At 35, I realised I had no idea what I really wanted in bed or how to ask for it. So I went on a sex odyssey, one orgasm at a time
My story, like all the greats, starts with a disappointing wank. I was on one of the big free porn sites and I saw something that disturbed me.
Now, I was used to porn; I had been using/watching/waiting for it to buffer for years. It was just what you did, if you were feeling aroused and alone, wasnt it? But on this night, I found myself thinking about a young woman in a thumbnail picture, hoping she was all right. I turned my computer off and thought about my niece, 13 at the time, perhaps soon to be exploring her sexuality and ending up visiting a site like this. It made me sad. This was the sex we were giving our young women and men, and there didnt seem to be much alternative. What have we done to sex? I thought.
But then I considered myself. I was hardly raising sex to some divine art form, sat there alone with my laptop in bed. In my 35 years, I felt Id never really got to grips with sex. I had probably only skimmed the top of how amazing it could be. It occurred to me that sex was something that was done to me. I was willing, keen even, but an actor in it, rather than a writer or director of the show. My friend has a saying: if you always do what youve always done, youll always get what youve always got. I didnt want to get what Id always got when it came to sex. But then again, what did I want?
Id never actually asked myself this before, so I wrote a list. The first thing that came to mind was slow sex. I felt that for a long time sex had been caught up in speedy routines, me often being moved around like an Ikea sofa. I wanted to break sex down to put it back together again, learn how and where I liked to be touched, and similarly how to touch a man. I was a bit terrified of the penis, not really sure what I was supposed to do with it. And I wanted to really explore my own pleasure. I read somewhere that women are capable of 14 different types of orgasm. If this was true, Id been seriously underperforming. Also, I finally admitted to myself that I didnt just want to have sex with men.
I set off on my sexual odyssey. It wasnt as glamorous as it sounds: I was off on a mission, but I didnt know how to go about it, or have anyone to practise on. One night, I asked a friend if he might like to do some tantric sex with me. It wasnt my most articulate moment, and I was wearing a cagoule and a woolly hat. To my surprise, he said yes. I bought us both a copy of the Complete Idiots Guide to Tantric Sex. A few days later he came over and we had a go, but I needed a lot of alcohol for courage and found it hard to give a handjob while holding a book. I struggled with taking the lead and, after a few more attempts, he dumped me.
It was all a bit depressing. I was able to make some pretty exciting stuff happen in my working life, yet when it came to men I was insecure, drunk and frequently hysterical. I looked back on my sexual experiences to date and realised I was incapable of asking for what I wanted in bed (and not so great out of it, to be fair). I also finally admitted just how much I hated, truly hated, my body, the very vessel I wanted to give me pleasure.
It dawned on me that I had been raised to be pretty and passive. Female sexuality had always been presented to me by men. From Page 3 to the majority of porn, it was hard to find an image of female sexuality that didnt have a man behind it making money, or hadnt originated from that place. No wonder I was in a bit of a mess sexually.
I continued on my odyssey, learning from each calamity. There were more disastrous handjobs, one where I accidentally laughed as a man ejaculated, and another where the recipient was so blown away by my erotic touch that he started talking about the fuel consumption of his Transit van. Over time though, and with practice, I relaxed and grew in confidence, finally getting to grips (as it were) with the male member and other things on my list. I experienced incredibly slow sex with a lover really, imagine everything in quivery, breathy slow motion, with me nearly orgasming when he touched my knee. The effect was profound: I cried afterwards and the words I didnt think I deserved to be touched like that echoed in my head.
My masturbatory habits completely changed. Gone was the quickie to internet porn; instead I spent time tuning into how and where my body wanted to be touched. Sometimes a tender touch on my yoni (the tantric term for the vulva and vagina) could move me to tears, bringing back memories of times when, either with lovers or medical professionals, this area was not so cared for. The more this healing happened, the more my capacity for pleasure increased, something that frequently blew my mind. One particularly powerful orgasm felt as though I spent minutes spinning through space and time. Ripples of this orgasm were still ricocheting through my body two days later. I have given that one the name, the orgasm that could create world peace.
I went to my first sex festival and loved it. Well, I was pretty terrified at first and may have locked myself in my car on the first night, but once I made it out of there I met other like-minded people and had some beautiful experiences, including with other women who, like me, were feeling that they werent quite as straight as they had thought.
I got much better at the important stuff; stating my boundaries and mastering how to initiate and ask for what I desired. I finally trusted my ability to say no, and it was liberating. I think because I was stronger in this way, I was able to try things that might have terrified me before, such as sex parties.
Perhaps the richest gift my sexual adventure gave me was empowerment. I learned that my sexuality is just that: mine. I think before, in my passivity, I had been waiting for someone else to unlock it or give me what I thought I needed. Previously Id just taken it for granted that I was the problem. My body was wrong, I was wrong. So caught up in my shame and failings, I hadnt stepped back to see that societys teachings around sex were pretty rotten. With my new sense of freedom and power I stood up to the Sun over Page 3, starting a petition that grew into a national campaign and was (after two-and-a-half years) ultimately successful. The insecure woman I was before my sexual capering would never have had the confidence to stand up publicly on an issue like that.
I would say it altered every aspect of my life for the better. After years of struggling in relationships, I met someone. He understood and supported my adventures. I then fell pregnant and had a baby. That, as you can imagine, shifted everything. I had to start anew, getting to know my body and sexuality all over again.
I thoroughly recommend taking yourself off on a little sexual odyssey. For women, I would say there is almost an imperative to do so if we can. Our sexuality has been suppressed and controlled for so long, it becomes radical to reclaim it on our own terms. Just shine a little light on this area of your life and ask yourself what it is you would like to experience. And do take time to touch yourself with tenderness. We are so hard on our bodies, we push and berate them, yet we rarely give them loving touch they deserve. And it only gets better; I heard recently that a woman has the greatest capacity for sexual pleasure at 70 years old. Bring it on.
Lucy-Anne Holmes is the author of Dont Hold My Head Down, published by Unbound, out now
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