I think that, for quite a long time, I have been hiding from sex. For years really. A situation where there is the possibility or, worse still, the expectation, of sex has carried with it, not the brash confidence of youth, but the performance anxiety of middle age.
Now that I’ve written that statement down and looked at it closely, I’m faced with a deeper and older truth; one I’ve never written down or even recognized as a truth before.
The fact is: I’ve always been frightened of sex.
At school I allowed everyone to assume I was having sex with the pretty gymnast I used to see on Sundays. But I wasn’t.
Doing a student bar job in a hotel, I was invited to the room of a waitress a year or two older than me. We chatted for hours; it was clear she’d invited me in to have sex. But we didn’t.
In the Army, the Colonel told me I shouldn’t have had after-dinner sex with the American female Lieutenant visiting our unit. But I hadn’t.
Probably only in the early years of the two relationships that became my marriages did I ever really feel relaxed about having sex. At other times, I would be England taking match deciding penalties against Germany: I would be stifled by fear of failure and, like the hapless footballers, that fear became too often a self-fulfilling prophesy.
For years after the intimacy drained out of my second marriage, once every month or so I’d have the same session with the same submissive sex worker; quite simply because she could always make me come. She used her hand. I don’t think I ever had sex with her in all those years and the lack of pressure to do so was why it worked for me.
A friend recently asked if I had reached the point in the breakdown of my marriage where I should consider dating. My immediate and almost visceral reaction jumped over the possible conversations, the evenings out and the dinners; jumped over the process of dating and went straight to the big question: “What about the sex?”
My reaction was a strong fear of having sex with someone who I wasn’t paying to enjoy it.
But that fear might just be starting to wane. I’m starting to actually enjoy sex and feel more relaxed about it. Perhaps, just as importantly, I’m understanding that it’s OK not to be a porn star stud all the time. I’m accepting that if a condom deadens sensation to the point where I can’t come during intercourse, that isn’t a disaster and if she brings me off with her hand afterwards then the resultant orgasm is just as fulfilling and joyous an experience. I’m realising that, even if my erection has faded away too early, to spend an hour bringing a woman to multiple orgasms, to share the intensity of that experience with her, is also a beautiful, intimate and rewarding thing.
Last week I met Lilly for a pre theatre hotel room session. Against convention, we had sex at the start, just 15 minutes into a long evening together. This may sound strange, but after weeks of work/life/travel induced stress and hideous insomnia I had just wanted to get the sex out of the way so I could concentrate on her, free of any performance worries of my own. Much later, after dinner and a beautiful show; after champagne and a relaxed chat with a friend; in fact long after Lilly should have gone home, we had sex again. This time I didn’t need to think about it, or tie myself in knots of self doubt; this time I felt strong, vigorous, confident. I felt forceful even.
I took her. I took her again and again. God, it felt good.
Afterwards we showered and slept alongside each other. In truth, I was mostly awake but was unstressed by my insomnia, content to enjoy her presence and the quiet rhythms of her sleep. As London’s morning light seeped round the curtains, I watched her wake. To have her lean over and kiss me slowly, kiss me gently and softly, both of us smiling with shared memory, was a wonderful, wonderful thing.
So, after what, now I’m being honest with myself, has been a lifetime of being afraid of sex, I’m finally discovering, bit by bit, that I don’t need to be.
And for that I have to thank the considerate, caring, empathetic people that are sex workers.
And most of all, I have to thank Lilly.
I put the full version of this picture of Lilly up for Sinful Sunday.