“The last time I had sex was a Sunday morning, about a week and a half ago.
Saturday night was our first date – he’d driven from Birmingham to meet up. We’d been chatting over WhatsApp for about a month, having met on an online dating site. He drove and parked near me, and I met him in the street. He looked as I’d imagined from his photographs, with that broken-mirror effect you get when you are transposing your photo idea of someone on to the real deal in front of you. I thought he was lovely-looking and easy to talk to. We went for drinks – quite a lot of drinks – and food, and then he slept over at mine, and we had sex the next day.
I am having sex very infrequently at the moment – this was the first time after splitting from my ex-boyfriend seven months ago. I feel fine about that. I’d like to meet someone I like, but sex in itself isn’t currently much of a goal for me.
This sex was somewhere between average and not good. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised that although I have no problem whatsoever with first-date sex in principle, I can’t relax with people I don’t know and therefore it’s never much good for me. I also think it can kill off a burgeoning mutual keenness when it inevitably doesn’t go well, whereas if I wait a few dates, we’ll probably like each other enough for that to see us through any initial problems.
It was fairly unpleasing for that reason, plus I felt like he nagged me into it – not in a remotely traumatic way, but it wasn’t very sexy. In the moment, I thought, “What the hell, may as well…”, and I hadn’t had sex for seven months so it seemed like a good idea to break the seal again, as it were. Also he was very keen for a blowjob, which I absolutely won’t do with someone I don’t know well – I neither enjoy nor actively dislike them. I’ll happily do it for someone I care about, but I’m buggered if I’ll do it for someone I don’t.
I feel the most confident about sex and myself that I’ve ever felt in my life. I don’t think objectively I’m the best-looking I’ve ever been, but I like myself more than I ever have, which means I feel that other people will, too. I consider myself fairly inept in bed – I’m pretty sure that “dynamite in the sack” is something no man will ever say about me. But I’m open to talking about everything now and I like to laugh, so I don’t feel too bad about it overall.
It’s a shame though, as I feel like a creative person in most areas of my life – but, in bed, my timidity has meant that creativity deserts me. When I was in my twenties, the sense that I couldn’t disinhibit really affected my relationships and the men I was prepared to go for. I don’t know where my extreme inhibition came from, but it was always a big part of me and the decisions I made. I wouldn’t wear heels or lipstick, because on one level I felt they promised something I couldn’t deliver. And as a result, I think I went for kind men who wouldn’t make me feel bad about that. Kind men are the best, but I wish I’d been a bit braver.
As I’ve gotten older, my experience of meeting more men, reading more novels and watching my friends grow up has all helped me to work out what I want and don’t want. About seven years ago, I was introduced to a sex and relationships podcast, Savage Love. I’ve listened to every episode since, and can really say that it changed my life. In my twenties, I could barely say the word “penis” to a man, and felt awkward about having my period around sex. Now there’s pretty much nothing I won’t say and I think it’s made me much less judgemental about so many things. It’s been a huge relief to get older.”
The last time I had sex: Cindy Gallop, 56
“Because of my work and how outspoken I am, people get the impression that I have a great deal more sex than I actually do. The opportunities are there but, depressingly, due to both my travel schedule and my work, I’m not often able to meet up with the young gentlemen in question – so the last time I had sex was several months ago.
I meet the men I date on cougar dating sites. I applaud the rise of the niche dating site, by the way – everybody knows exactly why they’re there. This was a young man I had met online several years ago; he had come to New York on vacation, and proposed meeting up, which I was totally on for. I checked him out thoroughly, as I do, and he delivered against my key fundamental criteria – which is that no matter how casual this encounter is going to be, you have to be a very nice person. So this very nice young gentleman turned up – he turned out to be extremely good-looking, very attractive and great fun.
Earlier this year, he got back in touch to ask if there was any likelihood that I was going to visit his home country. Coincidentally, I had a speaking engagement there, so we arranged to meet up. We met in the hotel bar for a drink and we caught up on everything. He’s now in his early thirties and, since I’d last seen him, he’d been married – but they had separated, done a lot of counselling and ultimately divorced. They weren’t compatible, but he obviously cared for her a great deal and he was very, very upset about the fact that the marriage had not gone well. He’s a native of a country with a very macho culture, where showing emotion is not encouraged, and I was really taken aback by the level of self-awareness he showed as he spoke about the relationship and break-up. He was also still extremely attractive. And so we had several cocktails and then I proposed that we retire to my room, which we did, and we proceeded to have a really lovely time. Everything was hunky-dory, except that on the couple of occasions when we engaged in penetrative sex, he lost his erection. He apologised, which he didn’t need to do at all, and he said that the break-up with his wife was still relatively new and he was having issues getting that out of his head when he was in bed with anybody else. I was enormously impressed by the way he talked about it.
I wish that society understood that women enjoy sex just as much as men, and men are just as romantic as women. There’s this very superficial view of women as the emotional ones, of men as being willing to fuck anything – and, honestly, the opposite is just as often true. Women like me can absolutely have unemotional, casual sex, and men like him can be profoundly affected by their relationships for a very long time after those relationships have come to an end. I had a very nice time with him notwithstanding and I really hope we’ll see each other again.
My website, Make Love Not Porn, is all about making it easier for people to talk about sex openly and honestly. We all get very vulnerable when we get naked – sexual egos are very fragile and people therefore find it difficult to talk about sex with the people they’re actually having it with – but, at the same time, you want to please your partner, you want to make them happy. And so we seize our cues on how to do that from anywhere we can. If the only cues you’ve ever been given are from porn, because your parents never talked to you about sex, your school didn’t teach you, your friends aren’t honest about it – then those are the cues you’re going to take, to not very good effect.
I launched Make Love Not Porn eight years ago, with a TED talk that elicited the most extraordinary response worldwide. Every single day for the past eight years, I’ve received emails from people who are young and old, male and female, straight and gay, from every single country in the world. They pour their hearts out, they tell me things about their sex lives and their porn-watching habits they have never told anybody else, and they write to me for advice. It was the sheer cumulative impact of all of those emails arriving day after day that eventually made me feel that I now had a personal responsibility. I then launched makelovenotporn.tv, where people can share videos of their real-world sex, because I see every day the enormous human unhappiness caused by our shame and embarrassment around sex, and I believe that we need a socially shareable approach to it.
I have an old-fashioned English father and a Chinese mother, so my parents never talked to me about sex growing up, apart from my mother going, “Girls, you stay a virgin until you’re married!” to me and my sisters. So, obviously, my views have evolved over time. When I discovered sex, I thought, “Bloody hell, this is so much fun! Goddamn all those years of repression!” I now consider myself a proudly visible member of the most invisible segment of our society, which is older women. I want to help redefine – in the way I live my life – what society thinks an older woman should look like, talk like, be like, work like, dress like and fuck like. I’m completely happy to tell people my age as often as possible; the older you get, the better life gets.”
Cindy Gallop is the founder of the websites makelovenotporn.com and makelovenotporn.tv
The last time I had sex: Laura*, 33
“I last had sex on Saturday morning, with a guy from my office who I’ve been seeing for a month or two. I’m a fan of morning sex, and woke up feeling quite horny. He’s not really a morning person – in fact when he first opens his eyes, he looks like he wants to destroy the universe and everything in it – and he murmured something like “If I wasn’t so hungover, I’d ravish you.” We were both tired from going out the night before; we’d got in about 4am and had some drunk sex that I only somewhat remember.
Anyway, despite the hangover, he did start touching me, which quickly led to sex. He was on top to begin with, with my legs pinned up by my shoulders; then I went on top for a bit and we finished in regular missionary position, which I like because it makes me feel very close to him. Afterwards, I said, “I thought you were too tired to ravish me?” and he said, “That doesn’t count as ravishing.” I think he was implying that he can do better – but I enjoyed myself.
I expected that we would have sex, despite the hangovers; we’re at that stage where it’s more likely you’ll have sex than not. I like that period with a new partner where you’re still very easily excited by them, but you also know them a little, so it’s not like you’re still figuring out what makes each other tick from scratch. I came pretty early on, which I prefer because then you’re just buzzing and tingly, and can let go and relax into it. I love watching my partner come – it feels like you’re experiencing something really interesting and personal. He’s got a really good body and a big cock, which I like – I know it doesn’t matter for some people, but I definitely prefer it. It looks good and it feels good.
At the moment I’m having sex three or four times a week, which is great. Of course, it’s really hot when you’re at the start of a relationship and having interesting or intense sex frequently. I do feel like people in long-term relationships are put under pressure if they’re not having sex that often, and that’s not really fair. On the other hand, it’s very easy to slip into not really having sex or talking about sex at all in a long-term relationship, and that’s difficult in a different way. You can just sleepwalk into becoming platonic friends.
I’ve always been relatively relaxed and positive about sex; I think people stress about it too much, but that’s understandable given how fraught the dialogue sometimes is around it. One regret is that so far I’ve only been with three women, but I guess there are fewer women who are interested in other women than there are men who are interested in women, or else I’m just really bad at picking up girls! I feel lucky to have had a lot of really great boyfriends who were up for trying different things in bed. I like BDSM in terms of the power play between two people, although I’m not particularly into all the paraphernalia you find on some porn sites: electric nipple clamps and so on.
I had an abortion a few years ago and the few weeks that I had to spend being pregnant before it could be sorted out were horrifying: sore breasts, falling asleep at 9pm, feeling sick all the time, putting on unwanted weight and binge eating cream crackers, for some reason. It was a huge relief to terminate the pregnancy, and I think for a while afterwards I was a bit wary of sex, out of a fear of getting pregnant again.
I try to make sure any porn I’m looking at is ethical, paying the performers properly and treating them well, although I generally prefer well-written sex to filmed sex anyway. But well-written porn can be difficult to find. As a teenager, fan fiction was probably my most important source of sexual material. But I don’t really need a stimulus to get myself off; if I just want to come quickly before going to sleep or whatever, I can normally get there in about a minute. It’s funny or maybe sad how the spectre of women faking orgasms seems to haunt some men, like they got the memo about how they need to put effort in to make women come. Then they feel suspicious if it happens quite easily.”
The last time I had sex: Rachel*, 37
“I can’t remember exactly which day I last had sex, but it was sometime in the last week, and it was “afternoon delight”. My husband and I don’t share a bed any more – neither of us sleeps well – so sex never happens spontaneously. It’s almost always initiated verbally, as follows: he’ll say “Fancy a quick shag?” and I’ll say “Alright then.” And then I’ll go and have a wee, and when I come back, he’s in bed naked already.
We’ve been together for 11 and a half years, married for seven. The sex is always good. It’s quick and to the point, and I mean that in a good way – it’s very satisfying. It only lasts five minutes, but I like that, because it’s usually a Saturday afternoon, our son is having his nap, and I’ve always got stuff to do. So five minutes is fine, and then my husband falls asleep and I leave him to it.
We probably have sex about once a week, which suits me. I think it’s true that generally speaking, men want it more than women. My husband would probably do it slightly more often, but there’s not much opportunity – he often works away, and in the evenings we might have some drinks and watch telly, and the point at which we go to bed is when we can’t keep our eyes open any more.
I don’t think it was that much more frequent even before we had the baby, but the opportunities to do it are now more limited. Before he was born, if my husband had said on a Saturday afternoon, “Fancy a shag?”, we would probably have shut the curtains and just done it then and there on the living room floor. We don’t do that any more – we tend to retire to the bedroom.
The sex we had while we were trying to get pregnant – that was grim. I mean, it wasn’t to begin with, because you just come off the pill and wait for something to happen – but then it didn’t happen. And then I got one of those apps that tracks your cycle; that’s when you start having sex when you don’t want to, and it takes the joy out of it.
Once you get going, it’s probably alright, and it’s certainly always alright for the bloke – but I can remember times when he didn’t want to. I remember once when he was due to go away, and it fell right on the three days that I was most fertile. I thought “That’s going to be a whole month gone,” so I think I made him have sex in the evening before he went away, and then I made him set an alarm and do it again in the morning. Neither of us wanted to at all, and it was incredibly perfunctory and not fun. It gets associated with upsetting feelings. We’re trying for a second baby now, but we’re not in that zone yet – I hope we don’t have to go into that zone again.
Sex is funny. People’s bodies are weird and gross, and it’s all slippery and messy, and you make noises and you pull a funny face, and… you can’t be too serious about it. That’s what goes wrong when you’re trying really hard for a baby – you lose all of that. All the spontaneity’s gone, and you don’t laugh about it any more.
My husband has never turned me down for sex, and I rarely rebuff him. There are occasions when I’m not in the mood, because I was literally peeling carrots a second ago… but we’ve known each other so long, he can usually turn it around quite quickly, and then it’s really enjoyable. I do feel quite guilty when I say no, even though he doesn’t make me feel guilty. I think it’s very important, and I do love him and I want him to be fulfilled. I wouldn’t do it if I really, really didn’t want to, but I’m willing to be persuaded – put it that way.
I’ve always thought that sex is the one thing that separates my relationship with my husband from my relationships with everybody else that I’m close to, so it’s quite precious in that way. If you keep it up, it has a certain momentum, even if it’s not like it was at the beginning. I think when you let it stop, slow down, that becomes self-perpetuating.
I remember in one of Stephen Fry’s autobiographies, he was describing having had sex with someone, and he said it was really wonderful because they’d laughed a lot. It resonated with me, and my husband and I do that. Because of the abruptness of how it tends to start, there’s often a little bit of awkwardness at the beginning. We tend to have a little giggle, and I find that quite nice. That’s a form of intimacy almost as intimate as what follows.”
The last time I had sex: Ruby*, 24
“The last time I had sex was two nights ago, with a man I’ve been in a relationship with for eight months, been sleeping with for six months, and known (and loved, if I’m honest with myself) for three years. He’s nine years older than me, and he’s married. It’s something I never thought I’d do, but what I’m learning this year is that life is more complicated than you think.
We were in my room in my shared house, which meant we had to be quiet – something I find difficult, but it does add to the intensity. We’d been making do with stolen lunch-break sessions (also at my house) for the last couple of weeks, and we needed more time together, so he made up an excuse and stayed with me from about 6pm until after midnight. We were naked for most of that time.
Sex with this man is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. It’s like we connect on every level; we both seem to know instinctively how the other wants to be touched. He brings my whole body to life and I know I do the same for him. We’ve done things together that have been firsts for us both, but in particular he loves going down on me. He’d happily stay there all night if he could – this time he was there for half an hour, until I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes.
We’ve tried to stop the whole thing a couple of times, but it feels chemical – there’s a physical pull between us that I can’t resist. I think one of the reasons the physical side works so well is that we connect on every other level too; another thing I’m learning this year is that if you’re good together outside of the bedroom, you’re likely to be good together inside it. But yesterday we decided to end it, and I know in my heart that it’s really over this time. His indecision was killing me, and every time we’re together the crash back down to Earth is harder.
During my last relationship I came to understand that I’m bisexual, but because I was already committed to a man, I wasn’t able to date women. That last boyfriend didn’t take it very well; in his mind, it made me more likely to cheat on him. This meant that I quickly learned not to talk about it, which didn’t help me or us as a couple. The man I’ve been with this year doesn’t see it that way, and has encouraged me to date women alongside what’s going on between us. I’ve been on a couple of dates, but nothing has come of it so far.
The realisation that I’m bisexual has been a very gradual one. In our culture we’re constantly surrounded by sexualised images of women, whom we’re encouraged to idolise – so it’s hard, as a teenage girl, to decipher wanting to be someone or be their best friend, from actually wanting to touch them. I’m comfortable with it now, although it’s taking me a while to really feel like a part of the LGBT community – being a femme bi woman in a relationship with a man makes you basically invisible.
Sometimes bi people say things like “Gender doesn’t matter to me. It’s about the person”, and I’m not here to invalidate the way anyone else defines themselves, but that doesn’t resonate with me. The things that attract me to men (arms, hands, chests) are different to the things that attract me to women (lips, hair, the soft parts). This man’s response to my bisexuality and his willingness to talk it through with me are part of what has made this relationship so fulfilling. In fact the night we got together I came out to him, and that felt like the moment we moved from being close friends to something deeper.
Even though getting over this heartbreak feels impossible right now, I now know what I need and won’t settle for less. I’m also looking forward to exploring more with women, which feels like something I really need to do. This relationship has made me feel more desirable than ever before, and I’m trying hard to hold onto that and carry it with me into my next one. I know I deserve to be more than the “other woman”, but I’m scared that I’ll never get to experience sex – or love – quite like this again.”