Shortly after graduating high school I left home.
As soon as I could, I did what most teens with big-fish-little-pond syndrome do, which was to leave and go as far away as possible. I used what little money I had saved from working in the local pharmacy, and pizza shop to pay for a volunteering stint in Qingdao, China, teaching conversational English. At 18, this was my first trip overseas, I didn’t know anything about China, I hadn’t even eaten that much Chinese food in my lifetime. And my only shot at being friends with a Chinese person in my very white country hometown was a girl from my primary school whose family owned the local Chinese restaurant. With my bolshie and loud playground antics, and English not being her first language we never quite clicked. I learned too late in life that it was my problem, not hers.
I wrote on my volunteer application that I would prefer a placement in a city since I was from a regional town and wanted a different experience. I was placed in a city with 9 million people, it wasn’t the population that overwhelmed me, it was the feeling of being a little fish again, with the potential to grow.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much my regional roots have impacted me and what it means to identify as a ‘country girl’.
I remember my first few years living in Melbourne, how much I had to disclaim ‘I’m from the country’, and how it stirred different reactions in certain people. When I was friendly or open with strange men, for example Taxi drivers or guys I met at parties, they’d say in that slow, deliberate way “you’re different you know that? Where are you from?” and when I’d say where, they would tilt their head, look at me sideways with a smile and say “ah, country girl”, but what they meant was “fresh meat”.

A lot of my friends are from regional areas within Australia and other parts of the world. There seems to be this gravitational pull that we don’t recognize at first, then over time it reveals itself in our shared idioms and jokes about going home and winning the local meat raffle.
Deeper than that, we share our growing pains.

I wrote a play in 2014 as part of my Honours research exploring my personal coming of womanhood. A strong thread throughout the play was my hometown, though I never named it. When I was writing it, I also worked at a café to support myself while I studied, one of my regular customers was a woman who was also doing her Honours and offered to read the drafts of my play. When she read it she told me how much it resonated with her, that it was almost her exact experience and that she was from the country too. When I asked her where she was from, I was not expecting her to reveal she was from the exact same regional town as me, which has the population total of 439 people.
That gravitational pull.
We became friends and are currently doing our PhDs at the same university in similar fields of research.

When I think about, what I call, my ‘accidental academic’ career, I think of how I am the only person in my family to have gone to university and graduated. I think about the school trips I took to Melbourne to look at potential universities, and how I felt inadequate and not good enough to go to places like the University of Melbourne or colleges like Ormond; and how I have now worked professionally at both of those institutions.
I think about the hour long bus rides to and from school each day, the teen pregnancies, how toxic masculinity and heteronormity, homophobia, sexism, racism and ablelism was never challenged, and that I didn’t learn those words until I finally left home. I think about boredom and imagination, getting my first job at 14, getting drunk at 14, growing up too fast, and time moving too slow.

I often sit at my desk now, staring at the world through multiple screens, and feel suffocated, cramped, and I crave fresh country air and a view of something other than cement; earth, grass, trees, water. I feel too big for my tiny Melbourne apartment. I want to go home. I want to see mountains, and feel seasons, and get a sausage roll with tomato sauce from the bakery, or drive down a quiet and generously wide street. I want to look at where I’ve come from and see how much I’ve grown.

There is a lot of stigma around people from the country, and a lot of adversity to overcome. Country alumni gravitate towards one another because of our shared lived experience, but more than that it’s our unique shared identity. I’m happy to have left, to have been afforded the opportunities to work, travel, further my education and meet people with different lived experiences to me. But I’m also happy to have come from somewhere that values community, farming, making eye contact and saying hello to familiar faces, oh, and bake sales. I want to acknowledge my regionality, I want to wrestle with the challenges it presents, I want to own and value it, it hasn’t always been comfortable, but it’s part of me.

“You can take the girl out of the country,
but you can’t take the country out of the girl”

– Bumper sticker at the Deni Ute Muster

This article was first published for neutral.love

You have a good body. Don’t you think so?

Just think what your body has done for you today. Maybe you’re reading this from bed first thing in the morning, after your body has slept, regenerated and grown. Maybe you’re reading this over lunch, look at you chewing, swallowing, digesting, reading, thinking, and breathing, all at the same time! This isn’t meant to sound condescending, it’s just I think we rarely stop and appreciate our bodies for what they actually do for us, and spend too much time thinking about the ways we’d like to change them. I thought about this once after a pretty terrible hangover, how my body, all on its own, worked so hard to undo all of the damage I had caused it the night before. By sweating, purging, sleeping, my body was able to go from catatonic back to my usual healthy self. My body told me when it needed rest, when it needed hydration, food and finally when it needed to get the hell out of the house. I remember in those first moments of finally having energy back, how grateful I was for my body and my health. It wasn’t long though before negative thoughts about how my body looked started to creep back.

In Western society we all subscribe to a certain beauty standard, one that is defined by what we see on our screens, in advertising, TV, cinema and pornography – you can only be what you see, right? I’ll give you a clue as to what we predominantly see… it’s white. Oh damn, I just gave it away. So yeah if you’re white you’re all good, anything else you’ve got a lot more boxes to tick. The list of prerequisites for ‘beauty’ is of course longer than just ‘white’, however, if you are white you should know by now that you are widely represented and colorism exists. It is also important to note that what we see is largely determined by white, hetero, cis-men. Some of the prerequisites for their definition of beauty include; being thin, able bodied, if you’re a woman – feminine, if you’re a man – masculine, and depending on what trend is happening at the time eg thick eyebrows, big butt, small breasts, big breasts, whatever! You gotta have it. This standard of beauty is limiting and damaging, and without us even realising it we are almost powerless to it.

In my work I try to normalise sexuality, identity and bodies. I try to encourage people to see that who they are, what they like, how they present, how they desire, how they function is unique, normal and good! I try to follow my own advice. I am privileged to be white, cis-gendered, able bodied, average in size and dare I say attractive? But even in writing that, I have that sick feeling of judgement – of my self and fear of others’. I also don’t think that these are the specific qualities of a beautiful person, though I understand what these qualities afford me. What I want to address in this article is that the natural design of our bodies are incredible, in whatever form they come. And there is significant social pressure to often alter or ‘enhance’ our bodies, when really we are pretty bloody good as we are.

“There are influences in our society that make us seek a kind of ‘prescribed’ perfection, one that is not of our own desire or choosing.”
I often use female anatomy as a catalyst for discussing the lack of education around human bodies and human sexuality. I also believe that female anatomy is a great example of the ways we detour from appreciating what we have, what our bodies do for us and instead spend time, and lets face it money, on trying to change something that is perfectly normal and good the way it is. Now, it’s important to note that having female anatomy does not equate to being a woman, unless that is how you identify, and also you do not have to have female anatomy to appreciate what I’m saying, take from this what you will…

The vulva is a unique geography, one that has been metaphorised for centuries and misnamed countlessly (the vagina is an internal canal, the hole, not the w hole !). We talk around the vulva – ‘down there’, ‘lady bits’ etc, and although it is a place of power for some people, it is very much a point of shame for many. Take the hymen for example, it has no biological function, and yet it has become the indicator of virginity. This has nothing to do with biology and everything to do with controlling women. This is an out-dated narrative that has been told since women were considered property and their vaginas their most valuable real-estate. A lot of women aren’t even born with them, and some women will continue to have them long after they have had penetrative sex. And yet in many cultures women are made to have hymen repair surgery to ‘prove’ virginity/purity/chasteness, they have to ‘repair’ something that they may have never even had! And what about labia? There is an epidemic of labiaplasty happening around the world because women have been made to feel strange and inadequate about their unique vulvas because of the way pornography portrays them. Labiaplasty sees women having their labia cut and bleached to look more like the “conventional” and photoshopped porn stars (read ‘white’) that they see. So women are spending thousands of dollars to look like Barbie all because patriarchal porn and the media sells us a false sense of normal. Unless labia is causing you pain/discomfort, then you are perfect just the way you are. There are so many aspects of the vulva that demonstrate how humans are not taking time to appreciate the efficient and magnificent design of our bodies, and rather focusing on the things we want to change. I mean there is a whole industry dedicated to masking the natural odour of the vulva, or to “clean” them… but they are their own ecosystem, self cleaning – set it and forget it babe, geez!

There are influences in our society that make us seek a kind of ‘prescribed’ perfection, one that is not of our own desire or choosing. We are encouraged to use technology, cosmetics, fashion, chemicals and drugs to enhance, advance, reshape and redesign our already amazing bodies. And we don’t even question it! I’m far from being a naturalist, but I am a huge advocate for bodies as they are. At the end of the day it is your body and your choice. But, just for today and maybe a few more times after that, I want you to try to think of something you appreciate your body for. Think about the last remarkable thing it did for you. Maybe even educate yourself on how your body does that thing, I have no doubt you’ll amazed or at the very least grateful. Sometimes our bodies can let us down, sometimes bad things happen to our bodies, and all bodies are different in their look and ability, but they are all good bodies! The next time you think a negative thought about your body, or spend a little too long thinking about how to change it, try to remind yourself of what it does for you.

You have a good body.

This article was first published for neutral.love

I want to talk about arousal for all body types.

I want to talk about bodies as they are, unique, like fingerprints.

I want to talk about sex as inclusive of everything that happens after two or more people consent to engaging in sexual activity. And steer away from the heteronormative concept that sex is specifically intercourse involving a penis penetrating a vagina.

I also want to talk logistics.

‘Getting wet’ in an arousal context most likely has you thinking about people with vulvas, i.e. vaginal lubrication. And if movies, TV and porn are anything to go by it happens for cis-women quite quickly, and is very desirable for men – “[excited moan] oh my god you’re so wet!” This has become an expected norm for cis-women’s arousal, one that is largely inaccurate and can leave people who don’t fit that very specific state of arousal feeling inadequate or not normal. The other side to not being wet enough/quick enough to arousal is being too wet/female ejaculation. Like women only exist to accommodate men and must be tidy in doing so [eye roll]. Let me just say now before anything else, how ever your body responds to arousal/pleasure/orgasm is normal*. Every body is unique.

You might be wondering if people with penises can get wet too. Umm yas! Pre-ejaculate aka pre-cum is completely normal, very common and sometimes fertile! It is produced by the Cowper’s glands, which are located at the base of the penis. The fluid lubricates the urethra and facilitates semen flow during ejaculation. Sexual activity doesn’t have to occur for there to be pre-ejaculatory fluid, it can just be there, similar to vaginal mucus. During sexual activity the penis can continue to produce pre-ejaculate, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, either is very normal.

Natural lubrication for people with vulvas is commonly perceived as an indicator of how aroused they are e.g. if there is a lot of lubrication the person must be very aroused, if there is no lubrication the person isn’t aroused at all. This misconception limits our understanding of how people receive and respond to pleasure. You can in fact be very aroused and produce no lubrication at all, or not aroused in the slightest and in desperate need of a dry pair of undies. Vaginal moisture can change day-to-day, week-to-week, during the monthly hormone cycle; it exists to keep the mucosal tissues of the vagina healthy. Lubrication that occurs during sexual arousal appears clear and is much slipperier, it happens due to an increased blood pressure around the tissues inside the vagina.

Now, that was a very basic overview of anatomy speaking mainly to why we get wet, and not always in a sexual context. There are many studies that have looked into human sexual response; most famously the Masters and Johnson study which documents four stages of sexual response, a more complex exploration of how we get wet. They report it as such:

1. Excitement – genitals swelling with blood, sensitive nerves, lubrication.

2. Plateau – responses may continue to intensify, more lubrication.

3. Orgasm – the release of tension in a series of involuntary and pleasurable
muscular contractions, ejaculation.

4. Resolution – In the half an hour or so after orgasm the muscles relax.

Their study looked at men and women having sex with one another and masturbation. What we’ve come to learn since is that sex is so much more than penis-in-vagina penetration till orgasm. So although they were great for their time and the history of human sexuality, we have moved beyond the four stages, and will continue to do so in the future. Also umm heterosexuality is not the only sexuality, duh.

In the theme of considering sex as inclusive of everything that happens after two or more people consent to engaging in sexual activity, I’ll try to illustrate what that might look like. It can be everything from conversation, to touching while fully clothed, to oral sex, to multiple partner play and everything in between! What’s most important is that it’s consensual, safe and pleasurable.

“I want you to get to know your body and how it works, how it responds to arousal and pleasure.”
Naturally getting wet is just something that may or may not occur for you, either way it’s absolutely fine! However, part of having a safe and pleasurable time may require lubrication to accommodate certain activities e.g. objects or body parts going inside other body parts. In that case, if you produce a generous amount of natural lubrication but are worried it’s excessive (it’s not, but) you can manage it with having towels or tissues handy, or take breaks and communicate with your partner/s. If you don’t produce any naturally, invest in a quality lubricant, and make sure it’s the right kind for your specific activity e.g. water or silicon based lube for latex condoms, and always read the care instructions for sex toys. A lack of lubrication can lead to the tearing of genitals, causing pain (not the good kind) and risk infection, which is neither pleasurable nor safe. I will note here that the anus can naturally lubricate too, this can happen during sexual arousal, or just be there to help you poop, either way it is not sufficient lubrication for anal play/sex so please come prepared.

I want you to get to know your body and how it works, how it responds to arousal and pleasure; Emily Nagowski’s book, Come As You Are, is a great start.

I WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT YOU ARE BOTH UNIQUE AND NORMAL.
I WANT YOU TO BE OPEN TO A BROADER CONCEPT OF SEX.
AND MOST OF ALL I WANT YOU TO GET WET**!

*As long as you are not experiencing pain/discomfort, or have an unpleasant smelling discharge, you should be all G! If you’re worried please check with your GP.

**As needed 😉

This article was first published for neutral.love

The first time was with a long-term partner, consensual, premised with “I don’t mind!” and the keen lust that occurs in those early years of dating.

The second time was unexpected and somewhat unwanted – a first date that escalated quickly and resulted in me throwing out my bed sheets the next day.

The third worried it was his own blood, “it’s happened before”, then held his bloodied hand up to the light and admired the glisten, not fearful or grossed out, calm and respectful knowing it was natural.

The last time was by myself in an attempt to relieve menstrual cramps, which had gotten worse since getting a copper IUD, it kind of worked but drugs are faster and more effective (for me).

Period sex has been on the menu for a while now, however, it’s only recently getting the airtime it deserves.

Periods remain taboo across cultures, we in the West still associate it with uncleanliness, continue to censor it in sanitary item commercials (periods aren’t blue, guys), and refer to it metaphorically i.e. that time of the month, shark week, Aunt Flo etc. However, dare I say, at least women in countries like Australia have the “privilege” of going to work and school while having their periods, as opposed to being ostracized from their communities, schools, homes and workplaces. This really happens. I understand my privilege as a cis, white woman with a pretty seamless history of menstruation, I understand my privilege allows me to flirt with the idea of period sex and write this article in the first place. In saying that I understand that this article will still crinkle noses and challenge people’s ideas of sexy sex.

Award winning U.S TV show Crazy Ex Girlfriend, created by Rachel Bloom, features a musical ode to period sex, which the network CW actually cut when it originally aired the episode deeming it “too dirty” for TV. Bloom released the full version online and was met with a resounding “YAS!” From women and feminist fans of the show.

You can watch the full version here.

Another show that addresses the societal shift towards optional period sex is Younger, created by Darren Star (Sex & The City). In the episode ‘A Night At The Opera’ the central character Liza (in her 40’s) and her younger boyfriend Josh (20’s) have a conversation about having sex while she has her period, Josh is pro and Liza is uncomfortable and unsure, she says “maybe it’s a generational thing”. Liza then talks to her bff, Maggie, about it and asks if she is into it. Maggie, who is gay, says if she didn’t get down with period sex she’d hardly ever have sex, unless of course her and her girlfriend were fortunate to synch up. Whether or not this is an accurate depiction of people’s perception of period sex, kudos for putting it on the Telly!

What this says to me is that there is a shift towards a more open, progressive and authentic understanding of what sex is like, or at least there are some people out there who are challenging the otherwise very glossy depiction of the kind of sex we’re supposedly having.

Now, period sex is not for everyone, because periods are not the same for everyone. Non binary individuals and men who get periods are less inclined to want to relish in something that has been associated with femaleness and womaness for centuries. Women whose periods are painful due to conditions such as endometriosis, or are negatively effected by birth control may not want to have sex on their period, because during that time the idea of doing anything other than sleeping or lying in the bath seems like hell. Women whose periods are particularly heavy or cause them to bloat may experience feeling self conscious or “unsexy”. However, for a bunch of people, having their period can make them feel sexy as hell. Your progesterone is at an all time low, which means your libido can kick into overdrive. You have an abundance of natural lubrication; which if you’re worried about mess lay a dark towel down or fool around in the shower! Also orgasms can help relieve cramps, so make this a priority if you’re the one in pain.

If you are having sex with one or more persons, you will of course have to get their enthusiastic consent first, please let them know there is a good chance “there will be blood”. If they haven’t had period sex before and they want to try it out but half way through they realize it’s not for them, don’t be offended! Stop, and respect that it’s an individual choice, blood can be scary if you’re not used to it. I’d also like to note there are many ways of having sex that can completely bypass menstrual blood when someone has their period e.g. non penetrative sex where the person who has their period uses a tampon or menstrual cup to conceal any visible bleeding. You don’t have to have sex on your period, and no one can make you have sex with them while on their period, but you can talk about it.

MENSTRUAL BLOOD IS NATURAL, NORMAL AND NOT AT ALL DIRTY AND IT’S TIME WE TALK ABOUT IT AND REPRESENT IT IN THOSE TERMS.

This article was first published for neutral.love

“If you are not enough for yourself
you will never be enough
for someone else”
— RUPI KAUR

There have been many times I’ve felt ‘not enough’, and those times were usually when I spent too much time with other people – invested in their lives, and failed to nurture myself.

It is not an easy thing to say, ‘I am enough for myself’, or to acknowledge that you deserve to take care of yourself. We can mistake social occasions, acts of love for others, and work as fulfilling, because mostly they are. However, these are all times when you are giving, and without taking time to replenish or receive you can be left feeling empty, lacking, or not enough.

When you are single it seems like you have so much time for yourself, a bed all to yourself and a clear schedule with no co-dependents to consider. But your calendar can very quickly become full with first dates, going out, brunch with friends, more work because you’re “really focusing on a career right now” and hangovers. We fail to schedule ‘me time’, because we fail to see that we are enough. Often in times when we are single we expel a lot of energy in trying not to be single anymore, even if we do say things like “I’m not interested in dating anyone at the moment” or “I just want to do my own thing for a while”. We are human, we are social creatures and we rely on sex and intimacy for survival, so it is perfectly natural that we invest so much time in making that happen. But what would it look like to actually commit time to yourself?

When you are in a relationship it becomes even harder to commit that time to yourself, and part of you neglects to see the significance. This is when we begin to lose ourselves and stray far from the people we were before we got into the relationship. It is fine and normal to get wrapped up in a new romance – the date and time of day doesn’t seem to matter anymore and either does… say… wearing pants! But then reality sets in and when that happens all of a sudden your plans become “our” plans, and ‘me time’ becomes sparse or non-existent. What you are saying when you fail to value yourself, alone, is that you are not enough. We prioritize others because we love them and enjoy giving love, and receiving love in return – it feels reciprocal, and for the most part it is. But what happens when your person can’t give one day, or the next… or the next? Will you be enough for yourself when they can’t?

‘Me time’ takes practice and commitment.

A few years ago I was struggling to do anything creative, I had lost my motivation to write and had no confidence to perform. A friend gave me a copy of The Artist’s Way (this is not an endorsement) and although I never finished it, the one take away for me was the concept of the ‘artist date’. This means committing to one creative date per week, like visiting a gallery, seeing a play or reading a book, the only condition being you have to do it alone, just you and your artist-self. I had to value myself enough to make that effort, something I would have done easily for someone else, but struggled to for ‘just me’. Slowly I started to gain confidence and really enjoyed my own company, and eventually my creativity came back because I was nurturing that part of myself. I accepted that I was enough.

Before a lack of ‘me time’ becomes an issue for you, make that commitment to yourself right now.

Clear some space in your schedule just for you, make a date, and don’t compromise. Take yourself to that movie you want to see, that café you’ve always wanted to try, that band no one else likes, masturbate! Stay in on a Saturday night for some self care or get in your car and go for a drive.

Just for you. No one else.

This article was first published for neutral.love

At least once a year at Christmas or for my birthday, my mother will buy me a pair of pajamas, without fail. When I receive my soft-centered parcel, I immediately look at my sister and laugh, we both know what’s inside. Mum laughs now too, she knows it’s predictable. What she doesn’t know is that I don’t wear pajamas.

Actually, that’s not entirely true, I just don’t wear them to bed.

I am all for curling up on the couch in bed socks, flannelette PJs and a robe (only in winter of course), but when bedtime rolls around it’s time to get the kit off. There’s nothing quite like sliding into a freshly made bed, clean sheets pulled tight, your skin soft against an even softer thread count; all the better if there’s a warm body to nestle into.

Some people are of the belief that in winter it’s too cold to sleep naked, but the truth is that often we overheat ourselves during sleep by wearing too many layers. The body’s temperature naturally drops during sleep, it’s meant to do that, so by wearing pajamas you are disrupting the natural cycle and probably encouraging a restless sleep. I loath the transition from the cozy lounge room to the bedroom on cold nights, but a way to avoid the chill is by warming up your room and bed half an hour or so beforehand. A little portable heater to take the bite out of the air and perhaps an electric blanket or a couple of hot water bottles/ heat packs in between the sheets to make sleeping naked just that little bit more inviting.

To elaborate on why it’s important to allow the body’s temperature to drop naturally during sleep; this is when the body releases melatonin and the human growth hormone. These hormones will help your sleep and wake cycles, as well as regeneration; the human growth hormone is what will help you look and feel young and healthy.

What I like most about sleeping naked is the intimacy factor; whether I am sleeping alone or with someone else. There is a lovely sense of freedom, softness and vulnerability that comes with being naked. We spend most of our lives in clothes, often clothes that alter our true form; ‘something to bring you in at the waist, these will make you look taller, black is slimming!’ This paired with Photoshop and Instagram filters, few of us know or value our real bodies. Being naked for at least 8 hours out of 24 will give you the chance to get familiar with your most authentic self, and this familiarity or comfortability will no doubt help you to love yourself just the way you are. Being naked with someone else is a sometimes a scary prospect so the more time you spend getting comfortable in your own skin by yourself, the more confident you will be with someone else. Sleeping skin to skin releases Oxytocin ‘the love hormone’, so doing this with a partner/s will bring you closer and in most cases result in a more fulfilling love/ sex life.

Of course it is ok to not sleep naked if that’s not your thing – your comfort comes first. But if you have been curious about the benefits of sleeping naked now you have a few reasons to give it a try. At the very least, try sleeping without underwear, maybe just wear an oversized T-shirt or nightie. Underwear is restricting and can negatively impact the natural bacteria of genitals; for people with vulvas wearing tight underwear can cause or prolong conditions such as thrush or vaginitis which thrive in moist and warm places. It’s best to allow genitals and your skin to breath at night, as there is little opportunity to do this during the day.

This life hack is something I can credit my mum for, she may love pajamas but rule number one in our childhood bedtime routine was strictly “no undies!” So for that invaluable life lesson, I will always accept my annual pair of PJs with gratitude (a giggle and a little side eye to my sister).

This article was first published for neutral.love

‘Say my name, same my name, when EVERYONE is around you, say baby I love
you…’

CLITORIS!

You know, I feel like I can’t leave my house without seeing a dick. Whether it’s painted on trains, scribbled on the back of toilet cubicle doors, they’re everywhere! Have you ever drawn a dick on something? Like the back of a book? Or maybe your friend’s face when they’ve passed out at a party? Chances are you have! But, let me ask you this – have you ever drawn a clitoris? Where do you even start? What shape is it exactly? Where is it on the body? I’ve done this exercise with a number of live audiences and the results are always the same – no one knows how to draw a clit!

If you are like most, and are struggling to picture a clitoris, don’t worry. I was ilcliterate once too. It was actually an artwork by Sophia Wallace, called ‘Cliteracy’, that brought it to my attention. Her work explores citizenship, sexuality, human rights and bodies and she is to thank for the glorious clit puns sprinkled throughout this article. She has created multiple works that explore the clitoris.

As you can see (above) the clitoris is not simply the tiny button it often gets mistaken for (if recognised at all). Most of the clitoris resides internally, and everyone’s external clitoris is unique. Did you know that the clit technically wasn’t discovered until 1998? Just pause for a moment and let that fact sink in. It was an Australian Urologist named Dr Helen O’Connell, who was the first person to investigate and document the full scope of the organ using MRI. Of course Dr O’Connell didn’t invent the clitoris, but for many years there were so many misleading and flat out incorrect theories around this part of a woman’s body.

Sigmund Freud, one of the first sexuality theorists of the western world is famous for saying that orgasms from clitoral stimulation were infantile and that vaginal orgasms from penetration meant that a woman was more mature. This has perpetuated the myth that women have the best orgasms from vaginal penetration, when in actuality the clitoris is where that pleasure comes from. Studies have shown that women whose clit is within two centimeters of their urethra are more likely to orgasm from vaginal penetration, though it’s not a sure thing, keep in mind this pleasure is still derived from the clit, it’s a matter of proximity. This means that anyone’s body that deviates from that very specific make-up will not orgasm from penetration alone. This is not dysfunction, this is human.

For too long the primary female sexual organ has been considered the vagina, failing to recognize the whole package (so to speak), the vulva, and more importantly THE CLIT! It is the only organ that’s sole purpose is pleasure, it has over 8000 nerves in the tip alone, not to mention the additional 15,000 nerves that it interacts with within the pelvis (a penis has roughly 4,000), it can become erect when aroused, and its estimated size is roughly 9-12cm long and 6cm wide. Oh, to think what power women hold between their thighs!

Why is no one talking about this? Why are we not celebrating this? Why do we know exactly how to draw a dick with our eyes closed, and yet for the life of us, struggle to even visualize the full anatomy of the clitoris, even if we have one?!

We need correct sexual education, that prioritises the clit and women’s pleasure. We need visibility and representation of women’s sexuality, and we need to name the clit. Name it as a woman’s primary sexual organ, name it in equal measure to the penis.

Next time you see penis graffiti, I want you to stop and spare a thought for the clit. The part of women’s bodies that goes mostly unseen, and generates the most pleasure.

Or better yet, draw a clit and say its name.

This article was first published for neutral.love

Humour me while I refer to women as butterflies for a moment. Correction, allow me to compare a girl’s transition to womanhood as a chrysalis. Womanhood is a resolution after a state of transition, in addition to that I believe that womanhood itself is also transitional and multifaceted. I liken the transition towards womanhood to that of a butterfly’s chrysalis.

So, what is a chrysalis exactly? Well, caterpillars must shed their skins as they grow and when the caterpillar is large enough to enter its transition into a butterfly or moth, it develops a new skin under its old skin. This is called the chrysalis. When it is first secreted, the chrysalis is soft and sticky but it soon hardens to form a protective outer layer. After a few weeks (sometimes months), the animal inside the chrysalis gradually turns into a butterfly or moth. In a butterfly’s life cycle they are eggs for an average of five days, a caterpillar for ten to fourteen days, a chrysalis for several weeks (sometimes months) and a butterfly, depending on the species, for several days – making the chrysalis, on average, the longest stage in its life cycle.

Chrysalis is defined as a transitional state and most dictionaries provide the following example “she emerged from the chrysalis of self-conscious adolescence” (Oxford). In my opinion, chrysalis says more than “a state of transition”, or what happens between caterpillar and butterfly. The significance of chrysalis, for me, is that the change is mostly unseen. Superficially there is a change but it is a protective facade, allowing those on the outside no opportunity to really know what is going on inside. Hence why I believe chrysalis to be the perfect word to describe what happens during moments of transition – more specifically the transition towards womanhood, and changes within womanhood. The emergence of a butterfly or moth from a chrysalis in itself is a poetic way to look at a woman in the first stages of navigating her new being – sopping, awkward, perhaps a little scared until she is strong enough to shed her protective layer and move with confidence, and often beauty.

When I discuss womanhood, I am referring to a state of being, a feeling, an experience and an identity. A woman to me can possess both feminine and masculine qualities, she is woman whether she is cis, trans or fluid in gender, it is her choice how she identifies. She calls herself woman and therefore she has reached womanhood, regardless of age.

Many debate what it means to be a woman. The Oxford dictionary defines woman as “a human female, a member of the fair/gentle sex”. This is an ideology all too well ingrained in our patriarchal society, and enforces the idea that we need to be fair and gentle (feminine) to be women. And while we give pause for that, human female? The definition is not trans-inclusive in the slightest, and still links gender with sex.

Cis women experience a transition from girlhood to womanhood that society defines almost always according to age, however, I would argue that coming of womanhood is not exclusively linear. I would also like to acknowledge trans women and non-binary people who come of their womanhood differently to cis women. Therefore, coming of womanhood cannot be appointed to an age, rather to what happens following an event or a shift in feeling/experience of being. American author, bell hooks, refers to a coming of womanhood as a “growhood”. Describing it in this way really illustrates how transitional coming of womanhood is and implies progress.

It has become increasingly significant for me to share my coming of womanhood story proudly and publicly, and since doing so I have become more aware of those who deny their womanhood, people who shame women, and the prejudices women face daily. By naming the struggles I have faced trying to navigate girlhood and womanhood, I have felt empowered and more confident in my womanhood. As a cis woman, a lot of my chrysalis happened during adolescence though it was not exclusive to that time. When I consider chrysalis in relation to my development, I am reflecting on times when ‘unseen’ change was occurring in addition to more obvious changes i.e puberty. As my body changed and developed during puberty, I became increasingly aware of my biology and subsequently I began to think about what my new experience of body meant for me as a girl/woman. In addition to this, my socialisation – the culture I grew up in, heavily influenced my experience of coming of womanhood. It was not during adolescence that I first noticed gender inequalities; it was in my family home that I learned that there were certain privileges reserved for boys/men and that girls/women endure new restrictions. Negative ‘unseen’ changes that occured in addition to or alongside more obvious physical changes included the feeling of inadequacy, depression, anxiety and peer pressure. Positive ‘unseen’ changes included confidence, agency, desire, pleasure and self love.

I believe that there is a surge in negative ‘unseen’ changes during chrysalis because girls are being socialised to see their gender as inferior. I believe that celebrating coming of womanhood and educating and socialising girls as equals, as well as sharing stories told by girls and women will contribute to more positive ‘unseen’ changes occurring during chrysalis. We are not all fair and gentle, and we shouldn’t be forced to shield ourselves with protective layers and hide during moments of change and growth. We deserve to be seen.

This article was first published for neutral.love

Can we consider a woman’s sexuality independent from her body? In my case, I find it difficult to discuss one without considering the other. Looking at my personal development story, I came into my sexuality almost simultaneously with coming of womanhood. I also wonder had I not experienced sexualisation as a result of my gender, would I be able to consider my womanhood and sexuality in the same way I do today.

Before I go on, I recognize that my story is not representative of all who identify as women, and I acknowledge that sex and gender are not one in the same. This is an exploration of my sexuality and lived experience in a cis woman’s body.

Historically, women have been limited to being sexual objects for men (virgins, sluts, prostitutes/sex workers, wives, or mothers), and have been prevented from expressing their sexuality in itself and for themselves. Often women’s bodies are considered in terms of what they provide men; from mothers who nursed them to wives who raise their families and run their homes, to sex workers who, well, fuck them. I believe that because women have developed in a world structured by man-centric concepts we have had no way of knowing or representing ourselves separate from men.

When I was young and discovering my body for the first time, I enjoyed it, but struggled to understand it because of the lack of female discourse available, therefore I suppressed it and ignored it. As I have physically developed, so to has my sexuality and as a result of this I cannot separate my body from my sexuality. In the early stages of my development I explored my body for the sheer natural enjoyment of it (and curiosity), in my awkward teen years I remember feeling completely out of control of my own body, lousy with shame, then finally as an adult I was able to reclaim my body and really listen to what it wanted. I believe women need to first learn their bodies and sexual pleasure in order to create their own identity, and consider themselves independent from men.

One of the biggest struggles in navigating my sexuality during the years between puberty and womanhood was maintaining any sense of agency whilst trying to “fit in”. I grew up in a country town – everyone knew everyone, the female to male ratio was about three to one, corresponding in my girl friends and I having dated the same boy at one time or another. The idea that I might want something outside of the hetero-normative, never crossed my mind, because I had no alternative point of reference. I felt pressured to look and act a certain way, seek a certain boy, have a certain kind of sex, none of which was authentic to me.

Even though I tried everything I could to adhere to the prescribed social code during my teen years, I was not exempt from judgment – I don’t know a single girl who was. Being called a slut was detrimental to my sexual development – I thought that it was wrong to desire, but to be desired was ok, just not too much! Walking the fine line between frigid bitch and slut was impossible, and I found myself countlessly slipping into either category, never allowed the freedom to just be.

It wasn’t until I was in my twenties, living out of home, and had been in a couple of relationships (with people that I didn’t grow up with), that I finally felt like I had a sexuality that was my own. For a long time I only knew what I didn’t want, as opposed to knowing what I did want; being allowed to want something free from shame is a liberation too few women get to experience.

For me, this confusion around sex and sexuality always comes back to the way we are educated and socialised. I know that by celebrating female sexuality and by providing young people (especially girls) with comprehensive and liberal body and sexuality education, inclusive of pleasure and consent discourse, we will see a change in society for the better. There are connections between our bodies, our genders, our sexualities, as much as there are diversities and disconnections. I know that everyone’s intersections are different, which is all the more reason to stop telling the hetero-normative, man-centric narrative. I have had to unlearn and learn my body, my gender and my sexuality as I’ve grown and developed. This has both been a journey and a destination of self.

This article was first published for Neutral.Love