Sex Not Stigma: Using My Sexuality to Manage My Mental Health

Content note: this post discusses mental health struggles in detail and includes slurs and a brief reference to suicide.

Today is #WorldMentalHealthDay. Thousands of brave people have spoken out about their struggles with various mental health conditions. I shared a little bit of my story on Twitter too, if you’re interested. Short version: I live with depression and anxiety.

I use a whole litany of tools to manage my mental health. I take medication, I’m working with The Best Therapist Ever, and I’ve learned to effectively regulate my physical and mental energy levels. I’ve also consistently found sex, masturbation and kink to be really useful and positive items in this toolbox.

A black and white picture of a heterosexual-read couple, sitting together with the woman's head resting on the man's shoulder in an affectionate fashion. They both have dark hair and the man has a beard and tattoos. Pixture by Hot Octopuss and given for a sponsored post about Mental Health Week.

#SexNotStigma

It is ridiculous to me that today, in twenty-freaking-seventeen, that there is STILL such stigma around both mental illness and sex. They are two of the great taboos that plague our society.

As a woman, admitting that you like to have sex can be a radical – and dangerous – act.  Speaking up about a mental health struggles is risky and brave for anybody to do. Words like “crazy” and “psycho” are thrown around with abandon. People with mental health issues are routinely portrayed as dangerous. Services that actually help us are thin on the ground and getting cut left, right and centre. Being a woman who talks about sex and is also open about her mental health. Ohhh, boy…

I’ve had my promiscuity chalked up to my mental health conditions more times than I can count. (“Poor girl, she’s acting out sexually because she’s depressed” at best, or “crazy whore!” at worst.) Interestingly, the same has also been true in reverse (“you wouldn’t be so depressed if you’d stop sleeping around!”) But that’s not how this works! I’m a proud slut[1] AND I have a mental health condition. One did not cause the other and ceasing one[2] will not “cure” the other.

The #SexNotStigma campaign aims to break taboos when it comes to talking about sex, including that surrounding sex and mental health. This post is my attempt to add my voice to that vital conversation.

I wrote recently about how I don’t think “don’t play when you’re depressed” is useful or realistic advice, and today I want to expand on that and talk about why, far from being off-limits when I’m low, sexuality has probably helped save my life more than once.

Sex: intimacy, connection, love.

Some people want to be left alone and can’t bear to be touched when they’re depressed. My experience is usually the opposite. I want to be around the people I love and trust, to connect with them in deep and profound ways. Sex is one of the ways in which I connect with some of the important people in my life. Therefore, honestly, fucking my brains out (or at least fucking my sadness out for a while) is one of the best ways a partner can help me when I’m struggling.

Sex reminds me, viscerally and in the moment, that I am loved. For me, mental health wise, a really good fuck with someone I love is basically a cuddle on speed. Throw in a few dozen orgasms (yes, your girl over here is SUPER multi orgasmic) and you will see a marked improvement in the happiness of your Amy.

Sex helps me to focus on all the joyful things – pleasure, love, connection, vulnerability, sensation – in a world that’s fucked.

Sex literally reminds me that there’s so much to live for.

Masturbation: the ultimate self-love.

Self-loathing is a feature of my depression and an unwelcome visitor that likes to pop in from time to time. I’ve learned that the best way to combat it is to be excessively kind to myself – the way you’d be kind to a partner, friend or child who was in pain. Sometimes I take myself out for coffee and cake. Sometimes I give myself permission to stay in bed, read and nap – take a “mental health day,” if you will. And sometimes, I masturbate!

Aside from the obvious benefits of all the happy chemicals that are released at the point of orgasm, masturbation is a means of reminding myself that I am worthy and deserving of pleasure. And on the occasions when romantic rejection or the ending of a relationship triggers my depression, masturbation reminds me that my sexual (and loving!) relationship with myself is the first, last and most important one of my life.

Who needs that git who dumped me when you have cutting edge sex toys, am I right?

Kink: freedom in bondage.

Submitting to a safe partner can be really positive for me when I’m feeling low.

Kink, especially pain play, pulls me out of my head and into my body. It’s hard to be sad when all I can think about is the hand spanking my ass! It’s grounding. It makes all the noise in my head go quiet.

Submission makes me feel useful. When I feel worthless, a well-timed “good girl” can do wonders. To know that I am pleasing somebody else, that I am serving them, gives me a purpose. It reminds me that I have value.

Kink gives me permission to be vulnerable. Play gives me chance to cry if I need to, to scream if I want to, to get pent-up emotions out. It releases me from the responsibility of decision making, of caring for myself or anyone else, even if only for a short time. It gives me permission to just be.

Discovering new paths to pleasure

Mental illness can impact sexuality in many ways. In particular, feeling very low can make it difficult to get in the right headspace to enjoy sex or orgasm. Certain types of common antidepressants including Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) can also cause erectile dysfunction and anorgasmia. When I first started taking citalopram – a common SSRI – I lost my ability to orgasm for a month.

Was it hell? Yes. Did it also teach me something valuable, namely that I kinda have an orgasm denial kink? Also yes. While this is something I prefer to be voluntary and not drug-induced, going through this experience taught me something really valuable about my fetishes. So there’s value in that.

Problems such as ED and anorgasmia suck (if you’ll pardon the pun) but they also force you to get creative. I finally broke through my month-long dry spell with a high powered vibrator. That’s how I learned that I love really intense vibration! If your cock isn’t getting hard in the way you want it to, you might discover other routes to sexual bliss that you’d never have previously considered or bothered to try.

Integrating the two

I’ve come to terms, over ten years of having a formally diagnosed mental health condition, that it’s not going away. It’s with me for life and I am better off learning how to manage it than hoping it will disappear. Just like a diabetic would take insulin every day, I take my antidepressants to keep me healthy. (Conceptualising my illness as being exactly comparable to a physical health issue – BECAUSE IT IS – has been surprisingly empowering.)

I’ve also grown into my sexuality in the last ten years. From a girl who was terrified to admit, even in a whisper, that she liked girls and might want to be spanked, I’ve grown into a woman who owns her desires and explores them unapologetically.

And, crucially, I’ve learned to integrate these two things. When my bisexual, kinky and non-monogamous identities ceased to be sources of shame, my mental health directly improved as a result. When my condition started to be properly managed, my sex life improved instantly. And when I learned to use my sexuality to enhance my mental health, I gained a tool that has saved my life.

[1] Yay, reclaiming slurs!
[2] Because you can totally choose to stop being mentally ill, right?

This post was kindly sponsored by the lovely folks at Hot Octopuss, a fantastic and innovative sex toy company who are committed to tackling taboos around sex. Check out their brilliant range of products, including the new Queen Bee, and their blog, where they talk sex, health and stigma. They’ve even offered a discount code for Coffee & Kink readers – use CK10 to get 10% off (and send a little bit of support my way.) All opinions are, and will always be, my own.

A banner ad for sex toy company Hot Octopuss, who sponsored a post on sex and mental health

Competitive Submission, or: A Journey Through Labels

For those just joining now, I’m celebrating #KinkMonth by writing posts inspired by Kayla Lords’ 30 Days of D/s project.

Day 3 is about labels. Today’s post is quite vulnerable and also heavily based on a stream of consciousness I splurged onto Fetlife last year. Kayla & John ask:

Beyond the basic title of Dominant or submissive, are there other titles you prefer or are interested in exploring? Are there any that turn you off or don’t seem like a good fit for you?

Some titles for Dominants may be Master, Sir, Daddy, Mistress, Lady, etc. Titles for submissives can be pet, babygirl, little one, boy, girl, etc.

A name badge style label with "submissive" crossed out and "Switch" next to it. For a post on competitive submission.

On Fetlife, you have to pick a “role” to list on your profile. There’s the usual Dominant, submissive, Master, Mistress, slave. Then there’s the slightly more specific babygirl/babyboy, Daddy, Mommy, pet, Primal. And then there’s the nondescript and vague Kinkster, Unsure, Evolving.

I’ve flip-flopped between labels over the years. For a very long time, I considered myself the most subby of the submissives. Topping was just not something I could ever see myself doing. So I listed my role as submissive.

Then, at twenty, I found myself pinning a willing submissive man to a bed and fucking him, telling him that he was Mine. And I liked it. Gradually, I explored my Dominant energy and realised I could get off on that rush of power, on reducing someone to a puddle of lust with just my hands and voice. I changed my label to Switch.

Then I realised that being young, hot and listed as a Switch brought out the worst of all kinds of men on Fetlife. The Doms were convinced their Domly dick was all I would ever need to shove myself firmly back into the box labelled “submissive”. The submissives wanted to crawl at my feet and serve me (for the value of “serve” which means “have me fulfill their every sexual fantasy”). I couldn’t be arsed with it. I switched to the vague Kinkster. Something about that nondescript label – possibly along with aging out of the coveted “18-24” age bracket – hugely diminished the number of unsolicited gunk in my inbox. But it didn’t feel like me.

In the midst of my relationship with my ex-Master, I switched (heh) back to submissive. I filled my profile with variations on, “I AM OWNED, LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE”. It worked, sort of, but it still only described a fraction of the rich and complex tapestry of the Amy.

Me and Mr CK switch with each other. This has been the case since the beginning, and will most continue to be the case for as long as our lives run in parallel. We both enjoy both sides of the slash (him more “D,” me more “). So I changed my role once again to Switch, and that was that.

And then… well. There’s no way to make myself look good here. I got competitive. Jealous. Scared.

My partner started dating someone, you see, who we’ll call The Doctor. She listed herself as 100% submissive. (Having been on the receiving end of her hand spanking my ass, I respectfully disagree with that label, but people have the right to self-identify.) It was this, more than the sex or the romance or anything else, that freaked me the fuck out. My headweasels took over and convinced me absolutely, in the space of a couple of weeks, that:

One: Identifying as a submissive, instead of a Switch, made this person inherently better at submitting than me purely on the basis that they never swapped roles.

Two: Therefore, my partner would prefer playing with her to playing with me.

Three: Therefore, my partner would use all his kinky/sexy/Dominant energy on her, leaving none left for me, start taking her to all our favourite kinky events instead of me, and collar her as his 24/7 submissive despite emphatically telling me he doesn’t want that dynamic with anybody.

Four: Therefore, my relationship would be over if I couldn’t show him beyond all doubt that I was at least as good a submissive, if not better, than this other person.

The thing is, this was all in my head. Neither of them did anything to indicate to me that there was any validity to these fears whatsoever. In desperation, not knowing what else to do to fight the battle against my own mind, I changed my status back to submissive. It took a very long and tearful conversation with my partner, in which all my fears fell out of my mouth and into his lap, for me to articulate what was really going on and say “I’m scared as fuck that you’ll leave me for someone else who’s more submissive than I am.”

That was when I learned that my Switchyness, and the Switching dynamic we share, is a feature, not a bug. It’s one of the things he loves about me. It was also when I began to internalise that:

One: Submission is not a contest.

Two: Being a Switch doesn’t make my submission, when I give it, less real or authentic or beautiful.

There’s a stigma against Switches in a lot of the kink world. Much like bisexuals, we’re told that we’re greedy, that we’re confused. That we need to get off the fence and make up our damn minds.

I tend to date either Top-leaning Switches, or exclusive Tops/Doms. It’s getting much better (thanks, in part, to fabulous partners who embrace ALL of me as I am!) but on some levels I still struggle with the insecurity whispering that, as a Switch, I’m a poor second choice and a Top/Dom would always choose a 100% submissive over me and like a 100% submissive more than me. I also worry, because Mr and I hang out at a lot of fem-sub/M-Dom events, that I’ll be judged poorly or thought less of due to being a Switch.

On the flip side, sometimes I feel like a fraud for identifying as Switch because my interests are so unbalanced. It’s really hard to put a number on it and it fluctuates. At the moment my desires are probably 90% sub/bottom and 10% Dom/Top. On the occasions when I do Top, I worry that my submissive partner is just going to say, “you’re shit at this, I’m gonna go do it with a real Dom.”

So where the fuck does that leave me?

Sadly, there isn’t a role option on Fetlife for “Basically submissive at heart but still gets a huge rush from Topping once in a while because I like the feeling of power and the reactions and the knowledge that I’m giving so much pleasure.”

So… yeah.

Switch.

Remember: a label is the beginning of a conversation, not the end.

Kinky item of the day: Collars by Kabunza. I’m not affiliated with this company in any way, but I could talk them up forever because 1) Aemilia Hawk is the most wonderful human being and I adore her. 2) their stuff is so beautiful it makes my heart sing. 3) their customer service is brilliant. 4) we should all support our friendly neighbourhood kinky businesses.

I hope you enjoyed this post! If you’d like to support me, please consider becoming a sexy Patron, buying me a virtual coffee, or shopping with my affiliates in the right hand sidebar.

The image featured in this post was sourced from Pixabay and edited by me. Please don’t steal my edit without express permission.

I Won’t Apologise For My Body Any More

Those of us who are socialised as women are taught to hate our bodies more or less from the day we’re born. If you think I’m wrong, consider that someone thought this onesie for a baby girl was a good idea. Consider that pretty much every Disney movie ever holds up “pretty” (for the value of “pretty” that equates to thin, white, young, able bodied and virginal) as the most important thing a girl can be. Consider that 40% of 10-and-11-year-old girls think they need to lose weight.

A black and white anonymous art nude. For a post entitled I Will Not Apologise for my Body Any More

Make no mistake: self-loathing and body hatred is heaped upon us from infancy. Is there any wonder that so many of us make it to adulthood with a totally fucked up relationship with food, exercise, our bodies and our looks?

This stuff is so completely internalised and normalised that for most of us, becoming aware of it and then beginning to undo it is probably going to be a lifelong journey. We cannot love ourselves and cast off all our worries overnight. What we can do, though? What we can do, though, is stop apologising.

I will not apologise for my weight.

Spoiler for those who haven’t met me: I don’t weigh 90lb. A year and a half ago, I weighed double that number. I’ve since lost ~30lb, but that’s not what matters. I was an awesome badass with many great qualities then, and I am an awesome badass with many great qualities now.

Humans come in many shapes and sizes, and the idea that skinnier is automatically better is a great pile of steaming bullshit.

“Sorry, I used to be thinner and I’m trying to get back there” will never again fall out of my mouth when I take my clothes off in front of a lover.

I will not apologise for my scars.

My scars are part of me. They tell a story, and the ending of that story is fuck you, I survived.

If you ask nicely, I might tell you the stories behind each one. If you ask really nicely, I might even let you touch them. But don’t tell me they’re ugly, don’t pity me, don’t tell me I’d be so much prettier if only my skin were unblemished. I’m scarred because I’ve lived. Deal with it.

I will not apologise for my body hair.

If I had a pound for every person who has told me body hair is disgusting… well, I could probably quit my job and just write about sex on the internet for the rest of my life. Real talk time: body hair is natural. The notion that one must remove it all in order to be beautiful is entirely socially constructed. The idea that women must be hairless originated with razor companies trying to branch out into new markets. It’s literally the epitome of “convince us there’s something wrong with us, then sell us the cure.”

Never again will I sheepishly ask a sexual partner if they’re willing to overlook my natural hair and fuck me anyway. Never again will I apologise when someone asks me to shave it off and I tell them no.

I’m fucking beautiful and if my natural body bothers you, well… that seems like a you problem.

I will not apologise for my physical limitations.

I’m not an exercise-bunny and I’m not particularly physically strong. I have come to accept these things about myself. My body does most of the things I want it to do, most of the time.

I’ll take walks with you, but if you want a chick to scale mountains with? I’m not your girl. I’ll jog for the bus if I have to, but if you want a partner in marathons? Not me.

Similarly, my body has certain needs now, including the ones it didn’t have when I was younger. I won’t apologise for needing to sleep and no longer being able to run on fumes. I won’t apologise for needing you to maybe not fuck me as deep as you possibly can. That shit hurts. I am entitled to not be in pain.

I will not apologise for the ways my body experiences pleasure.

I’ve probably apologised thousands of times to lovers for how hard it can be to get me off, or for the fact that my body doesn’t always perform pleasure in the most reliable and/or visually appealing and/or ego-stroking manner.

I’m not going to fake an orgasm when you ineptly go down on me for three minutes.  I’m not going to apologise when I still don’t come when you go down on me expertly for half an hour. I’ll tell you what I like and don’t like, and I’ll react in a way that feels authentic. But I’m not going to apologise if it doesn’t work in the way you think it should.

I’m done apologising for my body. My body carries me through the world and gives me – and the people who are lucky enough to share in it – astonishing pleasure. My body fucking rocks.

“Pretty” is Not My Success: On Being a Swan

I grew up ugly. Well-meaning family would probably tell you otherwise, but by conventional Western 21st century societal standards of attractiveness, it is objectively true. I tried not to be, of course. In a rough English secondary school in the early 2000s, ‘ugly’ was just about the worst fate to which one could possibly succumb. But whatever I tried, it didn’t work. I would always be too fat, too frizzy haired, too hairy, too unfashionable, too this, not enough that, to be anything other than a perpetual joke.

A baby swan swimming along in some water. For a post about being an ugly duckling

The words people said to me for the first seventeen years of my life were so vicious and cruel that even now, I can barely bring myself to repeat them. I still feel the pain when I think back, like an old injury that still twinges from time to time.

Growing up, The Ugly Duckling was my favourite fairytale. I used to dream that one day, maybe I could wake up and be pretty. Then everyone would realise I’d been a swan all along! I very much painted this hypothetical scenario in my head as a kind of justice, perhaps even revenge. When I was pretty, they’d realise they were wrong about me. They’d see I had never deserved all the cruelty they threw at me.

I actually got my wish. Okay, it wasn’t quite so sudden, but sometime between seventeen and nineteen I got hot. It’s taboo for a woman to love herself at the best of times. Typing these physical attributes that I like about myself is surprisingly difficult, but here goes: I have a pretty face, hourglass figure and an ass to die for. I’m pretty fucking cute.

For a good couple of years after I finally escaped the constant bullying for being ugly, I would frequently comfort myself with the thought that I’d got the best possible revenge by becoming pretty.

Being pretty affords me certain privileges. Of that I am absolutely certain. It is well documented that people perceived to be “beautiful” are often treated better by society. It also comes with some downsides, which Emilie Autumn described better than I ever could.

But you know what? The Ugly Duckling is fundamentally a lie. Growing into my looks and becoming pretty wasn’t the thing that saved me. It sure as hell wasn’t what made me happy. And it ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN AS ALL EVERLOVING FUCK wasn’t what made me grow into the amazing, worthwhile human I am today.

We shouldn’t be reading a story to kids where the moral is “don’t be mean to someone who isn’t pretty because they might be pretty some day”. How about, “don’t be mean to someone who isn’t pretty because looks are 99.9% genetic and seriously how decorative they are is literally the least interesting and important of a million awesome things about them?

I’m a success despite the intense trauma I experienced as a child and young adult. I’m smart, I have a killer work-ethic, I put myself through two grueling degrees. I have a job I love that makes a real difference to people’s lives. I’m indulging my passions for writing and sex education and starting to build a name for myself in those worlds. I have amazing partners who love me. I generally strive to be kind and compassionate and make a positive difference in the world.

If I’d stayed ugly, I would still be absolutely everything else on this list.

My “fuck you” to the bullies wasn’t growing up to be hot. It was growing up to be a hundred awesome things that have absolutely no bearing on whether I’m hot or not, and that will make a positive imprint on the world long after my looks have faded.

Pretty is not my success. Beauty is not my justice. “Hot” is an accident of biology lining up at least somewhat with arbitrary societal standards. I didn’t not deserve the cruelty I received because I was a swan all along. I didn’t deserve it because I’m a goddamn person and people should not judge me on my decorative value.

So fuck that story for teaching me that I’d eventually become pretty and then it would all be okay.

Can we have a realistic version where the “Duckling” wakes up as a swan and then spends ten years in therapy to overcome the horrific lookist bullying he suffered in his formative years?

Or better yet, a version where the Duckling goes “oh fuck this shit, these people are petty bullies and pretty is only surface deep” and whether he becomes a swan or not is totally immaterial because he’s off curing cancer or flying to the moon or becoming a badass sex educator and saving the world with dildo reviews or some shit?