Jane Graham: Stephen Fry got it wrong, but then all men do that
Stephen Fry has a list of achievements as long as your arm. Now he can add another impressive feat to his CV; with his assertion that women don’t really like sex, he’s made unlikely allies of rampant feminists and little Englanders, leaving both groups spluttering with rage at his comments.
Fry made a lot of uncharacteristically controversial remarks in his interview with gay lifestyle magazine Attitude this month (which he now says were taken out of context, though interviewer Paul Flynn insists he “delivered [his words] with certainty and it was clearly something he'd thought about”).
He said he felt sorry for straight men because they often feel their urgent passion ‘disgusts’ women. He pointed to the absence of straight ‘cruising areas’ as proof that women don’t really like sex and suggested ultimately that they only agree to it because it’s “the price they are willing to pay for a relationship”.
While the right-wing little Englanders are most incensed by Fry’s non-judgmental mention of gay cruising areas (he gives a special shout out to Hampstead Heath and ‘churchyards’, perhaps unsurprisingly, given his love of architecture), it’s this last point — the implication that women grant sex because it’s a ticket to domestic bliss — which has got feminist writers’ knickers in a twist. And as it does seem to draw a comparison with prostitution, they have a point.
Of course as the nation’s most beloved homosexual, Fry is not the most obvious expert on female sexuality, though it’s possible he believes his heterosexual friends are more honest with him when complaining about their girlfriends than they might be with a gang of straight men.
But having never had a relationship with a woman, Fry simply doesn’t understand the far more complex feelings we have about sex.
In some ways, he is right — women are far less likely to, as he puts it “go to Hampstead Heath and meet strangers to shag behind a bush”. Most women don’t get that pressing need to have sex — NOW! — that men sometimes experience (I often wonder, in an idle moment, if that’s a side-effect of having your genitals on the outside, while women’s are warmly and peacefully cocooned) and are thus less likely to make fools of themselves to secure it.
It may also be true that, for the same reason, women can’t properly empathise with male frustrations in this department and are unappreciative of the disappointment another ‘not tonight dear’ brings.
But most women value sexual intimacy highly and, it may surprise men to know, daydream swoonily for days about the moment the object of their affections will finally undo the buttons on their dress.
For us, sex is connected to the excitement of seduction and the promise of a real connection, which most of us hope will last beyond a night. It’s not ‘the price we pay’ for a relationship, it’s a crucial part of a good relationship.
I’m not convinced Fry was attacking women in the way some of his most vehement critics have assumed (his comments have seen him branded a woman-hater, a ‘heterophobic’ and even been compared to the excuses of a wife-beater).
An ex-celibate, he has always been sympathetic to those with an aversion to sex, once admitting the idea of ‘rubbing his wet slimy bits’ against another appalled him. It’s simply that this gay man doesn’t entirely get women. Then again, how many men do? And in all honesty, do we really want them to?