If reader response is a good measure, then Ann Landers has hit the jackpot with a question she posed to female readers: "Would you be content to be held close and treated tenderly and forget about 'the act'?" She got more than 90,000 replies, with 72 percent of her readers saying they would be just as content with tenderness, rather than sexual intercourse. Some 40 percent of those who said yes were under 40.

"Men are not cutting it," she told People magazine. "The quality of lovemaking in this country is pretty sad. I hope this will help the men of America shape up."

It is fairly axiomatic in the newspaper business that you get more mail from people who are dissatisfied than from those who are satisfied, but even with that caveat, a 72 percent disapproval rating is astoundingly high. And the sheer number of responses is staggering when you consider that most leading national telephone polls are based on samples of about 1,500 people. The inescapable conclusion from the response is that most American females are finding sex, in and out of marriage, tedious and boring, a duty that has to be performed, which gives them little or no pleasure.

Landers says she has received more responses to this question than any she has ever posed to her readers, with the exception of a question about the possibility of nuclear war. In a subsequent interview with The Washington Post she also blamed women for this sad state of affairs, faulting them for being "silent sufferers." This, I submit, is a much fairer approach to the situation than simply blaming men. After all, it takes two to tango.

American men and women are products of a society that for generations has had terrible problems coping with sex. There were some generations that pretended it didn't exist and raised the next generation in the belief that they had come from cabbages and storks. Whatever men learned about sex they learned on the farm or in the military. Whatever women learned about it they learned from their husbands. That proved unsatisfactory, and the next thing we tried was the total demystification of sex. Books about sex automatically hit the best-seller list. Publishers have made fortunes off magazines selling sex. The pornography industry became big, big business. Cable television launched talk shows about sex. We became so preoccupied with sex we even had a revolution about it.

Apparently that didn't work, and we are still in trouble.

Big trouble.

There is always going to be a certain percentage of people who for physiological reasons have trouble being sexually satisfied, but current research seems to indicate that that percentage is relatively small. And there is always going to be a certain percentage of people who for psychological reasons having to do with the way they were brought up are also going to have problems achieving an emotionally, sexually satisfying relationship with a person of the opposite sex. But we are talking 72 percent here, which suggests something else may be at fault.

I have a friend who recently described flying as "a great feeling of abandonment, like you experience when you are making love to someone you really care about." With that, he touched on something we may have lost sight of in our current unrequited national search for satisfying sex. It is simply better with someone you love than someone you don't love.

But it is also better with someone you can talk to, and if 72 percent of Ann Landers' respondents are dissatisfied with their sex lives, there is a very good chance that they should share the blame. They have obviously been unable or unwilling to talk to their partners about sex and about what pleases them.

A great deal has been written in the past few years about the trouble between men and women and voluminous research has concluded that one of the biggest problems in marriages is failure to communicate between the sexes. This may very well be happening in the bedroom, as well as in the kitchen and understandably enough. American men have never enjoyed worldwide renown as great lovers, but in recent years they have been under increasing pressure to perform. Yet how many women have the kind of relationship with a man that allows them to even hint at possible improvements in their love-making abilities? And whose fault is that?

The next question Ann Landers ought to ask is of her male readers, and we may be quite astonished at the result. If women are as dissatisfied and bored with sex as they appear to be, there is a very good chance that their partners are, too.