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Dangerous liaisons

Timandra Harkness stands up for passion and penetration

I have got nothing against a good wank. If I want to be certain that I'll come in five minutes and be asleep in 10, I am probably the best person for the job. (Any ex-partners reading this are already looking for the '40' that goes in front of the 'five'. Which is exactly my point.) There is a side of sex that is just about sensual pleasure and physical release, and that side can be most easily satisfied with nothing more than a vivid imagination and a non-staining lubricant. The problem is, that is only one side of sex. Whether you are doing it solo or with five other people, it's fine, it's good healthy recreation and probably a far better hobby for a woman in her sixties than knitting. But that's all it is. However many people are in the bed (or shower, or jacuzzi) it is still really sex for one: low risk, low contact, low passion.

I have had great sex with friends - and with complete strangers. I have also had great sex that was about power, about dominance and about proving I'm sexy and desirable. Why not? It's another form of human interaction. But it doesn't compare with making love to somebody for whom you feel 'hot passion'. Of course, having sex with somebody you feel passionate about is dangerous. It's likely to end one day with at least one person being hurt - somebody falls out of love or somebody dies, and the other one gets a broken heart. That's being human for you. You wish you were dead, you lose half a stone on the 'just got chucked' diet, you buy some waterproof mascara and carry on. 'Is it possible to love any human being without being torn limb from limb?', as Palinurus said. But what is the alternative? To live all the time in a tepid bath of half-emotions?

Traditionally, it is true that women were expected to want love and men to want sex, and that far too much of a woman's life depended on the state of her relationship. This has not always applied in practice, of course - my best friend is currently being pursued by several handsome Frenchmen who want to move to London and marry her. Is she happy? Not at all. 'I only wanted a snog!', she wails, as she prepares to break another heart.

But has the new openness about female sexuality brought real independence, or just shifted the focus from the emotional to the mechanically physical? Women have escaped from the kitchen only to be trapped in the bedroom. Out of the frying pan and into the coital alignment technique, you might say.

The answer to being 'too much into our emotions' is not to run away from those emotions. That is basically admitting you are at the mercy of your feelings: 'I don't want to love him too much, because if he ever left me my life would be over.' It's a sign not that you are in too deep, but that you haven't got much of a life. If you are afraid of your own feelings, you are inviting them to rule you.

Grow up! Teenagers let their emotions and their hormones rule their lives, but adults learn to cope with the deeps and highs of human feeling. A personal, emotional response is a poor guide if you are trying to build a suspension bridge or change the law, but in your personal life it is entirely right to be swept away on a wave of passion.

And young men, if you want to know what women want, don't read a book written by a man - don't read a book at all! Go to bed with a woman. Yes, yes, the clitoris is the woman's sex organ. Everybody knows that now. In fact, the only place in the world where men can't find the clitoris today is in stand-up comedy routines. But do you want to reduce sex to one organ each? Man - penis. Woman - clitoris.

I asked my mum what she thought was the sexiest bit of a man's body. 'The bit between his ears', she said. Fucking is something that happens between two whole people. I know Betty Dodson knows this, or she wouldn't be using words like 'having fun'. The strange thing is, having thrown off traditional repressive attitudes to sex, she seems to want to make new rules about what constitutes Good Sex.

I'm no Christian, and I have tried a few things not recommended in the Old Testament, but I like an old-fashioned penis-in-vagina session. If I just want an orgasm it's back to the vaseline and the imaginary fireman. If I want earthmoving intimacy, give me a real person.

As for 'dominance', 'male prowess', the cock as 'creator of my orgasms', all that stuff that comes with old-fashioned heterosexual intercourse - is it such a problem? Whatever games you play in the bedroom, nobody's forcing you to play them outside in the real world. If we start vetting our sexual fantasies for political correctness, we are getting a far worse deal than the Christian matrons of the Bible belt. 'Just lie back and think of equality.'

If we're all supposed to be so much better informed about sex, why is it assumed we can't tell fantasy from reality? On the first page of Allison's Awakening, one of the mucky books on my bedside shelf, the publishers warn that 'this book is a work of fiction. In real life, make sure you practise safe sex'. I should point out that our heroine, as well as having sex without a condom, is hung naked by her wrists from the mast of a yacht, but there is no warning against repeating this exploit at home.

So, ex-partners, I really don't mind that sex with you was a bit hit-and-miss when it came to the big O. I was much more interested in what happened between us - the closeness, the danger, the trust, the surprise. All the things I can't do on my own. And the greatest of these is passion.

By the way, one of you left your Joy of Sex under my bed.

Reproduced from LM issue 120, May 1999

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