A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to a attend a small event to “discuss women’s sexual wellbeing in today’s culture and the myths associated with this subject”. It’s an interesting topic and one which I could debate on for hours when I have an appropriate space filled with interested people, so I said yes and hoped that the discussion would at the very least as enlightening as those I’ve had during classes at Sh! or with my friends after a derailed Facebook discussion or glass of wine. This particular event was sponsored by Smile Makers* and the discussion was hosted by Kate Monro, author of Losing It: How We Popped Our Cherry Over the Last 80 Years so I figured that, at the very least, there would be some interesting talk about our formative sexual experiences.
I arrived at Charlotte Street Hotel’s library and was introduced to a handful of other writers before Kate kicked off the evening by reading from one of the anonymous accounts in her book. She revealed that it had become clear after a number of interviews that, in much the same way that people’s definition of sex differs, everyone interviewed appeared to have a slightly different definition of virginity and how they consider themselves to have lost it. We went on to share a few stories of our own and the discussion warmed up pretty quickly. After speaking to British people who lost their virginity at some point over the last 80 years, Kate’s advice would be “don’t focus on ticking boxes – focus on pleasure.” Wise words indeed.
Back in 2011, I wrote about attending a debate at the Institute of Psychiatry on whether female sexual dysfunction is fact or fiction and it was a fascinating discussion, but I didn’t think that this particular soiree would venture into such technical territory – how wrong I was! Before long, we were discussing how scientific research into female sexuality was extremely heteronormative and appeared to offer a very ‘male’ perspective on our bodies and desires. We then touched on the tricky fact that, in many societies, women are still expected to protect themselves from rape rather than the infinitely more logical approach of educating everyone not to rape. We went on to discuss evolution, desire, consent and communication, plus how tricky it is for young people to negotiate their sexuality – with regard to sex ed, the emotional side of sex/relationships, and the pressure on young girls to be ‘sexy’. We also spoke about how Fifty Shades of Grey offers a dull and abusive view of bad BDSM but it has had a wider effect, potentially allowing more women to feel able to discuss their fantasies in a way they had not previously thought possible. The fantasies of the Nancy Friday books featured a lot in the discussions after this.
After a while I stopped taking notes but I was left with one lasting thought – we really need to make time in our lives for discussions regarding sex. Whether it’s talking to a partner about what you want, discussing broader issues surrounding consent with our friends, or speaking to under 16s about where they can go for more information, we shouldn’t be afraid to discuss issues surrounding sex and sexuality. The more we hide it away, the more problematic it becomes. As Salt-N-Pepa said, “don’t decoy, avoid, or make void the topic, cuz that ain’t gonna stop it.” Instead, why not keep talking in order to help everyone have the kinds of sex they want to be having?
*Smile Makers describe themselves as producing “the friendliest collection of vibrators on the planet” and, as a brand, aim to promote women’s sexual wellbeing.