My sex positive little sister

I know that I said I was going to talk about gender identity, and I am, soon. But something kinda cool happened a few days ago that got me thinking, and since I’ve been stressed out of my mind with dissertation worries this week, I’m going to start by writing about that.

The title may be slightly misleading. I have a little sister. Well, I say ‘little’, she’s eighteen now, terrifying as that is. I am not going to call her Philomela (because that name does not exactly have positive associations) – Camilla seems slightly better. We are very different people, who do not always get on particularly well (and that’s an understatement), but I decided that it was my duty as older sister to give her the Sex Talk when she turned sixteen. After all, I had lot of knowledge and experience that would make sex and relationships so much better for her, if she only took my advice.

She didn’t. Of course she didn’t – I am her sister, and am therefore utterly uncool in every way. Key moments I remember vividly are ‘I’d have sex, but I’d never do oral, because that’s just gross‘, and ‘Urgh, you’ve had sex with girls, you’re such a freak!’. It did not go well, and I stopped discussing sex with her, on the grounds that she was too immature to handle it, and the more I tried, the more I would end up pushing her away. I did attempt to give her condoms at one point, to which she responded ‘Um, I’m not some kind of slut. If I want to have sex, the guy is clearly going to provide them’.

Now, this isn’t just being immature about sex (immature is thinking that kissing is disgusting because eww, saliva!), it’s being irresponsible and unsafe. If you only want to have sex with men who provide their own condoms, then that’s okay. It’s good to know that you’re with someone who’s at least vaguely responsible. But that’s not an excuse not to be responsible yourself. What if she ends up at a party and there’s this guy she’s liked for ages and he finally kisses her and wants to take her home but he doesn’t have any condoms? Maybe she’ll say no thank you, and arrange to meet him another time, but there’s a strong chance she’ll go ‘screw it’, and do it anyway, and then have to worry about the morning-after-pill and pregnancy tests and STIs. Carrying around your own condoms doesn’t mean you have to sleep with any guy who forgets his, but it does stop you from being in that awkward position.

Anyway, that was all background, to show how my sister hasn’t really accepted the whole sex positivity thing, and is therefore not ready for the type of sisterly conversations I would like to have with her. Or so I thought. This October she went off to university, and I know it’s a cliche to say that university makes you grow up, but the changes I’ve seen in her over the last few months are astounding. She cooks for herself, she handles her work without my parents making her, and best of all, she calls me up for random chats when she’s bored. During one of these out-of-the-blue chats, she asked me what I’d been up to the night before. And I had a split second to decide what I should say.

You see, the night before was the after-show party of that play I was talking about. After-shows are amazing. The play finishes, you clear up, then everyone in the theatre goes up to the bar for a massive private party. Everyone drinks far too much, but there’s no pressure, and, unlike in a club, it’s a really safe environment. So we were celebrating that the show had been a success, and I was maybe a little tipsy (or possibly really drunk), and somehow I ended up having sex backstage. Having sex in a theatre has always been a fantasy of mine, along with library sex and outdoor sex (both of which I have now finally done). And of course it was awkward and rushed, the position wasn’t great and we spent the whole time worrying that someone would catch us, but we did it, and I find that kinda awesome.

But could I tell my (now grown up) baby sister that? She’d just been talking to me about a boy that she liked, so I figured it wasn’t utterly inappropriate, and she had asked. The result?

Me: I had sex backstage at the after-show party.
Her: Urgh, that’s so gross… Why couldn’t you have done it in the auditorium? At least there are comfortable seats there!

Success! My little sister has finally accepted sex, to the point where she can joke with me about where’s the best place in a theatre to do it! I know, that sounds like a ridiculous reason to be happy, and maybe it is. I don’t know how other siblings deal with talking about this stuff, and maybe I’m mad for even considering it. But when I think about how she would have handled that conversation a year ago, compared to what she says now, she really has grown up a huge amount. So I decided to push my luck and go a step further.

Me: We thought for a second that we didn’t have any condoms, but then realised we each had one in our wallets, just in case.
Her: Well duh. It’d be kinda stupid not to.

Again, not quite the deep meaningful sisterly bonding experience I might have hoped for, but pretty awesome all the same. At least I don’t have to worry about her being stuck in that awkward (and frankly dangerous) position anymore. And yes, she still thinks I’m hideously uncool, and if she heard some of the stuff I’ve done, she’d tell me I was gross or a freak, but that’s not the point. The point is she’s learning that sex isn’t this shameful disgusting thing like she learnt at school, and that it’s okay to talk about it sometimes. And even if she’s not talking about it with me, the fact that she knows she can means the world to me.

Because to be honest, if there’s hope for Camilla, there’s hope for anyone.

Who fancies a menage a trois?

I have had a total of nine threesomes. Wow, that sounds impressive. It isn’t. A week ago, during a drunken game of Never Have I Ever (always a sign that the evening is going well), this came out and a girl across the table asked me in disbelief if I ever had sex with just one other person. Please, as if I’ve only had sex nine times. For the record, no, I do not randomly phone up people I know during sex, in the hope that one of them will join me. But I do seem to have a more liberal view towards sex with multiple partners, and though I am certainly no expert, I feel like there are a couple of myths I would like to address.

(By the way, it’s worth noting here that it’s possible that I don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. If you think I’m talking bullshit, call me out. My experiences certainly aren’t universal, and there are probably some glaring blind spots somewhere. If you see them, fill them in with your own experiences. I’m inviting you.)

I ‘lost my virginity’ in a threesome. I hate that phrase because, well, I don’t really believe in virginity. If virginity is the physical condition of having an intact hymen, then I lost mine while horse-riding or doing gymnastics or something, long before I came anywhere close to having sex. If virginity means not having been penetrated, then I was nearly eighteen, but that doesn’t make sense either, because I’d been having sex with girls long before that. Also, can we all just agree here that having anal sex instead of vaginal sex does not ‘preserve’ a girl’s virginity? (See Dan Savage on saddlebacking.) Regardless of all these things, I count the first time I had sex as the threesome I had a few days before my fifteenth birthday. There were two other girls involved. One of them was Electra, my ex-girlfriend who had broken up with me a month or so before. The other was a friend from summer school (yes, I went to summer school, get over it). All three of us lacked any kind of sexual experience. We were all clueless and terrified and trying to work it out as we went along. It was really really bad sex. Of course it was – none of us had any idea what we were doing, and the level of awkwardness was astounding. But at the same time it was sweet and new and exciting, and I don’t regret a second of it.

So that was threesome number 1. 2, 3 and 4 were with Tereus, I’m sorry to say. Tereus liked to think he knew what he was doing, and I wasn’t exactly unwilling, but two of the three girls we slept with together probably were. One of them very obviously just wanted to have sex with him, and made it very clear during sex that she didn’t want me to be there. This was decidedly not fun, but I had enough sense to realise that it was the participants which were the problem, not the act itself. I remember talking about this in detail with Alexander (who had never had a threesome before), as we tried to work out the best way to reduce the chance of anyone feeling left out or awkward. We decided (and this is going to come as a shock to anyone out there who thinks that threesomes are a present a girl gives her boyfriend) that everything would be a lot simpler if there was no actual penetration. That would make it less like him fucking two girls, and more like three people having a good time. The result? Five amazing threesomes, three of which were with the same girl, Ariadne. Ariadne is now a good friend, and I have a huge amount of admiration and respect for the girl. She is gorgeous, witty, and great in bed. And if it hadn’t been for threesomes, I would never have had the chance to find any of that out.

You see, the big misconception about threesomes are that they are always for the guy’s benefit. I blame porn. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of porn. It can be exciting and sexy and a great way to fantasise and get off. But one trope you see a lot in porn is the two ‘lesbians’ making out, until the man comes in and they instantly jump him because, you know, they couldn’t have sex properly without a man present. And they both give him head at the same time, or he fucks one of them while fingering the other, and it’s all about his orgasm, because the women somehow miraculously come just by being in the mere presence of a cock. And that’s just not how threesomes – good threesomes – work. At least not in my experience.

Negotiating sex without awkwardness is hard. I’ve been through this already. Negotiating sex with two people instead of one is twice as hard, and that makes negotiating even more important. If you’re just going to jump into bed with two other people without any communication whatsoever, then unless all three people are incredibly laid back and confident, someone is going to end up feeling left out. And in the standard girl-girl-guy scenario, that is usually going to be whichever girl isn’t getting penetrated. That isn’t to say that it’s impossible to have a good threesome where penetration does occur, but it is harder to do, and each person has to be very clear and respectful about boundaries. It’s not going to happen the way it does in porn films, or even 18-rated movies, because this is the real world, and people get awkward and self-conscious and jealous in the real world. Part of having good sex is understanding that and taking it into consideration.

If you keep this in mind, then of course a threesome should be pleasurable for all people involved. And that’s what was missing when Tereus tried to initiate them – it was all about him, his pleasure, his dominance over two girls who existed in this scenario only for his benefit. That’s when you get two people fighting for the attention of a third, and that kind of dynamic is going to kill the mood pretty quickly. But if you do it my way, or at least think about it in my way, then there’s a much higher chance that everyone is going to have a good time. So when my male friends tell me, without a trace of irony, that of course I don’t enjoy threesomes as much as my boyfriend does, that he’s taking advantage of me and I’m too much of a doormat to realise, I know that they have no idea how diverse sexual dynamics can be. I also strongly resent having someone else explain to me how I feel about a situation I was involved in, but that wouldn’t even happen if it weren’t for this mainstream idea that threesomes are a thing for men, and women just join in because they have to.

Why do I bring this up now? Because the last post was about being responsible, and the next one will probably be about gender identity, and I like to alternate the serious stuff with the random anecdotes about my sex life. Alternatively, it’s because I have a threesome in mind with Leander and a certain other guy (who has yet to acquire a pseudonym), and that has got me thinking about sexual dynamics and how I want it to go. I’ll keep you posted on how that one works out.

On being sexually ‘responsible’ and what that actually means

Most of the time, I’m not too fussed about being British. British food isn’t even a real concept, the British government is hardly exemplary, and I couldn’t care less about the royal family. But something happened to me a few months ago which made me realise how grateful and how proud I am to come from and live in this country, and I want to share it, not out of any real sense of patriotism, but because this sort of thing must happen every day, yet you never hear about it. Also, a high percentage of the feminist blogosphere is based in the US, so here’s a perspective from across the Atlantic.

I have sex. Quite a lot of sex, with several, some might even say many, sexual partners. And I really really don’t want a baby right now, so I use contraception. Every time. Recently the hormonal contraception I was on was messing up my body chemistry (damn mood swings and random crying), so I came off it, and anyway, if I’m not having sex with a regular exclusive partner, condoms are a must for me. (See the whole Tereus fiasco is you want to understand why.) So I had my first date with Leander a few months ago, which ended in my unambiguously asking if he wanted to take me home that night. I don’t believe in being coy, and neither did he, so we ended up having a pretty good time. Until the condom broke. I don’t know if we put it on wrong or if the angle was just weird, but the result was I suddenly had the risk of being pregnant. Not a huge risk, it’s true, but more than I was willing to allow.

So the next day, we went to Boots, which the biggest pharmaceutical chain in the UK, and I asked for the morning-after-pill. It’s an over-the-counter medication, but they still have to ask you a few questions to check it’s not going to harm you. The pharmacist took me into private room at the back, and asked me if I had any pre-existing conditions which might be relevant, if I was suffering any pain or discomfort, and if there was any chance I could be pregnant already. The answer was no to everything. She gave me the pill, and I took it then and there, without any lectures or shaming or ‘discussion’ on how to be more responsible. She actually said she approved of me coming in so soon after. Because I am under 26, it was free on the NHS. I didn’t have to pay a penny or give any personal details. (For your information, the standard price of the medication is £22, about $35.) I am decidedly not pregnant.

Still a little concerned, I made an appointment with my university STI clinic as soon as term started. They saw me three days later, and gave me a full screening, again, absolutely free of charge. I just got the results today and I am clear for everything.

So why am I showing off about being pregnancy and STI free? Because I want to say that our system works. The NHS is screwed up in a lot of ways, of course, but there is something so satisfying about the ease and efficiency with which our mishap with the condom was rectified. I am sexually responsible, but sometimes mistakes still happen which are beyond my control, and when they do, it is so comforting to know that there are easy, inexpensive steps I can take to make sure everything turns out okay.

If I hadn’t taken the morning-after-pill and had ended up pregnant, I would have had an abortion. There would be no question in my mind: I’m scarily young, in full-time education, with student debt and no source of income, plus I’m not in a long-term relationship, and in addition to all that, I just don’t want a baby right now. But having an abortion is a bigger, more expensive procedure than taking a pill the next morning. I would have an abortion without question, but it is easier and more convenient for me, not to mention the NHS, not to need one, and that is why the sexual health services provided here are so important.

I’m sharing this because to many people, I guess I’m an irresponsible slut (and I hate that word – if slut means a woman who has a lot of sex, then of course I’m one, and there is nothing wrong with that). Even if this country there is this stigma about going to an STI clinic, as though you’re admitting that you’re dirty and have made mistakes, when really it’s the most responsible thing you can do as a sexually active teenager or adult. I would not sleep with someone who hadn’t had a screening within the last two years and who didn’t do so when I requested it. And while I understand that the desire to avoid admitting to doing something ‘wrong’ can make getting the morning-after-pill unattractive, I want to stress that it’s actually doing something right. We have institutions in place in this country which enable us to be safe and take care of ourselves when it comes to sex, and that is, in my opinion, the best thing you can do for young people. So use them!

I am fortunate enough never to have needed an abortion, and therefore I have not had one. The scenario I’ve outlined above explains why. If anywhere really wants to cut down on abortion rates and teen pregnancy, this is the way to do it. I am proof of that, and I do not mind admitting it.

Masochist courtesans? Count me in!

For the most part, people, I think, don’t really get what BDSM is. They will probably know that the term has something to do with kinky sex (the BDSM=kink definition is one you encounter a lot), but aside from that, it’s all slightly blurry. So here is a little starter-guide on BDSM, my thoughts thereon, and a couple of personal experiences. Use however you see fit.

BDSM is really a blanket term for a whole lot of stuff. It stands for Bondage, Dominance/Discipline, Submission/Sadism, Masochism. So yes, it’s ‘kinky’. Except, sex in public is kinky. Eating ice cream of your partner’s stomach is kinky. Engaging in elaborate role play where you’re part of a conspiracy to overthrow the Roman Emperor Caligula is kinky. (I have not done the last one, but damn it, I wish I had.) None of these things are, necessarily, anything to do with BDSM. BDSM is, on a most basic level, about pain and/or control that is somehow related to sex or something that feels a lot like sex. The ice cream is optional.

At this point I’m going to direct people to Clarisse Thorn’s blog. Clarisse is an amazing feminist blogger, who writes about what I would call ‘hardcore’ BDSM, the BDSM community, and her extensive experiences with both. It is definitely worth reading, and I am happy to say that I continue to learn from Clarisse, and am really pleased she’s out there writing. I’m not going to attempt to compete with her, because I don’t have anywhere near her level of expertise on the subject. But I can share my own experiences, and this is really a blog about talking about sex as much as possible in order to normalise the idea that women enjoy sex and this is okay. Not just okay, but amazing.

So, me and BDSM. As I have mentioned before, I had a slightly unusual sexual education. I read fanfic, although at that point, I wasn’t very good at working out what kind of fanfic I liked and how to find what I wanted, so I basically just read everything, and a lot of it was fairly awful. Also, it was that alternative stuff on the internet, rather than mainstream culture, so while I was really pleased to be reading sexy stories about lesbian schoolgirls, part of me felt that it wasn’t really valid because I wasn’t seeing these ideas anywhere else. And I was so confused and innocent that I sort of felt that, if it wasn’t in mainstream culture, it wasn’t ‘real’.

Now, I was obsessed with fantasy novels. I discovered Lord of the Rings at age twelve, and quickly became an absolute fanatic. I used to hide in the SciFi & Fantasy section of the bookshop, flicking my way through endless titles about alternative universes and magical worlds. Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, Robin Hobb, Carol Berg, Jane Lindskold – I read them all, regardless of whether or not they were actually any good. You often get sex scenes in fantasy novels that are more graphic than you would find in any genre other than trashy romance (and I mean that as the name of the genre – I like trashy romance as much as anyone). I don’t know why this is, maybe it’s something to do with the fantasy setting lending itself to actual fantasies? Who knows. I was a horny fourteen-year-old, and I would latch onto to any books I thought might have sex scenes. So when I found a book with a cover illustration of a topless girl with downcast eyes, I bought it without hesitation.

This was my introduction to the Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey. These books (there are three in the first series, and another two trilogies set in the same world) quite literally changed my life. The protagonist is a masochistic courtesan called Phedre who becomes a spy and has to try to save her country from political disaster, again and again. And there is sex. Lots and lots of sex. If I try to describe Phedre, I will probably make her sound like a classic Mary Sue, but somehow that doesn’t come across in the writing at all. And I think part of that is due to the universe that Carey creates. In this culture, sex is a sacred and divine act, and the aim is to have lots of it and enjoy it as much as possible. Phedre is a courtesan, and that is considered an honourable and high-class profession. She is a very good courtesan. The entire population seems to be pretty much bisexual, and the complete lack of shame in this fictional culture is astounding. It really made me realise how sexphobic the real world is. I guess only in a fantasy world is it possible to honour sex workers and treat all consensual (consent is a massive deal in these books, and rape is an act of both heresy and treason) sex acts as not only normal, but beneficial and enlightening.

As I said, Phedre is not only a highly skilled courtesan. She is also a masochist. This is a mainstream book, being sold on the shelves of all major bookstores, containing graphic (though beautifully written) sex scenes involving hardcore BDSM. And I mean seriously hardcore. I don’t want to write too much for fear of spoiling the plot or triggering anyone, so I will just say that as well as spanking and whipping, there is strangulation and some interesting work with razor blades. And it’s all portrayed as totally normal.

Now, I’m not saying that all sex ought to involve a healthy session with the riding crop, and speaking from a personal perspective, 90% of what is in this novel is far too extreme for my tastes. But it is hot to read, and because of the setting, it made me seriously think about what ‘kinky’ things I might enjoy without feeling ashamed by it. It also taught me the importance of a safeword (Phedre’s is ‘hyacinthe’, mine is ‘pepsi’, although I tend to only use it if I am being tickled). More than anything, these books gave me the vocabulary to talk about this stuff, to have discussions about negotiating boundaries and trying out new ideas. And I cannot emphasise enough how valuable that is. People who know what they like have the internet now, a treasure trove of information. But you have to actively look for it, and there’s no way you’re going to do that if you still have no idea what BDSM is, or think it’s only something for weird people who go to fetish clubs. (Fetish clubs, by the way, can be awesome. They can also be terrible. You have to pick the right place and the right people to go with, I think.) As a teenager, being able to pick up a book like this from a shelf really opened my eyes to well, everything. I would definitely recommend the whole series – hell, the plot and characterisation aren’t half bad either.

Flash-forward six or so years, and I own my own set of handcuffs, as well as a choke-collar and riding crop. I’ve been whipped to the point of having bruises a week later, scratched so hard it’s drawn blood, and choked almost to unconsciousness. I’ve also engaged in hardcore rape fantasies, but that is another story for another post (and believe me, there will be another post). Not all the sex I have is kinky, and not all the kinks I engage in fall under the BDSM umbrella, but it’s enough for me to be considered, well, unconventional. I can’t imagine giving all that up to have so-called ‘normal’ sex, because kinky sex is fun. At least for me. And I would never even have discovered it if it hadn’t been for those fantasy books.

Again, if you want a deeper analysis of BDSM and the culture associated with it, see Clarisse’s site. I’m more of a ‘try anything once’ kinda girl, and though I certainly wouldn’t want to pressure anyone into doing anything they’re uncomfortable with, I would suggest taking a closer look at any boundaries you may have. It may well be that they’re not really your boundaries at all, and if that’s the case, a little experimenting goes a long way.

Vanilla ice cream is delicious, but it’s even better with sprinkles.

Looking out for sex positivity when reading Shakespeare

Just a very quick entry today, as I am doing a show all this week (I am the SM, which sounds so much kinkier than it actually is, but is still loads of fun), and am panicking madly about an essay. Fairly standard. But in doing reading for said essay (it’s on Antony And Cleopatra, which is a feminist minefield, make no mistake), I came across this quotation which basically sums up everything this blog is about:

‘What remains most completely prohibited to woman, of course, is that she should express something of her own sexual pleasure. This latter is supposed to remain a “realm” of discourse, produced by men. For in fact feminine pleasure signifies the greatest threat of all to masculine discourse, represents its most irreducible “exteriority”, or “extraterritoriality”.’– Luce Irigaray, 1985, This Sex Which Is Not One

So there you go. Female sexuality and enjoyment of sexuality (or, at least, admission of that enjoyment) terrifies men. This is pretty clear all the way through Antony And Cleopatra, and I would love to say we have moved on a bit, but since I still feel the need to write a blog like this, it seems we haven’t. How can we fix this? More talking about how sex is awesome, of course! Also, talking about enjoying sex will destroy the Patriarchy. The literary critic said so.

Alas, I must now return to my essay. If anyone wants to comment and ‘express something of their own sexual pleasure’, please feel free! I’ll be back at the weekend.

I want you to touch me there, no, to the left, no, MY left

If there’s one thing that all relationship advice columnists ever can agree on, it’s the importance of communication. Marriage becoming stale and loveless? You need to communicate more. Feel yourself drifting apart from you partner? More communication. Unsatisfied by the sex? Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Communication is a great fix-all solution in theory, but in practice, it is often rather difficult to actually implement. If it were that easy, everyone would be doing it enough already for it not to be any kind of problem. But the fact is, it’s hard to tell your husband that it hurts every time he chooses to go out with his work colleagues instead of coming home to you, to ask your wife to be less patronising when she talks about her job, to convey to your boyfriend that no, five  minutes of penetration just isn’t enough. And I think that the last example is probably even more difficult than the first two, because talking about sex is so strange and awkward and taboo that saying anything that might be construed as a criticism is entirely off limits.

I admit, I am often not that great at practising what I preach. Alexander had to literally train me to get me to talk about what I wanted in bed, and even when he’d say something like ‘I really want to go down on you and make you feel amazing’, my response would inevitably be ‘Are you sure? You don’t have to if you don’t want. I could give you a blowjob instead?’. Women in particular seem to absorb the message that it’s not okay to be demanding in bed. This is completely the wrong way around, because men can usually come from intercourse. (See my previous post on why masturbation is amazing.) Whether because of simple physiology or because of society’s framework for sex, most men are probably going to have an okay time from most sex. Not brilliant – you have to work to get brilliant – but adequate. But it’s often a lot harder for women to get the same kind of satisfaction, so it’s even more important that women are able to talk about what they like and, god forbid, ask for it. Yet in practice, this remains ridiculously hard.

So, I have a new friend. His name is Leander and, though he is fairly experienced, let’s just say he hasn’t had quite the same experiences as me. (I considered calling him a pet or a toyboy, but fun though that sounds, he’s really more of a friend.) He had never performed (I like that word, ‘performed’) oral sex before, so we decided to get drunk so he could try it on me and I could give him some tips. He learnt pretty damn fast, so I decided to teach him a few more things. High success rate. He’s a feminist, he reads sex positive blogs and did his homework, and it definitely paid off. (Note to all the men out there reading this, if there are any: being a feminist makes you more likely to get laid, and makes the sex better when you do. No, seriously. I promise. Start reading about privilege and the Patriarchy, and just see how it goes.)

I mention Leander here because he is a perfect example about how communication works, and why it is awesome. The other night, we were watching Studio 60 together (an absolutely amazing show by the guy who did The West Wing, everyone should go watch it), and we  had kinda agreed that we were going to have sex when the episode finished. He’d been cuddling me and stroking my breasts, and we hadn’t had a chance to do it the night before, so I was very up for it. The episode ended, we chatted for a bit, then he started kissing me and rolled me onto my back.

And I panicked. I have absolutely no idea why. Five minutes ago, I’d been ready to jump him. Now everything felt weird and I felt trapped and constrained and my libido had just dropped entirely. I kept going to for a bit, hoping it would pass. It didn’t. So I gently pushed him away, and said, as calmly as possible: ‘This isn’t working for me right now. Can we stop for a bit?’.

I don’t know what I was expecting. For him to say ‘No, we must  keep going, right now’? Um, that’s would be rape. Even with the flirtatious texts and the groping and the agreement that we were going to sleep together that night, it would still be rape. I guess I was worried that he might go ‘Urgh, fine, if that’s what you want, but you really shouldn’t have led me on’. Which is ridiculous because Leander would never say something like that. But various other guys I’ve been with *coughTereuscough* most certainly would have done. What actually happened was that Leander held me and asked if I was okay. I said I was fine, I just wasn’t feeling in the mood anymore, could we watch another Studio 60 episode and then see how I felt after. And of course he said yes, no problem.

And here’s where it gets really strange. For the next hour, I kept apologising to him. ‘I’m really sorry, I just wasn’t feeling quite up to it.’ ‘I know we said we were going to have sex so I’m sorry if I’ve frustrated you.’ ‘I hope I didn’t make you worried – it’s okay that we stopped, right?’ Did I really expect him to say no? I’m a feminist, damn it. A sex-positive feminist who knows that No Means No and Yes Means Yes, that enthusiastic consent is the way to a happy sex life and that I do not owe anyone sex. Even if I said I was going to earlier on.

I know this stuff, but I still felt nervous and guilty that I’d somehow let this guy down, this lovely, easy-going guy who had shown no indication that my request to stop had bothered him at all. What would I have done if he’d said no and tried to keep going? Well, after three rather nasty encounters with a severe lack of consent, I would have made him stop. I would have pushed him off me and left, and probably not seen him again. I would certainly had a long, serious discussion about how consent works. But I learnt this stuff the hard way. What about people who don’t read feminist blogs, who get the same inexplicable guilt I did but who don’t have the experience and the understanding of power dynamics to counter it?

This is where all the ‘grey area’ rape apologia comes into play. It’s where ‘she consented’ actually means ‘she felt too uncomfortable to say no, or she didn’t say it strongly enough to be listened to’. And that is rape. Or if she stays quiet because she’s too nervous to say anything, well, maybe that’s not rape exactly, in all cases (and I say that with a lot of caveats), but it’s still taking advantage of a society that has taught women, even smart, educated women, that it’s not okay to say what you want in bed. And that includes saying what you don’t want.

You know what would have happened if I hadn’t asked Leander to stop? We would have had sex. It would have been lousy sex. I would have stayed statue-still, lying on my back, trying to make myself forget that I wasn’t into it. He would have sensed something was wrong, even subconsciously, and therefore enjoyed it significantly less. (Because, you know, sex is so much better when both people are enjoying it!) And then I would have gone back to my room feeling used and uneasy.

You know what actually happened? We stopped. We watched another Studio 60 episode. My unease miraculously disappeared (once I’d stopped apologising), and by the time the credits rolled, I was desperate to jump him. We had amazing sex, twice, and I came three times. I went back to my room feeling sexy and satisfied and very much up for doing it again.

Communication is hard. I find it hard, and I talk about how important it is every day. I still get nervous about saying ‘will you go down on me?’ or ‘put your hand there’ or ‘I don’t want to do it right now, can we see how I feel in an hour?’, but I force myself to say those things anyway, because sex is so so much better when I do. For both of us.

So learn. Even if it means practising saying the words out loud in front of a mirror, just to test how they sound. Learn, because even if it’s awkward at first, it is so worth it in the end. And if you don’t have a partner who understands that, either teach them, or get a new partner. Because I’ve been down the other road, and let me tell you, it does not end with orgasms.

To conclude, a conversation from last night, over dinner together.

Me: Please don’t take offence at this, but is there anything we could do so that, uh, penetration maybe lasted a little longer?
Him: Durex Performa condoms?

Life is good right now.