She put it in caps: The Sex Issue. It was an email from the editor, signposting this weekend's theme. She does that from time to time, making sure, I guess, that this page doesn't strike too discordant a note, offering me inspiration. And mostly I am grateful. Mostly it feels like a gift; a means of corralling my thoughts. Because for me writing is like cooking: I work best under limitations. An empty pantry more stimulating than a profusion of provisions. A prescribed topic more thought-provoking than a whole slew of options. Fortuitously too, although perhaps not surprisingly, given it's Valentine's Day next week, I had, in fact, been pondering the very issue. Well, perhaps not sex exactly, but romance anyway. And while it's true that not all sex is romantic, most romance, in my experience, leads to sex.
For weeks now my inbox has received a daily injection of what I can only think of as being tantamount to soft porn. Email after email from underwear brands I occasionally give my business to, full of women in suspender belts and cage bras, urging me to "turn the heat up" this February 14. I don't know whether it's just a passing phase, or heaven forbid, my age, but where once I might have found these images titillating, now they can make me feel kind of weary. It's not that I am repelled, rather it is a little like the feeling when your tummy is full from a big meal and someone puts a slice of cake in front of you. It's a nice idea, but it's hard to summon up the same enthusiasm you had when you first sat down at the table. So when the editor flagged that today's magazine would be all about sexy times, I felt not so much excited as conflicted.
I've never held any truck with the theory men devote more headspace to sex than women, but it is only recently I have come to understand just how much of my time used to be spent thinking about it. Where once it crowded my mind, it is only through, while not its complete absence, its certain demotion down my list of priorities, that I appreciate this. Although you may find it inconceivable when younger that your preoccupations will change, for most of us it's inevitable. From friends who have found themselves suddenly single at this age, I know that a return to youthful appetites is, at least, temporarily possible, but when you have been together for almost as long as you haven't been, sex and romance tend to take different forms, morphing into something infinitely more layered. Enthralled, in my 20s, by the thought of flirting with unknown men on nightclub dance floors, I would have sneered at the idea that one day I might look forward to sharing the last of the Christmas cake on the couch with my husband once the children are in bed, and yet now it brings me a joyful kind of comfort. In the same way that our regular diary meetings do; a habit I learnt from my parents, where you take note of each other's appointments and commitments, thereby minimising clashes, and ensuring you are on the same page, that your lives are in synch, not competition.
Conversely, the longer you are with someone, the deeper and yet more humdrum your conversations tend to become. I used to fear all that administration of life - whether to change from Spark to Vodafone; whether to cancel Sky now we've got Netflix - was a sure sign of a lack of passion, but now I know it adheres you to one another as much as your initial lust did. In her book, A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara - and you will have to forgive me here for quoting her two weeks in a row - describes it magnificently as "the daily mapmaking that keeps their life together inching along". It is, she writes, "The ideal expression of an adult relationship, to have someone with whom you could discuss the mechanics of a shared existence."
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It would be risible to suggest a discussion with your partner about whether or not to increase your garden bag collection from monthly to fortnightly could ever be sexy. But it can be soothing, it can be confirming, and that in, and of itself, is a pleasure, both intimate and true.