December 11, 2023

‘Middle-aged women are eager for sexually explicit material’

'Middle-aged women are eager for sexually explicit material'

An author on her desire to write a book with plenty of sex in it


There is sweet FA equal division of labour in my house: I do the lion’s share of cooking and cleaning and my husband brings home the bacon. To our children I willingly gave his name. And it’s me who remembers his family’s birthdays. There is a line in my new novel One of Those Mothers in which the protagonist, Bridget, makes some fairly sexist assumptions about her son’s teacher. “Oh Bridget,” she chides herself, “you bad feminist!” In truth I fear I, too, have let down the sisterhood. That I, too, am a bad feminist.

Not an unhappy one, mind. For the most part I am content enough in my work, but occasionally, say, scrubbing guts off my husband’s fishing shirt whilst he relaxes with a beer after a long day, I wonder what happened to that small, ardent activist who once raged in my chest. Who, in Standard One, when her peers opted to do their class projects on ponies and pterodactyls, chose as her subject Emmeline Pankhurst’s hunger strikes; who railed at the butcher with his crude jokes; who flipped the bird to wolf-whistling construction workers.

There is one particular area though, in which I am confident of still fighting the good fight. You see, when it comes to sex, I am a very good feminist indeed. As a young woman I baulked at the notion my sexual appetites might be any less vigorous than a man’s, that I couldn’t seek pleasure for pleasure’s sake. I sowed my oats widely and freely. How dare any man presume an invitation to share my bed meant I required strings and ties, a promise he would call.

Now, as a middle-aged mother of two, I watch my teenage daughter and her friends revelling in their burgeoning bodies and I salute them. I am incensed by the fathers who bang on about having to keep their female offspring under lock and key, while giving their male progeny a knowing wink, a proud slap on the back, as he heads out the door on a big night. When my son embarked on adolescence, I advised him to keep consent at the forefront of his mind, to do what feels good and say no to what doesn’t. I refuse to counsel my daughter any differently.

While I acknowledge my libido is no longer as voracious, no longer as honed, as it was, I am still curious, still interested in matters of the flesh. My book club, a group of women, ranging in age from 47 to 69, has taught me I am no anomaly. That middle-aged women are eager for sexually-explicit material. That it enthralls us, and sometimes, hormones allowing, arouses us.

When you discover your straightest friend prefers it on all fours, it puts your own weekly quickie in perspective

The woman who first sat down to write One of Those Mothers – with young children and a firmer epidermis, nervous system not yet smashed by menopause – was not the same person who finally finished it almost seven years later. But one thing which hadn’t changed was my desire to write a book with plenty of sex in it.

It has often puzzled me why writers seem to tie themselves up in knots over sex scenes. Perhaps it’s kind of like your lover asking you to talk dirty. “Er… take that, you, um…” Where moments earlier you were hot for it, suddenly your desire curdles and you find yourself quite lost for words. 

Although I do not pretend my book is a work of erotica – at root it’s a story about mothering, about raising children in these anxious times – the sex is nonetheless embedded in the characters’ daily routines. Because as with doing the groceries or feeding the dog, sex is part of domestic life; typically pedestrian, every once in a while thrilling, and, very occasionally, dangerous.

Some early readers reported being a little disconcerted by all the sex, and I wonder if a middle-aged woman writing brazenly about people shagging is still considered unseemly somehow. Or perhaps it’s just that they know me and it felt icky, akin to overhearing your parents doing it.

We tend to dance around our friends’ sex lives, but put a bunch of women alone together in a room with enough booze and the detailed ribaldry never fails to astound or delight me. It’s both reassuring and edifying. When you discover your straightest friend prefers it on all fours, and that your flirtiest friend is only having it every couple of months, well, it puts your own weekly quickie in perspective.

Mostly my protagonist, Bridget, really enjoys sex. However, she does spend a fair bit of time extricating herself from any sexy-time with her husband, and occasionally she relents out of a sense of obligation.

Call me a bad feminist if you must, but I get it.


One of Those Mothers by Megan Nicol Reed (Allen & Unwin, $36.99) is available in bookstores nationwide. ReadingRoom is devoting all week to this novel set to roar up the bestseller charts. Yesterday: the explosive opening chapter. Tomorrow: an index of the book’s audience – the anxious, grasping middle classes

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