Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Losing yourself in the moment. Or not.

This article was first published on noraresearches.com in March 2017.
If we study film, do we ruin all future cinema trips?

If we study dance, can we ever really let go on the dance floor?

Spoiler alert: I studied dance.

I don't think studying somethings ruins it (and conversely, I have no problem letting go on the dance floor), but it's a question which, in its various forms, deserves air time.

I made a note on my phone last November which reads a bit like this (I have edited it slightly to make better sense):

"As with any training or study, practising performance and opening oneself to being watched can make one more aware of being watched at all times. In everyday life do I become more self conscious in a way that might stop me from doing certain things? Does it force me to always be in response to gaze? Or can this awareness give me the capacity (skill?) to be aware and to be accepting of it and respond with choice and agency? Does it in fact give me more choice in each (social) situation?"

I am pretty sure I was thinking about sex when I wrote this (when am I not?) and specifically the notion of 'losing yourself in the moment', which is often lauded as the ultimate goal for sexual activity. I think I am not very good at 'losing myself in the moment', but I wonder if that's partly because I seem to have spent the last several years of my life working out how to be engaged in complex, varied, highly physical activity (dance) whilst still being super aware of exactly where I am, who is watching me, what has happened before and what is coming next.

Would I have more fun in bed if I wasn't so friggin' aware of everything all the time? Maybe. Or maybe not... I reckon awareness also helps when it comes to sex.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

The patriarchy in hiding

If a man harasses me on the street I confront him.

Occasionally, when I feel unsafe, I let it slide, but so often, when it happens in the light of day in full sight of many, I take the opportunity for a face-off.

I do it out of principle, but I also do it for pleasure. Calling someone out for misogyny can be thrilling. That moment - when the cat-caller thinks I am going to walk away, but I don't, and they don't know where to look or what to say - is satisfying and it can heal the wound that they might have inflicted upon me in the first place.

Confronting an aggressor can be bitter sweet. If I challenge a man who has called out, touched or threatened me, it is a reclaiming of power and ground. It feels good. However, I still wish for a world where I don't have to fight for space and respect.

I also have begun to realise, in my growing confidence, that there is another tone to the bitterness of these encounters. Not in the shape they take, but in who I am confronting.

The true patriarchy is rich, white, privileged, in power and guarded.

The men I confront on the street are, most often, poor, brown, un-priviledged, marginalised, immigrant, homeless... etc.

This doesn't feel good.

Picture me, a white woman in a busy street, shouting down some guy who has, his whole life, been violated by society and has in turn violated me with his words. Meanwhile, the real patriarchy rolls by, behind shaded glass windows of chauffeured cars.

We are all pawns.

Thursday, 9 March 2017


I love the word 'humping'.
There is something energetic and sweet about it.
It's the word I would use to describe the first sex dream I remember having, aged around 8.
I was on the patio at the back of my house with a boy called Laurie from my primary school. He was skinny and badly behaved.
We were both naked and we humped.
It was definitely humping (rather than, say, shagging, boning or fucking) because it was all about the bumping action. There wasn’t anything more anatomically specific going on. Just us bouncing our pelvises together. I’m pretty sure I initiated it and was on top.
It was totally great.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Trying on a different hat.

I am a straight woman (am I?)

I’ve only ever been in love with men and I have never been or wanted to be in a relationship with a woman. I do, however, want to have sex with women; I have snogged women; I watch lesbian porn; I have crushes on women; and I would definitely be happy with having someone’s vulva and clit all up in my face (that’s supposed to be the ultimate test, right?).

So I am also a lesbian

My desires around women are mostly sexual. Let’s say I am bisexual. Bisexual. Whatever. Who cares?

Recently, I was thinking a bit about how I might go about having sex with a woman, like, just practically, how I would find someone to have sex with.

Then I was thinking about how, or whether, it would shift my experience or perception of the world if I were to ‘position’ myself as bi or pan sexual, rather than straight (as I have always done). I tried it out. I told a couple of people that I was bi and I ticked a few different boxes in the ‘sexuality’ section on various, unimportant, forms. The biggest shift, however, was just going around with a different line in my head: ‘I fancy women’.

I learnt two things:

1) I realised that I considered the action of fancying a woman to be a ‘male’ one. Meaning, I felt a bit like a man. What was that feeling? I don’t know… a bit thigh-rubby, a bit covert. Not great.

I felt 'male', but I was also me, so I was a male who was incredibly empathetic to the female experience and was therefore felt the weight of all of the patriarchy’s sins. I was aware of how women are over sexualised and how, by fancying them, I was inevitably in line with that groove, rather than being able to subvert it.

2) Women are represented in society as being kind, gentle, submissive, caring, maternal, soft etc. The consequence of this is that it it a fucking joy it is to be attracted to them. It’s so easy! Women are lovely and not threatening. They are also, by default approachable and available.

Gender is so polarised in our society that all women carry with them the burden of being labelled ‘female’, as all men carry with them the burden of being ‘male’ (dominant, threatening, hard, unkind). Female bodies are sexualised in the media to the degree that every woman I see is, by association, sexualised. There I was, sitting on a train, looking at women and feeling like I was violating them just by dint of finding them attractive.

Then I realised a third thing:

3) For most of my life I have felt to be, and positioned myself as, straight. Whenever I meet a new man I will check him out as a potential mate (yes, no, yes, no). It always seemed simple enough. However, now I know, more consciously, what it is like to fancy women (clue: very easy, because society tells us so). Now I realise that fancying men is actually really complicated. When I am checking out a man and deciding whether I want to have sex with him or not, I am also encountering his male-ness. The same maleness that has assaulted, harassed, shamed, threatened and oppressed me throughout my life. Inevitably, these two simultaneous and opposing reactions of attraction and fear collide with each other. I process this information whilst also taking in other factors that might give me a clue as to what to do i.e. is it dark? Are you alone? Did someone introduce you to this guy or did he just start talking? Did his hand brush you because he was trying to squeeze past, or did he just touch you for no reason?

There is a lot going on. No wonder women, me included, have experiences when these opposing things get confused: when you want your lover to choke you; when you are turned on by street harassment; when you use your sexuality to prove a point rather than to pleasure yourself; when you hide your sexual fantasies deep in secrecy to counter the otherwise public sexualisation of your body; when your body is both your source of pleasure and also a hardened, battle weary defence ship.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Slapping and being slapped

Breaking News: Women have sexual desire.

I had a one-night stand with a man whilst on holiday last summer. It was a hot, easy thing. We were both drunk, both keen, both pleasantly surprised. I had two orgasms (admittedly, I came by touching myself, but I often don’t orgasm at all with a partner, so it was a good night for me). During sex, the man, let’s call him Mano, slapped me around the face, assuming I would like it (there had been no prior agreement or mention of this potential type of contact). It took me by surprise. I slapped him back and, strangely, he also looked surprised, his face dropping as he said “ow”, indignantly, as though I had accidentally stepped on his foot. I was puzzled. How else did he think I was going to react?

As it so happened, I did enjoy being slapped that night, it fitted my mood and the exchange got me energised. In fact, my return slap had been a move to try to escalate the potential play. Afterwards, however, I was left mulling it over. Why had Mano been surprised to be slapped back?

I have a theory. His shock revealed, for a brief moment, a deep, murky belief, held fast by the patriarchy at large: women don’t want to have sex.

That might seem a little far-fetched, so let me explain:

Firstly, it was clear that when Mano slapped me he hadn’t considered that I might slap him back. He was clearly not treating me as an equal player in our shared activity. He just went for it, regardless. He had no expectation of reciprocation and therefore no empathy towards my experience of being slapped. Secondly, he hadn’t considered that he might need my consent before slapping me. He did what suited him and it was pure chance that I happened to not mind it.

It seems, therefore, that Mano saw our roles in the bed to be fundamentally different: I was there for him to get off on. He didn’t think that I might be getting off on him, that I might be getting the same kicks out of fucking him as he was out of fucking me, or that my sexual desire might match his own.

Sexual assault towards women is to do with power, aggression, oppression, greed, fear… etc. It is also to do with a deep-set assumption that women don’t want to have sex and that sex is therefore something that can be used to humiliate, shame and embarrass them.

As a woman, society taught me that I had a modest sexual appetite, and I had to shake off that belief to reveal my true (pretty large) appetite. I still, however, find myself encountering men who think that I am somehow lacking the will. A low libido is not something I would be ashamed of, but for someone to presume it of me, is dangerous. It assumes that I will always be less keen to have sex than my male counter-parts, therefore normalising lack of consent, and it assumes that I will always follow rather than initiate sexual activity, which disregards female satisfaction and orgasm as a motivation for sex.

A few years ago I met up with an ex-boyfriend, let’s call him Jack. Jack and I would hang out occasionally, as friends, and talk openly about new relationships and life in general. I remember enjoying being able to casually tell him that I was having sex with other people, and proving to him (maybe unconvincingly) that I was over us: "look how well I have moved on!"

On one occasion I told him I had had sex with an old school teacher, a man about 15 years older than me. We laughed and I got a kick out of sharing this slightly clich├ęd sex story. I saw Jack again a few months later and the same story came up in conversation and I mentioned I had had sex with the same teacher a handful of times during those past few months.

Jack was confused, he said, “What? You mean you slept with him again? I thought you were just doing him a favour.”

I didn’t really know what to think. Had Jack assumed that, for some reason, the first time I had sex with the teacher it hadn’t been something I desired? Was having sex with the teacher a few times proof that I actually wanted to do it, yet once hadn’t been? Did he think I just slept with people to do them favours? Or for a laugh?

These assumptions seemed so fucked up: apparently it was normal for me to have had sex without wanting it; my role as a woman was to serve the wishes of the male teacher rather than my own; and presumably the teacher had initiated it because he must have had more desire to sleep with me than I had to sleep with him.

This assumed version of events couldn’t have been further from the truth. I had absolutely wanted to have sex with the guy, I had absolutely been serving my own desires (I have long-standing teacher fantasies) and I had absolutely initiated it (the teacher was relatively cautious in his approach the first time we had sex, not wanting to abuse any power).

More recently, after a night out with friends I got into a conversation with two drunk men. Barely minutes into the conversation they were asking me fairly direct questions: was I was a lesbian, what percentage did I considered myself to be lesbian, did I want to get a drink with them, did I want to go back to their flat, what was my body like under that coat…? etc. They were annoying and a little bit xenophobic. Eventually me and my friends decided to leave. Feeling, against all odds, surprisingly fond of these two idiotic men, I went to hug one of them good bye. He unashamedly groped my arse. I pulled away and slapped him across the face, quickly beckoning my friends before running away.

It was truly horrible to be groped without consent. Slapping the perpetrator was incredibly satisfying but it did not undo my sense of being violated (it was also depressing to realise that my grope-reflex was ‘on point’ thanks to so much practice at being sexually harassed.)

This guy was clearly a twat. However, if we are in the game of seeking equality, then embracing complexity is key. It is important not to reduce the above situation to a single moment of ‘the perpetrator and the violated’. Instead we need to understand and locate the deep inequality that was present throughout the whole conversation and incident, which lead towards the moment of abuse.

I will take a guess that the man who groped me thought that he was the one who was directing the path of our conversation. He thought that he was playing me. Yet, in reality, I was playing just as much as he was. When the two guys were asking me if I was a lesbian I actually enjoyed telling them "yes, I am a little bit gay", and imagining how that might shock them or turn them on; when they were testing to see if I might be interested in another drink I was also testing back to see if they might be my type or whether we might actually have a good night together. Ultimately I was not interested, but for a while I was playing them at their own game. (Shock horror! I also get turned on by talking to strangers about sex in the street.)

I was in it for myself, yet it was the groper’s belief that I was in it for him, and this is what lead to him abusing me. Throughout our dialogue this man had assumed that:
  • my engaged answers were a ‘yes’ to his agenda alone.
  • I didn’t have my own agenda.
  • my body was there for his pleasure.
  • I was not out to find pleasure for myself.
  • I was giving time to his cause rather than my own.
  • I had no desires for my evening, aside from saying yes or no to him.
  • if I was still talking to him then I was his.
There was nothing to stop him from groping me. No filter or sense of it being wrong. He took my presence alone as a green light, not for once thinking that I might have chosen to engage with him and still not want to be touched.

Why is it such a stretch of the imagination for a man to understand that I might be playing the same game as he? That I might be hanging around for my own pleasure.

Women be loud! (Or not, actually, do whatever you like.) We must continue to have desires and express them and not be simplified. We must not be scared to be complex and sexual for fear of being accused of being responsible when we are violated.

Filth is not filthy.
Lack of consent is.