WITH a shock of blonde hair, a slash of red lipstick and free-flowing clothes, Suzi Godson looks every inch the sex columnist, when we meet in Dublin city centre.
But she didn’t set out to write about people’s problems under the sheets — it was a career that found her.
Godson’s first passion was design. Aged 18, she crossed the Irish sea to study at the prestigious Central St Martin’s College of Art and Design, in London, followed by a masters degree at the Royal College.
A determined self-starter, she set up her own design business in London.
But the work wasn’t her “idea of fun”. After three children in quick succession — the second pregnancy produced twins — she wanted to do something more meaningful, to address the complexities faced by a working woman with children.
In 1997, she and a group of girlfriends wrote and designed Women Unlimited, a DIY guide to life for women.
It was a bestseller.
“It covered how to do everything, from changing a plug to divorcing your husband and there was, inevitably, a chapter on sex,” says Godson.
Their no-nonsense approach to sex got people talking and The Independent newspaper offered Godson and a friend a weekly sex column.
This led to The Sex Book.
“It was a massive research project, a kind of crash course in sex,” says Godson.
“I worked with an amazing bunch of people and found several mentors, whom I remain very close to. I quickly learned that although academics and doctors have an in-depth understanding of their specialist fields, they are not necessarily great communicators — I could translate complex issues into narrative that was digestible.”
The Sex Book was published in 2002 and has been translated into 15 languages.
Godson, who was born in Carlow, travelled a lot as a child. It forced her to look beyond parochial Ireland from a young age.
“My dad [a businessman] lived in America when I was growing up, so I spent a lot of time in New York and Los Angeles and my time there had a big influence on me,” she says.
From the outset, her research has spanned both sides of the Atlantic — an base that informs her weekly column for The Times.
“I’ve worked with, or interviewed, an enormous range of experts and academics and I’ve done a masters degree in psychology. When I get a minute, I plan to do a Phd, too,” she says.
Godson has also conducted research, through her website, www.moresexdaily.com — a resource for couples in long-term relationships — and is currently analysing quantitative and qualitative data from 3,500 people who took part in her sexual-frequency study.
It seems unlikely that anything would shock her about sex.
“I’ve been exposed to pretty much everything and, over time, you do become inured to the craziness. I do recognise that some people really need to push the boundaries and enjoy exhibitionism, but most people are fairly conservative in their sexual tastes,” she says.
The issues she responds to change depending on age and length of relationship. But there are core, recurrent issues: children, infidelity, ageing, health and sexual ignorance, or dysfunction — she recently received a letter from a man who has a fetish about cosmetic products.
“It’s much easier to have sex than it is to talk about it, but there is a direct and proportional relationship between a couple’s ability to communicate honestly about sex and the level of satisfaction they get from their sexual relationship.
“There is all sorts of help available, but people tend to leave it until it’s too late.”
Though it’s all too easy for couples in long-term relationships to fall into a predictable sex routine, Godson warns against it. “The challenge is to avoid the strong lure of the familiar. It’s so easy to go to the same cinema, the same restaurant, watch the same TV programmes, have the same conversations about the same things, and then wonder where the spark has gone.
“If you are willing to haul yourself out of the habit trap, and if your partner is willing to do the same, you can really revitalise your relationship. Excitement and novelty are inextricably linked to marital happiness and satisfaction.”
The rise and rise of online porn has had a big impact on what couples expect from sex. Godson calls for a rational response.
“If using porn means that there is something wrong with a relationship, then there is something wrong with almost all heterosexual relationships. More than 70% of men use porn and, in 2006, 97% of all searches for free porn were made by men.
“The real challenge with porn is accepting that it’s OK for two people in a committed relationship to have a private, solo-sex life.
“The average time spent on a porn site is seven minutes. It is a means to an end.
“And since global sales of vibrators are now worth €6.4bn a year, I think its time we were all a little more honest with each other,” Godson says.
Her own life has naturally influenced her work. Her first marriage, at the age of 22, was to a man she had known for seven weeks and produced three children. Fifteen years later, they divorced.
“It was very messy and painful and it taught me that infidelity and divorce have devastating consequences. I married again and had a fourth child on my 41st birthday.”
With her three older children now aged 21 and 19 (twins), do they find it a tad embarrassing to admit that their mum is an expert on sex?
“A lot of their friends read my column, so I think they think its quite cool.
“They’ve certainly always been well-informed and all the research suggests that earlier sex education leads to more responsible sexual behaviour.
“My youngest child is just seven and she knows that I write about relationships, but, yesterday, for example, there was a discussion about sex education on the radio while she was having her breakfast. I wanted to listen to it, but she decided it was ‘inappropriate’ and made me turn the radio off.”
* Suzi Godson starts her weekly column in Feelgood today.
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