Dr Ciara Kelly: Let's talk about sex - who is getting enough?
I'm often asked in surgery how much sex in a relationship is normal? And I give my stock reply; "There is no normal. There's just whatever you're happy with - be that twice a day or once a month - it's irrelevant. Unless you want more or less than your partner, which, of course, can be an issue. But provided you're on the same page, it doesn't matter how much that is." And largely I think that's true. Although I believe that relationships where sex has fallen off the agenda altogether can struggle to maintain intimacy.
I do suspect when people ask me that, though, it's because there is a mismatch in desire between them and they're trying to work out if they're the one who's normal, whatever that is.
It reminds me of that great scene from Annie Hall; where Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are in their respective shrinks' offices discussing their sex lives and they're both asked "How often do you have sex?" Annie replies "Oh, constantly - three times a week!", while Woody says, "Hardly ever - about three times a week!"
That's the perception; that men are always angling for sex while women are trying to wriggle out of it. However, I'm not sure that holds water. Far more women complain to me about their partner having no interest in sex, than men. And the number complaining isn't small. Now that could be because I'm a female GP, although studies suggest men feel better able to confide in female doctors than male ones. But this isn't just my impression.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz wrote recently in The Guardian how he'd spent the last four years analysing Google searches - what we actually look up on the internet as opposed to what we say we look up. Google searches can be done alone, in private, so they tell us what we actually think, feel and are worried about rather than what we aspire or pretend to be interested in. And it's very revealing. There are twice as many online searches for 'My boyfriend won't have sex with me' as for 'My girlfriend won't have sex with me'. And the word 'gay' is 10pc more likely to complete searches that begin with 'Is my husband...?' than the word 'cheating', indicating that far from women suspecting their man is constantly trying to score, they're more concerned that he's not.
While that doesn't prove anything either, it's food for thought. And it indicates that men aren't all as horny as hell while their womenfolk are grudging participants. It certainly means a far greater number of men are disinterested in sex than society would have you believe.
What interests me about this is how it makes people feel. I've spoken to rakes of women over the years who feel awful because their partner has no interest in sex - in part, because their own sexual needs aren't being met - but also in large part because the whole world is conspiring to tell them that men want sex day and night and when their man doesn't, they feel it's a reflection on them. The accepted notion that 'all men constantly want sex but my man doesn't want sex with me' creates insidious insecurity.
Perversely, because so many stereotypes exist about women trying to avoid or disliking sex, eg, the old 1970s' cliche where the wife says "I have a headache" and the husband says plaintively "but it's Saturday night!", many women feel there's something a bit wrong with them when they have a healthy sex drive. And that coupled with having to overcome societal programming about it being bad to be 'slutty' means many women don't really become sexually confident until their middle years - right when their partner's sex drive is waning...
Either way, there's a large cohort of women dissatisfied about the amount of sex they're getting and also feeling confused and rejected by their partner who's not interested. These women seem unaware that they aren't the only ones in this boat and I can only imagine the pressure that the men feel - being constantly told how horny they're supposed to be. I'm starting to feel it's a great unspoken truth - our sexual stereotypes are wide of the mark and I suspect very hard on both sexes. Lack of libido isn't a one-way street.