Forest, Friendship, Freedom

Here’s the second of the photos from mine and @19syllables’s autumn adventure last week. Words and photo by her, body mine! Anyone who knows me will guess these words made me weepy happy. 

A trip in the woods with Exposing40 is a many faceted joy. During the times I’ve been out with her on photography adventures I’ve learned so much. It seems hackneyed but I’ve definitely grown because of it, both for myself, and in my attitude and knowledge of others. The comments that people write on her blog are so positive but sometimes those words make me feel that the pictures don’t tell the whole story. I think they paint a scene of calm and oneness with ourselves and nature. But although there is happiness it’s perhaps not as zen as you might think.

There is so much laughing. Actual hooting. Naked, joyful hooting. Right at the moment we should be super-quiet and inconspicuous.  

There’s tip-toeing barefoot (bare-arsed) over the spikey beech nuts on the forest floor (“ooh, oww yeesh, gah!”). There’s the moment she asked me (from where she’s lying on the forest floor) how the pictures are looking and I accidentally say she looks “a little bit like roadkill” and we laugh that silent sort of laughing when tears well up in your eyes and you can’t make any noise. I backtrack:

“No, no, not roadkill. Not roadkill at all. Maybe something out of one of those Scandinavian TV thrillers..”

We hold onto our naked sides to as if to stem the laughing from bursting out of us and rethink the shot. There’s forgetting which tree we’ve left our clothes behind. There’s E40 so sweetly reminding me to focus the shots and maybe wear my reading glasses which I’m consistently failing to do because I am having So. Much. Damn. Fun. There’s discovering we’ve lost E40’s knickers, retracing our steps only to find them hanging on a twig, jaunty and triumphant, aloft in the breeze like a standard to nudity, and her whooping through the idyllic dappled shade “Hooray! I found them!”

Afterwards, I’m brimming with a special sort of wellness that can only be achieved through forests and friendships and freedom.

Sinful Sunday

Excess Fluid

“For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.” Peter 4:3

There is nothing sinful about this photo, but the truth of the matter is the amount of this fluid consumed last night means there is zero chance of any creativity from me today. But I haven’t missed a Sinful Sunday since I started in February 2015 and today won’t be the first week that I do! 

I had always intended to shoot a Sinful Sunday at Exhibit A and Livvy’s wedding, but while last night’s pouring rain would have made for a great fluid shot, it didn’t make for an appealing or practical late night photo in the orchard! So here is some wine and bubbles and a view of their beautiful marquee instead!

I love how many of my photo posts are not just photos but records of happy times and adventures had with friends old and new. It’s become something of a diary. So although there’s no nudity this week I am very happy to have this diary entry. Yesterday was truly special and you both looked beautiful and so happy. It was a delight and privilege to be part of the day. Congratulations and lots and lots of love. Xx

Sinful Sunday

Candlelit Dinner 

Exhibit A and I have got indulgent lazy evenings at mine down to a fine art. Cooking for someone who is an enthusiastic lover of food is a joy, we always open one more bottle than is strictly necessary and our Spotify game is strong.

Two weeks away from his wedding I wanted our evening to be a little bit different. To have an extra flavour of celebration. So I decided to introduce some candlelight. But I don’t really do traditional romantic gestures so the candles didn’t illuminate our meal. They were the after dinner entertainment instead…

The candles are from Kandles by Kitten and they really are a wonderful treat. Exceptional value and beautifully packaged.

Sinful Sunday

On scheduling sex…

Will you write a post about scheduling sex?”

A request at the tail end of a regular boozy Friday sushi night I have with one of my oldest and closest friends. As is typical for our Friday nights these days, our evening ended with sex talk. Or rather, talk about sex! Our nights out are gloriously formulaic. Booze. Sushi. More booze. More of the same sushi dish because we love it so much. All while rattling through updates on work, politics, mutual friends, family. By the time the plates are pushed to the side and it’s just a steady flow of booze that we don’t really need any more of, we are onto our two favourite topics – book recommendations and talking sex.

The giveaway words in the paragraph above are ‘these days’. Until a couple of years ago the final drunken chat was always just about books. Sure we touched on husbands (well, one husband – hers) and dating stories (mine) but we didn’t talk about sex. What changed? I told her about this blog. She’s one of a handful of offline girlfriends who know about Exposing 40 and without doubt I now talk about sex with all of them in a way we didn’t previously. And I don’t mean the bawdy indiscreet chat that often characterises the way women talk about sex in popular culture, I mean enriching, revealing and occasionally therapeutic talk.

A friend talking about marrying a man with whom they don’t have the most exciting sex but whom they thought would be a good husband and father. Another saying it seems like we are living our sex lives in reverse, mine getting kinkier, hers less so. One opening up about wanting to explore sex with women and asking about what experiences I’d had. All of these conversations born out of chat about my blog. I don’t believe they would have happened without it. Do I believe these conversations matter to these women? Absolutely.

The subject of scheduling sex started with my friend saying “you have so much more sex than me”. “I’m sure I don’t,” I replied. “But if I do it’s only because I plan it.” There followed a conversation about scheduling sex and why (given her 10 hour days, husband with unusual working hours and two small children) it might be a good for her. She found every possible reason why scheduling a regular time for sex wouldn’t work and I understood the resistance. It doesn’t sound particularly sexy and we all like to think that the kick off point for sex is far more spontaneous and passionate than that.

But the truth is for so many of us it isn’t. As we roll into our forties careers and businesses are often at their most demanding, families are young and parents are getting older. We may have settled into relationship structures that might mean we don’t live with partners. Or we are living many miles apart and seeing them infrequently. And it may not be very glamourous to acknowledge but we’re also just a lot more tired! There are two outcomes here – you can let sex drift or you can put more effort into making it happen.

Whether you’ve agreed to shove the kids in front of a DVD every Sunday morning or you make sure you always have a plan with a partner you live apart from to look forward to, the problem with scheduling sex is that sometimes when the time comes you just don’t feel like it. I have joked before about being hungover horny on my own on a Sunday but more interested in pasta and pesto by the time date night rolls round on a Tuesday. My response to not really feeling in the mood? Fuck anyway!

This might not sit well with some people. Why have sex if you don’t really want to? Are you allowing yourself to be forced into something or, worse, forcing a partner into something they don’t want? I am absolutely not advocating that. But if it’s more just a case of feeling a bit ‘meh’ then I will almost always choose to quell that feeling. I seem incapable of writing a long post without dropping a running analogy in somewhere, but I liken this to not really wanting to shove on your trainers and head out on a training run after a long day at work. As runners will know, however much you don’t feel like going out you will rarely regret it and you’ll almost always feel better for making yourself do it.

I make plans to see partners a good two or three of weeks in advance. All of our work, social and other relationship commitments, plus some of their childcare responsibilities, demand this. (Although to be honest, even without all those considerations I would still want to plan ahead – not having things to look forward to makes me unhappy). I won’t know how I’m going to feel by the time those plans roll round. But if I am not feeling horny on the day I don’t want to give into the desire to just not bother because we may not see each other for another two or three weeks. It’s not just about the sex or the orgasms (I can get on with the latter just fine on my own), it’s about investing in intimacy, in the part of our relationship that is about more than being friends, in the joy and restorative effect of skin on skin contact.

I haven’t always been that good at communicating how important the casual intimacy is to me. I have had ridiculous snotty crying meltdowns because a partner didn’t want to fuck and I read it as rejection, only to later admit that I wasn’t really feeling horny either. I am not proud of that but I am getting better at being less emotional in how I talk about sex and I am also more confident about saying ‘look, whatever sex either of us is having with other people and with whatever frequency, I still expect us to invest in each other.’ They’re not always easy conversations to have but they are almost always worth it.

The request to write this post actually came 18 months ago so why am I finally writing it now? Well, a couple of weeks ago I attended the press and blogger launch of the Scarlet Ladies #ITalkSex campaign. At the end of the event we were all asked to tell the room why we talked sex. I said that I talk sex because it should be a joyful happy thing but too many people have anxieties about it; talking can help dispel them. I include myself in ‘many people’. Choosing to articulate some of my experiences on these pages helps me think through my responses to situations so I can better understand myself. That in turn helps me feel more at peace with myself and have more constructive conversations with partners.

When I think about some of my more personal posts I am reminded how swiftly others have come forward in solidarity or with a ‘me too’ sigh of relief when I’ve talked about an issue that also chimes with them. Whether it’s relationship status, orgasms or being childfree. What this blog has taught me is that we are rarely alone in our perspectives or our insecurities. If the posts we all write here, in our relatively small community, are helping women (and men!) to feel less alone, have the confidence to be more honest about their expectations or to try new things, imagine what could be achieved in sex and body positivity if we started talking more freely and honestly with those who aren’t also sex bloggers?

A few days after the launch event I was out with my friend who requested this post and told her I was finally getting round to writing it. “Do you talk about sex more now I have my blog?”, “Er, YES,” she replied, snort laughing. I asked her if it was helpful. Her reply? “I find it far easier to talk to my husband about sex now and to bring up the things that are bothering me since I started talking these things through with you.” Testimony!

The #ITalkSex Campaign brings together women from every walk of life. We are united by our belief that by talking openly about what we need, how we feel or what we’ve gone through, we are helping women everywhere to find the confidence and empowerment to accept and love themselves for who they really are. If you want to find out more visit the #ITalkSex campaign website to learn more about how we can all get involved and be part of this movement. Follow @scarletladies and the #ITalkSex hashtag to stay up to date with the chat, including these great posts from Livvy and Tabitha.

The Scarlet Ladies are having what will surely be a brilliant #ITalkSex party on Tuesday 12th September at their beautiful home 23 Paul Street. If you’re not based in London but want to join in the chat our favourite purveyor of filth, @GirlOnTheNet, is hosting a Twitter party at 20.30.