It certainly wasn’t the first discussion about vibrators and cock rings to have taken place in Soho, but it was arguably one of the most educative. In the auspices of Soho House last week, Persuasion, in partnership with Dirty Soup, gathered together some of the country’s foremost experts and commentators on sex to explore whether Britain as a nation is getting any.
Our illustrious speakers considered whether, as the statistics suggest, we really are having less sex, and what factors, from work to social media, are impacting our love lives today. The discussion was hosted by GQ erotic affairs editor Rebecca Newman. The panel was all female, as, oddly and for the first time in our series of debates, men weren’t lining up to give us their insights on the subject.
The world has finally woken up to the female sex drive
The first speaker of the evening was Rebecca Reid, a journalist who writes about sex for publications including the Telegraph. Reid noted how the recognition of the female sex drive in popular culture has generated a booming industry around, as she neatly put it, “things to put in your vagina”.She reminded the audience how sales of Rabbit vibrators rocketed following the episode of Sex and The City where Charlotte (who, for those less clued-up on the series, was the mousiest of the four female leads) became addicted to hers. The fact that couples are reportedly having on average less sex a month is “by the by”, according to Reid. “Women are taking control over their sexual appetite and are buying things that give them pleasure. That is a good thing,” she said.
Not having sex with your partner? Turn off your phone
Psychosexual and relationship therapist Krystal Woodbridge, also on the panel, said that in her experience couples are not having enough sex, but added that the solution is simple. “If you and your partner give each other attention your sex lives improve dramatically,” Woodbridge told the audience that 80 per cent of the couples she treats say they suffer from low sexual desire. But while these couples aren’t expressing desire for each other, individually their libidos are as strong as ever and they often masturbate separately. There is a disconnection, she said. She has observed couples conducting entire arguments over WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, or spending meals together on their phones. Woodbridge advised couples to communicate face to face, prioritise each other and even have ‘phone free’ evenings in order to reconnect.
Britons get tied up over erotica
Florence Walker, the editor of Erotic Review, gave the audience a potted history of censorship, from the imprisonment of Marquis de Sade and the banning of DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover right up to Apple’s purge of images of women’s nipples from Instagram today. Walker noted that erotic fiction today is predominantly written by women for women. In answer to a question from the floor on why more men aren’t writing about sex, Walker blamed the emergence of Bad Sex in Fiction Award (which ‘honours’ an author who has produced an outstandingly bad scene of sexual description) for putting male scribes off the subject. Walker believes Britons are a kinky bunch, with many harbouring one particular kink; the desire to be punished. She revealed that female erotic fiction fans in the UK get their kicks reading about BDSM and women getting tied up, while American women tend to prefer men on men action, shape shifters (like vampires and werewolves) and the paranormal.
Has Tinder killed dating etiquette?
Responding to a question from the audience on “maintenance sex” to keep long term relationships going, moderator and GQ erotic affairs editor Rebecca Newman referenced studies that suggest that biologically women can be poor at maintaining levels of arousal over the long term with the same partner. Florence Walker agreed that women can be “harder work” when it comes to arousal but she and the other panellists were keen to stress that females have just as high a sex drive. Meanwhile the dating app Tinder got a lot of flak for causing emotional angst. Krystal Woodbridge said she gets many clients disillusioned by dating apps and feeling they no longer know what the dating rules are. Rebecca Reid pointed out that behaviour around dating online can be deplorable because her generation (the under 25s) are the first to be entrusted with apps of this kind, without inherited values or guidance on how to navigate them. “People are awful on the internet. Maybe our children will be able to be responsible, “she said.