Hell is other people

Another day, another helpful article on the top 10 things you can do to be happier. First things first: I don’t begrudge people sharing this stuff. If it helps you, great – and often there are one or two things in any such list that have worked for me personally. Clinical depression is unlikely to be solved by healthy eating, sunshine and exercise alone, but those things are all beneficial.

There’s actually only one point on the list that I didn’t think was universally true:

2. Connect with people

Our relationships with other people are the most important thing for our happiness. People with strong relationships are happier, healthier and live longer. Our close relationships with family and friends provide love, meaning, support and increase our feelings of self-worth. Our broader social networks bring a sense of belonging. So it’s vital that we take action to strengthen our relationships and make new connections.

Again, if I’d written this a while back, I’d have taken a much harder line. But I’m trying to be less defensive in general. Essentially, I don’t think that when I’m low other people are always beneficial – often I hit rock bottom precisely because I’ve over socialised and I’ve burnt myself out. When I’m in the full grip of constant panic attacks I have nothing to offer socially: socialising isn’t a distraction because I can’t focus on what the other person/people are saying: I need time to re-centre myself, steady my breathing and be present in the moment again. I can’t do that when there are people demanding my attention. But what was interesting was that when I voiced concern about the above on Twitter, a decent number of people replied saying ‘Me too.’

So, here are five points summarising my take on depression/anxiety and social interaction:

1. Not everyone finds socialising easy

Presumably the above means that on average ‘people with strong relationships are happier, healthier and live longer.’ Or perhaps they all are. How do you measure strong relationships anyway? Isn’t that pretty subjective? Either way, this isn’t quite as simple as it looks. Some people live miles from their family, others have problems making friends. I think all of us sit somewhere on the autism spectrum, and for those of us who are worried about that, or worried that they don’t have enough friends, or a partner, or are just plain lonely, being told to spend more time in other people’s company is yet another trigger. Introverts like me, who’ve spent months in therapy battling an inner belief that somehow it’s better to be extrovert, don’t respond well to the prescriptive ‘It’s always best to be around people’ tone of the above: sometimes it is; sometimes you do need space. If you can, try and learn which of the two you need more at any given time.

2. It’s normal that people want you to socialise

It’s hard to recognise it when you’re in the depths of despair, but the people who care about you just want you to get better. They also worry that you’re a risk to yourself, especially if their understanding of depression is limited. It’s natural then that they want you to be around other people: those people can keep an eye on you and make sure you’re not drinking too much/self harming/a danger to yourself. What they don’t always understand is that introverted depressives need that space for proper recovery: being around other people might be a distraction, but it’s an exhausting one and it doesn’t leave me with any resource to care for myself on a more basic level. If you’re worried about someone who’s depressed, check in with them, but respect their boundaries. If you’re depressed, check in with the people who care about you when you can – it means a lot to them.

3. Socialising in the age of social media is fucking hard work

One of the things that puts me off socialising is how flaky people are. The numbers for my thirtieth halved in the weeks running up to it – the only comfort is that I see it happening to other people too, so I guess it’s normal these days. Increasingly I only make plans with friends who I know are reliable – yes, it means the pool of people in my life has shrunk, but the others were contributing more to my anxiety than they were to anything positive. On a similar note, learn if you can to be honest with people about where you’re at: I have friends who I don’t want to cut out of my life completely, but who I just can’t cope with when I’m at my lowest ebb. I still need to learn to be honest with them about that ‘I can’t see you right now, but it’s nothing you’ve done, it’s just where my head’s at,’ rather than the cowardly and upsetting option that I tend to plump for at the moment: ceasing contact for large chunks of time with zero explanation.

4. The social interaction you want won’t necessarily be the social interaction you get

I know what kind of socialising boosts my mood – tea or a glass of wine with a trusted friend; creative activities like baking, writing or craft – more so with strangers than with my friends. I know what kind of socialising kills my mood – big groups of people in the pub, socialising that’s centred entirely around alcohol, house parties where I don’t know many people. Small talk…

The problem is that, in the UK at least, most people’s social lives are dominated by the latter, whether it be drinks with colleagues, weddings, or just a Saturday night out in town. There are many reasons for this, ranging from expense to geography to plain old following the status quo. Probably the most useful thing I’ve learnt in recent years is that it’s ok to turn that stuff down if it’s really not working for you – just make sure you arrange stuff that does work for you with people who make you feel safe, instead.

5. Try not to cut yourself off completely

Linked to the last point, chances are that even if you’re a fully-fledged introvert, you need some level of interaction to function healthily. I know now that I like to be around people, even if I’m not interacting with them – so it’s better for me to go and read in my local Starbuck’s than it is to sit and do it at home. Likewise, last time I had a bad break up, I went home to my parents and returned pretty much to my teenage state for a couple of days: they were around, providing background noise, someone to talk to if I wanted it and most importantly of all, affection, but they didn’t expect anything of me, and if I wanted to sit in my bedroom, listen to music and cry, they let me. I felt better so much quicker than I have done on occasions where I’ve withdrawn completely.

The flip side of this is that I still believe it’s a great idea to learn to be at ease with your own company: at home, in bars, in restaurants, overseas. I’ve lost that, temporarily, and it’s gutting to me, because it’s such a large chunk of what I recognise as me. There’s nothing wrong with doing things alone: last year I travelled alone to New York, where I was meeting friends. In the immigration queue at JFK I started chatting to a woman who was on her own. She’d flown to New York to celebrate her 40th on her own and you know what? I didn’t know why she was alone, whether by choice or circumstance, but I honestly didn’t feel sorry for her. I thought she was brave and admirable for doing what she wanted to do and not needing another person there to do it with her.

Relationships with other people are great, complete isolation is bad. Of those two things I am pretty certain. But dear media, if you’re reading, let’s see a bit of balance around the way we talk about happiness and social interaction. It’s a game of quality, not quantity, and all that really matters is that you work out what works best for you.

Don’t read clickbait, read this: **The Competition**

During October I’ve been taking part in the ridiculously named #NaBloPoMo. With literally a minute to spare, I posted the final post last night – it was preceded by thirty others, one for each day in the month. I’m not sure that I’ve done my finest blogging over the past thirty-one days, but there have been posts I’ve been proud of, and perhaps more importantly, posts that have inspired posts on similar topics by other great bloggers or provoked discussion on Twitter. Posts that have reminded me what I love about blogging, essentially.

My other campaign in recent months has been ‘Don’t read clickbait, read this instead,’ which is my own take on #FF – suggesting Twitter accounts and bloggers that have far more to say than the majority of list posts that seem to dominate the ‘traditional press’ at the moment. At last check, my blog reader contained 119 blogs – I don’t read all of them on a regular basis, but what I like about that selection is that it’s pretty diverse – there are blogs on food, sex, fashion, beauty, parenting, disability… Essentially, if it’s good writing I want to read it, whether or not it tallies with my life experience.

To mark the end of #NaBloPoMo, I wanted to do something a bit special, something a bit like the Polished competition that I ran a few months back. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I didn’t want to run another erotica competition – I follow and am followed by a lot of great erotica writers, but I equally want to involve people who read my blog and who would like to join in but who don’t write fiction. Or about sex, necessarily.

So the challenge is to write a non-fiction post (full rules below) on any topic that you like. Given that the competition isn’t limited to sex I didn’t want the prizes to be sex-related either, so I’ve gone down the more generic route of what I love: books.

There are 2 prizes:

Charlie’s Choice: £15/$25 Amazon voucher

Readers’ Choice: £10/$15 Amazon voucher

The Readers’ Choice will be a poll once the competition has closed, so even if you don’t enter, please do vote for your favourite post.

The Rules…

(1) You must write a non-fiction (op-ed or real life story) blog post. No fiction, please.
(2) The post must (obviously) be your own work.
(3) There is no minimum length for posts, but they must be no longer than 1500 words.
(4) You must post the piece on your own blog and link back to this post in order for your entry to be counted.
(5) You *do not* have to write about sex or women’s issues. If you want to enter a piece about food, fashion or steam trains, that’s fine by me. That said, obviously it’s fine to write about sex and women’s issues too.
(6) The competition closes at 23.59 GMT on Saturday, November 8th Sunday, November 9th. Any entries submitted after this point will not be considered.
(7) The winning entry will be the post that I like most/find most interesting. The Reader’s Choice prize will be given to the post that receives the most votes in a poll.
(8) You consent to me linking to your post in a list of all the entries once the competition has closed and reproducing your post on Sex blog(of sorts) if it wins.
(9) Should you win, you are happy to share your email address with me for the purpose of sending your prize.
(10) Your post must have been written on or after Nov 1st 2014. Please do not enter posts from your archive.

Please do read the rules above carefully. If I’ve missed anything, or you have questions, please let me know…

Charlie xx

Why I love sex blogging

Sunday just gone I went to a very cool memoir writing workshop with Brooke Magnanti. In retrospect, it was probably pretty obvious that a good number of the other participants would be sex writers, given what Brooke writes about, but somehow I completely failed to realise that in advance and was there as my real self, not as Charlie.

And obviously anything I write that’s remotely memoir-like is going to be based on the same kind of stuff I write about here, so that was pretty stupid. And yet, these kinds of events (Eroticon, anything held at Sh!, erotica workshops) are places where it feels pretty safe to operate under a pseudonym or  under my real name. I might be naive, I might yet be proved wrong, but nobody from the sex blogging community that I’ve met in real life has yet given me reason to feel uneasy. Very much the opposite, in fact. The Kristina Lloyd and Janine Ashbless book launch at Sh! a couple of weeks ago was a great example of that. Of the people there, I was already interacting with or reading nearly everybody. And people are just as nice, if not nicer, in real life.

Why am I writing about this now? Partly because this morning I kicked my nerves into touch and bought a ticket for Eroticon 2015. But also because I recently realised something pretty crucial about blogging. I think there are a fair few bloggers, mostly female, who, somewhere in the back of their mind, think they’d love to have a hugely successful lifestyle blog. Who you envy, I’m sure, depends on who you read: personally, I get little jealousy pangs when reading What Katie Does, A Cup of Jo and The Prosecco Diaries. I mean, I get jealousy pangs when I read Girlonthenet, too, but that’s different.

Lifestyle blogging looks like it comes with endless perks and freebies, in exchange for reviews. Stays in fancy hotels, nice restaurants, craft workshops, make up, overseas travel. I fucking love all that stuff. But you know what? There’s only so much of it to go round, and there are so, so many of these blogs, and it’s so competitive. Not to mention, as I discovered to my huge joy the other day, fake.

Sex blogging isn’t like that. It’s supportive, warm, understanding. Most people who read take the time to leave kind, thoughtful comments on blog posts. It feels like somewhere that I fit in. And I don’t feel like that very often in life.

Cosmopolitan? Provincial, more like…

It’s a mystery to me why, even though I’m always knackered, even though I often fall asleep midway through a wank and wake up an hour or so later with an erotica anthology on my face and my vibe buzzing against my thigh, there is always, *always* time for more Twitter before bed. Often, of course, it’s a waste of valuable sleep time, but from time to time I stumble upon something that makes me think that final scroll through my TL was worth it.

Last night was one such night. Ella Dawson and Eva Gantz were having a conversation about this post of Ella’s, and her surprise that it hadn’t garnered more of a reaction. I was surprised too, because it’s fucking fantastic. In fact, my guilt at piggybacking a post off it is somewhat offset by the knowledge that I’m now sharing it at a bit more of a reasonable hour. That said, she doesn’t need me to share it again: it’s certainly been noticed by the sex blogging/erotica community now. Yay! Go Ella!

It got me thinking about collaborations in the world of erotica, and whether they’re ever a good thing. A while back, I read Sylvia Day’s Afterburn and Aftershock (is it me or are they also two foul coloured spirits that you drink only when hammered in nightclubs?) The book was published by Mills & Boon, but in collaboration with Cosmo. The Cosmo collaboration is more than just their name on the cover, too. There’s some nice agony aunt (sorry, sexual psychotherapist) action at the back, as well as a bit of a Q&A with some big names in the sex writing scene (Zoe Margolis, Alissa Nutting, Cherry Healey…)  that’s framed as ‘Sex mistakes by the women who’ve made them.’ Which is a wonderfully sex positive slant to put on such advice as ‘I wish I’d known it’s ok to masturbate.’

For my sins, I quite like Sylvia Day’s writing. Sure, it’s undeniably trashy. Like E L James, she has pet turns of phrase and descriptions that she returns to time and again, which might not bother you that much for the first book, but which sure as hell do by the third. And yet, I romped through the first in the Crossfire series in a way that I just didn’t with FSoG. I think Afterburn and Aftershock are more problematic, at times: there’s a point at which the hero, having expressly been asked by the heroine to sleep elsewhere, crawls into her bed in the middle of the night, blatantly ignoring her wishes in a way that’s not domming, but just damn out of order.

But it’s Cosmo’s involvement that really riles me. Those of you who follow me on Twitter might have seen that last week I finally reached the end of my tether with both @Cosmopolitan and @Cosmopolitan_UK and unfollowed both on the basis it would make me happier. And you know what? It has. I don’t need yet another list post called ’24 things that are NOT vaginas, but really look like them’ and I certainly don’t need ‘9 reasons why he’s acting super distant.’

It’s sometimes hard, even as a sort-of sex blogger, to keep tabs on just how far behind the sex blogging community the real world’s attitudes to sex are. Sometimes, that can actually be a comfort: I have days when I really *am* vanilla, when I need to know that the whole world isn’t non-monogamous or kinking. But more often, it’s just a painful reminder of why hard copy erotica doesn’t sell, of why list posts rule the internet, and actually, why feminism still has so far to go.

When I was fourteen, my local newsagent used to ID girls buying Cosmo, like some kind of self-appointed moral guardian of the realm. It was, he claimed ‘too full of sex,’ to be suitable for teenagers. Perhaps back then, in the 90s, it really was groundbreaking, although I doubt it somehow. It just makes me so depressed that in 2014, the questions Cosmo is still asking and answering at the back of a chart bestseller are ‘Will I ever orgasm?’ ‘Am I weird because I like porn?’ and of course, not forgetting ‘his’ question: ‘I fantasise about having sex with a strap on. I fancy women, so I’m not gay, but am I abnormal?’

There’s one thing both guys and gals could do with learning from Cosmo: it’s never going to help you feel more normal.

Damaged heroes and tea-swilling heroines


So, by my calculations there are 7 days and oh, 12 blog posts left until the end of October. And I really want to hit the full 31 posts because I have a bit of a project that I want to launch on November 1st and I’m only going to do it if I complete the blog posting challenge successfully.

With that in mind, missing this week’s Wicked Wednesday was a slight disaster.

It sort of took me by surprise, even though I’d been thinking about the prompt since a conversation I had with Kristina Lloyd at her book launch last Saturday night. Well, sort of. It actually also ties in really nicely with something I’ve been thinking about since I went to a couple of events at the Cheltenham literature festival at the beginning of the month.

Anyway, let’s start with the prompt. I feel a little guilty saying this, but drunk, rambling man in a bar feels a bit cliche to me. Or rather, it feels cliche, but also an entirely feasible situation with which to start a story.

Back, briefly to the literature festival. The first talk I went to was this, on the ‘Rise of the anti-heroine.’ Although I fully recognise that feminism still has a long way to go, and that men and women are far from equal, I’m always stunned as to how much this affects women in fields like literature. It’s supposedly harder to get published if you’re a woman, something which kind of makes sense when you look at things like the statistics behind ‘The Year of Reading Women.’

I have a handful of notes from that evening – one of which just says ‘relatable, likeable.’ Another is a quote from Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, which i failed to copy down exactly but is something along the lines of ‘Feminism is the ability to have female characters who are bad.’ One of the authors on the panel said that women writing chick lit are told that their female characters must be the kinds of women you’d want to sit and drink tea with. I think that’s meant to mean ‘sweet and nice’ – in short, the kind of women I personally loathe spending time with. I’m pretty flawed and I like to spend my time, both when I’m reading and in real life, with women who are equally so. Which is probably why I haven’t read chick lit for years. Someone else said that what we refer to as ‘the anti heroine,’ if it was a male character would simply be referred to as realistic and interesting.

I finished The Lemon Grove back in August, and so I asked Helen Walsh about her portrayal of anal sex in the novel, which caused a bit of a stunned silence, but hey, I can handle that. More specifically, what I asked was ‘Is an openness and a love of sex for the sake of sex a characteristic of the anti-heroine?’ The answer was pretty much ‘Yes.’ So you can imagine my joy when, after I’d asked that question, a middle-aged man (in a mainly female audience) asked for the mic and posed the question ‘Why does writing strong women have to mean writing about sex?’ I gave him side-eyes, but I don’t think he noticed. I can’t quite remember what the panel said, but my answer would be ‘Because for so long we haven’t been able to. So suck it up.’ As an aside though, things are hopefully changing. The boy walked in on me in the middle of reading that anal scene: when I asked him what he thought of it he said ‘You might want to use some lube, love.’ Which is definitely progress of a kind.

Let’s go back to men. Based on what I’ve said up till now, you’d think male characters have a much easier ride of it. After all, complex men are just realistic and interesting, right? Well, yes, up until the arrival of a certain billionaire (by the by, I was in WH Smith today and the covers in the erotica section are now literally fifty shades of grey. Who is still reading/publishing/buying these novels?)  Except it seems that in erotica, if you’re writing men  who have much growth/self-discovery to do as the heroine, men who are still learning about/discovering their own desires and men who make (sometimes pretty awful) mistakes as a result of that, those men are automatically ‘damaged.’ I call bullshit. *That’s* equality – learning about sex, about desire, about what turns us on and off, about sometimes misjudging things is something we all do, not because we’re male or female, but because we’re human. Those are the kind of men I want to read, and more importantly the kind I want to write. The photo at the top of this post is my notes from feedback from my writing group: at the top right it says ‘Neither character has proper character arc; he’s on the margins; entire relationship is a projection onto him.’ Those things are top of my list of things to fix. Because I don’t want cardboard cutout men, or women who are dependent on those men for everything they discover about sex. Real men do get drunk and messy in bars. So do real women. Life is messy. Fiction should be too.

Cock: isn’t it hilarious?

So this post has been saved on my phone for months now, under the provisional title ‘Hen nights.’ Which is unfair, really: I’ve been on *bad* hen nights, most memorably the one where the Maid of Honour told the bride not to book anywhere for dinner that cost more than £20 a head for dinner because she couldn’t afford it and then proceeded to sneak off during the daytime events and buy herself a Marc Jacobs handbag. But luckily, I’ve not been on any where everything – from the straws to the ice cubes to the shot glasses to the chocolates – has been in the shape of cock.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t hen nights like that out there though. How do I know? Because I’m the girl who ‘likes cock.’ Which means, at the height of wedding season, I’ve come back to my desk to find everything from a little wind-up plastic cock with feet to a crumpled party napkin containing three ‘chocolate’ (I use that term loosely) dicks, with little smiley faces, filled with mint ‘cream’ (geddit?). It’s almost as disappointing as when you’re a kid and you get home from a birthday party to discover that you accidentally sat on your slice of birthday cake in the car, and now it’s all squashed and unappetising.

I was reminded that I wanted to write this post earlier this evening, when I saw this:

I don’t think it’s true any longer to say that women are only allowed to talk about/look at/like cock when it’s presented in a comedy setting. I think it’s now ok to admit that, when you see a guy naked you fancy all of him – not just his arse, his legs or his broad shoulders, but his cock, too, whether it’s hard or not. Personally, I have a weakness for both hard and soft: I love when he’s rock solid before he even gets his jeans off and you can pull his boxers away and watch him spring free, swollen and ready for action, but I’m equally as fond of those moments after sex when he’s soft again, and his cock is damp and mollusc-like. Those moments when he thinks I’m not watching and he cups himself gently in his hand. I think his cock is beautiful.

For all their faults, men don’t seem to try to turn cunts into comedy props. Yes, stag nights are equally guilty of tasteless themes: men squeezed into their girlfriends’ dresses, men with a fake ball and chain around their ankle – but the ‘humour,’ although pretty bloody predictable and childish if you ask me, is not based on how hilarious the female anatomy is. You may well disagree, and feel free to in the comments, but I think we’ve moved on since the 90s and Men Behaving Badly ‘aren’t-tits-hilarious’ style humour.

I fear this post makes me sound like a spoilsport, now I’m nearing the end of it. That wasn’t my intention at all. The point I was trying to make, albeit badly, is that I hate hen night props for two reasons. Firstly, because I think it’s really, really important that we celebrate people’s bodies, whatever their shape and whatever their gender and I think selling plastic, disembodied body parts with little faces for laughs detracts from that, and secondly because I think it reduces women’s conversations about men, their bodies and sex to a superficial and often dishonest, level. I think we need to stop playing sex for laughs, essentially – at least until we can all agree that it’s a happy, healthy thing for adults, both male and female, to be doing.


PS I noticed when I was writing this that Horny Geekgirl has also written about cock this evening. You can find her post here.

Carrie Bradshaw knows good sex?

One Sunday morning last month, the day after my 30th birthday party, I curled up in front of the TV with some of my best friends, hungover and still in my PJs.

We ended up watching Sex and the City, as we usually do when the TV is just on as background distraction. After all, there’s always an episode showing on a Sky channel somewhere.

I’m not anti-SATC, or not anti the TV series at least. The films are a different matter. I came to them later than everyone else, as I usually do with anything that’s fashionable – the series ended in 2004 and I watched the entirety of all 6 seasons in bed in the early hours of the morning in May 2007, when I was revising for my finals. It was light, easy, fun – the exact opposite of studying for uni exams.

Earlier this year, I was approached by the Metro, who wanted to trial me to write sex-themed content for their website. They sent me a sample post title, to see if I could write to house style. My entire career has been focused around writing to house style, but I stalled and stalled until eventually I told them I couldn’t do it.

The title of the post they wanted? ’15 ways SATC improved our sex lives.’

I started brainstorming it. I got as far as ‘Introduced us to the Hitachi Magic Wand,’ and a couple of other points that I can no longer remember and seem to have deleted from my phone, and then I got stuck. I asked friends who are way bigger fans than me. I got a couple more suggestions, but nowhere near the required 15. When I thought about it the show was negative about anal, penis size and friends with benefits, amongst other things.

And then I rewatched an episode. Season 5, Episode 70, to be precise. I was still thinking about those 15 things.

One friend said ‘I don’t like Samantha. It’s offputting how she’s so obsessed with sex.’ Briefly, the sex blogger in me was riled. And then I realised she has a point. The best character in Sex and the City is Miranda: she’s intelligent, interesting and pretty well-rounded. Samantha is ‘the one who likes sex,’ and that allows the writers to be lazy. She’s rarely more complex than that.

Anyway, back to the episode. This is the one in which Miranda joins some kind of slimming club and meets a guy there and Samantha blows the UPS guy. I can’t remember what Carrie or Charlotte’s plot lines are (I rarely can). Carrie walks in on Samantha and the mailman and walks straight back out, horrified. That’s fair enough, I guess: if I walked in on a friend of mine blowing a stranger I’d probably be a little taken aback too. But the fall out, and the judgemental attitude she takes towards Samantha last until the end credits roll.

And then there’s Miranda. Who, having just had a baby, needs to lose weight. Obviously. (This put me in mind of the bit in the film where they have a go at her publicly for not waxing, and made me crosser still.) She meets a nice guy, who goes down on her, super enthusiastically. She comes. And … wait for it … he dares to try and kiss her afterwards without wiping his mouth first.

I’m sure that does squick some people. That’s fine. But wouldn’t a more balanced, a more *sex-positive* approach be to have Miranda discuss this with the girls and to have them give a variety of opinions rather than an overwhelming ‘Urgh. Keep some tissues by the bed!’ and the frankly *hilarious* line: ‘Miranda went out with an overeater and he overate her.’ Oh do fuck off, Carrie, you judgemental bitch.’

Interestingly, when I looked up SATC on Wikipedia, everything in the ‘Awards & Recognition’ section was to do with ‘the wonderful wardrobe from Sex and the City, which taught us that no flower is too big, no skirt too short and no shoe too expensive.’

The sex, meanwhile, comes under fire: ‘Sex and the City [was] specifically recognised for glamori[zing] sex while hardly mentioning its downsides, such as pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.’

Those wouldn’t be the areas I’d choose to pick up on – it’s light entertainment, FFS – but does Carrie Bradshaw know good sex?

Well, if she does she’s having it offscreen.

Why I’m happy to read bad sex writing

I may be wrong (and correct me if so), but I don’t think there are a huge number of prizes out there for bad writing. There’s this one, but the one that springs most immediately to mind, here in the UK at least, is The Bad Sex Award, whose remit is to ‘draw attention to the crude, badly written, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it.’ To be completely fair, it’s ‘not intended to cover pornographic or expressly erotic literature,’ but for the sake of this post I’m going to talk about both erotica and more mainstream fiction.

At the moment, I’m reading Louise Doughty’s Apple Tree Yard, which has a sex scene very early on. I came to it (no double-entendre intended) wary, partly because it was recommended by my boss, and partly because I went to see the author speak about it last Friday night, and she described the sex as ‘a real knee trembler,’ which I found a bit cringy and coy for someone who, actually, can write sex and who, bravely for a mainstream novel, is writing about a woman in her mid-50s having good sex. She writes to her lover, and she says ‘Sex with you is like being eaten by a wolf.’

That line won’t work for everybody. Won’t work for many people, probably. It didn’t make me horny, but it stuck, the way lines from prose I love do, for me. The way ‘It didn’t last, and it wasn’t love, but we had our moments,’ from Anne Raverat’s Signs of Life is still on the tip of my tongue weeks after I read it.

Let’s stick with animal similes/metaphors now we’ve startedIn Alison Tyler’s anthology Sudden Sex, there’s a story by Gina Marie called Seasonal Affected Disorder. Kristina Lloyd reviewed that story before I bought the book, and reading that review and what it had to say about the use of the word goat (‘He bites at my neck. “A fucking beast of an animal,” he says, “A horny little fucking beast. An excitable little fainting goat.”‘) was what drove me to Amazon. Not because the goat thing made me wet – it’s generally hard to tell from a few very short extracts in a review whether a story will make you wet or not – but because I thought that as writing goes, it’s fucking brave. And actually, yes, I have wanked to it since, so it does work for me.

Back to the mainstream, and Judy Blume’s Summer Sisters, and this, my favourite bit:

“I did the fellatio thing,” Caitlin said as she and Vix were driving home one night, the rumble of thunder in the distance. “He loved it. It made him crazy.”

“But what about … you know.”

“It wasn’t that bad, if you don’t mind warm gooey laundry detergent.”

It’s definitely *not* traditionally hot sex writing. If Blume wrote it today, I daresay she’s famous enough that it may well make the Bad Sex Award shortlist. As I’ve said many times before though, I like my sex, and my erotica, visceral, and there’s no doubt that it’s that. It even pops into my mind sometimes when I’m giving head (no reflection on the guy I’m fucking or the way he tastes!). I just like it.

I was having a conversation with someone the other day about a erotic novel and asking what they thought about it. “I think the prose is both its biggest strength and its biggest weakness,” was the response, and I understand that to mean that the author takes risks with language, and, as a result, every so often misses the mark. That’s fine, on two counts: firstly, I think what works for the individual in erotica is deeply, deeply personal, so what works for one person is almost certain to leave another cold. Secondly, I would far, *far* read something that took risks and sometimes got it wrong than something which played it super safe and left me feeling meh.

I really, really wanted to end this by giving examples from the Bad Sex Award Shortlist that I think work better/are hotter than the judges are implying. Sadly, I do think that most of the ones in the Guardian article that I linked to at the top of this post are pretty awful. But I don’t think that changes the fundamental point. And, if you have examples of unusual/’bad’ sex scenes in literature that do it for you, please, *please* leave them in the comments.


Time is a feminist issue

I’ll begin this by saying that I think a lot of people may disagree with what I’m about to say. Certainly the friend I mentioned it to this evening did. Please do add your thoughts in the comments, whether you agree or not – I’d be interested to hear other people’s thoughts.

Anyway. In comparison with a lot of women, there are very few claims on my time. I work full-time, sure, and there are a couple of hobby-related regular commitments in the evening, but I’m not raising children, working hours and hours of overtime or caring for someone who’s sick or elderly. I’m a single woman, a free agent, and my diary is relatively uncluttered.

None of that means that my time isn’t valuable. There are lots of things I need/like to do when I have free time – meet friends for drinks, laundry, food shopping, blogging, writing. And I like to know in advance where those things are going to slot into my week. That makes me neither a better nor a worse person than someone who likes to fly a bit more by the seat of their pants.

I should also, in the interests of full disclosure, remind you that time keeping is not one of my strengths. I’m regularly 15-30 minutes late. I’m occasionally guilty of doing that thing where you send a ‘Just leaving now!’ text when you still have wet hair and are wearing only your knickers.

But I don’t bail. Last night I went to someone’s birthday drinks. She’d invited somewhere between 15-20 people. Most had replied to say that they’d be there, but when I turned up, halfway through, the majority had texted some excuse as to why they had to cancel at short notice. This kind of shit drives me crazy. As she said herself, if people had said no in the first place, or the week before, she could have made the decision to cancel. The way it actually worked out, as the night wore on the pub kept moving us to smaller and smaller tables as it became obvious people weren’t going to show. I doubt it ruined her birthday, but it can’t exactly have made it, either.

So yes, both men and women can be lame. But in my experience it’s far more often men who are guilty of suggesting plans, promising to confirm by a certain time/day, and then not bothering, so the woman has to chase, which makes her feel needy, naggy and generally pretty damn unattractive. Once or twice I’ll forgive this, but if it becomes a pattern, not so much. If it becomes a pattern I will nag you, I will become shrill and needy, and I will pick a fight, even though it won’t help.

Why a feminist issue, though? Well. You could (and I’m going to) argue that men call the shots much more in dating than women do, especially in the early days. I see tweets every day from women about men who’ve arranged dates only to cancel at the last minute. And, something which I’ve had more experience of myself, and which I hate even more: men who initiate conversations via dating websites, who want to flirt, who want to sext, who want you to give up a good chunk of your time to interact with them online but who have no intention of meeting up in person, Men who can’t even be bothered to take the time to draft something new when they message you via said sites. Men who clearly haven’t even taken the time to read your profile. Men who, essentially, think their time is *much* more important than yours.

That’s the impression it gives too when, a bit further down the line, a guy suggests meeting up on a Sunday and says he’ll confirm by, let’s say, Friday evening. I generally like to have my weekend plans firmly in place by Friday, but I like him, so, ok, I can wait till Friday. Friday comes and goes. Nothing. Saturday evening comes. Still no word. I text, and ok, by now I probably sound a bit stroppy. I say something like ‘I guess tomorrow’s not happening, then? And the reply, of course, says ‘Sorry! No, couldn’t make tomorrow in the end.’

There are of course other explanations here. That he’s generally flaky. That he just doesn’t give a fuck about me. There’s probably some truth in both of those statements. But I do think it’s partly because he’s a man, and because he’s been socialised to believe that his time, his wants and his needs, take precedence. And even if he doesn’t believe those things, he has *no idea* how often women’s time is at the mercy of the decisions men make. So boys, if you really want to be feminist, start by texting when you say you will.

Hey, clumsy people: stick to missionary

There’s no denying it, this post is a rant. So, I’ll try to keep it short. After all, I’m blogging every day at the moment, so it’s not as if there won’t be more words tomorrow. I’ll try and make those words a bit cheerier than these, too.

Those of you who read regularly might well remember Hannah Gale-gate – Hannah wrote a blog post for the Metro where she lovingly listed the ’21 Unsexiest Things About Sex.’

Cosmo, I think, has now gone a step further with this. It started pretty well – I clicked on a post called ’12 sex things men really don’t give a crap about.’ But the universe insists that each and every sex-positive list post must be balanced by a sex-negative one, so, when I foolishly looked at the sidebar of ‘clearly Cosmo has absolutely no fucking shame at all,’ I was lured into clicking on this bullshit.

I could have written this post from a ‘oh great, another article that makes me feel shit about having a physical disability’ angle. But you know what? I’m not going to. I don’t think clumsiness, or even perceived clumsiness, is the preserve of those who aren’t able-bodied. I’ve lost track of the number of women who’ve commented or tweeted since I started this blog to say that they too can’t wear heels, and that they wish they could, even though they’re, guess what, able-bodied.

People are clumsy, no doubt about it. They smash mugs with alarming frequency, they trip over invisible objects, they get their hair caught in the zip of their dress. But it’s not special: *everybody* does those things at some point in their life. It doesn’t FUCKING MATTER.

Yes, I’m angry. I’m angry because I think this perceived lack of grace affects women in a number of different aspects of life – sex and sport being the two that spring most quickly to mind. But mostly I’m angry because that post was written by ‘Anonymous Cosmo staffer.’ You want to write this kind of lame bullshit? Fine. But have the guts to fucking *own* it.