“The problem is that we think of love and sex as being very happy bedfellows, and they’re not. They actually hate each other.” Sexpert Tracey Cox talks with Zibby about how reaching a certain age Amazon mean we have to sacrifice good sex. Her new book offers multiple ways to rethink sex after 50 to improve your physical health and your relationships. (It may also make you laugh out loud!)


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Tracey. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Tracey Cox: My pleasure. I’m so excited to be here.

Zibby: Tracey, I have to tell you, when I read your book about having great sex after age fifty, I read it on my laptop on my lap surrounded by the kids as they were doing all of their random things. My husband was sitting on the other side of the couch. All the headers of the different sections, oh, my god. All of a sudden, he’s like, “Honey, what are you reading over there?” I was like, “Nothing.”

Tracey: I noticed that you haven’t had any other sex people on here.

Zibby: I know. Honestly, I am sort of prudish when it comes to talking about this stuff, but I’m excited because you have such great advice on so many things, and not just the sex, but relationships in general and so much great stuff in your book. Of course, you are the foremost Dr. Ruth of our time, basically. First of all, you’ve been writing about sex forever. You had a number-one ridiculously successful best-seller, wrote the book on sex twenty, thirty years ago?

Tracey: Yeah, what was that? Round about twenty years.

Zibby: How did you get started writing about how to have better sex?

Tracey: It was sort of by default, really. I had a big sister who worked with family planning. When other kids were being taught all the little kid stuff, she was pushing pamphlets under my door of how to cope with herpes and how to put on a condom. It was just bizarre. All the kids at my school, of course, found out very quickly that I had a big sister who could answer sex questions. I would be a bit like Otis in Sex Education. I’d be running backwards and forwards between my sister and — I swear that’s what’s made me so unembarrassed talking about sex. Then my parents split up. My dad had an affair and left my mom when I was fifteen. I became very fascinated with the forces of love and sex. I loved writing. I didn’t quite know which way to go. I was like, do I become a psychologist? Do I become a writer? Then writing won because I’ve always loved writing. I ended up becoming a writer who specialized in sex. That’s my thing. I think I was one of the first people to be called a sexpert. My agent was like, “I hate that term. I hate that term.” I was like, “You don’t have to live with it.” It sounds like I lay around practicing having sex all the time, doesn’t it, with Calvin Klein models or something? Very odd term.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. Are you embarrassed at all by it? Do people ask you about your own personal sex stuff all the time? They must.

Tracey: They do. They do all the time. I have thirty years’ practice with it now, so I don’t mind. I’ll tell you what, I can talk about sex without any embarrassment at all, but what I don’t like, and people assume the two go together, I hate vulgarity. I people to use the correct term like penis and vagina. I don’t like slang. That offends me, but nothing else offends me or embarrasses me. I’ve heard a lot of things from a lot of people, including a nun who wrote to me once that she’d left the nunnery and was having trouble having sex. It was like, oh, my god, I’m clearly going to hell for helping her with this. I’ve heard all sorts of things. I’m the person at the dinner party that people either want to sit next to or try and get as far away as they possibly can from. It’s that sort of reaction.

Zibby: I love that you’ve written this manual for people fifty and over. There’s this big question mark. When I was really young, I was like, I’m sure people stop having sex at some point. I didn’t know. I can’t imagine grandparents have sex. Now that I’m in my mid-forties, I’m like, I don’t know about that. What does happen? Your book is so great because, first of all, you acknowledge the physical hurdles that might present themselves. You’re so funny too. How to do certain things, you’re like, if his knees are hurting, I may try getting in this position. I’m like, oh, my gosh, this is hilarious. Of course, as you age, everything starts hurting in different ways. You fully acknowledge that.

Tracey: I know. It was hard not to make jokes along the way every single turn. I tried to make it kind of like a best friend who knew a lot about sex by your side. That was the intention of the book. It’s not the sort of book that you would read cover to cover, really. You can, but it’s more like, I’m having issues with this, so I’m going to read this bit. I’m having issues with that. Part of the reason for writing it was selfish because I — this is my seventeenth book about sex. Can you believe it? After all these books, I thought, nothing’s going to happen to me. I’ll be sailing through this menopause. I won’t have a libido problem, but I did. Part of the motivation for writing the book was to fix myself with it. I used to have a really high libido. Post-menopause and turning fifty, it wasn’t that I lost it, it was that I kind of forgot about sex. It took me a while. It was like, this is so strange. I used to think about sex all the time and have sex all the time. All of a sudden, it just had dwindled away. It’s all hormones, of course. It’s all up here. It’s all attitude. You just have to rethink it and think, okay, so desire isn’t like it is when you’re younger where it just taps you on the shoulder. You actually have to create arousal. You have to arose yourself. I think if you can get your head around that bit, you’re ahead of the game. That’s the true secret of having great sex in the second part of your life. Of course, it does get better. It can get much better than the first half.

Zibby: A lot of people talk about, make a plan for it. Put it on the calendar. You were saying people think that when they were younger they didn’t plan for it, but then you point out you did plan for it. You got nice lingerie. You get linin sheets. You had a plan. You just didn’t plan it in the same way. You were looking forward to it.

Tracey: Exactly right.

Zibby: As opposed to, don’t put it on for drudgery’s sake.

Tracey: No. I think you can’t just have sex in the . The good thing to do is to take turns. It’s your turn this week to think of something new to try. Each of you has to come up with a new thing. Otherwise, then it is just the chore that you’re crossing off. I think it’s hilarious that people hate it when you say plan sex or schedule sex. Yet in every area of our life, we do that. If you’re going to go to a restaurant, you’ve researched a restaurant. You look at the menu. You think about how you’re going to get there, what you’re going to wear, in the old days when you could go to restaurants of course. Yet people hate it when you apply it to sex. I think it’s because we have this weird thing about sex that we think that we’re born knowing everything. The amount of people who say to me, “As if I’d need to read your book,” the people who say that, I feel like saying, I think you probably do need to read my book because you’re the person that thinks that you’re just born a mind reader and probably never ask your partner what they like or don’t like. It’s really funny. The other thing that really annoys me is that people think of sex as intercourse. This is why sex can get better as you’re older. Sex becomes less focused on his penis being the star. It becomes less penetration focused because women often find sex painful. His erections became a bit wobbly. It moves away from that, intercourse is the main event. Of course, it isn’t for most women because only twenty percent of women have an orgasm through penetration anyway. It moves into touch-based, slower, more erotic sex. That works better for both men and women, actually.

Zibby: Does that count? Does that count as having sex?

Tracey: Yes!

Zibby: Do you think that counts if you don’t have full-on sex? Does it still count? Do you know what I mean?

Tracey: Zibby, this is exactly the sort of attitude I’m trying to get rid of. Listen, sex doesn’t have to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. I always say to people, think about a sexual encounter. Don’t think about how many times you had sex. Think about a sexual encounter. If you give your husband a big passionate snog on the way before he goes to work, that’s a sexual encounter. That’s sex. Sex isn’t intercourse. No, no, no, it’s not. It really isn’t. Particularly as you get older, the more you can move away from that type of thinking — of course it counts. Say you get an orgasm through oral sex. Does that orgasm not count because you had it through oral sex? Of course it does.

Zibby: I don’t know. You’re the expert.

Tracey: Even if it doesn’t result in an orgasm, I think any type of sexual and erotic encounter counts as sex. That’s what I would describe as sex.

Zibby: Okay. You also talk in the book about how some couples become so sibling-like over time. They’ve been together forever that it’s hard to get out of the rut. What happens when you sort of lose that drive? Tell me about that.

Tracey: That’s a very common problem for any age. It’s just a long-term couple problem in that we’re not meant to stay together forever and ever and want to rip each other’s clothes off. The problem is that we think of love and sex and being very happy bedfellows, and they’re not. They actually hate each other. What we need for love and what we need for sex are two completely different things. Love likes security, contentment, predictability, routine because it makes us feel safe. Lust needs forbidden, erotic, anxiety. Do they love me? Don’t they love me? Oh, my god, they’ve just touched me for the first time. It likes uniqueness and newness. The two things, we can’t have them coexisting in our brain, really. What happens is, most couples, because we don’t have sex all the time, most of us want the love elements, don’t we? We don’t really want anxiety, edginess, and all that sort of stuff. Effectively, this cancels out the lusty desire hormones in our brain. The love ones cancel out the sexy ones. Then you have this situation where you’re feeling like friends. Again, you’ve got novelty. You’ve had sex a hundred million times before with the same body, usually the same way. Of course you’re not champing at the bit to have sex with each other. I think the mistake that people make is that they then think, it must mean I’m not in love with my partner anymore. It doesn’t mean that.

It just means that, again, you have to look at sex differently. You’re not going to look at each other like you did at the start and want to rip each other’s clothes off for apparently no reason other than it’s Sunday morning. You have to create desire for each other. The other thing that people hate is you have to make an effort. That means planning new things to do, making sure you try new things all the time, that you have a really interesting life together. The other thing that really puts the zap back into your relationship is — so many couples only ever hang out at home or go out together. There’s something really good about seeing your partner through other people’s eyes. I remember seeing my to-be husband walking through a restaurant. I think he’s good-looking. I was watching him. All these girls were looking at him. These women were looking at him. I was a bit like, oh, my god, what are they doing? I hated it, but it made me aware, wow, this is an attractive man. He’s not just my Miles. He’s an attractive man attractive to other people. It can sort of slip you out of that, oh, there’s Miles, he takes the rubbish out, sort of thing in that nice, warm, soppy, cuddly, dopamine feeling and back into that, actually, if I don’t have hot sex with him, somebody else might. You have to look at your partner through other people’s eyes to get yourself out of that. It’s the hardest thing to fix. There’s are lots of other suggestions in the book. There’s no one simple answer at all.

Zibby: Then in case it all fails, you also have a whole section on what to do if your partner cheats on you and what to do when you get over adultery. What if your eyes are wandering? Tell me a little more about that.

Tracey: I thought I’d better include that. For this book, I did research. Also, I did hundreds and hundreds of interviews with women, anything from forty-five to eighty. They were fascinating. One woman had had her first orgasm at forty-five. Another one had had her first orgasm at seventeen. She was in her seventies with the same person and having this ridiculous sex life. She’s having sex about four times a week. I felt really ashamed of myself after talking to her. I’ve lost my train of thought now. What was I saying? Oh, the affairs. There was a whole lot of people — I don’t know whether it was a bit biased because I suppose these people are going to want to talk to me, but there was a whole group of women who’d got to fifty and thought, right, I’ve had my kids. I’m in this relationship that I haven’t particularly wanted to be in for a long time, but I’ve stayed for the kids. I’m leaving now. I’m going to go out there. I’m going to do all the things that I’ve always wanted to do. Lots of those things include adventurous sex. They are having the best sex ever. I just thought to myself, if this is happening, it happens on both sides as well. It’s men leaving their wives. Regardless of sexuality, people just leave each other once you hit half a century because it’s a time of reflection. I thought I’d better put in some advice there for people who decide, you know what, I’ve had enough, I’m out of here and I’m going to look after me, or what to do if you’re the one that’s left on the floor. Awful.

Zibby: Wow. Then you also include all of these physiological benefits. In case you’re avoiding sex, here are the reasons why you shouldn’t be avoiding it anymore. There are so many benefits. It’s not just closeness to your partner. Can you talk a little bit about some of the ancillary benefits you get?

Tracey: Physically, I had no idea just how much sex does. It boosts your immune system. I think men who have regular orgasms over the age of forty-five are twice less likely to die of a heart attack than men who don’t. Orgasms are incredibly good for you. Sex is incredibly good for you. It’s just this process that seems to set off the production of so many hormones like dopamine, serotonin, endorphins that do wonderful things for your body. Of course, there is nothing like sex to promote the emotional closeness that you feel with your partner. The other thing that I think you probably got from the book is that desire isn’t the only motivation to have sex with your partner. There are other things like sexual generosity. If your partner says, I want to go for a walk, and you don’t want to go for a walk, sometimes you just go for a walk. I think we get very hung up on this. I’m not going to have sex unless I absolutely feel like it. Then he’s got to feel like it, or she or whoever you’re sleeping with. That happens quite rare.

You can’t always have these perfect conditions for sex. I think there are other benefits to having sex like just having a laugh, feeling close afterward. The thing about sex is even if it’s really just boring sex, it still feels nice. There’s something nice about sex with your partner. Whether that be a long-term partner or a short-term partner, sex is pretty amazing. If you don’t have sex for a while, you forget about how good sex can be. That’s what happens to couples long term or over the age of fifty, women particularly. Men struggle with erections. Women struggle with menopausal symptoms. It can be a bit like, oh, god, this is too hard now. Then it’s, one month goes past. Two months goes past. Suddenly, you realize you haven’t had sex for a year. It becomes the big elephant in the room. Suddenly, if you aren’t used to talking about sex or you feel a bit embarrassed talking about sex, you never talk about it. It just quietly gets never done again without even a conversation.

Zibby: That was another thing you added which was really helpful, how to talk to your partner about all of this and how to have a nice conversation. How do you bring it up if you’re not used to discussing it? What are some tips there? You had the funniest list of what you shouldn’t say to your partner. I should’ve printed it out. All these things like, this is not going to help your sex life if you say, this is terrible. Oh, my gosh, you’re so funny.

Tracey: I think you think I’m unintentionally funny at times. Often, because people aren’t that good about talking about sex — we are at the beginning. We talk about nothing else but how great we are, how hot we are. Aren’t we hot in bed? Then the minute things go wrong, that’s when we shut up. I think people blurt out all sort of things like, I hate it when you do that. My ex used to do it like this. Can I tell you how he did it? That’s not going to get you far, is it? You always have to start with a compliment. The biggest trick is to say, I love it when you do X, but could you do more of Y? It’s like a sandwich. You have a compliment, what you want to say in the middle, and then another compliment at the end. I did a TV show where we had to get people talking about sex. Couples were so paranoid about it. Once they’d had that first conversation, that first few seconds of uncomfortableness of, “Could we talk about our sex life? I love you. I really want to us both to be happy. Let’s talk about our sex life to make it as good as it possibly can be,” once you’ve even said that much, the worst is over. You’ve said the word sex to your partner. Can we talk?

Then every single couple, without fail, said, oh, my god, if I’d known it was this easy, we would’ve done it years ago. How much easier is it when you can just talk openly and honestly to your partner about sex? That’s how you get through the aging thing, when you say, oh, my god, this is happening to me. What’s happening to you? This is happening to me. It’s couples who get all funny about — they’ll talk about aging in every other sense, but they won’t talk about aging of the genitals or anything like that. Once you start, yes, there will be that little bit of awkwardness, but once you keep going, it just goes so fast. There are lots of sex conversation starters in this. You can have a little script. Another thing if you want to try something new, I always think the best thing to do is to wake up in the morning, you go, oh, my god, I just had this most amazing dream that we were doing X. Then your partner will either go, what? that sounds awful, you pervert, or they’ll go, oh, that sounds interesting. It’s a very easy way to suss out whether they’re interested in doing something else.

Zibby: Tracey, what else are you doing? Are you on a TV show now? Your bio is so long. You’ve done a million things already. You have this book coming out.

Tracey: At the moment, I’m not on TV, no, by my choice actually because I feel like I’ve done all that. You know what? It’s really hard work working with real-life couples and traipsing about the countryside. I feel like I’m a bit over that now. I do two sex toy ranges with Lovehoney. I do books. I do my blog. I seem to spend my life doing publicity or just talking about sex on different mediums. I keep thinking it’s going to calm down soon, but it hasn’t. I don’t really want it to calm down, of course. Because of lockdown, we haven’t been able to redesign any new toys, so that would be my next thing, would be to redesign the ranges. That’s fun. Coming up with sex toys, that’s great fun.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, this is so funny. This is twice in one week. I just interviewed another author who’s written this literary fiction that’s called Good Company coming out, Cynthia Sweeney. I was researching her. She wrote The Nest. She wrote a whole article about sex toys in The New York Times which kicked off her career. That was yesterday. Now I’m talking to you. I don’t know what’s going on. Maybe the gods are talking to me or something. It’s pretty funny.

Tracey: They might be. When did she write the article?

Zibby: I think a hundred years — no, like twenty. I think in 2007 or something like that, but I happened to have read it. It kicked off her career and all the rest.

Tracey: Good for her.

Zibby: Aside from doing publicity, where do you see this going? Do you want to help more people with books? The reason I’m asking, in part, is I have these anthologies. In my first anthology, I had a whole section called Moms Don’t Have Time to Have Sex. I had a bunch of people write essays about it. Then I have let it go since then. I keep thinking, I have to bring this back because so many people were flipping to that section and being like, what did they say in there? I want to figure out a way to make this a more accessible topic. This is something girlfriends confide to each other, but a lot of them don’t talk openly enough. It does cause so much destruction. Then next thing you know, your whole life is — anyway.

Tracey: I think books are very important, any media, books and podcasts. I think podcasts are an excellent way, actually, to talk about sex. Sometimes, like you said, you’re reading your book on a reader or your laptop, but you’ve still got the husband looking over your shoulder or whatever. If you are embarrassed, you can have earphones in. No one’s going to listen. No one can hear what you’re hearing. If people are really embarrassed, a podcast is the way to go. It’s quite interesting. I think the world divides into — some people that I talk to, I say, do you talk to your partner about sex? They’re like, yeah, of course I do. Others are like, no, of course I don’t. It seems to be the great divide about couples who are just incredibly open, especially the younger generation, and then people post-forty. I think you get a lot less people talking about sex. It’s a shame because you’re never going to get through your whole life with somebody, if you intend to stay with them, or even two years on, unless you can talk through your sex problems. You will not make it.

Zibby: Interesting. I feel like now you should host “Moms Don’t Have Time to Have Sex.”

Tracey: Maybe I will.

Zibby: I’m not even kidding. I feel like we should talk after this. You should do a podcast for me or something.

Tracey: I’d love to.

Zibby: You don’t have your own podcast.

Tracey: No, I don’t. I was going to start up a podcast. Then when I started doing the publicity for the book, everybody’s got a podcast. I thought maybe there’s not room for more. I don’t know. I would like to do a podcast. I’d love to do a podcast with you. It is interesting. Who’s listening to all these podcasts? There’s so many of them. Everyone’s listening to yours, but I don’t know about the rest of them. It’s crazy.

Zibby: It’s so funny. I know. I’ve been on a bunch lately to promote my book. There are so many podcasts. I am not particularly even that good at listening to podcasts because I feel like I record them all day long. I listen for competitive reasons like research and things like that.

Tracey: How long have you been doing yours, though?

Zibby: Three years.

Tracey: So you came in at the beginning. Yours is successful for many reasons. I think the lockdown, everybody just decided to do a podcast. It’s just become the thing now, hasn’t it? Whereas yours is well-established and well-run. It’s not easy doing a podcast either. You’ve got to do it properly. God, I don’t know how you fit in everything.

Zibby: I don’t either.

Tracey: You’re the world’s busiest woman, I swear.

Zibby: I know. My inbox has become completely unmanageable. I just look at it sometimes and laugh. I think you just have to have a sense of humor. I’m debating putting an autoreply being like, I cannot get to all these. I’m getting there. It’s not just me. Everybody is overwhelmed in so many different ways. At least it’s fun. I just have to laugh.

Tracey: Better too busy than not busy. That would be just awful.

Zibby: Yes, I agree. I’ve been there. I’ve been at home with my kids on floor like, I miss my brain.

Tracey: I bet. I didn’t have kids. I couldn’t have kids. I don’t know whether I would’ve had them anyway. I’ve got a little stepdaughter now. Just stepparenting her is like, god, this is hard. I could not have stayed at home with a baby. I think I would’ve been utterly useless. I’m not patient enough.

Zibby: Do you have any advice to aspiring authors?

Tracey: I think writing nonfiction is very different than writing fiction. I had a stab at that. I was absolutely rubbish. Nonfiction, I think even if you’re not feeling creative, get some words down on the page. I’m sure it’s easier to say for nonfiction than fiction because you can do your research. You can do your interviews. Writing’s a muscle. You just have to get used to sitting down and getting the words out every single day. I don’t think I’ve ever sat down and thought, you know what, I can’t write today. I’ve never had the luxury of that, actually. If you’ve got deadlines, you just have to meet them. Just sit down and write anything. Just get yourself writing something.

Zibby: Give a busy person something to do, same point.

Tracey: Yes, absolutely.

Zibby: Awesome. Tracey, this has been so much fun and also helpful on many levels. The book was really awesome. Everyone should read it because it’s really not just fifty. I’m in my forties. All of it is completely relevant because so much of it is relationship advice. Of course, if they don’t want that, you have eight thousand other books you’ve written. It’s like a platter of sex books. Anyway, I’ll be in touch because I really think that it would be really awesome if you did that podcast.

Tracey: I’d love to. Absolutely.

Zibby: I think people really want to listen. It’d be better, as you said, than my laptop in the kid-land and everything.

Tracey: With the kids wandering in.

Zibby: More on that to come. Thank you. This was really, really fun.

Tracey: Thank you. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

Zibby: Take care. Thanks. Buh-bye.

Tracey: Bye.

Great Sex Starts At 50 by Tracey Cox

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