But, dating again after her divorce, self-confessed ‘prude’ Rosie Green decided it was time to find out. And, as our candid new columnist, she’ll be sharing all her discoveries every week
‘Green,’ laughs my friend B, choking on her rosé. ‘I’m not sure you’re qualified to write about sex. I’ve slept with more people on one holiday than you have in your entire lifetime.’
It’s true, I’m the world’s least likely sex columnist. If the planet was reliant on me to sow oats, there would undoubtedly be a porridge famine. Why? Well, until my marriage broke up two years ago, I spent 26 years in a monogamous relationship.
Right up until the age of 44, my sexual experience (apart from some forgettable teenage fumbles) was pretty much limited to one man. Which, given we are living in a time where sex is omnipresent, feels retrograde. And a bit, well, embarrassing.
I had my first kiss at 14 (at an inauspicious social club with Erasure playing in the background). Then I acquired a ‘serious’ boyfriend at 16 which resulted in some gratifying teenage experimentation. And then I fell for the sailing instructor on an American summer camp. (His sailor look, so alluring on Cape Cod, did not translate to the UK and I felt the flames of desire extinguish upon seeing his seersucker at Heathrow arrivals.) I had sex with him anyway. It was OK. (When we broke up he cut off his hair and posted me all his curls in a shoe box.)
Then, at 18, I met my husband at university. We borrowed each other’s highlighter pens and hung around each other’s halls of residence rooms. We fell in love, we had sex. And it was good. Uncomplicated by anxieties. We worked out the sexual shorthand to achieve satisfaction.
I laughed with my girlfriends that sex was like going to the gym – you sometimes had to make yourself do it, but you were always glad you did.
Once I started working in an office, I would tell my friends in the kitchen that a night where I had washed my hair and had sex made me feel like I was winning. Which is probably not how you should think about sex. But it’s the reality for lots of us.
So why am I telling you all this? Because when my marriage ended I suddenly found myself with the very real prospect of having sex with someone new.
The break-up with my husband was not something I planned for. Not something I wanted. I was blindsided by his decision and behaviour.
In the dying throes of our relationship the tables turned and I, for the first time, craved – really craved – the intimacy and connection sex gives. He declined.
Which made me feel next-level sh**. I felt like no one would ever want me again. It also made me reflect that perhaps my reluctance over the years might have left him feeling the same way. I had to admit that, thanks to children and tiredness and a degree of body anxiety, I slowly shut down erogenous zones. Sealing them off, like aristocrats do with rooms of a stately home they don’t have the time or energy to keep open.
But here I was, in my mid-40s, faced with a decision: I could either remain celibate forever, destined to live out my days surrounded by cats and daytime TV. Or I was going to enter into a new relationship. And have sex with someone new.
At first the thought was horrifying. Getting naked in front of an almost stranger? Exposing myself literally and emotionally? Would men be put off by my un-notched bedpost? I mean, had I even been doing things right? I had no way of knowing.
I have never even seen porn (unless you count the Porky’s films). I had also never been on a date (unless you count going to the cinema to see Mannequin in 1987 with Chris Molloy and, er, three of my mates). But after a year of singledom I started going on some. And after a few duds, I went on some where I actually fancied the man in front of me. And the post-dinner kisses fired up a desire that had been dormant for so long.
Now sex had become a real prospect. Which was thrilling and terrifying. Thrilling because, well… sex is, right? Terrifying because I felt so inexperienced. (Though I would like to point out that 26 years of regular sex did, in a way, make me very experienced.)
And then some dates turned into longer relationships and eventually I had sex.
‘What was it like the first time?’ asked all of my friends. Contrary to my worries it was very pleasant. More than pleasant. Great. Any worries about my body were dissolved by a few glasses of decent wine. The strangeness was reserved for the mornings, seeing unfamiliar shoulders in the bed, hearing unfamiliar breathing.
But I’d done it. I had overcome the obstacle of sex with someone who wasn’t ‘him’. And then, after that relationship fizzled out, I went on a string of fun dates. On one of these I met my boyfriend (aka The Viking – so named for his Scandi heritage, not because, as he says, ‘he’s big and horny’) and he said, ‘What do you like in bed?’ Calmly, without sniggering. Or embarrassment. He really wanted to know. In the same way he was interested in my food and wine preferences.
I was floored.
The truth was I didn’t really know what I liked. How could I have got to 46 without really knowing what I liked? Did I have any sexual fantasies?
Truth? Not really. I wasn’t just vanilla, I was flavourless. A bit of history: I’ve always been a bit of a prude. Why? Societal conditioning. To me sex was private, done in the bedroom, in semi-darkness, with minimal fuss and discussion.
Oh yes, I laughed with my girlfriends about penis beakers (google it, it’s not as rude as it sounds) and ‘bush maintenance’ (what are the 2021 expectations for down-there hair?), but talking about sex with the person I was having intercourse with? Nope.
Which is funny, because I’m relentlessly open about the things others would keep quiet about. I confess to having a car that’s essentially a skip on wheels. I own up to the fact I’m often looking for my phone while holding my phone.
But sex? Sex was taboo. Being openly desirous of it was what the girls who were desperate for attention did. It was what the girls who couldn’t get boyfriends did. When I was growing up, a sexual appetite was a sign of weakness and wantonness. To be the school bike was the ultimate slur. Slag, slut – they were the worst insults you could throw at a girl.
If you were girlfriend material, the one the boys wanted to love rather than discard like soiled goods after a few fumbles, then you needed to withhold sex. Be the gatekeeper of your vagina. Dangle it like a carrot, not ‘give’ yourself until you had extracted some kind of commitment in exchange.
Because all these thoughts lurk in many of our minds, a great deal of guilt and shame exists around our desire, with many women pushing it so deep down they can’t really let themselves go, can’t really enjoy it.
And isn’t that a tragedy? It’s one of life’s main pleasures. If not the main pleasure.
But, like with food, many of us have over-thought the enjoyment out of it.
Clinical psychologist Dr Karen Gurney, who specialises in therapy around sexual wellbeing and is the author of Mind The Gap: The Truth About Desire And How To Futureproof Your Sex Life, says: ‘I write a lot about how women are socialised not to be assertive, to put others’ needs above their own, and that also translates to sex. We are conditioned not to be overly sexual or sexually confident.’
Weirdly, though, Western society has consistently sent us the message that while being sexually free is dangerous, to be sexually desirable is good. To wit as a (fairly) innocent teenager I was happy to make myself look as hot as hell. I went clubbing in hot pants which consisted of less material than your average J Cloth, and paired them with a net mesh top and a Wonderbra. I noticed a similar contradiction when I worked with Britney Spears on a photo shoot once (pre-meltdown). She talked like a God-fearing, True Love Waits kind of girl, peppering her conversation with ‘gosh’ and ‘oh Lord’, yet wanted to strip off naked save for a tiny pair of silk knickers and some black gloves at the first opportunity. Hmm.
But back to the end of my marriage and the beginning of my sexual odyssey.
What did I want from a sexual relationship?
How was I to find out?
How could I start talking about it, communicate my desires and boundaries?
How could I find the words to say what I wanted, and overcome shyness and shame?
It’s not like the men I have slept with have made me feel this way. In fact, the opposite. All of them wanted me to communicate more. I was the one putting up barriers.
I realised I needed to come out of my comfort zone. The end of my marriage had forced me to do this in so many areas of my life, but this felt like the biggest.
I could also see that there was potential for a whole new world of pleasure if I was brave enough to seize it. A chance to get in tune with my body and sexuality. However, this would involve talking about it, thinking about it and evolving from that 18-year-old who found it all a bit cringe.
I’ve noticed that women around me want to, er, open up about sex too. But where do we go to learn about it? To discover how
we make it fulfilling and how to maximise enjoyment for ourselves and our partners? How do we share stories and experiences?
For me, for years, the options seemed to consist of a) kaftan-wearing, free love sexperts (think Roz from Meet The Fockers) or b) slightly smutty, titillating ‘advice’ columns that vibed rubber basques and pampas grass. Neither of which was particularly appealing.
But now, and serendipitously for me, and you, the conversation around sex is opening up. Cool, sophisticated women are talking about it without shame or embarrassment. Just like we talk about mental health, the menopause and the career/childcare juggle.
I recently watched Gwyneth Paltrow – chic, classy Gwyneth – on the Netflix docuseries The Goop Lab. She appeared in an episode called ‘The Pleasure is Ours’ which focused on female orgasm. It’s compulsive viewing. Especially the bit where Gwyneth reveals even she isn’t 100 per cent confident about sex or her appearance. I know! Then I saw that Goop had brought out a vibrator. Which looks aesthetically pleasing and non-scary. And I noticed a glossy, aspirational lifestyle magazine dedicated a whole page to a selection on the best ones. Suddenly female masturbation is an open topic of conversation. Which can only be a good thing.
So I want my new column to be a place of sexual discovery, to enlighten and inform. A place to laugh about the realities (does sex in front of a pet constitute animal abuse?), the fantasies and the fundamentals of female pleasure.
Speaking of which, a (46-year-old) friend of mine rang me recently. Once we’d moved past the pleasantries, she said, apropos of nothing, ‘I have something to tell you. I’ve got my first vibrator. I haven’t left my bedroom for three days.’
Welcome all latecomers…