We started off on great form, H and I. We could barely put each other down. But that was 15 long years ago now, and I was just 18.Now, at 33, sex seems so far away from me that I struggle to remember the point of it. We rarely do it at all, and when we do, it's usually out of a sense of obligation. How long's it been? A month? Well, I guess we really ought to have a shag then. Hang on, I'll go and shave my legs first.
It feels, sometimes, as though all of my desire has run away. It used to be triggered by the most intangible things: the smell of warm skin on a summer afternoon; a shared glance. Nowadays, even when I look for it, I feel as though I'm calling after a lost cat. Everything tells me something should come running, but I am shouting into an empty backyard.
If you'd asked me at 18 what sex with H was like, I would have said, quite truthfully, mind-blowing. But the problem is, we kept having that same sex over and over again. Mind-blowing at 18, if it doesn't develop, translates to boring at 33. And we are strangely content to look back fondly on our past sexual exploits rather than generate new ones.
So, nervously, I sidle up to H in the kitchen and make a proposition. "We're never going to be the couple who have sex every day," I say, "so let's be more realistic. What if we book a date for sex once a week, but with a twist? We take it in turns to arrange a seduction for each other every week for the next year.""Fine," he says. "Good. Great! So long as it doesn't have to be too elaborate, always."
"No, not elaborate. Just interesting. Just intended."
"And that doesn't mean to say we can't have sex at other times, too."
"Don’t push your luck."
This is how the seductions begin.
Seduction #1The First Date
I practically hurl myself into the bath, managing to shave my legs and underarms without a great deal of bloodletting. It's a good (if unusual) omen. I may not have a seduction ready, but I shall at least be utterly lovely when H arrives home. After a bit of deliberation, I put on a pair of seamed stockings with knee-high socks over the top, my best frilly knickers, a denim skirt and a striped jumper. Looking at myself in the mirror, I feel relieved that I look much like normal, if slightly improved.
It is only when I'm putting on my make-up (lots of black eyeliner, in tribute to H's rather unfortunate crush on Gwyneth Paltrow in The Royal Tenenbaums) that an idea arrives. What if we start all over again?
When I first met H, I was still living with my mother, so I stayed at his house on weekends. I used to pack up my overnight things in a small, brown vintage suitcase and meet him at the pub. H has since commented, misty-eyed, that he knew his luck was in whenever he saw me with that case. The real McCoy has long since disintegrated, having been carried home in the rain too many times, but I do have a small, blue vanity case, bought in a charity shop, that might do the job. It will be useless, of course, if I don't take it out of the house. I must meet H at the pub to get that whole "first date" feeling.
I realise I'm surprisingly nervous. It all feels like a bit of a risk. I hope he's not disappointed. As I carry my drink to a table, I notice a couple of men by the bar check me out. This has not happened in a very, very long time. It must have something to do with my look of intent, or maybe it's just that I’m a woman on my own on a Friday night. I text H: "For my first seduction, I'm taking you on a date. When you're ready, meet me in the pub."
Fifteen minutes later, I get a text in return saying, "On my way." I'm reduced to drinking the melted ice in the bottom of my glass when H arrives in his best shirt, looking more scared than I do. He goes to the bar and buys me a cosmopolitan, which I drink gratefully. "Look," I say, "I've brought my little case with me, just like old times," and he looks baffled for a few beats and then laughs and asks, "What have you got in it?"
"Oh," I say, "just my keys, I'm afraid. And my wallet."
But we're a bit more relaxed after this. We chat happily and he puts his hand on my knee. I feel quite splendid – sort of excited to be with him. He normally thinks it's pointless going to the pub on our own, but tonight it means we have to pay each other some attention, rather than crashing out in front of the telly for a few hours before falling asleep.
To cut a long story short, we have a few more drinks and a nice dinner and then retire home to bed. I draw a veil over the proceedings at this point, not through modesty, but because my memory is a little hazy after two cocktails, a vodka and tonic, and half a bottle of wine. I have a vague notion that it involved the reverse cowgirl, but I can say no more than that. I can divulge, however, that we also had (unscheduled) sex the next afternoon.
We book our second seduction for a Saturday afternoon. I'm quite nervous by the time I open the front door. The house is completely quiet. There's a note on the hall floor that says "Seduction". I put down my bags and open it.
"Go up to the bedroom and undress. There is a scarf on the bed – put it on as a blindfold and lie down. It should be nice and warm in there. When you're ready, I will come in. I won't talk to you. I will tie up your hands with the dressing-gown cord, and then I will stimulate you. If you don't feel comfortable at any point, just say."
Well. I first think, "Oh fuck," and then I feel slightly delighted. Boy, has he called my bluff. I'm trying hard not to giggle at the specification of a dressing-gown cord rather than, say, something less mundane. Silken rope, maybe? No, a dressing-gown cord. Let's not overreach, eh?
H, then, must be sitting in the spare room waiting for me. This in itself is somehow quite exciting. I take off my clothes and sit down on the bed. My scarf is draped across the pillow. I tie it around my eyes and then lie back, wondering how much he can tell from listening through the walls.
He's obviously listening very carefully; I don't have to wait long. He comes in and I giggle, just slightly. I think I want to send out a signal to him that I'm pleased rather than terrified. He resists saying hello, as I expect him to. Instead, I hear him come towards me. He gently picks up my right hand, kisses it, and then ties the cord around my wrist. He is being, I realise, deliberately reassuring – the cord is a soft, familiar thing, not tied too tight, entirely escapable. He does the same to the other hand.
Already, my senses are working in an entirely different way from usual. I'm conscious of the pauses between H's touches, not knowing what will happen next. My sense of smell is activated, too; I catch a scent of something unfamiliar on him, and wonder if he's worn aftershave just to fool me (he usually approaches aftershave as if it's some kind of affront to his status as a natural man).
It was odd to not be able to move, adjust or touch H back; I felt everything much more intensely than usual, and I quite enjoyed the thought that I was handing over my body to H, surrendering all control over what he did or saw. With the blindfold on, I felt more anonymous, more able to accept what was given to me. I was able to gasp and moan – in fact, this was more necessary than usual, being our only means of communication.
Interestingly, though, despite it all being intensely pleasurable, I struggled to orgasm until he finally untied me and I could move around a little more. I think H was more bothered by this than I was (he was driven to bringing the electric toothbrush into the equation at one point, until it began to bleep frantically in defence of its depleted batteries).
For me, finally being untied felt like a wonderful opening of the floodgates, especially seeing as he had refrained from kissing me until that moment. I can honestly say that first kiss was one of the most delicious kisses we've ever shared.
There must have been a point in our relationship when sex got pushed off the agenda. I can't put my finger on an exact moment, but I remember an era when sex moved from being a compulsive, luxurious indulgence to an unwanted demand on my time. I'm pretty sure the transition came earlier for me than for H, because I can remember a sense of dread that his hand would reach over to me, that little bit too deliberately to be acting in simple affection. I remember, too, learning to avoid kisses and cuddles, lest they segued into an attempt at something more. Either way, H was too polite to question it, or perhaps he lacked the language. After a while, rather than rail against this rejection, he adjusted his desire downwards to match mine.
Seduction #15Sundae Girl
I am what you might call "ideologically opposed" to squirty cream. It is, in my opinion, the bane of modern eating, a disgusting non-food that actively detracts from whatever it adorns. It jumps out at you from the most astonishing of places – perfectly good coffee shops seemingly can’t resist a quick whoosh of it on the side of your homemade cake – and I have been known to interrogate waiters about the meaning of "cream" on their menu.
This is the reason I have never covered myself in whipped cream for H before. I just couldn't bear for that cream to be UHT and out of a can. I have, in the past few months, wondered extensively whether there is a way around this. A piping bag? Or just a bowl and a spoon? I considered briefly whether it's possible to get hold of those contraptions they use in Starbucks to pipe unwanted whipped cream onto your hot chocolate.
H actively loves squirty cream, largely because it comes in a handy dispenser that drastically cuts the time it takes to get it into his mouth. Therefore, at lunchtime one day, I find myself in a supermarket buying the infernal UHT canister, a packet of raspberries (woefully out of season, but you can't achieve such things with spring greens), a jar of chocolate sauce and a bottle of sparkling wine.
That evening, I wait until H has got into his post-gym shower, and then I swiftly arrange myself. I cover the bed, first with the oilcloth that sits on the kitchen table, and then in two doona covers. Then, I lie back and pipe the cream bikini on myself, garnishing it elegantly with raspberries. I decide to leave the garnishing with chocolate sauce to H, mainly because I will ruin my creation if I move too much. So I lie back and wait. He’s taking ages in the shower. The cream feels cold, and it's beginning to slide off in places. I wish I'd poured myself a glass of the wine to pass the time.
Eventually, he comes into the bedroom, and I say, "Surprise!" He squints at me for a while. "I'm covered in whipped cream," I say.
"Oh," he replies. "I wondered. I've not got my glasses on."
He dives in enthusiastically with the bottle of chocolate sauce. Combined with the cream, it makes us both taste like a profiterole. The raspberries are less popular, being a fruit and therefore non-kosher for H, but he willingly consents to a game of "hide the raspberry". The best bit, though, is the way the chocolate sauce clings to our skin, making us lick more insistently than usual.
We also, at my suggestion, try dipping parts of us in the sparkling wine, an idea I got from Nancy Friday's My Secret Garden. This is a surprisingly bad idea. We try it first with H’s penis. The bubbles fizz madly and then gather themselves around him like a tank of piranhas. "Ow," he yelps. "That hurts!" Disbelievingly, I dip a nipple into the glass, only to find the same effect – the bubbles feel like hundreds of little needles, which is pleasant for the first few seconds, but then it builds into something much more painful. Not to be recommended. It also leaves your wine tasting of penis.
After half an hour, we are both smeared head to toe in cream, chocolate sauce and crushed raspberries. For a while, this makes for deliciously slimy body contact, but there’s a distinct point at which both of us are ready to get in the shower. While we're standing there, supervising the removal of chocolate sauce from each other's hair, H looks at me with what can only be described as admiration."I can't believe you let yourself get that dirty," he says.
"I can't believe I bought UHT cream," I reply.