It's a fine line between erudite wit and irritating windbag, as Stephen Fry discovered this weekend. Some juicy and rather surprising quotes emerged from an interview he had given to
Attitude magazine: Amongst other musings, Fry expressed an apparent belief that women do not enjoy sex.
"I feel sorry for straight men," Fry said. "The only reason women will have sex with them is that sex is the price they are willing to pay for a relationship with a man, which is what they want. Of course, a lot of women will deny this, and say 'Oh no, but I love sex, I love it!' But do they go around having it the way that gay men do?"
Glossing over the question of what qualifies Fry to comment on female sexuality, one can't help but worry that the writer, performer and otherwise much loved national treasure's enthusiasm for new technology is not matched by a keenness for new ideas. Indeed, he seems to have bought in wholeheartedly to that old-as-the-hills chestnut that sex is bad for women.
It's something that most modern women (and a fair few old-fashioned ones, I suspect) will happily deny, but there remains a persistent nasty rumour that women of all ages continue to associate sex with a certain degree of guilt or shame, to wonder, when they do enjoy sex, whether they're doing something wrong, and - in some cases - to apologise for it.
I'll never forget an internet forum I read while researching my book on relationships, one of a million examples of this form of thinking. It was a talkboard for newlywed women, and, on one thread, users were discussing when they first slept with their now-husbands. Most admitted that it happened early in the relationship (often the first date) and all punctuated their anecdotes with self-criticisms like 'I was such a slut!' - despite the fact that the sex had ultimately led to marriage. In some circles, it still just does not do for a woman to admit that, yes, she does like sex.
One way to combat this, of course, is to deny that female sexuality should adhere to any old-school rules at all - by embracing it, often, with loads of different people. But this option isn't without its own problems. Having lots of sex is a perfectly fine choice for a woman to make, but it too can begin to feel oppressive, leaving us fretting over whether we've had enough partners, enough sex, indulged in enough deviant behaviour. It can all get rather tiresome, and detract from time that might be spent on more important questions: what do I like, what I am comfortable with, what am I uncomfortable with, what works and what doesn't with my partner?
Ultimately, whether we're claiming that women find men 'disgusting' or declaring that we all have insatiable sex drives, we are getting it wrong. The only way to understand female sexuality (or male sexuality, for that matter) is to acknowledge that it's impossible to describe with generalisations. The possibilities of how our urges manifest themselves (or don't manifest themselves) are infinite.
It's stupid to say that all women dislike sex; it's also stupid to say that all men just want to shag everything that moves. It's time for us all to stop buying in to these narrow, black and white ways of thinking and instead acknowledge the broad spectrum of sexuality that exist for both sexes - whatever their habits at bedtime.
On top of her role at Glamour.com, Jean Hannah Edelstein is also the author of Himglish and Femalese: Why Women Don't Get Why Men Don't Get Them. Check out her blog at www.jeanhannahedelstein.com