Today I’m on the Blog Tour for the book Sex Drive – On the Road to a Pleasure Revolution by Stephanie Theobald and I am very pleased to share an excerpt from the book with you. You will certainly know whether or not you will want to buy the book after reading the prologue and I for one can’t wait to read the whole thing. A full review will follow next month.
I think a lot of you are going to love it but as you may gather from the title it contains strong sexual description containing bisexuality and masturbation so please only read on if you think it is something that you will enjoy and are not easily offended.
Thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me on board for this one.
Book Blurb: Arriving in New York with a failing relationship and a body she felt out of touch with, Stephanie Theobald set off on a 3,497 mile trip across America to re-build her orgasm from the ground up. What started as a quest for the ultimate auto-erotic experience became a fantastic voyage into her own body. She takes us from ‘body sex’ classes with the legendary feminist Betty Dodson to an interview with the former US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, who was fired for suggesting that masturbation should be talked about in schools. Along the way, we are immersed in a weird, countercultural America of marijuana farms and ‘ecosexual sexologists’. Sex Drive is a memoir about desire and pleasure, merging sexuality and spirituality, eighteenth-century porn and enlightenment philosophy. A new sexual revolution has begun – and this time round, it’s all about the women.
PROLOGUE: SADDLING UP
London, 5 October 2014
Sunday morning in bed. Only crumbs remain on the croissant plate and, any minute now, he is going to start looking at me in that way. It’s become a routine on Sunday mornings after breakfast in bed and it does make sense. Women’s magazines say it all the time: if you’ve been together for a long time then you should do it even if you don’t fancy it, because it brings you closer together.
So I do do it. Only I’ll probably be thinking of the sixty- six-year-old art dealer I had an affair with a few years back, although actually I wasn’t always present with him either. Sometimes I’d teletransport away from his boat on Chiswick Pier over to an imaginary barrister’s office in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where I’d be submitting to a pinstriped lawyer type. Yet within that fantasy, I’d soon have to be back at the flat of the real-life dirty blonde from Harvey Nichols I’d recently bought perfume from. In my head, we’d become lovers and wouldn’t she punish me good and proper when she found out what I’d been up to with the lawyer?
So there I was, lying in bed on Sunday morning, wondering who the hell I was about to have sex with. Over the past few months, the sight of croissants has served to fuel my midlife crisis like the dogs and Pavlov. Wasn’t it dishonest to have sex with someone while thinking about doing it with someone else? How did you carry on having sex in a long-term relationship, and what was this ‘poly’ thing everyone was talking about? We’d been together for ten years but we didn’t have children, so there was nobody to hurt apart from ourselves. Maybe he’d be better off with someone who didn’t make him feel like a freak for wanting sex. Maybe not wanting sex was part of the perimenopausal thing. Yet I dreamed about it all the time.
Mainly, I wondered, is sex important? Is it really bad for you if you don’t have it regularly? I hadn’t broken out with fangs and scales just yet, and my friend in Cannes hardly ever has sex with the father of her three children. ‘Sometimes it just strikes me as so absurd, all that rumpy-pumpy bestial jerking, when you could be painting a picture or something.’ She seems to have sublimated her urges with vegetables. She’s always sending me emails about the amazing produce (‘baby broad beans, tiny artichokes and Perroquet tulips’) that she’s bought from the local market.
I’d talked to other friends about my dilemma. The magazine editor looked worried and said, ‘Relationships do go through difficult patches.’ (People hate it when their friends split.) My PR friend warned, ‘Stay with the devil you know!’ which is rich, because she fantasises about her gym instructor every time she does it with her husband. My TV friend told me to, ‘Have your cake and eat it!’ (She’s desperate to have an affair with a guy in her office and if she didn’t have kids she’d do it ‘like a shot’.) My twenty-four-year-old poet friend said, ‘Go for it – you’ve not been happy for a long time. But you have to be honest with him.’
And I have been. More or less. The following Sunday, as I lay on his shoulder after the plate of crumbs and the ensuing sex, I managed to stammer something like, ‘I will always know you.’ It felt like a lever, like the first bit of levering had taken place, which one day would uproot the jammed stone and send it rolling down the cliff. It was a feeling of moving something, but it was frightening too. There was a silence and then he joked that we could be like Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, the glamorous bisexual literary couple of the 1920s and 30s, who exemplified polyamory before the word was invented. I cheered up then. I said that yes, I’d be Vita having sex with Virginia Woolf while Hadji would sit in his club in St James’s smoking cigars with Winston Churchill (I didn’t want to think too much about what my Hadji would actually get up to).
And then joking wasn’t enough. Something needed to burst through. Maybe I didn’t want an affair. Maybe I wanted a whole new life. The following weekend, I found myself in the kitchen with the man who used to be known as ‘the brute boy of British fiction’, surrounded by all the things that were making me feel buried alive: the BBC Radio arts review show, the roast chicken in the oven, the prospect of croissants the next day. Something came to a head. All year, I’d been hungry for stories of people splitting up: how did they do it? What words did they use? How did the conversation start? Someone said, ‘Wait until next time you’re having a row, it’ll come naturally.’ But in the event, I just started to cry. I’d never cried wolf in all our years together and now something terrible was coming out of my mouth: ‘I was thinking that maybe we should split up.’
It felt as though I’d poured poison into his drink. He didn’t drop down to his knee and say, ‘No! Anything but that!’ He nodded and said, ‘Yes.’ We were both in shock. He ran me a bath and brought me chocolate and wine and lit candles. I lay in the warm water thinking, The poison will trickle into his guts. Soon it will start to have an effect.
At the beginning of November, I flew to New York to visit some old friends and ended up bedding the art director of a US glossy followed by a night with a badass chef from a restaurant in the Meatpacking District. On my return to London, a week later, I was delirious. I had a meeting with my bank manager and I was thinking of saying to him, ‘I want to talk to you about orgasms!’ because I was back in the sexual saddle after such a long absence. I was seeing the world through a phantasmagorical sea of stirred desire and deranged memories: a stuffy apartment, orange décor, a pierced clit, a leather belt. The selfish, slippery, feverish mind of the born- again sex junkie.
Only I was a big phoney. I didn’t actually have an orgasm with the art director until she was safely in the bathroom the next morning (Americans take ages in the shower). And I only climaxed in the badass chef’s orange apartment when she left the room to answer the phone in the early hours. The next morning, I played distractedly with her breasts on the couch because I felt I should try and get turned on again. After a while, she said, ‘Let’s go get bagels.’
Getting back into the sexual saddle isn’t as easy as you think. The fact was that after being in a monogamous relationship for so long, I wasn’t sure how to sit on the horse any more. And yet I knew I needed to come alive again. I’d never been a shrinking violet about sex. Much of my journalistic reputation over the past twenty-five years had been based on it, writing about attraction to both men and women. Some people gain confidence from work, some from sport, some from trophy husbands. But for me it had always been sex.
And then I found something I’d written in my diary in my late twenties. I’d just been chucked by a girlfriend and when I’d calmed down, I observed, I need some masturbation time.
Some TLC for my own body. To try and remember my own body. Wanking off and eating straw always seems to be the starter for any creativity I have.
‘Wanking off and eating straw’ was shorthand in my twenties for afternoon autoerotic sessions when I was bored or looking for inspiration. After rutting under my sheets for fifteen minutes at a time several times a week, my bed resembled a stable that needed mucking out. I always felt guilty afterwards because all the wage slaves were in their offices working away. Mainly, I felt like a peasant because having real sex with good-looking people was what you were supposed to be doing.
But now I start to think that masturbation might be good for me. That it might be the way out of this mess – jump cords to a new life. The Victorians used to trot out that line from Juvenal about mens sana in corpore sano, a healthy mind in a healthy body, but what if a healthy body were the fruit of a dirty mind?
So I started to masturbate. A little bit every day when Hadji was out at his office. And the more I masturbated, the more I wanted to masturbate – not just touching and rubbing, but fantasies too. Filthy craven sex with strangers: men and women, old and young, posh and common, inter-epochal. The secret films I ran in my head when I was alone and naked in bed would be shouted out of Sundance, but at least they were honest. They were possibly the only things I had ever created not to impress a boss or an editor or to gain the approval of a lover. Maybe they could teach me something. And now that I was spending more time alone with myself, I was remembering my own body. And it was pissed off. There was something it wanted.
One night when Hadji came home, I’d forgotten to put my vibrator away. There was something like relief in his voice when he came into the kitchen and made a joke about something he’d found on the bed. I felt embarrassed. Then I thought, Wouldn’t it be great to be honest about your desire? To take time out to discover what your desire really is?
There were inklings of a plan forming. I wasn’t sure how to put it together, but I knew it would involve America. Growing up in drizzly Cornwall in the 1970s, I knew America would be my salvation. It was about bubblegum and riding horses and not having to be ‘ladylike’. And when I finally made it to New York one summer as a student, I wasn’t disappointed. I learned that America made you stop being shy. It made you unashamed to ask for whatever you wanted. I was excited to learn that there was such a thing as an ‘everything bagel’ and after a while that didn’t seem such a greedy concept.
I decide to fly back to New York in the New Year. I need to get away from everything I know to figure this out. Besides, the chef has been emailing me. When I tell her that I’m thinking of taking a fantastic voyage into my own body, she doesn’t laugh. She tells me she knows a bunch of sex-positive feminists from the 1970s. Some real characters. She’s happy to introduce me.
A lot was still up in the air, but luckily I was about to meet an eighty-five-year-old pot-smoking masturbation addict. She was going to set me on a path that would change my life forever.
AUTHOR Stephanie Theobald is a British journalist, novelist, public speaker, and broadcaster known for her playful and thoughtful work around sexuality and feminism. The Times described her as ‘one of London’s most celebrated literary lesbians’ and she writes regularly for the Guardian, the Sunday Time and Elle UK. She is the author of four novels, most recently A Partial Induldence (2010). She lives between London and Los Angeles.
This post is featured as part of #Blogtober18.
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