featuring Isabel Losada
Sex. It sometimes feels like the world is full of it. Magazines sharing endless tips on having multiple orgasms, adverts using sex to sell everything from perfume to life insurance, and TV shows and movies full of long, lusty bedroom scenes.
The thing is, despite all of this, when you actually talk to people (especially over 40), a lot of them aren’t having Outlander worthy sex…or any sex at all in a lot of cases!
‘Sex is really just another thing on my to-do list’
‘Now I’m peri-menopausal I’ve lost all interest’
‘Seriously, who has time to perform in the bedroom when you’ve got kids and a business to run!’
These are all things I’ve heard from women over 40. Women who are busy giving their time and attention to a million things during the day, and then feel as though they have to perform in the bedroom like someone straight out of a steamy movie, women who feel that if they aren’t shouting from the rooftops or having an orgasm a night they are somehow letting the side down.
It seems that in our rush to be more sexually liberated many people have actually forgotten one of the biggest joys of sex…pleasure.
Thank goodness then for the wonderfully funny and (very) honest Isabel Losada, who spent a year researching the world of sex for her latest bestselling book ‘Sensation: Adventures in Sex, Love & Laughter’. Described as ‘not a sex book but a book about sex’ Sensation firmly puts pleasure back at the top of the good sex list:
‘Everyone that has a sex life wants a good sex life so … I’m going to make pleasure a priority and I’ll be encouraging you to do the same.’
Having read the book in 1 day (it's both laugh out loud funny and deeply vulnerable) I was thrilled when I managed to arrange an exclusive interview with Isabel to chat about Sensation, and how we can all be having great sex after 40. Here is what she had to say:
‘I think that what has happened with sexuality, due to the influence of the porn industry, is that a notion of success or failure has come into it. So both men and women feel they are failing if both are not orgasmic, and preferably simultaneously orgasmic. There is this notion of red hot sex that I think some couples have when they’re first together…and when that wears off, due to millions of reasons like children, or health etc., they then feel that sex isn’t worth having anymore. So this notion that sex can fail has entered our psyche.’
So it’s almost like the X-rated version of Disney’s ridiculous idea of happily-ever-after?
‘Yes, [there is this idea that] we’re all supposed to be having multi-orgasmic sex on a regular basis, and if we don’t then obviously the relationship is over.’
How do we change this idea then?
‘What I had to learn while doing the book was to literally listen to the sensation in my body. I had to be taught that. So for instance, if we take a simple example of a back massage, it’s very easy during something like that whilst someone is massaging you, to be thinking about the shopping yesterday or what you’ve got to do tomorrow…and the mental voices, just like during meditation, are all over the place and it’s quite difficult to just focus on the sensation in the moment.’
I think this difficulty in switching our minds off and focusing on the moment is one that many women are familiar with. That and being tired. So what can we do?
‘I think in order for us to enjoy a lifetime of sexuality with one person the focus needs to be on giving ourselves pleasure, and giving the other person pleasure too. That we can do. We can all give and receive pleasure if we can just take the focus off it having to be some kind of successful event that ends with a bang. It’s like nothing is worth it unless that can be ‘achieved’. This is a ridiculous state of affairs because it basically means that a man and a woman are afraid to just be together in a cuddly, intimate way for fear of where it might lead, for fear that they might get aroused but it might not ‘work’. So this idea of success or failure has completely taken away from people’s focus on the pleasure of sensation in the body.’
One of my favourite ideas in the book is that whilst ‘red hot’ sex is fabulous, enjoying other ‘colours’ of sex in a relationship too offers more variety and deeper connection to each other. It’s easy to see that if you think red hot sex is the only ‘good’ sex worth having then on days when you’re a bit tired etc. the whole thing will feel like too much effort and so you’ll just skip sex altogether.
‘This whole idea that the woman needs to give a kind of performance and reassure her man that he’s doing well, [means] that women end up exaggerating the sounds and movements they make. And it’s not relative to the actual pleasure they’re feeling but just to send signals to the man that he’s performing well, because they love him and want him to be reassured and know he is doing a good job. I’m not talking about faking orgasms here, although obviously many women do, I’m just talking about exaggerating the pleasure level. And so a kind of inauthenticity sets in with the woman’s relationship with her own body which eventually she rebels against, feeling 'I can’t do this ‘performance’ any more…I’m not really enjoying it but I don’t want to say that, so I will come up with a million different reasons why I don’t want to have sex with him, because I don’t want to hurt his feelings’. So you have this complete charade. This leads to sexual estrangement in the bedroom which leads to one or other of the partners having an affair, which leads to relationship break down. And all this comes from the initial point of a woman not really feeling that she’s able to be honest.’
You write in the book that 'women have to stop putting men's pleasure before their own' but it can be quite challenging for many women to say what they do and don’t like in bed, can’t it?
‘I say in the book that even after a year of specifically exploring this, I still found it hard. But, if women can really take courage and say ‘let’s look at the sensation that we’re both feeling’ then you’re entering into a more honest level of the exploration of sensation. I think we need to bring it away from this idea of success and failure and back to ‘how can he make my body feel good, how can I make my body feel good, how can I make his body feel good’. And sometimes that will develop into orgasm and sometimes it won’t.’
We’ve all read enough about relationships to know that one of the biggest causes of divorce is lack of communication. So learning to express yourself honestly in the bedroom seems like a great way to benefit the whole marriage, inevitably filtering out of the bedroom into other areas of your relationship.
‘Yes, of course. I think the first step for many people is just to make pleasure a priority, because everybody is over-tired, everybody is exhausted, people just don’t have the time. And if you have the feeling it has to be this wham-bam spectacular event then of course you can’t face it after you’ve spent the day with 2 under-fives! Who wants to do anything other than get into bed and sleep after that? This is one of the joys of the Orgasmic Meditation practice which I write about in the book, because it only takes 15 minutes, and everybody can find 15 minutes. So, the first step is make pleasure a priority, the second step is to take the pressure of the orgasm away and then to just explore pleasure.’
It's interesting that making pleasure a priority is so hard for so many people, and women especially seem to struggle to know what they really enjoy.
‘One thing that women are often guilty of is expecting this man to come along who mystically understands us, and understands more about our body than we do. For example, on a workshop I was massaging a woman and I said ‘you need to say if you want it harder, softer, higher lower’, and she said ‘well, can’t you feel what to do?’ I said ‘Well yes to an extent, but I need you to say if it’s too hard and hurting you or too soft and not hitting the spot.’ I asked if she gave her husband any feedback and she said ‘no I expect him to feel what to do’. Well, men are not psychic, they can’t read our minds, they can’t read our bodies. We have to start by taking responsibility for our experience in bed.’
Plenty of studies show that sex can have a whole host of health and wellbeing benefits so taking the time to discover and learn how to have good sex for the rest of your life seems a vital part of Loving Life After 40. In her book Prime Time, Jane Fonda talks about developing a great sex life after 60 by discovering the joy of slowing down and being together in an intimate way. 'Sensation' is, in a sense, the handbook for building this foundation now and ensuring a great sex life for the rest of your life isn't it?
‘That’s exactly what I’m saying in Sensation, that there is a whole variety of things to be explored, and it’s not just about getting into bed and doing this kind of sexual performance and then, if it’s not working, the man or woman goes somewhere else. That’s what we’ve got at the moment, if the sex life isn’t working then [they] think the only solution is to go and have sex with someone else and find out if it might work with them...which it won’t long term. I’m trying to give women a way to explore their sexuality with the person that they love. That’s my aim in the book.’
As Isabel writes: 'if we want to turn around the statistic that 60% [of women] would rather be cuddled than have sex, we have to do something different.'
And that something different is to focus on pleasure.
You can grab a copy of Sensation at various bookshops (or ask them to order one for you) across the UK or via Amazon.
OTHER BOOKS BY ISABEL LOSADA: