Two mothers and daughters explain how talking openly to each other about sex, identity and pleasure has strengthened their relationship and enriched their love lives
Words by Rosie Mullender
The average woman’s sex life is anything but predictable. From a drought in your twenties to the excitement of a revived and satisfying love life in your fifties, via fluctuating hormones which can crash your libido one minute and make you insatiable the next, there’s no way of knowing what might happen. The common misconception is that as we get older, we prefer less sex. But as we grow more confident in ourselves and our bodies the opposite can be true. So, does sex really improve with age? And could having a frank conversation with your own mother about her sexual journey lead to a more satisfying love life for you?
‘There’s a misconception that sex belongs to young people,’ says research fellow Dr David Lee, who compiled a study on sexual satisfaction across the decades for The University of Manchester. While statistics may show that millennials are having more sex than older women, they’re experiencing half as many orgasms*. ‘With age comes increased awareness of our own kinks and idiosyncrasies and a more relaxed approach with our partners, which is conducive to great sex,’ says family therapist Stefan Walters.
So, what life lessons can we learn from our mothers when it comes to sex? We spoke frankly to three mums and their daughters about how their experiences have shaped their erotic lives.
‘Mum opened up about her own queerness’
Artist Sam Roddick, 47, ran erotic boutique Coco De Mer, before becoming a politically charged agitator. Her daughter O’sha Roddick, 20, is currently based in New York and studying journalism.
Sam Roddick: ‘Both my mum [the late Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop] and my grandmother liked to shock. Mum extracted strangers’ sexual secrets with ease, and would recount these for entertainment – the more secrets she spilled, the more we learned to keep ourselves to ourselves. At home, sex was a topic of hilarity that never got personal, and at school our sex education was so rudimentary, we’d done everything already.
‘When I was 19, I moved to Montreal and met a queer community. At the time, I was a sexually active teenager with very little confidence. But they fully embraced their bodies without shame: hair, curves, orgasms were all pleasures to be enjoyed. Celebrating my own sexuality became a personal right that led to much of my happiness, and when I opened my ‘erotic emporium’ Coco De Mer, we had three main goals: prioritising the teaching of consent, embracing sexuality and pleasure as a natural form of expression, and creating an accessible, inclusive space.
‘After O’sha [who identifies as queer and non-binary, and uses the pronouns they/them] was born, they moved fast, walking before the other kids and doing everything early. I felt as though they needed time to grow up, so I hid items from my store in the basement, and just kept out a few pieces of decor.
‘I wanted to create a safe space for childhood to exist. As O’sha got older and started having boyfriends, I tried to have conversations about their sexuality. But, like most kids, they absolutely didn’t want to discuss it with me.
The only way to avoid discomfort was by writing a letter full of information. It talked about how to get to know your own body, because a lack of confidence is the very thing that blocks you from standing up for yourself. It told O’sha that sexuality needs time, care and respect – boys also haven’t got a clue what they’re doing, so always be guided by your own gut feeling of what is right or wrong.
‘Once O’sha was older, they asked me to help some of their friends who were having issues around their bodies. I always felt privileged to be able to have that open relationship with O’sha and their community. For O’sha to start to understand themselves fills me with relief. I’m completely unbothered with what gender or sex they are; I just care what kind of person they are, and if they are cared for by others.’
O’sha Roddick: ‘As a child, I grew up with pearl and glass penises plastered across the walls and shelves, and I felt a lot of shame about that. When I was ten, Mum created some cornicing out of hundreds of plaster vaginas laid side by side. I’d blurt out, “Those are roses,” before anyone could question what they were seeing. I’d also get teased about a TV show Mum hosted about sex [Channel 4’s The Joy of Teen Sex], so it was always a touchy subject for me.
‘At 13, Mum talked to me about masturbation instead of sex. She held my hand and said, ‘Before you can let anyone else feel good, you need to feel comfortable with yourself.’ In my embarrassment, I ran away and avoided her for the rest of the night.
‘The experiences we have shared have been a process of teaching one another’
‘When I lost my virginity, it was a physically and emotionally painful experience. For years, I had sex with men, and constantly questioned how anyone could enjoy it – most of my experiences were negative in some way.
‘But then, when I was 18, I fell in love with a girl, which was the beginning of my sexual journey. Once I started having sex within a queer relationship, and accepted my identity, I learned how beautiful sex can be.
‘A year later, I came out to Mum. We discussed my fears about my gender identity and how wrong it felt being labelled as a woman, and Mum opened up to me about her own queerness. Sex is only now becoming something I can discuss, but as I’ve grown into my own sexuality, I’ve come to love how open I can be with my mother.
‘The experiences we have shared have been a process of teaching one another – the use of my pronouns has been a learning curve for her, but it’s something she’s accepted. I’m extremely grateful to have a parent who doesn’t shame me, and encourages healthy ways of relating to my body and my sexuality. My mum is filled with knowledge, and I’m very proud to have her in my corner.’
‘We discuss Mum’s sex life with Dad’
Eunice Chang, 59, is a radio host in Taipei, Taiwan. Daughter Wan Tseng, 31, lives in London and runs WISP, a ‘sensual tech’ jewellery collection.
Eunice Chang: ‘Back in the 60s and 70s, sex education wasn’t that open, so I guess I was self-educated. What I discovered about sex came from books, and I wasn’t able to bring it up with my mum.
‘I remember asking her if sex would hurt, and she replied, “It won’t hurt if there’s love.” Looking back, that was very good advice, and a lesson I wanted to pass on to Wan.
‘When it came to raising my own daughter, I was much more open. Wan’s dad is a gynaecologist, so the house was full of books about the human body. She had read them all by the time she was ten, so when I tried to tell her about sex, she already knew about it.
‘Working in the media, I’ve kept in touch with the younger generation’s views on sex. I worry that more women are choosing to stay single – it’s a shame not to have children and a family, but it’s also good that they don’t have to rely on a partner to support them.
‘I’m proud Wan is encouraging conversations about sensuality, especially as it’s not very commonly talked about in Asia. It’s important to spread the idea that it’s OK to discuss your desires with a partner, rather than to grin and bear it. Sex gets better with age because you grow in confidence, and talking is crucial.’
Wan Tseng: ‘Growing up, my house was a comfortable place to talk about sex. Even though I was raised in Taiwan, where people are often too embarrassed to discuss it, Mum’s very open-minded. It was a bit awkward in the beginning, but after a while it became more natural – we even spoke about her intimate relationship with Dad, and she’d give me advice about drinking water after sex to avoid getting a UTI.
‘Mum being so honest really influenced me. She’s a good listener, and respects my boundaries – so I was, and still am, happy to share a lot of my experiences with her. She’s very patient, with a positive attitude, so I try to bring that into my own relationships.
‘When I talk about how open our conversations are, some people are envious’
‘I tell her whenever I go through a new experience, like when I lost my virginity. Usually, she thinks I’m a bit too crazy. When I talk about how open our conversations are, some people are envious. But, ultimately, sexual relationships are about personal choice – discussing sex with Mum hasn’t changed who I choose to be with, it’s just made us closer.
‘I think, overall, my generation mostly has a healthy attitude towards sex – women are open with their partners about their desires, and have conversations about consent. But there isn’t any focus on interactions before sex that trigger desire, which is why we created WISP. Since then, I’ve been even more open with Mum about it – and it’s good to have those conversations.’
For more information on sex tips and safe sexual health, visit nhs.uk/sexualhealth
*Survey conducted by Lovehoney