Here’s a New Year’s resolution for you! Why not try to have sex every day?
It’s probably the least wonderful time of the year. It’s definitely the least erotic.
Still, why let any of that stop you?
Now, I know it’s January, and chances are that it’s making you feel as dark, grey and gloomy as whatever greets you when you open the curtains in the morning. You don’t want to get naked. It’s so cold that you resent taking your clothes off to shower. You’re thinking ‘We got through three bottles of Bailey’s in a week, I’m the only one who drinks it, and my jeans are leaving imprints and patterns on me. My skin is being used as tracing paper, for denim.’ You have a constant headache that is embarking upon a military campaign and heading down to do battle with the pain in your lower back. Your credit card has splinters in it. You’re realising, weepily, that you’re still not over Bowie, and when you wake up in the night, heart pounding, and you’ve gone over your daily dread about tax/the damp in the roof/ your children/parents/fungal nail infection, you start wondering who is looking after Sir David Attenborough. You could not feel less sexy if you had a giant, yellow, reduced to clear sticker on your forehead. It’s probably the least wonderful time of the year. It’s definitely the least erotic.
We are mysteriously bad at making time to do this thing we love
Still, why let any of that stop you? I’m not suggesting that you feel sexy – simply that you have lots of sex. After all, quantity has a quality all of its own. According to Goodreads, Stalin said that. (He might well have done, but its first recorded use came from a letter written by the US defence consultant Thomas A. Callaghan Jr in 1979. There’s a sexy fact that will make you popular at dinner parties.)
We all have a different idea of what ‘quantity’ means. That’s between you, and your partner if you have one. Still, if you will allow me to be candid, here are my circumstances. I like having sex with my husband. I wish we had sex more often. We both know that sex is good, sex is fine, as the old poem goes. It feels great, it boosts one’s physical and mental health, it’s one of the most effective ways for us to connect with each other, it staves off the chilly blast of the North Sea and it’s an enjoyable hobby that doesn’t cost any money. We’ve got the gear, and the ideas – the vibrators, the nice knickers, the nasty knickers. We are not, as is so often assumed when erotic advice is being issued, sexual and spiritual inhabitants of 1938, clumsily craving novelty, desperately seeking the blindfold, the toy shop handcuffs, the whipped cream cannister.
However, we are mysteriously bad at making time to do this thing we love, when there is always work to be done, laundry to be sorted, gyms to be attended, a phone to be squinted at. I don’t quite understand why my sexual appetite does not work in the same way as my constant craving for Hob Nobs. (Maybe I’ll suggest that every time I fuck my husband, he gives me a biscuit.) Rationally, I understand that our sexual and romantic lives require effort and attention. They won’t run themselves. Secretly, I struggle to divest myself of the Hollywood heteronormative fantasy in which curtains billow and orgasms occur at the moment of (inevitable) penetration. That’s my problem. I think I’ll want to have sex all the time when I feel like a movie star – which is never. No movie stars are members of Whatsapp groups dedicated to conversations about the effectiveness of HG Mould Removal Spray.
It turns out that the best sex is high-low maintenance sex. Sadly, not high maintenance in the ‘looking like a Charlotte Tilbury advert’ sense. Sexually, I’m less of a screen goddess, and more of a feral animal. It’s realising that it requires frequency in order to be effective. Like the gym. And like the gym, I’m never going to bring sleek, glossy, poreless energy. If I’m doing it right, I’ll sweat, I’ll grunt, I’ll flail, I’ll have moments when I couldn’t tell you my own name, and I’ll spend the rest of the day feeling happily achey and excessively pleased with myself.
I learned this by accidentally finding myself in the middle of a sex experiment.
I learned this by accidentally finding myself in the middle of a sex experiment. Which is surely the sort of thing that could happen to anyone.
In 2015, a few months before my wedding, I received an intriguing email. The editor of a health focused magazine wondered whether I’d like to write a first-person piece about using Apple’s new sex app with my husband. It was being introduced as part of the Health provision on new iPods and iPhones. The editor was a little vague about how it was all meant to work, but implied there was a diary element, and a way of tracking your sexual activity levels, your sex drive, and maybe even your sexual efficiency. Perhaps a three way analysis of the thrust, measuring it in horsepower, wind power and BPM.
Immediately, thrilling, terrifying dystopian visions danced before my eyes. I imagined downloading a small square that would somehow filter my whole life into an updated Welcome To The Pleasuredome meets Mad Max leathered up orgasm carnival. But with the technological capabilities of a FitBit.
Tinder was relatively new then. As a monogamous, affianced woman, its existence engendered a combination of FOMO and relief. I’d heard the horror stories, and I understood its addictive potency. Tinder, tell me I’ll never have to be out there again. If Tinder was supposed to turn us all into global village bicycles, I was mostly happy to stay a slutty Penny Farthing, having old fashioned sex with the same man every night.
I was stockpiling lacy knickers and leaving the tags on.
Well, not every night. Wedding planning was a passion killer. We were tired from trying to source a tiered cake made from vegan cheese, tired from trying to hire a blackboard and an Instax camera and tired from arguing about whether or not it made any sense to spend five hundred pounds on a photo booth. I was exhausted from the daily Bikram yoga sessions I was resentfully attending in order to look and feel marginally sexier in the wedding photos, and on honeymoon. I was stockpiling lacy knickers and leaving the tags on. In three months I was hoping to have the best sex of my life. This accidental period of enforced celibacy seemed inauspicious.
Yet, when I received the commission, I learned something new about myself. I discovered I was prepared to have sex for money.
I wasn’t embarrassed by the thought of writing a two week sex diary for publication, but I was embarrassed by the idea of revealing to the world that we only managed to do it twice in a fortnight.
I wasn’t embarrassed by the thought of writing a two week sex diary for publication, but I was embarrassed by the idea of revealing to the world that we only managed to do it twice in a fortnight. And we needed content. My husband is a patient man, and more importantly, a writer too. He suggested that we share the writing duties and put the money towards our wedding guests’ bar bill. The magazine biked us a pair of shiny new iPods, for our sexual record keeping, and we were off.
Day One was a moderate success. We didn’t really do anything differently, but we did it – in a way that’s only possible when you have no kids and barely a job between you. In bed, in the morning, but after coffee had been drunk and phones had been read. I was just about able to ignore the voice in my head that told me I should get up and do something useful. ‘I’m working,’ I told the voice. (It was too early in the experiment to work out what I was learning about my relationship with my husband to be. However, I was learning all sorts of terrifying things about my relationship with capitalism.) Here is what I noted down – ‘Unflattering pyjamas not an impediment to sex. Orgasms – yes, both, multiple, me. Very decadent, cheering start to the day. Like champagne and eggs benedict, but significantly more energising. Why don’t we do this all the time?!’
Like champagne and eggs benedict, but significantly more energising. Why don’t we do this all the time?!
I felt extremely, obnoxiously smug for about 24 hours, and then Day Two dawned. We did not leap on each other. We got up and faffed about doing all of the things we usually do until bedtime, when I panicked and made overtures. Usually, if I’m horizontal and warm after 9PM, I’m unconscious within minutes. But because I’m a nerd and a people pleaser, and I wanted to get top marks for my homework, I decided to give up on my cosy polka dot clown trouser pyjama bottoms, and found a silky black slip, an artefact from the era of Making An Effort. ‘We can make out a little, and maybe we’ll be in the mood to have sex in the morning,’ I thought, sleepily – but one thing inevitably led to another.
I’m not a morning person, exactly – it’s more that I become increasingly useless and feeble from about 4PM onwards. Any activity that involves my brain or body is something that I like to get out of the way before lunch. Sex at night was an exotic luxury, reserved for the earliest days of dating. I believed it was only possible when I was so wired and drugged on twitchy, nervous attraction that I was too overwhelmed with desire to eat my dinner.
Sex at night was an exotic luxury, reserved for the earliest days of dating.
There is a reason that the sexual spokesperson, broadcaster and activist Dan Savage uses the punchy two word slogan ‘Fuck first’. Sex is incompatible with a belly full of hot carbs. So erotic activity after sunset was something I believed myself to be constitutionally incapable of, like Crow pose, or rolling my ‘r’s. I attempted it out of duty, intending to add a bit of interest and texture to the experiment, and my write up. ‘Well, sometimes it was terrible, but we tried.’ Mid kiss, I whispered ‘I’m not sure I want to…go all the way tonight,’ which is fine if you’re someone’s nervous prom date, but truly horrible phrasing from a woman in her thirties. But we did. And it was…hot. The sleepiness worked like a relaxing drug – drunk sex without the numbing or risk of motion sickness.
The next morning, I woke up in a good mood. I checked my phone. It wasn’t my birthday. ‘We’ve had sex for two days in a row, so today we get to skip it!’ I thought, giddly. ‘Free time!’ Then, ‘But I don’t want to skip it.’ I kissed my husband awake, and then we both found ourselves overwhelmed with lust. I felt carnal, primal, powerful. The thrill of the experiment was that it didn’t seem like an experiment any more.
I felt carnal, primal, powerful. The thrill of the experiment was that it didn’t seem like an experiment any more.
We expect so much from sex. Even before I lost my virginity, I was imbuing it with different emotions, weights and meanings. As a woman, the greatest weight was shame. The shame of my drive and desire, a inheritance from my strict Catholic family. Shame about my body, which was not perfect, and would never be perfect – a shame that was reinforced by every ‘empowering’ Instagram post and meme that implied I was at fault for not loving my body enough. Shame from the ex who constantly started arguments because we weren’t having sex ‘enough’. More shame from the one who sulked, flaccidly, about my performative streak, when I greeted him at the door in nothing but a pair of suede boots. And yet more from the one who was tender in the bedroom, but crushing and cruel in the rest of the house. Who would want to marry me, when I carried all this? It wasn’t just baggage. It sometimes felt like an immovable Stonehenge, a gloomy and inevitable sexual legacy of womanhood. At least the fact that I still wanted to throw my knickers in the air and leap gamely into the fray was some evidence of a life drive.
It turned out that the way to solve the puzzle and simplify sex was just to have it.
On the third day, I realised that the great boulders of shame were beginning to crumble. It turned out that the way to solve the puzzle and simplify sex was just to have it. I was marrying someone who wanted to be with me and wanted to have sex with me. Neither of those wants were conditional. He did not expect me to look or behave in a certain way. It was simply gentle, joyous and easy. Sex was just sex, and somehow it was becoming more and less meaningful than ever before.
Still, we had a rest on day four.
I’d learned that I don’t always want to do it, but I always feel great when I’ve done it.
The next ten days were, forgive me, up and down. Occasionally we’d both look guiltily at each other and say ‘Urghhh, I suppose we better do it, we might not get a chance tomorrow!’ Sometimes we forgot our Dan Savage, and were slayed by a big dinner. One morning I farted loudly, started to laugh uncontrollably, and had to abort the mission. But usually, as soon as the kissing started, I’d be in the moment, forgetting we were technically doing it for work. It turned out that being a reluctant but regular gym goer prepared me well. Not physically, but because I’d learned that I don’t always want to do it, but I always feel great when I’ve done it.
Not only was I brimming with what Adrian Mole would describe as ‘Eastern promise’, but I was horny with insight. We had so much to tell the app! If sex was an exam, we could ace the essay question. The trouble is that no-one at Apple wanted to know. The Health app was not able to detect or record the quality of sex, your sexual mood or even your orgasms. You simply told it that you’d had sex. It didn’t even buzz in a satisfying way. (Not that I was demanding more satisfaction, but still.)
If sex was an exam, we could ace the essay question.
Undeterred, we filed our piece, which was packed with frank, emotional detail, and had a fart joke in it. We talked about how the experiment had brought us closer together, and that we were surprised to discover that it was a great way to prepare for our marriage. We explored the way that we initially feared sex tech would lead to the death of intimacy, but that being forced to record our sexual activity, and really think about what we were doing, had made us feel more connected and intimate than ever before.
The editor rang. She sounded pissed off.
‘Daisy, let me get this straight. The app – it doesn’t ask for any other details. Just – sex, yes or no.’
‘That’s right. I mean, you tell it what day and time…and I think the duration of sexual activity, but we didn’t always remem…’
‘But no other information at all.’
‘That’s right. But – didn’t you know how it worked? Hadn’t you looked at the app before you commissioned me?’
She hung up. The next day, she sent a terse email explaining that a courier would be coming in the afternoon to pick up the iPods.
The piece never ran. We got paid, eventually – I believe we spent the fee on corkage, plant pots and a canister of helium. But we continued to have sex nearly every day for the rest of our married lives! Only joking. We had sexy spells, and distracted spells. We went on honeymoon and celebrated in the traditional manner. Then it was winter and getting naked regularly felt far less appealing. However, our bodies remembered sex for us. If too many mornings had passed without touching and kissing, one of us would drag the other back to bed and warm up a dull, dreary afternoon. Sometimes we’d reverse engineer our sex life – getting undressed before going out for an expensive dinner, or a night at the theatre. It was still, we discovered, pretty much impossible to have sex after pudding.
Good sex is, I believe, a form of travel. Not ‘See Venice and die’, exactly. But I’ve been to New York several times. The first was OK, the second was awful and the third was glorious. I’d dreamed about the way it would look, feel and smell, and most of all, about the way I’d feel when I landed. Everything was an anticlimax, a disappointment, a rushed chain of confusion and bewilderment – until it became familiar. I could start to claim rituals and recognise favourite things. It’s no coincidence that the third time was my first with my husband, who had lived there for a few years and knew exactly what he was doing.
Like travel, sex is always a combination of the strange and familiar. It’s how we get to know ourselves out of context. And there’s never a perfect moment to go. We never feel rich enough, thin enough or free enough. But we’re liberated by movement alone, the moment we let go of the pressure to be perfect and get on the damn plane.
If you can lean into sex as a way of relieving tension, not adding to it – the physical and emotional rewards are infinite.
2021 could be our sexiest year ever. I hope it’s full of satin sheets, heaving bosoms and leopards in diamond collars, if that’s your thing. Still, let’s be real. There will probably be some arguments, overdrafts, broken broadband and days when a single strand of hair pokes up vertically from your scalp and makes you look like the Great Gazoo. But if you can keep giving head when all about you are losing theirs – or rather, if you can lean into sex as a way of relieving tension, not adding to it – the physical and emotional rewards are infinite. If you have a partner who’s up for the experiment, great. If it’s just you, well, we have the technology. Great sex is not something that will simply occur when the rest of our lives are in perfect working order. But I know that if I wish to upgrade my sex life – and I always do – quantity begets quality. And if having sex every day for a year feels daunting, why not start by trying to do it every day for a fortnight?
It might feel like a holiday.
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