Who stole your sex life?

Sex is a wonderful gift from our Creator, so why do so many of us feel uneasy about it? Sheila Bridge explores the influences that can inhibit us

I recently read a report that said that “more than half of British women prefer chocolate to sex”, seeing it as a more reliable source of pleasure. Does anyone else out there think that’s a bit sad?

Chocolate may give you comfort but, seriously, is it really the case that that a secret solo moment between you and a packet of Rolos is truly better than the sense of connectedness and wholeness that comes from being held, caressed, tenderly kissed, aroused and satisfied in the arms of the person you love?

Apparently it is.

“Okay, okay,” I hear you say, “if sex was all those things you say, of course it would be better than a chocolate.” But, often it isn’t any of those things I listed. And I should know. I’ve done the research.

It isn’t that chocolates have suddenly improved that much in recent years, the problem is that, as a survey for Woman magazine found, “four out of five women have problems getting aroused, and one in two wished they enjoyed sex more”.

The more women I talk to about sex, the more evidence I find to back up that Woman survey and this annoys me. It does more than annoy me. I feel deep down that it’s wrong that so many women are so negative about sex. I feel that they have been cheated of a pleasure that was rightfully theirs, that someone has stolen something precious from them and given them back something taudry, worthless and potentially dangerous.

A friend who works in sexual health education talks a lot to teenagers and she tells me that a quick drunken ‘shag’ is the first sexual experience of many young women and it doesn’t get much better from then on. The idea of sex being pleasurable for women is frankly beyond their comprehension. Romance, passion and pleasure have been stolen away. And the culprit is getting away with it.

Who Stole Your Sex Life? is my response to this issue. I wrote this book to explore the eight most common reasons why women do not enjoy sex as much as their creator intended them to. Each chapter points the finger at a different culprit: the effect of your upbringing, the media, your partner’s needs, the pace of modern life, the effect of religious teaching, painful experiences in your past or present, or the fact that you are single.

Even though the subject matter sounds quite heavy, many of the personal stories are infused with hope. The women I spoke to as I wrote the book ranged in age from early twenties to mid seventies. Some had been married 50 years, one for only three weeks, some were divorced, others bereaved. And they weren’t just telling me the bad news; they had a lot of funny tips and good advice to pass on. There are no diagrams, but expect to find words you might never have seen before in a Christian book on sex.

My aim was to break the Christian silence about women enjoying sex. To say to women that they have a right to enjoy sex and if they’re not enjoying it, it’s okay to explore the reasons why. It was a gift from their Creator, who stole it from them?

I’m often asked what were my personal reasons for writing the book. The simple answer is that God asked me to and it took me about 13 years to co-operate (I waited for my teenagers to give their consent, but I also wasn’t that keen on gaining a reputation as a sex guru!)

But why ask me? I don’t have a complicated sexual history, I probably have the average number of hangups as the next woman. I was brought up in a Christian home, given unconditional love and a firm foundation in terms of Bible knowledge. It’s true that my journey to faith wobbled its way around a few near disastrous relationships before becoming firmer in my early twenties, but since then I’ve been married to David for 24 years now and we haven’t (yet) encountered any huge issues beyond the normal challenges of staying in love and keeping passion alive in a monogamous relationship.

I think I understood more of my own reasons for exploring this issue as I wrote the chapter on the effect of your religious upbringing. I found it really angered me that women today have 2000 years of negativity to overcome in terms of having a positive view of their bodies and of sex itself.

To understand this anger let me tell you about a huge act of rebellion I committed at the age of 19: I had my ears pierced! I know that will sound crazy to many women younger than me, but given the church background I’d grown up with, I genuinely felt the need to search the scriptures and my conscience to be sure I wasn’t committing an act of ‘self-mutilation’ or behaving like a ‘shameless hussy’.

The world didn’t end. In fact most of the world didn’t even notice that Sheila had pierced her ears! (my mum and sister did though, they had theirs done with indecent haste following my example!) As I look back on this memory, it seems to symbolise the power of religious teaching to oppress women. My upbringing, loving though it was, had not encouraged me to embrace my femininity let alone shave my legs, pluck my eyebrows or paint my nails!

And it seems I am not alone in feeling that the Church has not validated our experience as women: a few months ago after a talk to a group of women, one lady came up to me afterwards and said how liberating she’d found it that I’d used the word ‘sexy’. I restrained myself from bursting out laughing because she had just sat through a talk that had used several other far more ‘technical’ words that she would never normally have heard in a religious talk and yet she had really been struck by the fact that I thought it was okay to be ‘sexy’. So many women, it seems, struggle with being godly and yet being sexy.

In my journey towards self-acceptance, I have come to two firmly held conclusions: the first is that the desire to be attractive, beautiful even, is a natural and good part of what it means to be female. I believe in a Creator who planted in me an inner desire to be attractive, so I think that wanting to look good is an okay thing. You don’t have to suppress it, being concerned about your appearance does not make you a shallow human being.

Yes, it’s true that Jesus in his sermon on the mount told us to stop worrying about what to wear, but in the same sentence he told us that the lilies of the field didn’t try that hard and they are beautiful. I take it that he meant that being beautiful and attractive is a good thing, some of usjust have to try a little bit harder than others!

Some of you may have met Christians who sadly give the impression that it’s more ‘godly’ to close your eyes, put your hand into your wardrobe and put on the first five items of clothing that you touch. I really believe that God doesn’t ask me to wear ‘beige’. (Hey, if beige looks great on you, go for it. It makes me look like a corpse!).

My second conclusion is that the secret to being beautiful actually lies much deeper than the surface. It has nothing to do with cellulite or crows feet. It has everything to do with changing the way you think about yourself.

This is the ultimate message I wanted to communicate, that your body is your birthright. Even when there are factors to do with our sex lives that are beyond our control, we can still change our attitude towards sex, we can accept that God does not blush over sex, he didn’t give us a libido by accident! My real desire is that women feel liberated to fully enjoy the gift of intimacy that sex is. Chocolate doesn’t even come close ... combining the two is not a bad idea though!

If you want more . . .

Who Stole Your Sex Life? by Sheila Bridge is published by Kingsway ISBN 978 1 842912607 £6.99

You can hear more from Sheila at Radiant 08, a new three-day event at the Eastbourne Devonshire Park Complex from 19-21 September, organised by Kingsway Trust in partnership with Woman Alive and Bible Reading Fellowship. We’ll have four celebrations, 32 workshops, a pamper room, a fair-trade fashion show, late night chick flick and much, much more. For more details click here or to book your place click on the Radiant 08 logo above