Interview: Tracey Cox, sex expert

Sex and relationship expert Tracey Cox. Picture: PA
Sex and relationship expert Tracey Cox. Picture: PA
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Author and sexpert Tracey Cox spares no blushes when it comes to sharing her carnal knowledge. Now she exposes all in a book about fantasies.

Tracey Cox is matter of fact about sex. Bondage kits, middle-aged men wearing nappies, why women make the best dildo designers, how to deliver great oral sex, it’s all in a day’s work for the sex, relationship and body language expert, TV presenter and bestselling sex self-help book author.

Despite the fact we’ve only just been introduced, after the briefest of verbal foreplay we’ve got her subject by the short and curlies. With her relaxed, engaging manner and natural curiosity, you can see why people open up and tell her their most intimate secrets and problems. Part of this stems from the fact that Cox is warm, completely unschockable and, more than anything else, wants to help the nation have better sex.

After 20 years as a sexpert, she has heard it all and answered every sexual problem you can think of, and then some. In her sex columns for Closer magazine and a tabloid newspaper, and on her website and TV shows – BBC’s Would You Like to Meet and Channel 4’s The Sex Inspectors – she doles out hands-on advice and top tips, and takes cameras into the bedrooms of real couples. She has her own range of sex toys with the Lovehoney brand and then there are the books, 14 so far, that have sold in their millions – including world-wide bestsellers Supersex and Hot Sex. The latest is Dare: What Happens When Fantasies Come True, and is destined to be a hit with the nation’s red hot and not quite so hot lovers.

All of this makes Cox the nation’s top sexpert and to show for it she has an international lifestyle, jetting about to dispense advice and launch books, plus a home in trendy Notting Hill, where the bookshelves are crammed with relationship and sex manuals and the cupboards house various sex toys and products. “My boyfriend Miles’s daughter Sofia, who is 11, just rolls her eyes about my job. The flat has tonnes of products around but she’s cool with it and so’s her dad,” she says.

Cox’s parents aren’t remotely embarrassed either and it’s her family that the 51-year-old credits with her choice of career. “I was born in Exeter, but my dad had an affair for ten years and dragged us all to Australia to get away,” she says. “We upped and left, but he came back to the UK two years later to see his mum, looked the woman up to apologise and it was all on again. Him having the affair pushed me into what I have done because I couldn’t understand why he would do that. When you’re a teenager you just think, ‘How could you do this to me?’ but later you realise he did it because he wasn’t in love with my mother. It would have been better for everyone if he had done things differently.”

You don’t need a degree in psychology (although Cox has one anyway) to work out that her need to sort out struggling relationships and misfiring sex lives started with her own family’s failings. Having an older sister who was a family planning nurse also meant she grew up “surrounded by condoms” and was the font of sexual knowledge for her peers, a surefire guarantee of popularity in the playground. After studying journalism and psychology at Queensland University, she worked as associate editor of Australian Cosmopolitan before the discovery she had cervical cancer at 28 made her re-assess her life, and she left the job to focus on her writing. “I had cancer and couldn’t have kids. I could have had IVF but I was so ambitious ... If I really wanted kids I could have tried a lot harder. I was the best person for that to happen to because I wasn’t one of those girls who grew up wanting to have children and I would never have been able to do what I’ve done if I had.

“But now I have little Sofia, and she’s divine. It’s a completely different area in my life to be happy in a relationship. I want to stay in and do the mummy thing. I’m very happy.”

So far so cosy, but Cox isn’t about to hang up her dildos and leave the nation panting in their hour of sexual need. “As a society, sex is everywhere but there’s still a shortage of practical advice. And people still ask me the same questions again and again, not just practical ‘how to’ things, but about jealousy and fidelity, how to keep a sexual relationship going. But why are people astonished when desire goes? That’s natural. It doesn’t mean people don’t love them any more, it just means they’re no longer infatuated. And that’s when you have to work at it.

“You can’t fight biology, but you can trick it. Try something different, have more ‘naughty’ sex. Try it at the other end of the bed.”

Her latest tome is a departure from her usual self-help style. As upfront as Cox herself, this one tells us in the title exactly what we’re going to get – Dare: What Happens When Fantasies Come True, in all their car crash, toe-curling, funny and uplifting detail. “Fifty Shades came out and, love or hate it, it proves people will still buy books, that sex sells and women aren’t prudes who only like romantic tales.

“It had an effect – our soft bondage kit sold out within two seconds. So my publisher wanted me to write erotic fiction but I was absolutely hopeless because, being a therapist, I would get up in the night and fix the characters’ problems, ruining the plot. So I did this instead. I have been writing about sex for 20-odd years and have done tons of interviews; people just tell me stuff, share their fantasies.

“The book has a bit of self-help, then women’s fantasies, and then reality –what happens when people put them into practice. The reality is far more interesting then the fantasy. It’s funny but it’s sexy too.”

She’s right. The fantasies are all very well but it’s hard not to skip the airbrushed encounters and rush headlong into the often deflating realities. There’s the couple who are desperate to join the mile-high club then get stuck in the toilet, too embarrassed to face the other irate passengers when they realise they’ve been rumbled; the woman who jams her building’s waste disposal shute trying to get rid of a lover’s strap-on; the woman who goes along with her boyfriend’s suggestion of a threesome only for her to emerge convinced the escort girl they hired was once a man. There are even two of Cox’s own fantasies and outcomes in the collection, but she’s not saying which. “The biggest mistake people make about fantasies is that they’re repressed wishes. Reality can’t possibly live up to it. They’re something they have conjured up in their head and they’re nothing like reality,” she says.

“The moment you turn things into real life, they go wrong. Some are better left as fantasies, and the book proves that. The people it works really well for are those who have thought through what could go wrong. There’s also a much better chance of it going right if it’s just you involved, because often men are the ones saying, ‘I’m up for this’ but they can’t cope with it when it happens. Be careful what you wish for.”

The 30 women who live out their fantasies and then report back are, according to Cox, representative of what the majority of us actually want in bed, both men and women. Threesomes are up there, she says, but the most common female fantasy is about their partner, while men fantasise about something they have done or would like to, often with their partner. Forbidden people, like a boss or friend’s partner, are also popular, as well as more raunchy experiences. “None of the fantasies were that weird, I didn’t think. Did you?” she says.

Er, no. But what does she find weird? “When people contact me, the ones I find hardest to deal with are those with a nappy fixation, infantalists. There are a few people who insist on writing to me about it, and I delete them without reading. They are often powerful men who have been raised by a nanny and formed a sexual identity around that experience. I find them hard to accept sometimes.”

So you won’t find them in this book, but Cox says she has material for a second fantasy book at least. As well as Dare and the accompanying range of sex toys, she’s working on another line of aids, that she says are “couple and boy friendly, to help with problems like premature ejaculation. There’s an anal beginners’ kit too, that I invented. My publicist jokes, ‘How can you hold your head up? You invented the anal beginners kit!’ But I say, ‘Why not?’” she laughs.

• Dare: What Happens When Fantasies Come True, by Tracey Cox, is published on 11 April (Hodder and Stoughton, £7.99 paperback, £4.99 kindle); Dare products are at

Twitter: @JanetChristie2