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[Image description: Text ‘Authenticity Arena No. 05’ on a navy blue background with a lilac paintbrush stroke highlighted segment]
Almaz note: Please do listen to the audio extract, while simultaneously following the text transcription, as it makes for a richer experience.
Content note: This interview refers to underage sex, abortion and a coercive relationship, but does not describe any specific details.
The audio recording (above) and transcript (below) represent fifteen minutes from the beginning of a 40-minute chat I had with ‘F’ who’s pansexual, gender curious and white British, who, at the time of interview in March 2021 was 26, partnered, and living in London.
‘F’ has been with her current partner for seven years, but was also promiscuous during her teens, experiencing pregnancy and abortion before reaching 16 (the age of consent in the UK), and then also a coercive relationship in her later teens.
I was blown away by ‘F’’s admission that she’s a sexual synesthete, which means that she experiences the physical sensations of desire and pleasure as colours too!
The extract I’m sharing here delves into why ‘F’ thinks she feels shame around pleasure and desire, and how some of the cultural scripts we pick up around sex impact our early sexual experiences.
Almaz – 02:56mins
And do you feel any shame around pleasure or desire?
‘F’ – 03:04mins
I think that I feel shame around pleasure and desire. I don’t think I feel… I think I do feel a bit… Yeah and I think that previously… but so, like, with my current partner, he, like, I feel like when we first started going out, which was, like, seven years ago…
Almaz – 03:29mins
‘F’ – 03:29mins
… I felt, like, maybe I was much more… Hmmm… I think I was more, like, sexually experienced than him, I think it’s fair to say. And so I think that I felt a sense of responsibility around, like, holding space for him to, like, feel comfortable, and, like, not feel sexually inexperienced. So I feel like at that point, I think because he felt very, like, self-conscious. I think he had, like, a lot of anxieties.
I think at that point, I felt, like, all a bit embarrassed maybe, or, a bit of shame, I guess, around, like, expressing, like, what I would want, like, what I want sexually.
Almaz – 04:11mins
‘F’ – 04:11mins
And I think that also, I guess, like, just thinking of, like, concrete examples. Like talking dirty, for example, I feel like I ended up getting really just bored and frustrated because basically, he’d just end up repeating back to me, like, all the things I’d said. Whereas it’s like, “that’s not sexy”. But then also you can’t be like “Can you just be a bit more imaginative, please?”
Almaz – 04:31mins
‘F’ – 04:11mins
So I guess it’s that kind of thing of, like, for me, I think it’s about wanting to express, but also feeling this responsibility. But, I think in recent years, we’ve talked a lot more openly about that, and about, like, what we both like sexually, and also, like, sexuality and stuff like that. And I’ve had just, like, really open conversations.
So I think off the back of that, I feel, like, much more open to saying, like, what I would want sexually, and I think he does the same. And I think, for him, it’s no longer, like, he would take anything personally. Whereas, I think maybe at the beginning of our relationship, he might take it personally.
Almaz – 05:05mins
‘F’ – 05:05mins
Yeah, so I think we’ve gotten better at communicating that. But I think that there’s maybe still a bit of… I think it’s actually resentment [scoffs] more than anything. I think it’s, like, the one emotion that I felt quite clearly is, like, resentment for having to take responsibility for our sex lives.
Almaz – 05:27mins
‘F’ – 05:27mins
And I think he’s much better at that now. But I think I still feel that a little bit more than I’d say shame, just, like, resentment and fatigue.
Almaz – 05:36mins
Yeah, yeah. And do you think that… Like, do you share those feelings with him or friends at all?
‘F’ – 05:45mins
I definitely share those feelings… those, like, resentment feelings more with friends than him. Yeah, I would say that’s, like, a topic that we talk about a lot, especially friends who are in, like, straight, cis-het relationships, and we talk about it quite a gendered way.
Almaz – 06:02mins
‘F’ – 06:02mins
But I have also said to him, like, “I don’t want to feel responsible”. And he has, like, taken it on. And so he does kind of take initiatives and stuff. But I think for him, it’s this thing of, like, I think, because I’ve had previous issues in our sex life have also revolved around me having had so many sexual experiences, where I basically didn’t wanna have sex, and then feeling like I did for various reasons. And this relationship felt like the first relationship, where didn’t have those feelings…
Almaz – 06:31mins
‘F’ – 06:31mins
Which also then kind of led almost to me not having sex at all, because it was almost, like, nice that I didn’t have to have to.
Almaz – 06:39mins
‘F’ – 06:39mins
You know what I mean?
Almaz – 06:39mins
Yeah, yeah, yeah. And if you would be able to talk a bit about previous relationships, where you felt like you were having to have sex? In what ways did you feel like you were having to have sex?
‘F’ – 06:56mins
So I think my first ever sexual partner. I was just about to say his name, but that’s not relevant.
Almaz – 07:05mins
Yeah, that’s not relevant.
‘F’ – 07:09mins
I think with him… so we were quite young, I think we were, like, 15. But, like… I don’t remember if I was 15 or if I was 14, but, like, a young 15.
Almaz – 07:19mins
‘F’ – 07:19mins
And I think looking back on it now. I think that he definitely… He was super into porn, which I knew at the time. And I, like, was quite a sexual person. Like, I’ve always…
I don’t know if I’ve put that in my survey or not, but I remember, like, making my Sylvanian Families, like, have sex and, like… I dunno shut the door and, like, make them, and dolls, and stuff have sex.
So I think I have always been, like, a sexual person. So that didn’t worry me…
Almaz – 07:45mins
… the porn part at the time, but I think it was that thing of, like, him just suggesting lots of stuff we should do, but also in a way that’s like, “Oh, this is how you have sex.”, “And this is, like, the things that are sexy.”, “And this is what I find really sexy.”
And so it was always definitely consensual in the sense of, like, at the time, I was very much up for that. But looking back on it… Oh, and then also, I think a key part of that relationship was we used to, like, send each other sexy photos. It was just digital cameras. But we used to take, like, loads and loads of sexy photos of us, like, completely naked. And then just stuff, like, years later when we were 18, him being, like, at party and being like, “Oh, I’ve still got those photos of you.”
Almaz – 08:26mins
I was like, “Well I was 15, so that’s, like, really fucked up!”
Almaz – 08:30mins
So I guess, like, that experience just felt, looking back now, made me feel a bit, like, it was very performative. It felt more like me performing for him, rather than, like, me understanding my own sexuality.
Almaz – 08:47mins
But then my second relationship – which is, like, the first time I was in love – that was probably one of most, like, sexually, like, I don’t know, well-matched. Or that’s probably the relationship, I think that the sex just felt really, like very much… I think what was nice about that is it felt really exploratory for both of us. And we were probably at about 16. And when we first had sex, I got pregnant [scoffs] and I had a very traumatic abortion.
But I think that that probably also, like, meant that we had to communicate on a more emotional level about sex. And also it meant that we actually had to negotiate because especially after that, it was very, like, it was very fraught and we had to both kind of come to terms with, like, yeah, like, boundaries and communication.
And I think we were really open. So that was really positive. And also, like, really sexually satisfying. Both those relationships, even the first one, it was still really sexually satisfying.
Almaz – 09:48mins
‘F’ – 08:47mins
Like, I orgasmed a lot and stuff like that. But then I think that after that second relationship, then I wasn’t really in a relationship, and I was sleeping around a lot more. Just, like, sleeping with multiple partners and that is when I think that feeling of not wanting to… I dunno…
I think there was not pleasure in that, and, like, just being astounded at the amount of men that, like, didn’t understand what the clitoris was. And then also, again, that kind of responsibility feeling of like, “Am I really gonna, like, do this?”, “Is this worth my time?” And I used to fake penetrative orgasms a lot during that time.
But I think the real thing that, like, stuck with me was the performance, like, feeling like I had to perform, which definitely came from my first boyfriend.
Almaz – 10:35mins
‘F’ – 10:35mins
And then feeling, like, in other relationships, just, like, not knowing what you want.
Almaz – 10:42mins
‘F’ – 10:35mins
Not knowing whether to, like, bother to kind of say what you want and stuff like that. And then the other relationship, which probably actually had quite a bit impact was that I slept with someone who was just, like, looking back, very scary. I don’t know; he’s deeply in my subconscious. And he’s got multiple allegations of sexual assault against him.
Almaz – 11:01mins
‘F’ – 11:02mins
And it was, like, I don’t know… I just get the ‘ick’, whenever I think about him.
Almaz – 11:08mins
‘F’ – 11:08mins
… that all felt quite manipulative, a lot of that sex and, like, emotionally manipulative. So I guess those things kind of stuck with me a bit as well.
Almaz – 11:18mins
‘F’ – 11:19mins
But what was nice, so I think when I got this relationship, it was almost like I could breathe out at bit.
Almaz – 11:22mins
‘F’ – 11:23mins
In a nice way.
Almaz – 11:23mins
Yeah. And do you ever talk about your sexual past with your partner? As in, apart from what you like to do together. Does that kind of thing come up?
‘F’ – 11:40mins
Yeah, it has done. I remember one time when I was living… we met and we used to live in Scotland. And I’d moved down to London. And we were doing a long-distance relationship. And he came back and I always hated that sex because…. I hated it… Again, it was that thing of like, “Oh, we’ve only got two nights together, so we’re gonna have to have sex. And I think I just remember at one point, just, like, crying, and then him being like, “Whoa, let’s stop.”
Almaz – 12:03mins
‘F’ – 12:03mins
And then I think I was, like, I think I then went into that thing of, like, “I just feel really disconnected from what I want.” I think it goes back to all the other experiences I’ve had. And also, because I work in sex education, as well. So we have this conversation, like, I’m talking about it quite a lot. But I think that also that has probably made him feel more, like, I think he was super respectful. He’s a really lovely person. But I think also, that made it hard for him to feel like he could initiate…
Almaz – 12:32mins
‘F’ – 12:33mins
… because he was so aware that he didn’t want to, like, be that person. So I think now the conversation which is, like, coming up a bit is more, like, how do you, kind of, still initiate in, like, a sexy way…
Almaz – 12:46mins
‘F’ – 12:46mins
… whereas with him knowing that, like I’m up for it, and negotiating those kind of, like, early flirty bits of, like, a sexual encounter, I think, which are conversations we haven’t really had actually.
Almaz – 12:57mins
‘F’ – 12:57mins
Which I’d like to have.
Almaz – 12:57mins
Yeah. So if we go back to when you first, like, felt, feelings of desire. Can you explain what caused that and what kind of feelings you had in your body?
‘F’ – 13:17mins
Yeah. Urm, it’s hard to, like, pinpoint ‘cause I’ve always, like, fancied everyone pretty much all my life. So I remember, kind of, bringing up sex and wanting to know about sex from, like, five. Do you know what I mean?
Almaz – 13:34mins
‘F’ – 13:34mins
And always fancying people. But I don’t know if that’s desire. But I guess in that sense, my childhood interpretation of desire was, like, very, like, romantic.
Yeah, you know, just daydreaming about, like, going off on my romantic adventures probably. It was very much, like, fancying people loads and also being, like, really obsessed with Lord of the Rings. So that, kind of, like, fantasy, like, “all gonna to go off on, like, a fun adventure” was probably my idea of, like, a great relationship.
And then I think [scoffs] first, like, sexual desire. I guess with my, like, first guy that I first fancied… Well, again, I fancied loads, but the one that I first had my first, like, kiss with, maybe that was the first, like, desire in real life.
Almaz – 14:29mins
‘F’ – 14:30mins
In terms of physically desiring someone.
Almaz – 14:36mins
‘F’ – 14:36mins
But I think that was, like, quite unsure. I think I was probably in Year 7, I think I was 13, or 12, whatever that is.
Almaz – 14:43mins
‘F’ – 14:43mins
So I think that was probably, like… Yeah… I think quite synesthesia. Like, I’ve got quite strong synesthesia and I actually have them with orgasms as well.
Almaz – 14:54mins
‘F’ – 14:54mins
So, looking back, when I think of desire I think of, like, really yellow-y / green-y. I dunno what that means.
Wow, that’s amazing! Would you be able to talk a bit more about that!
‘F’ – 15:04mins
Yeah. So me and my sisters all have it. And my granddad did. We have it with different stuff. But yeah, whenever I orgasm, I orgasm in different colours. So sometimes you’re like: “Ooh, that’s a nice, kind of…” And it’s not like there’s a good or bad association; there’s, like, no value judgment attached to it.
‘F’ – 15:20mins
But sometimes it is like, “Whoa, that was a rainbow!”
‘F’ – 15:25mins
Yeah, it’s really funny. So my boyfriend often asks [scoffs] me what colour it was, afterwards. But yeah, so looking back, it was quite, like, yellow and green-y, and very much, like, trying to orchestrate a romantic moment. Like, I think I was more obsessed with that.
… like, watching loads of things and being, like “Ooh, I want to be, like, in the pool house. And, you know, “[REDACTED] come in, and we kiss”. And then I think, like, sexually, I guess I remember first masturbating when I was probably 14. So, maybe that was when I first started understanding what those actual feelings felt like…
… and, like, wanting someone else to, like, do that with, I guess.
Almaz – 16:02mins
Yeah, yeah. In fact, let me show you something.
‘F’ – 16:10mins
Almaz – 16:12mins
There’s a book that literally just came out three weeks ago, or a month ago, called Want Me
‘F’ – 16:18mins
Almaz – 16:19mins
… by an American writer, and she’s about 38. And she just basically maps… she’s always been really into sex and porn. And she’s just mapped her whole life experiences through sex and desire. And I’ve always been really into, like, sex and porn. And for my book, I’m kind of mapping my desire a bit. And it’s really interesting that I think popular culture has so much to do with the way that we perform, like, ‘coupledom’ or ‘sexiness’. And it’s just really interesting that you say the ‘pool house’…
‘F’ – 17:03mins
Almaz – 17:03mins
… and I think as well, even being British, like, the American romcom is so, like, what we think relationships are.
‘F’ – 17:12mins
Definitely, and I feel like Skins has, like, a lot to answer for [scoffs] in terms of, like, how… but in a, kind of, different way but, yeah, like, absolutely. And trying to understand all these things we were all watching. But yeah, that sounds super interesting.
[CONVERSATION CONTINUES FOR ANOTHER 22 MINUTES]
[Image description: White speech box with black border shadows. Black text ‘As part of my research for my book, I’m running an anonymous online sexuality survey’. Dark orange text ‘bit.ly/ao_sexsurvey’. Black text ‘Anyone over 18 can fill it in, wherever you are in the world.’ Picture of coloured rectangles placed at angles with black border shadows. White text ‘Do you have guilt or shame around desire, sex or pleasure? Why/why not? Do you support compulsory sex and relationships education?’ on top rectangle]
The sexuality survey is still open, so in the meantime please do fill in/share it as all of the responses are helping me make connections between the ways in which we’ve been socialised and our relationship to sexuality.
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The ‘POSTSCRIPT’ segment for paid subscribers will drop on Wednesday 8 June. To receive this extra mailout, you’ll need to upgrade to a paid subscription.
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I’m Almaz Ohene, a Creative Copywriter, Freelance Journalist and Accidental Sexpert.
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– For The Bookseller I interviewed debut author Saara El-Arifi (who wrote guest piece ‘Finding a home – The mixed race experience’ for She Dares To Say in June 2021) about her fantasy novel The Final Strife which is out on 21 June in the US and 23 June in the UK. Pre-order The Final Strife here: linktr.ee/SaaraElArifi.
I’ll be publishing a bonus mailout on the book’s UK publication day, featuring an audio extract and transcript from my interview with Saara El-Arifi, so look out for that on 23 June.
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