ROSIE GREEN: It’s back to sex school for me
Styling: Nicola Rose. Make-up: Caroline Barnes at Frank Agency. Hair: Alex Szabo at Carol Hayes. dress, self-portrait, from Selfridges
It’s been a long time since I was enlightened on the fundamentals of the birds and the bees. Aged eight I remember feeling appalled and intrigued in equal measure.
And then I asked my ‘teachers’ – my mum and her mate Kate – ‘What if it’s too big and it won’t fit?’ At which point they both laughed until their mascara smudged and pelvic floors were almost overwhelmed, and said, ‘That doesn’t happen very often.’
But on my new post-marriage journey of discovery I realise that there is so much more to getting sex sussed than simply knowing the practicalities of what goes where. My new world means I am re-evaluating everything I thought about relationships and the most mind-blowing revelation is that good sex doesn’t ‘just happen’.
Until now, I’d subscribed to the idea that if two people who fancy each other get together they will effortlessly have great sex: stars will align, fireworks will explode with pleasing synchronicity. I loved the romantic idea of a man masterfully knowing how to please me. Just as he would know exactly what to buy me for Christmas. But the truth is no one is a mind reader (I only have to look at my re-gifting drawer full of welly socks and novelty hot chocolate stirrers to know that). Good sex requires input, both physical and mental.
I have found backup to my theory in the unlikely form of Gwyneth Paltrow, who in her new Netflix show Sex, Love & Goop champions and normalises the pursuit of female pleasure. In episode one Gwyneth and her intimacy coach Michaela Boehm used a golf game as an analogy. You wouldn’t just go out there as a newcomer and expect to hit a birdie. You have to learn specific skills and familiarise yourself with the course.
So I’m working on it. And readers, I am very much enjoying my coursework. First off, I am openly communicating with my boyfriend.
Did I do that in my marriage? Did I hell – I shut that stuff right down. Why? Embarrassment, mainly. Also voicing my desires would have made me feel too vulnerable, too exposed. And because when my ex-husband and
I got together we were young and virile; sex was good and uncomplicated so I didn’t feel the need to talk about it. But now I see it could have been better if I’d been more honest. It certainly might have prevented the build-up of resentments and misunderstandings.
Weirdly, now that my life has been blown wide open, I don’t feel so buttoned-up. I am more comfortable talking about my needs and listening to my boyfriend’s. I’m now able to have grown-up conversations around what fires me up (flirty texts, kissing, a glass of wine) and what pours cold water on desire (seven glasses of wine).
Which brings me to another hard-earned fact of life: you can’t have great sex until you know what you want. For the first time in my life I’ve actively thought about what presses my buttons. Up until now I was more familiar with the Farrow & Ball paint chart than my own erogenous zones, so I’m up-skilling in this area. I realise I’ve never educated myself on what gets me in the mood. It turns out that a lot of how desirous I feel is about context. I feel sexy when I have time to myself to get ready, to enjoy the build-up, the tension. I like to flirt over dinner, I like to wear nice underwear.
As well as the practical lessons, I have read books and listened to the sexperts. They make it clear that there is so much variety in what turns people on. My predilections will be formed by my experiences; my boyfriend’s will be entirely different based on his.
Which has led me to understand that the ‘facts of life’ secondary school-style is a very narrow definition of sex. I thought because I was equipped with the basics of GCSE reproduction I was knowledgable on the subject. Now I realise that the dictionary definition of sex is only the beginning.
For instance, Gwyneth and her pal talk a lot about how ‘outercourse’ is as essential as ‘intercourse’. Which decoded means all the peripheral stuff – the touching, stroking and the other erogenous zones – is not actually peripheral at all; it can be the main event.
So as of now I’m buying into the alternative facts of life – ones which go beyond the basics and factor in the importance of talking, of pleasure and of how it can build or erode a relationship. I’m hoping to get an A*.