Most of them tell me that sex is something you have to practise. She tells me that she and her husband have sex twice a week. Apparently, their relationship improved enormously because of this enforced intimacy. I ask other friends how many times they have sex in a week. She is also American. Another friend of mine tells me that she and her husband very rarely have sex. This starts me thinking about not just sex, but what sex actually means. In my late teens, when I first started having sex, I found it all either terrifying God, older boys can be very bullish when it comes to sex or funny.
It all seemed so alien to me. I found a Playboy once under a bridge. I was probably about 10 years old. I was out walking my dog and saw it flapping in the breeze. When I opened it I was transfixed. I just could not get over it. Did people really do these things? I went home and asked my brother about it. There are whole gaping chasms of it into which I have never wanted to jump bondage, sadomasochism, etc and probably never will.
But the raw, essential power of it — the power that confused but also thrilled me as that year-old with the racy magazine — is something that intrigues me. There is work to be done, however. I decide to start by going up to London for a spot of lingerie shopping.
From the outside it looks fine. There are mannequins wearing baby-doll nighties in the window. I go into the shop. At first I seem to be the only person there.
A helpful assistant comes over and asks me what I am looking for. I am a bit reluctant to use this word. I am surrounded by brash things in magenta and scarlet that have tassels on the nipple area.
I can see lots of ribbons and bows and thongs, but nothing classy as such. The assistant scurries off and comes back with something black and cream.
It looks OK — a basque-type thing and a G-string. The assistant runs off and comes back with a pair of undies that look less, well, painful. I wander through to the back of the shop.
I walk past increasingly disturbing-looking things: The other things section DVDs and worse is full of men. I try on the black and cream corset. I can even look at myself in the mirror without blushing furiously. I decide to buy it. She puts a tube of Booty Lube into my bag. She gives me a funny look. Women in their twenties come in and buy a different vibrator every month or so. Maybe I should try to get in touch with being openly sexy and less embarrassed. A week later I am in a community church hall near Reading.
I am wearing some tracksuit bottoms and a sweat top and standing next to 10 other women. In front of us is a pole. A slim, attractive blonde woman in her forties is showing us what to do. You just hoick yourselves up and then you do this. She then starts spinning round it.
I look at her. She must be in her fifties. I am about to ask her what she is doing at a pole-dancing class when the teacher spins round and lands on her feet. We all clap politely. Does anyone here today feel sexy? She then suggests we all do a warm-up before we progress on to the pole. The warm-up involves lots of putting our hands on our hips and gyrating around to loud pumping music.
She starts swinging her hips around madly from side to side. She turns her head in the opposite direction and her hair swings from side to side. The fifty-something woman next to me is grimacing. I find myself in Paris a week later. I have been told by a chic French friend of mine to pay a trip to Sabbia Rosa, a smart lingerie shop in St Germain. When I walk through the door it reminds me of the old-fashioned small department store near where I grew up, where bras and knickers were kept neatly packed in wooden drawers and served up as offerings by bespectacled assistants.
I tell her I quite fancy a silk cami-top and some knickers. She finds me something beautiful in ivory, then rummages around in a drawer. I stroke them lovingly. They really are beautiful.
I can see the allure of something this exquisite. Then I put them back in the bag. I am too worried about the stockings ripping. I have signed up to a class where I will be able to find my G-spot. This sounds frightening — although not as terrifying as the one where you learn to pleasure your man by practising on fruit and wax objects. I ask who goes to these classes.
The assistant then helpfully offers to show me round the shop. There are a variety of things that look totally baffling to me. Something I thought was a small bracelet turns out to be a sex aid. In fact, everything is a sex aid. There are whips and paddles and a saddle and ties and masks. I feel as if I am attending a slightly louche house-party. I think I may be beginning to see it when the assistant offers me a corset.
It is pale pink and silken, with small lace bows on it. When I try it on the assistant comes in to tighten the ribbons at the back. She then leaves me to gaze at myself. I stand in the changing-room with its seductive lighting and a musky candle burning. I jut a hip forward. The corset moves with my body.
I have a waist and uplifted boobs. The sensation is rather lovely. I buy the corset, even though it is way over my price limit. The shop assistant has kindly suggested I do this. I then go and look at my washing-machine.
It is in a damp-smelling room. I sigh and go and look at my corset, instead. Later on, reading my cookbook in bed, it comes to me that it is the sensual side of sex I can work on. I love the candles, the oils and the expensive lingerie. I could try seductive.