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.

Seven

My daughter turns seven years old on Monday.

It’s a milestone I’ve been dreading for some years. Seven years old.

I have organised a party. A disco with music and lights. I’ve bought glow sticks, I’m making a buffet and building a rainbow My Little Pony layer cake. I’ve told her to invite all her classmates. I have bought all the presents that seven year old girls like (hopefully).

Because I want my little girl to remember seven for the year she had an awesome birthday. I want my little girl — my sensitive girl who’s still afraid of the dark, who still likes to cuddle when she’s sad, who still likes her sandwiches cut into little triangles, and who has me sit with her while she falls asleep — my sweet, innocent little girl to remember seven for the year she got to party in sequins and eat pizza and cake with her school friends.

I don’t want her to remember seven as the year a sexual predator with alleged child sex offences won the US presidential election, further normalising the continued treatment of women and girls as objects.

I don’t want her to remember seven as the year a sexual predator with alleged child sex offences won the US presidential election, in part because of votes from a majority of white women, who statistically many of whom have been sexually assaulted but don’t see it as an issue that should affect their vote, demonstrating the further normalisation of the continued treatment of women and girls as objects.

I had hoped that by the time my daughter reached seven, the world would be different. Better. That I wouldn’t have to worry about her potentially experiencing the shit I went through when I was seven.

Because I don’t want her to remember seven as the year she was sexually assaulted for the first time. Like I do.

I wanted better than this.

I considered cam-girling to pay my mortgage

I’ve just been moaning on twitter about hitting a bit of a ‘blogging wall’ after 3 weeks of doing pretty well on my Septemblog challenge. In doing so, it occurred to me how lucky I am that — minor ‘every day’ life niggles aside — the only thing I can think of to moan about today is not having a topic to write about.

This time last year I was still trying to come to terms with the realities of lone parenting: mentally, physically and most overwhelmingly financially. Scraping together every spare penny to deal with having to pay all the bills myself, and a bunch of other crap that all seemed to hit at the same time, not least a tax fine/bill of over £950 because of a cock-up I’d made on a previous year’s tax return.

I was broken, financially and (nearly) mentally, and desperately trying to save every penny for massive impending solicitor and IFA bills to finalise the transfer of equity and re-mortgage my house. Bad times.

Anyway. At times — where I was not sure how to make my full time salary stretch any further, and I’d already worked my evenings away doing dev on the side — I would brainstorm ideas that would be low (mental) effort for high return and time and time again found myself pondering the realities of using the world’s (supposedly) oldest profession as a second sideline: I even googled story after story of past and present cam-girls and amateur porn stars to figure out the ins and outs of the industry.

I’m not particularly shy and I have zero issues with nudity. I am, shall we say “intimitely familiar with myself”, and not bothered who knows it. Most of all, thanks to years of other people helping themselves to my body, it isn’t that huge a step to give it away. Seemed therefore a logical jump to turn that into something that could earn me money with little outlay for tech or setup. I could potentially earn hundreds of pounds which would keep the little ones fed and a roof over our heads for a little bit longer.

But I didn’t do it. And while I have since joked about it with Gaz and indeed on twitter, I don’t think I could. If nothing else but because old wounds are healing, and I’m not sure having money in my back pocket is worth opening them up again.

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.)

Moving on from emotional abuse (TW)

Trigger warning: emotional abuse, link to/veiled references to sexual abuse

One of the hardest parts about moving on from an emotionally abusive relationship has been recognising the impact that it has had on aspects of my personality and my own behaviour. I am regularly taken by surprise by my reactions to seemingly inconsequential events because of expectations based on previous experience. I will often detach, feeling like I am watching both the situation unfold and my own emotions that follow, knowing that often my reaction is disproportionate to what has happened, but feeling completely powerless to do anything about it. As someone who considers themselves strong and independent and able to deal with an incredible amount of trials and tribulations (TW), this is physically painful to me and does nothing to ease the trauma.

Take for example this every day sort of incident: not long after Gaz and I started seeing each other, he was walking through the kitchen of his flat when stubbed his toe on a portable radiator he had against the back wall. He yelped in pain/surprise and I physically winced. Not in sympathy or acknowledgement of his pain, but because of a sudden overwhelming fear that enveloped my body. My eyes started to water, I felt adrenaline surging through my body as the fight or flight reaction took hold. My body, my reaction, completely out of tune with what should have been an “oooh, are you ok love?” response. It took hours for me to ‘come down’ from that, and it was only months later that I was able to fully explain to Gaz what I had experienced in that moment. He, of course, didn’t even remember stubbing his toe (why should he?)

I know now that this response is caused by conditioning: that over time I have experienced so much negativity following incidents like that, that even though logically I knew I was safe and Gaz would react like a normal / rational person, my brain thought I was ‘in for it’. That I should expect verbal abuse because it would be all my fault.

I’m getting better at dealing with those sorts of incidents. Gaz tripped up the stairs recently (I’m making him sound incredibly clumsy) and although I had a wibble, my immediate emotional response was concern rather than fear.

However, one thing I still struggle with particularly during periods of high anxiety (generally in the week or so when I’m off the pill, and when I’m overly stressed or very tired) and can’t seem to shake is a different sort of fear: fear of abandonment. If I feel that I’ve done anything ‘wrong’ or that I’m causing upset I start to panic. Trigger for this can vary from something as harmless as a sarcastic comment meant in humour to Gaz physically turning around/away from me (with completely innocent intent). When this happens I am again gripped by feelings I have no control over, and this usually results in one of two reactions: I cry, and act like a needy child wanting reassurance, or I start to use passive aggressive behaviour in a push away/pull you close cycle, making sarcastic comments or resurfacing tiny irrelevant incidents in my head from months past to use as ‘ammo’ in case I need to argue, to fight. This in itself is a form of emotional abuse and it kills me that I recognise the things in my behaviour that have been done to me.

I have yet to wrap my head around why, when I was in that harmful relationship, I completely failed to spot or identify with any of the feelings that I experience now. I had no idea that I felt actual physical fear when I knew I was likely to be used as the excuse or blame for an incident not of my causing. It was just normal. It was how it was. To know that I was so completely out of touch with my own mind that I could not recognise something as powerful as fear makes me really, really fucking angry. And ashamed that I could be so stupid.

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 (which itself causes me so much fucking pain: try being that person in the playground who cries at the sight of their child at the end of the school day “just because”) and, conversely, sadness. Anyway, this hypervigilance was vital in dealing with someone who operated on a very small scale of ‘okay’ and meant that I could try and react appropriately to nip a problem in the bud before it developed into a full blown argument. Of course this meant using the one thing I felt like I had any control over to try and placate and please: my body. The irony of this isn’t lost on me… having to fuck your way out of an argument is not empowering and the person in control was clearly never me.

The hypervigilance remains, but not everyone operates on a such a small scale of black or white in their emotional range. “Normal” people experience a range of feelings, which confuse my little internal radar. When Gaz comes home from work after a shit day and I can see the tiredness in his eyes and the stress in his expression, the “deal with this” alarm kicks in. I backtrack in my head to what I could have done, what part of my day made his stress my fault. A tiny part of my brain reminds me again and again that this wasn’t me but the tiny voice is drowned out by the shouts of “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” and “FIX THIS SHIT”. Of course I can’t fix it, because it’s not my problem nor responsibility to fix anything, and so the despair and uselessness floods in and Miss Fear of Abandonment comes aknocking.

I am getting better. Sometimes, when I feel something affecting the stability of my mood, I can talk myself down or distract myself from it. Sometimes I can fix things with a long run. Sometimes I type out stupidly long blog entries (although I usually delete them). Sometimes I spend money unnecessarily (less ideal). Mostly I just lean on Gaz and remember that I am very lucky to have found someone who isn’t scared by the journey I have yet to take, and who hasn’t faltered when I’ve needed him so far.

(TW) I have no idea how to title this post

Trigger warning: sexual abuse

I’ve started — and deleted — this post so many times over the past few years or so.

In fact, I’m writing it now, not knowing if I will get to the end before I change my mind and delete it all again. (more…)