On his website, Fry posted a long, funny, and often self-effacing rant about how the media twisted his words. By way of setting the record straight, he says:
Much as you may wish to think me a compound of the most misogynistic, ignorant, sexist and antediluvian pig who ever trod the planet I can truly report that I know and love enough women to be quite assured of the fact that women do indeed enjoy sex. I would have to ignore evolution, precedent, personal experience and the empirical observation of vibrator sales and teenage pregnancies and all kinds of obvious and unavoidable facts in between to believe anything else.
This passage had me ready to hear Fry out. So how did we all get the idea that he'd said basically the opposite? Here's Fry's account of the Attitude interview — which he at the time thought was just an informal "conversation" — that kicked it all off:
At some point we chatted about gay sexuality – well, you would wouldn't you, for a gay magazine? – and as part of that conversation I repeated the old canard about how men, unlike women, were cursed with their uniquely pressing and annoying libidos. Straight men I have known have often (of course mostly in a kind of bitter jest) said how much they envied gay people the simplicity of their erotic lifestyles (cottaging and cruising and so on) and I vamped for a while on that theme. I do not believe it as some kind of eternal gender truth, I was simply taking a thought for a walk, I was "playing gracefully with ideas" to repeat Oscar's great phrase, or at least attempting to do so. But the important thing to remember is that the subject was not straight female sexuality, but gay male sexuality. It's the only sexuality of which I have direct experience and how could I presume to speak of any other?
Does Stephen Fry believe women don't like sex? He makes a pretty convincing case that this is not his belief. Did he, however, trot out some old stereotypes about men's and women's sex drives as part of "taking a thought for a walk" in a conversation he never thought would be published? Quite possibly. Was he just mentioning them as stereotypes and not as his own observations? Even from his post, it's kind of hard to tell. One thing's clear — he was talking the way people talk when they think no one's listening — but, oops, people were.
Fry acknowledges that he'll probably keep putting his foot in his mouth. After faux-promising to "pretend you're a politician and only say things after weighing all the consequences and potential offence caused," he says, "Let's be honest [...] I'm probably doomed to lurch from embarrassing moment to embarrassing moment for the rest of my life. Heigh ho." And, let's be honest, it's kind of hard to stay mad at Stephen Fry. Even when he's being sort of self-justifying and anti-media in the way that celebrities so often are, he's disarmingly self-deprecating and funny. These, of course, are the qualities that made everyone love him so much — and that made them especially sad when he said something dumb and offensive. Luckily, they're also the qualities that will probably make people quick to forgive.
The Whole Silly Stick … [Stephen Fry]