The biggest taboo in modern society is talking about sex in long-term relationships, says author Isabel Losada, whose new book advocates starting conversations that could change your life for the better.
Yesterday was not a good day for this author. Part of the job is speaking at book festivals across the UK. Many authors dislike public speaking but as I’ve worked as an actress and comedian, I love it. I’m very happy centre stage and talking to an audience of 200 or 2,000 because I know that not only is the material important but also people will laugh.
However – with the current book – with the notable exception of the Hay Festival, I have been universally denied a platform. Even festivals where I’ve spoken before and have been told that I’m welcome back at any time, don’t want to let me speak. This was particularly sad for me yesterday. I was on the phone to a festival I love and offered to step in last minute, as an author had dropped out. The person on the phone was grateful as I was solving a problem for them. But later that day an email came, “Unfortunately our curating team feel that the content will not be appropriate for our audience.”
Last week I went to Belfast where the events manager was kind enough to write, “She gave a talk filled with honesty, integrity and useful information, but most importantly it was a talk filled with fun. Isabel is the one of the best speakers, the most entertaining and the most passionate we’ve ever had.”
I mention this, not to blow my own trumpet, but just so that you don’t imagine that pitch for the talk is weak. My publicist and I quote this and other similarly positive reviews, send links and are confident we are writing good emails. But still our in boxes are filled with rejections. So what is this shocking subject that no-one wants to hear about? Am I inciting revolution? Promoting the NRA in Bridge of Allan? Am I lobbying for legalisation of hard drugs? Yes – you can guess can’t you? Sex. Loving, intimate, pleasure isn’t appropriate.
The rich irony is that we experience sex as being everywhere. Yes – lean a woman who has recently arrived at puberty against a car and apparently it helps to sell the car. But if you want to talk about real sex as it is experienced – or not experienced – by real people every day in their bedrooms… doors, that had previously been open, slam in your face.
The email I had yesterday wasn’t the first. I wouldn’t have taken it so badly had it not been one of a huge collection of similar emails. “This is not suitable for our publishing house/club/book festival/TV show/radio show/event space.” I feel censored and censured. And it’s condemnation before examination as people just say “No” without even asking for more information. Am I advocating orgies? Sex with animals? Obscure forms of Japanese bondage?
No, the context I’m talking about sex turns out to be still more radical. It’s loving sex in long term, monogamous and heterosexual (because that’s the group I’m in) relationships. I’m trying to talk to everyone who has ever taken a marriage vow or made any promise to another person to be faithful. There are a lot of us. I want to talk about how you can make love to one person for the rest of your life without getting bored. About how you can enhance your intimate life. About how you don’t have to give up on loving, enriching, life enhancing sex. About how we have all been conned by the porn industry into believing we are broken when we are not. About how we don’t have to go and have an affair as a way of finding out whether there is something wrong with us.
To avoid anyone in the audience being embarrassed in the Question and Answer section at the end – I take questions anonymously on cards and I insist that audience members do not add their names but just write M for male or F for female – so that people can ask the most intimate questions, without anyone knowing who is asking what. And even then I add humour “Mark from Manchester would like to know – ‘Does size matter?’” The audience laughs as they know that Mark doesn’t exist and the man who wants to know this is right there in the theatre.
What makes me even more sad is that every day another book comes out about mental illness, depression and addiction. Mental illness is said to be the last taboo. And yet – I thought everyone now knew that a major factor in addiction is a desire for connection? I thought that enough excellent writing had been done saying that loneliness is an epidemic? Surely loss of intimate connection with the significant other in our lives is a major factor in human misery? And what about the other health advantages of a good sex life – such as it boosting the immune system, to mention just one benefit.
Let’s imagine that my talk may be very bad or that I don’t know what is ‘appropriate’ to say and what is not. Let’s imagine that the three years of research that I did are worse than useless. Let’s assume that I have no gift for comedy. Let’s forget that book I’m speaking about was a number one best-seller and presume that it has no merit whatsoever. Even if all this were true but that – during my talk – I had just ONE piece of information that could inspire a member of the audience to take a new interest in their sex lives; that one person who may not have had sex with their partner for ten years (believe me this isn’t rare) goes home from the event and says, “I wonder if we could find a way to talk about this?”
The event works exceptionally well as a 3pm event or as a 10pm event. Do festivals want the Cosmo generation? Younger more diverse audiences? You’d think they’d welcome a comedy talk with a bit of edge?
I’m afraid that sometimes accusations about UK publishing and the industry that surrounds it are true. A number of high street book stores also refused to stock the book claiming ‘no-one reads books about sex.’ 50 Shades was OK because it was fiction but if you write first person narrative non fiction many assume that there can be no possible merit in the writing. In the UK we seem to still be in the 1950s. Only at least in the 1950s the British knew they had a problem with sex. Now we believe that we’re OK. But we are not OK. After working on this project for three years I would say most of us do not have good sex lives. We have an epidemic loss of intimacy and happiness for a wide range of reasons. Yet I’m jumping up and down asking for a platform offering solutions and almost no-one says “Yes, please”.
Then – a small sign that all is not quite lost. The Fringe by the Sea Festival in North Berwick, replies and amusingly wants to schedule a talk at 3pm calling it ‘Sex in the Afternoon.’ This festival used to be part of the Edinburgh Fringe but is now a separate entity, has new management and, like the Hay Festival, is prepared to be brave and have fun.
If you’re in town, check out the Fringe by the Sea Festival. And in case you were wondering – my answer to the question ‘Does size matter?’ – is No – love matters.
Sex in the Afternoon with Isabel Losada: Sensation: Adventures in Sex, Love and Laughter, Thursday 9 August, 3pm, £10, Marwick Spiegeltent, North Berwick Harbour; www.fringebythesea.com
Sensation: Adventures in Sex, Love and Laughter by Isabel Losada is out now, £9.99, published by Watkins Media