My Biggest Fan

There’s been a post about talking to my dad about sex on my to-write list for a while, now. But, although I find it weirdly easy to talk to my dad about sex, it’s less easy for me to work out why. So bear with me.

What prompted this post today is, well, Father’s Day, obviously, but also this tweet by @Juniper3Glasgow, and her blog post about her dad, too.

My parents know I write erotica. They know I have a sex blog. My mum says: ‘Do you think one day you’ll write a different genre?’

My dad says: ‘I went for a drink with N the other night. I told him you’ve just had an erotic story published. He asked if he could read it?’

No. Not this time.

There are two problems with the story I’ve just had published. One is that it’s deeply personal. The other is that my bio has a link to my blog, and thus not only the details of my sex life, but also my Sinful Sunday pictures. They *definitely* don’t need to see those.

If I ever get something published that’s less personal, would I let my dad read it? I don’t know. It’s not the sex that I think he might judge, but at the moment he thinks everything I do is great, and he’s the fussiest audience I’ve ever met. Whether it’s film, TV or books, he prefers indie, European, generally pretty bleak stuff. Would my writing match up to the quality of what he’s used to reading? I doubt it.

But, there’s a benefit to that, too. If he thinks something is good, he’s always shared it, with little concern for age-appropriateness. He let me watch 9 1/2 weeks at age 15, and I, in turn, a year later, lent him my copy of Marie Darrieussecq’s Pig Tales, which is pretty filthy. Sex is not a topic that’s off limits. I’ve explained sex positivity to him, and the pull for me of writing erotica, which is best captured by Guy New York’s book Write ’till You’re Hard:

‘Sex is a natural way to look at self-discovery, and it’s one that is often overlooked or ignored. Mostly because we’re afraid of sex, and there’s a giant stigma against erotica as being a non-serious genre. Which is a load of shit. Sex and relationships are at the center of all our lives…’

My dad’s family shy away from physical affection and touch, as well as talking about feelings. He couldn’t really be more different. I grew up believing it was ok to ask for hugs when you wanted or needed them, that it was ok to cry (whether you’re male or female) and that men suffer from anxiety and fear too, and that doesn’t make them any less of a man. It was a good grounding for a feminist take on the world.

I have a box in the cupboard stuffed full of letters from my dad. He writes every couple of months, always on headed paper, only ever writing on one side, always asking more questions about my life than he tells me stuff about his own. We speak too, regularly, but there’s something about those letters. A lesson about writing, perhaps. That it’s worth it, that it matters, that it’s not a waste of time. Whatever genre you choose.

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One day I’ll learn to love you

You’re warm, and soft, and curvy. You have good bits, like tits and beautifully shaped fingernails. And today, I hate you.

And do I trust you? Ha, you must be kidding. Why would I trust you when you constantly let me down?

Take this week, for example. Every time I stand up, my left ankle tries to collapse. My right knee is tired of putting up with that shit – I know, because it aches so badly.

We don’t understand each other, you and I. The ankle thing, someone suggested, might be because you don’t like the cold. Oh. I *love* the cold. I didn’t know it caused your muscles to contract, made you tight and inflexible. At night now, that ankle gets a hot water bottle. Does that help? I wish I knew.

I tell my mum what I found out about you, too: that it’s not just that the left leg is shorter, it’s that the hip muscle has yanked it up and won’t let go.

‘What’s the point of knowing that,’ she says, ‘If you’re not going to do anything about it?’

But I don’t want to change you. I want to like you the way you are.

That’s not to say we don’t have good times. We just mainly have them alone. Just after Christmas, we went for a walk, and as usual, we set out later than we should – sundown, it turns out, isn’t at 5 p.m. in early January, it’s at 4. And so we’re under pressure. The walk is flat though, according to the book, so we’ll be fine, right?

I forgot about mud. It coats my boots, means there’s no friction between you and the ground. I force you to swing from branch to branch to get down the first bank, and they snap and you have to clutch and grasp for another. Over and over again. We survive. Just. And I’m proud of us.

There’s more mud, and water that slops over my boots, but we cope. Ultimately, it’s not you that brings the whole endeavour to an abrupt end, it’s me. I have plenty of ridiculous fears, but this one I think, is justified. Staring back at us, from the field which ‘has a stile in the corner diagonally opposite’ are three bulls. Uh uh. No way.

So together we try to scramble back down to the road. And we almost make it. We’re probably three steps from safety when you fail me and I land flat on my back in the mud. I could cry, but there’s no one to see my humiliation. So I forgive you and we set off along the road instead.

We get to a junction. Googlemaps seems to think we’ve gone the wrong way, and then my phone dies. Obviously.

There’s a grim looking hotel and I go in, and ask the guy on reception to call me a cab. And could he check they’ll take cards?

‘There’s a cash point in the petrol station,’ he says. Then: ‘I can’t call it unless you stay here. Sometimes people do runners.’

Yeah, he’s a cunt.

In the petrol station I ask a woman if she’s going the way I need to go. It’s only just over a mile, but it’s dark, I have no torch, no phone and there’s no pavement.

She’s not, but she points in the opposite direction. ‘You can get back that way, too. It’s quicker, and there’s a pavement.’

Thank fuck for that.

We drive home via Sainsbury’s. I want to buy you something nice for tea. I’m proud of you. And it even makes me laugh when, later, in the bath, the bits of twig floating on the surface confuse me until I realise that my hair is bloody full of them from when we were swinging tree to tree.

We’re ok, you and I. We just need to learn to love each other. To trust each other. And maybe, once we’ve done that, we can start to trust other people.

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Sex and communication

One of the conversations I’ve been involved in on Twitter this morning has been about sex and ‘feedback’ – which everyone involved seems to agree is a terrible word for it. Basically, the question, as I understand it, is: should we be open to talking honestly with our partners about what does/doesn’t work for us in the bedroom?

On paper, I’d say yes, we should. But what works on paper doesn’t work for me in practice.

Let’s take a different example. Ever since a few months back, when Exhibit A wrote on sport, I’ve been meaning to blog my own thoughts on the matter. It seemed more sensible that commenting on the original post: I needed to work through my feelings on the matter and they’re so bloody complex I knew they’d probably run to longer than reasonable comment length.

On an intellectual level, I know that exercise isn’t something you get to opt into or out of in life, although despite that knowledge I still do very little. I asked my parents if they’d consider paying for gym membership as a Christmas gift. Initially, they thought this was a great idea – they’ve been hassling me to be more active for years. But then they had a little chat overnight and decided that they both agreed that a personal trainer (obviously a much more expensive option) would be better.

I’m ashamed, but not particularly surprised, to say the whole conversation collapsed into a tearful row. I cried. I made my mum cry. My dad, normally a staunch ally, took my mum’s side. I’m not interested in a personal trainer: I can’t bear to catch sight of myself in mirrors when I exercise, the thought of *paying* someone to stand there and watch, especially if that someone was male, sends me spiralling into immediate panic.

You’re not listening, I argued. What might be objectively best for me won’t work for me, because there are other factors getting in the way. I’m looking for compromise: you’re telling me it’s your way or the highway.

And that was my experience of sport pretty much all through school, as well. When I was eleven, and had come home from double PE in tears again, my mum lost her temper. ‘*Everybody* has something they’re bad at,’ she argued, ‘What about the kids who can’t read or add up?’

She had a kind of point there, but again, the comparison wasn’t quite fair. I’m young enough that I went to school at a time when humiliating kids with poor reading or maths ability by getting them to read out loud in class or to come up and work out an equation on the board had gone out of fashion. Sadly, the same wasn’t true for sport. The focus of sport was at best on teamwork (I don’t like letting people down), at worst it was ‘Get into groups, design a dance/gymnastics/aerobics routine and perform it in front of the class. High jump was one at a time in front of everybody else. So was rope climbing. Hurdles. My PE teacher ironically ultimately won an MBE for services to sports education – I don’t once remember her asking what she could do to help or make me feel more comfortable.

Her younger colleague on the other hand, obviously came from a different school of thought. She cornered me after a trampolining lesson and asked if I’d consider coming to trampolining club early on Friday, before everyone else arrived. ‘Bring a friend,’ she said ‘And you can have a go while there’s nobody else here. Would that be better?’

There’s a limit to how much of that special treatment – great, and kind and appreciated that it is – that you can expect when you have a disability – you kind of do have to just get on with life the best you can. But I don’t think that’s a reason to make it unnecessarily hard on yourself – to go against what comes naturally.

On the subject of feedback, I had my mid year appraisal at work yesterday. It was, much like the job itself, paper heavy, insular, more like a (endlessly long) cosy chat than an appraisal. It’s another of the things that tells me I’m in the right career: nothing about the pushy, competitive, bullshit-heavy, male-dominated worlds of consultancy or the city, for example, appeal to me. I wouldn’t be good at those jobs. I’m too soft, too emotional. I don’t think that makes me a bad person or a failure: it’s just about recognising that I have a different skill set.

The point I’m trying to make is that although, obviously, we’d communicate with our partners often and sensitively and constructively in the bedroom, in practice I think that’s harder to achieve. Good communication is something to aim for, but I don’t think it comes naturally to many couples, whether they’ve been married for years or are just friends with benefits.

Since I started having sex, men have said all of the following to me:

‘I don’t care if it’s waxed or not as long as it’s tidy.’

‘We’re not friends, we’re just two people who fuck and get on fairly well.’

‘Use your hand as well.’

All of those have stung a little bit, for one reason or another. My body confidence is low – is my bikini line neat? Does it meet his standards? Probably not – it’s not as neat as I’d like it to be, but I don’t know how to do a better job of it. Why aren’t we friends? What’s wrong with me? Are you ashamed of being seen out with me in public? And ‘Use your hand as well?’ To me that translates as ‘You’re shit at giving head.’

A lot of this is fuelled by issues that I have to address. I know that – it’s just one of the many reasons I see a therapist. But as relationships become more complicated – as more and more of us are in friends with benefits arrangements, or just having regular one night stands – what qualifies someone as having the right to give ‘feedback?’ I wouldn’t, for example, be open to receiving comments on my technique from someone I picked up in a night club and wasn’t planning to see again.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that the trust necessary for giving constructive feedback on sex, and for it being well received, extends far, far beyond the bedroom. With me, you’ll win that trust by showing that you’ve thought about how things affect me that perhaps don’t affect you – you’ll hold my hand if we’re crossing an icy road for example. Or, if we’re out having dinner, you’ll squeeze my shoulder when you come back from the Gents: little signs of affection that show that you care about me even when we’re not naked.

If you’re not that invested then I’m sorry, I’m not particularly open to hearing what does/doesn’t work for you in the bedroom.

Fight me for it

Sometimes, when the boy has me on my knees in broad daylight, his hands wrapped in my hair, his fly wide open, his cock in my mouth, I think:

Could we do this in reverse?

I don’t see it, somehow. I can’t imagine assuming the authority to force him to kneel in front of me, push my knickers to one side and to lick me until I scream. What would I say?

It’s not that his kink isn’t my kink. His kink is precisely my kink. I just don’t want to share it.

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