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.

Three’s A Charm

Well folks, today is a bit of a special occasion. The Escapologist’s Daughter is three years old today.

Three years ago, I sat at my computer and typed out my biggest secret for the whole world to see: that I had no idea who I was supposed to be or what I was supposed to be doing. The past three years have been a fantastic and often frustrating adventure as I continue to find that out.

In the past three years, I have done things I never thought possible. I have stood up against injustice. I have had my arse featured in the Daily Mail and lived to tell the tale. I have written a book. I have watched my little voice grow from a whisper into a roar.

Now, a lot of the time, I’m still not totally sure what I’m roaring about. It’s a learning process, you guys. And inevitably, that sometimes means that I roar something only to come back five hours later and roar “I AM SORRY ABOUT THAT. I WAS HUNGRY AND CONFUSED.” like the Honey Monster. I’m still not entirely sure who I’m supposed to be. But I’m sure that what I’m supposed to be doing is telling stories.

I guess I’ve always been telling stories. As a kid, this manifested in scribbled pamphlets all over the house, long suffering parents watching another four hour play and the occasional whopper of a lie. I once fell in the swimming baths and cut an enormous great gash in my back. I told my entire class that I had been caught up in a car explosion. I was the most talked about person in the school for weeks. Everyone was so impressed.

I have gotten distracted. That tends to happen. But if you’ve been around this long, I’m sure you’ve noticed that.

What I’m trying to say is that I never stopped telling stories. This entire blog is a story. This is my story. My life is virtually unrecognisable to what it was three years ago and that is largely because of this little blog. This blog has made me brave, given me the courage to do things and ask for things I never would have dreamed of before. You, every one of you, have made me brave. I hope that whatever my future holds, I can continue to tell you stories. And I hope that sometimes, those stories feel like a hand taking yours. Because my darling, you are not alone. If you don’t know who you are, you are not alone. If you feel like everyone else is doing better than you, you are not alone. If you are wondering when adulthood hits and everything sorts itself out, you are not alone. This blog has seen some of my absolute lows as well as many of my absolute highs. I created it to chart the stories and the scars as much as to flaunt the pretty things. This life is a funny old mixed bag. It really is. But I promise you, you can do it. You just need to figure out your story.

Thank you for hanging out with me, for seeing yourselves in me, for letting me be a part of your life. The thought of someone reading these words standing at their kitchen counter with a glass of wine, in bed on a Sunday morning, on a rainy commute…that’s what it’s all about. There really isn’t anything better than that. Thank you for being a part of my story and for letting me be a part of yours. I love you to the moon and back.

 

 

We Came. We Marched. Now What?

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to be a part of something momentous.

womens march london

All over the world, in all seven continents (yes, even Antarctica), people of all genders came together to march against the rise of oppression and fascism epitomised by Donald Trump’s ascent to power.

Millions of people took to the streets, waving placards splashed with hopeful, hilarious messages and the key message was this: we’re not going to let the bastards get away with this.

It was an amazing thing to be a part of and everyone I know who attended has been quite rightly riding a wave of feminist euphoria since. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more feminist than passing a flowery hip flask of rum around a group of freezing women clutching sweary placards.

It was an amazing, inspiring day and no one can ever take that from us. But. If we are really not going to let the bastards away with all of their nonsense, the march has to be a beginning, a jumping off point, not an ending. We have not yet “done our bit”. If we’re serious about stopping this massive, terrifying threat, we need to commit to fighting every day.

For a lot of people, this march was the first time that they had been involved in a protest. If that’s you – welcome! Come on in, we have felt pens and rum. I hope that the march left you feeling all fired up and ready for battle. We’re going to need you to keep that fire burning. If that all sounds good but you’re not sure where to start, here are a few ways you can resist every day:

  1. Give money to the people who need it. Homelessness is an epidemic in the UK. Hate crime is on the up. Domestic violence services, LGBTQIA+ support services, food banks, shelters, refuges and our welfare system are being absolutely gutted by our government. Cut out your morning coffee just once a week and set up a standing order for £10 a month to a charity providing much needed support.
  2. Volunteer! As much as cash, these vital services need bodies on the ground. Whether it’s serving food at a homeless shelter, manning the tills at a charity shop or teaching English to refugees, I bet you have some skills you could share around.
  3. Teach. If you don’t fancy volunteering at a support service, why not volunteer at your local girl guide group? If we’re really hoping to bring about lasting, meaningful change, we need to empower the kids coming up behind us. Teach them well and let them lead the way and all that.
  4. Join a local protest group. Sisters Uncut are a brilliant, intersectional direct action group and if you’re UK based, they probably have a group near you. If not, they have instructions on how to set up your own group on their website.
  5. Sort of an addendum to number 4, but don’t just show up when things affect you directly. Feminism as a movement has been built on the backs of women of colour, LGBTQIA+ women, disabled women, refugee women, poor women, fat women, sex workers. Women belonging to these groups have been experiencing the sort of oppression and violence that we now fear for their entire lives. If we had listened to these women to begin with, maybe we could have halted this whole fascist movement earlier. This isn’t intended as a rebuke, just as a little something to remember. Go to a Black Lives Matter march. Write to your MP about detention centres. Send welcome packages to refugees. If each of us is only looking out for ourself, we’re never going to get out of this damn mess.
  6. A tangent from the addendum in number 5: listen to the experiences of those who are different from you. And when I say “listen”, I mean really listen. Don’t wade into conversations and talk over oppressed people to show off how clever and feminist you are, or look for reassurance about how great an ally you are. Twitter is a frankly unbelievable resource if you’re willing to acknowledge your privilege and listen. And look, I know it’s hard to be called out on your privilege. I’m a skinny, straight, white, cis girl. I say stupid stuff all the time and when I get called on it, it’s tempting to throw a huff and write a long, meandering blog post about how my intentions were good. But your intentions don’t matter if your actions are hurting people. Instead of doing that, I sulk for a minute, then take a deep breath and suck it up. Because accepting that you are wrong and learning to listen to the people who are traditionally silenced is how we move forward. If people are taking time out of their day to give you a free education, don’t throw it back in their face. Listen, listen, listen.
  7. Once you have listened and you’ve started to learn stuff, apply that knowledge. Challenge prejudice and microaggressions wherever you see them. If, like me, you have lots of privilege, odds are you have the choice to let shitty attitudes and comments slide because they’re not directly hurtful to you. Choose differently. This is a fight that will be won or lost over a dining room table, over whether you’re willing to pick your little brother up when he makes a racist joke.
  8. Okay, we’re back from the addenda and tangents. Campaign for abortion access, sexual healthcare access and better sex education. After the US election, a lot of people, myself included, made donations to Planned Parenthood in new VP Mike Pence’s name. This was worthwhile and also hilarious. But this fight is equally important much closer to home. People in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland  do not have access to safe, legal abortions. Lend your voice to their cause. Sign up for the FPA’s newsletter. Find a local Repeal the 8th meeting.
  9. Drop off a load of sanitary products at your local homeless shelter or food bank. Getting your period is bad enough as is, imagine having to go without sanitary products.
  10. Stick a big box in your office and ask people to bring in donations for your local food bank. Keep an eye out for 3 for 2 or BOGOF deals in the supermarket: pick up extras and donate them! (Remember: people who rely on food banks often won’t have access to fridges, freezers or cookers. Focus on things that can be made without these)
  11. Get informed. I know that the news is horrendous and it’s completely fine to take breaks and look after yourself when it gets too much. But if we want to win, we need to know what we’re fighting against.
  12. Write to your MP! Your MP will have an email address and a Twitter account. Get in their face and demand that they represent you.
  13. Vote. Please, for the love of god, vote.
  14. Keep going. There are hard, hard times ahead. Things are likely to get worse before they get better. Take a break, get yourself together and keep on keeping on. Giving up is an act of privilege. There are people whose very survival depends on them continuing to fight. They don’t have the luxury of deciding that it’s too hard. We will not abandon them. We will stand with them. Keep going, loves, keep going.

Well, this turned into a bit of a monstrous post. Apologies if that was a bit overwhelming. Of course, you don’t need to do all of these things (except the listening and challenging prejudice. You really do need to do those ones). If you try to take on everything, you’re going to burn out. We need you strong, so make sure you’re feeding your soul as well as your anger. Switch off the news and take a bath. Hang out with the people who love you. Watch a video of that Nazi guy getting punched in the face (No, violence isn’t normally my bag but if we can cheer John Smeaton for kicking a terrorist in the balls, you bet your ass I’m going to cheer a literal Nazi getting punched in the face. I’m an Indiana Jones fan, after all.) Pick a few actions, do them consistently, do them well. In fifty years time, your grandkids will be asking you what you were up to during this strange, tumultuous time in our history. Make sure you’ve got a good story for them. Courage, my darlings, courage. We’re on the right side of history.

womens march placards

Making Things

I’m a creative fidget. The drafts folder of my blog is a graveyard of half-baked ideas and half-scribbled rants that I thought better of. My dining table is littered with colouring books, a few pages coloured in each. I have a travel journal with four beautiful entries in it. I have a Youtube channel with a few fuzzy, poorly shot videos. I have a scrapbook that tailed off after my first year of university. I have an ever-growing list of happy things that goes for weeks, months without being updated.

creativity

Recently, I’ve been obsessively bingeing on Emma Gannon’s wonderful Ctrl Alt Delete podcast, where she interviews women who have inspired her creatively.

(If you are not also bingeing this podcast, what is even the point in you having internet access?)

In one particularly marvellous episode, she interviews comedian and general creative gal, Stevie Martin and during the episode, Stevie says something genuinely wonderful about creativity. She likens her creative pursuits to when you’re a kid and you’re bored, so you’ll go and make a magazine out of pieces of scrap paper or paint a plate or make a friendship bracelet.

I have this amazing talent for taking something that is really, really fun and making it into hard work. Even now, as I type a blog post about not berating myself, I’m kind of berating myself for only having four entries in my travel journal. If I was a proper travel journaller, I’d have hundreds upon hundreds of entries bursting out of that notebook.

So when I heard Stevie say that about creativity, I genuinely teared up a little. Because it threw all of my little projects into a whole new light. Starting a travel journal doesn’t need to make you a travel journaller. Filming a Youtube video doesn’t need to make you a youtuber. Sometimes, we create just because it’s fun. We create just because we love to make things.

So many people now are lucky enough to make a career from their creativity and that is amazing. But I feel like, for me, that can sometimes push my hobbies into being a chore. Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in blog numbers, sponsorship opportunities and the grand, overarching creative genius plan. And that’s absolutely not a bad thing. But isn’t it nice to throw off all of that sometimes and just play? I have a huge family with lots of little kids and one of my favourite things about hanging out with them is that I get to create things without any expectation that they’ll be good or important. We paint pictures. We make up and put on shows. We model things out of plasticine. I’m not good at any of those things but when you’re playing, it doesn’t matter. In fact, there’s something kind of nice about doing something you totally suck at and realising that you’re still having fun.

I think that most creative people have developed the creative itch. It’s what makes me start writing another book in the middle of writing my first. Or what makes me decide to film a YouTube video, even though I have no aspiration to become a YouTuber. Blogging is a great way for me to practice and hone my writing, which I hope to turn into a career some day. But as with all of my creative pursuits, my blog is more and less than that. It’s a space that’s entirely mine, and I don’t owe it to anyone to make it professional or marketable. Because it might be useful play, but it’s still play. Everything that I make, from my blog, to my novels, to my plasticine dinosaurs, to my unfinished, neglected scrapbooks is part of my story: the story that I’m writing for myself, a great big love letter from me to me. Often, creativity is nothing more and nothing less than a way to tell our story. So let’s tell it. Let’s play. Let’s make things.