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.

AMA: What gets you out of a funk?

I was going to answer my AMA questions in the order they were asked, but having not long come out of a pretty rough few days or so I figured now would be the perfect time to answer Kelly’s question:

What gets you out of a funk?

The reality with PMDD, which is the root cause of my ‘funk’ symptoms, is that there’s not really any way to stop it. Which means that if I’m having a bad cycle, the only thing I can do is wait it out. With that said, there are several ways I can distract myself from it, which often reduces the severity of the symptoms at least temporarily:

Socialising

Being around people makes a big difference to my ‘funk’ symptoms. I think this is partly because I like to socialise, and enjoy being around other people’s energy, and partly because if I’m in the company of someone who seems to be actively enjoying my conversation and my presence, it tempers the anxiety. I find it easier to convince myself that I’m not a worthless piece of crap because surely nobody would want to be around a worthless piece of crap?

Of course there are times when my mood is so deeply low that getting off my arse and actually going to see someone, or making the effort to socialise is a moutain to conquer in itself. It can be hard to take that step when you’re already ‘in the depths’, so to speak.

Alcohol

Ahh, alcohol. My friend and my nemesis.

One or two glasses of wine can mean the worst of the anxiety completely disappears even if I don’t feel particularly tipsy. However, it will come as no surprise that using a known depressant to ease depressive feelings is a Bad Idea. One or two glasses of wine can become one or two bottles without a second thought and before I know it I’m sobbing over the nearest person who’ll listen and feeling like a massive twat.

I know I have a weakness when it comes to alcohol and so I try and avoid ‘using’ it as anything but a ‘social lubricant’. (Try and achieve are two different things, mind you.)

Running

There’s nothing like a really long run to help you mash out and mull over a shit ton of unwanted thoughts and feelings, and process everything so as to come to a reasonable and rational conclusion.

Unfortunately, I haven’t done anywhere near as much of this as I should have lately and it shows: both in my mental health and my waistline!

Counselling

If the shit really hits the fan, I go and see my counsellor. Talking therapy is the dog’s bollocks and I would heartily recommend it to anyone who is struggling. Find someone you can trust, and get it all out.

Although nowadays my counselling sessions are few and far between, I find it reassuring just knowing that I have that fallback if I need it.

Sex

There is no doubt about it, sex is my #1 ‘fixer’ when it comes to my low moods but it’s a complicated and dangerous path to tread… using intimacy and closeness to boost me up when I’m feeling so fragile can end in tears, and has on several occasions. It might take one ‘wrong move’ or one misinterpreted signal and I can be crushed in an instant.

Even when it goes right (wink wink nudge nudge) it’s not a perfect answer: it can exacerbate the problems I have with my libido during certain parts of my cycle which puts in a vicious circle of needing it more.

Of course the worst part about it is that it feels incredibly selfish to expect Gaz to ‘help’ in this way. It can’t be easy finding someone who is literally rapid-cycling through a million unwanted emotions even remotely sexually attractive, let alone to know exactly the right thing to say and do lest you destroy what little self-esteem they have at that precise moment.

I’m working on my expectations and ‘demands’ in this area.

So there we go: my funk-fighting techniques. If you want to ask me a question, pop it in the comments over here.