By Polly Dunning- The Sydney Morning Herald
I am exhausted. Like many mums, since the birth of my second baby six months ago I have been barely managing to juggle the demands of a colicky infant, a rambunctious toddler, paid work, study, and running a household. I am stressed out and totally depleted.
Last week, shortly after I read this article I was having coffee with a girlfriend who is in a similar situation. Except she is also experiencing postnatal depression and anxiety. She has been seeing a therapist, who she really likes and who has helped her a lot, but when the conversation turned to sex the advice she was offered was rather surprising.
She was told to “just do it”, even when she doesn’t want to, and to fake enjoyment too.
This, she was told, is because sex is a fundamental emotional and physical need for men, and it is an act of kindness to give it to him.
It was not the first time that week I’d seen this advice offered. Talk of his “needs” and “just do it, you might enjoy it” was also happening on an online mums forum in response to a mum struggling to meet her own basic needs (like eating a whole meal or showering alone). And Jane Gilmore’s article, inspired by Germaine Greer’s latest offering, exposed the quite appalling but unsurprising way these attitudes towards sex can play out in relationships.
This idea that women, particularly those who are so exhausted their eyes are hanging out of their head, should have to submit to and even to perform enjoyment for their male partners is, frankly, disgusting. And it should never be offered as advice to anyone.
Sex is not a thing given by one person and received by the other. It is not a gift or kindness to bestow. Sex is a physical expression of mutual emotion and desire.
And here’s a radical statement: sex is not a need, it is a want. That’s why it’s called “desire”. Meeting one’s needs never, ever involves the use of another person’s body. If you “need” sexual gratification, but no one is currently interested in having sex with you, you are actually able of fulfilling that desire yourself. The internet may help you here if you’re stuck.
Why is it that we always expect women to do so much work in maintaining intimacy and emotional health in relationships? As if men are not responsible for making it happen or making it work because they have some sort of emotional dysfunction. Rubbish.
In my experience, men are actually not wanton beasts unable to manage their own urges and emotions. In fact, in my experience, men most certainly have the ability to be emotional and understanding, and to communicate in other ways as well as physical affection. They are also very capable of expressing their love and intimacy physically in ways other than intercourse. I think we really sell men short when we suggest that they have this kind of uncontrollable desire.
And what kind of man wants to have sex with his partner, whom he loves, when she does not want to? Do we really believe that men are so heartless and beastly that they do not care whether their partner is actually enthusiastically consenting and enjoying herself? Call me naive, but I simply refuse to believe that good men feel that entitled to their wife’s body.
But this view of sex in marriage seems to continue to pervade our culture; where women who spend their days giving emotionally and bodily to their children, and are nearly drained by it, are told to give their body again in acts of what has been dubbed “pity sex”, whether they desire it or not.
Enthusiastic consent needs to be the benchmark for all sex, and those purporting to support worn out new mothers should do more listening than lecturing. Who knows, if you help women find ways to recharge their own batteries, they may well discover they feel like having a whole lot more, truly desired, sex.