Hello! Thanks for stopping by. I’ve (finally!) switched to self-hosting so that hopefully my photos and words are safe from being taken down by the folk at WordPress if they discover there’s *whisper* breasts and bottoms and penises here. From now on posts will automatically publish at Exposing40.com but for all of you who’ve linked to my work over the last four years, this content will stay live so all the links are safe! Thanks to @domsigns for helping the switch happen so seemlessly!
This weekend’s prompt was published just a few days before Exhibit A and I had our first evening at mine since his daughter was born. Our first evening at mine since late November, in fact. I was excited and also bizarrely nervous – I had butterflies in my belly as I was waiting for my doorbell to go! I hadn’t missed him as such; in the intervening three months we’d had our wonderful photo adventure with Livvy, a close-to-his-with-phone-at-hand steak dinner in the in-between period between due date and arrival date, wine tasting for my birthday and drinks before my East Africa trip. And of course there’s been opportunities to meet Martha and see Livvy too. In short, from where I’m sat, he – they! – have done a spectacular job of balancing and tending all parts of their life and I have so much admiration for their little unit of three (or five counting the cats!).
So although I hadn’t really missed him, I was excited because, of course, despite the happy memories created in the intervening three months, I was more than ready to hang out naked with a glass of wine in hand. I was probably nervous because I wondered would it be the same? Would the casual intimacy that’s been fine-tuned over the years still be there or had I suggested an evening at mine too soon and would he rather be at home with his two best girls? I needn’t have worried – with the same pre-dinner snacks I always buy laid out on the table (but with Prosecco upgraded to Champagne to toast Martha) muscle memory kicked in and it was the same as ever. Before I knew it we were opening our usual bottle for the road and the Manics were on Spotify.
So, back to the photo. The prompt had come out a few days earlier and during my flight home from Kenya I’d been pondering ideas for a double exposure incorporating both of us. I love a circular story and I liked the idea of picking up where this post had left things. In the event, I completely forgot to even mention my ideas, never mind try and articulate them. At one point he called from the bedroom, “perhaps you’d like to photograph this” and I did try, but I was also cooking dinner and, well, if you’ve got to decide between photographing a hot man wanking or saving the dinner, you save the dinner. Well you do in our world! A few days later though I thought, “bollocks, I forgot about the prompt week photos!” I still liked the idea of doing something with the two of us so I rummaged around in my archives to find a photo first used almost two years ago and then shot my own version to blend it. I quite like the effect of it!
“She had a shotgun wedding.”
“She’s living in sin.”
“She’s just his bit on the side.”
One late September Saturday in 1983 around 100 of my grandparents’ friends and family gathered for a 50th wedding anniversary party that my Mum and her siblings had organised. It remained a surprise until the Friday afternoon when my Aunt told my Nan that there was a hair appointment booked for her on the following morning. On hearing the news my Nan broke her heart crying and revealed a secret that she’d kept for 49 years. You see, they hadn’t married in 1933, they’d married in 1934, just six months before their eldest child was born. For almost half a century my grandparents had been lying to their children and friends, hiding the shame of their ‘shotgun wedding.’ In the face of this very public celebration the mask finally crumbled and my Nan confessed that we were celebrating a year early. But she swore that Aunt to secrecy and the rest of her children only found out five years later when their parents died within a few months of each other.
Almost 80 years to the day after that 1934 wedding I was sat in my local pub chatting to a then partner about the news that had come out of his country that day; America’s Supreme Court had allowed same sex marriages to stand in five states meaning for the first time more Americans lived in states where these unions were legal than not. That evening he stated his view that “non monogamy is going to be the next relationship structure to come into the spotlight and upset the status quo.” “What makes you say that?” I asked. He argued that people have always gossiped about and judged other people’s relationships and that as each one becomes more socially acceptable (and disparaging the people in them becomes less acceptable) it paves the way for something new to bear the brunt of judgment. “Think about it,” he said. “Having a child out of wedlock used to be the worse thing that could happen, but imagine calling a child a bastard now? And living in sin – you’d never say that these days.” His view was the legalisation of same sex marriage marriage would mean another paradigm shift and the door was now open for non-monogamous couples to out themselves and ‘enjoy’ a period of being the object of fascination and fear.
I can’t really decide whether he was incredibly astute or over simplifying things and bloody lucky in the timing of his statement, but it’s undeniable that in the last five years ethical non-monogamy and polyamory has been enjoying its moment in the spotlight. There’s an increasing amount of coverage in the mainstream media, some of the most popular dating apps have introduced the opportunity to declare your non-monogamous status and more people are coming out about their relationship structures to family and friends. And, as he predicted, there’s backlash.
While it would seem inconceivable in 2019 to make asides about ‘shotgun weddings’ or ‘living in sin’, comments like ‘she’s his bit on the side’ still prevail and they carry the same weight of casual thoughtless judgement. I read something recently where someone talked about poly men “pretending to be enlightened and sex-positive and forward-thinking when really it’s just them wanting to stick their dicks into as many women as possible.” A couple of weeks ago LoveLustLondon tweeted an OKC comment where someone’s blanket message to non-monogamous folk was “don’t even think about messaging me and good luck catching an STD.” Comments like these are not prejudiced on the scale of homophobia or racism, but they are prejudiced nonetheless and can be deeply hurtful to non-monogamous people. And they are lazy. People who make them are invariably lashing out and making no effort to understand or respect the dynamic and hard work that goes into successful open relationships.
Of course, there are some people who are using the increasing profile of non-monogamy and tick boxes on apps to behave in an entirely unethical way. Tech can facilitate in a far more efficient way the same poor behaviour that drunk Saturday nights with mates or late nights at the office used to pave the way for. Humans have always and will always behave like arseholes sometimes. A while back a few of us got involved in a Twitter chat defending poly in light of someone claiming that it’s being evangelised. Exhibit A said at the time: “The pseudo-poly guys and opportunists on dating apps are assholes, but ‘it seems to be all over the media and it’s the evangelical ones who shout loudest’ is exactly what people used to say about homosexuality: “why do they need to shove it down our throats, etc”.
To extrapolate the point Exhibit A made, to those people who make snide comments about poly being trendy or poly people just wanting to fuck everything that walks, I would suggest they replace poly with ‘gay people’ and check whether their comments stand up to scrutiny. If your comments are stigmatising someone and how they are honestly and consensually living their life then you may want to interrogate your attitude rather than their lifestyle.
Last weekend, knowing this post was in the pipeline, I asked Twitter what their experiences were. I could have written this post just sharing people’s responses. I think the one that made me saddest was The Curious Mermaid who said: “The more I read of these tweets, the more I feel that I’m right to still be in the closet about non-mon as far as work acquaintances and parents are concerned.” I hope in time it becomes as acceptable to talk about your different partners without raising eyebrows as it is to now say you’re moving in with someone. I’m unlikely to ever experience the half a century of shame that my Nan did when she became pregnant with her first child, but I also look forward to the day when describing me as someone’s ‘bit on the side’ becomes as unlikely and unacceptable as discussing that someone is living in sin.
This was meant to be posted in time for the fear prompt last week but time ran away with me. Here it is a week late!
Photo courtesy of Katteroo
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“Don’t stop,” I repeat, sitting back on heels and dropping my camera to my lap for moment.
It’s a warm spring day and we’ve been walking in the woods for a couple of hours, chatting aimlessly while also keeping an eye out for hidden spots away from the main path. We’ve found one. Our usual drill follows – I test a couple of frames and angles while you undress. Moving into position you reach down and give your cock a couple of swift strokes. You’ve no intention of getting yourself hard, it’s just part of what you do to get camera ready. It always makes my cunt pulse. I usually ignore how damn hot it is and just focus on getting the shot, but today I don’t want to.
I’m on my knees, ready to get the angle I wanted for my photo and looking up at you against the trees has brought the image of Lutz Wanking to mind. It’s no secret that Tillmans is one of my favourite photographers (I’ve used his work as inspiration before, after all) but the Lutz Wanking shot is just everything. A naked man, wanking for the camera, in the woods. It’s got me written all over it.
“I want you to wank. Here. In the woods. For my camera.”
Your expression is a mixture of disbelief and mild discomfort. An exhibitionist you may be but there’s a difference between the risk of being caught naked and apologetically passing it off as an art project and being caught wanking. For a moment I think you’re going to refuse but you hold my gaze, spit in your palm and move your hand back to your cock. Your jaw is set and you look almost annoyed by the situation but as your cock hardens your face softens.
I watch. I watch as your body relaxes into the pleasure. I see your knees sag slightly and your eyes close as you tilt your head back and lean against the tree. I take in the sheen across your chest and the colour rising in your neck. Your rhythm changes and I clench my cunt in time to the brief pauses in the short staccato pumps of your hand.
As the grunts rise from your chest I raise my camera to my face and capture the shot I’ve fantasised about.
In the small hours of Sunday morning, sleepless in a hot mosquito ridden room in Nairobi, playing this scene in my head resulted in a deliciously intense orgasm. A few hours later I read this week’s Wicked Wednesday prompt. It seemed too much of a coincidence to not share this fantasy with you. I hope to make my tribute photograph a reality soon though!
Lutz Wanking, Wolfgang Tillmans, 1991
Me: I still have ‘big scary post’ on my list.
EA: You really need to just write that
Me: I’m basically never going to write that post, am I? Not unless there’s some celibacy prompt on Wicked Wednesday or something that I won’t be able to ignore.
I periodically like to brainstorm blog ideas with Exhibit A and it’s often successful, but this time it came back to bite me on the bum. By the time we’d finished dinner Marie had emailed him to confirm that celibacy was now on the list of future prompts. Stitch up. Possibly. But the fact is this blog is four years old next month and I’ve had ‘big scary post’ on my list of things to write for almost as long. So why have I taken nearly four years to write this and why, when I sat down on Monday evening to write it, did I almost sabotage it by purposely letting myself get upset by something entirely unrelated? How exactly did it come to be called ‘big scary post’ anyway?
If I’m honest I think it’s because I was (am?) ashamed. Ashamed and embarrassed to write about a period of my life where I didn’t have sex for five years. Then, after that drought was broken, went on to only have a handful of flings over the following few years. Nine years where I could, if I thought about it for not too long, probably remember every occasion that I had sex. There is no reason to feel ashamed about this, I had done nothing wrong. Thankfully, there was no distressing reason for it either – no abusive relationship in my past and I wasn’t harbouring an unrequited love or nursing heartbreak. I wasn’t being unnecessarily unkind so that karma got me (sorry, but I totally believe in karma!) and I didn’t have sex on a pedestal. I was just a normal late twenties woman who’d had a couple of infatuations, a small love, a big love and a good amount of fun casual sex during the ‘Camden party days’. That my sex life dried up was entirely circumstantial.
First off, marriage and babies happened. Not for but me but for all the people I used to party with. There is a period during your late twenties and early thirties where you are on a merry-go-round of hen dos, weddings and new baby celebrations. The life that you knew momentarily becomes hijacked by celebrations of other people’s milestones. Of course, this is wonderful, but if you’re not on that path you emerge slightly bewildered that your own life has ‘settled down’ against your will and with you as a solo player. For a while, if you want to stay close to your oldest friends you swap stumbling home at 3am with tales to tell for a bottle of wine on their sofa and interrupted conversation. (Spoiler: the storm passes and before you know it they’ll be up for stumbling home at 3am again and if you’re really lucky you’ll have some new friends in the shape of their children.)
I also chose that time to start working in a sector with a higher than average proportion of women and gay men. My now business partner (who I met at work) was the only man in a department of 30 women. My (gay male) desk mate once looked up at the huge open plan office and said “do you know, we can only see seven men from our desk and they’re all gay.” I wasn’t likely to meet a string of suitors for casual affairs at work!
“What about online dating?” I hear you cry. Mmm. I refer you to the age rings in my trunk and ask you to count the years backwards! Online dating was fledgling back then. I joined Dating Direct and Guardian Soulmates and every so often I half-heartedly went on a dates but those sites largely filled me with doom. The fundamental flaw with them was they assumed that everyone was looking for ‘the one’ and people behaved accordingly. Namely, in a tedious this-is-how-a-first-date-should-be-done way. If that wasn’t your bag there weren’t really any options 15 years ago. I still remember the straw that broke the camel’s back. I spotted a hot bloke on Soulmates and clicked on his profile. “I wake up to Radio 4 and go to sleep to Radio 6”. Really? REALLY? Your opener is going to be that self-conscious? I didn’t hang around to read the rest but I am sure if I had got to sentence three I would have discovered that on a Saturday evening he liked to curl up with a bottle of red wine and a DVD.
Apps for hooking up and sites where you could be more nuanced in your preferences were way in the future. In hindsight, I am sure there were numerous like-minded men who would have been more than happy with the kind of relationship that I now know suits me but those conversations were not happening in the early noughties. At 30 the idea that I would one day use apps to seek out men who were specifically looking for a secondary partner rather than ‘the one’, or couples looking for a regular play partner would have been inconceivable. That tech did not yet exist and my social life had shrunk to nights in with mates and nights out after work with colleagues and I just slipped into a place of acceptance that sex wasn’t part of my life.
So, if I can objectively look at the personal, professional and tech environment that I was operating in and recognise the circumstantial nature of my celibacy, why do I still feel shame about it? And why was it a ‘big scary post’ for so long? I think it was scary because however much I can rationalise why it happened there is still a part of me that sees it as a reflection on me. I am embarrassed that I accepted without much of a fight the loss of something so important and fun. And I worry that all the rational reasons I use to explain why it happened are just hot air. That actually it might be that I just wasn’t hot and that people didn’t fancy me. That thought casts the longest shadow.
There is much about my physical self that I love. I love my height, my legs, my arse, my hair and my face does a very good job of reflecting who I am on the inside. I don’t like my belly or my tits but generally as a whole package I can live with what I’ve got. But I don’t really believe I am hot. And that lack of confidence in my physical appeal bleeds into sexual confidence. I equate being good at sex with being physically appealing and as long as I don’t really believe I am physically appealing I don’t really believe I am good at sex. I should say at this point that I think I suck cock like a boss and I have awesome partners who work hard to reassure me that I am hot and good and that I should just shut the fuck up about all of this, but the voices in our head linger.
So what changed? How did I emerge from a sex-free decade to the life I have now? At 36 I became self-employed. I joined a host of freelance networking groups and bobbed about all over London meeting new people. Overnight I had new circles of friends, all in the mid-thirties to late forties ball park and virtually all of them committed to nurturing just one baby – their business. I had a found a new tribe and they shared my priorities. Within months I was having a fling with a fellow freelancer. Then in early 2012 I was on a contract where idle lunchtime chat with a fellow consultant led to her saying, “You haven’t heard of OKC? Oh my God – it’s amazing! I am having so much sex!” And the rest as they say is history. There I have met many more like-minded people, one of whom led me to this tribe.
The app can get a bad rap and people can be inappropriate but I don’t really see a whole lot of difference between a drunk bloke in the pub pinching my arse and saying my dress would look better on his bedroom floor (hello North Wales circa 1995!) and someone being suggestive in an app. They’re certainly easier to mute in an app than the pub! I think of OKC as being like the flirty parties and pubs of my twenties. I don’t give a fuck what radio station you listen to and I like watching movies on my own. Some flirting and some suggestive chat as a gateway to some drinking and fucking suits me fine. Would I have had the wilderness years that I did had something like OKC existed in 2003? Probably not. Am I bitter that it didn’t exist 15 years ago? Hell yes!
So now I am in the happy place that I am – with one regular partner who I value deeply and other more casual affairs that come in and out of my life according to how my diary is dictated by my business (roll on April when work quietens down for six months and I’ll be looking for this year’s spring/summer flings!) – I have finally written this post. How do I feel? Relieved to be honest. That period of my life sometimes makes me feel a bit of fraud in this community and, like I said, the long shadow affects my self-confidence at times when I feel more vulnerable. But something I have learnt here over the last four years is that almost every time I have worn my heart on my sleeve someone has popped up to echo my sentiments or to express relief that they are not alone. Part of what makes this community strong is how honest people are and how giving they are of their own experiences in supporting others. It’s kind of a relief to look at this secret, take a deep breath and chuck it in the fuck it bucket.