Ghosts

I’ve been a fan of photographing cemeteries for years. Way back in winter 1995 I was out photographing a snowy cemetery as my Dad called my university landline to try and get the news to me that my Grandad had died.

My business partner knows I still frequent these places with my camera – he just doesn’t know that these days my photography more often than not includes naked people! A couple of weeks ago as a late birthday present he gave me a book about where significant people are buried in London. Knowing I had this image lined up for today’s photo I thought I’d see which ghosts haunt Kensel Green Cemetery.

Alongside one Mr WH Smith (founder of the UK’s biggest high street stationers for the non-Brits) and Harold Pinter I read about Henry Spencer Ashbee. Ashbee was a city merchant by day but was also one of the country’s most prolific collectors of erotica and an occasional author of erotic fiction and personal memoirs under various pen names. He bequeathed his entire library to the British Museum but they burnt the majority of the erotica.

Excited to find out more I hopped over to Wikipedia. I discovered a character in Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith was based on his life. But I also learnt that his daughters’ excessive education irritated him, his wife’s suffragist support angered him, and he became estranged from his gay son. How awful. How often we expect liberal views to be prevalent in all aspects of a person’s life and how disappointed we are when they aren’t. I hope that in 2018, almost 200 years after he was born, his views would have softened and he would now be championing the rights of his wife and daughters and proudly waving the rainbow flag on behalf of his son.

In the meantime, I’m delighted to present one of the fiercest supporters of rights I know, the gorgeous Honey and her hot biteable butt!

February Photofest

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

A celebration of bodies

I must confess, I struggled at first to think about how to approach this week’s Wicked Wednesday prompt. There is so much amazing writing and hot photography to choose from, so many of you have produced content that has got me off, educated me and given me ideas and I so admire the authenticity, honesty and hard work that exists in this community that I couldn’t see how I could possibly pick just a handful of people to mention. In the end I decided to go with the main theme of my own blog which is about celebrating bodies in all their beautiful shapes and sizes so here, in alphabetical order, are my top ten body-related posts of this year.

Aurora‘s post about Borderline Personality Disorder (brains are part of our bodies!) is one of my favourite posts of the year. One of my closest and oldest friends also has BPD and posts like this are so important for raising awareness.

Confess Hannah‘s Pussy Pride is an uplifting post on learning to love her labia and also serves as a reminder of the legacy a throwaway comment can have.

Hannah Lockhardt‘s glorious homage to her own body in Geography made me want to reach for my camera immediately to photograph her.

I don’t think anyone does raw and unflinching honesty in the way my wonderful friend Honey does and Hate is a powerful and jaw-dropping example of that.

Jedi Hamster‘s Size Matters was a powerhouse of a post that touches on a whole range of important things from the language doctors use with overweight people to the politics of Fat Positivity versus Body Positivity. This woman rocks when she’s in thoughtful rant mode – go read it!

In my opinion, some of Livvy’s finest posts are when she brings her professional expertise and the clinician’s perspective to the table. The Big Problem did just that and I think it took courage to tackle a very sensitive subject from the medical perspective.

In Passengers, Maria recounts an uncomfortable experience on public transport. How often have larger people, and in particular women, suffered poor behaviour in public because they feel they need to apologise for the space they take up? I would guess the answer is too often.

Molly‘s post about getting her belly button pierced was a frank account of the emotional rollercoaster that sometimes comes with casting a spotlight on the parts of ourselves we like the least. And it also gave a lovely heartwarming glimpse of the love and trust between her and Michael and I always love posts when we see that!

Tabitha shared much of what she wrote about in Sugar – The Good Times and The Bad Times with me during our photo sessions and had even talked about writing a guest post for me because she didn’t think these issues were sexy enough for her own site. Honesty is sexy as fuck my friend and I’m so proud that you owned your experiences on your own site.

Violet’s He’s out of my league (and other lies I tell myself) is a wonderfully raw and honest and beautiful post about sex, fat and lovers making you feel attractive.

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

What’s in a marathon?

“If you’re losing faith in human spirit, go out and watch a marathon.” Kathrine Switzer*

Is training for a marathon sexy? No. It’s exhausting. For 16 tedious weeks it’s you against the weather, your own mind, a life more interesting. You get sunburnt in February and stung by hail in April. Out running you talk to yourself, you shout at yourself, you cry. You – the one who always calls ‘one for the ditch’ – places your hand over your glass after a couple of drinks because you have to run 15 miles in the morning. Men yell from vehicles. Dogs trip you up. You chafe.

But do you feel sexy? Fuck yes. Despite an ever-present tiredness you also feel constantly horny. You pass endless miles thinking about fucking. You lift your running shorts to your face to smell yourself as you strip off. You savour the burning muscles in your arse and thighs, a Pavlovian Bell for other memories. You love your body more.

Are runners hot? Let me think about that? Toned arse and legs. Stamina. Mental focus. Yes, runners are hot.

And there’s the emotion. Running over Tower Bridge with tears in your eyes, not because you’re halfway through but because you just spotted your friend, a few days out of surgery to remove a tumour from her breast, waiting for you. At mile 23 your brother sends you a photo of your niece, still wired up to the oxygen that’s feeding her weak premature lungs and later a friend who was tracking you on the app asks why you suddenly got faster at that point. At mile 25 you hear a partner call your name and knowing he’s fresh from a train from his Grandma’s funeral you feel a surge of affection that back in the normal course of life you forget to translate into words.

You’ll become an enthusiastic cheerleader for others. You sit in bed on a Sunday, eating croissants and tweeting as you watch two blue dots move round a European city. You wobble in after a night of comedy and wine and look up the progress of someone you won’t meet for another few days as they churn through 100 miles. You sit with your friend and her four-year-old son, warming your hands on coffee cups, waiting for Daddy’s head to appear over the brow of a hill on the South Downs at the end of his 60 mile race.

It can make you a bit weird too. You’ll suffer Marathon mentionitis forever more and your friends will rib you mercilessly. You’ll stare at other people’s running shoes in the street. You’ll pass off slovenly behaviour like eating peanut butter straight from the jar as part of your nutrition programme. Whether you run in knickers or not becomes a very important conversation topic (I’ve actually had this chat with at least six female friends over the last four years!).

When you start out you think it’ll be ‘one and I’m done’. But you’ll be back. For all of the above reasons but also the medals. Oh yes, medals! Big, hefty, satisfying medals. Sigh

*In 1967, Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon when it was still a men only race. During her run a race official attempted to rip off her race number but he was shoved to the ground by her boyfriend and she completed the race. It was not until 1972 that women were allowed to run the Boston Marathon officially. This year, aged 70, she marked the 50th anniversary of that race and ran again wearing the same bib number: 261.

To see who else is writing for this week’s Wicked Wednesday marathon prompt, click the rainbow button below!

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

Do Not Delete

Yesterday I read this smoking hot guest post about the effect of a leather skirt over at Girl On The Net’s place (if you haven’t read it yet go and check it out and then come back!). It reminded me of some photos that Exhibit A took of us way back in early 2015.

This morning I went looking for them. I couldn’t find them. They weren’t in the folder with all the other photos we took in that hotel room. Then a little creeping dread came over over me. I remembered deleting those shots. I didn’t like them. I didn’t like the way my tits looked, the weird expressions on my face or the roundness around my middle. I kept them for a short while but every time I looked at them they made me feel bad so eventually I deleted them. After much rummaging in my recycling bin I found them and recovered them.

So what do I see today?

I see a snapshot of a really hot moment and remember a happy 24 hours. I think my tits look pretty good actually. I like the way he’s gripping my leather skirt. I smiled when I saw the green wristband that was such a part of him for so many years. I chuckled at the memory of his dinner turning up with teeth in it. I remember it was the first time he talked to me about Livvy and I feel a little bubble of happiness at everything that has happened on that front since. I think about walking in the New Forest and playing pool. I recall being annoyed that they’d run out of croissants by the time we went down for breakfast and picking all the chocolate out of a pain au chocolate. I grimace that we were charged £42 for two gin and tonics!

And I feel sad that it’s taken almost three years to appreciate the photo.

How many of us have deleted a photo in haste not realising that with it we have closed the door on a whole host of happy memories? How often do we take a photo then fail to appreciate the nuances of the shot because we are focusing in on our perceived flaws? Why are we not kinder to ourselves?

I’m glad I read that leather skirt post. I’m glad I fished this photo out of the recycling. I’m glad I’m sending it out into the wild. And I’m resolving to not delete in haste again and to zone in on the memories of moments, not the bits of me I don’t like.

Status, stigma and self-testing

I am writing this from the back of a vehicle in Nigeria. I’m in Lagos, the biggest city in Africa and home to 21 million people. New Africa. A so-called mega city. Vibrant, ambitious, tenacious, captivating. And becoming increasingly liberal as the trappings of our globalised world take hold? Not where it really matters, no.

Today I was told of a dress code for women who attend a business skills development course. Encouraged into business and championed as role models for a modernising country? Yes, but as just as long they don’t do it in trousers, v neck tops or skirts that end above the knee. But worse than that, sexual freedom is being curtailed.

In 2014, the Nigerian government increased the punishment for homosexuality to 14 years in jail. Anyone ‘assisting couples’ may face a 10 year sentence. In 2010, just 18% of men who have sex with men were reached with HIV prevention services. They do not access the services they need to manage their sexual health out of fear for their freedom. The result? In 2007, 13.5% of men who have sex with men were living with HIV. By 2016, that had risen to 23%. It’s not only men who have sex with men whose health is being failed by the Nigerian government. They are falling short on recommended target for testing, treatment and counselling services for the whole population. The country has second largest HIV epidemic in the world.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, in my hotel my room in Lagos, I exercised a privilege many Nigerians don’t have. I took an HIV test. The kit came courtesy of Freedom Shop and was given to me at Eroticon. The whole process took about half an hour in total: a few minutes reading the blurb that came with the test, five or ten minutes rereading The Other Livvy and Emmeline Peach’s great reviews, an embarrassing number of minutes summoning up the courage to use the lancet and then 15 minutes for the test to progress. It was easy, discreet and, actually, quite an empowering experience. It may sound odd to say I enjoyed the process, but I did. I was in control.

I live in the UK. Here we can pick up a kit like the Bio-Sure HIV Self Test for under £30 and test at a time that suits us. If we have a little more time and are not anxious about visiting a clinic we can test for free. Home testing kits are free for high risk groups. Yet, despite the ease with which we can access testing and a low prevalence rate, the UK still needs to make progress. Here, new diagnoses are almost double the average for Western Europe, it is estimated that 13,500 are unaware of their positive status and 40% of those diagnosed positive receive a late diagnosis. The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles found that just 14% of those who identified as high risk had taken a test recently.

It is easy to think that the world has got a handle on the HIV pandemic. Comparatively speaking it has. The first time I worked in Africa, in 2003, I was visiting communities where almost the entire population of working age adults had died and the majority of households were headed by grandparents or children. Then, fewer than 200,000 people around the world were accessing treatment, now 19.5 million people receive antiretroviral (ARV) treatment. An HIV positive person on ARVs who has had an undetectable viral load for more than six months can’t pass it on.

But there is still a long way to go. 17.2 million HIV+ people still aren’t getting treatment. The rate of HIV infection hasn’t declined amongst adults since 2010. There were 1.8 million new cases in 2016. We all have a role to play in tackling HIV, by taking care of our own sexual health, especially if we are lucky enough to live in a country where stigma is (relatively) low and testing and treatment services are free, by staying up to date on the facts and testing our knowledge and joining campaigns where our voice can make a difference.

Happy World AIDS Day!

For self-testing kits plus a whole lot of other useful stuff for staying safe and heathy visit https://www.freedoms-shop.com/

One present moment

“Life is all memory except for the one present moment that goes by so quickly you hardly catch it going.”

He wasn’t working at the time so weekday afternoons were our default time for hanging out. We’d chatted lazily over tea, I’d come under the rhythm of his tongue and we’d polished off an early evening dinner.

He had evening plans. I had a girlfriend coming over for wine and chat.

His plans were cancelled.

He stayed to say hi and took a glass of wine. The chat was relaxed and the wine good. One glass turned into two and before I knew it the bottle was drained. He got up to get another bottle from the fridge. He returned with the wine but minus trousers.

Confident. Brazen. Hot as fuck.

A clarion call.

My stomach flipped and my cunt pulsed. I felt the colour rise in my cheeks. But none of us acknowledged the adjusted dress code. He topped up our wine, sat back down and we picked up the conversation. Through the loaded atmosphere and increasingly disjointed chat my friend and I made eye contact. Eyebrows raised in slight question and half smiles communicated wordlessly that we were both good with this.

The conversation tailed off, both of us watching as he teased himself hard, gripping his cock through his underwear. It’s funny how we remember detail. The underwear sticks in my mind. Hard cock profiled through fresh white cotton. He eases them down. I dip my head but hesitate, enjoying being stood on the edge of a moment.

He pushes my head down in what felt like slow motion and then I am sucking his beautiful dick. I could have stayed in that moment for much longer, feeling him thrust into my mouth and enjoying the moment of exhibitionism and thrill of us being watched. But I force myself to pull away. I look up, catch her eye and nod.

It all speeds up then. In one swift movement she’s on her knees in front of him. He’s gripping the back of my neck and kissing me with an intensity I rarely feel, as if he’s communicating the pleasure he’s getting from her mouth through the force of his kiss. My fingers in her cunt as I slide down onto his cock. Me smiling as I sit back for a minute or two and sip my wine as I watch her ride him.

Then he’s pushing her to her knees and directing her face between my legs. He fucks her from behind, the force of his thrusts pushing her tongue harder onto my clit. Of all the flashbacks I have of that evening this is the one I feel most keenly. The moment of locking into eye contact with him, appreciating the pleasure play across his face as he fucked her, watching his expression flicker between calm and concentration.

That was more than eighteen months ago but I think about it often. Present moments may go by quickly but I close my eyes and this is yesterday.

This was written for Exhibit A’s Manic Street Preachers-inspired prompt. You can read the other entries here

When Love-Affair Friendships End

This time last year I’d just been dumped. Not quite ghosted but not far off. In the year since it happened I’ve trodden the well-worn post-break-up path; there’s been shock, disbelief, ‘what did I do wrong?’ wondering, looking at their social media feeds, sadness, anger and bitching. The only good thing about it all is that I haven’t been going through it alone. You see, I wasn’t dumped by a lover, I was dumped by a friend and Jedi Hamster and Charlotte Brown were dumped at the same time.

The screen grab opposite is the message that dropped into our WhatsApp group (and yes, don’t judge, we did also have a separate for-spoiler-avoidance GBBO chat!) and then ‘xx left’. Just like that. Actually, probably not ‘just like that’. In hindsight the signs had been there for a while: subtle and not-so-subtle silences that would smart; an air of disapproval and judgement; casual criticism of things we’d always enjoyed together that felt like a point being made; and sometimes just undeniably mean behaviour.

But why am I using this language? Isn’t it a bit relationship-y? Well, yes, but in the last week I’ve discovered a new label – love-affair friendships. I picked it up in Rosie Wilby’s Is Monogamy Dead? In it she references the “impenetrable fortress of female friendship”, speaks of how “intense non-sexual trysts between women are common” and ponders whether “a world beyond the oppressive binary of relationships being either sexual or not, might be the richer and more vibrant one.”

I wonder how many of you are nodding along to that as I was when I read those words. I’d wager that many women reading this will recognise some of their friendships in those statements. Not all of them. We can ‘just’ be mates. But it’s undeniable that many (most?) of us have a handful of ‘food for the soul’ friendships that aside from the physical component can feel as intimate as the relationships we enjoy with our partners. Are those friendships more common between women than men? I don’t know!

So what was our group was like? Well, we were funny as fuck, obviously. We were so funny we decided we needed a shared Twitter account to give life to our musings and observations. That was bollocks and lasted about a month – in jokes are rarely funny to the outside world! But while the belly laughs were good, we bonded over far more than our ability to make each other laugh; all of us single, childfree and with complex relationships with our families, we recognised ourselves and our hang-ups in each other’s experiences and responses. Some of our chats about body positivity and sex probably sowed the seeds of this blog. Jedi Hamster came up with the name Exposing 40!

Should friendships like this last forever just because, for a time, they felt so significant? No, of course not! I have often thought that there’s excessive pressure for longevity and commitment placed on female friendships and an assumption of loyalty that is rarely expected of male friends or sexual partnerships. A few years back a sociologist from the University of Utrecht in the Netherland founds that on average we ‘lose’ 50% of our friends every seven years. I can believe this. Lives evolve, circumstances change and we meet new friends through jobs, travels, volunteering, new lovers.

But there’s a difference between the natural ebb and flow of ‘of the moment’ friendships and the fracturing of the ones that help shape us. And there’s no recognisable prescription for getting over those. No automatic right to mourn. If I split up with a partner and needed a cry or a bitch, that would be perfectly normal – people know how to rally for that. Break up with a friend and want to talk it out? There aren’t the same social norms around that.

But how does all this fit with a book about monogamy? Doesn’t monogamy refer to lovers not friends? Well, you might think so but Rosie explores monogamy in the wider sense. The jumping off point for her book is a survey where she poses a series of questions to help her unpick respondents’ views on monogamy and what counts as infidelity. Now, if you’re a deeply scientific person concerned with credible representative samples, then look away. Me? As a twenty-something PR who felt her cheeks burn when interrogated by a journalist about the ‘80% of Welsh respondents’ and then had to confess that the Welsh contingent in fact numbered 10, it should be said that I am not averse to a wafer-thin bit of evidence if it provides a good hook for a story. And this book is full of good stories.

If you’re endlessly fascinated with human experiences, emotions and behaviours then ignore the sample size (100!) and just soak up the stories. Through 49 pithy and anecdote-driven chapters Rosie explores what monogamy really means. If you’re not in an open relationship what counts as cheating, kissing or falling in love but doing nothing about it? Do our needs for emotional security and physical intimacy need to be found in the same person? That’s a lot of pressure for one person. If our lives are a rich tapestry of different people with whom we enjoy different connections, are we all a bit non-monogamous?

As the book is winding up she talks about the issue of language and muses that “if we don’t have the words for a particular type of loving relationship, we can’t talk about it and it remains invisible.” Like I said above, I hadn’t heard the term love-affair friendship until a week ago. I don’t actually need my friendships to be more visible in the literal sense of the word – I play a pretty open hand as far as talking about the friends that really matter to me goes! But taking that label to reconsider certain friendships was an interesting exercise.

Was our friend wrong for wanting out? No. No more than a partner would be wrong for ending a relationship if it no longer brought joy. But I also know exactly how she would have responded had a man behaved towards us in the way she did. What are our responsibilities when we decide a friendship has run its course? There’s no blueprint for ending them. But just going dark leaves a bitterness that’s sometimes a bit hard to swallow, even if the collective moaning sessions are therapeutic.

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