Feeld Notes is a column about a middle-aged woman who suddenly realizes she wants to have sex again—and the beguiling app she uses to do it.
The first man I had sex with in the decade since my divorce was not so much a man as, well, a boy. He was 29 years old, with a lean torso, olive-brown skin, and dark hair and eyes. He was almost 20 years younger than me.
His name was Enrique, and like many of us on the app where we met, he looked different in his photographs than he did in real life. I didn’t begrudge him this. It wasn’t as if I looked exactly like my photos either. His profile name was a reference to a classic rock band, and in the context of who Enrique was (or was trying to be), it didn’t make much sense. It felt like an afterthought thrown in to make him seem more mature or, at the very least, sexier.
It didn’t stop me. I met Enrique in person at 8:30 p.m. on a Sunday. He’d made the 40-minute trek to a bar in my neighborhood that I’d suggested, a place that didn’t seem too adult. In the days prior, we’d chatted online very suggestively, so when he asked—practically pleaded—to see me in person, I took another look at his profile photo, reread the dozens of messages we’d sent back and forth, and told him to drive over the following night. We fucked three times.
I met Enrique on a hookup app named Feeld. It might not actually be fair to call Feeld a hookup app, though the New Yorker’s Emily Witt did a few months ago, in a personal reported essay titled “The Hookup App for the Emotionally Mature.” It might be better termed a sex app because it seems (to me!) to be less about casual hookups or one-night stands or romance than it does sex: having it, wanting it, navigating it, exploring it, and, perhaps most refreshingly, figuring out how to talk about it.
Feeld, from what I understand, started as a destination for people who are into “kink,” which can include light BDSM or threesomes or group sex or, well, things that continue to shock me (“electric play”?). Though Feeld was founded in 2014, I hadn’t heard of the app until earlier this year, when a friend recommended it after hearing me explain that I was experiencing a sexual second wind and that all I really wanted was a lover, not a boyfriend. “I just want to get fucked” is how I put it. “And I want to get fucked a lot.”
I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that before Enrique, it had been 10 years since I’d had sex. I’d been married, but my husband and I had started growing apart within a couple of years, and soon, there was no intimacy whatsoever. I recall, vividly, the last time we had sex. I remember him looking at me with a mixture of contempt and resignation before climbing on top of me and moving in and out without the slightest hint of tenderness. After he finished, I lay there naked and embarrassed.
Something in me shut off after that, especially after he had an affair. Things got even worse after the divorce: I fell into a severe depression, which further buried any sexual desire. At that point, offering up my mind and body to a man felt impossible.
I didn’t necessarily choose celibacy, but I sometimes felt a little self-righteous about it. Abstaining from sex, I told myself, allowed me a certain amount of freedom and independence; I hated the idea that I might “need” sex, and I bristled at the notion of having any sense of self-worth tied to the attentions of men. I consoled myself with the knowledge that I wasn’t alone: My peers weren’t quite fucking all the time either. Marriage and kids got in the way. So did aging parents and midcareer obligations. This felt especially true of middle-aged women like me, on whom the brunt of caregiving and emotional needs are placed, and who “age out” of what is considered to be sexy in a woman.
My sexual renaissance came on thanks to a friend I’ll call Tina. Convinced that my dry spell had gone on for far too long, she urged me to try a few dating apps. First, she explained, I needed to go on Tinder to let my “freak flag fly” and simply have sex with a few men. Then, she said, I’d be able to graduate to more “conventional” apps like Bumble and Hinge, where I might find a real man, and therefore a real relationship.
Things didn’t turn out as Tina had hoped. I signed up for Bumble and went on a few nice dates but didn’t find anyone I liked. Hinge proved even more elusive: I never got matches. Tinder didn’t interest me—it seemed too “downmarket”—so, instead, at another friend’s suggestion, I went on Feeld. Things evolved, or devolved, from there.
Tina doesn’t like to hear me say this, but she played a big part in my decision to prioritize exploring my sexuality over finding a significant other. Early on in my journey, she went into my bedroom and deemed it “unfuckable.” I had three illustrated prints of felines displayed on the wall, plus a cat tree in the corner. Those had to go, she said. As for my bed, well, Tina demanded that I get rid of my existing sheets and pillowcases—I had one set with repeating patterns of ripe peaches and another featuring prints of palm trees—and buy some crisp, bright white cotton bedding, ideally from a manufacturer called Matteo. It was $500. All this, Tina said, would make my room the sort of place where people would want to have a lot of sex. Where I would be fuckable once again.
Finding a lover, I quickly realized, is more difficult than just finding a man who wants to have sex. You want some sort of real connection and shared sexual appetites. So, at first, Feeld was a bit disappointing. There was the phone sex with a guy my age who confessed that he wanted women to piss in his mouth. (I respect this, but I will not be pissing in anyone’s mouth.) There was the man who asked me to watch him masturbate over FaceTime one weekend morning. (I agreed; when he was done, he looked at the camera, embarrassed, and ended the call. He’d later “like” me on Bumble.) And there were guys who were obviously catfishing. (When they bring up cryptocurrency, you know it’s time to unmatch.) Some men, dubiously, claimed to care nothing about their own pleasure and everything about mine. One “gentle dom” bossed me around, asking me to masturbate on demand or buy household items—he had a thing for contractor bags—that he then wanted me to fashion into sexy playthings. I was actually devastated when he disappeared.
I’ve now had dozens of interactions. And it turns out that, at least on Feeld, the first (or third) thing a lot of people ask you is why you’re on the app, and what it is that you want or are looking for. And when men ask you what you want, you feel compelled to answer honestly, and this honesty encourages you to understand, articulate, and refine what it is you actually want. In that way, meeting people on Feeld provides a person an opportunity to practice verbalizing and owning one’s wants and needs, physical or otherwise. And this feels especially important for, I’ll say it again, women. Especially those of us who are older, and therefore more invisible.
The process had been a revelation for me. But Tina wasn’t impressed. She was, in fact, somewhat concerned. “You know, I finally got you online, and then you ran amok,” she complained. “I wanted you to work up to being wined and dined, but if you just want to watch someone jack off …” I did. I do.
I don’t know what’s going to happen over the course of my time on the app, during my search for a regular lover(s). I plan to use it for a year and then reassess. (I’m currently on month two.) I want my experience on Feeld to be one of spontaneity—with lots of flirting and fooling around—while also honoring my desire to feel safe and satisfied and to remain true to myself and the more sexual side that I’m desperate to explore. I anticipate ups and downs (a lot of them, I’m afraid) because people online, even when they want sex, can be selfish and flaky. And I’ll admit I’ve been far from perfect. I’ve already ghosted a few guys myself.
The sex with Enrique was fine. Not great, not bad. He moved me around into different positions, and I enjoyed the stamina of a young man, erection after erection. But I was disappointed. He was not very endowed. He shaved his pubic hair, something I would soon learn is incredibly common among millennials and their younger counterparts. (I don’t like it.) He seemed interested, though not interested enough, in my desires and my pleasure, a fact I didn’t even realize until later. (I still prioritize men’s orgasms over my own, I’m ashamed to say.)
But in his defense, the mediocre sex was not entirely his fault. It was mine too. I held back with him. I didn’t feel free to move my body during sex because I was ashamed of the way it looked: Those big thighs and soft ass and the rolls of fat that had emerged on my perimenopausal midsection a few years prior. I hated that what had once been a curvy body had become somewhat chubby, and I wondered what it looked like from his vantage point. Some part of me was grateful he wanted to fuck me at all.
Enrique unmatched me on the app the next day. I felt a mixture of relief and insult. I had no desire to ever see him again—the sex was what it was, and he was a nice guy—and yet, despite the fact that we’d had sex three times, I wondered if he’d been disappointed by the difference between what and who he’d imagined I’d be and the flesh-and-blood reality of who I really am. I’ve wondered the same thing about the other men I’ve encountered online, over the phone, or in person—men like Mike, David, Simon, Henry, Mark, Mike No. 2, Pierre, Noah, and Eric, among others. I’m sure they wonder it about me too.
The names and some identifying details in this column have been changed.