photos from the vault: still life with stilettos

The other day I decided to have a look at the photos on my memory card, which had been sitting on my desk for long enough that I’d forgotten what exactly was on it and why I’d put it there in the first place.

The major thing I’d forgotten was the fact that my entire archive of sexy photos (begun after my epiphany and before I started blogging) was still on it. I’d bought my external hard drive expressly for the purpose of storing photos but it was a big organising job and I’d run out of steam after sifting through the safe-for-work stuff. So yesterday I set to work transferring the NSFW images from card to disc. I’m about halfway done at this point.

Even though I am prone to clutter, I’m very analytical and thus very good at organising most things when I put my mind to it. Since I’ve been having difficulties with depression and, more recently, anxiety, I’ve found that organising the materials as a first step often helps me to overcome the challenge of starting a project that (for whatever reason) feels difficult. As I engage with the various items, I start noticing patterns and small tasks that need doing, and then it doesn’t seem so hard to start doing those tasks.

Organising my photos is, fortunately, firing up the same neurons. I use separate folders for each month, which for me is a long enough period of time that there’s more than just a handful of pics but short enough that it doesn’t bog down the computer when it’s loading up the thumbnails. I’m finding that looking at a collection of photos taken on different days tunes me into the similarities and differences better than looking at each shoot separately, and I start mentally categorising the images and coming up with labels. [Note: I’ve never actually tagged photos before this so I don’t know if I’ll find tags useful in future, but I’m not doing many so it’s not much of a time investment.]

Looking at those early images now, I can see that they are cautious and tentative, and I remember the awkwardness and self-consciousness when I took them. I don’t even appear in the very first images; that honour goes to my then-recently purchased stilettos.

FYI, I’ve gotten loads of enjoyment out of these shoes and have only rarely worn them outside the house. I’m glad I didn’t let “Oh, I’d never wear them anywhere” be an excuse not to buy them.

badge Sinful Sunday

a tale of two choices: what pro-choice looks like in practice

I have never wanted kids. I knew this at age 5 and my opinion on the matter has never substantially changed.

I was raised pro-choice. When I started having sex, I/we always took precautions but in the knowledge that if the preventative measures failed, I’d definitely get an abortion.

The first time I had (PIV) sex was when I was 17½ and about a month or two away from graduation from high school. Teen pregnancy was a huge nope for me, and pregnancy in university would have been pretty lousy too. Eventually I finished my education, had a job and was in a stable relationship, but though the ‘bad timing’ reasons had fallen away, that fundamental desire not to have children was still as firmly in place as always.

Even now, when pregnancy is still probably physically possible for me — but only barely (my age is now a more effective barrier than a condom, hurrah!) — my decision would be the same. If I became pregnant despite precautions, I would not hesitate to have an abortion. This would not be a difficult decision for me, really, since I’ve made the same decision over and over anytime I’ve considered the issue.

No, I’ve not been confronted with having to act on that decision. I’m a thoughtful, sensitive person, and I’d expect to feel a bit of a pang. It wouldn’t be regret about the child not had; it would be that I’ve always done my damnedest to avoid having an abortion and regretting that I had to have one in order to continue to be child-free.

Now let me tell you about my good friend Rosa. She’s like me in many ways: staunch atheist; a highly sensitive person; cautious and slow to trust; intelligent and educated; world traveller; no desire for kids.

I should qualify the last a bit. Once upon a time, she accidentally got pregnant. She loves her child dearly and wouldn’t give them up, but she has been clear to me that this was really not the plan and she would have preferred that things hadn’t worked out that way.

She recently got married and with marriage comes the questions about whether you’re going to have a child, and her (their) answer was an unequivocal no, in part because it’s getting a bit late for that but mostly because they really didn’t want to.

But then she got pregnant accidentally. It really shouldn’t have happened. At her age, she should have had only a 5% chance of getting pregnant during any given cycle. But more to the point, she had an IUD, which is 99% effective. With an IUD in place, it should have been an ectopic pregnancy if anything, but no, it’s all normal and viable and looks fine.

She’s already had a child, she didn’t (doesn’t) want another, her husband doesn’t want a child, and it’s massively inconvenient. When she told me about it, she was clearly unimpressed with the situation, so I started gently encouraging an abortion, but then it became clear that this had happened long enough ago that the decision had already been made. The basis for her decision? She checked in with her gut and chose the option she could live with more easily.

I can’t pretend to relate to her choice because obviously it’s the opposite of what I would have done. But — and this is the really important bit — it is and should be her choice.

The issue she was dealing with at the moment was how to cope with the negative reactions of her husband and child while she was going through something she didn’t want to be going through in the first place. To my mind, my job was (and is) to support her.

If she had come to me for advice earlier to help her make that decision, I would have encouraged an abortion because I knew that she didn’t want to have a child. Knowing what I know now, I doubt very much that I would have changed her mind.

But when the decision is made, it’s made. I’m not going to tell her what to do or undermine her choice. Even when it’s not the choice that I’d make for myself. Even when I know she’d rather not have the child. Even when I can see that the consequences for her are going to be huge; she knows so much better than I do what the consequences will be for her and there’s nothing I can tell her that she doesn’t already know.

Being pro-choice isn’t about demanding that everyone have an abortion — what utter nonsense! Pro-choice is about respecting every individual’s personal autonomy to make their own decisions, especially when those decisions have profound consequences for the person making them. Pro-choice means not criticising or offering opinions that are not asked for; it means not saying explicitly or implying that the choice made is wrong. Pro-choice means trusting women, which I suppose is why this patriarchal society has such a problem with it.

I think there’s a misconception (no pun) that if a person is pro-choice, that means they would automatically have an abortion in the circumstances where that’s a consideration. This isn’t true. A pro-choice person respects other people’s bodily autonomy, but you don’t actually know what decision they would make for themselves. In contrast, if a person is anti-abortion (also misleadingly termed ‘pro-life’), you know that they wouldn’t have an abortion, and that they want to impose that choice on others.

Another way in which Rosa is like me is that she is very precise with her words. She had told her husband that she didn’t want another child and that remains absolutely true; unfortunately, he interpreted that to mean that she would abort an unplanned pregnancy, which is not true. I have a lot of sympathy for him since he’s now in a situation he never bargained for, but my understanding is that they never discussed what would happen if the IUD failed.

There is no contraception that is 100% effective. If you are sexually active, please consider how you would want to deal with an unplanned pregnancy. Just as a vasectomy is ultimately the decision of the person whose penis it is, an abortion is ultimately the decision of the person whose uterus it is. If you and your partner disagree about abortion as a backup plan, then you should seriously consider additional contraception. And for the love of all that is good, talk to each other about it before anyone gets pregnant!

my interview with Tantra Punk

Over a year ago, Ben over at Tantra Punk (@tantrapunk on Twitter, “Your guide to sexual liberation, healing, and empowerment”) contacted me to ask if I’d like to do a podcast interview with him. With one thing and another (including a cold that wouldn’t die), we didn’t get to it until recently. But the interview is now done and published!

I could tell you about it, but nothing I say will sound half as awesome as his very flattering description: “In this episode I’m joined by an deeply intriguing and empowering sex blogger Zoë K. She provides a very insightful glimpse into the lifestyle of an open relating, shame-free sex positive web-enabled literary voice of liberation.”

Click here to listen to our chat on the web, or find him on iTunes.

If you have any questions flowing from the interview, ask away in the comments.

I don’t feel safe

I don’t feel safe. I mostly mean sexually, but this could apply to other things too; I’m not sure.

Intellectually, I know that I am safe. Wolf and I have been together for a lot of years, and while there have been rare mistakes or missteps, I’ve never felt that he he looked down on me, disrespected me, or used me. Since I’ve been more aware and deliberate about trusting him, I’ve made a bit of progress but not as much as I would have liked.

I seem unable to feel safe. It’s like I don’t have a sense of safety because I don’t have the organ, nerve, bulb, whatever it is that I need to sense it. Or maybe my sense of safety exists but is partly impaired, since I’m perfectly attuned to detect the slightest whiff of danger.

Not feeling safe means I’m always reflexively on my guard such that I don’t necessarily even notice the tension. (It has recently occurred to me to wonder whether my chronic physical tension is connected to this.) Because of my history with Wolf, I can choose to let my guard down a bit but it takes a great deal of effort, and it’s imperfect because I don’t fully understand why I’m on my guard in the first place.

The other night, Wolf and I cuddled the way we always do. Ordinarily he’d touch my back and rub my neck, and I’m happy to let him because he knows through lots of experience what I like. But it still feels to me that he’s in control.

This time I was thinking about my feeble sense of safety and what I could possibly do to develop it. We decided that I’d tell him what I wanted and he’d do it, or he’d stop if I said stop. I often ask him to touch or massage one spot or another, but this time I just told him “touch me here” or “massage me there”. It’s a minor grammatical difference but it was enough to make me feel a little emotionally vulnerable. I hope I’m not imagining this, but when I told him to hug me a certain way because I needed reassurance, it seemed to sink in more thoroughly than usual.

With Jaime, dealing with my inherent feeling of unsafeness is more challenging. He has demonstrated his trustworthiness to me in myriad ways but we don’t have the same length of time together, and most of the time that we do have is long distance, which is qualitatively different and can’t really address issues of physicality.

I think this is why I haven’t really progressed beyond splashing around in the shallow end of the BDSM pool. BDSM often uses a dash of fear to heighten physiological arousal, but when I don’t feel fundamentally safe, all it seems to accomplish is to make me even more cautious and guarded.

I’ve been thinking about how things are with Jaime, and how I’d like to go deeper but I feel like I’ve plateaued. This relationship started with a BDSM flavour and the undercurrent is still there but right now it’s very quiet. I feel a bit disappointed about that. My difficulties with depression and low libido have been a significant issue, and in response to my general mood Jaime has chosen to back off, BDSM-wise.

Thinking about some of the BDSM things that we’ve done together that didn’t go so smoothly, I realised that I’ve probably deferred to him too much, trusting his domming experience more than my understanding of myself and my needs. And frankly, I’m not always that good at knowing my own needs, so it’s really attractive to believe that someone else knows what they are and will satisfy them.

Now, I like to know why things are the way they are, and when facing a current challenge, I often revisit my childhood to see if there might be some early learning colouring the way I think about things now. One of my tentative conclusions is that my parents were not very responsive to me when I was very young. This difficulty is that you develop your earliest sense of self from what is reflected back to you from your caregivers. If my parents weren’t good at knowing me, then they couldn’t teach me to know myself. As an adult, wanting someone else to know and satisfy my needs without my having to figure it out myself sounds like a mind-reading fantasy. But isn’t this basically what parenting young children is about?

But despite the past, I’m an adult and I now understand myself better than anyone else does. “Just going along with things” is a theme in an awful lot of my sexual experiences, and historically the results for me have been neutral ranging through to actively bad. If I’m going to submit, I think I need to trust myself more and be more assertive regarding both process  (how and when we communicate, how I express my needs and concerns) and substance (the activities I agree to).

I believe that it’s possible to be both assertive and submissive, but what I’m struggling with is whether it’s possible for me to do so, in my way, in this relationship.

recovery day

Yesterday was a big day: a dance performance, preceded by anxiety about the quality of my piece and last-minute work to complete my costume. The performance alone would be enough to take it out of me, let alone the bonus anxieties.

So today was a scheduled recovery day during which I planned to do not much at all. (The other option would have been to plan to do things, inevitably fail to do them, then feel like shit for failing to accomplish what I’d planned to do.) I ran a couple of loads of laundry, picked up the “shrapnel” from the dance bomb that had gone off, and generally puttered around the house.

My energy has been low, my mood tenuous. It’s possible that my brain is doing that thing where an emotion just happens but then the brain looks for evidence to justify the emotion, confirmation-bias-wise.

But even if that’s true, I have been feeling down today, though not about the performance. I strive for excellence but as a recovering perfectionist, I’m aware that sometimes my goals or self-criticisms are unreasonable, and that usually happens when my energy and resources are low. I seem to avoided that pitfall this time, partly because I think I was effectively distracted during the time I would have been most prone to it.

My down mood has latched on to more abstract or indirect issues today. A feeling of disconnection from friends (do I have friends?). Disappointment with how my body works and feels.

Being haunted by the ghost of my libido. I just want to feel desire.

I generally tend towards optimism, but it’s been difficult.

a day in the life

Someone recently suggested that I was “living the dream”, polyamory-wise. Am I? I couldn’t say. My polyamory is facultative – it’s a response to a situation I’m in, rather than being my inherent preference for forming relationships. I never had a polyamory dream because I stumbled into it. All I can tell you is how things work for me.

Take yesterday, for example. I always sleep later than Wolf does, so when I woke up, I called to him to let him know I was awake. He cuddled with me and rubbed my neck. (My neck always hurts, so this is excellent maintenance for me.)

Due to the fact that Jaime and I live in different time zones, he’s going to bed just as I’m waking up. Sometimes I catch him still awake in my morning and sometimes I don’t. This time I happened to be awake earlier than usual, so we had a little chat by text before he went to bed.

Wolf isn’t working right now and I work from home. I had one work thing that went well, followed soon after by an unanticipated problem: I was shocked to be treated incredibly rudely by someone in another organisation that I’ve recently started working with. Fortunately, this was by email. Also fortunately, I have a much better sense of my worth now than ever before, I knew this person was out of line, and I knew how I was going to deal with it.

Wolf heard all about this in real time and gave me an ear, a shoulder, hugs or distance, whatever I needed. He’s also profoundly protective of me, so he got almost as I upset as I did, meaning this kinda fucked up his mood.

Wolf went out to provision, then put together my lunch for me. Lunch is super easy – just assembly – and I wouldn’t mind doing it myself, but Wolf likes to look after me. Lunch is served with a kiss on the forehead.

I’m very happy to leave the cooking to Wolf so he makes supper too, ensuring that we’re done in time for whatever I’ve got going on in the evening. Twice a week, that will be dance class. Two other days per week I have my FaceTime call with Jaime. This day was a call.

Wolf busied himself in his office to give me some privacy for the call. Jaime had just woken up so hadn’t heard anything about my day yet. I told him all about it – the good stuff and the bad. He congratulated and commiserated with me. He reinforced my sense of worth, validated my perception of the problem, and praised me for how I handled it.

I let Wolf know when the call was done so he could come out of ‘hiding’, and we went about the rest of our evening.

At bedtime I chatted with Jaime briefly by text and we exchanged goodnights. When I was done, it was time for bedtime cuddles with Wolf and then sleep.

I don’t know if I’m living the dream, but this works pretty well for us.

one of those days

It’s been a beautiful day, filled up with a sloppy servings of unmitigated awfulness that transmute ordinary empathy into a radical political act. In corners there is beauty and kindness, connection and sharing, love and companionship. But also distance, and loneliness, and a sense of loss.

It has been a day of both ordinary toil and singular accomplishment. I’ve had quiet confidence – I might have even been charming for a little while – and anxiety and self-doubt. Doubt is winning. I’ve progressed myself right into a  closet.

Self-image, that persistent bastard, establishes the conclusion first and then mines all data with the sole, intellectually dishonest intent of proving that I’m not good enough. Fuck you, confirmation bias.

Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof? You bet your ass.

minor frenzy

I have more energy lately, which is great, but somehow the list of things to do grows just as fast as my capacity to do the stuff on the list, if not faster.

This weekend has been packed with little tasks associated with an upcoming interview of my blogging self(!), and then a dance performance. There are photos to sift through, blurbs to pen (oh, the excruciating writing of a bio!), emails to send (and months’ worth of old emails to sort), subscriptions and memberships to sign up for, questions to answer, inspiration to gather, decisions to make.

I have a choreography to finalise. This process involves collecting inspiration as I try to expand my repertoire beyond my usual moves. The upside of doing the usual moves is that they’re well established in muscle memory; downside is that my repertoire is small and I don’t want the piece to get boring. The mood of the piece is dreamy and romantic, which is enough outside my comfort zone to retain my interest and push my boundaries a little. (I’m so not femme.)

And I’ve got a costume to sew. I’m sewing from the stash, so I don’t have to shop for fabric. I’m also working with simple shapes but without a pattern, and sewing sequin fabric and stretch lace for the first time ever (see above re not femme), so I’m also searching online for ideas – a few tips for the challenges of those fabrics, but primarily extant versions of the very vague images in my head. I’m not really looking for new ideas but rather confirmation (as much as that’s possible) that the ideas I already have will work.

Obviously my optimism has returned, if nothing else. But that creative energy that is coming out of hibernation is going to have a very non-blog focus for a little while.

I set a record

The other day I woke up feeling a tiny bit turned on. Doesn’t sound like much, but it was a big deal to me because I don’t remember when that happened last; my libido has been largely non-existent for a year and a half. So I rummaged around to retrieve my vibe and set to it. I’m glad I did.

When I’m engaged in solo sex, I’ve found I have the most success if I’m mentally warmed up with some yummy fantasies. The manual approach doesn’t work well for me, so I generally use just my vibe, always on the “wave” setting.

I use as light a touch as I can get away with because my clitoris gets desensitised quickly and I don’t orgasm easily. If I use more intense stimulation to overcome insufficient arousal, I can usually force one not especially enjoyable orgasm, at the cost of becoming numb. If I’m more aroused, I can use a lighter touch and that allows me to continue to have orgasms until I do finally burn out, usually after 3 or 4. The first one usually takes something like 5-10 minutes. (I’m not really sure, since I’m definitely not paying attention to the time!)

This time, I had some physical arousal and no fantasising (unless you count the dream) and I came in less than 30 seconds! It was so much easier than usual that I was inspired to see how many I could achieve.

For one of them – I think it was number 3 or 4 – I held my breath from when I applied the vibe until I came. That was maybe 15 seconds?

I reached 6 orgasms before I finally felt burnt out. The number itself is meaningless, but the fact that I was feeling turned on at all tells me that my libido is showing signs of life. And the fact that I was able to have more orgasms than ever before demonstrates that I do have a good understanding of my body. My conclusions – that I have some difficulty reaching orgasm, I need everything going well both mentally and physically, I get desensitised easily, and I need to reduce stimulation to almost the bare minimum – all appear to be correct. And that, to my mind, is the big accomplishment.

my body doesn’t feel right

There once was a time when I was very concerned about the numbers on the scale. If I weighed what I considered my ideal weight, I’d be happy that day; if I weighed ideal weight +1, I’d be disappointed and down. I stopped weighing myself regularly a long time ago. These days, the numbers don’t mean much to me.

There once was a time, much more recently, when I didn’t much like how I looked. It wasn’t anything in particular, just a general uninformed dissatisfaction. A culturally determined not-good-enoughness. A little over three years ago, I started taking nude photos of myself, and really listening to Wolf’s compliments. These days, I’m pretty happy with how I look.

I’ve always been slim so it feels taboo to talk about issues around weight: I’m privileged and have never had to endure criticism the way many people do, but this is something that’s bothering me so I’ve decided to talk about it. Just know that none of this is intended as criticism of anyone else.

My weight has always been pretty stable, and the one time I gained a bit of weight was when I went to Japan to teach English. I was there on my own, had virtually no emotional support, was surrounded by a language I didn’t know (which is surprisingly tiring), and just found the whole thing exhausting.

What I probably needed was to work less, sleep more, and eat less carbs (I had a hell of a time with my blood sugar). What I did when I was tired was to eat the very excellent chocolate almonds I’d discovered. My clothes, which didn’t fit fantastically well to begin with (waistbands at the natural waist are anathema to short-waisted me), became a constant, uncomfortable reminder of an aspect of my physicality that I was not happy with. Buying new clothes wasn’t much of an option because they were designed for slim, boyish hips that I didn’t have. When I returned home, the weight came off without much effort on my part. I was in my 20s.

About two years ago, I was prescribed some medication that caused me to lose some weight. Effort free weight loss? OK! Eventually my metabolism got used to the meds and I gained most if not all of the weight back, but it wasn’t much to begin with and that was fine. I’ve since gone off this prescription.

Then, starting about the beginning of January 2017, I went on anti-depressants. I didn’t notice the weight gain at first because I rarely weighed myself. It’s a known side effect so I wasn’t too surprised or upset, but it kept going up. My weight after Japan was an upper limit that I got to a few times over the  years but never exceeded. Until now.

I’m pleased to report that the number on the scale doesn’t make me cry or otherwise ruin my day the way it once would have; in high school I could barely imagine being this weight and I viewed it as a curse of aging. I don’t see a difference in my face, and on the whole I’m still happy enough with how I look overall. So what’s the problem?

I don’t like how I feel. My thighs rub together in a way that they didn’t before.

My breasts feel heavy and have gotten a cup size bigger. Cry me a river, you might say. No, it’s not the end of the world, but I just don’t like it. I prefer having smaller breasts (I’d go so far as to say that’s part of my identity) and generally wear bras that downplay rather than enhance them. My dressy push-up bras are now overflowing, and one soft bra is completely unwearable. I bought a couple of linen shirts in November and they’re now almost indecent; popping shirt buttons is not a problem I’ve ever had before.

My belly has also gotten bigger for a few reasons: the weight gain, bloating caused by the medication on top of that caused by the IBS I appear to have developed about two and a half years ago, and possibly some loss of muscle tone.

I had a routine of exercises, some of which were assigned by a physiotherapist for problems directly or indirectly related to my back, and some “electives” including sit-ups. I quit doing these exercises about three months ago, first because it was very hard to keep them up while I was travelling, and then because my physio wanted to streamline my routine to be more effective and less time-consuming.

So my belly is noticeably softer than it was, which doesn’t exactly delight me, but what bugs me is that my clothes don’t fit. I now have only two pairs of pants that I can stand to wear, and they’re not great and showing signs of wear. I’m also aware of the sensation of extra flesh there; when I bend forward it feels like I’ve got a little cushion strapped to my front and it affects how I move.

This isn’t about whether I conform to Wolf’s preferences, or Jaime’s, or society’s. (In fact, Wolf prefers the way I look now and I’m very glad because that makes it easier for me not to stress too much about it.) But taking into account and accepting the reality of my build, this is about whether I’m satisfied with those aspects of my body that I have some kind of control over. And right now, I’m not satisfied because my body doesn’t feel right.

Prior to my trip three months ago, Jaime would send me instructions for what to wear everyday, but now this feels too difficult emotionally because it makes me even more aware of the clothes that don’t fit.

I am aware that a significant amount of my dissatisfaction stems from poorly fitting clothes and one obvious solution would be to buy new clothes, but I’m going to hold off on that for now. I’ve been off the meds for two months now and I’m hoping that eventually my metabolism will reset on its own. For one thing, it’s summer and easier to be active. I’ve also started doing some of my exercises again, I bought a bike, and I’m eating really well.

But that’s about as much as I’m prepared to do. I’m not going to punish myself by exercising like it’s a job, or counting calories and eating styrofoam and kale. If it turns out that this is my shape now, I guess I’ll deal with it and buy some new clothes. But it is possible to be dissatisfied with one’s body without it being an issue of self-esteem or unreasonable standards.