially claims.
“Immigrants are always young males who are looking for a better life,” she says. “They may call themselves asylum seekers but they are actually economic migrants looking for a better life, and the majority of them are young men.”
It's an incredibly bold assertion to make considering the latest figures from the UN Refugee Agency reveal that 33,972 people around the world are forced to flee their homes every day to escape conflict and persecution.
Thirdly: Sex surveys
During our conversation, Hakim reels off statistics from sex surveys in various countries that apparently back up her argument that “the gap between male and female sexual interest is increasing over time.”
Three main reasons for the growing male sex deficit aside, Hakim drops in a fourth as an afterthought: “Of course one option I forgot to mention is women just choosing to be lesbians, there’s that as well.”
As a young woman in a liberal country, I am baffled by Hakim’s assertions.
Popular culture has led me to believe that more and more women are feeling sexually free and liberated. We talk about masturbation, we no longer slut-shame and what was previously known as the walk of shame has been re-dubbed the stride of pride.
When I put this to Hakim, she asks how old I am. I tell her: 24.
“There you are,” she says. “It’s very, very difficult for people of your age – under 25 especially but certainly under 30 – to believe this, because all the surveys show that the tiniest gap in interest is in that age group.”
She says that before you hit 25, both male and female hormones are raging so there’s no real gap in sexual interest. “It’s a time for sexual flowering,” Hakim says.
I’m still not convinced and argue that maybe my generation will take our attitudes to sex with us as we grow up.
But Hakim argues that once you hit 30, sex drive falls off a cliff for women (although “some women have a new sexual flowering after the menopause”), and this is where the sex gap rears its head.
It’s not all about age though - according to Hakim, it’s two or three years into a relationship that women start initiating sex less and less, which leads men to lose interest.
In the most recent UK sex survey (in 2010), one third of women aged over 25 reported an imbalance of sexual interest in their relationship.
What’s more, the survey revealed that men are over three times more likely than women always to gladly agree to sexual approaches from their partner: 38 per cent of men compared to 11 per cent of women.
So if there is a fundamental and innate difference in sex drives, does that mean that men and women are essentially sexually incompatible?
There are two options, according to Hakim:
“One is you have sex a lot more than when you would personally instigate it. The other is you can’t possibly object to a partner either having affairs or going to people in the sex industries,” she suggests.
Neither sound like great solutions - either you have sex when you don’t want to or you let your partner have affairs?
“Well if you’re not interested in sex, why are you bothered? If you’re simply not interested in sex, it’s irrelevant isn’t it?” Hakim responds.
She tries to tell me it’s like tennis: “It’s a bit like saying ‘I don’t want to play tennis, but I have the right to object to someone else playing tennis.’ That doesn’t make sense to me at all as a statement. I don’t like playing tennis but I don’t see why I should object to someone else playing tennis.”
But sex is a lot more intimate and personal than playing tennis, I proffer.
Hakim tells me that that's just the female point of view, and I’m reminded of conversations I’ve had with women of my mother’s generation who weren’t able to understand the outrage of me and my peers upon sexism we’ve encountered.
“Surveys across Europe show two thirds of men accept the idea of sexuality without love, and two thirds of women insist that love is a precondition for sexuality, and that is as opposite a perspective as you can get,” she insists.
“For men, sex is about sex. For women, it has to be about love.”
Knowing plenty of women for whom sex has often been purely about sex, I don't wholly agree, but I leave it.
One of the most shocking things Hakim says in our interview is that she extends this argument to rape too: “Feminists argue that all sexual assault and harassment is about power and not about sex. I say it’s all about sex. All of it. Basically, it’s men exerting their physical strength in order to get the sex they want.
“Some of them are loners and therefore don’t have a sexual partner, and some of them have a partner who is not giving them enough sex as they think that they have a right to.”
Wait a minute, so men are sexually assaulting and raping women because they’re not getting enough action from their partners (or anyone else for that matter) and are sexually frustrated?
Hakim cites China as an example of where a male sex deficit (due to the one-child policy and preference for sons) led to a rise in sexual violence and harassment.
She believes the solution is to decriminalise the sex industry: “Then men pay for their extra surplus sex and they can get it.”
According to Hakim, we as a society are too moralistic about monogamy when it comes to heterosexual relationships, “but not about gay sex.”
“Promiscuity in the gay community and going off for sex with other partners is accepted,” she says.
But if so many problems are caused by men and women having differing sex drives, perhaps gay and lesbian couples are much better matched, I suggest.
Hakim agrees, but she maintains that women are less interested in sex than men.
“Lesbians have less sex than heterosexuals; gay men have more sex than heterosexuals. Lesbians seem to be a sex-free zone, as far as I can tell [...] Long-term, their relationships are largely about emotional intimacy more than anything else, whereas for gay men, sex is always obvious.”
I can already imagine the rage building up in my lesbian friends at the assertion.
Before my conversation with Hakim, I was ready to be enraged too, and yet some of her arguments do make sense. I couldn’t help but feel a bit depressed by it all though.
Does Hakim think women should put out for their partners when they don’t want to?
“Look, sex isn’t a bad thing. It’s not exactly BDSM. It’s not exactly accepting a beating from your partner when you don’t want one. It’s not exactly being made to clean the house for a second time because he’s obsessed with cleanliness.
“Sex is actually a pleasurable thing. The idea that a partner imposing sex on you is a bad thing to me seems utterly ridiculous. They may be a good lover or a bad lover but it’s not totally unenjoyable, unless you’re really pig-headed about it.”
It seems astounding that Hakim doesn’t see anything wrong with someone - man or woman - imposing sex on their partner.
She believes that if one person in a relationship has a stronger libido than the other, the latter should think of it like an exchange: “It could be something else that you like – going out more often, having dinner out more often, a new dress every month, anything.
“In any relationship, you sort out a compromise that gives something to both parties.”
The idea may make you want to fire off a series of furious tweets, or you may just be nodding your head in agreement.
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