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I would like to have sex with someone else.

I would like them to lick my spine, from tailbone to nape of neck, to kiss and massage my shoulder blades. I would like them to bite my nipples, to run the lightest of fingers along the join between my breast and body, up the underside of my arm. I would like them to work up from my ankles, to have their body warm against my thighs as they focus on my calves, the back of my knees, fingers scouting ahead as their lips and tongue move along my legs. I would like them to grab my hips as they bury their face in my pussy.

I would like someone else to make my pelvis rock, to make me sigh, to make me yearn for more.

 

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The Institute of Sexology

Everyone I know who’s been to the Wellcome Collection’s Institute of Sexology exhibition has come away feeling that something was lacking.

Guides to The Institute of Sexology, The Wellcome CollectionIt’s not surprising, really. For one thing, it has to appeal to a broad audience in a small space. Focusing on any one aspect of such a sprawling subject would be at the cost of something equally important to someone else. There’s no way we could ever hope for an exhibition, even one that took over the whole of the old Millennium Dome, to cover it all in the depth we’d like.

Then there’s the fact that it’s sex we’re talking about. Given the way it’s still treated by the wider world, and indeed by much of academia, hitting the right tone was always going to be difficult. It has to be serious, or face accusations of being nothing more than titillation and publicity baiting.

Perhaps if Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute of Sexology in Berlin hadn’t been burned down by government-sanctioned rioters in 1933, we’d have wider, more in-depth, knowledge and resources to draw upon for a project like this.

When I was young, we went to Jorvik for the day. Back then it was seriously innovative and eye opening; while there were still the glass cases of carefully preserved and cleaned artefacts, right next door were reproductions of them being shown and used in context, in an exhibit that owed as much to ghost trains as modern archaeology, transporting us through the world of of the people whose broken combs and pottery we’d been glancing at moments before. I remember my parents commenting on the smell, all cesspits and warm bodies, and our delight at seeing the people responsible for creating that smell on TV about a week later.

I can imagine the difficulties involved in doing something similar with the artefacts on display at the Institute of Sexology, the need to balance context and learning and keeping focus on the objects themselves rather than the scenes they’d be found in. But positioned just so in their cases, they lose some of their vitality. Perhaps one day through virtual reality, we’ll be able to flick through the comics and postcards, get a better idea of the people who carried those ornate and meticulously detailed explicit carvings around with them, or how they displayed them in their homes.

But turn your back on the cases and gaze at the wall of portraits arranged there. This is Zanele Muholi’s Faces and Phases, a display of monochrome portraits of black South African lesbians, bisexuals, and trans men. Every one of them is beautiful, luminous. Taken from 2006 to the present day, there are gaps in the display to represent where one of the subjects has since died, whether of violence, illness, or some other cause.

And so I came to the part of the exhibition that stayed with me most vividly, looking at the life and work of Marie Stopes.

Institute of Sexology guide, Marie StopesIn particular I was drawn to the charts she made tracking her degree of sexual desire at different times of the month, not just measuring the intensity of her feelings, but breaking them down to include exactly how and where she felt any stirrings, from “thoughts constantly reverting, in the midst of other business” to “the feeling of tenderness in kisses” – and my favourite:

“Desire to be held tightly around the waist, till corsets become tempting, tho’ normally they are abhorrent.”

Like the best of us she was a complicated woman. She was a staunch eugenicist, while devoted to women’s reproductive health and happiness, and that of the children they bore. There is a clear logic to this: she may have wanted only the best people, only those who met the right criteria, to breed – but that wouldn’t be helped by denouncing reproductive wellbeing and the right to choose not to have tens of offspring to those she’d rather weren’t multiplying.

I was equally fascinated by Ye Olde Sex Chart, a labour of love compiled by Carolee Schneemann, detailing the characteristics of every man she slept with after breaking up with her partner, but it didn’t stay with me in quite the same way. It doesn’t take “filthy psychoanalysis” as Stopes referred to Freud’s work, to realise why: Stopes’s focus was sexual health and happiness, and to help her understand it she kept a watchful eye on her own body to see what it was up to. My mind is far more involved in my own sexual happiness than perhaps she’d approve of, but observing our physical selves closely as part of the process is something we share.

I would have loved to see the interviews with the women who carried out the NatSal surveys presented in a more interactive way, or the opportunity to watch one through in its entirety. They’re the women responsible for gathering the intimate details of how the UK thinks and acts when it comes to sex, and they would have made fascinating listening.

But we do get a glimpse into a small, partly self-selecting group of new subjects, in the form of the visitor survey. Responses from the previous week’s surveys are added to the data presented at the end of the exhibition. Some of the less quantitative, more emotional – or soundbitey – responses are included more explicitly, scrolling across the data matrix display set into the wall.

My guide to the exhibition is covered in asterisks and exclamation marks demanding further attention. I came away with plenty to think about, and plenty of avenues to research further should I wish – and perhaps that was the point of an exhibition like this. We’re not supposed to leave sated, but with more of an idea about what to explore next.

Institute of Sexology guide, Masters and Johnson

The Institute Of Sexology can be found at the Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London. It runs until 20 September 2015.

The woman behind the mask

A good while ago now, the wickedly wonderful Oleander Plume shared a bunch of her story prompts, throwing down the challenge for us to write something based on one of them.

I was really quite disappointed that Superheroes Engaging In A (Metaphorical) Pissing Contest wasn’t one of them, although that’s more because I have visions of Maria Hill turning out to be me in disguise and offering her services as an impartial judge.

But it was another of the prompts, Backstage Pass, that tied in very nicely with a fantasy that came out of the cocktail- and whisky-fuelled talk with The Chap after my participation in the Brighton Fringe.

So, ladies and gentlemen, take your seats and prepare to revel in The Woman Behind The Mask…


With their masks and carefully styled to match hair, it had been difficult to tell the dancers apart, but Neil recognised Tara from the way she tilted her head and flicked her hips. Wearing the silver and black sequined troupe costume, cut to give the impression of legs up to there and a cleavage about to escape, toying with the crowd, letting loose the performer Neil had only suspected was within her, Cabaret Tara was a hundred miles from Everyday Tara. Those small gestures were almost the only thing about her he did recognise.

<snip>


Yes, there was once a full story here. It’s come down because it’s going to be published! In a book!

Did I mention how brilliant Oleander is? She and the equally fantastic F.Leonora Solomon will be editing the collection, and ohmigod I’m going to be published!

promptedbadge

 

Cerulean

It’s funny: when you tell people you’re trying to lose weight, they all start trying to feed you up. That you’re not drinking for a while, suddenly everyone who owes you a pint is keen to make good on their debt.

Cerulean blue PB35, photo by Stephzzz

Cerulean blue PB35, photo by Stephzzz

Fortunately, I wanted to write more, so I’ve been very happy to see numerous challenges cropping up.

Exhibit Unadorned‘s flash fiction challenge is based on a list of Jade A Waters‘s favourite words, and for those of us crippled by totally unnecessary indecision, he’s been assigning  words as prompts.

He gave me Cerulean.


It had been calling out to her from the shop window for weeks now. It shimmered, like a peacock’s tail, with hints of other colours seeming to come from deep within rather than simply being the result of the changing light and reflections of passers-by.

Hayley had found herself alternately drawn in and shying away from the window whenever she passed – awkward as she went by twice a day on the way to and from work. The first time she’d seen it in the corner of her eye, arranged artfully on a plain, matt black, silk display, she’d only really noticed the colour. Walking back that night, she’d stopped briefly to look more closely. The workmanship was obvious, the care and attention to detail screaming quality and a price tag to match. She knew then, without looking that it would cost more than she could ever really justify. And in a moment of weakness, boredom – and possible stupidity – at work one day, Hayley had gone looking online and had hopes of which she wasn’t aware dashed and her suspicions confirmed. It would wipe out her – she laughed at the term – disposable income for months to come, and there were far more pressing purchases looking likely in the near future.

But after a string of horrific days in the office, she decided she needed a pick-me up. It had been far too long since she’d treated herself, and surely she could cope with living on porridge and baked beans for a week or so if it meant owning such a thing of beauty. Just looking at it made her sigh.

The weather was wet and blustery, not at all like the previous spring evenings that had seen folk spilling out of bars and pubs onto the street. People had their heads down and were marching unseeingly through the rain, determined to get away from work and the weather in equal parts.

The window, for those who paused a moment, had a decadent, lustrous, welcoming warmth to it.

Hayley smiled and felt her stomach flip simultaneously, pushed upon the door, and stepped into a den of dark wine walls picked out with bronze highlights, subtle lighting and display cases full of desire.

Up close, the dildo was all the more beautiful. The sheen was deceptive, the material feeling almost velvety under her fingers. The undulations along its length added further facets to the sky-whale-petrol-teal colour. Hayley could swear it was glowing from within.

“We’ve got it in pink too,” the assistant said, as Hayley turned it in her hands, “but everyone here loves this colour. It’s got a funny name… oh, it was in that film-“

Her colleague looked up from where she was tapping at a screen behind the counter, caught sight of the toy, and nodded in agreement. “The Devil Wears Prada!” she chirped. “Like the jumper!”

Making any kind of connection between the length of silicone in her hands and a purposely scruffy jumper worn by Anne Hathaway seemed like something of an insult to Hayley, but she knew immediately what the assistants were referring to.

“Cerulean,” she murmured. The word suited it.

**

The assistant asked if she wanted it wrapped.

Hayley said no, but paying and getting it bagged still seemed to take forever.

First it went into its padded, millimetres-thick box with the slight grosgrain texture, then that was slipped inside a further, thinner, glossy illustrated box with ends in the same beautiful tone as the toy. Hayley would have gladly taken that, handed over her card, and bolted.

But then there was the heavyweight black paper bag with the bronze detail in the lower corner, and a sticker bearing the shop’s logo placed just so across the lips of the bag, to prevent anyone who shouldn’t see catching a peek. Hayley had kept smiling, but when the assistant produced the bronze wire ribbon from beneath the counter, she had to fight to keep a groan of impatience from escaping.

The card machine couldn’t have worked fast enough either.

Part of Hayley had wanted to keep looking at her new toy, touching it, sharing the love with the girls in the shop, who were clearly as excited as she was about the sale but also seemed – sad? – to see it go.

But now it was safely packed away for the journey home, she wanted to get there, to rip into the packaging and get to enjoy it all over again, for herself this time. Not like that! Well, yes, like that. But not until she’d had the chance to admire it some more, properly, without having to drag herself away for whatever reason.

She wanted to savour.

**

There was half a bottle of something pink in the fridge. Hayley tucked it under her arm, grabbed a clean glass from the draining board – a tumbler, but it would do – and headed for her room.

Putting the bottle down on her dressing table and dropping the bag on the floor temporarily, she shrugged off her coat, shucked off her boots and poured a good four fingers of suspect zinfandel. She picked the bag up only long enough to pull at the ribbon and sticker and rescue the box, before  practically skipping to her bed.

Sitting at the front of her bedside drawer like it was used far more frequently was a bottle of lube. It took up prime position next to the glass of wine. She pulled off her jumper, undid the top few buttons of her shirt, and ran her fingers over the revealed skin.

A sip of wine and she turned her attention to the dildo’s outer box, carefully tugging the flap open and shaking it slightly to release the luxury cardboard. It slid out slowly, landing in her lap. She noticed the embossed logo in the centre, slightly glossy compared to the beautiful matt texture of the card surrounding it.

Prising the lid off, her eyes widened at the sight of the dildo, looking like it had grown in the past 30 minutes, and she grinned. She gazed at it lovingly, ran a finger across its surface and the velvety padding it was nestled in. Then she reached for her wine and made herself comfortable.

Half-propped up by her pillows, skirt pulled up to her waist, she ran a hand over her tights and knickers, following the contours of her body between her legs. Her pussy pulsed gently with anticipation as her fingertips brushed the cotton, her index and third fingers sweeping out to stroke the sensitive creases between her legs and body. Her middle finger traced where her lips met, covered in two layers of fabric but still responding to her touch. Pausing ever so slightly as her fingers moved back up, over her clit, the briefest thrill.

She took a swig of wine, carefully put the glass back on the bedside table. Her tights had to go, but she was too impatient, too keen to touch herself again, to completely remove them. She was left with one hanging from her calf as she returned to her main focus; her two fingers circled gently, grazing the lips above her clit, the featherlight touch enough to start the delicious ache inside her, to start a fluttering sensation behind and in her breasts.

Hayley sighed, closed her eyes in pleasure, felt for the dildo nestled in its box beside her. Not yet. But she wanted to feel it, tease herself with it like a lover would tease her.

She slipped her hand beneath her knickers now, circling incrementally faster, harder, her middle finger pushing between her lips to stimulate the bud below – but still as slowly and gently as she could bear.

She brought the dildo across, trailed it over her thigh and her knickers, up to her belly, resting its curves on hers. Lifting herself just enough to slide her knickers clear, she reached again for the toy, tracing the path her other hand had taken earlier as it continued to play, rubbing slightly harder, slightly faster. She paused with it just outside her entrance, the head nudging tantalisingly between her lips.

Her nerve endings were tingling, on fire, full of anticipation, the feathery feeling inside her breasts, the ache inside growing by the second, tempting her to plunge on.

Instead Hayley stopped completely. Feeling slightly lightheaded, she grabbed for the tumbler of wine like it was a support rail and took a gulp before reaching for the lube and squeezing a good dollop onto her fingers.

She slicked it over the dildo, adding an extra depth and sheen to the glorious colour and contours, then across her skin, through her dark curls, between her lips. She looked down her body, marvelling at the soft paleness of her skin, the contrast with the wiry hair, and the again with the rich, firm, vibrant blue of the dildo as she slid it home…

Cerulean dildo, very close up

The question I’m embarrassed to ask

I can’t help it; I think I love Sex Blog (of Sorts). She writes brilliant, vulnerable, powerful, thought-provoking posts – and she loves chocolate and wine and baking and… I’m going to stop now before I sound like a 15-year-old.

There have been a lot of Charlie-inspired writings here lately, and yes, this is another.

Sorry, hon.

Her post about the questions we’re embarrassed to ask was inspired by Marie Claire; there must be something in the air because the cover of the April issue of Glamour proudly proclaimed “we asked a gynaecologist everything!” They must have edited heavily, because none of the questions I’d have asked were in there. But in her piece, she brought up something that touched an unexpected nerve for me:

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?

A couple of weeks ago The Chap asked me if I came the last time we’d fucked. If I had there’d have been party poppers and champagne. He knows what my solo orgasms look and sound like, but something prompted him to ask if it had happened with him.

My orgasms are lovely, glorious, gratefully received things, but I wonder – especially given the frame of mind I’ve been in the past few weeks – if I’m still missing out, if there’s something I’ve yet to tap into.

Over the past 18 months or so I’ve tracked how easy and difficult it is for me to orgasm, keeping an eye out for patterns in relation to my physical and mental health, and the effect of medication and other animals. The lower the amount of medication I’m on, the easier they are – although after the reminder of life with the Black Dog, I can definitely say I’d rather have questionable orgasms than feel this unbalanced and sad and trapped in my head.

My science brain has also been confounded lately by the discovery that my thyroid is underactive, and the totally unsettling effect that’s had on my periods and the rest of my monthly hormone levels. I don’t think my G-spot is particularly happy about the thyroid development; it’s been somewhat touchy for a few months, to the extent that a couple of my previous favourite toys have become rather neglected because they now rub me up the wrong way.

Anyway. Yes, I keep an eye on my orgasms.

They’re incredibly focused and concentrated around my genitals and clit. My legs stop working for a little while afterwards, but short of managing to pull my hamstring every now and then I don’t feel anything beyond a very small radius of the area being stimulated.

The constant is the vaginal contractions. They’re strong – enough, ironically, to make me pee, as well as to stop the flow – and do more to make me shudder than any other part of the orgasm. Imagine having a goose walk over your grave.

Bearing in mind the sensitivity issues I know I have, is it possible that with all the other stimulation going on I came physically, but the message didn’t reach my brain?

Why not accepting anorgasmia doesn’t mean wanting orgasms all the time

It occurred to me when I was writing about feeling sexy but frustrated that I should talk in more detail about anorgasmia. I really didn’t want to have to link to Wikipedia again, but finding a decent alternative one-stop resource was nigh on impossible.

Fortunately, proving that I’m totally down with the zeitgeist (or, you know, just not that unusual – which is a scandal in itself), there’ve been some fantastic blogs lately about sex and depression, and medication-related anorgasmia.

Until the past month, my go-tos on this subject have been Epiphora and Redhead Bedhead. But then along came Crista Anne’s #OrgasmQuest. Read Rachel Kramer Bussel’s take on it for the Philadelphia City Paper, Jezebel’s article (this comment in particular reads like it was written by my life-twin) and Crista’s blog for blow-by-blow updates. I particularly love her take on partnered sex now she’s mid-quest. I’ve yet to have an orgasm through partnered sex. I’m in no rush – I have too much fun simply enjoying the ride – and it’s great to read about other people experiencing that too.

As Crista says, when explaining the quest, it’s not about demanding an orgasm every time, or trying to heal the depression with sex.

For me, at any rate, it’s about de-stigmatising sex. It’s about de-stigmatising mental health. It’s about those of us who are brave enough, determined enough (shameless enough?), to broadcast it as loud as we can that there are side effects to the pills that are supposed to give us our lives back – side effects that can take away the parts of our lives that made the rest bearable, that other patients might not feel able to talk about, leaving them miserable in a whole different way.

It’s about being able to say “no, this isn’t me” – and getting that accepted more widely, in the same way that it’s now accepted (mostly) that feeling like a zombie is not normal or desirable.

Living well does not mean living a partly muted life.

So much fell into place when I got my sex drive back, when I could start working out what I liked and what I didn’t, why it had been so miserable for me before – and I refused to believe that all those people enjoying it were doing so in spite of numbness and/or fingernails-down-the-blackboard oversensitivity (occasionally I managed both at the same time. That was fun). Getting my sex drive back – then getting my orgasms back – did as much for my mental health, my general wellbeing, my ability to deal with the rest of life, as did treating the mental symptoms and getting good counselling.

Like Lady Laid Bare I’ve never had an orgasm free of SSRIs. But then I’ve never had good mental health without them either, not as a grown up. Given the choice between not having orgasms or not being a functioning member of society, there’s no competition. But I’m wholeheartedly in agreement with her when she says:

It is your life and you have every right to question your current treatment and look for a better way of going about it.

Abso-bloody-lutely.