Most alternatives to intercourse require some discussion. It is difficult to communicate consent or objection to sexual activity midstream. Communication over sexual pleasuring ideally takes place after sex, when a couple can compare notes on what worked and what to try next time. It requires a much higher level of trust and communication to discuss ways of sharing our sexual fantasies with a partner during physical sex play.

Sex is most rewarding for a woman in the romantic scenario of a new relationship. In the beginning a man’s obvious pleasure in having intercourse with her, gives the woman the emotional reassurance of being needed. Later on, sex becomes more routine. This is when couples need to invest in communication. Sex does not provide women with the same emotional reward that men get. Sex involves a woman giving pleasure.

A woman wants a man to invest in activities other than intercourse that bring some variety to a couple’s sex life. A man needs to think about how to make sex more varied by planning ahead. He also needs to invest in companionable time. For women, intimacy is much wider than sex. A woman feels that a man cares when he takes an interest in her concerns.

A more experienced man is cautious in suggesting sex play because he anticipates a woman’s disapproval. Rather than accept defeat, a man may take the initiative by exploring his lover’s body to see what she will allow him to do. Few women engage proactively on genital stimulation, so men get used to taking the initiative and they assume the responsibility is theirs.

A young man’s sexual needs overcome any timidity he may feel in asking for sex. But over time the woman’s body language becomes increasingly less welcoming and her boredom more evident. The couple stops having sex but they never discuss the situation. If a couple is not having sex, then a man needs to invest in asking a woman to explain how she feels. He needs to be willing to offer some of the things that she wants.

Couples don’t discuss the turn-ons and stimulation a woman needs for orgasm explicitly. A man looks for emotional acceptance through sex. He links his need to please a lover with her willingness to offer sex. If a woman says nothing, a man assumes she must have had an orgasm. Women will often stop a man who is stimulating her because she has had enough. Some men interpret this behaviour as a sign that a woman has been ‘satisfied’.

Sex is vitally important to men and so non-negotiable. As long as a woman is amenable to intercourse, a man assumes that she is happy, even if her behaviour indicates otherwise. By using silence, men can initiate sex by using affection or a couple’s routine as a lead in. They then indicate their displeasure when sex is not offered by using behaviours such as moodiness, grumpiness or perhaps abusiveness rather than explicit discussion. Men use emotional pressure on women to get their own way.

Many people struggle with being honest about their feelings and motives. We don’t want to admit our vulnerability and need for reassurance. We feel the only way to protect ourselves and retain some dignity is to go silent. Silence is a way of avoiding conflict but it becomes even more difficult to discuss sex because of the emotionally charged feelings involved.

It is part of men’s nature to take risk. Just as it’s part of women’s nature to avoid risk. Men are more likely to drink alcohol, gamble, seek out eroticism and do dangerous activities. Women can open up to others more easily because they have less to feel guilty about. A man doesn’t want a woman to control how he behaves or spends his time. A woman doesn’t want a man to control her body and what is done to it.

We tend to keep our private thoughts to ourselves. But over decades, issues arise and these need to be talked through otherwise resentments build up. Men learn that women will often defer to a stronger point of view. Women tend to suggest or request what they want because they cannot win a fist fight against a man. But men interpret women’s more conciliatory approach as a sign of weakness. Most couples resort to silence. A few are brave enough to seek help with developing more explicit forms of communication. Ultimately it’s easier for a man to look elsewhere if he’s not getting the sex he wants rather than invest effort in communication.

One man talked about this chasm as ‘My own Gulf war … 6 inches between us in the bed feels like 1,000 miles!’ (Bettina Arndt 2009)