Sex is Not a Four-Letter Word – Women Talking (Part I)

If it is true that men think about sex more than women, it is also true that women talk about it more than men. Some women, Naim Attallah discovered, were even ready to discuss the delicate subject in interviews carried out over breakfast, as much as during lunch or dinner. Attallah had set out to assess the views of the women of our time by talking to 289 of them, often in intimate detail, about their careers and creativity, motherhood and marriage, love and sex. Love, it appeared, was not the whole existence of many and sex could often be a thing apart; some questioned the need for fidelity – “I cannot understand wives who set such store by it” – others the need for sex. “The old cliche is true,” one married woman told Attallah, “sex isn’t important until you are in a relationship where it is going wrong.”

Pamela Armstrong – Television presenter

I would like to see what would happen if women were conditioned to explore their sexuality. I would love to see what would happen if someone were to set up a brothel full of glorious, wonderful men. Both sexes are able to feel and explore their sexuality in all areas. You can have all kinds of different experiences within one relationship, or with other different relationships. Sexual needs are the same for men and women. The pursuit is pleasure. The pleasure, as far as I can understand it, is equal for both.

Caroline Huppert – French filmmaker

Women can divorce sex from love, like men. Even if lots of women don’t at the moment, it’s in the air and will come. I see it with the young women I work with: the more freedom one has, the more difficult it is not to separate the two.

Doris Saatchi – Art collector

It’s not that women in the past were ashamed to enjoy sex, but they felt embarrassed about admitting they enjoyed it. Now, of course, if you don’t enjoy sex there is something wrong with you and you embark on a 10-year course of therapy. The situation has gone totally mad the other way. It seems that not only are you supposed to enjoy sex, but you’re supposed to talk about how much you enjoy it. That I find tiresome, I must say.

Margaret Drabble – Novelist

If you have four or five or six or seven babies, then you begin to feel a bit worn out, whereas a man doesn’t. He may feel the financial burden, but he doesn’t feel quite the physical burden; so many women have been more wary about their physical commitment, and this has certainly restrained their sexuality to a degree where a lot of Victorian women genuinely were frigid. They just couldn’t face having sexual intercourse because they didn’t want to get pregnant again.

Soraya Khashoggi – Photographer, former wife of arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi

Sex is first of all a very visual thing. A man walks through the door, and I think, yes I would, no I wouldn’t. And any woman who says she doesn’t think that way, at least for a second, is a liar.

Tina Brown – Editor of Vanity Fair

I think we do exaggerate the importance of sex. The old cliche is true: sex isn’t important until you are in a relationship where it is going wrong. I underestimate its importance, perhaps, because I am actually very happy. Long periods of chastity are perfectly okay, particularly when you are working hard. I also think a promiscuous woman is very unlikely to be a happy woman. Women, of course, are much more aware of their sexuality now and can enjoy being single and having flings and get a lot out of it. But rabid promiscuity in a woman usually means she is desperate about something.

Barbara Cartland – Novelist

Sex is important to everybody but I think it’s been blown up into a thing that you must have and must do. People are told they must rush into bed and do peculiar things off the chandelier, which is a lot of rubbish. I was the best-selling author in America when the romantic era came in. I sold something like two million copies of every book I wrote. There was no competition. Then along came these romantic authors who were told to write just like Barbara Cartland with pornography. I know them well, they’re very sweet to me. They’re middle-class, middle-aged women. Half of them have never been kissed, let alone done those filthy things off the chandelier, but they’re told it’s what sells.

Nanette Newman – Actress, broadcaster

Perhaps all sex is a private fantasy.

Sister Camille D’Arienzo – Sister of Mercy, lecturer, journalist, commentator in the United States

Sex is not a subject to which I have devoted a lot of personal intellectual energy, since I am a celibate woman. I certainly suspect that many of our attitudes are attributable to conditioning. There seems to be little in our society that has said to the young men, generation after generation, that sexual relations are not a game, you don’t have the right to go around having sex with anybody, that doesn’t make you a man. That makes you something less than a man. Men, I believe, on the sexual level alone, learn the lesson that they don’t have to live with the consequences of their choices, that they don’t have to be responsible for their actions, that somebody else will carry the guilt, and the burden, and the disappointment, and possibly the child.

Emma Sergeant – Painter

A man has always liked challenge, and if it takes a long time to get a woman, he values her more. The man never values what he gets easily; this is the law of nature.

Jerry Hall – Model

I think men can have sex with anyone, with all sorts of girls, anyone. But women have to be in love to enjoy sex with a man. They have to be in love, otherwise it’s a bit revolting.

Marghanita Laski – Novelist and critic

There is a confusion between love and infatuation, between infatuation and sexual need. If you need a man, you need a man. Women who say they must be in love and so on really find the idea of sex rather disgusting and only when roused and prepared to have it and don’t recognize that they have these needs, and so, when they are aroused, they think this must be love. I think people confuse orgasm, which is sexual satisfaction, and sexual ecstasy, which is very rare. It happens two or three times in a life, just as ecstasy from music or anything else. You know the phrase people use nowadays, the earth moved. This is not something that happens every day of the week.

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