SEX IN THE 21st CENTURY; Starting Today, a Major New Series in the Mail Examines the True Cost of the Sexual Revolution and Its Impact on Modern Women. Based on Thousands of Interviews and Expert Analysis, It Offers a Disturbing Insight into Our Sexual Behaviour. Today, the Myth of Perfect Sex

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IT'S BEEN hailed as one of the greatest liberating influences of modern times; an unstoppable movement that would finally set women free and create true equality. But just how liberating has the sexual revolution really been? What IS the truth about sex in the 21st century? In a groundbreaking series, the Mail has interviewed thousands of women, talked to experts, psychologists and counsellors, and commissioned a major survey by independent pollsters.Their findings make devastating reading. For the sexual revolution that promised so much has brought with it overwhelming pressures on women, a disturbing emasculation of men, an explosion in the darker side of sexuality, and, ironically, more loneliness than ever before. It's a series no woman - or man - can afford to ignore.Today, in part one, we examine the myth of perfect sex ...

THE PRECIPITATE collapse of Sarah's marriage came as a bombshell to everyone who knew her. She was the epitome of a successful working wife and mother, and when it emerged she'd had a wild affair with a work colleague, her friends thought she had taken leave of her senses.

Later, Sarah would say, this was precisely what had happened.

But when her devoted husband of ten years discovered her betrayal, her pleas that she had been seized by a momentary madness fell on deaf ears.

So distraught was he that he left the family home that day and has not been able to bring himself to speak to his wife since.

In cold statistical terms, Sarah was simply one more digit to be added to the soaring numbers of broken marriages and relationships that have become a defining feature of our national life.

Yet to the friends to whom Sarah turned for help in the agony of loneliness that swiftly engulfed her, it became apparent that she was a typical victim of the new sexual tyranny; that she had succumbed to a syndrome that is influencing more and more lives - often with tragic results.

Like most women, she faced a daily barrage of coarse imagery and suggestion from magazines, through films and television, even the drugs industry, that happiness was contingent upon having cataclysmic, transcendental sex.

That wasn't happening at home - so she sought it elsewhere, with devastating consequences.

There exists in Britain today a flourishing industry that exploits women by creating a sexual and emotional ideal which is all but impossible to live up to.

Crucial to this ruthlessly peddled marketing policy is the idea that everyone else is having great sex, and that only by having great sex themselves can women be happy.

Without it, they are somehow incomplete.

For many, this is the dark side of the sexual revolution. Women were promised that the expression of their sexuality would set them free.

But has the clamour for perfect sex - with, of course, the perfect man - simply become just another form of oppression?

Denise Knowles is a counsellor and sex therapist with Relate.

'Women's expectations have been raised enormously - and increased the potential for dissatisfaction,' she says.

'Sex is not about procreation any more; it's all about pleasure. But the reality is that there are many women who aren't having great sex. So when they read the latest article on 101 ways to have fantastic sex, they feel depressed.

'Then, if they feel their partner isn't making the effort, they may well go out and find someone who will. There certainly seems to be a rise in adultery among women, and sex is one of the reasons that women have affairs.

'But there is a downside to this freedom, in that you're always looking around for the next fix.

Often, women get a sense that they're missing out and that the grass is greener, when, in fact, what they want is right under their nose.

'In my view this is potentially very dangerous for relationships, and it's come about through the myth that we can have it all. …