Competition (of sorts): Win ‘How a bad girl fell in love’

Seeing as I love a writing competition, I thought the launch of Girl on the Net’s new book was a great excuse to run one, and the publisher have kindly promised me a signed copy of the book as a prize.

As I said in my review, Girl on the Net uses real magazine article titles for each of the chapters in her book – ’13 Scientifically Proven Signs You’re in Love,’ ‘So You’ve Decided to Watch Porn Together,’ ‘How to Seduce Each Zodiac Sign’ – and it’s one of the things I love about it.

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to do the same – write a post, fiction or non-fiction, of up to 500 words, using a magazine article title as your title. It’s up to you whether you want to use an online or offline magazine, Cosmo, Caravan Monthly or Homes & Antiques. It just must be a real article title.

If you’re tempted, here are …

… the Rules…

(1) Your post can be fiction or non-fiction.
(2) Your post must use a magazine article title as its title.
(3) The post must (obviously) be your own work.
(4) There is no minimum length for posts, but they must be no longer than 500 words.
(5) You can enter as many times as you want.
(6) You must post the piece on your own blog and post a link to it in the comments section below in order for your entry to be considered.
(7) The competition closes at 23.59 GMT on Thursday, March 24th. Any entries submitted after this point will not be considered.
(8) You consent to me reproducing your post in full if you win.
(9) Should you win, you are happy to share your mailing address with me and Blink Publishing for the purpose of sending your prize.
(10) The competition is open internationally.

If I’ve missed anything, or you have questions, please let me know. Also, I’m taking a Twitter break at the moment, so please share this if you can. It would be good to get as many entries as possible!

An Open Letter to Cosmo

Dear Cosmo,

I’m writing to tell you that I watched Channel 4’s Sex in Class last night, and I kind of hoped that the teenage boys who said the kinds of things in the tweets below would grow up as they, well, grow up.

Having read your article, I’m not so sure. I haven’t bought you for a while, to be honest. I read you in the hairdresser, if it’s a choice between you and Hello, but if Red or Marie Claire, or even Good Housekeeping, are available instead, then that’s what I’ll pick up.

But let’s be honest, The Last Sexual Taboo (…or is it?) is a good strapline. I’ve been walking past you a lot this month wondering what *is* the last sexual taboo. I still wouldn’t have bought you, but I probably would’ve flicked through you in M&S to find out the answer. And then, as luck would have it, you turned up in the seat pocket of the flight I was on last night.

And I thought ‘Surely it’s not anal?’

Spoiler alert: It’s anal.

I could start by saying, Cosmo, that I don’t think anal is the last taboo. I seem to remember years ago reading that 1 in 3 couples had tried it. I like it. I fantasise about it probably more than I fantasise about anything else. The first time I tried it was fucking amazing. It still scares me a bit, sometimes it hurts, and I worry about it being messy/dirty. But I *do* like it, and although it was a guy who proposed it the first time I tried it, it’s been my suggestion nearly every other time since.

Anyway, let’s talk about the article. Shall we start with the subheadings? Here we go:

  1. Pressure to perform
  2. ‘Dick slips’
  3. Remember the vagina?
  4. Why does he want it?
  5. An erogenous zone?

Two things strike me about these subheads, Cosmo. They’re very negative, and they’re very male-focused. And the problem with the article is evident from the very start:

“I was never interested,” says Jill. “I didn’t want to do it, and I didn’t want to talk about it. But during sex, he would say “Can I put it in your bum?” every time. It seemed really important to this guy, so Jill finally agreed. […]

“It was not enjoyable at all,” she says. “We used lube and a condom and we tried foreplay. But I could hold on for only two or three minutes before I said “I can’t do it!'”

Prince Charming finished up with some vaginal sex that night, and Jill spoke loudly and often about how awful it had been for her. “But he kept on asking.” Eventually he cheated on her, citing her unwillingness to have anal as one of the reasons. Would it shock you to know they broke up?

I wonder why you included this cautionary tale? You could have done a lot with it. You could have pointed out that if you’re switching from anal to vaginal, you need to use a new condom. You could’ve pointed out explicitly that the guy behaved like a dick, rather than just sarcastically referring to him as ‘Prince Charming.’ I’d even have been on board with you pointing out that it’s not ideal to go from ‘I didn’t want to talk about it’ to ‘[I] spoke loudly and often about how awful it had been.’ At least, I think that’s what you mean. When your sentence is ‘Prince Charming finished up with some vaginal sex that night, and Jill spoke loudly and often about how awful it had been for her,’ it’s not clear which was awful: the anal or the vaginal.

OK, so in the next paragraph you are explicit about the guys who have ‘dick slips’ being ‘true assholes.’ This paragraph is a bit better, tbh – it actually begins to tackle the issue of consent responsibly. Still not what I was expecting from what you put on the cover, though. And then you really go and ruin it again.

So when did the vagina stop being the holy grail? When I was growing up it was a treasure to be saved for special occasions with special people.

Honestly, you make a mockery of the newsagent in the town where I went to school, who wanted proof of age before he’d sell you, Cosmo. You had such an opportunity here to inform women about something that can be really hot. Instead, you slipped the tale of the woman who genuinely likes it under the subheading Why does he want it? You picked a married women who said ‘We love it,’ and you phrased her reasoning thus: ‘Rachel likes it because she likes to please her husband, but also because it feels good to her.’ Because god forbid you pick a woman who does it *just* because it feels good to her.

Finally, two paragraphs from the end, you get to the point I think you should have been making all along (although you could’ve dropped the ‘in relationships’ bit):

Women in relationships who mutually decided with their partner to have anal sex talked about a profound experience.

I see what you did here. You commissioned the article from someone who’s thinking about trying anal for the first time because you thought that would make for a more approachable, less intimidating article, right? I disagree. I think the author’s attitude to anal is fearful enough here to actually be off-putting. And maybe I’m a humourless bitch, but I don’t find the ‘thinking of taking a trip to Brownton Abbey‘ line funny, either, especially in the context of an article that seems to suggest that anal goes hand in hand with problematic, immature communication.

You’re getting a new editor next month. And god, I hope for your sake that she brings a fresh approach to mainstream sex writing.

On what my home can (and can’t) tell you about me

In my house, I have the following things:

  • a Le Creuset 20cm teal-coloured cast iron saucepan
  • a hand-crocheted (not by me) throw on my sofa
  • bath oil that cost more than I’m willing to pay for a meal in a restaurant
  • a full set of wine glasses, champagne flutes and martini glasses
  • a Jamie Oliver wooden ‘plank’ for serving antipasti
  • a matching set of towels
  • a large, white ceramic jug for holding cut flowers (which I also have most of the time)
  • a set of plates that I use for ‘best’ (but that I eat off alone if they happen to be top of the pile in the cupboard)

According to Red magazine, the above list would put me well on the way to having the ‘8 Things Every Woman Over 30 Should Have In Her Home.’ And yet, instead of feeling like for once I meet the status quo, I wonder why the hell every woman over 30 would want a set of items that in no way differentiate her from every other woman on the planet.

The article above is actually a ‘grown up’ form of clickbait, I get that. I read Red fairly often, and I think, as women’s magazines go, it’s actually not bad. But god, that post above irritated me.

What you might take from my list above is that I’m undeniably middle class. You might also (correctly) assume that I enjoy cooking and entertaining people at home, and that I’m willing to spend a decent chunk of my disposable income on those things. It might tell you about my love of hot baths and buying myself flowers. What I don’t think it should say is anything about either my age or my gender.

Through my teens and much of my twenties, I didn’t feel like I ‘fitted in.’ To be fair, I didn’t make much of an effort to, but I did worry a lot about feeling on the outside of the things. As my thirty-first year draws to a close, I’m still anxious and I still often feel lonely, but the fear of fitting in is all but gone. Until my twenties, everyone I knew did things at pretty much the same age – learned to drive at seventeen, left school at eighteen, left uni at twenty-one/twenty-two. After uni, that all changed – some people went straight into their perfect career while others were in long-term relationships and thinking about marriage and babies long before myself and other friends wanted, or were in a position, to.

It’s for that reason, I think, that you see relatively few of these ‘What you should be/say/do/want/have achieved at 30’ posts. At that age, the majority of doors are still open to women, whether those doors lead to further education, marriage, babies or switching into a radically different field of work. We still have plenty of time to decide who we are, or who we want to be.

There are words in that article that bother me, too – display-worthy, show-off worthy, neutral – words that suggest you’d own these things for one of two reasons: either because you were trying to impress other people or because they’re inoffensive and go with everything. I’ll admit it, some items I do use for a form of showing off, but if I make you a casserole in my Le Creuset, or serve you on my best plates, what I’m trying to do is reflect what matters to me: food, comfort, nurturing. These things are my personal values and passions: they’re not a sign that I’m in any way a successful woman for my age.

The stuff in my home could tell you other stories too, things you wouldn’t know just from reading my list above. That one of the reasons why I’ve spent a lot on stuff for my home is that for a long time I hated my body, and shopping for homeware was preferable to shopping for clothes. That I prefer entertaining at home because my dining table only has four places and I don’t cope well with socialising in big groups.

It’s an uncomfortable idea for me, the idea that I should be aspiring to own a certain set of items that represent a certain set of values and interests. Not all women of thirty are ready for a committed relationship, or children (or want those things at all), so why would we all need the same eight items in our home? I have no issue with the magazine choosing to showcase homeware (although, let’s face it, lots of us in the UK don’t own our own places or still live with housemates), what I have an issue with is that if you don’t own these things, because you have different tastes, or interests, or ways of spending your cash, you’re somehow lagging behind those of us who do.

Because the closest the article comes to the truth, I think, is here: ‘A stylish addition to your sofa to mask any not-so-pretty stains that have appeared.’ At thirty, I don’t feel much closer to being a fully-fledged, sorted grown-up than I did at twenty-five. I might buy nice stuff for my kitchen, but it doesn’t mean I don’t fuck up, that I have a life plan, or that I even cope particularly well most days. Unless I tell you otherwise, it means I like buying nice stuff for my kitchen, that’s all.

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The Questions We’re Actually Embarrassed to Ask

A week or so ago, I got an email from Marie Claire. One of the articles it linked to was 15 Questions About Sex You Were Too Embarrassed To Ask.

There’s not much about sex I’m embarrassed to ask, and when I canvassed my Twitter followers, it seemed that the same was true for them. The questions we were actually avoiding were about beauty or personal grooming – things that society tells us we’re inherently supposed to know. How to get a genuinely smooth shave. Whether it’s normal for hair removal to be something you have to do to your arse, as well as your cunt. What exactly we’re supposed to do with products recommended by magazines and/or other women.

I’ll hazard a guess it’s not just beauty that we’re ashamed to talk openly about. For me personally, it’s less about grooming and more about health. Why do I occasionally bleed after sex? The muscles down my left side don’t work properly: does that mean if I squeeze my cunt around his cock when we’re fucking he feels it more on one side than the other? And, the one that really bothers me: will I ever be able to have children?

This isn’t just a paranoid fear born out of the anxieties that seem to plague a lot of my generation. Many of us have at least one friend who’s struggled to get pregnant. We share stories of not knowing when the hell our periods are due, not only because we have more important things in life to keep track of, but also because the pill, diet and stress all have a massive impact on our cycles. And to me, it always seems weird to rock up at the doctor’s just because something’s niggling at you at bit: I guess I feel a bit like this. Plus, I’d rather worry about stuff than have my fears confirmed. I know, I know…

It was my beautician who first caused those niggling worries to turn into something more concrete. My hair is dark, and if I don’t get it waxed, you can see it on my top lip. That’s normal, I figure, and so that, and my eyebrows, are just one of those things I regularly have to get sorted, in order to feel like a proper girl.

But as she spread hot wax onto my lip a year or so ago, the beautician said ‘Oh. You’ve got a few hairs on your chin, too. That’s often a sign of PCOS.’

She’s right. It is. Along with growing hairs around your nipples, weight gain (which did happen all of a sudden in my late twenties), and that weight sitting low and all up front, making you look like you’re in the early stages of pregnancy. In the last couple of years, three complete strangers have asked me, out of the blue, when I’m due. Ugh.

It’s not just that I prefer to bury my head in the sand, although there’s an element of that. It’s also that admitting to the above makes me feel less feminine, less attractive, things which are already exacerbated by my disability. PCOS can be controlled, with diet, drugs or surgery. It would make sense to find out for sure if that’s what’s really going on. Instead, I changed my beautician.