Lucy Litwack, CEO of lingerie store Coco de Mer explains how she protected fragile male egos

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As a confident and successful businesswoman, I have never baulked when it comes to asking for what I want and need. 

While building my career as the CEO of Coco de Mer — a global luxury brand selling beautiful lingerie — I always considered myself the equal of any man I met professionally. I wouldn’t have dreamed of compromising myself in order to keep a male colleague’s ego intact. And yet, when I was younger, expressing my needs in the bedroom was a much greater challenge. 

So much so that, although I hate to admit it now, I resorted to faking orgasms to protect the ego of the man I was in bed with. 

Back then sex wasn’t so openly discussed among women. It was only in my early twenties, when I watched that iconic scene in the film When Harry Met Sally, where Meg Ryan gave a table-thumping performance of faking an orgasm, that I realised this was something many women did.

Lucy Litwack, CEO of lingerie store Coco de Mer explains how she protected fragile male egos

Lucy Litwack, 48, (pictured) made a name for herself selling beautiful lingerie and always considered herself the equal of any man she met in business. The CEO of Coco de Mer, when she was younger, found expressing her feelings in the bedroom a rather difficult challenge to overcome

Looking back I feel sad for my generation: we were so conditioned to think of men’s pleasure, it didn’t occur to us to speak up for our own right to sexual satisfaction. We settled for less for far too long. 

I’m now 48 and I haven’t faked an orgasm since my late twenties. I’m currently dating, but single, and these days, I’d never dream of such self-effacing behaviour. 

I’ve also never spoken publicly about my love life before. After all, I’m a businesswoman, not a sex therapist. So why now? And why something so deeply personal? 

The truth is, when I learned that recent studies suggest 75 per cent of women across all ages are still faking it, I was aghast and felt I had to offer what advice I could. 

A study last month in the journal Science Direct found women still fake orgasms for the same reasons they always did: they don’t want to appear sexually ‘abnormal’, and they want to protect their partner’s self-esteem. 

The latter reason, researchers found, is especially common in long-term relationships. 

The moment I stopped gasping in fake ecstasy was the moment he asked: Should I try something else? 

Perhaps you are one of these women — sacrificing your own pleasure at the altar of bolstering the man you love. I get it. But it still seems astonishing when you consider how hard we’ve fought for equality in all other aspects of our lives. In fact, it’s a travesty. 

Thankfully though, we’re far from powerless to put things right. Crucially, this same study found sexual communication is key. 

If women can get better at talking about what they want, then the need to fake the Big O hopefully disappears altogether.

Luckily, finding ways to speak up isn’t actually that difficult — I’ve done it, so I should know. 

After years of working in the lingerie and sex industry, pleasure (and helping women find the assertiveness to ask for it) has become a vocation for me. 

In my 20s and 30s, I worked at iconic lingerie brands including La Perla and Victoria’s Secret. 

Five years ago, I led a management buyout at Coco de Mer to become the company’s owner. Up till then, I’d never felt I needed a man for support — settling down has never been a priority for me, and never wanting children removed any time pressure to find a long-term partner. 

Even so, I would pretend to be satisfied in the bedroom — ecstatically so — even if that wasn’t true. I began to wonder why I was going along with such a façade. 

After all, I knew I could have fantastic orgasms. If a man instinctively knew what worked for me, well, then I would have a great time. And in common with 95 per cent of women, when I was on my own I always had an orgasm. 

I’m not saying my partners were doing anything wrong. I’ve dated men from all walks of life — some highly successful and ambitious, others less so. It’s tended to be the more powerful men who found my success slightly intimidating. That could be because of the industry I’m in, which some men find daunting by default. 

Crucially, though, I’ve always had a strong sense they want sex to be good for me, otherwise I wouldn’t have gone to bed with them in the first place. 

After all, if our partners didn’t care whether or not we climax, why bother­ faking it at all? 

But men aren’t mind-readers. 

Increasingly, it struck me that if I carried on pretending I was satisfied when I wasn’t, I wouldn’t just be ruining my own pleasure, I’d be ruining it for all of that man’s future female partners as well, because he’d carry on believing what he was doing actually worked. Reading at work about the orgasm gap — the disparity between how routinely men orgasm during sex and how the same satisfaction can be so much more elusive for a woman — compounded a sense of ‘enough is enough’. So, from then on, I stopped faking it. 

If I didn’t have an orgasm there was no performing, no gasping in fake ecstasy. And, eureka, the man I was with would begin to ask: ‘Should I try something else?’ 

It hasn’t occurred to me to fake an orgasm since. All these years on, speaking with customers, I hear so many questions about orgasms and worries about whether or not someone is ‘normal’ in their levels of arousal. 

Confidence is another key issue, especially among women newly single and/or going through the menopause. ‘I want to feel like my old self again’ is a common refrain. 

Women have finally broken the menopause taboo — now I want us to do the same with our sensuality. 

I don’t pretend to hold all the answers, but I do have a few confidence-boosting tips up my sleeve.

Here’s how to give your sex life a midlife reset, and make faking your pleasure a thing of the past…

ASSERT YOURSELF IN BED AS YOU DO IN LIFE 

Internalising your sexual frustrations won’t encourage your husband to try something different in bed — how can you expect him to satisfy your needs if you haven’t asserted them in the first place? 

As women, we often worry we’ll be branded bossy if we say exactly what we want. But when did meek and mild ever get anything done? 

TRY THIS: Think back to situations where you got someone to do as you asked. It’s likely the language you used was positive and encouraging. Perhaps you praised a colleague for something they did well, and asked them to replicate that elsewhere. 

Positive reinforcement works just as well when you ask your husband to take the bins out as when you want him to touch you differently in bed. So start focusing on what he does that is enjoyable and get into the habit of praising that. 

FIND YOUR VOICE THROUGH SILENCE 

I’m not talking about giving your partner the cold shoulder or trying to make him feel like a failure. This is about dropping the pretence — not saying ‘yes, yes, yes’ when you’re really thinking ‘this isn’t working for me’. 

TRY THIS: Instead of faking it, let quietness speak for itself. ­Realising you haven’t orgasmed can become a powerful prompt for your partner to ask what else they could try. 

That can happen as naturally in a long-standing relationship as with someone new. You don’t have to shout about it at first; simply moving his hand to where you’d like it to be is a great start. 

CALL OFF DATE NIGHT 

Take it in turns to surprise the other by arranging to do something you think they will enjoy that has nothing to do with sex

Take it in turns to surprise the other by arranging to do something you think they will enjoy that has nothing to do with sex

The weekly ‘date night’ fix might be a popular cure-all with relationship experts, but I’m not convinced. To me, scheduling sexy time in the same way you might put a zoom meeting in your calendar feels like a guaranteed passion killer. 

Dinner, a movie then home for sex can soon start to feel formulaic, meaning what once started out as fun quickly becomes manufactured and humdrum. 

TRY THIS: The more bonded you feel to your partner, the easier it gets to spontaneously share your desires. Enjoying new experiences together will bring you far closer than a weekly dinner date. 

Take it in turns to surprise the other by arranging to do something you think they will enjoy that has nothing to do with sex — crucially, it needs to be an experience that will make your partner happy as opposed to just being something you would quite like to try out yourself. 

This shows thought and effort along with a willingness to consider your partner’s wants and needs before your own — doing that outside the bedroom will encourage more openness when you are in bed together, too. 

TALK ABOUT SEX LIKE YOU DO THE MENOPAUSE 

Menopause is becoming a national conversation as women refuse to suffer in silence any longer. So why should you quietly accept unsatisfactory sex either? 

Opening up about our sensuality — asking friends ‘so, what works for you?’ — could have a similarly positive impact. 

TRY THIS: If you have a friend you share life’s problems with, trust them enough to discuss sex with them, too. Once you’ve broken through your embarrassment, it will be so much easier to open up to your partner because you’ve normalised the conversation. 

DON’T WAIT FOR A SPECIAL OCCASION 

Knowing you’re wearing something special for no reason other than because you deserve to can feel surprisingly empowering

Knowing you’re wearing something special for no reason other than because you deserve to can feel surprisingly empowering

Sometimes women come into our boutique for the first time feeling nervous. When we ask them what they want, it’s not a sex toy they ask for. They say they long to feel like their old selves again. In other words, they need a shift in mindset. 

TRY THIS: Of all the products we sell, lingerie can be the most transformative even without your partner ever seeing you wear it. 

Many women reach midlife having routinely put their family’s and colleagues’ needs before their own, and suddenly start to wonder: ‘What about me?’ 

They’re often the same women who’ve got into the habit of saving their favourite candles, their favourite perfume and their best underwear for a special day that never actually comes around. 

DON’T FORGET: CONFIDENCE IS SEXY 

Men often say they find confident women attractive. Rather than being fearful of speaking up about your needs, unsure of how your partner will react, consider this: he might actually find it all a huge turn-on. 

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TRY THIS: Make a sexy game of it, telling him you are going to report back honestly on how something feels, giving different moves a mark out of ten. And he can do the same in return. 

This doesn’t need to feel pressured or judgemental — just a game that makes light of things, which will help inject fun into a serious subject. Remember: laughter is a powerful aphrodisiac.

Your old self would have burnt that candle and worn that scent. 

So tap back into that mindset by splashing out on some beautiful and indulgent lingerie, then wear it under your everyday clothes. 

Knowing you’re wearing something special for no reason other than because you deserve to can feel surprisingly empowering. 

SAY GOOD-BUY TO BEDROOM BOREDOM 

Very often, we can fall into a performative daze, treading a well-worn, choreographed path to pleasure with our partners. We all know novelty can be arousing, but feel too shy to try new moves.

TRY THIS: If you feel uninspired, invest in a few special props to help you. 

Our silk blindfold (£50) is a great entry level product for introducing sensory play and bondage to your sex life. 

When you lose one sense, the others are heightened. Or you can smooth our ­Roseravished massage oil (£35) over your partner’s body in broad strokes to kindle intimacy and ignite passion. Toys really can be a fun and easy way to mix up sensations, too. 

Start simply with a discreet clitoral vibrator like The Seed (£145, coco-de-mer.com). 

Used on your own or with a partner, this toy has multiple speed and vibration settings so you can find what’s right for you. As we know, every body is different. 

RELAX ABOUT ANY MISTAKES 

Opening up about your sexual desires can be terrifying, especially if you’re only just starting to pay attention to your sensuality. But it’s never too late to press reset on an unsatisfying sex life. 

TRY THIS: Try new things in other areas of your life — that could be as simple as picking up a new hobby. 

Keep it low stakes, because the point is to remind yourself that when you try something different it can feel awkward at first, and things can go wrong. But they aren’t reasons to give up. 

You might ask for something new in bed, and it doesn’t work as you’d hoped. 

But equally, it might be amazing. Both results are fine — either way, you’ve learned something. 

NO ONE ‘LOVES’ EVERY BIT OF THEIR BODY 

The problem with the self-love movement, the one that says you have to love your body, flaws and all, is the way that can start to feel like pressure in itself. 

Even the gorgeous models we photograph for our ad campaigns have parts of their bodies they just don’t like. 

Instead, it’s far better to simply accept your body as it is, which I firmly believe is easier at our age because we have so many life experiences under our belts that have nothing whatsoever to do with how we look. 

TRY THIS: We can all look wistfully back at photographs of our 18- year-old selves. But life lay ahead of you back then — you didn’t know a fraction of what you do now. So take another look at a picture of the younger you, then remind yourself just how far you’ve come. Let that give you the confidence to speak up for yourself, not just in the bedroom, but in every aspect of your life. 

Lucy Litwack is CEO and owner of Coco de Mer, coco-de-mer.com 

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