Like most things, sex gets better the more you do it and the more practised you are. This is why the title of my new book – Great Sex Starts at 50 – is true for lots of people!
Our personal experience of sex as we move through life is (obviously) deeply dependent on our life circumstances – and how we view them. You can be happily single or miserably waiting for love. Settled and content in a long-term relationship or trapped and suffocated.
But while everyone is different, we all move through similar experiences as we move through each decade.
Here’s what sex and love was like for me over the years – and the things I wish I’d known along the way!
YOUR 20s: EXPERIMENTAL
I remember my 20s as a dizzying mix of freedom and insecurity.
I broke up with my long-term boyfriend who I got engaged to on my 21st (my Dad’s reaction was ‘What did you go to university for?’, I tended to agree with him) and decided to stay single for a while.
I had a strong sex drive and a highly imaginative fantasy life. I was far too ‘good girl’ to act on any of them but I was prone to making questionable choices in partners, based mainly on how badly I wanted sex at that moment.
Our twenties are generally when we’re at our most experimental. It’s when we’re most likely to have a threesome, a same sex encounter and lots of casual sex.
And why not? You’re young, travelling, meeting loads of new people, drinking lots, (maybe) doing recreational drugs and lowering your inhibitions with all of it.
The hormones that keep our sex drives robust and genitals in good nick are in plentiful supply when you’re young; spontaneous lust is the norm not something to be chased.
That’s the good part.
The rest of the time, you’re a hot mess of insecurity.
You might love sex but you spend most of it ‘spectatoring’: worrying about your performance and how you look, smell, taste. You’re way too body conscious and also nervous about being too enthusiastic or suggesting anything a little too out there in case you’re judged.
In bed, most twenty-something women are people-pleasey: it’s more about making sure your partner thinks you’re hot and far less about your own pleasure and orgasms.
WHAT I WISH I’D KNOWN BACK THEN:
Ignore the judgers: It’s OK if you want to sleep with lots of people. It’s also OK if you don’t want to sleep with any. Make your own rules, don’t try to squeeze yourself into a box that doesn’t fit you.
Eighty percent of women DON’T orgasm through intercourse. That’s right: most women don’t. You’re normal, you haven’t ‘failed’. Have sex with men who understand this and you’ll be a lot happier. They’ll also hold a vibrator on your clitoris during intercourse and even up the orgasm gap.
Social media is entertainment not a reflection of real life. The ‘perfect’ bodies on Instagram are made with filters, angles and clever apps, not by nature. Besides, being good in bed isn’t about having a great body. It’s about enthusiasm, genuinely loving sex and being sexually generous.
If you’re feeling bad after sex you’re sleeping with the wrong person.
YOUR 30s: EXCITING AND EXHAUSTING
I married my first husband in my early 30s and had my first taste of being in a long-term, monogamous relationship.
I hated it.
I hated being married and seeing my future mapped out for me. “I’ll never sleep with anyone else ever again’, whirled around and around in my head.
Ironically, I actually didn’t have an issue with my husband. I just didn’t like the institution of marriage. My Dad had an affair and left my Mum devastated. Being married didn’t make me feel secure, it made me feel vulnerable. My Mum got cheated on: clearly ‘wives’ weren’t hot or desirable.
I divorced and, being ambitious, threw myself into my career instead.
Most of us work hard in our thirties. It’s exciting but knackering. Life and relationships move from fun to functional.
Lots also experience the biggest threat their sex lives will ever face in their lifetime: kids. On a personal level, children enhance your life but a definitive study of 30,000 parents revealed most couples with children are a lot less happy sexually than couples without.
Sleep deprivation, alone, can turn the most sexually charged woman into a who-can-be-bothered in under a week. IVF and baby-making sex can put you off for life.
There are sexual bonuses though – big ones.
Most of us feel way more confident sexually in our thirties. You understand your body better, you accept that you probably won’t ever have supermodel thighs.
Some women struggle to orgasm in their 20s. Most achieve it in this decade simply because they are better educated about their own bodies and their sexual response system. And are more willing to speak up and ask for what they want.
WHAT I WISH I’D KNOWN BACK THEN:
Your partner isn’t a mind reader. Give tactful feedback on what you like and don’t like. Why wait six months for your partner to finally figure out how you like them using their tongue? Speak up!
Stop chasing the sex you had at the start. Our bodies aren’t built to stay in that hormone-pumped, frenetically passionate stage. No-one has just-met-sex years and years into a relationship.
It’s not your partner’s job to put you in the mood for sex, it’s yours. Know your triggers and use them. Reading something sexy, having a bath, using a vibrator to ‘warm up’.
It’s OK to stop having sex from time to time. Lots of couples have hardly any sex at all in the first two years of having a child. It’s normal. Agree on a break and neither of you will freak out, thinking it’s permanent.
YOUR FORTIES: A TIME OF RECKONING
I entered my forties feeling rather smug about my sex life. While all my married friends complained of a lack of libido, mine was still raging.
I felt fantastic: I had a personal trainer, was travelling the world promoting my books, filming a TV show in New York. I was on a high and getting lots of attention…from men half my age. The Observer did a feature on me with the headline ‘I’m trying to wean myself off younger men’.
Inevitably, by the time I hit 45, I had the same epiphany bachelors do: it started to feel empty and soulless.
I wanted a serious relationship with a grown up but where the hell were all the men my own age?
Your forties can bring very different things sexually.
If you’ve been married a while, you may find yourself sliding into the infamous midlife crisis zone. Bored, unfulfilled, taking each other for granted, peering into a dull future. Your sex life mirrors your feelings: no undressing each other, little foreplay, zero exploration. Lots of women worry their body isn’t appealing after children. Meanwhile, he’s having his first experiences with ED (erectile dysfunction) and finding it a psychological catastrophe.
Your forties is also when lots of women leave unhappy first marriages and venture out into the world single.
To be rather pleasantly surprised.
More than a few studies have found the mid 40s to be the peak of sexual satisfaction for women, so long as they have the right partner.
If you care less about what people think of you in your thirties, you really don’t give a toss by the time you hit 45. Things you’d previously dismiss, you’re suddenly up for: roleplay, tie up games, sex toys, sex parties even.
You realise life is short, making you more open to new sexual adventures.
WHAT I WISH I’D KNOWN BACK THEN:
Don’t just press each other’s orgasm buttons. If you’ve been together a while, you know what your partner’s guaranteed ‘thing’ is. Resist. It’s lazy to head straight for the finish line, not to mention as boring as hell.
The best orgasms are often the ones you have alone. You might want a lover but you don’t need one. You’re perfectly capable of satisfying yourself sexually.
Spontaneous sex is overrated. You have to plan sex. If you don’t create the right conditions for sex to happen in a long-term relationship, you’ll end up having it on birthdays and anniversaries only.
The easiest way to boost desire for sex is to have more of it. When you don’t have sex, you forget how good it can be. The more orgasms your body has, the more it wants.
YOUR FIFTIES: THE JACKPOT
By the time I hit 50, something shocking had happened: my sex drive dropped catastrophically. If before I’d cut off my arms for sex, at 50 I wouldn’t even lope off a little toe.
I went through menopause early, at 48, and flatlined sexually afterwards. I wasn’t even interested in my ever-faithful vibrator.
Happily, the second thing that happened in my fifties was I met my second husband, Miles, the love of my life.
Desire reignited – nothing like a great new relationship to get things moving again! – and I went on to have the best sex of my life. For me, love and lust, at last together in the same package.
I know a lot of women share similar experiences to me because I interviewed hundreds for my book, Great Sex Starts at 50.
Menopause is challenging for lots of us. Painful sex, dry vaginas, it’s not fun. But we’re better educated than ever before. We’re aware of the benefits of testosterone supplements, know that HRT will keep our sex organs in good nick as well as our moods stable.
We look better now than ever before – and it helps you feel sexy, if you think you look it. We exercise more, do yoga and Pilates, eat better, feel and dress younger than ever before. We have Botox!
Sex can be better in midlife because women – finally – relax. The kids have grown up, you’re established in your career or winding down, most of us are financially better off and we have the time and energy to focus on ourselves.
You reinvent what constitutes great sex: moving away from intercourse-based sessions into sex that’s less penetration focused, slower and more erotic.
WHAT I’M GLAD I KNOW NOW:
Young sex isn’t better sex, it’s simply a different style of sex.
Our bodies change as we age. What we want from life changes. Who wants to have the sex you had in your 20s at 50? (Ouch!)
Use it or lose it. Regular sex is very, very good for you. It doesn’t just keep your genitals in good shape, orgasms boost our immune system, reduce stress, improve memory and makes us feel more positive generally. If you don’t have a partner, have sex with yourself.
Couples who survive and thrive sexually are those who talk openly about sex. Nearly all sex problems can be solved if you’re able to talk things over with your partner.
Find your normal. Ignore what your friends tell you they’re doing or not doing. It isn’t relevant to your sex life. You can never look into other people’s relationships. It’s only ever been about what makes you and your partner happy.
*This article originally appeared in The Sun
My latest book, Great Sex Starts at 50, is available wherever good books are sold