The Polyamory Community Has a Huge Slut-Shaming Problem

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When I started practicing consensual non-monogamy and polyamory, I expected to get hit with slut-shaming from monogamous friends, family, and wider society. And predictably, I did. (“So she’ll just open her legs for anyone like a 24-hour supermarket?” was one memorably horrible quote said by an old childhood friend about me.)

What I never expected, though, was to encounter slut-shaming from within the non-monogamous community. But this has happened to me multiple times over the 15 years or so I’ve been polyam, as well as to many of my friends and lovers. And I have come to realise what a significant and pervasive problem it actually is.

Before I dive in, I want to shout out the other polyamory writers, thinkers, and educators who have spoken on this issue, especially Leanne Yau of PolyPhilia, Mainely Mandy, Eldiandevil, and Ramona Quaxli. Their perspectives and insights are tremendously valuable and have informed, validated, and helped to shape my own.

What is slut-shaming?

Planned Parenthood defines slut-shaming as “accusing someone — usually girls and women — of being “too sexual,” and using that as an excuse to humiliate, bully, or harass them.”

Slut-shaming can take the form of calling someone derogatory and sexual names (such as “slut”, “whore”, or “slag.”) But it can also take forms such as:

  • Criticising a person for wearing sexualised or revealing clothing
  • Blaming the victim or saying they “asked for it” in cases of rape, sexual violence, revenge porn, sexual harrassment, and so on
  • Gossiping, making assumptions, or spreading rumours about someone’s sex life or sexual behaviour
  • Criticising or shaming a partner for their sexual history prior to your relationship (or during it, in the case of consensually non-monogamous relationships)
  • Acting entitled to someone’s body because of their actual or perceived sexual behaviour (e.g. “if she puts out for other guys why not me?”)
  • Accusing someone of being a “sex addict” for their level of desire, number of partners, kinks and fetishes, or other actual or perceived sexual behaviour

In short, it’s anything that is designed to put a person down or make them feel guilty or ashamed of the ways that they express their sexuality.

But how can there be slut-shaming in non-monogamy!?

When people enter the non-monogamous community, they often come in with certain expectations. One of those expectations is that it is going to be a free love utopia, apart from and unaffected by any of cisheteromononormative society’s hangups about sex. I mean, our unofficial community Bible is literally called The Ethical Slut. We’re all totally enlightened and sex-positive over here in non-mono-land, right?

If only.

I’m not going to sugar-coat it: I’ve been guilty of perpetuating this, in the past, just as I have been a victim of it. But the polyamory and consensual non-monogamy (CNM) community has a huge, enormous, glaring, and under-addressed slut-shaming problem.

Let’s look at a few of the ways it manifests and why they’re problematic.

“It’s not all about the sex!”

Polyamory Weekly, which ran from 2005 until 2022, is by far the longest-running and best-known polyamory podcast. When I first started listening way back in around 2009, I didn’t think much of the goofy little tagline at the end of the show: “and remember, it’s not all about the sex!” On the rare occasions that I dip back into the PW back catalogue these days, I cringe a little every time I hear it.

The purpose of this section is not to call out PW specifically or exclusively. It’s a great resource. I’m glad it existed for 17 years and I’m glad its 600+ episodes live on for new polyamorous folks to find. But I do think this tagline is an example of a wider narrative within the polyamorous community.

I understand the purpose of phrases like this. Mainstream society aggressively sexualises non-monogamy and casts aspersions on our collective character as a result (itself a form of slut-shaming). In much the same way that LGBTQ+ identities had to fight to be seen as more than sexual fetishes, non-monogamists are now fighting a similar battle. But, in striving for this more nuanced recognition of our identities, we must be careful not to shame those for whom sex does play an important role in their non-monogamy.

Some people are non-monogamous, in part, to have more sex and to experience more sexual variety. As long as those people are honest with their lovers and taking reasonable steps to be safe and considerate partners? I do not think there’s a damn thing wrong with that.

Other versions of this trope include “just because I’m polyamorous doesn’t mean I’m a slut!” and “I might be polyamorous but I still have standards!”

“But amour means love”

The equally insidious sister to the above is something I see all the time in the polyamory groups, forums, and other online spaces: “it’s polyAMORY, not polyFUCKERY. The amour means love!” This one comes out when a person talks about having a lot of casual sex. However, it also comes out when a person is struggling with sexual difficulties, sexual incompatibility, or sexlessness in one of their relationships. Its purpose is clear: to slut-shame the individual because sex matters to them.

If you’ve ever uttered this sentence, you might not like what I’m going to say next: for many of us, sex is part of how we love. For some people, this is intimately connected to physical touch as a love language. Sex with someone you love can be tremendously bonding and connective, helping you to feel closer and more intimate – both emotionally and physically – with your partners. Sex can make you feel desired, allow you to express love and care through touch and the giving of pleasure, and give you an opportunity to be exploratory and playful together.

In addition, in a newer relationship, sex can help you to bond, deepen and strengthen your connection, and feel out whether you’re compatible for a long-term relationship.

In short, sex is allowed to be important to you. Leanne Yau says, “I can have sex without love, but I cannot have love without sex.” I’m not sure I’d go that far for myself, but I know I would really, really struggle in a sexless romantic relationship. It is only recently that I’ve stopped feeling shame around that fact.

So yes, sure, “polyamory” means “many/multiple loves.” But love can take many forms and, if sexual compatibility matters to you or if sex is an intrinsic part of how you express romantic love, that’s not only valid but super normal and common. Those “many/multiple loves,” by the way, can also include friends with benefits, comet partners, and other forms of connection that don’t look like traditional romantic relationships, if you like.

Phrases like “it’s polyAMORY, not polyFUCKERY” place non-sexual love as inherently higher, more pure, or more real than sexual love. And I think that’s bullshit.

“Sounds like you’re just a swinger.”

People outside the CNM community conflate swinging and polyamory all the time. However, while it’s certainly possible to be both, the crossover is probably significantly smaller than you think it is and they are quite different cultures. In fact, it has sadly been my experience that a lot of swingers do not like or trust polyamorous people very much, and that this feeling is very mutual. I believe this has less to do with any inherent differences or incompatibilities, and more to do with misconceptions, snap judgements, and in-group/out-group politics.

In many polyamorous spaces, there is a huge amount of policing of other people’s non-monogamies. This includes the oft-heard cry of “that’s not polyam, it sounds like you’re just a swinger!” in situations where casual sex, group sex, or promiscuity are involved.

I think it’s telling, in itself, that so many polyamorous people see “swinger” as an insult. What gives us the right to place one version of non-monogamy on a pedastal and look down on others? Sure, the mainstream hetero swinging community has its fair share of problems. However, so does the polyamorous one. When we set ourselves apart and cast judgement on swingers, all we are doing is perpetuating the same slut-shaming, sex-negative rhetoric that the mononormative world perpetuates against us. And that harms all of us.

As polyamorous people, most of us also have sex with multiple people. Do you think that cisheteronormative, mononormative, sex-negative society will spare us its judgement if the sex we have is for Twue Wuv Only while we loudly shun the swingers for their casual shenanigans? Because I promise you it won’t. But it would love for the different schools of consensual non-monogamy to get distracted tearing each other apart rather than banding together to tear down the sociocultural structures that harm us.

Whether you are polyamorous, a swinger, both, neither, or somewhere else entirely on the spectrum, I believe that all of us under the consensual non-monogamy umbrella should be allies and need to stick together. We’re on the same damn team.

The one penis policy

The infamous one penis policy, or OPP, is where a polyamorous cis man tells his (usually cis women) partners that they can date other people with vulvas, but nobody else with a penis. It’s highly problematic in a bunch of ways, from cissexism and trans erasure through to simply being a bad way to handle jealousy and insecurity. I’m going to write an entire piece about it soon.

Increasingly, I believe it is also tied to slut shaming.

At the root of the one penis policy, very often, is the belief that sex is only “real” when it involves a penis. Men who enact the OPP often believe (even if on an unconscious level) that there is something inherently bad or wrong about their female partners having a lot of sex or multiple sexual partners, but convince themselves that it only really counts if those sexual partners have a penis. This allows them to keep seeing those partners as “pure,” as long as they only have sex with fellow vulva-owners.

Many polyamorous men explicitly or implicitly devalue their female partners when or if they have sex with multiple penis-owning partners. You’d be amazed at how often, in online polyamorous spaces, I see variations on this theme: “my wife just had sex with her boyfriend for the first time and now I can’t help but see her as tainted.” Which is a pretty fucking rough deal for straight or bi+ polyamorous women.

This is by no means a comprehensive list

This piece is not intended to provide a comprehensive list of all the ways that slut-shaming shows up in polyamory and CNM. Like all systems of oppression, it is insidious and multi-faceted and not always easy to spot. It takes many forms and harms people in many different ways.

There is, however, one consistent truth that sits at the heart of this phenomenon:

It’s misogyny, isn’t it?

Purity culture is deeply and inherently tied to misogyny. Purity culture “encompasses the way society and popular culture reinforces the idea of sexual purity as a measure of a person’s worth” (John Loeppky for VeryWellMind) and is used to control, police, shame, and curtail women’s sexuality and sexual agency.

Just like mainstream purity culture, slut-shaming and sex-negativity within the polyamory and CNM communities are intimately tied to misogyny. A person of any gender can be slut-shamed. However, in reality, it is always going to mostly weaponised against, and have a far greater impact on, women, femmes, AFAB folks, and anyone socialised as female.

When we begin to unpack sex-negative and slut-shaming beliefs, misogyny – including internalised misogyny on the part of women and other marginalised genders – is almost inevitably at the core of it. To dismantle slut-shaming requires us to take a close and critical look at all the things our society and upbringing have told us about gender, sex, and sexuality, and to consider the ways in which those narratives are doing a disservice to ourselves, our loved ones, and our wider community.

Towards an expansive and inclusive version of CNM

None of this is to say that your polyamory or consensual non-monogamy must include casual sex, or must include sex at all. It is entirely possible to have no interest in sex whatsoever and to never slut-shame anyone else. I do believe, however, that everyone in these communities has a responsibility to intentionally cultivate a sex-positive attitude.

As a reminder, my working definition of sex positivity is as follows:

“Supporting the right of all consenting adults to have sex, or not, in whatever ways work best for them, free from stigma or shame.”

The point of sex-positivity isn’t that more sex is better. The point is that we all have a right to choose how much and what forms of sex we have, and that all consensual and freely made choices are of equal moral value.

We must recognise that the CNM world is not a sex-positive utopia, much as we might wish it was. The first step to addressing our sex-negativity and slut-shaming problem is to identify it, talk about it, call it out when we see it, and stop pretending it doesn’t exist or isn’t an issue.

We all carry toxic beliefs from our upbringing or our society, and it is our job to address and unlearn them. This is hard, long-term, potentially lifelong work. Fighting the tide of cultural norms isn’t easy, and I am not trying to downplay or simplify it. But, if we want to build truly radical and inclusive communities, it is absolutely necessary.

Finally, we must stop this in-fighting. Stop shaming and attacking our own. Whether we’re polyamorous or swingers or relationship anarchists, whether we’re asexual or demisexual or hypersexual, whether we have orgies every weekend or only have sex in committed romantic relationships, we must stop throwing each other under the bus for crumbs of respectability from a culture that seeks to judge and repress all of us in exactly the same ways.

Cisheteromononormative society shames us all enough. We like to think we’re better than to also do it to each other. And right now, we’re not.

But what if we could be? How radical and awesome would that be?

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Sluttier in Theory: Swinging, Casual Sex and Me

I have recently been dipping a cautious toe back into some swinging spaces, albeit almost exclusively very queer ones. These adventures have brought up some thoughts and realisations about the ways that I operate in sexual spaces that I’ve been thinking about a lot. So, because blogging is cheaper than therapy, let’s talk about them shall we?

I’m not sure I was ever really a swinger, to be entirely honest. Years ago, I wrote about things I disliked about the mainstream (read: hetero) swing community, from the weird prevalence of sexual racism to the casual kink-shaming. And I don’t think I’m really a swinger now, either. Or at least, claiming that label feels disingenuous when the last time I did anything more than hand sex with a stranger was literally years ago.

I’m a polyamorous and consensually non-monogamous person who also enjoys some casual sex with lovely people every now and then. (Exactly where the dividing line between “swinger” and “whatever the fuck I am” lies, I am truly not sure.)

Thing is, I’d really like to be sluttier than I am. In theory, at least, I’m a huge Ethical Slut. I love flirting, giving and receiving sexual attention and interest. I love making connections, making plans, making out, that slow but certain escalation when it becomes apparent that yes, this thing is ON. And I love sex. I’m a high sexual desire person (it’s not a drive!), and in an ideal world I’d be having sex several times a week at least. Yes, I’m a horny fucker.

So why do I find it so fucking hard to actually make that leap and do the things in a more casual context?

I’m envious of people who can just dive in. People who can pull a stranger or leap into the centre of an orgy without thinking too hard about it. I wish that could be me. So why don’t I and why isn’t it? Well, that’s what I’ve been trying to untangle.

My Sexuality is Complicated

Being very sapphic certainly complicates things. The overwhelming majority of people in swing and casual sex spaces are cis man/cis woman couples, most of whom – as is typical in that community – do things exclusively together. This is tricky when I don’t fancy very many men, though.

I’m not going to fuck a guy I don’t fancy just so I can play with his partner, and I’m not going to tolerate hands wandering after I’ve set boundaries about who can and cannot touch me and where. Realistically, I’m also not going to fuck a woman for a man’s enjoyment. Performative queerness does nothing for me. Less than nothing – it’s an active turn-off.

So where does this leave me? Probably limited to playing one-on-one with other women, playing with very trusted friends, playing with couples where the guy will happily accept “I’ll fuck your wife with you but I’m not going to fuck you”, or waiting for the cases where I am attracted enough to both/all parties to also fuck the guy(s.) The last two scenarios on this list? Well, they’re rare. In practice, my sexuality limits who will be interested in me and how I can play simply because I don’t typically offer much for the guys.

Hitting on women is hard, too, for a simple reason: I don’t want to make other women feel the way that creepy men make me feel. (Yes, there’s a whole other post in this, too.) More than once I’ve noticed an attractive woman at a party and then totally failed to even talk to her. I always kick myself afterwards, of course, but I haven’t figured out a way to overcome this one yet.

Sexual Health Fears

There’s also the sexual health angle. I got an STI about a year ago (ironically, during a particularly non-slutty phase) and it really rattled me. Though it was dealt with, I have no desire to ever repeat that experience. I feel like I’d be absolutely furious with myself if I inadvertently contracted something and then passed it on to one or both of my partners.

I preach open communication about sexual health constantly, but in reality it can be really hard to be the person saying “hey when were you last tested?” when no-one else in the room has raised it.

The reality is that, if we are going to be sexually active, there is a risk of STIs. This is even true in monogamy, because people can cheat and people can have symptomless infections for years without knowing it if they’re not testing regularly. There is no way to be a sexually active human and totally eliminate this risk. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care. If anything, it gives us a greater responsibility to take the reasonable steps we can to mitigate the risk to ourselves and our sexual partners.

In some ways, this is probably the easiest issue on this list to solve. This one can probably be solved with practice and giving fewer fucks about seeming like a buzzkill for being the person to open the conversation.

“I Shouldn’t Be Doing This”: Internalised Shame

On a less practical and more cerebral level, I think I’m probably still dealing with some internalised shame around casual sex. Like so many of us, I grew up in an intensely sex-negative society and “slut” was one of the worst things someone could call you. (I got called it for having sex with my one boyfriend of well over a year when I was sixteen, but that’s another topic for another day.)

“But Amy, you’ve been polyamorous your entire adult life!” I can hear some long-time readers saying. And yes, I have. However – and this is also going to be the topic of another post soon – the polyamorous community has a massive slut-shaming problem.

Hang out in polyamorous spaces long enough and you’ll often hear phrases like “it’s polyAMORY, not polyFUCKERY” to deride casual sex. You’ll also hear derisive language used towards swingers (and anyone sluttier than the name-caller approves of), as well as assertions that casual sex “ISN’T REALLY POLY.” Mainely Mandy did a fantastic video on this subject. It’s over an hour long but I really urge you to watch it all if you can. Mandy is insightful, engaging, hilarious, and just so right about this topic.

I suspect there’s still some internal work – and probably work with my therapist – to be done on unpacking this shame. I find it so easy to celebrate others getting all the hot sex they want with all the partners they want, as long as it’s ethical and consensual. I’m not sure why I am finding it so hard to extend that to myself. But I do know that once in a while, I get hit with this overwhelming feeling of “I shouldn’t be doing this”. And that’s a mood-killer if ever there was one.

Vulnerability is Fucking Hard

Finally, there’s also the fear of making myself vulnerable. I know not everyone will agree with me here but to me at least, there’s an inherent level of vulnerability to sex (or at least to good sex.) If I stay completely detached, there’s just no point. I’m not going to enjoy it and will probably end up feeling used rather than fulfilled.

But as the title of this section says: vulnerability is fucking hard. Vulnerability, in my experience, often leads to pain.

Of course, on the flip side, vulnerability can also lead to some trancendently wonderful experiences. Vulnerability has brought me beautiful relationships, deeper communication and intimacy with my partners, hot sex, leg-shaking orgasms, the kind of memories that still get me wet when I recall them years later.

But it’s really, really hard to be truly vulnerable and it does not come easily to abuse survivors in particular.

So… What Now?

I don’t really know, to be honest. Maybe I need to just be brave and take bigger leaps into the things I want before overthinking gets in the way and stops me. Or maybe some things do need to remain “in theory.”

I sent a draft of this post up to this point to my girlfriend, having no idea how to finish it. Because she’s brilliant, she made this suggestion: “Imagine someone has written that post and sent it to you asking for your advice.” A lightbulb went on instantly. So that’s exactly what I’m going to do. The conclusion of this piece will take the form of an open advice letter from me to me.

Open Advice from Me to Me

Hey Amy. This sounds legitimately complicated and like there are numerous different factors at play.

First I want to validate something for you: this stuff is complex. I’ll also let you into a secret: it’s complex for almost everyone! Those people you see at parties, who seem to be having all the casual sex all the time without a care in the world? That’s probably not their reality. Behind the scenes they are likely thinking things over, considering their boundaries and desires, perhaps discussing things with their partners. They probably have many of the same insecurities as you, and plenty of their own unique struggles too. So first, please don’t think you’re alone or weird for feeling conflicted about this. You’re not. What you see at parties is, in all likelihood, the smallest tip of the iceberg.

Next I want to tell you that your sexuality is perfect as it is. We live in a deeply, aggressively heteronormative world and it can be hard when you fall outside of that. You never, ever have to have sex that you don’t want to have. If you want to have sex but only with a certain gender or genders? Awesome! If you’re open to other genders but only occasionally, sporadically, or circumstantially? Great! If some types of sex appeal to you but not others? Excellent self-knowledge, well done.

I would advise simply being very upfront with potential playmates about who you are, what you want, and what you can offer.

Will this mean some people aren’t right for you? Yes, absolutely. And that’s okay! No-one is everybody’s cup of tea, and having incompatible needs with some people doesn’t mean that your needs are wrong (or that theirs are.) If someone isn’t into what you’re offering, you can wish each other well and move on to more fitting connections. If someone deliberately breaches boundaries you’ve set or oversteps your consent? Get up and leave. You deserve better.

I hear your frustration that suitable connections seem to be relatively few and far between, possibly due to your low interest in men. But a small number of great connections is vastly preferable to a lot of bad ones. You seem to be doing this already, but continuing to prioritise explicitly queer and queer-positive spaces is much more likely to get you the kinds of experiences you want.

Your sexual health concerns are also valid and understandable. They particularly make sense with the context that you’ve had an STI in the past and do not want to repeat the experience. Sexual health is a sensible thing to be concerned with. Most STIs are not a big deal – they are treatable, curable, or manageable. However, some can have a significant or even life-changing impact, and antibiotic-resistant strains of certain infections are a growing concern in the medical community. Even easily curable STIs are, unfortunately, still heavily stigmatised.

I know you know this, but you are not being a buzzkill for raising this topic. If someone rejects you or gets annoyed with you for discussing it, they’re not right for you. By having this conversation before hooking up, you’re being a responsible partner and caring for both your own and your partners’ sexual health.

One possible way to become more comfortable with this conversation might be to have it in advance where possible. Are you chatting to people online prior to meeting them? If so, raise the topic during your pre-party flirtations. Are there online spaces, such as forums or Discord servers, where party or event attendees hang out? If so, why not get a sexual health discussion thread going in those spaces? This takes the “in the moment” pressure off. It also normalises the conversation and allows you to get a feel for people whose risk tolerance aligns with yours.

As a general rule, sexual health practices should default to the boundaries of the most cautious person. If you want to use a barrier, for example, then your prospective partners can either use that barrier or decide not to hook up with you under those conditions. What they cannot – or should not – do is try to talk you out of your boundaries. Trying to change your mind about sexual health protocols is a major red flag, and one you should not ignore.

Internalised shame and fears around vulnerability are, unfortunately, harder to overcome. You’re right that we live in an intensely sex-negative society. It also sounds like you have some personal experience of people weaponising sexual shame against you. Shame is complex, multi-faceted, and unpacking it can be an ongoing (even lifelong) process.

Next time they arise, I invite you to sit with those feelings of shame and ask yourself what they are telling you. Then hold those ideas up to your values and beliefs about the world. Do they align? And if not, where did they come from?

For example, perhaps you realise that your feeling of shame is telling you “people who respect themselves only have sex in committed relationships.” Do you really believe that is true? Presumably not, since you accept and embrace the fact that casual sex can be a positive and joyful thing (and that sexual behaviour is not correlated with self-respect.) Okay, so where did that belief come from? Perhaps it was your parents, your peers, school, the media, or the religion you were raised in. By unpacking the things shame is telling you, you can take more control over which of those beliefs you internalise and which you choose to consciously reject.

On your fear of vulnerability, I want you to know that it makes perfect sense. Existing as a woman or femme in this patriarchal society is hard, and doubly so for survivors of abuse. When vulnerability has been used against you or resulted in pain in the past, it can be incredibly difficult to let yourself go there again.

This fear is your body and brain’s way of keeping you safe. Try to remember that when you’re feeling frustrated with yourself. All those positive things you identified that allowing yourself to be vulnerable has brought to you? What do they all have in common? They all had to happen from a place of safety. This likely meant coming to vulnerability in your own time, not forcing it from yourself. If getting to that baseline of safety takes you longer than it takes other people, or takes you longer in some circumstances than others, then that’s okay.

One vital thing I want to invite you to do is just to listen to yourself. Your body is deeply wise and intuitive. Try to tune into what it’s telling you in any given situation. Try to learn what your personal “yes, more, this” feels like, as well as your personal “no” or “ick” or “I’m not sure about this.” What does safety feel like? What does it feel like when you truly, deeply want something?

Learning to follow those intuitive clues will teach you to trust yourself. It will also help you to come into a deeper understanding of what you really want and don’t want, both in the big-picture sense and in any given moment. In time, you’ll learn how to move towards your “yes” and away from your “no” more authentically.

Finally: remember that there’s no right or wrong here, and you’re not in competition with anyone. You are not less of a non-monogamous or sex-positive person if you’re slower to warm up and get comfortable with being sexual. It’s okay to be a “yes” on one occasion and a “no” on another. It’s okay to be choosy, to be selective, to make sure any given situation is right for you.

It is okay to explore, try things out, surprise yourself. To like things you weren’t sure you would, and do dislike things you were sure would do it for you. And it’s okay if some things need to remain “in theory,” for now or forever.

Breathe. You’re doing fine.

Amy x

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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.

#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 and their blog, where they talk sex, health and stigma.

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