Scarlet Ladies: Sex Without Stigma

Preamble: HI THERE FAMILY MEMBERS AND PEOPLE OF A DELICATE NATURE! As the title of this post would suggest, the content of this post is going to be sexual in nature. Why don’t you preserve our relationship and read this nice apple pie recipe I wrote instead?

I climb three sets of dark stairs and enter the room through a door disguised as a bookshelf. A young woman with a clipboard takes my name and hands me a glass of prosecco and a small blue box. Upon investigation, the box contains two packets of condoms, a fingertip vibrator and a veritable wealth of information on safe sex. The room is lit in scarlet and the comfortable armchairs are occupied by a tantric masseuse, an orgasmic meditation coach, a member of the BDSM community, a sex columnist and the cofounder of Scarlet Ladies, a sexual empowerment organisation for women. This is my first Scarlet Ladies event and honestly, I’m not quite sure what to expect. I take a gulp of my prosecco and giggle as I remember that outside of this room, London is proceeding with a perfectly ordinary rainy Tuesday evening.

The small room fills with women: young women, old women, black women, Asian women, trans women. We swap salacious grins as the evening’s panel take their places. The night is presided over by Alix Fox, a tiny, blonde hurricane of a woman, who cracks jokes that would make Christian Grey blush and whose writing has been featured everywhere from Vogue to the Guardian. She keeps the conversation flowing throughout the night, tackling sensitive subjects with tact and sensitivity and making lascivious comments about her low chair placing her knees around her ears at every available opportunity.

The first panellist is Claudia Melli, an orgasmic meditation coach. Every hand in the room shoots up as she starts talking, all of us with one question on our lips: what the hell is an orgasmic meditation coach and how does one go about getting that job? Orgasmic meditation is a practice which distinguishes between orgasm and climax, focusing on bringing our attention to the state of orgasm and enjoying sensations in the moment, rather than racing towards climax. The practice is about connection and wellbeing as much as about sex. Claudia makes a point of having two orgasms before she gets out of bed each morning and while I can’t confirm that this is how she looks 27 while in her fifties, it certainly seems like she’s doing something right.

Next up, we have Alyssa Black, whose involvement in the kink community helped her work through her transition. She eases us in gently, confiding that she still has bruises on her thighs from the weekend’s activities, before opening up on London’s thriving kink scene. Some audience members start to look a little pale as she enthuses about creating in-body corsets using surgical staples and ribbon but other members look decidedly interested. We chat about trust, communication and enthusiastic consent in BDSM relationships. Huge focus is placed on consent in kink relationships and it’s easy to see why – if you’re approaching someone with a surgical stapler, you want to make damn sure that both of you are having a good time.

Then, tantric teacher Catherine Dunworth speaks. Catherine is probably the most serene person I’ve ever come across and with three lovers and a career as a tantric masseuse, it’s no wonder. She talks about tantra as a practice that opens up your whole body, as well as your heart and mind. Once again, the topic of sex as communication comes up. She offers a tantric massage as a prize in the evening’s prize draw, an experience encompassing meditation, yoga and massage – all while completely naked, of course. She peaks everyone’s interest when she lists the mind boggling types of orgasms she’s experienced and takes issue with the term “alternative sexual practices”, posing the very good question – alternative to what?

Finally, we come to Jannette Davis, confounder of Scarlet Ladies and self-confessed orgasm evangelist. She talks about founding Scarlet Ladies to help dispel the shame and stigma that surrounds female sexuality, and to provide a safe space for women to have these conversations. Many women feel isolated with their sexuality, sure that they’re the only one having complicated thoughts and feelings. An evening in a room with these women proves that none of us are alone in having complicated feelings about sex. She talks about her experience of growing up in a conservative household and how she balances her upbringing, her experiences as a black woman and her love of sex. She truly is evangelical about having the confidence to ask for what you want in the bedroom and both her confidence and her enthusiasm are infectious.

By the time the first half of the evening rolls to a close, the room is abuzz with chatter. Questions are whispered and scribbled on colourful post its, the air is pricked with stifled giggles and gasps as glasses are filled with more bubbles. Alix draws us back together and opens the floor to questions. At first, questions are surreptitiously handed to Alix on post its, but she is wonderful at making us laugh and putting us at ease and by the end of the night, we’re all talking at once, shouting over each other, screeching with laughter, having conversations that I never would have dreamed we’d be confident enough to have at the beginning of the night. We talk about exploring kink in relationships. We talk about the opposing pressures of the media and feminism in sex. We talk about whether some sexual acts are fundamentally un-feminist (Spoilers: no, they are not. If you are having consensual, communicative sex, it’s *all* good). We talk about boundaries and sex toys and using lubricant as moisturiser. No topic is off bounds and no one is ever made to feel uncomfortable or strange for asking a question or expressing an interest in a particular area. Over the course of the evening, it becomes clear that everyone is different, everyone has slightly different kinks and limits and the only way to have great sex is through – yes, you guessed it – great communication. Alyssa rounds off the evening with perhaps the best piece of sex advice I’ve ever heard: “Every day’s a school day”.

Flushed, slightly tipsy and more than slightly titillated, I head out into the rainy Tuesday night feeling thoroughly inspired and empowered, although not quite empowered enough to stop me panicking that I’m going to drop my goody bag of sex toys on the bus home.

Scarlet Ladies run weekly events ranging from presentations with inspiring women to blowjob workshops with professional dominatrixes. Whoever you are, whatever you’re into, you have something to gain from becoming a Scarlet Lady.

What to Expect When You’re Electing

Election day is drawing nigh and campaigning is reaching fever pitch. You forget what it was like to have normal post. All of your TV shows have been replaced with party political broadcasts. You pick up a piece of fruit and it starts talking to you about dementia tax. That’s what it can feel like anyway.

This Thursday, the nation will take to the polling station to choose what kind of a country we want to be for the next five years. The opinion polls are doing their best but there’s one unknowable factor that will genuinely determine the election’s outcome: who turns up to vote on the day.

Hopefully, lots of people have become engaged in the last few months. Say what you like about our times, they’re certainly not politically boring. If you’re new to voting or are considering voting for the first time in a long time, this post is for you! I’m not going to tell you who to vote for, that’s entirely your call. What I am going to do is run you through exactly what happens on polling day, telling you where to go, what you need to do and hopefully showing you how quick and easy it is to make your voice heard. After all…

uk election 2017

Before election day…

In the run up to election day, there are a few things you need to do.

Most importantly, decide who to vote for!

All party manifestos are available online, but if you’re not particularly enthused by any of the parties, a non-partisan website like Who Should You Vote For will ask you to rate some of the main policy ideas of the three major parties and tell you who will best represent your interests.
If, on the other hand, the only thing you want from this election is to see the back of the Conservative government, this website will tell you how to use your vote to the best tactical advantage.

Check where your polling station is!

Your polling station will be a public building, for example a community hall or a school, in your area. Shortly before election day, you should receive a polling card through the post, telling you where your polling station is. If you do not get a polling card through the post, don’t panic! You can vote without one. If you don’t get a polling card and you’re not sure where your polling station is, get in touch with your local elections office. They will be able to point you in the right direction. Contact details for local election offices can be found here. You must vote at the correct polling station, so if you’re not sure, it’s worth checking!

On election day…

So, the day has finally arrived and we’re all ready to exercise some democratic rights. Hooray! Now what?

When to vote

On election day, your polling station will be open from 7am until 10pm. You can show up at any point during this time but bear in mind that the early evening is likely to be busiest. You do not need to book a slot, just go along whenever you are ready. If there’s a queue, rejoice that so many people are taking part in our democratic process and stay there. This shit is important, you guys. As long as you are in a queue by 10pm, you will be allowed to cast your vote.

What to take (and what not to!)

If you have it, take your polling card with you. If you don’t, or you forget it, don’t worry! You don’t need it to vote. It is just a handy tool that can help the polling station staff find you on their register quickly.

You do not need ID to vote. There have been hints that this might change in the future but for the moment, you can leave that passport at home.

Another thing to leave at home? Your “I Heart Corbyn” t-shirt. Political clothing or paraphernalia is not permitted inside a polling station, as this could be intimidating to other voters.

You do not need to bring a pen with you. Pencils will be provided in each polling booth.

What happens inside a polling station

When you enter the polling station, there will be a registration desk in front of you. If you have your polling card, hand it to the polling station staff. If not, they will ask you for your full name and address. They will mark you off on their register and give you your ballot paper.

If there are other people waiting, you are welcome to talk to them about the weather, their lipstick, the Great British Bake Off…anything except the election. No election chat is permitted once you are inside your polling station.

There will be a number of private polling booths set up. Take your ballot paper to one of these booths before making your choice. The ballot paper will show all of the available candidates for your constituency. The name of the party leader will not be on your ballot paper. Your ballot paper will show the name of your local candidate, and which party they represent. If you’re voting for Corbyn, select the Labour candidate. If May is your dream Prime Minister, you’re looking for the Conservative candidate. You get the idea.

Put one cross in the box opposite the name of your chosen candidate. For general elections, we use a first past the post system, which means you only make one choice. Do not make any mark on your ballot paper other than your cross, as it might render your vote invalid.

Once you’ve put a cross in your candidate’s box, fold your ballot paper in half and put it into the ballot box. The box should be clearly marked but if you are not sure, your polling station staff should be able to help you.

Once your ballot is safely in the box, you’re done! Go buy yourself a pint and congratulate yourself on participating in our democratic process. If you fancy taking a selfie, this is the moment. Photography inside polling stations is frowned upon, as you may accidentally reveal your ballot paper or someone else’s. Once you’re outside, however, go wild! I love an election day selfie.

uk polling station

The result of this election absolutely hinges on who turns up on the day. Historically, the most privileged among us are the ones who turn out to vote. If you feel like politicians don’t represent you, this is the moment that you can take back the power. Make them sit up and listen. Use your voice. Use your vote.