Fifty shades of bedroom farce
Sex guru Tracey Cox tells Chrissie Russell that more people are living out their erotic fantasies – with car-crash results
From whimpering at whips in Fifty Shades of Grey to lusting after limousine liaisons in Bared To You, there's no doubt the recent wealth of erotica has got us all hot and bothered.
But instead of moaning in sexual ecstasy how many of us are instead groaning at the fact our sex lives are nothing like the titillating scenes portrayed in print?
Worse still is the clawing fear that everyone else is having great sex, living out their erotic fantasies in a series of beautifully staged trysts culminating in sexual nirvana on a near-nightly basis.
But before you weep into the pages of your 'mummy porn' or turn the spare bedroom into a sex dungeon, it might be wise to read Dare: What Happens When Fantasies Become True by Tracey Cox.
Having assuaged our performance anxieties for over two decades, the TV sex expert has turned her attention to erotic fantasies and the often nightmarish, naked truth of putting them into action.
It is most definitely not the book her publishers wanted her to write.
"When Fifty Shades came out, all the publishers were on saying 'Please, please, can you write erotic fiction' but I've no interest in that whatsoever," says Tracey.
"It started me thinking though, wondering if all these fantasy books meant more people were actually living out their fantasies?
"And the answer is yes, they are, but often with car-crash results. That was the story I wanted to write, the one that reflected real life."
The book is broken into some 30 stories, each divided in three parts: The Fantasy (how the person imagines their encounter) The Decision (how they opt to put it into practice) and The Reality (what actually happens).
The result is a unique hybrid of steamy erotica and laugh-out-loud anecdotes – Fifty Shades of Grey meets the embarrassing letters page in Cosmo.
"I had to convince the publishers that it was okay for a book to be sexy and funny, it hadn't been done before," she says.
"But it's been my favourite one to write. I love the disaster stories! Fantasies are fantasies for a reason, in real life you can't predict what other people will do."
So instead of a litany of sexy seductions we have threesomes where one person freaks out (or turns out to be of indeterminate gender), awkward, embarrassing mile-high encounters and bad things coming in very, very small packages.
The stories are anonymous but true, with one courtesy of an Irish friend of Cox's and two about the author herself, although she's uncharacteristically coy about identifying which ones.
Demure is not Cox's default setting. In the course of our phonecall her frankness swings between outright hilarious to X-rated content.
It's a no-nonsense, straight-talking approach to sex that has made her a best-selling author and seen her grace the couches of Oprah and CNN as a globally recognised sexpert.
"Girls will say 'does this top look good with these jeans' but they won't ask a friend 'what do you do with testicles during oral sex?'" she says simply.
"People don't talk like that and they never will . . . but they will buy a book that explains it to them in a practical, knowledgeable way."
Born in Devon in 1961, Cox grew up in Australia writing for Australian Cosmopolitan magazine, before returning to work in England.
In Ireland she is perhaps still best remembered as being the woman who talked Gerry Ryan through the (ahem) ins and outs of female masturbation, much to the amazement of his morning listeners.
"He said 'masturbation is a huge issue here because of religion, can you tell us how to masturbate on air?'" says Cox of her first book tour some 12 years ago.
"I thought, 'bloody hell, they're a bit weird over here aren't they . . .' but I did it and the switchboard went mad!
"Half the calls were 'Oh my God, this is amazing, it's great someone's talking openly about this' and the other half were 'Get that f***ing woman off the air.'"
She laughs telling the story but the Irish, or more specifically Catholic, attitudes to sex are still a source of consternation to her.
"I know religion brings a lot of comfort to a lot of people, but it doesn't do a lot for the old sex life," she says.
"I know so many religious women who can't disassociate guilt from sexual pleasure," she pauses, "then again at school the Catholic girls were always much more promiscuous because they said they could just make up for it by going to confession later."
Interestingly, in a world where swinging and extra-marital affairs seem to abound, Cox isn't keen on pushing bed-hopping or promoting careless attitudes to sex.
She explains: "All my books are about monogamy and trying to help people stay together, not break them up.
"I'm actually quite wholesome. I've always tried to stand for the average couple who get a bit lazy with sex and need a kick up the arse to push themselves out of it."
Thus she's happy to offer suggestions on ways to rev up a waning sex life (Dare includes a 'how to' section) and even produces her own line of sex toys with Lovehoney (lovehoney.co.uk), but she's not going to perpetuate the myth of instant orgasms and mess-free sex portrayed in erotic fiction.
"It's bloody hard to have great sex long term, I'm not going to misrepresent that," she says.
"Same with fantasies – normally they don't work out. Simple things like spanking are fantastic but the minute you involve other people you get into big trouble."
She adds: "Erotica is great if it's aspirational and pushes people to make a little bit more of an effort – because you do need to make an effort – but I think we all need to manage expectations a little bit.
"People get very dissatisfied with their sex lives when in fact there's nothing wrong."
Now 51, in a relationship and 'doing the mummy thing' with her boyfriend's 12-year-old daughter (diagnosed with cervical cancer at 28, Cox was unable to have children), life sounds the picture of domestic bliss for the sexpert, even if her Notting Hill flat is littered with relationship manuals and risqué toys. Does she worry about getting older and talking sex?
"Oh God!" she wails, "I'm always asking my friends 'Have I turned into Dr Ruth?' I mean, she does it well, but I don't ever want to be that person."
I think we can safely say there's no danger of that yet.
Dare: What Happens When Fantasies Come True, by Tracey Cox, is published by Hodder and Stoughton (£7.99 paperback, £4.99 kindle); the Dare product range is now available from lovehoney.co.uk.