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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Let’s reform Valentine’s Day

With a capitalist society like ours it is very difficult to maintain the line between what is important to us, and what marketing departments want us to think is important. This is how Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day etc, have become vile spectacles of consumerism. I do not think it is possible, or wise to get rid of deeply entrenched cultural traditions that don’t actually do anyone any harm (you can’t exactly make buying a red heart-shaped cushion illegal, or organise a protest against Easter eggs, can you). What I think we can do though, is change them for the better.

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These consumer-driven festivities obviously didn’t start out that way. The first iterations of many festivals were Celtic celebrations of seasons changing. They were rooted in the environment, focused on celebrating life and the world. When Christians invaded Celtic lands the religions were combined, creating the festivals we celebrate today like Christmas and Easter. During the industrial revolution, these religious festivals morphed again to encompass the concept of ‘wanting stuff’. And with the subsequent invention of marketing, they developed again thanks to this new method of ‘making you want stuff’. And here we are. As for Valentine’s Day, it began as a feast celebrating a Saint, and then morphed (I think because of his martyrdom?) into a celebration of love, and then into the plastic-wrapped red-rose travesty we endure today.

I find it deeply upsetting to think about the way our society revolves around wanting and getting stuff. It’s bleakly shallow, meaningless and unsustainable. However, I’m also very lucky. I was raised by people who find mindless consumerism revolting, and in our house we wouldn’t really celebrate any festival apart from Christmas (which I think my parents realised they couldn’t ignore without making me a total weirdo at school). However they taught me that it was about sharing a day with your favourite people – having a relaxed, cosy time with people you genuinely like. Gifts were always thoughtful and nothing was bought ‘for the sake of it’. As a result, I don’t have a super negative attitude towards Christmas. I see Christmas as a time to spend with my loved ones, show them how much I care with thoughtful gifts, and eat good food that we all helped to cook. Christmas is never going to go away, and it is therefore better to reform it into something sustainable and meaningful than just to try and avoid it all together – because that way lies bitterness, anger and loneliness.

This has also made me more open to other festivals. Valentine’s Day is one in particular. Consumerism has made it into a fucking horrible celebration. Red hearts everywhere, shitty force-grown roses shipped in from somewhere that definitely doesn’t have ethical labour laws. Novelty chocolate flavours. The horrendous cis-heteronormativity of it all. All manner of gendered shite. I completely understand why people get so bitter about the whole thing – I think these things are utterly revolting. It should be noted that if you only hate Valentine’s Day because you’re single and not because of all that shit I just mentioned, you need to get a grip. I was single for 25 years and I never had a problem with people in relationships celebrating their love, don’t be so selfish.

ANYWAY. I guess maybe I could have cut out those 700 words and just got straight to the point, but the Philosophy student in me will never be able to make an argument without fully explaining it, so well done if you got this far. It’s time to rethink our approach to celebrating our love. What is Valentine’s Day about? Here are five ways you can help make Valentine’s Day something we can be proud to celebrate:

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Here are the gifts my partner and I got each other this year. We were both so excited about what we’d bought the other that we ended up giving them as soon as they arrived, which is actually what inspired this post! Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay available here (non-Amazon link), the Choose Love Help Refugees t-shirt available here

Do something with your friends if you’re all single. You love your friends, right? Lesley Knope it up and do something together! Get each other gifts! Have fun!

If you’re if you’re the only one who isn’t single (I’ve been there) then spend the day fucking the bejeezus out of yourself. Masturbation is an act of self-love, reclaim the it for yourself and make V-Day 100% about you. Or alternatively, have a bubble bath, put on your favourite film and ENJOY an evening alone. You shouldn’t feel obligated to go to some cringe singles event, or find someone on Tinder to spend the night with because the idea of being ‘alone on Valentines’ freaks you out. Own it. Your relationship status is not a measure of your worth as a human being.

Don’t buy the tacky shit from the shops. Get your partner something that will be meaningful for them, and them alone. Even better if you can make it something that will do good – a charity donation or a purchase from a charitable organisation, ethical chocolate, you get the idea. Brands are watching you, and if you demonstrate that you are 100% uninterested in their nonsense, they will stop making it. Trust me, I work in the consumer goods sector, I haven’t just seen it done, I’ve done it. Don’t click on the ‘Gifts for Her’ links – we notice.

If your partner loves flowers, go for it. But DO NOT get them those shit supermarket red roses. They are unethical, unsustainable and unimaginative. Get them a plant, or find their favourite blooms. The most important part? If you’re buying a bunch of flowers, always get them from an independent, small florist like Rebel Rebel.

Talk about it!! Tell people what you’re doing for Valentine’s. You can inspire others to make more positive decisions about the way they spend the day without tearing down their own choices or writing a 1k word blog post about it (sorry). All you really need to do is plant the seed in people’s minds and for many, it will grow into and idea for their own wonderful way of expressing love and affection.

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.