In an unprecedented torrent of unhappiness that has surprised and saddened her, more than 60,000 women have written columnist Ann Landers to say emphatically that they far prefer being hugged and treated tenderly by men to having sexual intercourse with them.
"It makes me unhappy that there are so many unfulfilled women out there who have really given up," said Landers. Her personal advice column, syndicated worldwide in more than 1,000 papers, including The Washington Post, has 70 million readers.
In her Tuesday column appearing on Page C11 of the Style section , Landers reports the results of a Nov. 4 column in which she asked women readers to respond "Yes" or "No" to this question: "Would you be content to be held close and treated tenderly, and forget about 'the act?' "
More than 90,000 women responded, and 72 percent declared "Yes."
Landers' office at the Chicago Sun-Times is heaped with piles of post cards and letters from the poll. "I was surprised at such a tremendous response, and at how many women were so angry they felt compelled to write three- and four-page letters. All I asked was 'Yes' or 'No' and how old are you."
Landers, whose real name is Eppie Lederer, said the survey results "have serious sociological implications. It means a tremendous number of women out there are not enjoying sex. They feel exploited and used.
"Because I've been in this work so long her column will mark its 30th year next October , I was not surprised that a majority of women said 'Yes,' they would settle for cuddling, touching, warm words, tenderness. But I was surprised that it was 72 percent. And I was surprised that 40 percent of them were under 40.
"You would think some women in their fifties to seventies have had enough sex. Many of them have written over the years to say they've had it, because it's a burden, a bore, no satisfaction . . . nothing comes back to them, not even a kind word. Many women out there feel this way, but I usually get it from the older women.
"But in this so-called enlightened age, with liberated womanhood -- that I am hearing this in 1985 is pretty startling. It says something very unflattering about the men in this country. It says men are selfish. They want theirs. They're takers, not particularly interested in being givers. They're getting their satisfaction, and they don't particularly care whether or not their lover or wife is getting anything out of it."
Landers, who has received numerous honorary degrees and citations for her levelheaded and pithy advice to people with problems, said she thinks the problem in America's bedrooms may be partly the fault of women who "do not tell him what she wants, what she needs, what she likes and doesn't like.
"For example, here's a guy who's been driving a truck all day and he comes to bed looking for romance and he smells like a goat. She could say, 'Look, George, it would be wonderful if you'd take a shower before you came to bed!' But some women don't say anything. They're what I call silent sufferers.
"From beginning to end, she should say, 'Just don't hop right to it . . . how about a little foreplay, a little romance, or a little more of this or that.' Or, 'I like this or let's have more of that, and let's not be in such a hurry . . . Let's take some more time with this, so it will really be what it should be.'
"She could lead him along those lines instead of just being a martyr, and letting herself be used this way, night after night and not saying anything about it, just gritting her teeth and bearing it.
"Of course, some men are totally deaf when it comes to these suggestions. They don't care to hear anything. They don't want any help along those lines because to them it's almost an animal act, a physical release, and there is not a lot of romance connected to sexual intercourse. It's just something you do and get it over with. It takes the edge off, so to speak."
"It's like sneezing. I call this a physical exercise. Some of the sexual climaxes that males get are about as important as a sneeze, but there's nothing going on between the partners. There's no mutuality of satisfaction. There's no shared joy. To the American male, I would say, 'Listen to what your woman is trying to say to you. Encourage her to tell you how she feels.' "
Landers warned women against using deception to avoid an unpleasant showdown caused by candor. "A man can't fake it. But a woman can, and a lot of them do because they don't want to hurt the guy's feelings, they don't want to make the husband feel he's not hacking it, that he's not adequate. And I say to these women, 'Stop faking it!'
"Tell him what you want, that you're not getting anything out of this. Because if you continue to fake it, you're never going to get anything out of it. Just say, 'Nothing's happening, and if you really want me to enjoy this, let's work together on it. Let's tell each other what we like and don't like.' If there are any serious problems . . . there are sex therapists around who can help these people."
Landers, who likely has been privy to every boudoir secret, complaint and excuse known to humans, instinctively favors women in matters of sexual conflict. "How do you like this?" she demanded of the man who was interviewing her, as she quoted from a letter sent by a 17-year-old girl: " 'Although I'm only 17, I've seen an awful lot of guys already who want nothing more than just to get theirs.' At 17, she's decided already that she'd settle for just a few kind words and a little lovely conversation.
"Here's another one: 'My husband is a physician. Wouldn't you think he'd know enough about a woman's body so he could . . . give her some satisfaction? What I am saying is, Ann, he should know where that spot is. Apparently all of his years at medical school didn't teach him.' "
When the interviewer offered the implausible excuse that perhaps the physician didn't know as much as one might assume, Landers put the letter down in exasperation.
"This has nothing to do with being a Romeo -- this is anatomical. He knows, but he doesn't care. He's just interested in getting his. That's what these women are saying.
"This woman is married to a doctor who, because of his knowledge of the anatomical structure of a woman, should know. And of course he does know . But he doesn't care to look for it, or he doesn't care to recognize that it's there. It's sad because so many people are getting shortchanged, particularly the women.
"And the men are, too, in a very important way. I don't know how a man could really enjoy sex if he's just experiencing a momentary pleasure and getting none of that emotional stuff back. How good can it be?"
Landers said she received "thousands" of long letters. "This shows us a lot of pent-up rage out there. Through the years, people have written and said their sex life is lousy, this and that. But now I'm giving them a chance, doing a survey, and boy, they want to be in on it. They want to speak their piece. That's who I've heard from."
And then there are the 28 percent of Landers' women readers who answered "No" in the survey. What does the columnist make of them?
These are women who have decided " 'I'm not settling for less than the best,' " declared Landers. "They say this to me: 'I have learned that I don't have to settle, I shouldn't settle, and I'm not settling.' Many have said that. For example, I had one 91-year-old woman. She was from Cleveland. And you know what she said? She said, 'No, I won't settle. Nothing doing.' And she's 91 years old."
The massive outpouring overwhelmed Landers' office, which normally receives 1,000 letters a day, of which about 350 are requests for brochures and pamphlets. This response rivals that triggered by a 1975 column that asked readers to take a stand on childbearing. Landers was deluged with parental complaints about what ingrates their children, for whom they had sacrificed so much, had grown up to become.
Landers' all-time largest response was in 1971, when an astonishing 1 million readers sent telegrams and letters to President Nixon and Congress urging a national crusade against cancer. The columnist, now 66, says, "That was the most effective thing I have ever done in my life. It was certainly the most useful, because we got the National Cancer Act."
But for now, Landers is concerned with the women in this survey who have written, sometimes in wrenching detail, of their inability to find sexual satisfaction.
"When I'm getting this kind of response, and when 40 percent of the 72 percent who said they'll just settle for a few kind words and cuddling and touching are 40 years of age or less . . . this is what surprises me. This is 1985! And this number of women are willing to settle for practically no sexual intercourse. It says something about what is going on in the bedrooms of America.
"I don't let myself get devastated or depressed. Or fighting mad. Because if I did, I wouldn't be a trustee at a Chicago medical foundation, I would be a patient. So, in order to be effective, I have to keep my head together, be objective about it, and say, 'Look, this is the way it is.' It's terrible. It's sad. It's depressing. But I can't let it get to me to the point where I can't function.
"They respond. They tell me how they feel, whether it's 'Yes' or 'No,' or good or bad. I invited them to participate."