Sex, Sexuality and Consent

When I was, ooh… 17 years old (give or take) I wrote a “dirty” poem for the man I thought I was in love with. I don’t remember the words, but I remember it was a little bit rude, a little bit “naughty”. That poem didn’t go down well. The recipient freaked the fuck out and I still don’t know why, but it immediately shut down communication about sex with the man I was supposed to be spending the rest of my life with.

That break in trust — the terrible reception to such a big part of an ‘adult relationship’ — caused a catastrophic change in my already fragile relationship with sex and my ‘sexual identity’. It’s hard enough to think about sex when you’ve had control over it forcibly removed from you at a young age (link content warning, sexual abuse) but to pluck up the courage to do ‘something’ and then be shamed and ridiculed and made to feel like a terrible human being?

I distanced myself from sex at that point. I made excuses to avoid it. I celebrated headaches, and getting thrush was like winning the fucking lottery. I tolerated the parts I couldn’t refuse. I faked orgasms to get it over with quicker. I refused to try new things. I was labelled frigid, and I cried, but accepted it as truth. Over the years as memories of that encounter faded I swallowed the constant message that this lack of interest in sex was my fault. I accepted that I just wasn’t that into sex, that sex did nothing to me, and it was probably because I had been abused; because I was broken.

Some 11+ years after that incident and I found myself suddenly free. With nobody to tell me what I did and didn’t enjoy, what I could and couldn’t say, I found myself bizarrely attracted to the idea of just getting laid. Going out, having sex with a random stranger, and seeing what happened. I put it to my counsellor that having sex would, once and for all, finally answer questions that I had kept buried for so long. Was I just frigid? Did I actually enjoy sex? Could I actually even orgasm from something other than masturbation?

In hindsight, this was a terrible plan that could have gone disastrously wrong. Sex, not least sex with someone for the first time, can be crap for a huge variety of reasons. The last thing I needed was for a bad one night stand to cement in my head that I was a fucked up sexless disaster of a woman incapable of enjoying herself.

By some miracle my first sexual encounter post-ex was glorious. And not for the reasons you might expect: my vagina did not spontaneously combust because of orgasm overload (although that would have been impressive) and I didn’t explode semen from my ears (less impressive). I felt lust and desire for what might have been the first time in 28 years, but after a long day of anticipation and nervousness and a long not-date full of conversation and laughter, I was exhausted and I stopped the whole thing. I said no.

“What happened next might surprise you!”

He said OK. And we rolled over and cuddled to sleep. And it turns out that’s what normal people do. Sometimes one or both persons don’t want sex, and they say no, and things go no further. Like I said, this was glorious. It was exactly what I needed. I did not need multiple orgasms to feel better, I needed someone to respect my body. To respect my voice and to understand consent. Respecting that “no” meant trust, and it meant communication withour fear, which meant I did not feel judged or shamed or like a terrible human being. It made me feel normal.

As it turns out, there’s nothing quite like communication and feeling normal to give you the mental space needed to finally open your mind to what sex CAN be like. Given that freedom meant that I could work through both old issues from new angles to (hopefully) put them to rest, but also a muddled up jumble of thoughts about myself as an unbroken person! With needs! And desires! And fantasies and kinks and attraction to people and ‘types’ that I’d never considered before.

Growing up in what I would call a sex positive household — an openly gay mum and various relatives of all LGBT+ colours — meant that I had never given much thought to sexuality. It was just a thing that people had/did/enjoyed/whatever. No big deal. On one hand this was great for opening my mind as a kid, but on the other this fluidity and ‘normalisation’ and blurring of sexualities and different sexual preferences meant I never really considered it important to establish my own preferences in any sort of fixed medium. That, and the early and further long-term erasure of any sort of personal sexual identity, meant that I spent 30 years just assuming I was straight.

So… back to this new found ability to communicate and explore, and I get on to thinking about my sexual preferences, and I started thinking about sexuality in more detail. I figured yep, I must still be straight because I knew I wasn’t gay: I was finally enjoying sex with a man too much to be gay. But for a straight woman with lots of thoughts on what I’d do to the likes of Tom Hardy or Cillian Murphy if they found themselves in my bedroom, I sure found quite a lot of women attractive too.

Despite experiencing sex and sexuality positive parenting, I also saw biphobia from a young age. Gems such as “it’s just greedy”, and they’re “in denial about being gay” were not uncommon. I can’t say for sure that this made me discount bisexuality altogether, but it definitely meant that it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind growing up. And then one day I found those ‘Tom Hardy in my bedroom’ thoughts undeniably stirred up by an attractive woman and bosh: like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, it all clicked together. I am bisexual.

That wondrous magical consent-respecting man I mentioned above is now my husband. And despite my attraction to women (and Tom Hardy) I’m not greedy and I’m not gay: because above and beyond all others I love, want, & desire him.

Be a little patient

We’re on day 3 of the new year and I’m yet to write any of my typical end of year posts for 2015: what I did for christmas, my review of the previous year, my goals for the next.

It’s not that there’s nothing to say. I mean, 2015 saw me complete the remortgage on the house, return to self-employment and move the man I love in with me. If that wasn’t awesome enough, for some bizarre reason that man asked me to marry him and I said yes. And — on a slightly less life-changing level — I lost weight, had my first foreign holiday (and went topless on the beach), got lost in Oxford, got myself a giant bunny and saw my dad for the first time in a couple of years. Amongst other things.

A busy year all in, and plenty to write about, but instead I’m sat here feeling restless and agitated. Instead of focusing on all the massive AWESOME cool stuff that I did / achieved / went through in 2015 I remember the times I skipped a mornings work to lay in bed because my head was telling my silly things or spent 3 hours on twitter because it’s the closest I’d get to adult company and the isolation was setting in. I think of the income I didn’t get because I was too busy doing favours – saying yes when I should have said no. Or just generally procrastinating.

I think about the times I shouted at my kids because they were doing ordinary kid stuff because outside pressure and the PMS and life was making it difficult to relax. I think about the wine and takeaway curries I consumed when I should have been working out and eating homemade food. I think of the failed budgets, the overspending, the constantly fluctuating savings. Most of all I spend a lot of time wondering when I’ll feel normal again.

But what is normal? When you’ve spent the vast majority of your life in situations where you’ve had to build walls and exercise control over the minutiae because it’s the only thing you’re allowed control over; when your relationships are based on defending your emotional health rather than cultivating it; when you’ve spent so long living with oppression that freedom scares the fuck out of you… none of what you “know” is normal. There’s no going back to normal, because there was no normal to begin with.

So… I guess what I’m trying to say is that 2016 is going to be about defining a new normal. Allowing myself to continue building on what I’ve done, finding out who I am and being gentle on myself when I fail. Mark Manson said, in his piece Shut Up and Be Patient (which basically feels like it was written for me at exactly the time I needed it):

There are a thousand tons of emotional and psychological cargo being hauled across the vast oceans of your unconscious. Be a little patient, fucker.

& I think I can do that. :)

Realising I’m an extrovert

I’ve spent a huge portion of my life telling the world (and myself) that I don’t like people. It’s nothing personal: people are lovely I’m sure. I just find them hard work. I always assumed I was a bit of an introvert, preferring my own company; chatting on social media is plenty of interaction where I can more easily create boundaries and step away with ease.

But this weekend I realised I’m wrong. That I am the very definition of an extrovert. That is, I am energised by social interaction, and isolation leaves me anxious, withdrawn and at its very worst, depressed.

You’d think I’d have been clued in when I went self-employed originally and found myself chatting up the postman and inviting in religious callers for a cup of tea, until the isolation (amongst other things) pushed me back into full time employment.

You’d think I’d have been clued in when, before Gaz moved in, I would regularly ask Gaz to come over for an extra night because the thought of spending those hours alone in the time between my kids going to bed and them waking up in the morning drove me to despair (and crying into my wine).

You’d think I’d have been clued in when, after going back to self-employment in July, after a short period of “yay I can do whatever I like” the reality of sitting alone day in, day out — particularly during the summer when I didn’t even have the kids to break the monotony — hit me hard, giving me one of my longest ‘low’ periods yet.

Nope, I was oblivious. I knew working alone was getting to me, but I didn’t realise to what extent. However, as a bit of an ‘experiment’ I asked Gaz if he’d take me out on Saturday. We went to a local pub that usually has live music over the weekend, and I drank and danced and talked to people and connected and told people how fab they looked and — aside from one wanker who wouldn’t leave me the fuck alone — generally felt energised and happy and awesome. I’m still feeling ‘high’ today!

Maybe I really was an introvert, and I have changed as I’ve grown. Or maybe that’s what I told myself so that I could more easily deal with every past attempt at socialising being questioned, controlled, critiqued. It’s easier to pretend you don’t like people than to admit your relationship is failing, after all.

OK, so this weekend was just one occasion. I can’t guarantee that getting out and being with people is the answer to my problems. It sure as hell has given me the motivation to attempt to do something about them, though. I need to stop talking about “getting out of the house” and actually do it. Game on…

The Problem with Empathy

Today’s post was going to be a review of the pizza place that Gaz and I went to on Friday night, but rather last minute I thought I’d swap it out for something a bit more personal; something that has been bothering me all week.

I’ve talked a little before about some of the side effects of having been in an emotionally abusive relationship, including excess empathy:

As a result of spending a huge part of my life waiting for incidents and accidents I’ve developed a weird sort of hypervigilance. I have empathy up to the eyeballs which allows me to very quickly identify with other people’s range of moods and feel spectacular depths of happiness [..] and, conversely, sadness.

Apparently this is quite normal in those who’ve been through abuse:

It is the act of putting oneself second above others, worrying about the needs and wants of others, and being completely reactionary toward others. What that means is that the person in question becomes hypersensitive to the emotions and emotional states of their abusers, in order to adjust their own behaviors, emotions, and responses accordingly. It is a survival mechanism born out of a moment of great need.

Empathic Perspectives: The Abused Empath

The problem is, while I have started to recognise this in myself and how it applies to relationships, and have been working on toning it down using Gaz’s more reasonable emotional response to situations as a benchmark, I still have issues with “3rd party” situations: things that occur that are outside of my personal “sphere”, and oftentimes completely out of my control.

The heavy social and traditional news media focus on the refugee crisis this week has been hugely difficult for anyone with an ounce of empathy, unsurprisingly. I have found it mentally crippling. I spent a huge portion of the week browsing social media with images disabled in my browser so that I wouldn’t have to see THAT photo again. Because to do so would wipe me out for a couple of hours, alternating between hopeless crying and feelings of utter uselessness and despair.

I have had to switch myself back and forth between retweeting and sharing stories / campaigns to raise awareness (and money) and complete emotional shutdown in a desperate attempt to maintain some level of control and be able to function as an adult (i.e. to work, communicate rationally, etc)

I understand why people are sharing those photos: I get it. I can’t quite decide if I think it’s entirely necessary, but I get it.

The problem with empathy is that in my head (against my better judgement and logical thinking) the world’s problems become my problems. And I realise that sounds ridiculously narcissistic, but trust me, it’s not something I actually want to feel. I don’t mean for this post to sound so “me me me”. I’m not telling you this now because I want pity. I don’t want pity. I definitely don’t need pity. This crisis is clearly not about me.

I’m telling you this because I want people to understand that someone who doesn’t participate in extended campaigning, or doesn’t share those pictures, or doesn’t stick hashtags on pictures of their own kids looking forlorn to exploit people’s emotions (thanks for that) so that they (the viewer) stick another fiver on the pile is not necessarily avoiding it because they don’t care, or lack compassion, or don’t want to help this horrible situation. No, it might actually be quite the opposite.

If you have the means to do so, please consider donating your time, your money, or necessary goods to aid the refugee crisis. The Independent has a good list of ways to help. Don’t tell me what you’ve done though, I don’t need to know just to believe you’re a good person (and neither should anyone else.)

In defence of spur of the moment decisions

I think often as a grown up, being able to spend time thinking about and rationalising decisions before acting them out is considered a desirable trait. Sleep on it, we’re told. Write pro/con lists and weigh up consequences.

I say bollocks to that.

Last year I came out of a counselling session with the realisation that my relationship was toxic. I ended it straight away.

A week later Tony mentioned OKCupid on twitter and I suddenly decided I need to get laid (classy bird, me) so I signed up and uploaded the first picture of my face to grace the interwebs in over 10 years. I found Gaz. (Although he says that picture was terrible. Nice to know.)

Not so long after that, Gaz and I met. I made a decision that night which worked out pretty well…

While I was on holiday with the kids earlier this year, I woke early one morning and decided to ask Gaz to move in with me. He said yes. (He moves in this weekend.)

A month or so ago I suddenly decided I needed to quit my job. I asked Gaz if it would be a terrible idea. He said it was … but I did it anyway. I have all of my original clients’ ongoing support and jobs booked in the calendar til September.

So, you know… maybe spur of the moment decisions aren’t so bad. After so many years of letting my head talk me out of everything, letting my heart rule for a while seems to be working out OK.

20 signs your relationship is probably over

It’s really quite easy to live day to day in a bad relationship because good people don’t like to think that other people — the people they love and are committed to — are anything but good too. But…

  1. If you need to ask permission to see your friends
  2. If you have to justify extending the length of your outings beyond a set curfew
  3. And endure repeated abusive phone calls if you’re just a tiny bit late
  4. If you need to explain why you bought yourself new underwear
  5. If you need to defend shaving your legs or cutting your hair
  6. If you have to put a PIN on your phone to get some privacy
  7. If the only ideas or plans that are acceptable are your partner’s
  8. If you work all day, parent all night, and still have to do ALL the housework, cook all the meals, wash all the clothes
  9. If you need to catch someone out in a lie to get the truth
  10. If you daren’t mention male friends or colleagues for fear of an argument
  11. If your idea of happiness is defined as not having an argument that day
  12. If your friends are rendered speechless at your partner’s behaviour (even if they’re too polite to say it’s dickish)
  13. If you feel like you’re losing your mind because you can’t keep track of the stories and spin
  14. If you are feel physically scared of a reaction to something, even if you’ve never been hit
  15. If everything is always “your fault” or “in your head”
  16. If you find yourself constantly making excuses for behaviour: your partner is tired, stressed, or they’ve had a hard day at work
  17. If you feel you need to make excuses to get out of sexual contact you don’t want
  18. Or feel the need to engage in sexual contact because it’s easier than saying no
  19. If you spend hours every week fantasising about leaving and trying to figure out if you can handle the finances on your own
  20. If you know in your gut that it is over, but are holding on for the sake of your family or children

…you probably need to leave.

It’s easy to normalise and justify each of the items in the list above as “just one-offs” and separate problems, each with their own little causes and ultimately, each with their own solutions. But they are not one-offs, they are pieces of a bigger puzzle. And you probably need to leave.

(Please don’t wait 12 years to do it.)