[Guest Blog] What Cats Can Teach Us About Boundaries by Quenby

It’s a rare gem of a guest pitch that can say something incredibly important and make me giggle my ass off at the same time. That’s why this idea from Quenby went into the instant “yes!” pile. As a consent nerd and self-obsessed cat lady, I love the way they manage to nail the essence of both cats and boundaries in this piece. Let’s dive in…

What Cats Can Teach Us About Boundaries

Recently I was discussing boundaries with my datemate AJ and they said something that stuck with me. “When it comes to physical affection, I’m a bit like a cat!” (no, this isn’t a piece about kitten play!). This was a cute moment between the two of us, but the more I think about it, the more I think cats actually can teach us a few important things about setting boundaries.

It can take time.

You don’t walk straight up to a cat and pet them, you give them space and let the cat come to you. Whether it’s your first time meeting someone, or you’ve been dating for a while, sometimes you need to give your partner space. As someone who tends towards physical affection, this took me some time to get used to, and it’s something I still try to check myself on. But I try to come in without expectations, and give a partner time to relax and adjust to my presence. Letting them come to me can help ensure they’re comfortable and helps build the trust needed for us to feel safe lowering our inhibitions and exploring different forms of affection. And otherwise you’re just chasing a disgruntled cat around the house.

If a cat wants to be stroked, they will let you know.

If they want a belly rub they will let you know, and if they want food they will definitely let you know! Affection must be given and received on terms that everyone enjoys. You have to pay attention to your partners verbal and non-verbal signals, and take cues from them. As part of this we can also draw in the idea of love languages (the different ways in which people show that they care for each other.) Ultimately you need to communicate with a partner and find the ways you can express affection in a way that everyone appreciates. Because otherwise it’s not about your partner, it’s not about sharing a connection, its just about taking what you want from the other person.

Sometimes when you’re petting a cat they’ll suddenly stand up and walk away, because they’ve decided that they’ve had enough.

For consent to be meaningful, it must be continuous. Consent is not a singular moment, it doesn’t mean agreeing to something and then being obliged to stick with it. If you stop enjoying something, it’s always ok to stop. It can be hard to remember this when you’re in the moment. When your partner is right in front of you, excited for something that you also really wanted moments before, it can be hard to speak up. But (and lets say it together this time) if you stop enjoying something, it’s always okay to stop! And if your partner doesn’t respect that, they are in the wrong. And that leads us neatly to the final lesson.

Cats aren’t generally aggressive unless provoked first

But if you don’t follow these rules they will lash out, and those claw marks on your face will be your own fucking fault. If somebody fails to respect your boundaries, then you are entitled to be pissed off at them. Whether or not they crossed that boundary intentionally, they’ve fucked up and must take responsibility for pushing those boundaries. You have a right to establish boundaries and you have a right to enforce those boundaries.

This is intended as a light-hearted take on a serious topic – obviously human relationships are too complex and nuanced to be comprehensively explained by cats. But I think that the core lessons I’ve drawn out in this piece are a good starting point. Make time and space to develop trust, listen to what each person is saying. Above all respect the right to boundaries, and respect that those boundaries might change

However, it is also important to recognise that cats are not perfect models for consent practices. Below is a non-comprehensive list of lessons my partners cat really needs to learn on this subject.

What cats CAN’T teach us about consent:

– You should ask before showing someone your asshole, I’m sure it’s lovely but that’s not a dynamic I want to explore with you.

– Stabbing someones thighs should be discussed ahead of time. There are nicer ways to ask for attention you vicious little cutie.

– Climbing into bed while a couple are having sex is considered rude. Yes, we both love you, but in a very different way to how we love one another.

Quenby is a queer perfomer, writer, and activist. If you liked this post you can check out their blog, or follow them on FB and Twitter @QuenbyCreatives.

The Kinky Love Languages: Physical Touch

It’s time for the penultimate “Kinky Love Languages” post, in which I explore the five love languages and ways that they can relate to kinky relationships. Today we’re exploring the love language of physical touch.

When people think of the love language of physical touch, they often think of sex first. And, yes, sex is part of this language for sure. But it’s far from the only part. A person whose love language is physical touch is likely to highly value things like cuddling, holding hands, hugs, kisses, and even an arm around their shoulder.

Let’s look at some ways this can relate to kinky relationships, shall we?

How to love a submissive whose love language is physical touch

A submissive who speaks the love language of physical touch is likely to highly value the physical aspects of BDSM. Think the thud of a flogger across their back, the feeling of rope tightening against their skin, the raw intimacy of a spanking, the feeling of your hand in their hair. If your submissive speaks this language, it’s more important than ever to make plenty of time for close, physical, intimate kinky play.

For a submissive who experiences love through physical touch, your touch can be its own reward. Caress their cheek when you tell them they’re a good girl or good boy. Give them a few swats on the ass before bed. Stroke their hair. If you want to reinforce certain behaviours or just make your submissive feel loved, give them plenty of physical affection. Touch them lovingly, easily and often.

Many submissives want to feel taken care of. You can incorporate physical touch into the way you care for your sub. This could include things like washing or brushing their hair for them, helping them with things like shaving, or even – something I’ve occasionally found super hot – feeding them from your hand.

Something I love as a submissive is to feel like my Dominant is proud of me and wants to show me off. If your sub’s love language is physical touch, try keeping them physically close to you when you go to a kinky event or play party. A hand on the small of their back, an arm around their waist or simply holding their hand could help them to feel more submissive and more loved.

You can also easily incorporate physical touch into your day to day or quiet time at home. Fondle their ass while they’re cooking, if that’s something you have consent to do. Have them sit at your feet with their head in your lap while you watch television or read the newspaper. Give their leg a gentle squeeze when you’re sitting together. Hold their hand as you walk around the store. Pause to kiss them before you go to work.

How to love a Dominant whose love language is physical touch

People tend to forget that Dominants like hugs and cuddles too! Many Dominants highly value physical touch and physical intimacy with their partners beyond just the sexual.

If your Dominant’s love language is physical touch, you have so many opportunities to bring this into your service to them. Learning to give a really good back massage or foot rub can be a wonderful gift for your Dom. You could also include physical closeness by doing intimate tasks for them such as painting their nails, styling their hair, or washing their back.

You can also show your submission through low-key physical affection. Try laying your head on their lap or shoulder, curling up close to them on the couch so they can pet you, or kissing whichever parts of their body they like to have kissed. (I used to show submission to a former Dominant by kissing their feet. Super hot if that’s your thing!)

Again, the physical side of kink is likely to be hugely important to your Dominant if this is their love language. So make time for kinky play! Prioritise it in your week and do your best to stick to any play dates you arrange. And tell them what you like and what you’re in the mood for! A Dominant whose love language is physical touch will love nothing more than to have the body of a naked, willing submissive at their mercy to play with.

Additional tips that are good for anyone

I firmly believe that physical intimacy is so, so important for almost all romantic relationships. For many people, this does mean prioritising regular sex and/or kinky play. If this is you (or your partner,) don’t forget to make time in your week to get sexy together.

Again, though, remember that this love language isn’t just about sex. Cuddles, kissing, holding hands and the kind of easy physical closeness that come in a long-term relationship are all so important. Prioritise them.

Physical touch is probably the hardest language to meet if you’re in a long distance relationship. There are still things you can do, though! Give your partner a soft toy to hug. Give them a shirt that smells like you to sleep with. Invest in some really good app-controlled sex toys so you can touch them sexually by proxy. But realistically, if one or both of you feels strongly connected to the love language of physical touch, you’re going to need to make an effort to see each other in person as often as you can.

Is physical touch your love language? How do you meet it? How can your submissive or Dominant partner help to meet it?

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Masturbation Monday: Why People in Relationships Should Still Masturbate

One of the most enduring myths about masturbation, and one of the ones that I most wish would die, is the idea that people in relationships don’t – or shouldn’t – masturbate.

Seriously, this is such an enormous crock of bullshit.

I’m here to tell you that masturbation is healthy, natural and good for you – whether you’re partnered or single. Let’s look at some really good reasons to engage in some self-love regardless of your relationship status.

Your only lifelong sexual relationship will be with yourself

Relationships come and go. Even if you’re with one person monogamously for your entire life, there will be times when that person can’t or doesn’t want to engage in sex. For most of us, we’ll go through periods of being in relationships and periods of being single throughout our lives. But whoever else is or isn’t in our lives (and beds,) our longest and most enduring sexual relationship will always be with ourselves.

Masturbation is how we build a positive sexual relationship with ourselves. It gives us the tools to satisfy ourselves sexually without the need for anyone else. It contributes to positive sexual self-esteem, increased pleasure, and better mood. Masturbation is awesome!

Masturbation can improve your partnered sex

There’s nothing sexier than a partner who knows exactly what they like and asks for it. And you know what masturbation does? Teaches you what you like!

Exploring your own body gives you the tools to tell – or show – your partner how you like to be touched. And this isn’t a one-and-done thing, either! Remember that our bodies change throughout our lifetimes for many reasons, and that can include our sexual desires changing. Masturbation helps to keep your knowledge of your own body sharp. It also reduces fear of change in your body, because you already know how to roll with it and adapt to meet your body where it’s at.

It can take the pressure off – for both of you

Relying on one other person to meet all of your sexual needs can be a LOT of pressure for both of you. If you’re in a monogamous relationship, exploring with other people is off the table – but exploring with yourself absolutely shouldn’t be.

If having sex with your partner is the only way to get your sexual needs met, that creates an environment that is more likely to lead to coercion or pressure – even if unintentionally. But if you have a rich sexual relationship with yourself, if you’re feeling the need to get off but your partner isn’t up for sex, you can masturbate and take care of business without any pressure or resentment.

Masturbating doesn’t mean your partner is “failing” or that your sex life is bad

Something I often hear is “why does my partner need to masturbate? They have me!” This is compounded by disparaging jokes about people who masturbate after sex, about sad lonely people who masturbate because they can’t get a partner, or about people jerking off to porn when their partner is in bed because their sex life has died.

In more than 15 years of being sexually active, I’ve realised that the amount I masturbate has almost nothing to do with the amount (or, frankly, the quality) of partnered sex I’m having. Some people even report that they masturbate more when they’re having tonnes of yummy partnered sex. Orgasms beget orgasms, after all!

Your partner masturbating probably has nothing to do with you or the quality of your sex life together! Because…

Masturbation can fulfill a different need to partnered sex

Even during times when I’m having tonnes of partnered sex, I still feel the urge to masturbate. This is because it fulfills a completely different set of needs. Partnered sex is about the connection, the dynamic, the interplay between me and my partner(s) as much as it is about the physical sensations. Masturbation can be about anything from exploring new sensations in a completely pressure-free and private way, to simply getting off as quickly as possible so I can go to sleep.

Partnered sex is about both (or all) of us. Masturbation is just about me. Call it “me time,” call it “self care,” but keeping things that are just for ourselves is so important.

The bottom line is that masturbation and partnered sex are different activities and they meet different needs. I love and desire both for completely different reasons.

Your body belongs to you

A relationship is a mutual and consensual exchange between two (or more) people. It does not imply ownership over the other person, their body or their sexuality. (Unless that’s your kink – but even then you know it’s a game really, don’t you?)

Whatever your relationship status, your body is yours and you don’t need anyone’s permission to enjoy or explore it. If your partner thinks masturbation is a form of cheating, that’s a red flag for controlling behaviour and you should consider leaving. The person who tries to control your sexual relationship with yourself is likely to exhibit abusive behaviours in other areas of life.

(Again: I’m not talking about kink dynamics here – I have an orgasm control kink, after all! But the point of a kink is that it’s for fun and you have the ability to opt out of playing the game if you want to.)

No-one owns your body but you. No-one else gets to control what you can and can’t do with it.

If you have a vulva and are new to masturbation, I really recommend Jenny Block’s book The Ultimate Guide to Solo Sex.

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Masturbation Monday is a meme created and run by Kayla Lords. Click the logo to see what everyone else is getting off to this week! If you enjoyed this piece, please consider buying me a coffee to show your appreciation… or join my sexy patron community on Patreon!

Unlearning Sex Negativity

I’ve been meaning to write this piece for a long time. So today for Smutathon seems like as good a time as any!

I need to start by admitting something that doesn’t make me look good. When I was younger, I engaged in a lot of slut-shaming. I held a very, very strong belief that people should only have sex in the context of Capital L Love. I kinda low-key considered myself better than other girls because of the small number of people I’d had sex with and the fact that I insisted on a strong emotional bond before I would consider it.

To be clear, I am NOT demisexual. Obviously some people are and this is a completely legitimate sexual identity. However, I experience sexual attraction and desire outside of emotionally committed relationships. Definitely not demi. I just… had some very strange moral ideas about sexuality. I would, in my late teens and early twenties, quite often find myself wanting to have sex with someone but insisting I couldn’t because it would be *wrong* because we weren’t In Love. Even when I became polyamorous, I was one of those insufferable “it’s not about SEX! It’s about LOVE!!!!!!” people.

And now? Well, I’m a swinger! I love casual sex! I’ve had threesomes and foursomes and orgies. I’ve been to countless sex parties and facilitated a few. The number of people I’ve slept with is probably still not particularly impressive to some, but I stopped counting at thirty which is way above the national average.

So… what the fuck happened?

The short answer is that I learned. The longer answer is that I took the time to step back and consider my position – really consider it – and couldn’t find any morally defensible reason for continuing to hold it. I also realised that I could be a whole lot happier if I actually allowed myself to have what my heart and body wanted, rather than holding on to some strange morality that didn’t actually stand up under scrutiny.

I have a fairly clear idea of where my ideas about sexuality came from. Though I wasn’t raised religious, I was brought up in an environment where long-term monogamy was held up as the Right Way and sexual promiscuity was shamed. In addition, my first long term relationship was with an older guy who was very clear that he prized me for my Purity. Because I was a virgin when we met (I was fourteen!) he expected me to somehow stay all innocence, naivety about sex, and wide-eyed-inexperience forever. He slut-shamed me for liking some of the sex we had together (I was supposed to put out, but seem reluctant about it – make of that whatever you like!) In turn I slut-shamed myself and internalised the idea that I wasn’t supposed to enjoy sex and that being into it made me less appealing to the men I was having sex with.

To be clear, I don’t think my experience was anything particularly atypical. Girls in our culture are often brought up under the weight of massive sexual shame, in a society that still stigmatises and even pathologises female desire and sexuality. Girls are taught it’s their job to say no to boys, to resist any whiff of sexual activity… but then somehow know exactly how to “please their man” once they’re in a socially-sanctioned relationship. It’s fucked up.

No-one who is brought up in this kind of environment can escape without internalising some of it. It’s almost impossible. Some of us fare better than others, of course, but we’re all swimming in this toxic sex-negativity. To escape from it takes a real effort.

It took me years to unlearn some of these toxic beliefs about sex, and to be honest that work is still not entirely done. I still occasionally have to catch myself when I find myself playing down my eagerness for sex or being tempted to lie when someone asks me how many people I’ve had sex with.

But the actual unlearning was a process. First, it required consciously acknowledging that actually, being promiscuous and engaging in casual sex was something I would enjoy. Then learning how not to judge myself, or others, for these types of behaviours. And that took a lot of reading, a lot of critical thought, a lot of listening and talking to others and questioning questioning questioning my beliefs at every step of the way.

I still vividly remember the first time I had sex with someone I didn’t love. It felt as though an enormous weight had lifted off my shoulders. I’d kinda wanted to bang that particular person, a good friend with whom a romantic relationship wouldn’t have worked, for a long time. But I’d always denied my interest and said no because I had this weird moral conviction that it would be somehow wrong and say something bad about me as a person if I engaged in Sex Without Love.

Sex with love attached is great. And sex without love attached can also be great. Sex, in the context of a consensual exchange between adults, is fucking awesome.

If you want to only have sex with the one person you’re married to for your entire life, I support that. If you want to have gangbangs with thirty strangers every weekend, I also support that. When we free ourselves from arbitrary sexual morality, we can look at the things that really matter (consent, agency, risk-aware practices, pleasure) and stop judging ourselves and each other so harshly for the consensual sex we engage in.

This post is part of Smutathon 2019. Please donate if you can and help us raise lots of money to support abortion access!

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[Guest Blog] Broken Toys Are More Fun to Play With by Lilith Young

Today’s guest blog is from the fabulous Lilith Young. Lilith describes herself as a “30-something kinky lesbian switch” and blogs at Lilith Young Writes . I absolutely loved this piece and am delighted to be sharing it with you all today.

Disclaimer: This is not medical advice on how to make kink safe for you. Do your own research. What is safe for me may not be safe for you.

This is my first time writing about how my disability affects my sex life. To be honest, it’s quite terrifying. But, in the end, all the good stuff is just that. Quite terrifying. Maybe that’s just one of the reasons I am into kink – I like the edge that comes with being scared. So in the words of Jenny Lawson, “Be bizarre. Be weird. Be proud of the uniquely beautiful way that you are broken.”

My name is Lilith and I am broken. I am a 30-something kinky lesbian switch, who makes awkward jokes when I am nervous, and I have EDS and POTS. To put it simply: my joints fall out of place and my heart rate often races until I pass out. Sorry fellas, it’s not you making my heart race – it’s my poor circulation. Ladies, on the other hand… well, that’s poor circulation too, but you do make me wet. So that counts for something, right?

That’s all nice, Lilith, but how does this affect kink? I mean, why am I even still reading this post? Perhaps your kink is women who ramble incessantly. In which case, hi! I’m Lilith, and you are?

For me, kink and disability all boils down to negotiation.  It is super important to explain anything that impacts your safety or your partner(s) safety. If someone seems unsure, can’t keep you safe, or dismisses what you are saying, don’t play together. You know the type. The guy that calls himself a master, but doesn’t know what he is talking about and casually dismisses your concerns. Cringe. Red Flag. Run Away! Or make an excuse to go the restroom and call your friend and sneak out a window. Whatever method is easiest for you.

It can feel impossible to say to someone, “Hey, I just met you and this is crazy, but play with me maybe and… I have lots of medical issues. No, wait, don’t run away – I have a cute butt. I swear.” In reality, a lot of people will not be intimidated by you expressing your needs clearly. In fact, many will appreciate it.

So, you caught the big fish and you found someone to play with. It’s not so hard to quickly get down to playing. Just make sure you discuss anything that can hurt you or others. That’s it. You do not need to share your life story.  Can you stand? Can you sit? Can I hang you upside down? Do you bleed easily?

One time I got one of my many spontaneous nose bleeds at a fashion show in Miami. Gushing. I was in the bathroom for thirty minutes trying to get it to stop, thinking, “Great, now everyone here thinks I am super into cocaine! And where is someone with blood kink when you need them?”

Be specific about your limits and give details. Such as, “I pass out easily. My primary partner knows the signs; listen to them when they call it and don’t freak out if it happens.”  

So what are some big things I personally negotiate

  1. I can’t stand for long periods of time. So don’t ask me to. Lots can be done from a stool or a bench or kneeling on the ground. Oh so much…
  2. I can’t be still either. So again, don’t ask me to. Five minutes of stillness and my joints start to sublax (that’s when they slide in and out of place on their own). I find watching it fun, in a creepy sort of way. But it does hurt (and not the kind of pain I am looking for), so I have to be able to adjust my position at all times. Fullstop. Someone who is super into protocol probably would not want to try to negotiate a night of high protocol with me, but guess what? I make a terrible slave in other ways as well. Literally terrible. The worst. They would never invite me back!
  3. You’re probably thinking: if you can’t sit still, I would tie you up. That is almost always what is said next. Sorry folks. That will just pull my joints all out of place. Plus, now I am still… and in undesired pain. How about you let me tie you up instead? That I can do. I once had a friend run their hand over my spine and my spine moved around in their fingers. I laughed. They freaked out.
  4. I have lots of extra safewords. There is so much debate on safewords – some people argue that a Dom should recognize the signs and know when to stop. Some people argue that you should never play without safewords.  I will not dive down that rabbit hole today. For me, I use colour safewords. This is something almost everyone has experience using and feels comfortable with. Since I need to be constantly checked in on, I like green, yellow, red for that. This way I can pause things with yellow to adjust as needed. “Yellow! I need to move my arm.” I also use purple when playing with long term partners. If something has triggered an anxiety or panic attack that’s unrelated to what we are doing, I will use “purple” to stop play. I wanted something that indicated that we had not crossed an agreed limit, but that something had gone wrong and I needed to stop. Those are deep conversations I don’t have with everyone. With someone casual, I will just red out. Goodness, I can’t unload all my baggage on casual play. And I don’t think I really should.

It took me a considerable amount of time to gain confidence in my play and life surrounding my health. It happened so slowly that I did not realize I had overcome a lot of my fears. Until one day, I started wearing my compression socks out in public, whether or not they made me look like an old lady with stockings on, and no matter how many people made comments on them.

“I’m not looking up your skirt, I’m – are you wearing stockings?” That was my boss. Because at that point, I knew I didn’t give a fuck how it looked to other people. I only cared about how it helped keep me from getting dizzy and blacking out.

So I don’t care if creating a long detailed negotiation is too much for some people. Those are not my people. I care about how I feel when I play.

Once you begin to accept yourself, a whole world opens up. You never know what may happen. I even found a pair of bondage cuffs that allowed enough movement for me, and I am pretty sure that moment is exactly the same feeling people get when they climb Mount Everest. Ok, maybe I am exaggerating. A little. What can I say? Kink is all about letting your imagination run wild.

So, jump in and start playing.

Thanks to Lilith for sharing her story so generously with us. Don’t forget to check out her blog and give her a follow on the Twitter!

What Happens When You Go for an STI Test

Yesterday I went for my quarterly sexual health check-up. This is an important part of my life as a non-monogamous person and it’s now a really normal, routine, “no-big-deal” thing. But that wasn’t always the case! When I went for my first STI check-up at age 19, I was shaking like the proverbial leaf and had no idea what to expect.

So let’s answer some common questions, shall we? Please bear in mind that my experiences are entirely based in the UK, so if you live in a different country your experience may vary somewhat.

Where do I even go for a test?

There are sexual health clinics or “GUM” (genito-urinary medicine) clinics at most major hospitals and at some smaller practices too. Just Google “sexual health test + [your town]”.

Some clinics have “walk in” times where you just turn up and wait to be seen. Bear in mind these tend to be VERY busy – I arrived 15 minutes before the clinic time officially started for my test, and still waited about an hour. Get there early, bring a book, and don’t expect to be seen in five minutes. Alternatively, some clinics have bookable appointments, where you ring up and book like any other medical appointment. Again, these services are very busy and in-demand so you might need to wait a couple of weeks to be seen. If you have symptoms, explain this at the clinic or on the phone and you may be seen sooner.

Do I have to pay?

Nope! In the UK, all sexual health services including testing and contraception are free of charge. Praise the NHS.

If I’m under 16, will they tell my parents?

No! As long as you’re over 13, you’re entitled to the same medical confidentiality as anyone. If your provider feels that there is a serious risk to your safety going on, such as sexual abuse, they may need to tell someone in order to keep you safe, but according to NHS guidelines “the risk would need to be serious and this would usually be discussed with you first”.

Also, if you’re under 18, get off my blog. This is not the space for you. Get yourself to Scarleteen.

Do I have to answer questions about my sex life?

Your provider will ask questions about your sexual practices so they can make sure they’re giving you all the tests and advice you need. You don’t HAVE to answer anything you don’t want to, of course, but it’s important to be as honest and thorough as you possibly can to make sure you get the best care. Everything you say is in strict confidence. Questions may include:

  • When was your most recent sexual encounter?
  • What is the sex of that partner? (They may assume opposite binary sex unless you tell them otherwise. It’s bad practice but heteronormativity is strong).
  • Is that partner your regular/only partner?
  • Have you ever injected drugs or knowingly had sex with someone who injects drugs?
  • Do you have reason to believe you might have come into contact with HIV?
  • Have you been raped or sexually assaulted? (If you indicate yes, they’ll ask if you need any support or resources).
  • Have you ever paid for, or been paid for, sex?
  • Have you had sex with someone born outside of the UK?
  • When was your last sexual health screening?
  • Are you pregnant or do you think you might be pregnant?

Once you’ve gone through these preliminary questions, it’s time for your test.

How is a test carried out?

There are slight variations depending on the clinic but here’s how it normally goes:

For folks with a vulva, you’ll swab the inside of your vagina and possibly provide a urine sample.

For folks with a penis, you’ll provide a urine sample and may also swab just inside your urethra.

If you engage in receptive anal sex, you will swab just inside your anus.

If you engage in oral sex, the health care provider will swab the back of your throat.

Unfortunately, anal and oral swabs are not always offered as a matter of course. You may need to prompt your provider for these. I strongly advise you do so, as infections can grow in these areas of the body without being present in the genitals.

The provider will then do a blood test to check for blood-borne STIs such as HIV, Syphilis and Hepatitis. (You can get a vaccination against Hepatitis B and if you haven’t had the vaccine, I recommend you ask your provider for it. This is most commonly offered to men who have sex with men, or women who have sex with bisexual men, but I really believe everyone should get it if possible).

You do the vaginal and rectal swabs yourself in private, either behind a curtain in the consulting room or in the bathroom. Your provider will give clear instructions on correct insertion of the swabs. There is not usually a need for a genital examination unless you have any symptoms such as genital warts, a rash or pain.

Does the test hurt?

Not really. Throat, anal and vaginal swabs aren’t exactly comfortable but shouldn’t be painful either, and they only take a couple of seconds. Some men do find the urethral swab slightly painful but, again, you only need to go very slightly inside and it only takes a few seconds.

Some people (hi, I’m one of them) find blood tests make them feel a bit sick and lightheaded. If this is you, tell your provider and they’ll let you lie down and should check on you at every stage. The actual test feels like a brief quick scratch, nothing more.

Will my provider judge me for the things I tell them?

They really shouldn’t. I’ve been getting STI tests regularly for 10 years and only a couple of times encountered a judgemental provider. And yes, I always tell them I’m a polyamorous swinger and exactly how many partners I’ve had since my last test.

Your provider’s job is to help ensure your health and safety, not to judge you. If you feel that they are overly judgemental or they make inappropriate comments about the things you tell them, you should report this to the hospital or practice.

Again: this is really rare. Most sexual health professionals are absolutely lovely. Comments I’ve had on explaining my lifestyle range from “sounds like you have lots of fun!” to “it’s great to see you’re being responsible and taking care of everyone’s sexual health”.

Even the judgy comments were hardly “you’re a filthy slut and you’re going to hell”. They were more along the lines of, “you need to be aware that you’re at high risk for STIs and unwanted pregnancy” (“no I’m not, because I take precautions and know the facts”, I did not say but wanted to).

How and when will I get my results?

Many clinics operate a “no news is good news” policy, meaning that if you don’t hear from them within two weeks you can assume everything is fine. But they should also give you a card or phone number with details on how to check your results if you want to be sure. I always recommend you phone, as it is rare but possible for a clinic to lose your samples. This happened to my partner once, and they didn’t call to let him know he needed to be re-screened until after the two week window had passed.

Other clinics may text or email you (usually something simple like “your tests or all fine”) or, less commonly, ring you to let you know you’re in the clear.

What if I do have something?

If you do have an infection, they will ring you to let you know. Then you’ll make an appointment to go back to the clinic and make a plan for treatment. For most of the common STIs, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, treatment is a simple course of antibiotics.

For more serious STIs it’s more complicated (if you have HIV, for example, you’ll be on medication for the rest of your life – but you can still live a totally normal, long and fulfilling life). STIs are not a death sentence. They are not a source of shame. They’re things that humans sometimes contract in the course of doing normal human activities like having sex – and it’s much better to know so that you can get the most effective treatment quickly.

Bear in mind that HSV (herpes) and HPV (human papillomavirus) are EXTREMELY common – most of us are carrying one, the other or both and may never even know it! – and are not picked up on standard screenings unless you have symptoms such as warts. HPV can also be picked up on cervical screenings, so if you have a vagina make sure you go for your smear tests.

But STI testing is just for sluts!

Nope! Everyone, and I mean everyone, should be getting tests. Stigma like this, that people who go for tests are inherently slutty (and that being slutty is bad) contribute to the misinformation and fear-mongering that are already far too ubiquitous in our culture.

How often should I get a screening? 

That really depends.

My partner and I go every three months because we are non-monogamous and quite promiscuous. Three months is also about the longest incubation period for any of the known STIs, so this schedule means that if we do contract something we are unlikely to have it for long without finding out.

If you’re a swinger, polyamorous or have a lot of casual sex, I really recommend the three-monthly schedule. At an absolute, absolute minimum, please try to go every six months.

Even if you’re in a monogamous relationship, it’s wise to test every now and then if there’s ANY possibility that either of you has had sex outside of your relationship at any point. Unfortunately, cheating is rife and many people have caught STIs this way and not known they had them for months or years.

Whatever your relationship style, I recommend a test before every new sexual partner where possible.

Anything else I need to know?

Many clinics offer free condoms and, less commonly, dams (for oral sex on vulvas). Don’t be afraid to ask for supplies or take them if they’re offered to you. Using barriers is the best way to protect yourself and your partners from STIs.

When did you last get tested? If it’s been a while, go and book one in!

Interview: Porn Researcher Rosie Hodsdon

I was thrilled when Rosie Hodsdon reached out to volunteer to be an interview subject. I’ve known her through the UK kink scene for a while and she’s totally lovely as well as ridiculously smart. Here, we chat sex and relationships, academic porn research, and why the Digital Economy Bill sucks. 

A picture of Rosie Hodsdon, a white woman in her 20s with shoulder length brown hair. She is wearing a blue jacket and smiling at the camera. There are flowers in the background.

Tell us a little bit about you and the work you do?

I am currently working towards my PhD at Northumbria University, looking at the regulation of online pornography in the UK and how this affects the people who produce it. 

What made you want to get into porn research?

My research interests float around sexualities more broadly, and this stems from the failure that was my school’s sex education! I felt incredibly alienated from everything we were taught and had to find the information that I felt I needed out for myself, and was very lucky to be able to do this at a time when the internet made this a little easier! I knew that I never wanted people to feel as alienated as I did growing up, and wanted to be someone who helped others to learn about the range of sexualities out there in a safe and supportive way.

To me, porn forms just one part of that much wider sphere of things, and I have worked, or would love to work, on projects concerning kink, polyamory and sex work as well. [My work is] about dispelling misconceptions surrounding sexuality more broadly and wanting to work towards a society where these things are free from stigma and judgement. 

What’s your background and how did you break into this work?

Almost by accident, really! I did my first degree in Anthropology and Sociology and I knew as soon as I started that I wanted to focus on sexualities research. Towards the end of my undergraduate degree, I had a guest lecture on my Sociology of Gender and Sexuality module from Professor Clarissa Smith on extreme pornography, which I found fascinating. At the same time, the AVMS regulations had been passed, so pornography was at the forefront of my mind. However, the more I tried to read into academic research on the porn industry, the more I noticed that the voices of those who worked in the industry were rather absent, so when I got an email in my inbox asking for PhD proposals relating to law and sexuality, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. 

What’s the most challenging thing about your work?

There’s a few things that spring to mind, which all cover somewhat different aspects of what I do!

The first problem is somewhat inherent to academia, which is that I can’t ever really escape my work – I can’t go home at the end of a work day and forget about it, because it’s always going to be in my mind and if it’s in my mind, then I’m thinking on it and working!

The second is how frustrating it can be. There’s something very futile about trying to work for a better understanding of sexuality and sex work in a society where everything seems to be pushing back against it – everything from the Digital Economy Act to FOSTA/SESTA. Even in the few days that I’ve been working on this interview, Tumblr has announced its porn ban and Facebook has tightened their control over what language you can use.

The third is that the work itself can be pretty misunderstood and stigmatised. I’m very wary of saying so, because the stigma attached to this academic work really can’t be compared to the stigma attached to actually making porn, and I wouldn’t want to ignore that. But I have had a lot of judgement myself because of what I do, from strangers on the internet all the way to previous partners. Shout-out to my ex specifically, who told me that no one else would ever love me because of what I do. Look at me now, dickbag!

What about the most rewarding thing?

I get to meet some incredible people who are doing some fantastic work, both as producers and as activists. And sometimes I get to be considered amongst them as well! Feeling like I have the ability to change people’s viewpoints or give them a new perspective on things is both very powerful and very humbling, and I feel a huge responsibility with it, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. 

Who’s your favourite porn performer and why? What about your favourite production company? 

I have to pick just one? I’m not going to play by these rules! [Spoken like a true polyamorist! – Amy] There are some amazing performers who represent the industry in such a positive way, both in the US and the UK.

Stoya was the first person I encountered who combined porn with activism, and I’ve appreciated her work ever since. I’m also a huge fan of Pandora/Blake, who works tirelessly to support sexual freedom. Jiz Lee has done some amazing work, and their book, Coming Out Like a Porn Star, has been hugely influential to me in its approach to centering performer voices.

As for my favourite company, it has to be Crash Pad Series! It’s radical, queer, kinky, feminist-grounded porn which focuses on a fair production process and has the inimitable Shine Louise Houston at its helm, also fighting for new approaches to sexuality in society more broadly. And it’s hot. 

There’s been a lot in the news recently about the incoming age verification regulations to access online porn in the UK. What’s your take? 

Where do I start!? The whole thing is a tangled mess of clusterfuck. I could spend hours ranting about this, so I’ll do what I can to condense why the entire thing is a terrible idea. It’s time for some bullet points.

  • The rationale behind the law is to “protect children”, and this is based on fundamentally flawed evidence. The study which forms the basis of the legislation, carried out by the NSPCC, has since been discredited by 37 academics for poor methods and conclusions which stretched far beyond the scope of the study. This is no basis for legislation.
  • Furthermore, what are we protecting children from? Of course no one should have to see porn without wanting to, but this does not just apply to children. There is no evidence which proves that children are harmed en masse by watching pornography. In studies which have explored young people’s motivations for viewing such material, the overwhelming theme is that pornography allows them to explore their sexuality and learn about sex in a way that they otherwise do not have access to. Pornography should not be a substitute for sex education, and this can only be solved with a drastic overhaul of the SRE curriculum. Porn should form a part of this, but so should issues of queer identity, pleasure and safe sex practices. All of these are currently very much lacking in the UK (and in most other places!). 
  • The laws are also almost certainly going to have the least impact on young people, given that they are generally far more technologically literate than a lot of adults. Anyone, including young people, can just get around these restrictions through the use of a VPN.  On a practical level, it won’t work.
  • So what will it do? For the consumer, it will place their private personal information in the hands of companies who are not required to enforce stringent protections of this data. As much as I would like to live in a world where people are not shamed for their sexual desires and preferences, this is not currently the case. We can see in countless examples how information about people’s non-normative sexual preferences has had major real-world consequences, such as losing their jobs or custody of their children. A database which stores information about what porn people watch? Hackers are going to have a field day.
  • Finally – given that this is where my research lies! – it’s going to decimate the porn industry. The financial impact is likely to be significant, particularly for smaller companies with more niche audiences, who are likely to struggle to implement AV systems from an economic standpoint. These are often the studios which produce explicitly ethical, feminist, queer, kink pornography so to lose these would make the industry even more homogeneous and less diverse. There’s also the emotional impact of the regulations to consider – people are fearing for their jobs and businesses. The government is telling people that their work is actively harmful for society. Their own sexualities are being delegitimised. And when you consider further that people with a significant background in porn may well find it harder to find “square” work due to the stigma attached to sex work more broadly, people are very worried about their future. 

Ultimately, the AV laws are like trying to fill in the Gran Canyon with a bucket and spade. I’m going to actually be rather lazy here and take a quote from my own response from the BBFC consultation of which I am rather proud:

Age verification seems to be merely an ineffective, unsubstantiated patch-up for a much wider social issue with regards to how we inform young people about sex and our wider sexual culture– including pornography. Young people are desperate for accurate, inclusive, informed sex education, which produces greater positive outcomes for their sexual, emotional and relationship wellbeing. Focusing on age verification serves to mask that problem rather than confront it, and may instead be detrimental to the development of sexual knowledge if not supported by compulsory and comprehensive sex education. This would be a much more effective use of government resources.”

They rest on fundamentally-flawed foundations of research and are likely to cause a significant amount of social harm.

What’s something that people always misunderstand about your work?

People think that I sit around just watching porn all day. They’re not wrong, but I then have to write about it afterwards. People seem to find that part much less sexy. 

What do you really wish everyone understood about pornography?

Ooh, this is a really interesting one! There’s a lot I could say here, so I’ll break it down into some more bullet points:

  • That (most) porn costs money to make, and all of it takes work. Pay for your damn porn. Or, at least, access it for free only directly from creators, not through any pirated means.
  • That porn performers (and producers) are human! There’s a narrative in anti-porn discourse which tends to paint performers particularly as being nothing more than vapid, blow-up fuckdolls, which not only removes their agency and autonomy, but also reduces them to their having sex. We live in an age now where it’s easier than ever to move past this image – we have performers doing some amazing activist work or simply engaging with their fans on social media, and the image that persists of people, particularly women, in porn as being either a mindless set of holes or an exploited victim, denies them their personhood,
  • That it’s not a public health danger. There is no research out there which proves that porn is inherently harmful, and while I would never want to belittle any individual issues that pornography has caused (because yes, people can have issues with it and people who do need appropriate support), it does not do this on a large scale.
  • That pornography can be massively positive. Emerging research is starting to show that porn isn’t just used by consumers to get off, though that’s part of it too. It’s a way to explore their sexuality and identity, a way to connect with others (if you’ve never shared the Lemon Stealing Whores introduction with your friends, I recommend it), an education resource, a method of stress relief, and much more. 
  • Finally, that it’s okay not to like pornography! Whether that’s a particular type or the genre as a whole – as much as I’m positive about what pornography is, what it can do and who makes it, I don’t expect everyone to like it. All I want is for it to be respected as a form of labour and as a creative product, and for the freedom of others to be able to access it and make it should they choose to. 

Who inspires you personally and professionally?

On a professional level, there are so many people I want to name here! First of all, I have to note the amazing things that my participants have shared with me over the course of my research, and their openness and trust with me is massively motivating.

Secondly, my PhD supervisory team – Chris Ashford, Tony Ward and Laura Graham – who continue to blow my mind and push me to succeed, even when I want to give up, and whose research has paved the way for someone like me to do something like this.

Thirdly, the tireless activism of Pandora/Blake and Myles Jackman. I’m so in awe of the both of them that even now, having met both multiple times, they still scare me slightly!

Fourth (and finally, for this part of the question), the awesome communities that my research has allowed me to become immersed in – academics, sex work activists, porn producers and creators – who are all doing such amazing things themselves!

On a personal level, I am very lucky to be surrounded by some incredible people. My partner, Lewis; my boyfriend, Willtom; and my girlfriend, Tiggy, have all provided me with invaluable support and happiness. They push me to keep going even when I just want to throw my thesis in a fire! (They’re also hella cute). I also have an amazing family, who have dealt with trying to explain my PhD topic to far too many people! I hate feeling like I’m “lucky” to have their support, because it should be a given. But I know that that’s not always the case and that I am grateful that they’ve not disowned me yet. And I can’t not also mention the lovely people of the Durham, Leeds and Reading kink scenes, who are unfailingly wonderful and who have also supported me along the way. 

Who’s your favourite sex educator and why?

So much of my inspiration to enter sexualities education (in a sense) myself came from Scarleteen, so I’d like to say their entire website! Also, my entire Twitter feed has been improved since introducing Alix Fox into its mix. She combines some spectacular puns with activism and awareness work, and I’m always impressed by her willingness to reach out and continue learning from others. [We love Alex here at C&K! – Amy]

What’s something you used to believe – about sex, relationships or porn – that you don’t believe any more?

I feel like there’s a tendency to put romantic love on a pedestal, and as has probably been demonstrated in this interview, there are so many other forms of relationships that can be just as wonderful, supportive and fulfilling.

And just for fun because it is “Coffee & Kink” – do you like coffee? How do you take it?

…I don’t. Unless *insert enema joke here*? 

(Please don’t hate me!)

Thank you so much to Rosie for her time and for the awesome work she’s doing, which will undoubtedly benefit all of us – when porn and sex work are destigmatised, all of us gain greater sexual freedom. You can keep up with Rosie via her Twitter, and as ever if YOU are doing something awesome in the field of sex or relationships and would like to be featured on the blog, hit me up.


[Guest Blog] Sex & Physical Disability by Alannah Murray

Part of the point of this “new voices in sex writing” pitch call that I put out months ago was to lift up and amplify marginalised voices. You may remember an incredible piece by my metamour Pippin a few months ago – well, I think this piece by Alannah Murray, also about sex and physical disability, is a perfect follow-on to that. I’m so proud to be publishing it and sharing it with you all today. Check out Alannah’s site and follow her on the Twitter!

Without further ado, over to Alannah…

Sex and Physical Disability by Alannah Murray

Hey everyone! I’m one of the incredibly grateful people chosen to guest blog for
Coffee and Kink! My name is Alannah. I’m 22, from Ireland, and I’m a postgraduate
researcher working towards a MA Research degree. I developed an auto-immune disease as a child which has blessed me with a slick power assisted wheelchair. You should see it on a dance floor!

Because of my physical disability, I see the world a little bit different than most (and I don’t just mean everyone being taller than me!) I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on the fashion industry and advertising, and how advertising affects public perception of disability. I’ve been a vocal advocate of disabled people for the past few years, but I was also a college student for four years – a time where you go out, make all your mistakes, and then venture out into the world. My generation also witnessed the birth of apps like Tinder and Bumble.

So, today I want to tell you all about my experience of being a young physically disabled
person, the funny ways able-bodied people have affected my experience of sex and my body, and what I hope to see for the future of the emerging sexual liberation movement.

The misconceptions around physical disability and sex range from mundane to hilarious.

You find the latter a lot in online dating. Like most people my age, I decided to give Tinder a go when it first got popular. I made sure to use plenty of pictures of myself where my wheelchair was visible, and I had wheelchair puns in my bio. Let it be known now that I adore my body for what it is, and I’ve learned how best to use it. It’s surprising how many people on Tinder have a curiosity about having sex with a disabled person. I’ve had multiple people ask me if they can have sex with me IN my wheelchair which to me just sounds like a logistical nightmare – and looking to get injured. Someone else asked if they could turn my wheelchair into a sex swing; I wanted to let him try purely based on me wondering if it could be done. Others made cruder comments about what an ideal height I was at in my wheelchair, asking me if I was “still functional”. That is a sure-fire way to make sure I will not be having sex with you, ever.

My point is, my experience of disability has been fetishised when it comes to online dating; and yet, in wider society, disabled people aren’t seen as sexual beings. Take disabled bathrooms. I know people have sex in them, regularly. I see you sneaking out together, you aren’t slick. BUT, people would never expect to see a disabled person in that situation. I think if I left that bathroom with someone else in tow people would assume that I just needed a hand in there, that whoever I was with was “incredible for doing what you do”.

Little would they know it would be ME they were doing. It would be the perfect ruse, really. You also never find condom machines in disabled bathrooms. So, able bodied people appropriate disabled spaces to express their own sexuality but don’t expect disabled people to do the same. Society has sanitised and infantilised disabled people so much that people don’t know how to handle it when they express themselves sexually. When they put themselves in those spaces, when they demand to be equals in sexuality with able-bodied peers.

Part of embracing my body is learning every inch of it.

I grew up never seeing my body in magazines or on a runway. I grew up hating how parts of my body jutted out more than others. I hated all the evidence of medical procedures strewn across my body that you’d never see in editorials. It was always someone else’s body, whether it was a doctor or a physiotherapist, or even my parents. I never felt like I was in control of it. So, as I got older and I started working to tune in to my body, I decided it was time to invest in it. It was time to enjoy it and treat it kindly after all it had been put through. That meant doing what any responsible body owner would do when they want to treat themselves; I went sex toy shopping.

Sex toy shopping was… an interesting experience initially.

I didn’t really know what I was looking for, and I was embarrassed. I was 18 at the time I think when I wandered in to my first shop. It was a haven of lace and I think I fell in love with every bra set in there. The toys were down the back, and normally in these situations a staff member would come over and ask you what you’re looking for or something like that. My experience was a little different. The staff were looking between themselves, as if to debate whether to approach me. It was more like trying to figure out how you were gonna lure an escaped pet into the house. Eventually one came over and asked if there was anything they could do, but they were obviously uncertain; maybe even uncomfortable.

I ended up buying a small bullet vibrator which absolutely wasn’t gonna do anything for me, but I was so eager to leave that I just bought it and proverbially ran. I tried to not let it sully my experience because I think it’s important to be in tune with every part of your body and what it needs. It was a long time before I tried shopping in person again though, and my life has been a lot of online trial and error. Plus, shopping online isn’t ideal because I still live with my parents and they love opening my  post. I normally dread when I need to upgrade; thankfully I’m sorted for the moment.

It’s not just toy shopping that can be daunting either.

Trying on lingerie is quite hit and miss for wheelchair users like myself. A lot of dressing rooms aren’t equipped for disabled patrons, whether it be sizes or grab rails. The amount of times I’ve just had to try and ignore gaps in curtains or having my chair poking out of a dressing cubicle is unbelievable. I’ve learned not to be shy over the years, but that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with having a compromised shopping experience because people don’t expect variety in their dressing rooms. However, it’s not all bad!

Retailers seem to be catching up in terms of access; albeit in small doses. In larger retailers
you normally get one singular accessible dressing room… Heaven forbid there’s more
than one disabled person in your shop at any given time, right? Customer service has also
gotten vastly better in terms of lingerie shopping. My favourite experience is lingerie
powerhouse Victoria’s Secret. They recently open a 3-floor store in Dublin and let me tell
you, I’m convinced it is heaven on earth! The staff are incredibly professional and thoughtful, and it reminds me that attitudes towards disability and sexuality are changing. With more brands like Aerie lingerie using disabled models and disability being featured more within modelling through the likes of Aaron Philip and Jillian Mercado, disabled people are becoming more visible; but people’s attitudes still need to change, especially when it comes to sex.

Which brings me to my next point – What my trip to Amsterdam taught me about people’s attitudes towards sex.

I went to Amsterdam last year with one of my best friends. I was having a tough time in
college, she was getting divorced, it seemed like the perfect way to get both our minds off it. There are a lot of reasons people go to Amsterdam. Mine were more culture based – there were lots of museums and stuff I wanted to see – but that didn’t mean we weren’t going to also sample some of the more NSFW culture points.

Funnily enough when we were lost trying to find our hotel we ended up in the red-light district by accident. I think it’s a great testament for how normalised sex work is in Amsterdam, nobody was really paying attention apart from some stag parties. People were completely unbothered. Why would they be, I suppose. I for one found my friends reaction hilarious – she wanted to walk a little quicker because that wasn’t something she’d been around before. Traditional family and everything.

After two days in Amsterdam we decided our last night would be our ‘party night’ where we would go to a café and ramble down to see what trouble we could get into in the Red-Light District. It was surprisingly picturesque, and the neon really added to it. The paths were accessible too which made navigating around a little easier. However, that was where the access stopped. For those who were “window shopping” as I heard people referring to it, there was a step down into the rooms and they were quite tiny. So, if you were in Amsterdam with a physical disability looking for a good time, you were out of luck.

It was the same with the clubs. Some of them were up multiple stairs, or down multiple stairs. There was one that had steps at the front and the security said they were more than willing to help carry me in. I didn’t because of the financial barrier (it was 45 Euros for 8 shows if I remember correctly, and I was just completely smash broke). I just didn’t understand the logic of being inaccessible. This was one of the biggest draws Amsterdam had for tourism, and it was almost completely off limits to an entire demographic of people. It also wasn’t my wider experience of Amsterdam – everywhere else had been great and most places only had one step in, with some friendly local or random passerby more than happy to help you navigate it. It occurred to me that it was as much of a social barrier as it was an architectural one. They weren’t designed to be accessible because obviously it wasn’t expected that disabled people would be occupying those spaces. It wasn’t for them, essentially.

As a 22-year-old queer person who is also disabled, watching the sexual liberation movement take off has been a double-edged sword.

While I am obviously ecstatic to see more people be open about the need for representation and consent, I wish there was more of an emphasis on access for disabled people. I want to be able to access spaces that will allow me to be my most open self, where I can go and be myself without worrying I’m taking up too much space in my wheelchair. When we have diversity panels discussing sex, I want to see more disabled people present to discuss what sexual liberation means for them. It is important that we stop disassociating disabled people from conversations about sex; we have sex, and these spaces are ours too.

We could benefit from disability being seen clearly in lingerie advertising, not in a fetishising way but in an empowering way; acknowledge that disabled people want to, and have a right to, be sexy. Advertising and advocates alike need to catch up and recognize that diversity comes in all shapes, sizes and abilities. Sexual education needs to be more diverse to include disability, and it needs to be accessible to EVERYONE.

Viva la sexuality!

If you’re interested in keeping up with me, my twitter account is @Wheelie_Healthy and you can check out my (frequently inactive) blog. You can also follow our insta (@Wheelie_Happy) where you’ll find my previous work and my contact details if you want to get in touch for anything!

[Guest Blog] The Thirst of “Femmes d’un Certain Age” by Evelyn Archer

When I started out on this quest to publish a select few guest bloggers on my site (and pay them for it, of course!) part of my mission was to share the stories I cannot tell. The experiences I have not had. That’s one of the reasons I was so excited by this piece by Evelyn Archer. Here, we’re talking Sex After 40! I’m in my late 20s. The myths about sex stopping is one of the things I’m very afraid of about growing older. But here, Evelyn tells us that not only can sex after 40 be amazing – it might just be the best ever. She’s also sharing some wisdom she’s learned along the way. Over to her…

Amy x

The Thirst of “Femmes d’un Certain Age” by Evelyn Archer

Some doctors call it “The Surge”. I call it “The Going Out of Business Sale”.

Here’s the truth: in my late 30s through mid-40s, I’d done without sex for a long time. In a long, otherwise happy marriage – between medication side effects, interpersonal issues and plain old fear – we’d been Not Having Sex for longer than I like to admit. I told myself that everyone gets to define these things for themselves (still true), but there was also another message that I was getting and internalizing without really realizing it. A woman over 40 with a sex drive is a joke. A grotesque joke. Either played for laughs or an object of scorn and pity – we’re Stifler’s Mom from American Pie, Mrs. Roper from Three’s Company (Google it, my sweet babies).

I had no model for what my sex life after 40 was “supposed” to look like. It was “supposed” to Go Away. In fact, cursory Googling revealed a stark, depressing story of “sexless marriages”, of couples living with resentment and disappointment, or at best as friendly roommates, co-owners in the Business of Our Life. A sexual life was something I used to have, someone I used to be, and it looked like I would have to find a way to live without it.

But through hard work in therapy and a bunch of other stuff we came together again.

And now we can’t stop boning each other. But as an essentially cishet (I mean, het-ish, but that’s another post) monogamous couple, in order to truly get back on track, we had to take our cues from outside the cishet community (which is unsurprisingly UNHELPFUL in terms of sex positive information). Instead we turned to queer folks and trans folks and polyamorous folks.

If my partner and I were struggling, for whatever reason, with penetrative P-in-V sex, why was this the “end of sex” for us? Would we say that what our queer friends, our trans pals did in bed wasn’t “really sex”? Of course not! That doesn’t even make sense! So why did it have to be that way for us? Once we stopped putting P-in-V sex at the center of our sex lives, once we stopped seeing “everything else” (oral and manual and toys and everything) as a “lead up to the main event” our entire sex lives transformed. All of a sudden, “fucking” was whatever we decided it was.

So we started fucking all the time.

We can’t seem to stop. He comes home early from work just for banging. We send dirty gifs to each other. We keep a Sex Toy Wish List on Lovehoney. And we haven’t seen our friends on a Saturday night in months because we’re so tired from banging all afternoon, all we can do is eat spaghetti and watch cartoons.

And it was from polyamorous folks writing about relationships and intimacy that we learned that we have to TALK ABOUT EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME. We have to find ways to talk about stuff we don’t want to talk about. How to sit in uncomfortable feelings like disappointment and jealousy, and still hold space for each other.

It never occurred to us to actually have a conversation about what we WANTED to do specifically, only what we DIDN’T want to do. From the BDSM community that we learned that we can just talk out whatever is “on the table” for fucky stuff and instead of all that talking “ruining the moment” (or whatever) it leads to a more fun and satisfying play-time.

The power of just listening

But let me be clear: all these terrific queer, trans, poly sex positive folks (bloggers, Twitterers, Instagram folks) are not giving this information to US. Their work is not necessarily FOR us, it’s for themselves and for each other. But by shutting up, and by watching and listening closely, I learned a new way to look at and talk about sex. As these folks process and manage their own sex positive liberation, it shows me a different way of inhabiting my own sexuality, shows me ways to question and ways to talk. It’s not one person in particular, but this chorus of voices, and quietly immersing myself in what they have to say has utterly changed my marriage, my relationship to sex, and the way I see myself.

But still, my high levels of desire seemed to be out of sync with public opinion and popular culture. There’s still the Google-able stuff about The End of Sex, but dig a little deeper and there’s something called “The Surge”. The way I understand it (and I am a writer not a doctor, so do your own research!) is that here at the End of my Childbearing Years my body knows that each egg it releases could be its last. So it releases a surge of hormones telling me “YOU BETTER BANG EVERYTHING BECAUSE THIS COULD BE YOUR LAST CHANCE”. But there’s SO little information on this (and most of it anecdotal) it reminds me of how monstrous our culture sees Femmes d’un Certain Age whose sex drives are still strong. We’re still a joke, still grotesque. Still Mrs. Roper, still Stifler’s mom.

Dawn Sera and Tristan Taoromino have talked about it on their podcasts a couple of times, but there’s little in popular culture for me to look to. Even looking for women over forty in romance novels came up thin, even thinner if you want something a little hotter than “sweet” and “tender”.

So…where ARE we?

WHY is no one talking about this? Why is the only talk of women and
middle age and desire about our thinning hair, our drying and atrophying vaginas, our hormone therapy, our inevitable march to a dry and sexless grave?

Well, I’m not having it. I’ve decided to embrace my monstrousness (if indeed that’s what it is). And I’m leaving you with some resources that really helped me. (These may Old News to you Sex Positive Veterans, but they were news to me).

Additional Resources:

  • Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex by Joan Price.
  • The Ultimate Guide to Sex After Fifty by Joan Price.
  • Tristan Taoromino’s podcast “Sex Out Loud” (available wherever fine podcasts are uploaded). She has more talk of kink and gender and queer politics so this was right up my alley.
  • Dawn Serra’s “Sex Gets Real” (available wherever fine podcasts are uploaded). She has a softer, more relationship-focused slant. There’s also lots of good stuff about the intersection of fat positivity and sex positivity. (Be prepared to hear the word “yummy” a lot.)
  • Oh Joy, Sex Toy is a web comic by husband and wife team Erika Moen and Matt Nolan. I went there just for sex toy reviews and what I got was SO much more. The illustrations are really sweet, with lots and lots of body diversity (which I don’t see everywhere).
  • Come As You Are: the Surprising New Science that will Transform your Sex Life, by Emily Nagoski. The research here on how desire can work for some folks was a revelation to me. (Also Erika Moen does the illustrations!) Not so science-y that it’s dry, yet doesn’t read like a self-help manual. She is a scientist and a sex educator and this book is great.

Author photo of Evelyn ArcherEvelyn Archer is an author living in New England. You can find her books here and you can sign up for her super fun newsletter, “The Strange Files” here. She also writes erotic shorts as “Madeline Moon”. You can find them here, or here.

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[Guest Post] “Body Knows Best” by AJ Power

When I put a call out for guest blogs, some stunning pieces came my way and there were a couple that made me cry. This essay by AJ Power is one of them. AJ tells her journey to becoming the woman she is with such strength and vulnerability that I am just absolutely blown away.

I had two contradictory reactions to this piece. The first was that I wanted to publish it because I couldn’t completely relate – as a cis woman who has benefited by entire life from cis privilege, I will never completely what a trans woman goes through. However, on a different level, I felt I did understand it. As a trauma survivor, my body has always known what I need, what I can handle and what I cannot, and if a situation is right or wrong. It was learning to listen to it that was the tricky bit. In that regard, at least, I related to AJ’s essay very deeply. I am absolutely thrilled to be able to share this beautiful piece with you all.

Amy x

It started with losing my virginity. You could argue for something earlier: myriad stomach issues through my childhood, anxiety attacks I couldn’t recognize as such (much less explain to my parents), or any number of little things I’d only later realize pointed to my being trans. But it’s one thing to dissect signs and symptoms with the benefit of hindsight, and another to get a blaring wake-up call on a chilly October night when you’re as excited as you’ve ever been.

Aubrey was a better person to ‘lose it’ with than I could have dreamed. Vastly too cool for me, sure, but I was not looking that particular gift horse in the mouth. My roommate was out partying, we were both happy, healthy, and sober, and I was about to fall head over heels. Everything was perfect. Except, well, for one horrifying cliché….

I couldn’t get it up.

No matter what I tried (and oh did I try) it was just not happening. I didn’t understand. Yes, I was nervous, and yes, on some level I believed that it happened to a lot of guys maybe even all guys at some point or other—but at that moment there was nothing but shame and betrayal. Aubrey actually handled everything great, but that didn’t stop me from sobbing in the shower the next morning, or from going to student health to try and dig up some reason, any physical reason that this was happening to me.

When my wife and I have sex now, I do think back to those days sometimes. Days when I thought I was a guy. When I thought that only penetrative sex was “real” sex. When I somehow drew a line between Real Dysphoria(TM) and how much I hated seeing myself in  the mirror. It feels like another life, like that was a different person, an unexpected and unwanted detour when somebody else was borrowing my body. But now that I have the steering wheel again, I’m not totally sure how to drive stick (pun intended). So much about me has changed, both physically and deeper than that. I have the same parts, but not the same.

Not really.

And I don’t quite know what this body wants.

When Aubrey and I finally did end up having intercourse I was elated. It took nearly a year, and I was at least a littl bit bothered by that, but we’d fallen in love in that time. We’d grown into each other, trusting, caring, knowing. She was the only person I’d ever told about my depression. About my high school prom, where I mostly thought about killing myself and felt better than I had in months. About how desperately lonely I could get.

I still had trouble performing sometimes. I figured it was an anxious sort of feedback loop—worrying about worrying and ending up just as nervous as I’d been the first time the issue had cropped up. But I’d made my peace with it, I thought. We were happy. Problem solved.

Lest I make this into a pity party, I love sex. Touching and being touched, desiring and being desired—it’s amazing and beautiful. The journey is fantastic. The destination, on the other hand….

It’s not that I can’t orgasm. Give me five minutes with my vibrator and, well. But no matter how well things seem to be going with another person, it remains out of reach. Sometimes I think it’s just that it’s so much easier to forget what body parts I actually have when it’s just me. When I can have the barrier of pajamas, panties, or pornography to keep that knowledge shunted off to the side of my conscious mind. As opposed to the unmistakable fact of skin or lips wrapping around me. The fact that there’s something to wrap around at all. Other times I wonder if, despite the intervening years, the hormones, and the anti anxiety medication, I’m just still too much in my own head when it comes to sex, and I need to learn to shut my brain off and enjoy the moment.

In most situations, the anxiety takes hold because I’m desperately afraid of disappointing someone or letting them down. But even when there’s little-to-no risk of that, it’s tough to reassure myself. Because no matter how anyone else feels, the one I so often let down is me.

I wanted to scream at myself to just shut up for once in my life. I had Lauren in my bed. Lauren, who I’d gotten involved with way too quickly after Aubrey. Way too quickly after Lauren’s last breakup too. I was having trouble performing again. We’d both been drinking a little—just enough to relax, at least in theory.

My body just wouldn’t listen to me. Again. I was so sick of it, and I just wanted both of us to have a good time. I told myself to focus on her before I gave any thought to myself. Her body. The way it moved. The way it felt. I tried to shut out everything that was complicated or difficult, or…me.

I didn’t give much thought to the fact that when I masturbated, or even when I had sex, I rarely (if ever) pictured myself in the scene. It was like I was so focused on the woman in front of me, that I was barely a presence, even in my own fantasies. That night, I tried to switch. To focus just on Lauren, and then to enjoy the moment as myself. I wasn’t over Aubrey, and I figured that that was why I was so disconnected from myself. But the truth was, part of it felt good and right, and part of it didn’t. That was the last time I ever had penetrative sex.

The strangest part of the dysphoria I still have is that I don’t hate my body. Even the things I wish were different, I don’t hate. They just don’t feel entirely like me. I know that mental health issues are a process, but I feel like I’m past a lot of hating myself too. I can feel happy, proud, beautiful in ways I never would have been able to a few years ago. There’s just this one part of me. This last question that’s more confusing than anything. What am I supposed to do with you?

It wasn’t long ago at all now that I was lying in a hotel bed on my wedding night, feeling like I’d just seen the face of god. My wife had just driven me completely out of my mind for what seemed like forever, and when she asked me if I’d climaxed, I had to say I didn’t know. I didn’t feel like I’d had that release, but how else to describe how it had felt? Was this another part of me changing? But for once, I didn’t think about it too hard.

The truth is, my body knows me. In every fantasy that I thought I wasn’t an actor in, in every time I got lost in the curves of someone else’s body when I had no love for my own, my body was trying to tell me something. That the need and want I was feeling weren’t just about loving women, but about being one. Like calling to like. The shape of me on the inside trying to find something that would fit around it and make it home.

There’s something magic in learning to feel like yourself, at home in your own person. I felt it when I bought my first dress. I felt it when I started liking the woman I saw in the mirror. And I felt it the first time I fell in love, and the last. It’s a soft sigh and an intake of breath, a sense of “Oh, so that’s how it can be.”

I always thought that when my body misbehaved it was because something was wrong (or that it was just being an asshole), but even with the things I have yet to figure out, I know it’s not about right and wrong, or a problem to be fixed.

It’s about the fact that I’m not finished yet. I still have more to do, to grow, to change.

And if my body has taught me anything, it’s that change is good.

AJ Power is a 28-year-old trans writer and editor. When not writing, she can usually be found watching movies in bed or reading…probably also in bed. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her wife. She tweets as @write_errant.