A Sexual Adventure

Escaping 'normal' life

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'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 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?

Emily Dubberley

Writer, sex researcher and founder of, -

Emily Dubberley is author of 28 internationally published books on sex and relationships, most recently Garden of Desires: The Evolution of Female Sexual Fantasies and erotic romance, Blue Mondays. She founded sex website, has launched and edited magazines including Scarlet and the Lovers' Guide magazine and co-wrote the last five Lovers' Guide films. She is a keen member of and helps curate Brighton Science Festival, including last year's Science of Sex weekend.


Go to the profile of Mary Fenwick
over 7 years ago
Makes me think of Goethe - boldness has genius, power and magic to it. Probably slightly misquoted but your writing gave me both surprise and delight.
Go to the profile of Emily Dubberley
over 7 years ago
That is one of the loveliest things anyone has ever said about my writing - thanks so much. Love the sound of your mission - can't wait to read your work. Loneliness (and anxiety) are both far too common. That said, I've found that anxiety releasing technqieus (for me, creative things like zengrams, making pop up cards, decoupage or simply - literally - getting rid of baggage, and turning possessions I've outgrown into 'happy hampers' for friends who will appreciate them) can often be a panacea to loneliness - and that now, being alone is something I (largely) cherish as time for myself, to think, be silent, play, heal or the whole lot at once. Many of my friends, particulalrly the parents, get no time alone and are desperate for it so it's something I try to appreciate
Go to the profile of Debbie Clark
over 6 years ago
Go to the profile of Debbie Clark
over 6 years ago