How to get the sex you deserve

In her 30s, writer and activist Lucy-Anne Holmes asked herself some questions about the sex she had so far experienced. This started a journey that led her to self-esteem, feminism – and some great orgasms

by Psychologies

When I was in my mid-30s I had some really rather beautiful sex.

What makes me describe it as beautiful sex? Well, it could be the exquisite way he touched me. Gently, he explored my body. Yes, my whole body – if you know me, you might want to sit down for this… even my feet. The most surprising bits of me became power points of arousal. When his fingertips brushed the back of my knee, I groaned. ‘Calm down, Luce, it’s your knee,’ my inner critic said, but I ignored it as he was slowly working his way up my thigh. It could be that we took our time. Oh wow, we took our time. Sexual energy was literally sloshing around my body so that when he eventually nipped at my nipple, blimey, I was drowning. 

It could be that we looked into each other’s eyes. I felt connected to him through the whole experience. I sensed his delight in me and in the sex, and his respect for me and for the act that we were doing together.

So, yes, I’d say that it was beautiful sex. Now, you’d assume that I’d jump up afterwards and start singing ‘aye aye yippee’, wouldn’t you? Well, I didn’t. I cried. I lay there naked and I wept. I am so not cool.

‘Why are you crying?’ he asked. ‘I didn’t think I deserved to be touched like that,’ I said. He kissed me and that phrase ‘I didn’t think I deserved to be touched like that’ kept repeating in my mind.

We all have our own sex stories. It is likely they begin with our first feelings of arousal, the first time we are touched intimately, or are spoken to about sex. Mine probably starts when I was six years old and played with myself behind the curtain in the living room.

Or the sting of shame I felt for months after being discovered, age seven, with another girl, with our knickers down. 

Moving into puberty, I remember a ‘How to…’ manual that came free with a magazine, and how my breath would catch when I saw sex on the telly. I lost my virginity aged 14 on a friend’s bathroom floor, and was dumped three weeks later. 

Then there were boyfriends with porn mags behind radiators and hidden stacks of VHS cassettes, an incident of abuse in my early 20s, and years and years of having sex, a lot of it under the influence of booze and drugs. Then suddenly, there I was in my 30s, lying sobbing in bed with a man. I think I was crying for all the sex that was rough, disconnected, or desensitised by substances. Somehow, being touched tenderly in my sex area brought up the sadness of all the times I had not been touched lovingly there. 

Flailing around 

This situation didn’t just happen randomly – you might say I called it in. In fiction writing, big moments in the story where everything shifts or changes are known as reversals. This event came six months after I’d decided to create a shift in my own story.

My friend has an expression: ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got’ – and I didn’t want to get what I’d always got in the realms of sex any more. It seemed as though I’d been flailing around there, yet deep down I knew there was more to this sex malarkey than I’d experienced.

The first thing I did was ask myself, ‘What would I like to experience sexually?’ I thought about the question, and then made a list. The thing that came to my head straight away surprised me – it didn’t seem very rock ’n’ roll. It was simply that I wanted to experience really slow sex. It seemed as though, for a long time, sex had felt full of speedy acrobatic routines. This list was an opportunity to take things out of the shadow of shame or fantasy, to think, ‘I have been aroused at the thought of this, so could/should I try it for real?’ Or, ‘I’ve heard of this, but what is it, can I find out more about it?’

Novelist Paulo Coelho has a quote in The Alchemist: ‘When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it,’ and I honestly think something powerful shifted just by me making that list.

It was as though my life opened up to this journey – I would meet surprising people who could help me; life became serendipitous, richer. That’s not to say it wasn’t frequently a disaster. Especially at the start. 

I soon realised that, in order to have the sort of sex I was hoping for, I needed to completely love my body. It’s difficult to surrender to sexual pleasure if you’re worried that your bits are horrible or weird. I also had to be absolutely clear and confident in stating my boundaries, and requesting what I did and didn’t want with partners. My sexual adventure wasn’t simply and suddenly about to just happen. I had to create it, and I couldn’t do that passively. 

But I had been passive for so long – all my life – in this area, and old patterns tend to be hard and clunky to break. When I asked a man if he wanted to learn tantric sex with me, this wasn’t a confident woman offering a man a sexual escapade.

It was more like a girl in a cagoule at a bus stop, using wine for confidence, shaking and wincing, ‘I, er, oh my goodness, I’m so embarrassed, can I ask you something?’ The poor man looked petrified. ‘I don’t know!’ he responded, eyes like saucers. I was practically traumatised by the time I eventually said the words, ‘Would you like to learn tantric sex with me?’ and ran away before I could hear the answer.

Immature or insecure?

As I read this back, it occurs to me how young I sound, as though I hadn’t matured, or I’d missed out on some crucial development. To be honest, it felt that way. Occasionally, I would look in the mirror during these times and be surprised at the lined face of the woman before me. I felt so young, or perhaps it was the insecurities that felt so very young. I found it agonisingly hard to say to men what I wanted, something that took me a good while to work through.

It was even present with the ‘beautiful sex’ man. We spent a wonderful day in the sun getting to know each other. That evening we were outside, looking at the stars, and he put his hand very gently on my back.

My body felt alive at his touch. ‘What would you like to do?’ he asked. All I want to do is kiss you, I thought. I just want to lean into you and see where all this attraction and sensual energy leads.  ‘I don’t know,’ I said.

I don’t know. We went to bed in our separate rooms. I don’t know. 

It was strange. I was someone who was able to make things I wanted to happen in my own life: I’d performed on West End stages, I’d had books published. And yet, with a man, when faced with a simple question such as ‘What would you like to do?’, I’d respond with empowered corkers like ‘I don’t know’ or (and I really did say this at one point) ‘Whatever you want’. 

The right questions

But, every time I encountered a setback, I would learn so much that I was almost glad it had happened.

In the May issue of Psychologies, Elizabeth Gilbert talked about asking yourself the right questions. Looking back, I think that’s what I did. I asked myself why I needed a bottle of wine inside me before I could get naked. Why, when I was a hippy who didn’t want to hate anything, was I heaping hate on my body so much?

Why was it so painfully difficult for me to ask for what I wanted? Why did I, quite literally, hand my power over to the men I was with? I was forced to look at myself. And in doing so, you could say that I found myself. Best of all, I started to accept myself and love the glorious muddle of a human being that I am. I found feminism, too. And I had some exquisite orgasms. 

The list, the adventure, offered me a wonderful opportunity to do things differently in my life. ‘The opportunity to do things differently’ – I found that a powerful mantra. 

Take that night with the ‘beautiful sex’ man, when I went to bed alone. There I was, twizzling around in the duvet, my inner critic calling me all sorts of names, but I didn’t want to be that girl who couldn’t communicate with men any more. I wanted to try a different way. So I got up, went to his room and whispered, ‘You know when you asked me what I wanted earlier, and I said “I don’t know”? Well, that wasn’t strictly true. Actually, my body was on fire for you, I wanted to kiss you, I wanted to…’ 

Our sex stories are always evolving and changing. Where are we now? Are we having the experiences we would like? If not, can we shake things up? 

I feel inspired to really engage with my sexual story, to keep checking in with my wants and desires, and to keep asking myself what I am feeling and why. I believe there’s not just growth in it, but magic. 

Explore these questions in your journal 

  • What, if anything, has really worked for you sexually? What turns you on? 
  • Write about your best sexual experience and how it made you feel. 
  • What makes you feel connected to someone while in a sexual relationship? 
  • What does intimacy really mean to you? 
  • How do you imagine a healthy sexual relationship? 
  • What gets in the way of you asking for what you want in a sexual relationship? 
  • What is the one thing you could change, in order to explore a more satisfying sexual relationship?

Photograph: istock

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