But EVERYONE loves a neck massage

I hate having my shoulders touched.

I used to joke that I’d let someone fuck me long before I let them close to giving me a massage, but the truth is, as is so often the case, I was ‘joking’ as a way to communicate how I actually felt. I come from a family of people with back problems, who live with constant pain in their neck and shoulders. I was sixteen before I realised that daily tension headaches weren’t something everyone suffered from (and I mean the kind of tension headaches where taking painkillers and sitting completely still doesn’t even take the edge off). I used to rock-climb, and if I pulled a neck muscle, it would be a week of agonising pain every time I tried to get dressed or moved my head too much. My friends would tease me and say that I went around with my shoulders glued to my ears. It took two years of Alexander Technique to get them down to ordinary levels of ‘tense’.

What this means is that when inexperienced masseurs grab me by the shoulders, I am likely to scream. I’ve got a lot better since adolescence, and the headaches I get are less frequent and less painful, but it’s still something I’m very aware of. The trouble is that amateur massages are often a common part of foreplay, even flirtation. I’ve lost count of the times where a new partner has tenderly put their hands on my shoulders, or asked me to roll over for a back massage, and I have sat bolt upright, tension flooding every part of my body. Occasionally, if I’m with a partner I absolutely trust with all my heart and soul, I’ll allow them to touch me if they promise to be really really gentle. Sometimes it’s nice, though usually by that point I’m so nervous that it’s very difficult to relax enough that I don’t flinch by reflex. On the whole, it’s not worth it.

(I should maybe add that my wonderful housemate Pyrrha has qualified as a professional masseuse. She used me as her ‘body’ for her assessment, which she said was really helpful as part of being a massage therapist is being able to adapt the pressure depending on what the person wants. She is allowed to give me massages. Sometimes.)

I bring this up on my shiny sex positive blog because I have to explain myself. A lot. My partners generally get very confused by this, especially because I talk about kink so much, and the kind of pain I’m into. I enjoy being whipped with a belt, but I can’t handle a light massage? It doesn’t make any sense to them. (Nor, indeed, does the fact that I hate having my hair pulled. I used to say that was a hard limit, whereas bloody scratches and purple bruises are welcome. I have recently discovered that I actually love my partner pulling my hair, or rather I hate it, and I love hating it in such a way that it’s really damn hot. But only with one particular person, and only in certain situations, and never ever without prior discussion. It’s confusing.)

I was at a munch recently (a.k.a. kink meeting, though I kinda prefer that term since it makes us sound like a secret society), and one of the women there asked if she could stroke my hair. I love having my hair stroked, but I tensed up automatically, and stuttered ‘Yes, but I really don’t like people touching my shoulders, because I have issues with muscle tension and it really really hurts even if it’s very gentle and I know that sounds weird, especially when we’ve been discussing hardcore masochism, but please please don’t?’.

Or at least, I started saying all that. What I actually said was ‘Yes, but I really don’t like people touching my shoulders because-‘, and then she cut me off with ‘That’s cool, I won’t do that’. And she didn’t. And then she stroked my hair in an entirely non-sexual way, and I felt calmer.

If you read anything about the BDSM community, you’ll quickly come across discussions about communication, and the importance of establishing clear limits. And in some ways the scene totally mirrors real life. In general, nobody is going to beat you senseless unless you discuss it first. (That’s a really great distinction if you’re at all confused by the difference between BDSM and abuse, by the way.) But something as mundane and ‘vanilla’ as a light massage, well, that’s something that people in ‘real life’ often don’t feel the need to ask about.

And do not even get me started on tickling. Attempt to tickle me, and I will kick and scream and try to claw your eyes out. Seriously. I hate it. Not love to hate it, just hate it. I have always hated it, and I have always had an impossible time trying to convince partners how much I hate it. Funnily enough, I’ve read at least three other S&M bloggers who say the exact same thing, and have talked about how they’ve had to use a safeword to stop tickling. People just do not take me seriously when I say this, at least not the utterly vanilla ones. Those that are into kink, even if it’s in a purely theoretical way, tend to get it. Limits are limits, whether it’s scratch me but don’t break the skin, or touch me but no penetration, or whip me with a riding crop but don’t you dare under any circumstances touch my shoulders.

I’m still finding my feet with the kink community, and I’ve got a lot to think about. But I like not having to explain myself. And I like having my hair stroked.

I always thought purple was the colour of kink

I don’t believe in condemning something I know nothing about. When I see shocking headlines, I usually do my best to read the entire article, to follow up on links, and to read around the subject. If I don’t have the time to do that (which often I don’t), I tend not to comment. The world is full of bias and prejudice, and I know I am by no means immune to it, but I usually try. In the same way, I don’t criticise films I haven’t seen or books I haven’t read. Twilight, for example. I don’t think I’d like the writing very much, and I’ve heard the films are fairly awful, so I don’t have any particular urge to watch them. But that’s all I’ll say about it, since I don’t have first-hand experience, and I think it would be hypocritical to just blindly put forward others’ opinions without having any first-hand experience of my own.

It is due to this random streak of morality, or ethics, or whatever you want to call it, that I finally caved in and read Fifty Shades Of Grey. I’ve been reading about it for a year now, and trying to avoid it as much as possible, because everything I’d read told me I would hate it – terrible writing, misleading portrayal of BDSM, trashy teenaged fanfic (which is what it originally was) not worth my time. The thing is though, if you’re into BDSM and writing and talking openly about it, it’s kind of hard to ignore the biggest source of (mis)information out there in mainstream culture. I don’t have to read Twilight, because Twilight has absolutely no impact on my life, but unfortunately, Fifty Shades does. And when I found out that my little sister was reading it, despite my plaintive attempts to get her to read Kushiel’s Dart instead, I caved in.

There are hundreds of reviews and analyses of it out there, especially in the feminist and S&M corners of the internet. I haven’t read all of them, and I highly doubt I’ll be saying anything new, but the nice thing about writing a blog rather than an academic paper is that you don’t always have to be saying something utterly radical and original. At least, I hope so, anyway.

The first thing I want to say is that, as I was warned, the writing is fairly terrible. By which I mean the dialogue is generally awful (I have sympathy with this, since I always found writing dialogue incredibly difficult, back in my own fanfic days). Any parts of the book that aren’t about sex are also pretty dire: tedious descriptions, barely-sketched minor characters, repetitive sentence structures. But that’s okay, because those bits just aren’t important – they’re just filler until the next big sex scene. And the thing is, the sex scenes are actually okay. Sometimes there’ll be a word or phrase that I’ll find particularly jarring and that will just break the mood entirely (does anyone use ‘my sex’ as euphemism these days? For goodness sake just use the word ‘cunt’!), but in general, it’s pretty hot. Hot like the Harry Potter slash fanfic I used to read when I was fourteen, all dizziness and liquid heat and mind-blowing, utterly unrealistic orgasms from barely a touch, but still hot.

Because the thing is, this is a book for teenaged girls to masturbate to. And that is a good thing. Teenaged girls need fantasy-material as much as anyone else, but up until now there’s been a gap in the market. Adult women get real erotica, once they know what to look for, and men get porn, which most teenaged boys seem to discover pretty rapidly. But teenaged girls aren’t meant to be sexual – they’re meant to be shy innocent virgins who want to fall in love, not get spanked and fucked. So the erotica market doesn’t really cater for them, or hasn’t, up til now. When I was that age, I had fanfic. The fanfic explosion seems to be ebbing, and has been for a few years now, but there’re still thousands of stories out there for the curious horny girl. I needed that. I was a geeky sci-fi fangirl who discovered the magical world of fanfic by accident, through a Lord of the Rings messageboard. I was lucky. If I’d been more popular and had actual friends in real life when I was twelve, I might never have discovered it. Popular girls need to masturbate too!

So yes, Fifty Shades reads like a teenaged girl’s wet dream, because that’s what it is. The heroine is an ‘ordinary girl’, just like you or me, while the love interest is literally Perfect, a millionaire who is gorgeous and sexy and can make her come just by sucking her nipples. It’s Twilight fanfic with the names changed, so yeah, the plot is non-existent, but that’s not what’s important. And if it’s encouraging teenagers to realise that female sexuality isn’t a bad thing, and to explore their own preferences and boundaries, then I don’t care how terrible the writing is.

The problem, however, is that it doesn’t stop there. This isn’t just erotica, this is kinky S&M erotica, dontcha know. And that is where Fifty Shades disappoints. As countless other bloggers have noted, it gets so many things wrong. The contract, for example – what’s that about? I mean, yes, some people do use contracts, but it’s not the norm, and they’re rarely as extensive with that. He has this phenomenal dungeon in his luxury apartment, that they don’t use for anything more extreme than spanking. The negotiation process is sort of there – they do communicate, and talk about boundaries, but she’s coming into it from a position of such utter ignorance and inexperience that it’s basically meaningless. And, of course, he was abused as a child, and is therefore a Damaged Individual, which is why he needs BDSM in his life. Not because it’s a valid and healthy lifestyle that can be extremely pleasurable for some people. No, because he’s damaged, and can’t handle ‘normal’ relationships. Got it. (I haven’t read the second two, but I do know how the series ends, and it is predictably not with acceptance of the BDSM lifestyle.)

In an ordinary fanfic, I wouldn’t care about any of that. I’d read it for the sex scenes, get off on it, and forget about it. But this isn’t just fanfic anymore, it’s a book that’s gone viral, and for the majority of people who read it, this is their only insight into what BDSM might be like. And that is what I have an issue with. I find it irresponsible. I guess that isn’t E. L. James’s fault, since she never intended it to explode the way it did, but now that it has, the damage is out there. Those teenaged girls discovering sexuality for the first time? They’re going to be left with just one paradigm for BDSM, and it will be a destructive and inaccurate one.

Maybe that’s better than having no paradigm at all, and just assuming it’s something disgusting and weird that occasionally gets referenced on CSI. Maybe it will make them curious and encourage them to go out and read more, ask questions and do research. I hope so. The S&M community has sought societal acceptance for years now. Now they – we – have it, sort of, but it’s not in our words or on our terms and it gets so much wrong that I wonder if that’s really any better than being hidden away.

I don’t know, is the answer. But at least now I’ve read it, I don’t have to feel guilty for having an opinion.

Mirrored perspectives: submission and control

I’ve been trying to write this post for a while now, and every time I start I look back over what I’ve written and delete it. Because I don’t know everything, and sometimes I screw up or get something wrong or simply don’t quite know how to handle a situation, and I wonder, should I write about it? Will people still listen to what I have to say if I don’t always speak with total authority?

I have to hope so, because there is so much I don’t know, so much I’m still working out. So here goes, draft 6, or possibly 7. 7 is meant to be lucky, right?

A couple of months ago, I wrote about my attitude towards submission. Shortly after writing that, I had the opportunity to see the same ideas from the other side. I didn’t write about it then, because I didn’t know what to say. In some ways I still don’t. But I’m going to try now and if anyone out there has any idea to throw a me, or if anyone’s been through something similar (any doms out there?), please, tell me what I’m missing.

There was a guy. A friend of mine, Gaius, who has quite similar attitudes to me when it comes to dating and sex: try to be honest, don’t deliberately hurt anyone, have as much fun as possible. He knew about BDSM in the same way that I think everyone vaguely does, all handcuffs and professional dominatrices like in films, who wear thigh-high leather boots and carry whips. Like most people, I don’t think he ever imagined what it might be like in real life with real people, and, again like most people, he didn’t see the connection between his image of BDSM and the kind of rough, slightly violent sex he was used to. One of the biggest misconceptions about BDSM, I’ve always thought, is the idea that you either like it or you don’t, everyone is either kinky or not kinky. Of course, like just about everything else, there’s a broad spectrum of activities that goes from a bit of mild biting and scratching to hanging upside-down by your ankles being branded with hot irons. Somewhere along that line, it stops being ‘normal sex’ and starts becoming ‘BDSM’. But I’ll be the first to admit I have no idea where the boundary is, and if I’m honest, I’m a little hazy about why we need a boundary in the first place.

I’m going off-topic. The point I was trying to make was that Gaius would certainly not have considered himself kinky, at least not in the BDSM sense. He knew that I’m a submissive who likes being dominated and hurt, but then, most of my friends know that – it’s not exactly a secret. And I think we must both have been in really weird moods that night, because we were cuddled on the bed, and he put pressure on my wrists, holding me down just slightly, and I thought, why the hell not, and told him to hurt me.

I don’t know what I was expecting. Probably bitten lips and scratch marks,  or maybe some mild spanking if he was feeling adventurous. What I got was a full-on scene. I was held down, choked, grabbed by the hair, forced to give head, demeaned, degraded and humiliated. If I disobeyed an order, he would hit me across the face. Hard, hard enough for me to have bruised cheekbones days later. There is, I’ve been told, a massive difference for a man between spanking a woman and hitting her face. One is playful sexual fun, the other is breaking a huge taboo about not hitting women. I understand this intellectually, and from my side it’s incredibly arousing to be hit like that, partly because of how violent it feels. I know that I really enjoyed it when he did it to me. More importantly though, I could feel that he really enjoyed it, that he was getting off on treating me like and object and hurting me to the point which, had it not been a thoroughly consensual sex scene, would probably have counted as assault.

I used my safeword once, as a test, to see if I could trust him. This is something I would always do with a new partner, because BDSM is entirely about trust and that’s a very quick way to determine if you need to stop things right now before it goes any further. He stopped instantly, we both asked if the other was okay and said assuredly that we both were. We started again. It got violent. Good violent. I reminded myself that I had to be in control, this was his first time with this kind of stuff and it was my responsibility as the more experienced partner to keep my head and make sure neither of us crossed any lines we were uncomfortable with. I knew that I knew where my limits were and I trusted him to respect them, but I wasn’t convinced he could say the same for himself, so that was partly my responsibility too, even if he wasn’t the one being pinned down and hurt.

Except at some point, it all got too intense for me to stay in control and I let go, the same way I would with a familiar partner. I put this down to Gaius, for all that he was a complete beginner, being really very good at dominating me. Almost too good. It got to the point where I was genuinely terrified. I don’t mean for a moment that I wanted to stop – I didn’t, and I would have used my safeword if I had. I like being terrified. Fear is arousing. I forgot, briefly, who I am in real life, who he was, and gave in to feeling like someone else’s toy. It was total, complete submission, and it felt wonderful.

When it was over, I was shaking and close to tears. This is normal for me. It’s therapeutic and, hard as it might be to understand, it feels good. Even if we hadn’t done anything even vaguely resembling sex, submission can sometimes feel similar to orgasm, and I was enjoying my own very unique type of afterglow. Except he was shaking too. I explained aftercare, and slowly we both drifted back to some form of reality, and that’s when I realised how freaked out he was.

Let me be clear, I am 99% sure that Gaius did not do anything he didn’t want to do that night. I don’t think I pressured him, nor do I think he regrets anything that he did. What I hadn’t considered (and this is where I slipped up pretty massively) is how it must feel for someone who thinks they’re ‘normal’ to suddenly realise they enjoy violently hurting other people, especially if that person is a woman. I’ve tried to explain to lots of novice-subs how it’s okay to want to be dominated and hurt, and how it doesn’t affect how you lead the rest of your life in any way. I’ve much less experience with the other side, explaining that it’s okay to get off on something which, to most people, looks a lot like abuse.

Hitting someone during a scene isn’t abuse, or assault, or anything of the kind. It’s a consensual sex act, and like everything else in consensual sex, it’s much better if both people are getting off on it. And just like I don’t really believe that submitting to a partner makes me weaker or lower status than them in reality, enjoying dominating someone else doesn’t mean you have an abusive or violent personality. I know that, because I’ve been doing this for nearly three years now, while reading a hell of a lot of BDSM literature. Someone completely new to the scene might be a little less clear. And that’s where I slipped up.

We’ve talked a lot since, and I think he’s okay with it. I hope he is. I would really really hate for someone who obviously gets off on this stuff to be discouraged because of too, much too fast. And I hope we get to try it again at some point because I think we both had a lot of fun. But it was a rather intense reminder to me that I don’t know everything, and that I am very capable of making mistakes, or at least not handling things to the best of my ability, and also that I am not the Sex Positivity Fairy, not all the time anyway, and I can’t make everything okay just by saying it is.

I think maybe we need a whole troop of Sex Positivity Fairies. Anyone want to sign up? I can make badges!

A guide to the not-just-one-night-stand

I promised a post on one-night-stands, so here it is. I’m curious to see whether this gets as many hits as the threesome post, since me talking personally about kinky sexual experiences I’ve had seems to be more popular than me talking abstractedly about vaguely feminist issues. Anyway, we shall see.

I am not as experienced with one-night-stands as I am with threesomes, and there is a very good reason for this. Alexander put it best, when he told me ‘anyone worth screwing is worth screwing twice’. Sex doesn’t have to be a one-off for it to stay casual, and if you’ve got good chemistry with someone and had a great time, there is no definite reason why you should stop there. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. I wanted to start with why someone might want a one-night-stand in the first place. And by someone, I mean me, since I can’t speak for anyone else.

Sex can be hugely emotional, and intimate, and if it’s good, the sudden release of so many endorphins can be incredibly powerful. It’s intense, and intense emotion (if you count feeling happy from endorphins as emotion) can lead to a form of emotional connection. But it doesn’t have to. Some people are very good at separating sex and emotions. Some are not. I don’t buy into the view that ‘sex can never be fully detached from emotions’, but nor do I think that it’s always as purely physical as some people claim. Again, it depends on the person. It’s also not necessarily a gender divide. The narrative that men want sex while women want emotional intimacy is so generalising and out-dated, not to mention dismissive to female sexuality, that it’s not even worth commenting on. Maybe gender does play a part, or hormone levels, or cultural factors, but that’s not what’s important here. All that matters is that sex means different things for different people, and that’s okay.

So where do I fit in on this spectrum? I have, over the last six years, had a lot of casual sex. Some of it was with strangers I’d only met that night, some with friends after a few drinks, and one memorable time with the man I would end up spending two years with in a committed, long-term relationship. Of these encounters, only about three of them actually ended up being one-night-stands. Because Alexander has a point: if you’ve gone through the games and the flirtation, put aside the awkwardness of sex with a new partner and got to the point where you’re doing something deeply intimate with them, why not do it again? For me, sex makes me see a person in a different way. Even if I don’t want a relationship with them, the fact that we’ve been in bed together changes the way we act around one another. He touches my hand as he passes me a drink and I remember other places his hands have been. She gives me a hug goodbye and I’m struck by a sudden flashback at the smell of her hair. That doesn’t mean I desperately want to do them again (although I often do), but just that it’s hard to see someone in exactly the same way once you’ve had them naked in your bed.

Casual sex gets dismissed quite a lot in our society, especially when it’s women seeking it. It actually has some pretty major advantages if you have a ridiculously high sex drive (or even just a moderately high one), but for whatever reasons don’t want to be in a relationship. Or, of course, if you’re in an open relationship, but don’t want to get too deeply involved in other partners. Also, it’s fun and new and exciting, and you get to find out all sorts of interesting things about another person and possibly learn something about yourself too. I’ve done everything from walking up to a complete stranger in a bar and asking if they want to take me home, to spending two weeks talking to someone online about exactly what we were going to do to each other when we met. Right now, my preferences lie more towards the latter, because I have a very clear idea of what I want from a sexual partner, and it’s much easier to gauge whether that’s an option if you’ve had a decent conversation with them. But I won’t deny there’s an incredible thrill in taking a stranger back home, and knowing that you could be anyone to each other. That’s not a narrative we see very often, and that’s exactly what makes it so incredibly hot.

So why do I want casual sex right now? I’ve just got out of a serious relationship, and not only do I not feel emotionally ready for another one, I don’t want one. I like being able to flirt with anyone, and to decide at a moment’s notice whether I want to go home with someone. It’s fun and it works for me. But I am painfully aware that it doesn’t work for everyone. I’ve been the girl who swore blind she was okay with casual sex when she really wanted an exclusive relationship, and I’ve been one pretending to believe a partner who said the same. Both hurt, and neither are particularly healthy. So now I have rules. One of the great things about being so forward is that I don’t feel uncomfortable telling people in no uncertain terms what I want. (That is, ‘I want to be able to fuck you a few times but I don’t want a relationship’, rather than ‘I want you to handcuff me down and spank me’, although I’m working on the latter.) I don’t want someone who is looking for more, hoping a casual fling will become a serious relationship. And, just as importantly, I don’t want someone who’s up for the casual fling, but whose other partners aren’t.

This is a big problem when it comes to one-night-stands: a lot of the people who are also looking for what I’m looking for have other partners. And this is a good thing – I have other partners too. But when they don’t tell these people, when they lie and pretend to be exclusive, or else maintain an open relationship with someone who clearly wants monogamy, that is an issue. I’ve been the ‘other woman’, several times, as well as being the one being cheated on, and I like to think I’ve grown out of it. No, it’s not my responsibility to make sure someone else’s girlfriend stays faithful, to avoid any contact with their boyfriend in case he has a moment of weakness and jumps me. Not my relationship, not by problem. But on a purely selfish level, it makes me uncomfortable knowing that I’m doing something incredibly intimate with someone who can’t be honest with the people who are close to them, who is, intentionally or not, hurting those who trust them. If they’re like that with their serious partners, then how on earth can I trust them with me? How can I be sure that they will respect my boundaries in a sexual context, if they don’t respect their other partners’ in a relationship context?

This, sadly, narrows down the number potential casual partners quite significantly. And I guess for an actual one-night-stand, maybe it wouldn’t be an issue. But I know from experience that if I enjoy fucking someone once, I will want to do it again. (And again and again, until we either end up in a relationship or one of us gets bored.) I like sex too much to give it up with someone I find attractive just to stick to the ‘one night’ part. And for that, there needs to be trust, even if that trust only goes as far as ‘I trust you to make me feel amazing, be honest about your emotions, and not hurt anyone else by being with me’.

If we find each other attractive and you can promise me that, then I can guarantee we’ll have a lot of fun together. And if not, I wish you the best of luck with your other relationship(s), and I really hope you grow up enough to be able to deal with the drama that will almost definitely ensue. I’m here to offer advice if you need me.

Here’s to you, Mrs Robinson (kinda, not really though)

The play is over, which I am both relieved and very sad about. It went incredibly well, and was a lot of fun, and I am so very pleased I took the time out of my degree to really give it everything I had. And now it is over and normal life resumes. Hello normal life! How have you been? I missed you.

Somehow, over the course of the play, I have ended up in a position I never thought I’d have to face: I slept with a younger guy. This should not be a big deal, but I have always dated people significantly older than me. Electra: two years older. Salmacis: four years older. Alexander: three years older. A mad mad French girl who doesn’t have a pseudonym: five years older. And okay, Leander was my age, but that was an exception. I have never had much time for people younger than me, male or female, at least not as sexual partners. It just didn’t seem right.

Alas, one of the downsides to being  third-year at university (other than exams and actually having to work, of course) is that the supply of people older than you tends to fade away. And what’s replacing them? Bright-eyed, naive, innocent freshers. Oh dear god, I sound like Mrs Robinson.

Marcus is certainly not naive or innocent, though I suppose he does have rather bright eyes. He is, however, a teenager. Eighteen, to be precise. And this feels rather strange for a girl who prefers experienced partners because, well, less goes wrong that way. Plus it means I can learn new things, and I enjoy learning a lot. Teaching is all well and good, but learning means you can make sex even better, then go on and transfer these amazing new skills to another partner! How awesome is that?!

So why did I sleep with him? Aside from the fact that I find him hot and want to do him (always a good start), because I spent my teenaged years spouting the mantra that age doesn’t matter, it’s the people who count. Admittedly, this was just to reassure my concerned friends that I really was alright with all these exciting older people, but there’s truth to it too. People mature at different times, and age really isn’t everything. When I was fifteen, people my own age bored me, and I really did get on better with university students. And if Marcus feels the same as a first-year, who am I to question that?

Of course, I need to be careful. Dan Savage’s ‘campsite rule’ comes into play here: if you’re the older or more experienced partner, you must leave whoever you’re involved with in the same sexual, mental and emotional state than you found them, or preferably better. Even if he’s no blushing virgin (hah), I need to make an effort not to make assumptions, to be extra clear with communication, and maybe take certain things slow.

It’s the same technique I’d use on anyone who’d never done BDSM before. Just because I’m usually the submissive one who likes to be dominated and taken, doesn’t mean I don’t have a responsibility towards the other person, making sure they’re okay with how things are going. Safewords work both ways. I know from experience that sometimes it’s terrifying being in control of someone else, and there are times when you just want to stop the scene and go back to cuddling. So if I’m teaching a new partner how to top me, even if they’re the one fastening the handcuffs, it’s still my responsibility to make sure they’re okay with that, and to help them if they’re not. And that’s mostly how I feel now, with Marcus. I trust him to tell me what he wants and does not want, but it’s still my responsibility, as the (just slightly) older woman to check that nothing makes him feel uncomfortable. Because I know, again from experience, that sometimes it’s hard to to admit that everything might not be entirely okay if you’re trying to feel all confident and grown up.

And speaking of growing up, I have to do that too. I am just a little bit used to being the one who needs looking after in any kind of relationship, letting other people take care of me and being lazy with communication and boundaries, because I take it for granted that my partner will do the hard work for me. I’m not saying for a moment that Marcus needs looking after – I don’t think he does, not seriously, or else I wouldn’t trust myself with that responsibility. But I do need to look after myself, and remind myself of all the useful tips I give to first-timers. Now is a great opportunity to put what I keep going on about into practice. I hope so, anyway. We shall see how it goes.

Other things I plan to talk about in the near future:

* One-night-stands: why do it, and how?
* Online dating and all the fun it entails
* Rape culture: an update on my own experiences
* More on privilege (everyone’s favourite)
* Feminism in real life, aka why ‘I support women’s rights but I’m not a feminist’ is bullshit

Oh, and if anyone’s wondering, I was as sexually forward and open about what I wanted as I have always been, and you know what? It worked perfectly. Screw you, Atratinus, and everyone else who thinks that sexually assertive women are broken and damaged. We are awesome, and we are having much better sex than you are. So there.

Dipping my toes in the murky waters of privilege

So far on this blog, I haven’t talked much about privilege, or rather Privilege, with its capital letter. You know, that boring tedious thing that those boring tedious (not to mention sexually frustrated) feminists keep harping on about. And that’s because I’m still working out how to handle the privilege issue, and what the best way to talk about it without alienating just about everyone is. So this isn’t really an entry about privilege, but rather an account of exactly what happened on Friday night, which just happens to involve a striking if mundane example of male privilege.

If you’ve been reading this blog semi-regularly, you might have read On being sexually ‘responsible’ and what that actually means. The story of that one is that the condom split, I went to get the morning-after-pill, and it was all awesome and I’m not pregnant and isn’t it great that such medication is freely available in the UK. It’s all good. Except on Friday, it happened again. Well, not quite the same thing, but basically massive condom fail. Was it Leander’s fault? Personally, I’m inclined to say yes. I mean, he didn’t do anything wrong. He used it exactly how you were taught in year 9 sex ed classes (again, if you’re British or went to a British school). Opening it carefully, putting it on before any penetration occurred, and all that jazz. But somewhere along the way it broke or came off or something, and because of the logistics of sex, I’m really not in a position to notice these things. I thought – and I still think – that it’s the penetrating-partner’s responsibility to check that the condom is fine, and not to get too swept up to allow something like that to happen.  Leander said that he was doing everything he could and it really wasn’t his fault, that sometimes these things just happen. I don’t know. I am definitely wary about using those condoms again.

But whose fault it may have been isn’t the issue. The issue is that immediately afterwards, I was a little freaked out. Definitely irritated. And what was Leander’s response? To make an inane joke about it, and say ‘It’s fine, you can go to the pharmacy tomorrow’.

And I spun around at him in anger. Do you think it’s that simple? The magic off-switch in pill form, that miraculously makes everything okay? A quick-fix and then it’s like it never happened? I’ve been quite good about not getting angry recently, and keeping my emotions under control, but I was furious. Don’t you get what taking the pill is actually like? He looked blankly at me. First there’s the anxiety. Until I’m in the pharmacy, swallowing it down with water, my brain will be convincing my body that it’s already pregnant. And then I take it and I feel instantly sick. Whether it’s the medication or just adrenaline, it makes me feel nauseous. Then the after-effects. It’s like taking twenty-one doses of the regular pill at once. Headaches and mood swings and more nausea. Plus it fucks up your menstrual cycle completely, so you have no idea where you are, meaning that it’s impossible to know for sure without taking a pregnancy test (it’s only 70% effective anyway), and don’t even get me started on what that feels like. I will spend the next two weeks at least convinced I am pregnant, feeling sick and emotional with constant low-level anxiety, while you just go on utterly oblivious, feeling all smug and superior because you ‘did the right thing’ by driving me to the pharmacy.

I may have added that it was his fault I was in this mess (even though that’s debatable). And there may have been a lot more swearing. But I calmed down enough to look at him, and I asked if he got it now. And he just stared at me. He said he hadn’t known any of that. He had never stopped to think what taking a massive dose of hormones might actually feel like, the toll it’s likely to take even on a young and healthy body. No one had ever taught him any of this, but that’s not much of an excuse, because anyone who knows anything about hormones and biology should be able to work out that this stuff is not pleasant. Oh, it’s truly fantastic that it exists and it’s a hundred thousand times better than having to get an abortion. But it’s hardly nice. I knew that, even before I took it for the first time. (For the record, I have taken it five times over four years, which might sound like a lot, until you consider how much sex I’ve had in those four years, and then it sounds like a miracle.)

The point is (and this is what really made me angry), Leander had never had to think about this stuff. For him it really was that simple: condom fails, take girl to pharmacy, girl does not get pregnant. End of. And that in itself is, to me, a striking example of privilege. It’s not that he meant to upset me. He didn’t mean to belittle the experience or make it sound like my emotions and well-being didn’t matter, but that’s how it came across because he’d never had to stop and think before, so what was blatantly obvious to me needed step-by-step explaining for him.

I’m not angry anymore. We talked it through, he took me to the pharmacy, and it’s all good. (Though of course, I won’t know for sure for another couple of weeks, but if, heaven forbid, it turns out to not be all good, I’ll be writing up that experience on here too.) While I still think he should have been more careful at the time, I understand how difficult these things are, and if I still resent him from not having to worry about this the way I do, I know that’s not his fault. Also, he’s promised to buy me a slice of cheesecake every time I get anxious in the next two weeks, and I really do love cheesecake.

But I still think this is a good example of how someone can be totally well-meaning and rationally completely onboard with feminist issues and the concept of privilege, and still make these kinds of mistakes in practice. Because it wasn’t enough for Leander to know that he has privilege (he does) and to try to check it (he does that too) – there are still occasions where he slips up and genuinely doesn’t realise he has until it’s explained to him. Does that make him a bad person? Not at all, because when I did explain it, he listened and accepted what I was saying. The problem is when well-meaning people can’t accept that they may have made some mistake and get defensive about it, because they think I’m accusing them of being a terrible person, and don’t I know that they fully support women’s rights (or LGBT rights or racial equality, or whatever it is), and would never say or do anything to hurt anyone?

And the truth is, I do know that, but that’s not a bulletproof defence against ever saying something sexist or offensive, and if they’re not going to listen to me when I try to explain why what they’ve said is wrong, how are they ever going to learn?

Leander is way ahead of almost every man I’ve ever met, but he’s still learning. I know I am too.

Fuck, I really hope I’m not pregnant.

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.