When columunist Ann Landers published the results of her sex survey last week, she provided some fresh ammunition in the battle between the sexes and aroused the interest of sex researchers who are still attempting to explain why more than 60,000 American women prefer cuddling to "the act."
Experts label the one-question survey ("Would you be content to be held close and treated tenderly, and forget about 'the act?' ") unscientific. They point to the problem of "self-selection" -- polling only people who felt moved to respond -- and they find the columnist's methodology rather crude.
But the fact that 90,000 women bothered to answer is "a real outpouring," they say, although they note that the size of the response is "not as large as might be expected." But no one thinks the reaction uninteresting.
"We see the response as much less of a reaction to a sex question than as a reaction to a question about relationships and affection," says June Machover Reinisch, director of Indiana University's Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction. "Also, her question implies that the 'act' is unemotional . . . and it perpetuates the idea that sex is dirty, animalistic and a thing that males want and females don't want.
"Neither the question nor the answers indicate in any way that sex, including intercourse, is a great vehicle for communication, love, caring and emotion within a couple. It's like asking the question, 'When did you stop beating your wife?' It elicits a certain kind of response from a certain kind of person."
As for the woman who wrote in to complain that her husband "raped her five times a week," or the woman whose husband is now impotent as a result of his alcoholism, or the woman who complained that her boyfriend "never says a word" -- these women, Reinsich says, are "really expressing dissatisfaction with their relationships and partners and not with sex per se.
"Would they want these men to cuddle them?" she asks. "No, they would probably want new partners."
"It's important that Ann Landers does this," Reinisch says. "I'm not criticizing her, I just want people to understand what she did."
Part of the complaints expressed to Landers may also relate to other problems. "It doesn't surprise me at all that teen-age women would report dissatisfaction," says sociologist Ira Reiss, who does sex research at the Univeristy of Minnesota. "Teen-age men and teen-age women are just learning the sexual script; it takes time to learn how to satisfy each other."
The women who wrote to Ann Landers "are a very select group," Reiss says. "All of our evidence on marital intercourse suggests that rates are going up, that the proportion of intercourse which leads to orgasm for married women is higher, and all of that would indicate that women are getting more, not less, out of sexuality."
What the survey does show, however, are the sometimes very different sexual expectations held by men and women -- despite the much-heralded sexual revolution. "Perhaps the message from the Ann Landers survey might be this," says retired sociologist Clyde Martin, who cowrote the historic Kinsey Institute study on sexual behavior. "So much has been written about sexuality today, and yet I think that some of the fundamental differences between males and females are somewhat ignored."
Those differences were first suggested more than 30 years ago by the original Kinsey research on sexual behavior, Martin says, and since then they have been documented by the two Hite Reports, by the study of American Couples published in 1983, by sociologists Pepper Schwartz and Phillip Blumstein and by clinical researchers like Cornell University's Helen Singer Kaplan.
Most recently, Boston University biologist James Weinrich and his colleague Richard Pillard have described these differences as the Pink and Blue Sex Theory. "Our theory says that there are two kinds of sex drive, and both exist in men and women," Weinrich says.
The pink drive "is more closely identified with romance and pair bonding and holding someone close," he says. "The blue drive is more oriented to coitus." Pink describes the sexual response that occurs "with someone you feel more comfortable with and already know," while blue is the casual encounter or the one-night stand.
"In men, the blue is the drive and the pink is the response; for women it's the opposite," Weinrich says. "We like the theory because it's a good way of showing how men and women are the same at some fundamental level and how they are different."
Two examples of how blue and pink exist in society are the pornography industry and the romance novel market. "The pornography industry satisfies men's blue drive," Weinrich says. "Pornography is very repetitive and obvious, and it's incomprehensible to people who are not aroused by it."
Women buy a type of written pornography -- the romance novel. "It's very repetitive, very obvious and, like pornography, produced in mass quantities and incompehensible to people who aren't aroused by it," Weinrich says.
Men buy the visual pornography. Women purchase the written version. The gap, Weinrich says, is merely in the communication between the sexes.
"Men aren't the enemy and women aren't the enemy," says Shirley Zussman, director of the Association for Male Sexual Dysfunction in New York. "If these answers to Ann Landers are saying anything, it is probably that what we often ignore is that people need each other very much."