Great Sexpectations, And Other Stories

I have finally completed my synopsis for ‘LOL’ and I am about to fire it off into the ether. Although releasing my words into the wild is scary, I am trying not to think about it too much. I have spent a large portion of my time with only Andi, Kyle and Ryan for company – yes, these are my characters – and I kind of feel that I owe it to them to at least see if someone else wants to read about their lives. Even if it is just my mum.

(Note to Self: You spend far too much time alone, talking like characters are real people. This is exactly like the time you recanted conversations you’d had with the dog to your housemate. Cut it out.)

With this in mind, my thoughts are drifting to what shall I do next?

I mean, of course it would be great if some publisher picked up the phone within a month and said they wanted to not only publish it, but that Ryan Gosling had read it too, been in touch and decided that he must whisk me away immediately. Jokes.

But just in case this little daydream doesn’t come true – I feel the need to confirm that I am not delusional – I’ve starting thinking about Novel Two.

I’ve been scribbling bits and pieces down for a few weeks now. Nothing concrete, just ideas or snippets of stories, all a little blurry around the edges. But there’s a skeleton there. A something.

The premise?

Well, I’ve been hearing a lot of stories and reading a lot of guff on the internet that is making me mad – “Shocker,” I hear you say and watch as you collectively roll your eyes – regarding sexuality, sexual health and sexual expectations.

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I am nervous about the mixed messages our culture is telling our teenagers. Nervous is actually a diluted term for how I feel about the situation we’ve created for the generation that’s coming up behind us; furious and confused is more accurate.

Now, I don’t want to come across like I’m being all dramatic and what-not but we’ve got to face it, something terrible is happening to our teenagers, to us, and we aren’t talking about it enough.

While a lot of really amazing work is being done to educate teenagers about sex, love and life in general (there are so many brilliant writers – Louise O’Neill, Holly Bourne, Rainbow Rowell, and Julie Mayhew for example – organisations and individuals out there right now trying to promote healthy attitudes) unfortunately, for every great activist and voice, there’s ten uneducated, ill-informed people shouting louder.

You only have to look at the comments section of articles written by young women regarding sex, health and identity to see that we have a long way to go. Adults, the people responsible for setting an example, are banding about the word “whore” like its someone’s name, comparing feminism to cancer, and simply telling women to “shut the fuck up.”

But this isn’t just about women, of course, it’s about men too. Is it any wonder that they are confused?

Sex education is lack lustre. I mean, it’s not the fault of our teachers. These wonderful creatures (shout out to overworked, wonderful housemate who is the Queen of Teacher-dom and the strongest pro-sex ladyface I know) shouldn’t really be solely responsible for teaching kids about sex. And even if they did delve deeper and answer all their questions, would parents complain? Would you be shocked and furious about the content of real, useful sex education?

I mean, they’re teaching kids about safe sex – or abstinence – which is all well and good but not necessarily realistic and kind of just perpetuating the myth of “Condom = safe sex. The end.”

But what about all the other stuff? The not so clear cut stuff. The stuff I was able to navigate offline when I was younger and am still trying to figure out even now, in my thirties.

There’s the emotional stuff to contend with. I mean, let’s face it. Sex is rarely ever “safe.” It’s fun, confusing, hilarious, loving, casual, monogamous, adventurous, necessary. That’s life. It’s nothing to fear, or stay silent about, or shun. But safe, it ain’t.

There’s the sexual representation stuff. Its a world where Louise O’Neill’s “Asking for It” is removed from the Young Adult section for being “too graphic” and receiving complaints from parents (I wrote an article about the importance of this book for Northern Soul. Read it here) Where a discussion about culpability during rape – she got into his car, she got too drunk, she wore that short skirt – tends to victim-shame. Where public female figures like Eryka Badu believe that girl students should cover up in case they distract male peers/teachers because, you know, they are unable to control themselves sexually. I mean WTF? This is just bad form. Not only does it reduce women to merely objects of sexual desire, it makes men look like simpering fools who only think with their penis. Not cool.

There’s also the porn stuff. I mean, how many kids have a smart phone and access to the internet? They have Whatsapp, messenger, snapchat where they can send and receive graphic content. Why? Because of natural curiosity, sure. But also because of what they see, read, and hear. Porn is so normalised.

And then there’s the health stuff. I hate to harp back to it, but look at the harassment four girls from America received when they set up #shoutyourstatus to talk about sexual health. They armed themselves with statistics (two thirds of the world’s population – often unknowingly – have HSV1 and almost all sexually active adults will come into contact with HPV) were backed up by health professionals and yet still, they were hounded, disparaged, called whores, degenerates, sluts, filthy, dirty, told that they should go kill themselves, that they should be ashamed, and – most hilariously – that no man would ever want to have sex with them again.

I can’t say I am surprised. Twitter is a great communication tool and an excellent platform for people to share their experiences, but it’s also anonymous and a breeding ground for trolls. I was shocked by how ill-informed those writing hurtful comments really were.

Why? Well some people are just nasty because of their own insecurities. I assume half these people are tapping at computers in their mum’s basements. But others? The seemingly normal, everyday person? Well, for them its lack of understanding, lack of education.

Personally? I was always taught that people in glass houses should never throw stones. Well guess what? Anyone who engages in any type of sexual activity– monogamous or good old fashioned casual sex – lives in a glass house. That’s a pretty whopping fat percentage of us, peeps. Put the stones down.

So, in short, this whole “online sexual harassment” is both fascinating and appalling. And wholly unacceptable.

It’s like continuing to watch a horror movie when you know you really don’t want to. You know you’ll think about it later, that it will depress you and weigh on your mind, but it’s hard to pull away, it’s hard to not dip in and watch. Hard not to be enraged.

I’m not claiming to be all seeing, all knowing when it comes to matters of sexual activity and health, but I am a huge advocate for education on the subject and the need to keep the ball of communication and knowledge rolling.

“Safe” sex is important but it’s more than just using protection. It’s about education, understanding, de-stigmatisation and communication. Or else – pardon the pun – we’re all just a little bit fucked.

How can we expect our young people to make decisions when a whole host of contradictory images, stereotypes, stigmas, and beliefs are thrown their way?

So, everyone.

Can you tell what the subject matter of novel number two is yet? I’m pretty excited to get writing!

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