I always thought menopause would be great - no more thinking about pregnancy. But it didn’t work that way.
An interview with Ceri.
Ceri | Age: 61 | Location: London, UK | Occupation: Nurse | No. of sexual partners: 34
Why did you take part?
Sex is something nobody talks about. Everybody talks about work. But massive parts of people’s lives no one talks about. It’s the whole secrecy about sex that is such a terrible thing. It would be so liberating if somehow everybody had a moratorium on silence about sex and everybody spilled the beans about what it’s like for them.
What events in your life shaped your sexuality? What’s your story?
When I was very little I had a bond with my father. I was the youngest of 3. When we’d go out in the car he’s put his arm on my leg. He used to say to my mum to be a good girl when he wanted to have sex with her. Nothing ever happened but I remember feeling it wasn’t right.
I had a sexual relationship with a girl cousin when I was 12 or 13. We used to stay at their house. Her and I used to share a bed. We had a sexual relationship but it was never spoken about. She’d say to her dad that I put my arm around her. I didn’t want her to tell them. Even now I think about it when I see her. We never spoke about it.
I was about 15 when I first had sex and got on the pill - it had just come out then. There was some peer pressure probably - who was doing it and who wasn’t. I always felt like an outsider in my family and was desperately looking for love. I felt that if somebody would have sex with me it’d mean they loved me. It made me quite promiscuous at the time.
I had a longer relationship with someone for 2 years before going off to university. I had a lot of thrush and was quite unhappy. My next long term relationship was for 10-11 years. It was quite distant emotionally. We were very committed but again sexually it wasn’t really there. He was a workaholic and he wasn’t spending much time with me. We lived together but finally I split up with him because I felt like I was missing out on something. I didn’t want to stay with him for the sake of being with someone. Before we split up I had an affair with someone I worked with. It was my first proper sexual experience. So exciting. The guy was a player though. I never knew when I was going to see him. It was just sex but it was good sex. It went on for a couple of years. I split up with my partner halfway through it. I felt like I was using the affair to split up with my partner, like I needed something to shake myself out of the relationship. Looking back on it, the affair was quite painful - he was treating me quite badly and I was allowing it. I became quite obsessed with this guy so I moved jobs. I then had another affair with someone at work. It was nicer but again an affair. I still feel like I’ve never had a good experience around sex. Only time I had a rich and fulfilling experience was when I had affairs. I know I put up barriers with people and wonder if I seek out people who also do that.
Then I met Dimitris, my current partner. We only had a very good sexual relationship for the first year or so. When we started to live together he’d get quite angry about things and lose his temper. I suppose I was afraid of him at the time to be honest. After about 5 years we split up because I felt I was putting up with stuff I shouldn’t put up with. I started a relationship with someone younger than me after that. We were part of a group in which this man would play a bunch of women against one another. There was a lot of jealousy going on and he was manipulative so I moved on after a while. I was still in communication with Dimitris.I was upset and low. He came around and we started to see each other again. We never had a sexual relationship after getting back together - that’s for the last 9 years now. I went through menopause then. We are sexual with each other but it just doesn’t go there. I always thought menopause would be great - no more thinking about pregnancy. But it didn’t work that way. Not that I had no desire. I just physically couldn’t, it hurt to have sex. I’ve tried lubricants and I’m on medicine that could help me overcome it but I haven’t been using it. We’re very close and I feel like we kind of accepted not having sex but I don’t know how I feel about it really. I don’t know if it’s really just the menopause or if it’s issues we haven’t explored. Now he has a problem with his prostate and is on medication which may mean it‘s not possible anyway. He tends to stay up and not come to bed, watches TV. I’ve tried to not go on about it. Permanent complaining doesn't get us anywhere. When we do try, one of us will say let’s not bother and have a cup of tea instead, or something else that’s familiar. I feel not heard about some things in our relationship but I’m starting to accept more. Little by little things are getting better. That’s the situation really. I do feel jealous of people who must be having a good sexual life but I’m very committed to Dimitris. I don’t see the lack of sexual life together as important enough to break our relationship.
I keep thinking everyone’s got it better than we do. I feel envious of people who have had a good sex life all their lives. At 61 I don’t feel like I’ve had a good consistent sexual relationship. I keep thinking everyone is having a wonderful time and I’m not. Like there’s a great world of having fun and I’m not a part of it. What’s funny is if you lifted the embargo on silence about sex you’d find out just how similar everyone probably feels.
What does sex mean to you?
Dimitris and I cuddle and kiss every day. I guess in a sense that is sex. But sex is also not love. The time when I enjoyed sex most was when I wasn’t in love but just attracted. Sometimes the desire was almost scary, out of control - I couldn’t function. I worry I can’t have that with people I love. I feel like I ought to have loving sex. But really what I want is just erotic sex. I can’t quite come to terms with the idea of love and eroticism at the same time. There’s always been a divide around this in my life.
What’s difficult about sex?
What’s difficult is getting into a rut and not getting out of it. Making it a priority. Communicating it, acting on it and getting past the obstacle. I don’t know if it’s physical or emotional.
What do you most enjoy about sex?
It’s the feeling of being normal. It’s doing what society expects you to do. And also the physical sensations. The orgasm. The closeness.
Do you orgasm?
Never had a problem even from penetration. The partner that I had good sex with we had a lot of oral sex. And he had great technique. I tried to raise the subject of oral with Dimitris but he’d never been that keen.
How often do you have sex?
Not often! My coach told me that when they wanted sex they’d ask for it. It never occurred to me to ask for sex. I always assumed that it’s something that should just happen naturally. He always comes to bed in pyjamas so I asked him to come to bed and have sex. He took his clothes off and was really up for it. I thought why didn’t I do it before? Because it’s become a habit not to do it it’s almost like we should make an agreement to have regular sex and stick to it. If it doesn’t work it’s ok but to try. The longer you wait the worse it gets and just becomes a normal way of being. Now with his medicine it may not be possible to have sex anyway but we can still explore oral.
Do you masturbate?
Yes. Quite often. Could be 3-5 times a week. Generally before I go to sleep. I guess my partner does it as well but we would never do it in front of each other. I’d feel like I was doing that instead of having sex and feel guilty about that. I usually fantasise about domination and strangers.
How do you see female sexuality portrayed in the society?
Women are meant to be sexual objects, homemakers, professionals; to be everything and to do it perfectly. The whole fashion industry tells you to be sexy. But then if you are self-confident and sexy you’re seen as whore. In the past I didn’t buy into that. I was quite assertive but as life goes on and relationships go by it all affects you. I think society makes you feel inadequate. I think there’s all sorts of messages out there about what’s right about what’s wrong.
What’s your advice to women?
Don’t have sex when you’re very young. I started having sex before I started having sexual feelings, because I felt like I should. Wait till you have desire for someone. Don’t feel pressurised. Don’t give into the idea it’s wrong to enjoy yourself sexually. Definitely have sex before you get married!
What’s your advice to men?
Men should ask women about want they want and consider what women want. Find out about them and their feelings. Be kind and respectful.
Is there anything you want to explore?
Making sex an important part of my life. Making it a priority and giving it more time. Exploring each other’s bodies more. Maybe go away for a weekend where all we’re going to do is have sex.