When I first saw the headline 'Just do it' sex call sparks women's fury', I braced myself for the big feminist tantrum I was sure I was about to throw. This article describes controversy over the book The Sex Diaries: Why Women Go Off Sex and Other Bedroom Battles, by sex researcher Bettina Arndt. In one chapter, apparently, the author argues that women should have sex with their husbands even when they don't feel like it. Needless to say, this proposal has irked feminists, who rightly point out that "After an evening of organising kids, dinner, the shopping, the washing, the homework, etc, maybe [women] are too tired to want sex."
I felt ambivalent about this, and it took me a while to work out why. When couples have kids, it's pretty common for their sex lives to dissolve pitifully into fond memories. That's because kids are friggin exhausting. And the exhaustion doesn't stop when little ones start sleeping through the night or stop wearing nappies. In the midst of family life, grown up time (sexual or otherwise) often just doesn't happen - it's possible for men and women alike to feel quite lonely.
This was my experience with our second child. The little blighter simply didn't sleep. He woke six times on a good night, and I'm not even going to tell you what the bad nights were like. The sleep deprivation eventually felt like torture, and for several months, my partner and I focused simply on surviving. Our first, desperate wish was for sleep. Second would have been some time for ourselves - a few moments in which we didn't feel utterly consumed by the cranky little cherub we'd brought into the world.
Kids are, for me at least, a tremendous joy - but the stress that family life poses, particularly for women, is very real. The thing that irks me about this book is that it just phrases people's (or men's) need for intimacy in terms of a crass battle of the sexes. Men want sex, women should give in: problem solved. I agree that couples with kids have to work to maintain intimacy of every sort, and that this can be hard, involving compromises. Underlying this problem is a much bigger one: the difficulty of raising kids in a society that doesn't always make family life easily, time-wise, financially or socially. Women putting out when we're tired isn't exactly going to cure this.
A grudging weekly shag falls well short of my ideal relationship, and I'd hope most men would have more nous than to mistake reluctant putting out for intimacy. Intimacy means a lot of things, including recognising and empathising when your partner is exhausted. I'd guess that most parents don't have as much grown up time as we'd like - that, sadly, is the way the world is. But, in my opinion, more intimacy can be achieved by talking about this stuff than by having half-arsed reluctant sex, or taking advice from a self-help book.