A Sexual Adventure
Escaping 'normal' life
'Life begins at 40' is such a cliché that, when I recently found myself starting to think about my life and trying to find meaning, I finally felt like I was doing something age-appropriate (if self indulgent). I've skipped through the mortgage, marriage, babies milestones, feeling like the kid lagging behind as friends ticked the appropriate boxes and I didn't. But now, 40-something friends all around me are ending relationships, announcing new sexualities or genders, starting businesses, admitting vulnerabilities, and going travelling - sometimes all of the above. The spirit people seem to be embracing is one of, 'Fuck it,' - also the title of a best-selling mindfulness book, suggesting it's a common feeling. And it's something I empathise with.
My, 'fuck it', moment started building last year, when I wrote Garden of Desires: The Evolution of Female Sexual Fantasy – a book I'd wanted to write since I first read My Secret Garden by Nancy Friday over 20 years ago. It involved reading fantasy surveys from over 400 women, along with hundreds of academic reports on female sexuality. Everything came back to the same core issues: power, desire, pleasure, acceptance and diversity. No women shared the same fantasy with the same motivation. There was no such thing as 'normal'.
Researching the book was intense – as was writing 100,000 words in three months. Friends undertaking PhDs have reported feeling drained and incapable of talking about anything but their area of study, separated from the 'normal' world. I empathised with this feeling – but my findings reassured me that feeling abnormal wasn't that strange. And when I recovered from too many sleepless nights reading academic papers, I realised that I didn't mind. I always loved school work and spending my days talking to experts about gender and sexuality made my brain feel alive. I decided to say 'fuck it,' and accept my inner geek, wearing my red satchel with pride.
Upon completing Garden of Desires, I got a deal for my first mainstream erotic romance novel, Blue Mondays. Having a novel published was the last childhood dream I had left. I was devoid of timelined ambitions for the first time since I was five and overheard my school teacher telling my mum I was an Oxbridge candidate (she was wrong). It feels both liberating and scary. So I've decided to go on an adventure and see where it takes me.
I've spent almost all my adult life focussing on work. In the last decade, I've written 28 books, co-written 5 Lovers' Guide scripts and launched three magazines, alongside founding Cliterati.co.uk in 2001 and writing for numerous magazines. Now, a few weeks before I turn 40, I am tired. Being freelance is rudderless, with no one to set a direction but yourself, and I've been doing it for over a decade. However, there is no holiday pay for freelancers, and being a prolific writer doesn't equate to being rich, so I've decided to mix business with pleasure.
At the end of May, I am heading to the US, to visit centres of sexuality research and the original female-friendly sex shops, meet sexual pioneers and visit the world's only dildographer (historian of dildos). I'm also hoping to explore the epicentre of the Summer of Love, almost 50 years ago, and interview sexual revolutionaries of all kinds to find out how far they think we've progressed. Along the way, I'll be researching different people's attitudes to and experiences of sex from Utah to San Francisco; interviewing some of the authors and activists who have affected our view of sex; and exploring where sex and gender research is going – and how far the media reflects the reality of sex today.
It may be a busman's holiday but for the first time, there is no definite end-point in sight. I am simply going to keep an open mind and see where the journey takes me: it works for sex so why not for sex research?