Tracey Cox: “There’s no sense in being your own harshest critic”

There’s no sense in being your own harshest critic. I’ve spent most of my life batting away compliments. “No, I’m fat!”, “The book is great but I should have made it bigger/smaller/funnier”, “No, my talk was awful. Didn’t you hear me mix things up at the start”. I am dreadful! Everyone else is allowed to […]

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There’s no sense in being your own harshest critic. I’ve spent most of my life batting away compliments. “No, I’m fat!”, “The book is great but I should have made it bigger/smaller/funnier”, “No, my talk was awful. Didn’t you hear me mix things up at the start”. I am dreadful! Everyone else is allowed to be human, except me. But the thing is, no-one looks at your achievements as critically as you do yourself. I still struggle with perfectionism. It’s a trait that drives you but it can also drive you into an early grave! Now and then you have to sit back, look at what you’ve achieved and say, “I did that and I’m proud of myself!”.


As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tracey Cox.

Internationally-bestselling sex expert Tracey Cox is one of the world’s most famous sex experts and writers on sex and relationships. She has appeared on Oprah, CNN and The Today Show in the US, as well as many prime-time chat shows world-wide (e.g. Jeremy Vine on 5). Sharing over thirty years of expertise and research with her readers, Tracey has written 17 books, including Hot Sex: How to Do It — available in 140 countries and translated into over 20 languages. Her latest book is Great Sex Starts At 50: How To Age Proof Your Libido is available now.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I don’t think anyone sets out to be a sex expert. It just evolved. I had a big sister who worked at Family Planning, so became very comfortable talking about sex. I also had a healthy libido and was fascinated by the primal forces of love and sex and how it shapes — and often disrupts — people’s lives. That led to me doing a journalism and psychology degree and specializing in writing about sex and relationships as a journalist.

I worked as Associate Editor on Cosmopolitan magazine in Australia, then left to go freelance. I had about 500 books on sex that I’d use for reference (online research wasn’t happening back then) and none spoke to me. So, I decided to write the sex book I’d like to read myself: a practical, funny, no-nonsense guide to sex. Hot Sex: How to Do It ended up being a world-wide success — and suddenly I’m traveling the world as a ‘sexpert’.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Proving that great sex can START in the second part of your life, not stop. We’re better than we were, but there’s still a societal view that sex is for the young. Ask anyone to imagine sex, regardless of their age, and they’re likely to picture the same thing: two young bodies having lusty, frenetic intercourse. This feeds the perception that older people don’t have sex. It also stops older people having good sex because they think this is the only kind of sex that counts.

Sex after 50 can be brilliant sex — but it’s different than the sex you had in the first half of your life. It’s not based around intercourse, it’s more foreplay focused, and it can be infinitely more satisfying, particularly for women.

What stops a lot of older people enjoying sex post 50 is falling for the myth that sex is for the young — and not altering the way they have sex. Menopause and general ageing can throw up challenges post 50, which make the old style of sex challenging. (Sex is painful for lots of women and men often experience erection difficulties.)

Think outside the square and a whole new sexual world opens up.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’m so clumsy! I went on a live chat show that involved puppets in Ireland at the start of my career. On cue, I bounded on stage to talk to the puppets and fell over the man controlling the puppet. I landed like a sack of potatoes and was beyond embarrassed. Everyone else thought it was hilarious. At least it cured my fear of ‘What if I fall over or something?’. The worst case scenario happened and didn’t matter.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I started my writing career working for Cosmopolitan magazine in Australia and worked as Deputy Editor for a long time. The editor, Pat Ingram, was both a mentor and a close friend. She taught me so many lessons that I have carried through my life. Work doesn’t start and finish at a certain time, you do it until the job is done. If you love what you do, you’ll be good at it. She guided me through many difficult transition periods, including how to stay friends with your workmates when suddenly you’re their boss.

I stayed at Cosmo way, way longer than I should, considering how ambitious I was. But I loved working with Pat and it paid off in the end. Because I was loyal, Cosmo was loyal to me when I left and went freelance.

There were Cosmopolitan magazines in all the major world-wide cities and all of them bought my stories and supported my first book. It was a tremendous leg up.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Disrupting to make a positive difference in the world — when you passionately and truly believe in something — is very, very different to making a lot of noise to get yourself noticed. Nothing riles me more than people saying controversial things, that can do a lot of harm, purely to grab the spotlight.

Very early on in my career, I appeared on a TV show to talk about sex education in schools. It’s something I feel strongly about, so was arguing vehemently that it should be made compulsory. I was pitted against a well-known UK radio journalist who argued against it.

I couldn’t believe he was so neanderthal in his attitudes. But he was a great speaker and persuasive and trotted out all the stuff that makes parents worried. The minute we came off air, he said, ‘You’re right of course. It absolutely should be compulsory’. I was incensed! ‘What was all that about then?” I asked him. “You know we’re paid to argue against each other?’, he answered, ‘plus I could do with a bit of media attention at the moment.”

We were paid — a paltry sum — and obviously the producers choose people to represent both sides of the argument. But I have never and would never agree to argue the case for something I didn’t believe in.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

There’s no sense in being your own harshest critic. I’ve spent most of my life batting away compliments. “No, I’m fat!”, “The book is great but I should have made it bigger/smaller/funnier”, “No, my talk was awful. Didn’t you hear me mix things up at the start”. I am dreadful! Everyone else is allowed to be human, except me. But the thing is, no-one looks at your achievements as critically as you do yourself. I still struggle with perfectionism. It’s a trait that drives you but it can also drive you into an early grave! Now and then you have to sit back, look at what you’ve achieved and say, “I did that and I’m proud of myself!”.

Fake it until you make it. I’m not a natural public speaker. In fact, I hate it. But I do (pre lockdown) have to appear regularly on live television and used to give talks in front of thousands of people on book tours. At the start, my knees would literally knock together. But then a publisher said to me, “I know Tracey is terrified of public speaking. But Tracey Cox, the international sex and relationships author, isn’t.” Everyone says, ‘Go out there and be yourself’. Rubbish. I was so much better when I went out there and pretended to be who people thought I was. An articulate, confident speaker. Think of a version of yourself who takes the things you dread in her stride, then play act that person.

If you want something done, ask a busy person. Busy people deliver things before the deadline. They are always on time. The reason, of course, is that if you have a lot on your plate, you organise your time so every minute counts. Nothing makes you look more inefficient or unreliable than putting things off and not delivering on time.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

I hate to be completely predictable but it will probably be with a podcast. I’m formulating an idea which will allow me to speak to everyone in the world I’ve always admired — which is an eclectic mix — but also shines a light on something that needs a fresh perspective. I love interviewing people and hearing their stories. I’ve never been scared to dive in and ask the hard, personal questions and most people are happy to answer them if you ask in the right way.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

When women are strong and confident and unafraid, it makes some men afraid. Like the ‘male, pale and stale’ brigade — middle-aged men who rarely challenge and think the world works to serve them. Look at how these men gang up on women like Greta Thunberg. It’s disgusting!

I find it deeply depressing when I read that young women are being put off entering professions like science because female scientists still get bullied and objectified by men.

When is all this going to disappear? I grew up in the 80s and Cosmo was all about blasting the ‘We can have it all’ message. The world has definitely changed in a positive way for women — especially in the last decade. But I thought we’d be where we are now about 20 years ago.

Male disrupters don’t have to deal with any of this.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel’s ‘Where Should we Begin?’ podcasts are fascinating. Esther does a one-off counselling session with a couple, tackling their problem, offering insight and advice and — satisfyingly — reports back at the end on whether the couple made it through. She is so perceptive and eloquent. I spend the whole time simultaneously transfixed by what she’s saying and frantically taking notes.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d wish for everyone in the world to wake up kind. Wouldn’t that solve pretty much everything?

Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Youth isn’t wasted on the young. Being old and content is just as enjoyable as being young and driven.”

My fifties are the happiest time of my life. I feel peaceful. The fire in my belly hasn’t died but I’m happy with what I’ve achieved. I take on new, interesting projects but on my terms. I’ve loved every second of my life but I’m loving this time the best. Probably because I finally feel like I’ve got a few things figured out.

How can our readers follow you online?

@TraceyCoxSexpert — facebook

@TraceyCox — twitter

@traceycoxsexauthor — Instagram

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