Sexpert Pamela Stephenson Connolly drew a large and curious crowd to Cheltenham Literary Festival on Friday night to talk about her new book Sex Life.
Wearing a figure-hugging turquoise dress and high heels, she took to the stage solo and embarked on an hour-long exploration of sex and everything that comes with it. The key to unlocking your sexuality – how you think of sex, how you have sex, sexual experimentation – Connolly explained, is starting at the beginning. “Ask yourself this question – ask yourself not what your mother told you about sex, but what she thought about sex.
“Was it bothersome, was it not nice for girls? Was it dirty? A secret? Wrong? I think it’s a useful exercise. Ask yourself how that transfers to your sex life.”
As a professional sex therapist who lectures at a university in California, Connolly hates the word ‘normal’ when discussing sex. “Normality is a confusing concept – if you believe what you see and hear and read it seems that everyone is having more sex and better sex than you.
“Talking about sex is always challenging in a personal context. It’s so much easier not to. We are brought up not to talk about sex. Sex is a mixture of physiology, psychology, biology, upbringing, culture and what we hear on the ‘playground’. There is so much that goes towards it – where do we get our modelling? If early on we ask an innocent question as a child, if our parents are embarrassed or angry or give you the impression that it’s wrong to talk about it, we don’t talk about it.
“Students come up to me at school and say ‘I always thought I pee through my vagina’ or even ‘thank you for telling me where my wife’s G-spot is.’ Sex is natural but it doesn’t come naturally. It isn’t spontaneous, no matter how hard we try and make it to be. It’s always planned: hoping that it is spontaneous is planning.”
Connolly explained how nowadays there’s a pressure to perform: “We’re all goal-orientated. It has a lot to do with our culture: ‘I must have an orgasm, my partner must have an orgasm…’ sometimes a goal might even be to achieve an erection. We need to remove goal orientation from it and give ourselves up to the giving and receiving of pleasure.”
Connolly hates the word ‘foreplay’ because it “suggests there’s a main event. Very often for women, intercourse isn’t the best part. Outercourse is.” She calls the sexual voice most of us have the “inner beastie”, and remembers a 90-year-old gentleman who wrote to her once, whose inner beastie was very much still roaring. “He said he was having this fantastic intercourse with a women in her late eighties and said ‘should I be doing this?’ Hell yeah! Kids can be very judgemental about their parents, grandparents.”
Connolly has been happily married to Billy Connolly for over 20 years, and says that marriage can still be a hotbed of pleasure giving and receiving. She said writing the book made her feel horny “for about a year”, and that appearing on Strictly Coming Dancing with dance partner James Jordan and training with him was very “exciting and very discombobulating. Of course you’re going to be horny, you’re touching someone’s body all day.”
She stressed that: “boundaries are important. It can be tricky. You get all this hormonal activity, chemical reactions, and sometimes they’re the wrong people. Jack Brand came up with the erotic equation: attraction plus obstacle equals erotic equation.
“If I ask you, I bet most people will pick the wrong person, the wrong place, the wrong time as their best sexual experience. The forbidden can be electrifying. We place a lot of value on monogamy, but just because you’re married to someone doesn’t mean you’re never going to be attracted to someone else. It’s what you do with it that’s important. It will make all of us have a few sleepless nights.”
She encouraged parents to tell their children the proper names for things, not pet names, and said all children grow up to be “little sexual scientists.” If sex or body parts are made out to be something mysterious then children won’t ask about it or feel comfortable with it. “You need to be benign; be private about it but acknowledge that it feels good, as long as it’s age appropriate.”
So how exactly is one ‘good in bed’? Connolly says the answer to being a good lover is being able to ask the right questions, have the right information of what your partner likes and being able to impart on that person what you like. “You can be with someone for ten years and suddenly be like ‘you like THAT?’” she squawked.
It seems even a sexpert is surprised every now and again.
Sex Life by Pamela Stephenson Connolly is out now, published by Ebury.