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.

After the Flood

photo-23-01-2017-13-39-46My periods started when I was 12. Summer 1987. My stepmum (who can be a bit Victorian!) put me to bed with tomato soup and a hot water bottle. I was thoroughly confused. I felt absolutely fine and was somewhat flummoxed about being sent to bed as if I was sick. Generally speaking the subsequent thirty years followed much the same pattern – not the being sent to bed bit, the feeling absolutely fine bit! For three decades I’ve never suffered any sort of PMT and can count on two hands (probably one, actually) the number of times I’ve had significant period pain. I occasionally get a bit teary or inhale a bar of chocolate a couple of days before I am due, but that’s the extent of the problem periods ever caused me.

Until about 3.5 years ago, that is. Up until that point my periods had always been light with a couple of slightly heavier days in the middle. Then, one Saturday in summer 2013, came the flood. It gushed. And when I say gushed I mean it flowed like water with clots the size of eggs. My flatmate at the time asked if I was having a miscarriage. A couple of hours later it was all over. ‘Odd’, I thought, then didn’t give it much more thought. Until nine months later.

A new cycle had started where every six to nine months I would have a catastrophic period. And when I say catastrophic I mean being stood with a friend in Covent Garden and feeling my jeans soak down to the knees within 10 minutes; changing a super plus extra tampon three times during a 15 minute train journey; wrapping myself in towels like a nappy and being afraid to fall asleep because I was staying in a friend’s daughter’s bed. And do you know what? I didn’t do anything about it. It just became the pattern I got used to and planned for. I knew if I was going to have a flood then nine times out of ten it would happen on day three and so when a few months had passed and I knew a heavy one was due I would start to adjust my plans for that day – not scheduling work meetings or social plans, sleeping on towels. When it happened I’d have a few hours of chaos then breathe a sigh of relief, knowing I had a few months respite ahead.

I don’t know why I didn’t do anything about it for so long. I am certainly not squeamish or embarrassed about these things. Avoiding their exact name to hopefully prevent Google showing a client my arse, for four years I have worked for the body that produces guidelines and sets the clinical standards, training and examinations for women’s health in UK and further afield. I have made training films for them, filmed caesareans and abortions, met women they support in Africa who have endured horrific complications in childbirth and who don’t have access to the simple things we take for granted – smear tests, contraception.

If I was pushed to say why I didn’t walk the five minutes across the park at the end of my road to my GP, I would probably say it was because I had found my way of dealing with it. Or that going to the doctors because of heavy periods when we see so much about the NHS being at breaking point was just, well, a bit lame. But it was lame not to go. And it wasn’t a body positive decision. For me, body positivity shouldn’t just be about accepting your natural shape and what you look like, it should also be about looking after the mechanics of your body so it works its hardest for you. Yet every few months I was adjusting my life to fit around a medical condition that was easily fixable.

So what happened? Well a few of us bloggers were out last summer when, with no word, I got up, left the pub and dashed to the nearest shop. Having had a flood only three months earlier I wasn’t expecting another so soon. Returning to the table to a chorus of ‘where did you go?’ I ended up sharing some of my horror stories. To cut a long story short the marvellous Dr Livvy imparted some sharp words of wisdom of which two things stuck in my mind: “Could you confidently wear white trousers during your period?” and “if not go to your GP and ask them to refer you for a scan.” Two days later as I stood in a graveyard washing my legs under a church tap I realised the problem was escalating and decided to heed her advice. Six months on I sit here having had “a multitude” (to quote the gynaecologist) of polyps removed. A Mirena Coil that went in as they came out should prevent them returning. The operation took half an hour, I was discharged within three hours and have had no pain or bleeding. The growths are at the lab but polyps are rarely malignant so that concern isn’t really on my radar. Do I feel daft for leaving it this long? Of course!

I already was, to be honest. Back in December, over lunch with the aforementioned client, I was talking about my upcoming op and confessed sheepishly to my years of ignoring the problem. She’s the clinical lead on the organisation’s global health strategy and often brings an international perspective to chat. Her response was to talk about African women being three times more likely to suffer fibroids which, if left untreated, can lead to a hysterectomy. With surgical facilities in many countries scarce or dysfunctional, more widely available Mirena Coils that could help prevent fibroids would have a profound impact on outcomes for many women. She also talked about cervical cancer being the fastest growing threat to women’s health in developing countries – 90% of deaths occur in countries where there is limited access to cervical screening. Her chat was a gentle reminder to me that in ignoring what was going on with my own body I was also ignoring what a privilege it is to have this advice and treatment readily available.

And for many women that advice and treatment is even further away now than it was when she and I had lunch last month. On Monday, as I slumbered happily under general anaesthetic having a quick, safe, free procedure, Trump re-enacted the Mexico City Policy. The policy means any international organisation that provides or promotes abortion services – regardless of how those services are funded – is prohibited from receiving US funds. This doesn’t just affect the provision of abortion, which would be bad enough. Organisations providing other women’s health services, such as contraception and smear tests, will lose funding for all their services if they also provide abortion services. Marie Stopes International has already said it cannot agree to the conditions. In the next 12 months its partnership with USAID would have helped them reach 1.5 million women in some of the world’s poorest countries. Its predictions on what the loss of its services could mean over the four years of Trump’s term are terrifying.

The world of women’s health was different when I left hospital than it had been when I arrived six hours earlier. These last couple of days have reminded me that we must be vigilant about our own health but over the coming years we will also need to keep supporting organisations who provide services to women around the world.

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Death Maths

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” Mark Twain

I read an article back in the summer called My middle-age dread. The article pissed me off, to be honest, the writer being more concerned with lamenting how cool she used to be rather than sharing anything particularly insightful about life in your forties. What did amuse me was the concept of death maths and reaching the point in life where the law of averages means you become closer to the end than the beginning. Statistically speaking my life expectancy is 83. I read that article one week before I turned 41.5. ‘Wow!’ I thought, ‘I am exactly halfway through.’

But why start the countdown so soon?

Next Wednesday I will be at a funeral. A friend’s mother. We will travel to the funeral in a converted Routemaster bus, the coffin in the bottom and us on the top deck. After the service we will party in a village hall decorated with palm trees, drink champagne and eat paella. My friend’s Mum died of a very rare cancer. She could expect about a year from diagnosis. That was six years ago. Since then she’s travelled in Burma and India. In July she and my friend were in Spain, swimming in the sea and feasting on paella.

Elsewhere, the mother in law of one of my dearest and oldest friends has just gone into a hospice. They are in the most dreadful countdown of all. But amidst it all my friend’s husband is still considering running two back to back marathons in the Sahara next weekend. He’s running for a charity his Mum is a trustee for. She wants him to stick to the plan.

When this woman first got sick last year my friend and I had one of those reality check conversations about what the next ten years are likely to have in store for many of our peer group. And it will be hard. Aging parents come at a time when you’re at what can be the toughest stage of your own life. Families are young and demanding, careers are changing gears to senior management, businesses are being nurtured, mortgages are in full throttle.

Life in your forties is tiring, but it’s also brilliant. You know yourself. You are building foundations for your future. For a time when someone might run a marathon for you, or decorate a church hall with palm trees. So you have the money and freedom to backpack round Burma in your seventies, even if you’re sick. For the time you inspire someone to think that they’re not halfway to the end but that they’ve still got all that life to live again.

Of course, I would be lying if I said I never had ‘fucking hell, I’m halfway through’ moments. I’m not a total Pollyanna! My confidence with my business, my friendships, my home, is as robust as it can get without being complacent. But I am not the same with relationships or sex.

I’m happy with the relationship status I bestow on my partnerships and don’t want any greater commitment than I have, but I sometimes fret that ‘what if I suddenly decide one day that I do want true love again, not just fondness, and I am too old’. I worry that I have left it too late in life to be exploring new sides of myself and often feel silly asking for what I really want when it comes to sex. I police what I say out of fear of fallout, then get cross that a situation is making me unhappy. I sit with partners and play out in my head things I will say, do or ask for, not always fully listening to the conversation we’re having but also not letting the words out. I put up with patterns that make me sad or chip away at the confidence I try to nurture.

I know I need to change this about myself. Only I can drive that process. And if I look at what I have achieved in other areas of my life, I know I have the spirit to. I just need to grasp the nettle. But that’s just something to work through. A big thing, but not an insurmountable thing. What I have absolutely no truck whatsoever with is the point that ran through the article I mentioned at the top of this piece about no longer being cool in your forties. Fuck that!

Life changes, it doesn’t become less cool.  Cool is seeing my friends juggle all of the challenges of parenthood, raising brilliant little people who make me laugh constantly. Cool is the kitchen disco we have after they’ve gone to bed because why waste money on a babysitter when you could spend it on wine and cheese? Cool is sitting in a beer garden with a friend, talking out the challenges of self-employment. Cool is the smell of a new country when I step off a plane on a new job. Cool is running two marathons for your Mum. Cool is the party my friend is throwing for her Mum’s funeral.

Cool is situation appropriate, not age appropriate. Don’t do death maths, do life maths.

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Against All Odds

I sat down to write my niece a letter this morning. It’s her first birthday next week. Some of you will know she was born 13 weeks early, weighing just 1lb 12oz/800g, and spent the first four months of her life in neonatal intensive care. Many of you sponsored me when I ran this year’s London Marathon for a premature baby charity. 

The letter will sit in a wallet with the marathon medal that’s hers to keep. She won’t read it for many many years but I wanted to tell her how her first months felt for those looking in, how remarkable her mummy, daddy and big sister and the medical professionals were, and how surprising it was to feel this huge overwhelming love for a person you aren’t even able to meet or hold for nearly five months. I wanted her to know how many people who are unlikely to ever meet her were rooting for her. How, a year on, barely a week passes without someone asking after her. 

Against All Odds is a well worn phrase. It’s banded around in everything from war reporting to charity storytelling, in health catastrophes and, at the moment, Olympic coverage. It’s a bit hackneyed but often it just works. My niece has Chronic Lung Disease, a common condition in premature babies who are born before their lungs are fully developed. Laura Trott was born prematurely with a collapsed lung and spent the first weeks of her life in an intensive care unit. She took up sport to build her lung strength. She is regularly seen retching at the end of a race. She is the most decorated British female Olympian of all time. I will choose my words carefully when I write about that; I don’t want my niece to be overwhelmed by expectations of greatness, but I also want her to know that serious health conditions may not be a barrier to her.

Generally speaking, I’m a sucker for the ‘Against All Odds’ stories during the Olympics. Of course I love watching the predictable showstoppers, but what I think makes the Olympics so special is the moments of human spirit shining through. Do I occasionally randomly watch the Derek Redmond clip from Barcelona just for the joy of having a little cry? Er, yes (sorry, not sorry). Do I think the refugee team is one of the most amazing things about this year’s Games? Yes. Did my heart surge and eyes leak as the London 2012 crowds roared for the whole 11 minutes and 23 seconds it took Paralympian Houssein Omar Hassan to complete the 1500m race? Fuck yes!

I was a volunteer at the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. I signed up for it in 2005 during the Back the Bid campaign. I was obsessed with the Games coming to London. There are experiences in life that create a change in your attitude that’s permanent. That make you think ‘fuck it’. At the close of 2012 as friends and I watched the new year fireworks on the TV I turned to my best friend and said ‘am I the last person in the world you’d expect to run a marathon?’. ‘Yes,’ she replied, ‘but it’s you so you’re going to bloody do it aren’t you?’ Three weeks later I went for my first ever run. Fourteen months later I ran my first marathon. When I was feeling useless and tears were constant after my niece was born and I couldn’t do anything useful for her I signed up for my second one. I’ve raised nearly £11,000 now over the two marathons, all of which will go into research funded by the two charities I ran for. There is not one shred of doubt in my mind that it was volunteering at 2012 that inspired me to sign up for my first marathon. 

What I didn’t expect to happen as a result was how differently I would come to think about my body and how it looks. A bit fat? Yes, but I ran a marathon! Leg held together with two metal plates and 12 screws? Yes, but I ran a marathon. Years of thinking I was the not very attractive one? Yes, but how ridiculous! I’m amazing! That last bit is a bit tongue in cheek, but on the more serious body positivity thing, my sense of my own attractiveness and confidence in it has developed in almost direct proportion to my appreciation of what I can train my body to achieve.

What was even more of a surprise is that I have, in turn, inspired others. That is so weird to type! But two friends (and not even good friends – Facebook friends, neither of whom I’ve seen for years) emailed me to say that after following my stories on Facebook in 2014 they both started running. To date, they’ve both run two marathons. I’m not claiming to be an ‘Against All Odds’ candidate but I was definitely ‘really bloody unlikely’!! That these little seeds of ‘maybe I could do that’ are sown and flourish off the back of something as exciting and life affirming as volunteering and the collective joy of watching sport makes me so happy. That some of us look upon another, whether it’s an Olympian, Paralympian or someone you haven’t seen since university, and think ‘I’ll give it a go’ is amazing. One of my favourite things to come out of 2012 is a group of staff at the disability charity where I was working during that summer getting so excited after visiting the Paralympics they joined a running group for the learning disabled. On 4th September I’ll be cheering them on during a 10k in the Olympic Park!

I know the Olympics are horrendously tedious for some people and for them people like me are unbearable for those few weeks every four years. Some people just hate watching sport, others find the collective awe at best annoying and at worst soul-destroying, whether for personal or political reasons. But not everything can work for everyone and for these two weeks, and for two weeks next month during the Paralympics, I will happily soak up the ‘Against All Odds’ narrative. 

As for my niece? She’s still here, that’s what matters most. Who knows what she’ll do or become over the next few decades. She may never take up any sport in her life and that’s fine, but I’m happy she has a medal in her name. I hope one day she draws strength from knowing how many people put their hands in their pockets to donate in her name and that they provided me with moral support during such a difficult time.

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Manicured

Manicure 2I emailed this photo to a partner once. If I remember correctly the subject line read ‘manicured’. A teasing photo to show off a fresh shave and a new manicure. And you know what, full disclosure – I’d applied a dab of concealer because I had an ugly spot from an ingrown hair. It glowed like a belisha beacon and to my mind didn’t make the photo that hot. I wanted his cock to twitch, not for his mind to think ‘ooh, that looks a bit painful!

But would I dab a bit of make-up on before opening the door to a lover? Errr, no! No more than I would arrange my legs as I do for a photo, or angle myself to create an allusion of cleavage that if you look at me straight on is actually more of a nice wide highway through my chest up to my neck! And no more than I would expect a lover to hold his cock as he does when creating a glorious photo, or to stand perfectly upright, legs apart in that way that’s just so spine-tinglingly hot when you see it on screen.

Erotic photos are often designed. Created to prompt a reaction – a shiver of anticipation, a lurch in the stomach, a hollow ache. And that’s fine. Photos (and film) are great for that. But if you tried to position yourself like that when you were actually in the same room, you’d just look fucking weird and, more to the point, you would be thinking so much about how you look you’d almost certainly not be in the moment.

When companies like Ann Summers create cynical events like today’s Facebook session on ‘vagina contouring’, advertised with a photo of a full make-up bag but actually promoting a ‘non surgical enhancement’, they are yet again sending a message that in real life women need to ‘beautify’ to look like the well-lit, artfully arranged, air-brushed versions they see in photos and films. Sessions like this, which I am sure the PR would try and tell you is about helping increase women’s self-confidence, just give women something else to worry about. Think about how it feels, not how it looks! If you’re interested in contours I suggest you pop into the far more sex and body positive Sh! – they’ll ply you with fizz and let you have a good old feel of Rosie the vulva puppet. She’s got a very prominent G spot – you can’t miss it!

And if you’re with a man or woman who you think you need to enhance the look of your cunt for, then I suggest dumping them. Find one whose face gets so close the odd ingrown hair is out of focus anyway, who’ll casually pick off a stray bit of tissue without fuss, who’ll ignore or giggle with you at the odd farting sound, and for whom blood is just another fluid that’s occasionally there. Someone who enjoys a real cunt, basically.

Lightweight

IMG_3880Ah, weight. That thorny issue. I almost didn’t write for this week’s Wicked Wednesday prompt because despite my blog being about body positivity, I couldn’t really think of anything to say about my own weight that didn’t make me sound smug or like an annoying motivational speaker. But actually, I do have something to say about weight. Weight isn’t fat. Fat is fat. Weight is weight and whether you’re slight and androgynous or bountifully buxom you have a weight. And you know what? I kind of think those of us whose weight tips the upper end of the scales have a louder voice in the body positivity conversation and it’s not something I am that comfortable with.

I completely understand why this is and why our right to own and celebrate our beauty and sexiness, whatever our shape or weight, should not be taken away.  And I am in no way questioning the damaging impact promoted ‘ideals’ of beauty that are pedalled by the fashion and beauty industry have on our self-esteem. I just think that in celebrating our big beauty we should be careful not to silence the voices of lighter women who have as much right to form a healthy relationship with their body as we do.

Last summer I had a conversation about this blog with a friend of a friend who is tiny in height and weight. Tears prickled in my eyes when she recounted stories of being dubbed a ‘concentrate camp victim’ at school and how now, as a Mum at the school gates, she feels excluded and judged by women talking about post-baby bodies. Of course a slim woman has as much right to talk about changes in her body as a result of motherhood as one who is trying to shift a few pounds, but do we ever really think about that? Do we think to involve slimmer women in conversations about weight or consider how they may also need a morale boost? That chat was a wakeup call  for me about the dangers of believing that because someone is slim they must be happy with their body.

And when we assume the primary reason a woman is loved is because she is slim we reduce her relationship with her partner to being about her body. We ignore her intelligence, her kindness, her spirit, that she might inspire her partner to be a better person, that they make an awesome team that’s greater than the sum of their parts. I am pretty sure nobody has ever once looked at me and thought ‘I bet he loves hanging out with her because of that big squishy belly’ so why do people so often think a partnership where a woman is slim must be built on the foundation of her body? Of course our relationships need a big dose of mutual ‘wow, you’re hot, I want to fuck you’ but the fact that most of us find a whole range of physical types attractive means chemistry and good partnerships are quite clearly about so much more than the body.

IMG_0173Slimness, also, does not equal healthiness. I sometimes quip ‘I’m fat but fit’ in reference to my ability to happily and slowly plod around 26 miles despite my belly being a homage to the awesomeness of cheese and wine. Jokes aside, I am confident about my fitness levels; I have no question in my mind that I am significantly healthier than an old flatmate who is markedly slimmer than me, yet smokes, frequently goes without meals and barely exercises. A slim but sedentary body will never be as healthy as a big one that moves.

Related to this is the bullshit notion that women exercise primarily as a way to lose weight. I am not saying it isn’t a massive motivator for some. Of course it is and that’s fine. I am currently engaged in a ridiculous programme of high intensity interval training as a way to quickly shift the results of two months of post-marathon partying. I’m cool with this. It’s problem and solution exercising. The exercise that enriches me and makes me feel mentally lighter is the running, the long walks, the quiet weekday swims in an almost empty pool. That exercise is about the whole of me, not my waistline. A slim woman expressing disappointment at not having time for a run or a gym session will often hear ‘oh, don’t worry – you don’t need to exercise’. It is meant to be encouraging but it means her exercise becomes about her weight and not about the headspace it gives her or the endorphin rush she gets or how it improves her energy or reduces stress.

I don’t think anyone who is likely to be reading this blog has ever intentionally made a slim person feel bad. It’s not how this lovely community plays! But I bet many of us have unintentionally said or thought something that assumes a slim person automatically feels good about themselves just because they are slim. One of the things I think is most telling is the relative lack of posts and photographs we see that explore slim issues. I had a conversation with another friend last summer and she mentioned how as a slim woman it’s hard to have a real voice in the body positivity space for fear of being judged. I said then I wanted to explore this with Exposing 40 and I mentioned it again in my Christmas post. But here we are in July and I have done nothing more! So, feel free to hold me to account on this! Let’s widen the conversation. If you have something to add I would love to share your thoughts and photos here. I have written this largely from a woman’s perspective but as ever I am always interested to hear from anyone with anything to say.

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Normal is Everyone’s Different

I cry quite easily. OK, I cry really easily. But really, you try reading the comments section on the Great Wall of Vagina site without welling up…

It’s too late for me and my health because it got ruined by labiaplasty. But it isn’t too late for others and I honour and thank you for this.

Great Wall of Vagina“I’m 17 and was really self-conscious about my ‘lady parts’. I was already thinking about having surgery to ‘fix’ it. Seeing your sculpture totally changed my mind and now I feel 100 times better about myself!”

“I was referred to this site by my gynaecologist when I asked about vaginal rejuvenation. I’m happy to discover that I am perfect already.” 

This important piece of art has allowed my daughter and me to discuss and explore how everyone is different and beautiful.”

Much has been written about Jamie McCartney’s Great Wall of Vagina and I am sure most of you will know of it. For those of you who don’t, it’s a nine-metre-long plaster cast sculpture of 400 vulvas, featuring women aged from 18 to 76 and including mothers and daughters, identical twins, transgendered men and women, a woman pre- and post-natal and another pre- and post-labiaplasty.

Speaking at Sh! on Saturday, McCartney revealed that he had hoped to feature more post-labiaplasty women, but only one of the eight who had been cast pre-op returned. Why? Because, rather brilliantly, they had all changed their mind about going ahead with the operation after seeing their plaster cast. “I had always thought it looked like a parrot’s beak,” exclaimed one, apparently astonished to find that she looked ‘normal’. Or, more to the point, when she realised that normal is actually that everyone is different.

And the one who did come back to be recast post-op? Well she bought her friend to do the cast because she was so unhappy with the results of her operation she didn’t want Jamie to see her again. How overwhelmingly sad that a woman should feel so ashamed of how she looks she puts herself under the knife, then feels more shame as a result.

The strapline of the Great Wall of Vagina is ‘Changing Female Body Image through Art’ and it is clear how committed McCartney is to using his work to help women think differently about themselves. He believes the power of plaster casting as a tool for reflecting on self-image lies in the fact it’s three dimensional, tactile and offers a scale that doesn’t always exist in the flatness of a photograph or a reflection in the mirror. He revealed how plaster casting his own body helped him deal with his own eating disorder and told of mothers bringing their anorexic daughters to be cast by him so they can truly see how they look.

McCartney had been dabbling in genital plaster casting with partners for some time but decided to develop the project after being shocked to learn that that labiaplasty was one of the fastest growing cosmetic surgery procedures in the UK. He wanted to use his art to educate, inform and change attitudes. He probably didn’t imagine that a decade on his art would be featured in educational text books and that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the body that sets clinical standards and provides doctors with training and lifelong learning, would exhibit his work. Amazing!

One of the most poignant stories he told was not of a woman who used the opportunity to be cast to reflect on how she looks but instead used it to take ownership of her own body. In the book of the project she writes about the experiences rape and abortion and feeling that “my cunt has always been violated.” Through being cast she felt she had changed the narrative of her body.

It really is the most brilliant life-changing piece of sculpture!

A section of the Great Wall of Vagina is currently on show at Sh! and I would definitely recommend you have a wander round the website too. And did you know that almost five years ago it was this sculpture also inspired Molly’s amazing Pussy Pride project? Check that out too!

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked