12 Things men want women to know about sex – the feminist version!

Last week I went to a brilliant panel discussion by the Scarlet Ladies – it was called ‘Grill the Guys’ and was an opportunity for an audience of women to ask 6 guys with diverse sexual backgrounds any questions they wanted to about sex and relationships. It was really interesting to hear so many men talking about sex openly. Even people who have male sexual partners only generally get to talk to a few of them in depth, so this was phenomenally informative. My own partner was really interested in the points I came back with, so I thought I would share some of the best gems of knowledge from the evening, interspersed with some ideas my partner would like to share as well.

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A quick note: I found the event to be quite cis-heteronormative, for example the term ‘sex’ was often used to describe p-in-v penetration, with other forms of sex described as ‘foreplay’. I wasn’t sure about this so I’ve edited some snippets from the talk, however I recognise that people talking in depth about the kind of sex they have do need to rely on their own terminology.  As a group, the Scarlet Ladies welcome all women, so I don’t think this reflects on them, it was simply the nature of this particular talk.

12 Things men want you to know about sex:

1. A man can be really, super, ridiculously aroused but still unable to get it up. Sometimes it just isn’t happening and it can be for hundreds of different reasons. Since men are encouraged to push their feelings away, there might be something bothering them that they aren’t aware of. Or it might be something far more benign. Talking never hurt anyone so be nice, understanding, and encourage them to share their thoughts!

2. Similarly, it’s also true that sometimes penetration just doesn’t feel good for women. Don’t feel obligated to go ahead; communicate it with your partner and have sex some other way if you still want to. Be patient obviously; some of them might not be familiar with the fact that a woman is sometimes just unable to take a dick!

3. It’s very difficult to understand exactly what something feels like when you don’t have the same sexual equipment. This is why men can have a hard time with the clitoris, even when they’re genuinely trying, and this is why communication (and demonstration) is essential.

4. However, the pleasurable feelings that men and women experience are actually very similar (after all, they’re made from exactly the same stuff). By communicating the actual sensations you’re experiencing, you might be able to understand one another’s pleasure even better.

5. It’s easier for men to be lazy about sex because of how their orgasms are achieved. Encourage your male partners to explore the different responses of both your bodies, not just yours. Once they understand how their own body responds to different things, they will be able to better understand yours as well.

6. Embrace the fact that the way they touch you feels different to the way you touch yourself, and the way you touch them is different to the way they do it too. It’s not a bad thing; you can touch each other in ways its physically impossible to touch yourself – so embrace the differences and enjoy them.

7. That being said, for a lot of men there’s nothing sexier than watching their partner touch herself.

8. Sex isn’t just penetration – some people enjoy extraordinarily satisfying sex lives without ever putting anything in anyone else. Don’t limit yourself by considering penetration as the end game, and don’t let male partners limit your sexual experience  by doing this either.

9. If you can’t orgasm with your partner and you genuinely don’t mind …explain it to him. He has absolutely no right to be fragile about it. You have every right to expect the sex you want to have. Your orgasm isn’t for his gratification.

10. Most of the time, great sex is not beautiful sex.

11. Period sex is great – you don’t deserve to feel ashamed or embarrassed. Don’t be shy about asserting your desire to have period sex.

12. Neither party should ever assume that penetration a certainty. Even if you’re naked, in bed and kissing.

Alix Fox, the host of the discussion I attended, summed it up perfectly at the end; “There’s no right or wrong way to have sex and the most important thing is that everyone involved has a good time.” I’m really grateful to her, and the panel of men including Exhibit A, Master Dominic and Paul Thomas Bell for their time and insights!

The Scarlet Ladies is a fantastic member’s club that are working to dispel the shame and silence around women’s sexuality, enabling women to open up to themselves and their partners. They hold talks twice a month and I really recommend you check them out!

 

 

 

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A Feminist Engagement

A quick note: In this blog post I will talk about how my partner and I got engaged. This is in no way intended to criticise any one else’s proposal – ESPECIALLY LGBTQ+ couples who have had to fight for their right to just to have access to the traditional, patriarchal symbolism of marriage and engagement. The story is in essence heteronormative because we are a middle class cis man and woman, but the actual message is intended to be highly inclusive. I am not going to compromise when sharing my opinions on engagement traditions, because if I can’t share them here, where can I? But I don’t mean for you to feel hurt or judged if these formed part of your (or your dream) proposal. I believe that we have a responsibility as feminists to challenge the way things are done. It’s not a personal attack on you or your relationship, I know that there are many factors to take into account when considering how to get engaged and married, and I respect your right to choose your own path. Just as I don’t know your backstory, you do not know ours. 

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A year and a half ago, walking down Tottenham Court Road at the weekend, my partner James and I were talking about the future. We’d spoken about it many, many times before, about love, marriage, relationships, children. But this time, the conversation bent a little and we drew ourselves into a discussion about when. We stopped outside Boots, with half of London pushing past us unnoticed, and hesitantly, emotionally landed on 2017 as the year we wanted to get married. A consensual agreement, whatever form it takes, is essential to any feminist engagement. Springing a marriage proposal on someone out of nowhere has been widely misrepresented as romantic because of the misogynistic, heteronormative assumption that women are always ready to get married. These surprise proposals can range anywhere from a bit misguided to emotionally manipulative, and there’s just no need for it.

Over the next few months we frequently discussed the idea of a ‘proposal’, and whether or not we wanted it to be a part of our love story. James asked me about rings, saying he didn’t want to get me a diamond because not only are they horrifically unethical, their value came purely from a marketing campaign by De Beers in the early 20th Century (and also, as a geologist he has serious opinions about rocks). But I was adamant that I didn’t want a ring, and his response was relief. We both think that ethically sourced wedding rings are a beautiful way to symbolise your dedication to your partner. But engagement rings are yet another example of imbalanced, gendered expectations between women and men. ‘Marking’ a woman as yours when you have no such mark yourself. ‘Buying’ her. I’m not saying I think they’re inherently bad, especially since it’s becoming more mainstream for non-heteronormative couples to have them too, but for us it just seemed like pointless consumerism. There was absolutely no way that one of us was wearing an engagement ring while the other wasn’t, but we also didn’t see the appeal in both of us wearing one.

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However, the idea of proposing just seemed so lovely. A declaration of love, a statement of intent and a memory that we could share. Plus, neither of us had cried over the sheer weight of our feelings for each other since we first said ‘I love you’, and it’s nice to do that occasionally. We were immediately in mutual agreement that I would be the one to do it. Much of this was from a desire to challenge the status quo of course – engagements have a very sexist history, there’s no denying it. But also, I am bisexual, so until I met James I never knew who I’d end up with. I never really imagined being proposed to, but often thought about myself doing it, because that’s just who I am – it’s the kind of gesture I live for.

If you’re wondering how James, ‘as a man’ felt about the subject – he simply didn’t. As a feminist the idea of anything being a ‘threat to his masculinity’ is laughable to him. I’m not sure what else to say on the subject, other than by him being strong enough to free himself from oppressive, fragile ideas about how to ‘be a man’, he was able to experience the joy and excitement that comes with the person he loves making a grandly romantic gesture of love towards him.

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So with that decided, the task fell to me to decide how and when I was going to do it.  I had a vague idea in mind but it didn’t fully form until we decided to go on holiday to Paris. James’ birthday fell in the week we planned to go away and I thought to myself that it would be the perfect opportunity to ask him. But Paris didn’t seem like a particularly personal choice, so I suggested we spend a few days there and then travel south to explore the Calanques National Park on his birthday (a beautiful national pack on the coast near Marseille that consists of incredible rocky cliffs leading into little beaches, the perfect holiday spot for a geologist). He enthusiastically agreed to this, because one of our favourite things to do as a couple is hike. I think it must have been pretty obvious what I was planning at this point, and he tells me he was pretty sure after I suggested a ‘birthday hike through a beautiful outcrop of rocky cliffs’, haha.

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Location decided, my plan for how to actually go about it came to me almost immediately. We briefly discussed the idea of gifts like watches and bracelets instead of a ring, but we were both totally disinterested and a bit uncomfortable with the whole ‘here is a gift, will you marry me’ thing. We definitely felt like there was something missing from the whole thing, and I realised that it was the idea that our love should benefit only us. I decided to spend the money I would have spent on a ring on charity donations. I worked out that if I were to save up to buy a ring in my current financial situation, I could afford to spend £500 on it (another thing that we really need to stop doing? Selling the idea that a proposal has to be extravagant. Not everyone has disposable income and people shouldn’t feel the need to empty their bank account for love) so I set that as my donation budget, and that’s when the full idea came to me:

I chose five charities that reminded me of something I love about James. They were things that are external to our relationship, aspects of his personality that I deeply admire but have nothing to do with me. I donated £100 to each charity, and asked them if they would be able to send me a ‘thank you’ letter (all but one said they do this anyway so I wasn’t putting them out, the other emailed it to me so I printed it and put it in an envelope). On the back of each of the envelopes, I wrote the reason why I’d donated to that particular charity.

5 reasons2.jpgThe charities chose were WaterAid, Women’s Aid, Woman Kind, Amnesty International and Mind.

After spending a magical few days in Paris, we travelled down on the TGV to Marseilles, and the next day was his birthday. I packed us a picnic in our backpack, hid the five letters in different places in there and put a note on the top saying ‘five reasons’. I wouldn’t let him go in the backpack until we had hiked to our picnic spot – one of the hundreds of secluded beaches dotted along the Calanques coastline.

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After we had settled on the beautiful stony beach, I told James he could finally look in the backpack. He drew each letter out and read the notes on the backs (I told him not to open them until he found them all) and was completely confused, but touched by whatever I was doing. After he had found them all and had opened a couple, I took his hands and said that these charities all worked on areas that are related to things I admire about who he is as a person, and then started telling him all of the things I love about the way he is with me. The way I love how safe he makes me feel, how patient he is with me, how he makes me laugh so much and how he is so open, so kind, so affectionate. Obviously we were both crying at this point, and through my tears I managed to say ‘I want to marry you’, to which he responded ‘Of course’ and kissed me. Then we both realised I hadn’t actually said what I meant to say, so I pulled away and said ‘Will you marry me’ to which he again responded ‘Of course’, and we kissed. So yeah, I messed that part up lmao.

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We cried a bit more as he read all the letters. We had our lunch (brie and tomatoes on still-warm bread from the patisserie next to our AirBnB), and splashed in the freezing water for a bit. It was absolutely perfect, and I was so happy and proud that I was able to make my partner feel so loved and wanted.

Everything about our proposal was intensely unique to both of us, but at the same time it also helped other people. Me being the one to do it ended up being the least important part. Our proposal’s unique, personal nature, combined with a concerted effort to help make other people’s lives better is what made it feminist. And we will always be proud of that. I hope that weddings and engagements don’t go away, because they are a wonderful way to express dedication and love. But they are steeped in years of oppression, negativity, consumerism and selfishness. I’m absolutely not saying people should do what we did and I’m definitely not saying that I created the perfect proposal. Rather, I just want to share this and use it to communicate the idea that we all need to work hard emotionally, creatively and intelligently to make these gestures as beautiful and inclusive as they have the potential to be.

Tips for a happier period

Like anyone with a uterus, I’ve had my fair share of period disasters, stresses and excruciating pain. From clenching my thighs on the Victoria Line because I’ve been caught out, to panicking wildly about an early (or worse: late) period, it’s easy to have a pretty negative feelings about that time of the month. And that’s without even broaching the subject of dysphoria – I cannot imagine how hard it must be to experience gender dysphoria and still get your period. You guys are badasses. I don’t know if any of these tips will be helpful for trans/agender people but they have been written with the intention of being inclusive! Of course these tips also aren’t intended for people who have health problems – endo, pcos etc. I’m not a stranger to these illnesses but I would never presume to be able to help another person with them, I’m not a healthcare professional.

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Book Review: Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Being a feminist can be exhausting. There are only so many times you can hear someone say ‘but we have gender equality now, why can’t you just shut up, why do you hate men?’ before you start to daydream of a world where the problem just doesn’t exist at all. Don’t deny it, I know you’ve thought it. My boyfriend, obviously a man himself, has even said it out loud. It’s very difficult not to when you’re faced with a constant stream of unending privilege, arrogance, sexism, racism and classism from half the people you come into contact with. I’m not saying we should think it, or that it’s a good thing. I’m just being honest about how shitty being a feminist can feel sometimes.

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Well, lucky for me, 19th century feminist author Charlotte Perkins Gilman shared my guilty daydream. Herland is a story about three male explorers who happen upon a civilisation formed entirely of women. As they explore this utopian society full of harmonious, selfless citizens, the explorers teach them, at the women’s request, what it’s like in the real world full of men. Unsurprisingly, the women are not happy about what they hear. Perkins Gilman’s clever way of pitting the brutality and selfishness of our world against the serenity and beauty of Herland are almost upsetting in parts, because of how terrible they make our world seem. However at the same time you are rewarded with the understanding that she is absolutely ripping the piss out of the male protagonists.

Herland sends a very clear message about being wary of the affect that competitive, exploitative, selfish behaviour has on a society. While it’s easy to see the story as just an expression of frustration, I do think it goes a lot deeper than that. I also think that it is a must for any man to read. You’ll find it unsettling, but it’s important to see such a believable, rational evolution of an all-female society. After all, we live in a patriarchy, you’re the ones with the power and you’re the ones that need to be challenged.

For me, this book was a wonderful way of harmlessly working through some of the serious issues I have with men who won’t acknowledge their privilege. It was an incredibly cathartic, amusing and interesting read, even though it really did make me feel sad in parts. I would highly recommend it to any tired feminist, and if you can find a way of making the sexist person in your life read it to the end, it’ll probably give them a lot of food for thought too. Get it from Waterstones – link

Thinx: Period Underwear

ARFIpadsTwo months ago, I discovered my holy grail. Not skincare, not hair care, not make-up. My holy grail? Five pairs of period underwear that make me feel sexy, comfortable and confident. These pant(ie)s have changed the way I feel about my period, and I honestly believe they are the best investment I could ever have made for myself.

Also…I would never in a million years have expected to be posting a picture of me in my underwear on this blog, but that just goes to show how amazing Thinx underwear make me feel. Read on to find out why!

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I’ve always been very forward about periods – I don’t find them disgusting and have never felt embarrassed by them. When I started my dad was the first person I told, and he reacted with pride. I cannot express how important that was, his joyously positive response to something that women are shamed for and silenced about. It taught me not to accept men’s immaturity in the face of a bleeding vagina, and to question phrases like ‘oh my god don’t make period jokes that’s disgusting’. I think this is one of the reasons I’m so annoyed by the lack of options when it comes to sanitary products, and allow myself to loathe both pads and tampons.

For a long time, I used a Mooncup, which I loved. However I’ve had an IUD for a year and was told by both my doctors and the Mooncup team that using a cup in conjunction with an IUD is a bit squiffy – so the cup went back into its box, and I went back to using pads. I never use tampons because my flow isn’t heavy enough and it’s like lighting a match EVERY SINGLE TIME I take one out… but after a while I got sick of pads, especially since discovering that the only brand I actually liked now puts perfume in all their products (really, Always?) So I started looking for an alternative.

And that’s when I discovered Thinx. Made of four ingenious layers of absorbent, antimicrobial, leak-resistant and moisture-wicking fabrics as well as an incredible design that just fits PERFECTLY, Thinx underwear come in six styles that can hold up to TWO tampons worth of blood! The level of absorbency varies depending on the style. As you can imagine, the hiphugger holds a lot more than the thong, so you can choose your pants based on your own flow. I bought five pairs of hiphuggers because I decided to use them without anything else, and I thought the style looked really comfy. Thinx recommend that you use them with tampons or a cup, but also stress that you know your own flow, and if you think it’s light enough to go it alone, that’s up to you.

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I went with the large size, which is bigger than I would usually buy in the UK (I’m a 12, sometimes even a 10) but about right for American undies – genuinely I think they make them differently as I’ve bought medium size underwear in Peru, New York and Toronto and they’ve ALL been to small! Anyway, large fits PERFECTLY. Despite being thicker than normal underwear, it doesn’t feel like you’re sitting in a knicker-sized sanitary pad. It does feel different, but not uncomfortable, or even noticeable after a few minutes.

It’s amazing to just be able to get up in the morning and simply pull on some underwear, without having to worry about packing enough pads for the day. To be able to wear my skinniest jeans, and to be wearing underwear that I actually like! Washing them is so easy too. You rinse the top layer of blood off at the end of the day in cold water, and then pop them in a cold delicates wash with natural detergent (I use Ecover’s Delicate Laundry Detergent) along with all your other underwear and delicates.

Thinx are more than just an amazing underwear company though. Their factory in Sri Lanka is a family run company that is committed to training and educating their female employees so that that they can become empowered leaders in the community. Thinx ALSO contribute some of their profits to ARFIpads, an organisation that trains women in developing countries to sew reusable sanitary pads. They sell these pads to girls in their communities who are then able to attend school whilst menstruating, something that they wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.

In total my pants took me to about £100, which I was completely happy with to be honest. Yeah they’re not cheap, but the technology, ethics, the comfort, confidence and convenience make them more than worth the investment. Take a look at their amazing range here.

How to talk to a doctor about your vagina

I’m not going to beat around the bush here. Women everywhere are taught that their bodies, sexuality, and as a consequence, genitals, are dirty. We’re taught that enjoying our bodies is sad and wrong, that periods are disgusting and that unless you’re as trimmed as a porn star, no man will ever eat you out. So it’s NO SURPRISE WHATSOEVER that it’s hard to talk to a stranger, face to face, about an issue you might be having between your legs. I’ve been there – and I broke through the apprehension, so I thought I’d share with you how I did it…

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  1. Be honest with yourself. I don’t mean that in the sense of asking yourself why you’re nervous about talking to a doctor about your vajajay. What I mean is DON’T put off seeing a doctor. Don’t tell yourself that it’s nothing. If you are worried about your body, then you have a responsibility to yourself to do something about it. Make that appointment!
  2. You can always request a female doc if that makes you feel better. If it does, go for it! For the record I’ve had a lot of male doctors and nurses talk about/look at my vag and it was exactly the same. They all have the same level of education, they all ask you the same questions.
  3. The hardest part of talking to a doctor is the beginning. When you start, you’ll get a twinge of ‘oh god what if I blush’, but just push through. Even if you do blush! Like, they’re a doctor, they probably won’t even notice because they’ll be listening to you describe your symptoms.
  4. Remember that you do not need to feel ‘bad’ or ‘guilty’ talking to a doc about your vagina, or even asking them to look at it. Yes, you CAN ask a doctor to look at it. It is EXACTLY the same as asking them to look at a mole. Every GP in the world has has been elbow deep inside a human body on multiple occasions. I cannot begin to express how unfazed they will be by your vagina.
  5. Make eye contact. If you pretend that you aren’t feeling awkward, then it magically becomes not awkward. Honestly! If you don’t have a problem with eye contact usually, then this is a really useful way of forcing yourself to be comfortable.
  6. It’s normal to feel exposed or uncomfortable on an exam table. Especially if it’s cold! Just remember that feeling a bit uncomfortable is worth it to know that everything’s fine, and even more worth it if everything turns out NOT to be fine.
  7. If you’re having an examination, relax your muscles, control your breathing and count the ceiling tiles. You’ll barely even notice that speculum going in! (Jokes)
  8. Even if you can’t make yourself feel at ease, it doesn’t matter. A doctor sees people at the worst times in their life. Elderly people who can’t remember where they are. Women who have just lost a baby. Alcoholics with liver cirrhosis. I’m not belittling your concern (remember, I’ve been there), what I’m doing is reminding you that being able to walk in, tell a doctor what’s happening and have them look at it? That is a privilege. Even if you have to stare at your shoes the entire time.

I wanted to write this post because I know a lot of people are worried about discussing their vagina with a stranger. I hope this made you feel better and inspired you to book that smear test, get that lump looked at, or ask your doctor why you’re having pain during sex. You have a right to free healthcare, and your vagina is damn important!

I can prove that make-up is feminist

I don’t think we place enough weight on the role that socialisation (learning to fit into the society we’re born in) plays in the development of our personality. We know that socialisation is important to our development, but what I’m not sure people understand is that when you’re brought up to want something (and you don’t end up rebelling against it), you genuinely want it. It’s not performative and it’s not lying to fit in. Society doesn’t just make us feel like we want something, it actually makes us want it. 

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For example, if you want to wear a white dress at your wedding, you want it because society told you to. But you also GENUINELY WANT IT, as honestly as I want a cup of coffee right now, or I wanted a shower when I woke up. Every fibre of the ‘what do I want to wear to my wedding’ part of your brain wants that dress. Being told that you shouldn’t have one is akin to being told that you aren’t allowed to have a cup of coffee. Your wants and needs are being denied, and it feels bad because they are real wants and needs.

I first started thinking about this because I couldn’t understand why it was that I liked make-up and pretty dresses so much. I wasn’t raised to like them, in fact my fairly radical parents went to great lengths not to expose me to gendered behaviour. Yet, there were influences. I still watched TV, I still knew what make-up was and who it was for. A child’s desire to fit can easily make it attracted to a certain toy, way of speaking, item of clothing or type of behaviour. I wanted to wear make-up when I was older, I felt a burning desire for a really pretty dress, and yes, it was because my friends and the women on TV had them.  I’d learned that make-up and dresses make you pretty, so I felt pretty in them. Kinda sheds a light on why we find it SO difficult to define beauty, doesn’t it!?

When we criticise something like make-up as ‘anti-feminist’ or damaging to women in some way, we are wrong. To say that would be to say that I am not allowed to do something that makes me feel good. We can’t simply overcome the way we were raised, especially when it’s something as relatively unimportant as putting stuff on your body to feel good. Getting a career, maintaining our mental health, enjoying life, these things are far more important. Let’s go back to the first example I gave; the white wedding dress. I’ve spent a lot of time being vehemently against them. However, after thinking about the idea that the ‘wants’ we learn from society are real and valid, I realised that actually, if you want a white wedding dress, it would be hurtful to hear someone say it was a bad thing. The white dress is steeped in the history of female oppression. It was wrong that society taught you to idolise it. But it is not wrong for you to want it. The same is true of nearly every ‘feminine’ behaviour that one might claim to be a result of a misogynistic society. Taking the man’s last name? Stay at home mums? Taking sexy photos? Think of anything you like. It isn’t just that women have been told they should want these things. They really want them.

At this point, it sounds like I’m being really patronising. ‘Leave women alone to do all the silly things they like doing, they’re not hurting anyone’ … but actually no, it’s much more important than that. We live in a society where we are simultaneously praised and put down for doing things that we want to do. We should have sex when men want us to, but if we have sex too much we’re sluts. We shouldn’t dress in revealing clothes but if a woman covers her hair she’s being oppressed. Society is not on our side, because society is not angled towards women’s wants and needs. I can’t think of a better way of telling society to fuck off than picking a few of the things it taught me to like and celebrating the shit out of them. I will tell you how beautiful you look in your wedding dress because it’s true, I will try to recreate that YouTube make-up look, and I will argue until I’m blue in the face about a woman’s right to cover, or uncover her body in front of others.

Counter examples, where people are raised to think, or want something that negatively impacts other people, only serve to highlight how ridiculous it is that we sanction harmless desires like wearing make-up. Being raised as a racist? A homophobe? These are serious problems, and honestly, I think a lot of people who have these feelings may need real help. You do not need counselling because it makes you feel good to post sexy instagram pictures.

It doesn’t matter whether society taught you to like something, hours of deep thinking taught you to like it, or it came ready made in your brain at birth. If you like it, do it, wear it, live it. Celebrate other women for doing the things that make them feel good, so we can finally enjoy ourselves without society’s permission.

What do you think? I would love to hear some feedback on this!