Category Manhood

That Wraps it Up

In the second century ad the physician Galen wrote: ‘The testicles are more important than the heart; the heart serves to keep us alive, the testicles to make us truly alive.’ Being ‘truly’ alive takes its toll. In that respect eunuchs were men without ballast. If one studies the operation of testosterone closely, one has the impression that it is a very cunning invention. The hormone drives one to fight, to be aggressive, and weak­ens the immune system. It seems as if men are doomed to have to prove how strong they are to women. They have to show in some way that the genetic material in their sperm is good quality. Partly because of that, testosterone leads to useless antlers, tail feathers that are yards long and in men to premature baldness.

The ‘noble’ parts are in my view ‘casual staff’. They must be treated properly or they inevitably down tools. Excessive alcohol consump­tion, smoking, anabolic steroids, intensive pursuit of sports (marathon runners almost invariably have poor seed and racing cyclists have numb genitals after a long ride), underpants that are too warm, tight jeans, frequent saunas and endless hours in a warm bath are things a man should avoid.

More and more frequently men become alarmed about imagined abnormalities in their genitals. Usually these are innocuous ailments. Even prostate cancer can be included among these in many cases.

Worshipped in ancient religions, then demonized by the Church fathers, secularized by learned anatomists and physiologists like Leonardo da Vinci, Reinier de Graaf and Anthony van Leeuwenhoek, and then for a while subjected to psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud: the ‘noble parts’ have been through quite a lot. After being praised to the skies by psychologists, abused by feminists and shamelessly exploited in pop culture, in the twenty-first century they are in danger of becoming totally medicalized. The erection and reproductive industries are developing apace. The ‘noble’ parts must not fail, the repeated resurrection of the flesh must continue to manifest itself. In cases where the reproductive mechanism fails there is support, as if it were perfectly normal. Darwin is defied, the human race can only become weaker, with debilitating ailments, en route for the end, the apocalypse.

Human suffering, bell-ringing, testicles, sperm, testosterone and testament are woven by poet Frederik Lucien de Laere into a harmo­nious, apocalyptic apotheosis entitled ‘Creation’:

It has been made, the testament.

The final testicle’s produced the final seed and testosterone has sired a bald head.

After each big bang millions of cells were hurled into space (cell shock, good God!)

They fought their way through the expansiveness in search of Columbus’s egg.

The pure globe shapes

once housed the origin

till the gong

boomed so loud

that it all blew up

and the dust of stars

spread across the heath,

the far and wide of the woman.

Now the emission has stopped it hangs there quietly, its peal of bells laid down by the music of the spheres.

The double flame

One thing is certain: sexuality, including sexual potency, is nature’s great engine, and reproduction constitutes the natural basis of our existence – there is no escaping and no denying it. So respect for sexuality, but also respect for the problems of the impotent man is called for. Many people cannot summon up that respect. The hatred for men who are unable to make full use of their genitalia has existed since time immemorial. Obviously little can be done about it, or about erectile dysfunction and infertility, since in many cases problems cannot be solved.

Growing old is often accompanied by an unpleasant physical decline, and that will probably always remain so. But in the twenty – first century we live in a society in which the healthy, vital, young, beautiful and potent body has become the yardstick. In fact the ideal of the body as ‘the eternally and efficiently functioning machine’ is based on suppression, not only in contemporary technological and information-based culture, but by ourselves, the suppression of the undeniable reality that each of us inhabits a body that is transient, that can break down, that can get ill and one day will die. So for many men it is often a great relief if for a change they can speak freely about feelings of impotence, fear of failure or apparent resignation – not only resignation about impotence but ultimate resignation in the face of death.

Besides the reproductive function of sex, with its help we human beings can reinforce our sense of ‘togetherness’. Sexual relations can revitalize us, and can bring relief where there are tensions. It is an excellent form of relaxation and recreation and apart from that it is better than a sleeping pill. Whether we actually experience it like that in practice, is another matter. More than many people think, our sexual experience is linked to an involvement, which may or may not be conscious, with the purpose of our existence; with being satisfied or otherwise with the role we are playing in this world and with the love with which we may or may not know or feel we are connected. More than we think, our sexual behaviour obeys obscure powers of which we are only vaguely, if at all, aware.

The Nobel Prize-winning Mexican poet and essayist Octavio Paz described in The Double Flame his view of the relationship between sexuality, reproduction, eroticism and love. The red of the flame stands, he believes, for the primitive instinct of sexuality, which we share with animals. Further inside the flame burns yellow: the play aspect of eroti­cism, which in every culture gives eroticism a human face. The centre of the flame burns transparent blue: there sexuality and eroticism are purified into the essentially human capacity for love.

According to Paz eroticism can free itself from sexuality. Flames change, they flicker. In this way eroticism diverts sexuality from its evolutionary goal, reproduction. But that change, that separation, is paradoxically at the same time a return. The human couple making love find their way to the sea of sex and are rocked by the endless, gentle waves. There they rediscover the innocence of wild animals. ‘Eroticism is a rhythm’ concludes Paz, ‘one of its chords is separation, the other is return, the journey back to reconciled nature. The erotic beyond is here, and it is this very moment. All women and all men have lived such moments; it is our share of paradise.’



The first sexologists were still heavily influenced by Victorian thinking. Havelock Ellis, an English doctor, was the first Victorian with a modern view of sexuality. He believed that a person’s attitude to sexuality was individually and culturally determined. This was something totally new, since in the preceding centuries, it had been assumed that sex was the same for everyone.

The contribution of Sigmund Freud will be familiar to many readers. He gave a name to the unconscious and classified the sexual components of our personality. Freud was one of the first doctors to listen to his patients, and was the first to point out how important it is for the patient to gain an insight into his or her own problems. Theodoor Hendrik van de Velde (1873-1937), a Dutch gynaecologist, made an important contribution to sexology. His international best­seller The Perfect Marriage (1926) is one of the most famous modern sex manuals, selling over a million copies. Van de Velde stressed the importance of sexual relations and an attitude of giving and taking. Unfortunately he limited his readers’ sexual experience by advocating that they should strive where possible for simultaneous orgasm – an over-romantic presentation of the facts. In that respect manuals some­times do more harm than good. For a long time Van de Velde remained a classic example of a prophet without honour in his own country, and it is not difficult to guess why. He wrote frankly about desire and sex, which, in those days at least, was not done. What’s more he ran off with one of his patients, a married woman eight years his junior – another no-no.

In America it was Robert Latou Dickinson who did ground­breaking work, also with women. For example, he examined the vagina with the aid of a glass tube in the shape of a penis, through which a lamp could be shone. This allowed him to observe the interior of the vagina directly, and this aid was refined by later researchers.

Alfred Kinsey, who had trained as a zoologist, did mainly large- scale quantitative research into human sexuality. Though many ‘case histories’ had been written, especially by Freudians, no one had ever used large samples. Certain sexual practices today regarded as perfectly normal were considered ‘deviant’ by the Freudians. Kinsey demon­strated that much ‘abnormal’ sexual behaviour, for example homo­sexuality, is in fact quite normal.

William Masters (1915-2001) and Virginia Johnson (1925-) were the founders of modern sexology, a typical interdisciplinary science. They had the courage to observe and measure sexual responses in the same way that physiologists had studied respiration or digestion. Masters determined at the outset of his scientific work that he would collaborate with a woman since he as a man would never be able to understand how a woman experiences sexuality. This was a brilliant idea. In the treatment of men with erection problems, the reverse may be true: only men can fully understand what a man feels in such a case. Masters and Johnson achieved overnight fame when they published their first book, Human Sexual Inadequacy (1966). ‘Older couples can enjoy a healthy, normal sex life, at least well into their eighties,’ wrote Time, and there was a general chorus of approval from the media.

Masters and Johnson’s idea was that a couple where the man had erection problems, should spend more time together, say on two evenings a week. On one evening it was the man’s responsibility to create the right mood, and on the other the woman’s, preferably with background music and tasty nibbles and dips. And then the couple, naked on the sofa, were supposed to stroke each other a little, though the man had to stay above the belt! The intention was to take sexual­ity out of the sphere of emotional rejection, the urge to perform and the fear of failure. In a number of cases the therapy proved effective. Prob­ably it was connected with what we used to call ‘tag-free’ in games of hide and seek: if you stood on a certain spot, you couldn’t be tagged. Some women felt ‘tag-free’ in this therapy since the rules of the exercise did not allow them to be touched below the belt. A bit of back rubbing, that was all – very primitive, in fact, but sometimes it worked.

If that didn’t help, one could do a course of therapy at the Masters and Johnson clinic. For the treatment of impotent bachelors they had secured the assistance of female volunteers, who were carefully chosen. The therapy had three main aims: the man must rid himself of his fear of failure, and of the habit of playing the observer and the woman must regain confidence in her man. These aims were to be achieved by means of emotional concentration exercises. Just as at home, the couples were not initially allowed to have intercourse, only stroking and caressing, so they had no need to fear failure. The man usually achieved an erec­tion after one or two of these sessions. At this stage the couple were still not allowed to have intercourse, but had to continue the pleasurable stroking until erections occurred regularly. Then the couples had to practise making the erection disappear and come back again. The idea was that the man should overcome his fear that if the erection disappeared during intercourse, it would not return at all. When the experts felt that the moment had come to tell the man to attempt to penetrate the vagina, the woman was instructed to kneel over her partner. She had to insert the penis into the vagina and make sure that at that stage she made no demands. If the erection disappeared she was to make the penis erect again with her hand. This treatment by Masters and Johnson proved successful with over 6o per cent of men.

Their treatment methods came in for their fair share of criticism. One of the objections was that the human aspects of sexual intercourse were neglected. In the view of the critics Masters and Johnson saw coitus too much as a kind of mechanical process of stimulation and responses. They were accused of paying insufficient attention to the spiritual element in human sexual experience. Yet for all the criticism these two sexologists retain their reputation as pioneers in their field.

As regards scientific research into erection problems, Erick Janssen made a significant contribution in 1995, distinguishing between the reflex erection and the arbitrary psychogenic erection. The first type operates through the spinal column and results from touching or stimu­lation of the penis. The psychogenic erection originates in the brain and in response to visual impulses, erotic fantasies, etc. Scarcely any research had been done on how the two sorts of erection combine and interact. Janssen provided a research structure with which the inter­play could be studied. Men with ed were exposed to physical and visual erotic stimuli, separately or in combination. For physical stimulation he used a ring-shaped vibrator that could be slid over the penis. The visual stimuli consisted of erotic film clips. It was found that with test subjects whose ed had been diagnosed in the old way as probably psychological in nature, the purely physical stimulus of the vibrator scarcely resulted in an erection. If the men simultaneously watched an erotic film, an erection was achieved much more easily – as if concerns about one’s own sexual functioning affected mainly the reflex erection. When the erotic film was added, these concerns could obviously be suppressed and the physical experience – the vibration of the penis – could be placed more in a sexual context.

The fact that negative experiences or sexual worries can impede the achieving of an erection was shown by the following. If the impotent men were asked while watching the erotic film to do mental arithmetic or to watch a Tom and Jerry cartoon, the erection achieved turned out to be stronger. Mental arithmetic and cartoon mice can obviously reduce erection problems!

In addition Janssen believes that, in contrast to what is claimed, fear of failure is not a cause of impotence. Research shows that this claim by no means always holds good. For example, a number of test subjects were asked to achieve an erection within two minutes, or they would be given an electric shock. ‘The shocks were never given,’ said Janssen, ‘but the threat did increase sexual arousal. And when you go to bed with someone for the first time, in theory it ought not to succeed. But at a time like that you think of only one thing, and in most cases it works out ok.’

Years ago, in an interview entitled ‘Good conversation and a sex film deal with erection problems’, a now retired professor of sexology, Koos Slob (1940), gave his urology-unfriendly view: ‘Modern diag­nostic techniques are so sensitive that if you or I go to the urologist some abnormality or other will always be found. But whether it will actually cause any problems is highly doubtful.’ After which the inter­viewer remarks that Slob never gives his car a ‘major service’, but only has essentials like tyres and brakes checked. . .

Not only in this interview but also in his inaugural lecture Slob em­phasized his view that in most men with erection problems the cause is psychological. All in the mind, as it were! His nuanced view, however, made him sometimes see virtue in a ‘minor’ urological service. It has long since ceased to be the case that urologists are wary of directly associating the genitalia with sex and eroticism. There is increasing interest in the influence of the psyche – call it the brain – on individual organs. Typical examples of this are the development of neurocardio­logy and neurourology.

Slob’s inaugural lecture opens in elegantly epigrammatic fashion:

The softness of our penis escapes our attention. Yet it’s just as well that most men have a limp penis for most of the time. We undervalue our genital softness not only because in a patriarchy so many phallic values are acquired, but also because all of us identify masculine energy and real masculinity with the vital­ity of a youthful male image. As we grow older the degree of hardness of our penis declines. Frightened as we are of our own mortality, we do not want to see our own genital softness and project it onto women, whom we find weak, and soft and vul­nerable – all signs of mortality, all qualities to be looked down on and denied. . . The undervaluation of genital softness and overvaluing of the phallus have made the world a dangerous place for men. The price of that undervaluation is the loss of an essential spiritual energy and strength. It is the energy and strength associated with the ‘Via Negativa’.

Of course these epigrams, with their echo of Lord Nelson’s blind eye to the telescope, have a seductive ring, but such airy notions cut no ice in daily urological practice, and Slob realizes that only too well. The fact remains that urologists and psychologists tend to think rather differ­ently about things. In his heyday a well-known sexologically orientated professor of psychology characterized urological involvement with erection problems as ‘plumbing work’. He was forgetting – and one can hardly hold it against him as a non-doctor – that urologists have the reputation of being the most intelligent of all surgical specialists (in other words: they are very bright plumbers). They earn well too – so is that perhaps the problem?

Almost a hundred years ago behaviourists helped prevent funda­mental research into the physical causes of ed from getting off the ground. After all, the problem was virtually always psychologically based. This view led to therapeutic nihilism and gave doctors little encouragement for further research. (‘You’re not twenty any more’.) Consequently, at the point where the first man walked on the moon, knowledge about erections did not extend beyond the fact that ‘cush­ions’ in the erectile tissue compartments in the penis might be able to retain blood.

In the past few decades much ground has been made up, especially since the introduction of Viagra. Scientists from different disciplines seized on the erection, and the same thing happened with male fertility problems. Yet modesty is still in order. Scientific findings reflect only a very small part of everyday reality, which is often so bitter. Writers and poets, major and minor, male and female, undoubtedly give a broader, more human view of reality. Ample evidence proves the truth of that statement. Erection problems and fertility disorders hurt less when writers, poets and philosophers reflect on them. In that way reading comes to resemble a form of mental surgery, in which one’s ‘suffering’ is placed in a broader perspective.

Computer sex

A professor of neuroanatomy at Groningen University is convinced that all sexual behaviour can be explained with the aid of brain scans and computer models. ‘As long as you programme computers properly, of course you can teach them to fuck,’ were his actual words. His statement testifies to an ancient and outdated view of mankind, the mechanistic vision of the Enlightenment. The professor’s ideas lead to a worldview in which man is seen as nothing more than tissue, cells, molecules, atoms, elementary particles, whose behaviour is laid down in natural laws. Everything that makes us human – cultures, values and standards – falls outside the hard natural sciences. For a true under­standing of human sexuality, the humanities are much more important, for example literary studies. In 1928 Bataille published the novella History of the Eye under a pseudonym. It is a gruesome book, which does not allow the reader to assume a voyeuristic role, but makes him, so to speak, complicit in a series of crimes. The book shows clearly that by breaking bounds sexuality turns into violence and from violence into death. Bataille calls orgasm le petit mort. In the little death there is a longing for the great death, the totally other, that might cancel out man’s dreadful existence. The central paradox is that man is only truly human in a desire that drives him to inhumanity.

Bataille spent a long time in psychoanalysis, which made him aware of the unconscious mechanisms that influence human thought processes. In his work Freud showed how associations often operated through the sound of words, and in the novella Bataille associates oeil (eye) with oeuf (egg). The identical initial sound ‘oe’ may have been the reason why he looked for similarities in meaning: eyes and eggs are round and white. In another associative leap he links eye and testicle. In the sentence where he makes the link he manages to make the two resemble each other in sound too. He speaks of ‘testicules’ and ‘globe oculaire’. The shared word cul means cunt or arse in French. Curiously, he goes on to make this a keyword, using it as a synonym for ‘cunt’. In so doing he links the anal and the genital, and a little further on eye, egg and urine. There follows a disturbing confusion of all bodily orifices and all types of fluids: eye – egg – testicle – breast – arse, which secrete tears – sperm – milk – shit – and urine. They can also be destroyed in all kinds of ways: dug out – broken – removed by castration – drunk – severed and deflowered. Because the egg equals the testicle, the female protagonist can satisfy her desire to castrate by crushing an egg be­tween her legs, and because the testicle equals the egg, she can eat the former raw instead of the latter, and because the eye equals the testicle she can stick the eye up her arse, etc. The characters produce a series of metaphors. For example, the woman rolls an egg across her vulva, later she sticks a bull’s testicle in her vagina and finally also a priest’s eye. All these acts are obscene parodies of ‘normal’ intercourse. Georges Bataille, like Sigmund Freud before him, demonstrates clearly that man is potentially a polymorphously perverse creature.


Erection, orgasm and reproduction form part of a long cycle, in which people partially fade into the background as they pass on their life to their descendants. In the last analysis we live not only for ourselves, but partly also for previous and succeeding generations. Seen in this light, intercourse, having an orgasm and fathering descendants is experiencing a thousand centuries in an instant. The most innovative presentation of the significance of all this was that of Georges Bataille (1897-1962), one of the founder-members of the Surrealist movement. In Bataille’s view mankind’s whole journey, from a monocellular micro­organism to Homo sapiens erectus, is actually an erection in itself. Yet he sees that erection as incomplete, since man’s eyes are parallel to the earth and are still not able to withstand the sight of their ultimate goal, the dazzling sun.

Bataille was obsessed by atheism, eroticism and mysticism. He engaged in psychoanalysis, economics, philosophy and sociology. He wrote poetry, novels, studies on ethnology, the visual arts and literature. God, sex and death remained his principal themes. In Visions of Excess Bataille explains that mankind’s mission will have been fulfilled when the pineal gland in the front of our forebrain opens and the content of the human body pours out in an ejaculation towards the sun. In his view this will be the logical conclusion of human evolution. The link that Bataille makes between the sun and sexuality is not totally ridiculous. When in spring the days grow longer and blossoms appear all over, many hearts beat faster. More sunshine has a particular effect on the brain: the production of melatonin, a hormone that inhibits sexuality, is reduced.

The twenty-first century

Unfortunately as far as ‘seduction’ is concerned the twenty-first century has begun as a time of confusion and there is no immediate sign of im­provement. Now male reluctance to show emotions has been over­come, the ‘new’ post-feminist woman turns out to have had enough of cotton wool. Men must again, as they have traditionally done, fight back their tears. There are no more certainties. There was always one aspect that supported men through difficult times. As a man you could always rely on it, and that put you beyond women’s reach: sex and love were never confused. Having sex and being in love at the same time was a kind of bonus. In most cases what young men experienced was an unbridled hunger for sex. Good sex, bad sex, emotionless one-night sex, it didn’t matter. The sole performance criterion was a single feeling: lust.

There has been an obvious sea change. Nowadays the young generation of women have sex for sex’s sake. Today’s young women are self-confident, assertive, promiscuous and brazen. After the sexual revolution, heralded by the pill, the waves of feminism and the achieve­ment of economic independence, for the time being woman, with her much greater social intelligence, still has the initiative. The man as hunter – those were the days. Women worldwide watched the tv hit Sex and the City in their thousands. Not only were viewers being presented with four highly educated single women, but the really revolutionary thing was the unbridled pursuit of a great deal of high – quality sex by pr executive Samantha Jones. Keep your wedding plans! Samantha prefers pleasure to love and is proud of it! True, this was a frequent component of many tv series and films in previous decades, but then it was always a male prerogative. The man’s role has shifted: from active to passive. Will it all come right in the end? I have my doubts!

Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695), a member of the Academie Frangaise and best known for his animal fables, also wrote much erotic poetry, including the following ‘Epigram’:

Let’s Love, let’s Fuck, these are pleasures That one must never separate;

Enjoyment and lust are rare treasures For the soul to cultivate.

A Prick, a Cunt, and two fond hearts Create sweet songs in many parts,

Which the holy wrongly blame.

Amaryllis, ponder this:

Love without sex is a paltry flame,

Sex without love is empty bliss.

The twenty-first century

chapter eleven

If he’s not in the mood

According to recent American research 40 per cent of men don’t feel much like sex and regard lovemaking with their partner as a duty, more work than play. It is no accident that the first self-help manual on this nettlish topic recently appeared in the United States. ‘Making sure you’re properly equipped’ plays an important part in it, but that is easier said than done. There is also a career to be worked at, a mort­gage to repay. Eating out and sports club membership are expensive, and you have to pay for all that.

It may also be that the man has gone off the idea because his wife has got a promotion and not only earns more but also works longer hours so that he has to ‘hold the fort’ at home. Or that the man loses his urge because they have to do it every Saturday night, when he’s tired. Only stands to reason, doesn’t it, after a hard week at work, people over on Saturday evening, when he has to get up early Sunday morning to go jogging with the guy next door?

The enlightened feminist Yvonne Kroonenberg (1951-) explains in her book Alles went behalve een vent (You Can Get Used to Anything Except a Man, 1990) why postmodern man may sometimes not be in the mood. In her view it is open to question whether men are that horny or whether they just say they are. She knows plenty of women who complain of the reverse. She tells Anke’s story. Anke is married to Henk, a heavily built, pleasant guy, who prefers playing about with his computer to playing about with his wife. They had been to doctors, so-called sexologists, who suspected obscure inhibitions in his sexual feelings. But Henk shrugged his shoulders and said:

An orgasm is nice, but it’s such a business getting there. I don’t enjoy just banging away at Anke, so to create a party atmos­phere, I need to stroke her and make sure she comes. Only then do I want to fuck and I don’t like the idea of going straight off to sleep afterwards, so we have a little afterplay. It’s all great fun, but not something for every day.

Another man tells the author that he has a big problem with ‘objectiv­ity’. When he’s with a woman, he observes himself. He sees his white buttocks going up and down and is always mortified. That’s why he’d rather stop altogether. . .

The fact remains, though, that women can also be partly respon­sible for the man’s erection problems. A slovenly appearance, bad breath and excessive hair growth are all factors that can lead to male impotence. The nineteenth-century doctor Smit, mentioned above, formulated the problem as follows:

A scolding, bad-tempered woman can make a man so cool that he loses the desire to fulfil his marital duties, and he gradually becomes incapable of intercourse with her. Revulsion at messi­ness, dislike of particular things, can extinguish the effect for particular people, sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly. Women and girls who do not keep their bodies clean, whose private parts exude a strong, unpleasant odour, or whose breath is bad, who neglect to wash their feet, particularly when they sweat heavily, etc. often become the objects of aversion and disgust. Someone who was keen to embrace a woman of pleasure, saw a louse running over her body, and immediately became impotent. Another heard a girl making water, and was forced to leave without finishing his business. With a third a feeling of embarrassment produced the same effect. He was in the full vigour of his youth, and fully prepared to enjoy a common whore. But the latter conceived the idea of checking her lovers’ health in advance, and wanted to see his manhood.

The young man, as yet unfamiliar with such behaviour, found it so strange that his vigour turned instantly to impotence.

If a man develops erection problems, for instance because he has lost his job or has learned that he is infertile, the key to the solution of the problem is the way his partner reacts. The modern view is that women are just as responsible for the success of intercourse as men. This contrasts with the beginning of the twentieth century, when sexologist Premsela wrote the following:

Sexually, every woman achieves what her husband makes of her. He – and he alone is her teacher in this. That education requires time and knowledge, and in the first instance time. I read somewhere that the honeymoon of the copper wedding in a good marriage is better than that of an ordinary wedding.

In this respect husband and wife are unequal partners and it is principally the man – the leader in the sexual relationship – who must take account of this fact. He must not jump the gun and must realize that he can only achieve results gradually.

Premsela is quite persuasive, but the reverse is equally true: sexually every man achieves what his wife is able to make of him. Several centuries ago the French surgeon Nicolas Venette (1633-1698) summarized the situation in a single sentence: ‘If a woman’s hand does not succeed in making the penis stiff, no other treatment will be successful. . .’.

The new impotence

In the early 1970s there was talk of the ‘new’ impotence. Partly because of advances in medical science in the preceding two decades the 1970s were to be the age in which the women’s movement would demand equal sexual rights. Women began making demands on intercourse. It wasn’t a matter of quantity as it had been for the Queen of Aragon (who demanded sex six times a day), but of quality. The annoying thing was that many men proved unable to cope and replied with impotence. The world gradually became feminized, and women started laying down the rules. Some men no longer knew what it meant to be a man, and became totally confused. Some of feminist demands were indeed baffling. One moment the man had to overpower the woman, but the next caress her tenderly. But, and here comes the crunch, the man had to intuit for himself when to adopt which strategy:

For that moment when they enter Ela, men feel in control, for it is their erection which excites her. That glory evaporates as they get busy deciding what tempo to follow, which parts of her body are most sensitive, how to use their muscles, weight, skin and memory to satisfy her, how long it takes her to come, how to time their orgasm to coincide with hers. They blank out their pleasure to concentrate on hers. They delay their sensations and carefully plan to start with a bit of finger and tongue.

This is how Greek-born feminist Eurydice Kamvisseli puts it in her novel F/32 (1990).

Like today’s liberated women, medieval witches, as previously men­tioned, were accused of causing impotence. They did it with a ligature. That is, the art of putting a knot in the lace of a man’s breeches which led the man to become impotent through a kind of transferable magic. Preferably it should be done at the time the marriage was celebrated. This involved the witch pronouncing a magic formula, after which the lace was hidden. At the same time the witch threw two coins over her shoulder, as a symbol of the disabled testes. The impotence continued until the unfortunate victim found the lace, failing which the impotence was permanent.

In the seventeenth century this ritual provoked such violent terror in certain areas of France that many couples had their marriage solemnized at night or in a neighbouring village, in order to avoid the knotting of the lace. The seventeenth-century Dutch poet and moralist Jacob Cats mentions in his Touchstone for the Wedding Ring how a certain Martin Guerre ‘was incapable for a full eight or nine years of paying his wife the due attentions; and that because of certain evil arts that in France are called the knotted lace’. Witches could also bring about impotence with the aid of magic potions, and could reverse the process in the same way, making them excellent sex therapists.

Undoubtedly the same applies to today’s liberated women: men badly need these modern witches! It is no longer the case that men are keener on sex than their female partners, or that women stare at the ceiling and make mental shopping lists during sex. Women want an orgasm, preferably two or three in succession, the way the women’s magazines promise them so temptingly. ‘And this is precisely when men are more and more often turning off in bed, and would sooner bury their head in a book than in her bosom,’ as a feminist once wrote.

In feminist confessional literature men generally take quite a beat­ing. The novelist Erica Jong, in her bestselling Fear of Flying, exorcizes her penis envy and emphasizes the fantastic qualities of the female genitalia in contrast. She turns a ‘spineless guy’ into a ‘spineless prick’, a cruel description she uses repeatedly. Erica maintains that she has been a feminist all her life, but her biggest problem is to reconcile her feminism with her insatiable hunger for male bodies, which proves far from easy. In addition it becomes increasingly clear that men are basically terrified of women, some secretly, others openly. What could be more poignant than an emancipated woman eye to eye with a limp prick. In her eyes the major issues of history pale beside the two essential facts: the eternal feminine and the eternal limp prick. A typical fragment:

The ultimate sexist put-down: the prick that lies down on the job. The ultimate weapon in the war between the sexes: the limp prick. The banner of the enemy’s encampment. The sym­bol of the apocalypse: the atomic warhead prick which self- destructs. That was the basic inequality which could never be righted: not that the male had a wonderful added attraction called a penis, but that the female had a wonderful all-weather cunt. Neither storm nor sleet nor dark of night could faze it. It was always there, always ready. Quite terrifying, when you think about it. No wonder that men hated women. No wonder they invented the myth of female inadequacy.

Erica Jong takes a very sharp and humourless view of male impotence. Not very cheering for a man – but then that probably was her intention.

As has been said, taking the initiative sexually is no longer the prerogative of the man. These days women make demands which their partner simply has to meet. Some direct their bedfellows as if they were football coaches: stroke me a bit more to the left, a bit harder, a bit softer, etc. In the past the man called the tune in bed, and the woman more or less complied, but today’s woman is not content for her partner to ejaculate after a few minutes and then roll over on his side. In the view of some experts women’s demands lead to ambivalence and uncertainty about male identity. Be that as it may, the fact remains that according to influential sexologists some men even today don’t like sex with the woman on top! Man’s sexual emancipation has only just begun!

The art of seduction

In our culture many men tend to ‘instrumentalize’ sexuality: they con­centrate on certain parts of the body rather than the whole woman. Women generally focus more on the man as a ‘person’, and the vast majority find it hard to give themselves unless they have been touched emotionally. One cannot say it often enough: in contrast to what men may think, most women are basically not that interested in the penis, not even in that of their sexual partner. No more than a third find the dimensions of the penis important and then, whatever men may think, what matters is the girth, not the length. The crucial thing is that the glans should be clean. Some women, whether lesbian or not, have long since replaced the penis with a pipette full of sperm. ‘Penis-centred’ men – known in sexological jargon as ‘pistils’ – do not interest them at all. Strangely enough, in the plant world pistils are female and stamens male!

Modern men are rather poor at seduction, at the ritual of courtship that precedes lovemaking. Going straight up to a woman and telling her you think she’s sexy, a turn-on, fit, etc., isn’t seduction. Nor is delug­ing her with love letters, phone calls, bunches of flowers or invitations to candlelit dinners. Nor are long walks on the beach, although it is beginning to look like it. In the 1990s a gay newspaper summed up the ideal (for gays?):

It is letting desire develop, like a slowly germinating plant, the seed of which was planted without anyone noticing. Then you cultivate that desire, water the plant, but ensure that there is still an edge of thirst. You let it grow, fertilize it, prune it and whisper sweet words to the emerging blossom, and all without the plant knowing. Then, when the day has arrived, the bud bursts open and the flower turns towards the light. And lo and behold: the plant comes towards you, it gyrates with pleasure on your windowsill and offers you everything that you could never have obtained by asking. That is real seduction.

The psychologist Erick Janssen asked both male and female test subjects to put a number of ‘separate’ components of a lovemaking session in what they considered to be the normal order: stroking of the breasts, removing underpants/panties, kissing, undoing bra, intercourse, fella­tio, etc. The replies of men and women, as expected, corresponded almost exactly. Next the subjects were asked to give the separate com­ponents a rating, indicating the degree of arousal per component. It was found that in men the degree of arousal ran in parallel with the ‘normal’ order (on which men and women were agreed). With the female test subjects, however, this was not the case: with components where in accordance with the ‘normal’ sequence they were expected to do something with the penis (take your pick), the arousal level plunged! It would appear that most women are really not that interested.

So is the penile erection redundant? No! Though one might almost be inclined to think so, especially when reading women’s magazines, according to which women have a distinct preference for men who are both empathetic and good listeners. They adore household chores and the children, while remaining sexually faithful and in bed are devoted to their wives. They have a natural aversion to porn and aggression, feel no need for power and attach no importance to winning or being proved right. In short: a pretty weird collection of qualities for the average man. The articles confirm the stereotypical image that women do not go for strong, potent men. Intercourse, they would have us believe, scores very low on the female list of priorities. The journalist Sarah Verroen believes that is all nonsense. She conducted her own tv survey on the ideal lover. Thirty women from the fields of art, science, journalism and prostitution were approached about taking part in this – it must be said, totally unrepresentative – mini-survey.

The results were striking. In answer to the question of what women found most satisfying sexually, 29 of the 30 women put a cross against ‘a good, hard fuck’, and one chose ‘extended lovemaking with lots of attention to my needs’, while no one found ‘vanilla sex’ appealing. 24 of the 30 wanted ‘bold, knows what he wants and what you want’, ‘dominant and a bit of a brute’ had five crosses against it, while ‘tender and completely focused on your desires’ was chosen by only one woman. Verroen decries the wishy-washy taste of vanilla sex and makes it clear that at least some women are in favour of making love with men with a firm erection, of the phallus with its male attributes of effective­ness, power and penetration. In her view eroticism exists by the grace of generosity: it is the smouldering flame that unexpectedly catches fire.