Bettina aren’t

If you don’t know who Bettina Arndt is, you’re probably better for it. Under the guise of being a ‘sex therapist’, she has spent the last several years telling women that they are obligated to lie down and think of England in order to save their marriages. Because she asked men about it.

Her thesis, in short, is that in long-lasting, monogamous relationships tend to lapse into sexless, miserable affairs, a situation caused entirely by women’s flagging libidos. Arndt has allegedly spent years interviewing thousands of red-blooded Australian men, and has found that serious relationships are populated by greying, disengorged automatons, grinding through the minutiae of life without any verve or élan in their sex lives.

Today, she was speaker at the Wheeler Centre, running her familiar line. Here are some of the killer quotes from the presentation:

“Life as a hot blooded heterosexual man isn’t much fun these days!”

“It means men are stuck with this endless negotiation.”

“The experience of many men is the experience of being ‘up against it’.”

“Many (non single) women go for years without spontaneous desire.”

“A ten minute bonk every now and again would be better than keeping the kitchen floor perfectly clean for him!”

“The world is full of women who feel absolutely entitled to shut up shop of they’re not interested.”

Notwithstanding the idea that women should be mopping floors if not kneeling on them, and that she persists in using the word ‘bonk’, getting stuck into this kind of retrograde nonsense is pretty low-hanging fruit, and to counter it is to dignify it beyond any merit it may earn.

Rather, there is a deeper problem, and it stems from the response to her (regular) statements, mainly in the Fairfax papers, that women owe it to their men, and themselves, to regularly perform the duty with no onus on the man to engage with her on an appropriate level.

The problem with all of this is that the stupidity of Arndt’s prescriptions makes it all too easy to be unthinkingly scornful. Just because her cure is ludicrous doesn’t mean her diagnosis is wrong. Of course the reprobates among us laud her suggestions that men simply DESERVE a nightly wristy. But she IS speaking with a great many men, and no doubt they ARE telling her that they feel dissatisfied. By bluntly mocking her ideas that it is entirely the woman’s fault makes no effort to interrogate the larger question of why she is hearing what she is hearing, and whether there is a need for a discussion around this.

I don’t find it hard to believe that many couples exist in relatively unfulfilling relationships. I do find it hard to believe that the male halves are doing everything right and simply deserve recompense. That said, I also reject the notion that there should be no negotiation in a relationship. I reject the notion that the woman’s desire for sex be the sole determining factor in that negotiation, just like Arndt’s critics claim that it should not be solely the man’s.

There is a drastically shifting sexual culture. Arndt’s generation barely knew what sex was when they married, based on the kind of taboo applied to it in post-war Australia. Since their children hit pubescence, there has been an explosion in the availability of sex, yet we still seem incapable of engaging in a sensible discussion about it on a large scale.

Arndt’s retrograde ramblings deserve a great deal of the opprobrium levelled at it, and her. But writing her off as a doddering, misogynistic crank is simply failing to think about what is certainly a serious social issue, and does no justice to those whom she genuinely, if misguidedly, wants to help.

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