Bacterial Vaginosis: One Woman – not the first, not the last, but alone.


Anonymous

The Harpy blog article posted in April is one of a few that have recently caught my attention (perhaps because of my own experience with vulval health) which have addressed the naïvety surrounding women’s sexual health care. Granted, I know nothing about other forms of genital healthcare, or how they are dealt with in clinics, health centres or even by specialists – I can only speak from my own dealings with Bacterial Vaginosis (BV). It’s hard to begin this article after wanting to write it down for so long – where to start?

Maybe I’ll put forward a hypothesis of a cycle – top down, funding for research into women’s sexual health is limited. Funding for medical testing, understandably, prioritises illnesses that affect a larger demographic (cancer, HIV etc.), but it is hard not to be frustrated that, although thrush and BV are ‘common’ conditions, they are much less manageable than the flu (from my experience anyway).

Since there is limited funding for the research which is desperately required, what limited empirical knowledge of vulval health is there for the doctors and nurses to learn? Even the NHS website admits not much is known about BV, for example. Due to this, women often get turned away with a pack of antibiotics and a ‘come back if it gets worse’ kind of attitude. Unless the problem is incredibly persistent, if you’re turned away more than three times say, you’re unlikely to go back for something like BV, which can be at times asymptomatic.

The sexual health clinic, doctor’s and the gynaecologist’s are supposed to be places where stigmatisation is irrelevant, so it can be hugely distressing when there is no clear antidote for such intimate issues, and when the people we often put our trust in are not confidant in their own diagnosis. This leads to the lonely road outside the clinic – apparently one in three women get BV, but I’d only heard about it as a mythical condition ‘you NEVER want to get’ because it makes your vagina STINK.’ Maybe because it is more prevalent for women of colour and, admittedly, my friends are unquestionably a majority of white middle class women, perhaps less of them have had it (as a condition experienced by many black women in particular, I want to refer everyone to the gal-dem article that really spurred me on to write this one, which also addresses how BV is misunderstood in sexual relationships).

I didn’t know it had a name. I didn’t know anyone who had it until I was open about it. I imagine this is because of a combination of the nature of the condition (an embarrassing smell) and the alienation of the professionals that leads women to hide it, which is an incredibly self-isolating reaction that has only ever led to the detriment of mental health.

I was shocked when friends I talked to openly about menstruation, masturbating, sex, sex, sex etc. only ever told me about their BV experience once I, in my unwavering need to talk my issues into the ground, was open about the gory details (which incidentally are not that gory…)

So in the spirit of sharing and finding my ultimate platform to really get to grips with the issues, I’ll just now go into my own story which I hope finds resonance with other people’s experience.

Around August last year, having been consistently sleeping with the same person for a few months, I went straight to work from his house one day after not using a condom (mistake 1), unshowered (mistake 2) and felt a familiar sensation of slight irritation. As the day went by, this became a burning pain. When I went to the loo, I noticed an unfamiliar and alarming – yes, fishy – smell that immediately made me panic. I was working 9 to 6 so couldn’t do anything about it, but I was close to tears by the end of the day. On the way home, I got off the bus because I thought I could smell myself and was embarrassed in case other passengers could smell me too.

At work I’d been going over in my mind what the fuck could be happening to me – I’d been having unprotected sex, which had been a conscious choice because I trusted the guy and was on the pill and knew I was safe from STDs. So, I’d had a bit of discomfort after sex because of his cum, but something had changed this time. Basically I FREAKED THE FUCK OUT –  I might have the unnamed ‘disease’ that everyone said you should avoid. By the time I got home I was on a mission – laptop, internet, ‘what the fuck is wrong with me?’ Answer: ‘Thrush or BV.’ ‘What can i do?’ Answer: ‘Apple cider vinegar’. So, it being the end of a Saturday and not being able to go to a pharmacy or anything immediately, I did the best home remedy that I found online and poured some apple cider vinegar in a bath. This caused some relief, but was the first of a long line of home remedy attempts.

Interruption for life lesson – USE A FUCKING CONDOM.

BV is not an STI but believe it or not there is a pH imbalance between cum and vagina, the former is alkaline the latter acidic and far more sensitive. I think probably a bit too much alkaline ultimately fucked me up. I didn’t really know this was what I had until I went to the sex clinic on the Monday, I was given the antibiotics, reassured that it was nothing ‘more serious’ – as in not an STI – and felt relived that in a week I should be cleared up. Sidenote – this was the first time I had slept with someone for longer than a week so I was pretty excited to say the least, and. as you can imagine, totally bummed out that this was happening, and I think it also began the winding down of this summer tryst – not very helpful for a girl’s self-esteem. Smelly fanny. End of sex – mutually exclusive or cause and effect?

Flash forward – my first bout of antibiotics helped with the burning immediately, but the smell and and inane consciousness of my vagina’s presence was persistent. I then went to the pharmacy and bought some Canesten pH balancing tubes – again, some relief, but messy AF and a faff to insert. I’ve now also used the Balance Activ pessaries AND tubes and a Canesten test to see if you had thrush or BV – basically all bogus. Granted friends have had some success with these, but not lasting. I went back to the sex clinic and happened to see a gynocologist who said it was gone. So I was like, ‘Great I can drink and have sex, woo!’ Wrong. From this point on I was on and off different kinds of antibiotics at least four times – higher dosage, longer dosage etc. Once these were ineffective I explored the internet again for more specific home remedies.

The online presence of women with vulval problems is, to say the least, extensive – especially for BV. Hundreds of women on family forums and chat rooms have shared their experiences and I did not feel any better for it – just far more angry. Some women had been dealing with the condition for decades. DECADES! Some, at this point, had made drastic life changes such as no sugar, no alcohol, no caffeine, or no dairy diets, that may or may not have worked. Very few women would follow up on their hypothesis online and, if they did, it usually went like this: 1) ‘Gonna try [insert insane home remedy such as vitamin C tablets in the vagina] tonight, I’ve heard good things, and I really think it will work.’ 2) ‘First day in and it’s going really well so far, smell’s pretty much gone, I just have funky discharge, I might do a week and stop,’ 3) ‘Guys I’m so upset I stopped using [insert home remedy] and the smell has come back! I don’t know what do!’

Basically all of these ‘remedies’ are totally impractical and any benefits, at risk of further harm, are short term. Some of these I’ve tried, such as the afore mentioned vitamin C tablet insertions (worked for a friend, not for me); garlic cloves inserted in the nether regions at night (worked whilst I used them but so much hassle – no longevity); one brief stint with hydrogen peroxide (highly recommended online – total bullshit, painful and messy); no sugar diet (just boring AF made little to no difference).

What worried me a lot was after finally seeing a proper gynaecologist she didn’t flinch at these obscure and potentially harmful self-treatments. Basically, it means that she couldn’t offer anything better than these experiments. Granted she thought I didn’t have BV anymore (although she didn’t take a swab – hmm…) and actually suggested I might have a kind of reactionary vulvodynia, which I don’t believe I have (although lack of penetration, tampons or otherwise, means I can’t really tell). I was totally unsatisfied with her diagnosis and am frustrated that I’m still dealing with this shit almost a year later after it started. THERE IS SOMETHING INHERENTLY WRONG WITH MY VAGINA! Why can no on see it?

After seeing my GP several times, more blood and urine samples, an ultrasound to check whether there is anything wrong with my bladder since I’d had the sensation of a UTI since contracting BV, (which I thought was part of the condition but might have been a side affect – who the fuck knows) the end is not in sight. I have an appointment with a different gynaecologist coming up soon who I will grill, but apart from just getting used to a dull heaviness in my belly and the knowledge that I am unlikely to let anyone near my vagina again (to subject them to the smell or make it worse) there is not much I’m willing to do anymore.

What I have found valuable over the last year is really getting to grips with the different ways my friends are also suffering – polycystic ovaries and their symptoms, UTIs, chronic thrush, relapsing BV, contraceptive side affects – which are physically and mentally detrimental. I’m terribly sad that despite knowing my friends are very open about their bodies, the complicated and dismissive journey to receive a correct and reassuring diagnosis and treatment is incredibly isolating. Without comparing to those suffering diagnosed mental health issues, the emotional upheaval, however irrational, was extreme. Personally I found it incredibly difficult to get over the crippling self-consciousness I experienced, the thought that I would never find a partner who would not be completely curtailed by my odour, never feeling clean even though I showered everyday, not wanting to get dressed fearing that my clothes would smell, barely having the motivation to leave the house (granted for me combined with moving city and re-entering education) – whilst this sounds over dramatic and self-indulgent a close friend with the same condition and the scores of women present online show that this is not an unfamiliar state. Some individuals admitted they were so self conscious, even with their partners, that if they did have sex (often because they FELT BAD FOR THEIR PARTNER) they would only have sex in the bath or shower. How is it possible that a ‘common’ condition can leave women feeling so utterly helpless and insecure to the point of jeopardising their relationships and preventing them from living daily life?

I wish I could properly pinpoint where it’s going wrong – Patriarchy? I mean women have had vaginas since the beginning of time, so why do they continue to be a mystery? Especially since they GIVE LIFE.

All I can say is I feel privileged to share my experience and that I hope it resonates with some readers, not only to encourage them to share *cheese*, but for others to not be so discrediting when someone wants to open up. Again, I’m privileged that my friends are happy to hear the gritty details of my sexual organs but I also have other friends who have been received with unhelpful reactions – without negating the experience of thrush, having it once, sadly, is not the same as having BV for two years and if you haven’t had it, or vulvodynia for that matter, you probably do not know what it’s like in the same way that I having had BV will NEVER know what it’s like to have endometriosis or polycystic ovaries. BV is just one way of entering the deep dark convoluted realm of mysterious vaginal complications.

I’m not sure I’ve even fully articulated how this last year has been for me, or the incredible online presence of other such isolated women, not to mention that, if this is my experience (middle class white woman in a ‘developed’ country), what kind of situation is it for those where the healthcare systems are few and far between if existent?

Food for thought, if not an argument for some sort of initiative towards better women’s healthcare through research.

Anonymous

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Advice on Anal Sex: How I Like it Up the Bum

Photo Credit: The Street Where I Live

Anonymous

Before I begin sharing my anal discovery, I would like to express that all of my advice is from my personal experience as a heterosexual female. That being said, however, I feel like men’s bums can’t be so different and so hopefully this will be helpful to anyone interested in “doing it up the bum”. It’s also important to mention that of course anal sex is not for everyone – this is my personal experience.

During my teenage years of sexual discovery I was up for bonking in various positions, however, anal was a far cry from anything I would try. This  dismissal of anal sex was affirmed whilst watching Jaime Winstone in Kidulthood proclaiming “you can put it in my arse as well, it hurts, but I don’t mind”. Unsurprisingly I was firmly put off, and to be honest, satisfied with my more conventional forms of vaginal penetration. This quote by Winstone solidified my misconception that heterosexual anal sex was a male fantasy that women endured to please their sexual partners. Aside from this assumption, myself and many of my female friends feared what was deemed to be complete humiliation – shitting on your fella’s dick, or equally as worrying, a bleeding bum hole. Surely a bleeding bum hole couldn’t be worth the pleasure anal might bring? How wrong I was!

After leaving home, I set out on my path to anal enlightenment. I met a gay guy in my university halls to whom I’m forever indebted for helping to challenge my preconceptions by sharing his personal experiences as well as leading me to a very informative YouTube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=83lo7OqruJI) that guides you through the dos and don’ts of anal. Unfortunately my boyfriend at the time had a penis with the girth of a tree trunk which hardly fit into my vagina let alone my arsehole. After a single attempt to see “if it would fit”, I was confronted with an almighty shock – no, it did not fit. It could hardly pass the entrance to my anus. Tears streamed down my face whilst I desperately clung onto my tensed bum cheeks, my body convulsed across the bed as I moaned in agony. This really is no understatement of the pain I was in – it was unlike any log poo, it was searing pain in my arse. My then boyfriend lay there awkwardly wondering what to do or say. As you can imagine that was the only and last time we tried it. (I am giving you this graphic detail to warn those who copulate with a male whose penis is particularly large – be careful!)

My next sexual partner was casual – an older man with a little willy who knew how to use it! We spent our time together exploring the many wonders of sexual expression: domination, submission, role play, pain, pleasure and – you guessed it – anal. It was far less traumatic or even eventful as my previous experience of anal. When we tried anal, the small size of his penis and the excitement of sleeping with someone who was so compatible with my sexual expression overshadowed the actual act of anal penetration. It also didn’t last long enough for me to really gage how it felt. It was a success in the fact that his penis repeatedly entered my arsehole without a shock of agony, however, not much time was spent discovering the beauty that can be discovered during a loving session of anal play and so I was left with little to say on the experience. Despite the somewhat disappointing result, it proved to me that anal didn’t have to be an endurance test and could in fact be a fun addition to my sex life. 

Some years later, I met my current boyfriend who has a far more reasonably sized penis than the mammoth dick that first entered my arse. It in fact slides with ease into my back side with the help of a little lube (I use ‘Yes’ lube, it’s good for the body and the world).

How did I come round to having anal with my current partner? We had vaguely toyed with the idea and during a particularly curious evening one thing led to another and before I knew it, we were bonking up the bum. Was it what I expected and was it painful? No to both. It was far better than I expected and surprisingly there was not even the slightest bit of discomfort. The comfort and trust that I have with my current partner meant that not only was I relaxed when we first had anal, but also he understood that I needed to be in control in order for it to be pleasurable and, quite frankly, for it to work. The bum hole is so sensitive that sudden movements at the wrong time can be painful, this is not to say that the person penetrating can’t change speed of their own accord, but what it does mean is that there needs to be communication between both parties.

Since enjoying the new-found pleasures of my bum hole, anal play is a common activity in our sex life. Not only is anal sex quite an exciting alternative to vaginal sex, it also FEELS AMAZING! I have personally found that I can reach a far more intense state of pleasure at a greater speed than with vaginal sex. This discovery was a particularly important element to my journey to anal enlightenment as it obliterated my original doubts surrounding anal, and the idea that anal meant enduring pain in order to please a man. 

After realising the beauty of the bum, my partner and I have invested in some rather valuable sex toys, which include both anal beads and a trusty butt plug. A quick note on these toys: when it comes to anal beads, the insertion of the beads into the anus is quite a struggle. To uphold a straight face whilst you feed silicon balls into your partner’s rather tight, hairy bum hole is definitely character building, but not in my eyes particularly sexy. After this insertion, the toy will be hugged by the walls of your anus, and the delights that follow make the awkward insertion incredibly worthwhile. I should add that you get better over time, and eventually sliding a toy up your bum becomes second nature. The beauty of sex toys is that it enables you to do more things at once. The combination of vaginal sex, anal penetration and external clitoral stimulation might seem greedy but oh my god, it’s amazing! Be prepared to feel things you’ve never experienced before! The orgasms that I reach with anal play tend to be far greater than most climaxes achieved through vaginal sex alone, and I orgasm far quicker than with vaginal sex. The culmination of increased stimulation during sex, heightened pleasure and more immediate orgasms has meant that doing it up the bum has revolutionised my sex life.

My top anal tips:

  • Before any penetration, apply lube to both your anus and the penis or toy.
  • I would advise starting with a finger just to get used to the sensation of anal penetration and slowly building up to penetration with a toy/penis.
  • Try not to think about it before and during, if you over think it your bum can become tight. Relaxing and feeling comfortable are key.
  • Make sure that you are really turned on and relaxed.
  • It sounds counterintuitive, but relaxing your anus actually involves slightly pushing out (as if you’re about to go to the toilet) – this makes penetrating your anus far easier.
  • Whoever is penetrating you should know that the speed of penetration needs to be on your terms, this is in their interest too, as the whole experience will be far more satisfactory if you’re in control!
  • Start super slow, speed up in your own comfort. If it is uncomfortable at first stay still, concentrate on your breathing, apply more lube and remember that you’re in control. If it hurts do not feel pressured to continue.
  • Stimulate your clitoris (either yourself or have your partner do so).
  • My favourite position is “doggy style” as in some other positions it can feel like all your organs are smushed together. It is also easier to control the penetration by moving back and forth yourself instead of your partner doing so.

What to expect:

  • If it feels extremely painful straight away, slowly pull away.
  • It might feel like you’re going to cum immediately, especially if your clitoris is simultaneously stimulated!
  • If you cum and your partner wants to carry on until they cum, be warned it can be uncomfortable and I would advise that your partner cums in an alternative way.
  • NEVER DOUBLE DIP, you will get thrush or spread bad bacteria, which you will regret. Only go from anal to vaginal sex if you are using condoms.
  • If they do cum inside your bum, you will need to go to the toilet afterwards, expect to fart out shitty cum, no joke, not cute, but it’s worth it 😉
  • Your bum hole may be quite stretched, expect some strange poos afterwards and also noiseless farts, like wind down an alley.
  • Be gentle and don’t overdo it – your bum hole is very sensitive!
  • If you have a penis and you’re penetrating a vagina whilst a sex toy is inserted into the woman’s bum hole, you might feel it through the vaginal wall, I hear that this is nice but I suppose you can only find that out for yourself.

I would have liked to further express the pleasures felt during anal play but I worry that I would get carried away and this casual article could quickly turn into a clit flick. 

Just as a final note on my personal experiences with anal play from a woman’s perspective:  the muscles react with your mental thoughts and feelings in a strong way. With this in mind, for you to reach anal ecstasy you must listen to your mind and body and guide your partner to engage with your body in whatever way feels right for you.

Please share and discuss the insights that hopefully you have gained whilst reading this piece, spread the word and stay safe folks.

Anonymous

OMGYes: Wanking Reviews

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 15.46.37

Drawing by Ella Milburn

The website OMGYes has combined the wisdom of over 2,000 women aged 18-95 to pull together techniques from the first ever large-scale research about the specifics of women’s pleasure.

OMGYes features a series of different videos where women show their masturbation techniques for you to go away and try out, whether this be with a partner or masturbating alone. Various women were asked to give their reviews of the different techniques to Harpy and rate them out of 5. Here are the results…

ORBITING:

My masturbatory exploration centred on the ‘orbiting’ technique. The idea is that you try a range of circular motions on and around the clit, varying the speed and pressure to prolong climax and heighten pleasure.

I found that gently drawing circles around my vulva was a good place to start as it began to build sensation and increase arousal. Gradually, I narrowed the circles and increased the speed. Whilst it felt very tempting to just continue this pattern until I reached orgasm, I decided to mix it up a bit and started to switch between the small, faster circles and larger, slower ones. This required a bit of self-discipline as I have always found it easiest to come when maintaining one motion. However, the switching between various circular motions built up anticipation and meant that when I did eventually give in and let myself concentrate on my most sensitive spot within moments I was shooting stars!

Verdict:4 out of 5 stars.

I would say this is a good technique to try if you are someone who tends to climax quite quickly, however, the concentration and patience involved maybe makes it unsuitable for the lazy late night masturbator.

Try the orbiting technique for yourself and see whether you can send yourself to the moon!

MULTIPLE:

Two women reviewed this technique and reached very different verdicts.

Person A

As a slightly greedy masturbator I gravitated toward this technique, which essentially means making yourself come more than once. Quite often when spending some time with my loving right hand (or left if the right hand gets tired), I find myself thinking “I can’t wait to make myself come again after this, I’m going to masturbate for hours”, however, in reality after orgasming the first time, I usually feel very satisfied and mostly exhausted. This stops me from continuing to pleasure myself. The times I have persisted it usually takes what seems like days to come again – it turns out I was making some big masturbating mistakes.

The most useful tip I learnt in this tutorial is that continuing to masturbate in the same style as you did before the first orgasm is a bad idea! You need to give your vagina a little rest and then carry on in a style that pays attention to a wider surface area of your labia, as the whole are is really sensitive after an orgasm. Also you have to be careful not to put too much pressure on your clit as it’s all fired up and super sensitive and needs to be treated gently.

Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars.

Unfortunately, when trying this technique I wasn’t feeling very horny so I couldn’t fully enjoy the experience. I was also quite aware that I was thinking about it all a bit too much. Despite this, I really enjoyed learning new things, and I’m looking forward to being a multiple orgasming Mary.

Person B

A firm believer in the phrase ‘the more the merrier’, I decided to choose multiple orgasms. I enjoyed learning about the different techniques but believed there was a definite hole in their investigation. Their research had left them leaning towards a conclusion that overlooked the fact that many women can have multiple orgasms from increased pressure on the exact spot that caused them their first orgasm.

Verdict: 3 out of 5 stars.

Though thorough in some parts, this technique was lacking in others. It was almost like they couldn’t quite put their finger on what was missing.

EDGING:

I’ve tried edging before but I’d always been a little bit too goal orientated in my masturbation to stick at it properly, so I wanted to come back to this technique guns blazing to see if I could achieve a really intense orgasm. The idea is to bring yourself as close to orgasm as possible and then stop, to then build up to orgasm again as many times as possible before allowing yourself to come.

Pause edging = stopping before climax, going back down to zero, and starting again

This is really good, my orgasm was very intense. I initially used my own technique of rubbing my clitoris in circular motions but then I tried what the woman in the video suggested –  one finger stroking up and down the vulva, which was a new technique for me and it felt really nice. Stopping just before climax and going back down to zero required some real self-discipline but there’s no doubt it gave me a much more explosive orgasm. I would love to try this technique out in the bedroom.

Distracting the orgasm away = sudden or intense sensations away from the clit just before climax 

This really didn’t do it for me personally. The woman in the video suggested tapping other parts of your vulva as a way of distracting you from your orgasm but I found this kind of irritating. Stopping all together was much more effective in keeping me turned on.

Continuous edging = get right up to the orgasm then suddenly shift the touch away from the clit to other pleasurable zones 

This is a way that I like to masturbate – focusing mainly on the clitoris with circular motions but just before orgasm switching to other pleasurable zones like inserting fingers into your vagina or involving some anal play. My problem was that I found it hard to stay away from my clitoris because I was so turned on but it did feel amazing when I came.

Verdict:4 out of 5 stars.

I was a bit too impatient for this technique to be something I incorporate into masturbation regularly but I couldn’t stop thinking about how fun this technique would be with a parter. A mixture of the pause and continuous edging techniques would really add something to my sex life and I intend to get out there ASAP and try it out with someone else. I would be dubious to try out the distracting the orgasm away tapping technique with someone else as I think I would burst out laughing if they started tapping on my vagina.

SURPRISE:

I tried this technique with no expectations and was greeted with a surprise ending.

The move goes something like this: ease yourself in, slowly rubbing the area around but not directly on your clit to warm up. Once warmed up, start with slow movements on and around your clit, but the trick is to change technique often to keep the experience of pleasure moving. This is something I tend not to do, but I now find it is good practice not to get greedy with pleasure or focus on the end goal. Playing around with different movements and switching them up to maintain interest and exploration is well worth the end surprise.

At first the ‘Surprise’ technique felt very mechanical; having to remind myself to change the movement after getting used to the pleasure I was feeling required concentration. I then relaxed into switching it up every so often: up and down for ten seconds then left and right for ten seconds then circular movements… I surprised myself each time with the change in feeling that came with the different movements.

Verdict:4 out of 5 stars.

I think with this technique it is important not to get too hung up on what you’re doing or how it’s feeling: just keep regularly switching the move you are practicing. Then followed waves of pleasure which sustained itself and bounced back and forth: a rhythmic drawn out orgasm I don’t often experience..!

RHYTHM:

I was very dubious when I watched the videos describing this technique as it involves tapping rhythmically on the area just above and around the clitoris, tapping fast for 10-15 seconds and then changing to a slower rhythm. On actually trying out the technique, however, I was surprised at how amazing it felt. It built my orgasm up much more slowly and I was so turned on after about 5 minutes of this technique that I found it really hard to not just start rubbing my clitoris furiously. It’s something that I can imagine would be amazing for a partner to tease me with. I hadn’t really considered something so gentle before and was really surprised at how effective it was!

Verdict: 5 out of 5 stars.

I had such an explosive orgasm through using this technique and was really surprised that I had enjoyed it so much, as normally I have to rub my clitoris quite hard and fast to come. I would highly recommend trying out this technique, even just as a way of teasing yourself before you change to a different technique!

OMGYes is a really great resource for women everywhere who want to explore their sexuality. There is a membership cost but you then have access to a whole series of videos and techniques that most of the women asked to do these reviews had never even considered! It also offers good advice for anyone who is in a sexual relationship with a woman – it’s not just about masturbation but increasing women’s sexual pleasure in every capacity.

Have a look at the website here:

https://www.omgyes.com/try-it

Drawing by Iona Wills:

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Why is “female” masturbation still so taboo?

  

  (Artwork by Jessie Krish)


Anonymous
I was a very sexual child. I discovered porn at a very early age flicking through the television channels in the hotel on our family holiday. A naked woman appeared on the screen in very soft lighting. Being daytime, hotel porn there was nothing more hard-core than her nakedness. I remember being very aroused by the woman’s breasts. This is my first memory of arousal. I was about 6.

I don’t remember the exact day, but I discovered masturbation accidentally at around the age of seven. I felt like it was dirty and private but also that it was really exciting. I used to fold up pieces of tissue to masturbate with because it seemed dirty to actually touch myself. My mum used to call my vagina my ‘front bum’ and I was confused about why I got this sensation from rubbing it. I used to throw the tissues down the side of my bed afterwards, not knowing what else to do with them.

I remember I gradually started masturbating secretly in public: at the back of my parents’ car on long journeys at night and once in the living room when my family were watching television. I was ashamed as neither of my parents ever talked about masturbating, let alone girls masturbating but with hindsight the public masturbation was probably a cry for attention so that someone could explain what I was doing. To this day, neither of my parents has mentioned masturbation to me.

I began to get more and more experimental and I started humping one of my teddies and masturbating whenever I had the chance. I used to lock myself in the toilet for privacy. There still was not any mention of this word ‘masturbation’ from my parents, from anyone at school or my friends. I started to become worried and wanted to share my experience with someone but how could I? I didn’t even know what it meant and I was worried I would be considered disturbed or disgusting. I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was dirty and that it was something I should not be doing.

Eventually, on a family camping trip when I was around nine, I started talking to a girl I had made friends with about masturbating. Neither of us were using the word as we didn’t know what it was but it was a revelation to meet another child my age who was doing the same thing! At least I shared it with one other person. We masturbated together in her bedroom unselfconsciously and then ran back outside to play with our friends.

I started to gain more confidence on the topic as I got a bit older. By the time I reached Year 6 and had had some mild sex education (I now knew that the phrase ‘front bum’ was both scientifically incorrect and just ridiculous), I brought up the topic of masturbation with some of my friends. It turned out, of course, that most of the girls either kept lips tightly sealed on the topic or others genuinely didn’t know what it was. I did not reveal my own masturbation habits to any of my friends for some time. When I told an intimate friend towards the end of Year 6 she told me she had too. I finally felt this conversation might start to become an open one. One girl in my class, however, found out about my confession. She started to spread round that I was a lesbian and that I had had sex with my brother (children are very logical…) I retreated back in to my shell and denied ever having ‘masturbated’. The friend and I never spoke about it again.

This experience changed the way I could talk about my sexuality. My attempt to bring this topic up to some close friends had failed and I was humiliated. I continued guiltily and silently masturbating at home.

I discovered porn properly when I got my own computer in Year 9. I think a boy had told me some of the porn sites he had seen and so I decided to check them out myself. I loved it and so began another stage in my life of furious masturbation.

Even by the age of fourteen when lots of my friends had started to become sexually active and many were experimenting, there was still no conversation about masturbation.

People had started using the word ‘orgasm’ so I started to become suspicious that my friends had masturbated as there was no way they were having orgasms from the kind of sexual activity I was engaging in with teenage boys. Most girls at about fourteen or fifteen that I knew were reading magazines like ‘Cosmopolitan’. We were learning about all of these sexual things and talking and laughing about them but never once mentioning masturbation or our own sexual pleasure.

I decided to google ‘female masturbation’ and came across a website where women and men shared their masturbation stories and techniques. I loved this website and it was at this stage I started to move away from porn, realising I was more aroused by words. This website really made me start to think that I needed to try and talk about wanking with girlfriends but I couldn’t do it. It really was taboo and I didn’t want to risk having another rumour being spread about me in school. Even after reaching sixteen and becoming sexually active, I used to lie to my boyfriends about masturbating.

‘Female masturbation’ was always something I had seen as abnormal because I had only come across two girls that had ‘admitted’ to it. I did not understand why all the boys could laugh with each other about wanking. Even now when people talk about girls masturbating they call it ‘female masturbation’ with a real need to put the word female before the word masturbation.

Unfortunately, my silence regarding my sexual urges and the fact that I had used porn to learn about sex meant that when I did become sexually active, I did everything I possibly could to be like a porn star. I never thought about my own pleasure and this continued through my teens. I realised that what was more important to me in sex was whether or not the guy thought I was sexy and I used to be satisfied if I imagined the sex being filmed and thought ‘yeah, that would look good on camera’. I used to fake orgasm to quite an extreme level and began to feel deeply insecure about my body. I placed so much value on what boys thought of me and felt a deep sense of satisfaction if I heard a boy wanted to have sex with me or thought I was attractive. This was all very ironic considering I had been making myself orgasm since the age of seven. Pleasure was something I only experienced alone.

There were many factors feeding in to my sexual insecurities but lack of open discussion about sex and masturbation in my family, at school and in life generally, was something that made me hide my experiences and feel ashamed about them.

It had a negative effect on my sex life. I slept with people I didn’t really want to just to feel better about myself, to validate my sexual attractiveness. I finally realised that this wasn’t making me happy and I was being left after sexual experiences feeling like a masturbation tool. Oral sex was practically non-existent and boys would loudly talk about how disgusting they thought it was. Penetrative sex seemed to be the only way and it wasn’t working for me.

I plucked up the courage to talk to my friends from university about masturbation eventually and I was surprised when they were all so open about it. Maybe the situation at my school was particularly bad or I had friends who were specifically ashamed or shy about it – it’s very difficult to know. Mostly, I think it’s because some girls educated themselves through reading sex blogs privately or had been lucky enough to have female friends who are open about it (a rarity as far as I’m concerned). Depressingly, I would say that not even half of the girls I know have ever spoken openly about masturbation. It was a total revelation to me that some of my university friends had had these conversations with friends as early as twelve or thirteen.

I talk relatively openly about my masturbation habits now but mainly with select friends and still tread very carefully around the topic with some friends. The education on this topic is almost totally absent from schools and most parents feel embarrassed to discuss the topic. The Bridesmaidsesque jokes about little boys’ cum covered sheets snapping in half are seen as hilarious and Ben Stiller’s cum hair gel is a classic romcom moment, but where are the jokes about girls masturbating? Where is the normalisation of something so normal? The only scenes depicting women masturbating that I saw when I was younger were sexualised; filmed by men for men.

My lack of decent sex education meant that I had some quite unpleasant experiences. I lied to friends and boyfriends and I was less equipped to become sexually active in a way that made me comfortable and confident.

Masturbation isn’t dirty and it should not be considered just a male pastime. Obviously girls and women masturbate and they should not feel ashamed in the way that I did. I am more in control of my sex life now and no longer need as much validation from men. Penetration does not pleasure many women and it took me too long to realise this – I thought clitoral stimulation was something I did myself and that penetrative sex was what I did with a man. I should’ve opened up about it earlier but I was prevented from doing so by the toxic environment I was surrounded by.

Unfortunately, it says a lot that I am writing this article anonymously, I still feel it is a topic I can approach only with people I trust and have consistently seen men sexualise women and fantasise about those who talk openly about masturbation. This needs to stop and I hoped in writing this piece that I could help all the women and girls out there that feel or felt like I did. Let’s break the taboo around masturbation and start to have an open conversation.

Anonymous

Let’s talk about cunnilingus!

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(Artwork by ©JessieKrish)

A few disclaimers

  • A very helpful (or perhaps pedantic?) man left a comment on my survey that I should stop using the word ‘vagina’ as a synonym for ‘vulva’. Thank you kind survey taker! You may be surprised to know that I am aware of this! I am choosing to use the term vagina because, as a woman, that is what my friends and I commonly use when discussing them (however scientifically incorrect this may be!) Therefore, throughout this article I will use the term vagina when I actually mean vulva.
  • I posted both surveys on Facebook and so for this reason, the people that answered are probably mainly people I know from London and some people from University. Some friends of friends have taken part and obviously I have no idea who actually answered, due to the survey being anonymous, but thought it would be good to clarify this is just information collected from 100 straight boys and 100 straight women most probably that I know in some way from London or university.
  • An issue I can already see with my research is that I didn’t put an explanation box next to the ‘it depends on the girl/boy ’ box. This leaves this option open to interpretation and makes it not especially useful.
  • There was a lot more information in the answers that didn’t apply to this article (which was entirely a fault of my questions) but which was really interesting so I’m hoping to use the survey to write something else at a later date.
  • I’ve also broken it down into sections, so if you aren’t interested in reading all of it, you can scroll to different sections.

Anxiety about what men think about women’s vaginas and pubic hair is common amongst young women. I only have to think about my own personal experiences and the conversations I’ve had with friends to confirm this (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg).

I was talking to a female friend about her recent sexual experiences and she was puzzled as to why men had not been going down on her recently. We wondered whether this was linked to the fact that, recently, she had not been getting rid of her pubic hair entirely. From my experience, this is nearly always the conclusion that a girl will jump to. Even if they don’t have any pubic hair, they will often become anxious about whether there is something ‘wrong’ with their genitals. This made me wonder why girls automatically assume that their vagina/pubes are the issue if a man has not gone down on them.

We speculated for a while and some other reasons for men not performing oral sex came up: what if they just didn’t like going down on women? Or, what if they didn’t know what to do? We then wondered if men were maybe scared of vaginas, and the list goes on…The only way to go about answering any of these questions was to create a survey and ask young men (18-25) to tell us what they think. I then created a mirror survey for women to answer to see if the two correlated. One of the main reasons for doing this was to try and bust some myths and hopefully make everyone feel more comfortable talking about the subject in the future.

I wanted to find out if there was a link between men wanting/not wanting to perform cunnilingus and pubic hair, but also, to try to find out if sexual experience has anything to do with the way that men think about vaginas, oral sex and pubes and whether people think porn has had an effect on any of this.

Number of partners – does it affect likelihood of cunnilingus?

Interestingly, the initial question of ‘how many people have you slept with?’ suggested that men had slept with more partners than women had, however, there is a common consensus among gatherers of such data that men are prone to exaggerate and women to say fewer than in reality. Out of these women, lower numbers reported men performing oral sex on them than the men reported they had.

Here are the results of the women surveyed:

MEN PERFORMING ORAL SEX OVER HALF THE TIME

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From the women’s perspective, they received the most cunnilingus in the 1-5 partner category – this is probably to do with the fact that most of these partners were boyfriends. It’s pretty near half and half for 10+ partners. However, 6-10 partners shows a striking difference in reported cunnilingus by women. Does this correlate with the male response?

MEN PERFORMING ORAL SEX OVER HALF THE TIME

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In terms of the fact that, again, the men who had had 1-5 partners performed cunnilingus more: yes.

This could then explain why the men surveyed answered they were more likely to give oral sex to their girlfriend. 76% of men responded that they would be more likely to go down on their girlfriend. The opinion of the women asked essentially agreed with this: 69% said a boyfriend was more likely to. Interestingly, this shows that a lot of women have a tiny bit less confidence in thinking men will go down on them than the men surveyed stated.

However, it is in the 6-10 partners category there is the biggest contrast. How could men and women’s experiences be so different? Perhaps these women are only counting oral sex if they had an orgasm, for example, or maybe these men are exaggerating. It could also be a freak group where the numbers do not match.

In every category over half of these men say they have gone down on over 50% of the girls they’ve slept with. There is not an obvious correlation between more partners and more cunnilingus occurring but perhaps the higher levels of cunnilingus in the 1-5 partners category suggests that this is where men feel most comfortable – with their girlfriends.

So to draw a rough conclusion from this – most people are reporting that more than 50% of partners are performing cunnilingus, but is this enough? I think a lot of women would probably say no… Both sexes agreed being in a relationship would increase the likelihood of cunnilingus – but should a relationship be the only safe bet for women to receive oral sex?

Perhaps a way to tackle this would be to respond to the fact that ‘they think they’re not good at it’ was the second most selected answer to the question ‘why do some men shy away from performing oral sex?’ Is this one of the reasons men are more comfortable performing oral sex on their girlfriends?

‘Men think they’re not good at it’

Not knowing what to do or being worried about how ‘good you are’ is actually almost completely understandable. Sex education about female sexual pleasure is almost next to none in schools and porn (as will be discussed later) does not give men much of an idea of how to pleasure a woman.

One massive factor that I think applies to this is women being afraid to tell a man what to do, or at least give some kind of encouragement. Communication is key and this problem will persist without it. However, due to aforementioned lack of sex education, lots of women equally don’t feel equipped to ‘help’ men or to know what they want.

A key statistic to mention here is that most women find it easier to orgasm through oral sex/direct clitoral stimulation. A vast amount of women cannot reach orgasm through penetrative sex alone. Elizabeth Lloyd’s book ‘The case of the female orgasm’ cites that only 25% of women consistently orgasm through vaginal intercourse. Her research was done through a comprehensive analysis of 33 studies on the subject, over the last 80 years. This research fits in with the experience of most women I speak to, so a lot of women are often quite perplexed when a man does not go down on them. How are they supposed to reach orgasm? Are women expected to do it themselves (through clitoral stimulation) during intercourse? Is it fine for women just to not reach orgasm full stop, even if their male partner does? It is often much easier for a man to reach orgasm through penetrative sex. This means that female sexual pleasure often seems to be secondary to a man’s.

Lloyd goes on to further explain that about half of women sometimes orgasm during intercourse. About 20% seldom or ever have orgasms during intercourse. And about 5% never have orgasms, ever. Put plainly, penetrative sex is not key to female orgasm and pleasure.

Essentially, the way this is all linked is clear – there is a lack of communication and, yes, perhaps men are a little bit worried about it. Men don’t know what to do, women often don’t know how to tell them what to do and both could feel awkward or embarrassed. It’s really important for men to consider the fact that only a quarter of the women they have slept with (statistically) have continually reached orgasm through penetration. A lot of the women surveyed said that they essentially thought men were a bit scared of anything other than penetrative sex and that they weren’t confident men knew how to make them reach orgasm (30% of women surveyed said ‘no’ to the question ‘do you feel confident men know how to make women orgasm?’) With more communication and understanding this could change.

Pubic hair + vaginas are disgusting

 The key thing I wanted to find out was whether there is a correlation between women having pubic hair and men not wanting to go down on them.

So, the most likely reasons for some men to shy away from performing oral sex were:

  1. They think it’s disgusting (sorry ladies…)
  2. They think they’re not good at it
  3. The girl has too much pubic hair

So, from this survey, it does look like a lot of men may have issues when considering going down on a woman or not because they think our fannies are disgusting! (Yay…) However, men’s own insecurities (as discussed above) actually came before a girl having too much pubic hair, so that’s something a lot of women may not have considered (and many men may not want to publicly admit).

So, let’s try and unpack this. Firstly, why do many men seem to think that vaginas are disgusting? Perhaps some other answers I received would be a good place to start.

Quite a few of the men and women in the survey linked vaginas with personal hygiene.

This guy has linked a girl’s general personal hygiene to her vagina, which doesn’t seem so unreasonable.

Even if I’m not down with it, I think I can appreciate if they’ve made the effort of whatever. However, if the state of your puss seems related to general personal hygiene attitudes: I ain’t down.

However, quite a few responses linked personal hygiene with pubic hair. Here is one example:

 Personally I prefer if it’s kept reasonably neat and hygienic just like my own pubic hair (and my own hair for that matter). But that’s just a preference not exactly a deal breaker for me.

Including many women:

Personally I prefer a landing strip anyway (nothing to do with male preference/porn) as I believe it is cleaner and easier to manage

I used to be someone who removed my pubic hair and told myself and everyone else it was because I felt sexier/cleaner/happier that way. It was only once I took time to realise how and why I had come to feel like that (i.e. boys at young age saying girls with pubes were wrong/dirty etc that I realised I wasn’t doing it for me at all.

To this, I say: the purpose of pubic hair IS for hygiene (particularly where women are concerned). Preferring pubes to be kept neat and hygienic is pretty much an oxymoron as having pubic hair, if anything, makes your vagina more hygienic. There seems to be a trend in both men and women thinking that removing pubic hair is more hygienic. This is a myth. Pubes are there to stop you getting infections etc

So boys and girls, first point to make when discussing pubes and vaginas being disgusting is that pubes are not unhygienic!

On the subject of pubic hair, another reason some boys reported not wanting to go down on women was linked to how much pubic hair they had. This may or may not be one of the reasons that ‘vaginas are disgusting’ was the top reason for some men shying away from oral sex, but it is most probably linked.

23% said they would reconsider going down on a girl who had pubes – this speaks for itself (almost a quarter).

However, surprisingly, 38% of men said flat out no. One even went so far as to say:

I will consider all cunts.

Thanks anonymous straight man! All cunts should be considered!

This result is more encouraging than I thought it would be and at least should say to women that, even if not most men, really quite a lot of them actually want to go down on you, regardless of anything.

34% said it depends on the girl – this could mean many things: might not fancy her that much, the girl may not want oral sex etc but equally it could also be linked to pubic hair i.e.depends on how much the girl has. I’m also inclined to believe it may again be linked to girlfriend/being more intimate. It seems less likely cunnilingus will be performed on a one-night stand from this research.

Let’s be honest, this is fair. I can completely understand that it may be more pleasant to go down on a girl with less pubes so you can see what you’re doing, easy access etc. It’s just a preference. Or maybe not…?

Some female survey respondents pointed out:

I’ve been made so self conscious in the past by men telling me their ‘pube preference’ because regardless of what I think, at that point I instantly feel unattractive and spiral into feeling deeply insecure. It is so hard to NOT get rid of all your hair because almost every boy I’ve spoken to ‘prefers’ less hair.

Women feel they need to have no pubic hair as this makes them feel more sexy, as men see this as more sexy

As far as this survey is concerned, it’s clear that there are some men and women who think pubes are unattractive, some who think they’re rank, one man (I was actually shocked there weren’t a few more!) who chose ‘I like a bush’ and many other preferences/don’t cares in between. So maybe ‘men thinking vaginas are disgusting’ is just a myth or at the very least an exaggeration? Maybe men sort of assume that’s what other men think? Maybe men think that pubes are kind of gross? FRANKLY, who cares! It’s your vagina ladies and it shouldn’t matter what any man says about it. You do what you want and (to paraphrase various female survey takers) if he cares that much about your pubes he’s a waste of time.

However, there is another side to this. There were a lot of women who reported feeling insecure about having pubic hair, especially outside of a relationship. Some women explained:

I always struggle to know what I really think, because thinking all women shouldn’t remove their hair is kind of self righteous…but that said, I used to be someone who removed my pubic hair and told myself and everyone else it was because I felt sexier/cleaner/happier that way. It was only once I took time to realise how and why I had come to feel like that (i.e. boys at a young age saying girls with pubes were wrong/dirty etc that I realised I wasn’t doing it for me at all. And now I can’t imagine having a little bald fanny…

I don’t care at all within a relationship; it’s different when single…

 I used to be quite self-conscious about hair in general. I used to tell myself it was because I preferred having Brazilian/Hollywood but now my boyfriend doesn’t care and I’ve been more surrounded by Feminism and I’ve realised I don’t mind as much as I used to.

It is easy enough to say to women that they shouldn’t care what men think or that their insecurities are the issue, not men, but when society seems to dictate to you that you should not have pubic hair (and when a lot of male respondents cited ‘preferences’ for less/no hair,) how easy is it to just ignore what’s ‘expected’ of you?

Some men were keen to highlight that they didn’t like the way I phrased the question about pubic hair as: what SHOULD women’s pubic hair be like? – that was the whole point. 35% of men selected an option containing the word SHOULD and only a few wrote in the ‘other’ box with things like: ‘I disagree with the phrasing of the question’. This was exactly my point. 35% of men expressed that they felt a woman’s pubes SHOULD be a certain way. Luckily a few men picked up on my phrasing of the question and said they have no right to dictate how women’s pubes are, even if they have a preference.

Only one male respondent on the survey claimed that they like a full bush. This clearly shows that lots of men go along with the current pubic hair fashion for women. Everyone knows that pubes have changed throughout the ages. It was much more common for women to sport the bush in the 70s, for example, and gradually, through each recent decade, the hair was removed more and more. It is therefore near impossible to distinguish between whether you really have a preference, or whether the ‘norm’ has been so culturally engrained that you cannot possibly say. A number of women (around 30%) said that they liked to remove their pubes but, as a woman, if you were not going to have sex for a year would you still remove your pubic hair?

I don’t mean for this to sound so deterministic, but I think it is worth commenting on after the vast numbers of correspondents who said things like: ‘it’s her choice BUT… I prefer this…’ – how are women supposed to feel comfortable with THEIR choice after you, who is sleeping with them, have stated yours? Which may be the opposite of what they want.

Porn

The final link I was trying to find was with porn.

Overwhelmingly, both men and women agreed that porn has had a mostly negative effect on the way men view vaginas (mainly mentioning pubes).

Both sexes said things like this:

Yes, most men expect clean-shaven

 Pubic hair is non-existent in porn 

Almost all vaginas in porn completely shaved 

I think the homogenised vulva we see in porn changes the perceptions on what is ‘normal’ e.g. pubic hair, labial lengths/shapes, clit appearance

 

This is not big news to anyone really and, to be honest, it is hard to draw any comprehensive conclusions about how porn really has affected the way men view vaginas because every mans response is essentially different, the only hands down majority response from both men and women was that men expected there to be little or no pubic hair.

Despite this, one man offered what I think is a more realistic idea of what men think of women’s vaginas despite porn:

Ultimately, I don’t think men are too particular about the ‘type’ of vagina they come across. I haven’t come across a man who hasn’t had sex or returned for sex due to a girl’s vagina being deemed unacceptable.

However, women pointed out some more serious consequences of (they thought) porn:

I’ve slept with someone and just been thinking, is there something wrong with me? Should this be feeling nice? Then realised they’ve probably learnt it from something they’ve seen. I’ve also had experiences of being made to feel ashamed about the fact that they haven’t made me feel good, again something I believe is caused by them expecting a certain reaction and being angry at not getting it.

They don’t realise that things done in porn aren’t actually nice for a vagina.

 I think porn gives an unrealistic view on how the vagina should be handled. Thus, giving some men the opinion that a vagina isn’t as fragile as it actually is.

This is actually really terrifying and should not be taken lightly. The conversation about pubes is an important one, but NO woman should be feeling like this after sexual experiences with men…The word ‘fragile’ here is key, and should be remembered.

Conclusion

In conclusion, after all of this (it has been unbelievably long, I’m sorry…), even though most people are in agreement that there is an expectation for women to have little pubic hair, this does not affect whether a man is willing to perform oral sex in the majority of cases when all the factors are put together. What is important to consider, however, is how much the general consensus on women’s pubes actually affects women’s decision to remove or leave pubic hair.

It seems to be true that a lot of men are worried about performing oral sex and that everyone needs to talk more openly about the subject to stop all the women (me and my friends included) worrying about what men think about their vaginas and also to make sure that men feel as confident as possible in the bedroom.

I must also point out that not every woman will want oral sex. Although the women surveyed did not say this, it is important to make the point that any sex is all about consent. This survey has pointed to the fact that a lot of people did it, wanted to do it or received it but that does not speak for all. Women may withdraw their consent at any time or not want oral sex in the first place. In line with this, consent should always be given for rougher sex and anything else in between and there should not be an expectation that women like to be ‘pounded’ or anger from the man if he is not able to make a woman reach orgasm (as it was cited by a female survey taker, I felt like I had to state the obvious).

One final point to consider: my friends and I have often discussed whether it is wrong for us to expect oral sex. If the roles were reversed and men were outraged at not receiving oral sex, women would be furious. Any girl I know would despise oral sex being an expectation. However, in light of the comprehensive research that has been carried out about female pleasure, is it different for women? It’s proven that women have spent the majority of their sex lives not being pleasured through intercourse, unlike the majority of men. To quote sex educator Betty Dodson “Intercourse is okay, but I much prefer a talented tongue on my clitoris.” This is definitely something to take away from the research – it’s probable that women’s sex lives would be a whole lot better if cunnilingus became more normalised and more education and discussion about female sexual pleasure took place.

 

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