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.