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!