I realise how prudish I am about to sound, but that’s not the case at all. At least I don’t think so. No, I am not prudish, I have just been married for ten years. There is a difference, although I suspect that, if I drew a venn diagram in which one circle represented ‘prudishness’ and one represented ‘having been married for ten years’, there would be considerable overlap. I mention this to Herbert, and he says, ‘a vulva-shaped overlap.’ This is how bad things have got. It’s way past Freudian.
Look, see, I am not prudish. There, in the paragraph above, I freely used the word ‘vulva’ without a care in the world. Oh, I can talk good sex, me. Just watch me down the pub on a Saturday night. I’ll be the one cracking bawdy jokes in the corner of the room, making the rest of the table roar with embarrassment.
I am, however, all talk. I am expert in sounding like a libertine. In real life, in the bedroom, I am about as sexually enlightened as Mary Whitehouse. Actually, scrub that. I have no right to cast aspersions on Mary’s erotic drive. For all I know, she could be a bit of a goer. It’s the quiet ones you’ve got to watch.
The point is, I am not naturally uptight. I was not brought up in sexually-repressed circumstances (quite the opposite – my Mother’s sheer enthusiasm for sex would put Tracey Cox to shame), and I do not in any way disapprove of sex. It’s just that I’ve come to feel a bit icky about it involving me.
We started off on great form, Herbert & I (you may have guessed that this is not his real name). We could barely put each other down. But that was 14 long years ago now, and I was just eighteen. Now, at 32, sex seems so far away from me that I struggle to remember the point of it. It’s not that we don’t do it at all; it’s just that we usually do so out of a sense of obligation. How long’s it been? A month? I guess we really ought to have a shag then. Fancy it? Hang on, I’ll go and shave my armpits first.
It’s not the diminishing of desire that’s the problem. That’s the effect rather than the cause, I suspect. Our real issue is the limitedness of our sexual palette. The same sex, over and over again, is just pointless, no matter how good it is. I would have hated to admit it when I was 18, but I was inexperienced. Somehow, by staying with the same partner since then (and both of us have been utterly faithful, I’m sure of that), I have retained the sexuality of an eighteen year old. Less saucy than it sounds, I can assure you, particularly without the benefits of an eighteen year old’s firm midriff. Herbert and I adore each other, get on like a house on fire and are extremely, smugly happy, but the fireworks ceased in the bedroom long ago. In their place, we have developed something resembling embarrassment.
Surely a loving relationship should encourage experimentation? In my experience, it does not. That sense of safety that has built between us is the most valuable thing in the world, and neither of us is willing to compromise it by asking for the wrong thing. More than that, neither of us is willing to express desire much at all any more. It would pain me to admit to Herbert that I found a film, picture, outfit or concept sexy. It would just seem too ridiculous. I think both of us feel the same way.
So why the change? Well, frankly, who knows, but two things have happened in the last few days. Firstly, we managed to have sex after a particularly long break, even for us (the previous time led to a row). Secondly, it was bloody good. So good, in fact, that (after we’d stopped reeling with surprise), we did it again. Three times in one weekend. Quite something for us, I can assure you.
I thought about it all the next day. What a perfect, complete idiot I’d been. What a bloody waste! So many women of my age are out embarking on sexual adventures but craving The One. I’d found The One, years ago, and wasted him. I suddenly saw (don’t ask me how) that my sexuality was my own responsibility. What was the point in sacrificing it to my own, very English, sense of embarrassment? Fourteen years together should lead to some sort of expertise; in our case, it has led to a kind of blind, dumbfounded ignorance. Even if I wanted to, I would have no idea how to turn Herbert on. I have no idea of his erotic tastes and preferences, let alone my own. I have made a habit of saying no, even before the question is asked, and it’s time that stopped.
That night, I nervously made a proposition to Herbert: what if we set ourselves a challenge? ‘We’re never going to be the couple who have sex every day,’ I said (we tried it for a week once and got thoroughly bored),’ so let’s be more realistic. What if we book a date for sex once a week, but with a twist. We take it in turns to arrange a seduction for each other, every week for the next year.’
I was surprised how readily he agreed – in fact, a lovely smile spread over his face. ‘Okay,’ he said.
‘Because, when we were first together, part of the reason the sex was so good was because we’d looked forward to it all day. We could to with a little more of that anticipation.’
‘Fine,’ he said; ‘good. Great. So long as it doesn’t have to be too elaborate, always.’
‘No, not elaborate. Just interesting. Just intended.’
‘And that doesn’t mean to say that we can’t have sex at other times too.’
‘Don’t push your luck,’ I said.
The next morning, it hit me. I was going to have to go through with it. I had said it out loud. It wasn’t just an idea floating nicely around in my head. I had to imagine, and then own up to, 26 seductions over the next year, and be opened-minded with the 26 that Herbert threw at me. Inside, I was already curling up with embarrassment.
I had raised the idea, though, and so the first seduction, inevitably, was mine. I wondered about lingerie, but then I’ve been matching my bra & knickers for fourteen years now, and it hadn’t exactly worked for me so far.
Slowly, it dawns on me that I have an enormous challenge ahead.