Women and desire: the six ages of sex
Six women across six decades talk about how their sex lives and sensuality have changed, and what they’ve learned about the politics of pleasure
By Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff, Emily Witt, Clover Stroud, Mariella Frostrup, Penny Arcade, Marie de Hennezel
Feb 19 2017
Sex in my 20s: Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff
For someone who lost their virginity quite late in their teens, sex in my 20s has been a revelation. But while exploring has been important, the key thing for me has been the new sense of openness I’ve been able to cultivate with my friends. That moment when you figure out that no, you’re not the only one who watches porn, reads erotica or masturbates. That sense of camaraderie.
Thanks to the internet it does feel like there is a tangible change in the freedom women of my generation are able to have in their sex life. As we’ve started caring less about virginity, we’ve been able to move into more interesting territory. We may have been brought up on Pornhub, but, as I’ve lain with partners and friends discussing sex and relationships, their perspectives have usually been refreshingly open and liberal.
When I turned 20, I broke up with a boyfriend and invested in two vibrators in the hope of achieving the elusive internal orgasm. I had absolutely no success. It was more than two years later before I learned the reason why some women consistently come through penetrative sex is due to their anatomy – their clitoris is physically closer to their vaginal opening. Other things I’ve learned? A big penis doesn’t equal good sex, and a small one doesn’t equal bad.
Learning to find pleasure is more important than learning how to please your partner (although they needn’t be mutually exclusive). Pansexuality – attraction not limited by gender or sex – and gender fluidity might be the future: love who you love and fuck who you fuck without the need for binary labels, unless you want them. More of my female friends are coming out as gay, queer, bi or trans, too. “I’ve always known, but now I feel comfortable enough to act on it,” one told me recently.
But although sex in your 20s can be wild and fun, with little judgment from your friends if you – like me – decide to sleep with your weird Tinder date who had a major problem with eye contact, or, in fact, decide to not have sex with anyone at all, insecurities are still rife. There are things about my body I don’t like and this harms the way I approach intimacy – that slight feeling of dread at undressing in front of a partner for the first time.
Another problem, being straight, is the fact that a lot of the time men don’t seem to be as “woke” as women. I’ve always had to take responsibility for contraception – actively telling partners to use condoms, to go to STI clinics before we have sex, to come with me to get the morning-after pill.
Sexism is pervasive, and as a black woman it can double up – somewhere between fetishisation and racism when, as people have said to me before: “You’re pretty for a black girl,” “I’ve never slept with anyone like you before,” or “I’m really into mixed-race women.” You have a basis to worry that the only reason men do or don’t find you attractive is because of your race.
I have hope for the sex life of my generation. While my American peers have reason to fear the rise of draconian abortion policies, we’re seeing women in their 20s savvy enough to get birth control, like IUDs, which will see them through Trump’s presidency.