Archive for October, 2010

Do straight women enjoy sex? Or is it simply the price they pay for being in a relationship with a man?

According to writer and broadcaster Stephen Fry, it is the latter. He claims, in an interview in November’s Attitude magazine, that women only have sex with men “because sex is the price they are willing to pay for a relationship”.

As reprinted in today’s Guardian, he went on to say:

…he believed most straight men felt that “they disgust women” as they “find it difficult to believe that women are as interested in sex as they are”.

“If women liked sex as much as men, there would be straight cruising areas in the way there are gay cruising areas. Women would go and hang around in churchyards thinking: ‘God, I’ve got to get my fucking rocks off’, or they’d go to Hampstead Heath and meet strangers to shag behind a bush. It doesn’t happen. Why? Because the only women you can have sex with like that wish to be paid for it.”

Fry, 53, continues: “I feel sorry for straight men. The only reason women will have sex with them is that sex is the price they are willing to pay for a relationship with a man, which is what they want,” he said. “Of course, a lot of women will deny this and say, ‘Oh no, but I love sex, I love it!’ But do they go around having it the way that gay men do?”

His remarks  – which were ironically in the ‘Role Models’ issue of Attitude – have garnered a huge amount of criticism, not least from outspoken feminists such as Rosie Boycott.

The reaction on Twitter has been huge, with the majority of people shocked by his comments.

A man much-loved for his openness about his own life, particularly his sexuality and his mental health, Fry has demonstrated that even noted intellectuals can be prone to generalising about female sexuality. His comments show a startling lack of knowledge about what heterosexual women enjoy about sex with men, that not all women have the same sex lives, and ignores the fact that there are many women who enjoy having sex with women.

His belief that if women enjoyed sex they would be out cruising and cottaging is curious as it also ignores the social and cultural reasons why these practices evolved – one of which was the criminalisation of homosexuality. Then there are the many other reasons why straight women don’t generally cruise alone for sex (though there is dogging, which generally involves couples and single straight men), such as safety.

As one of Antiroom’s founders Anna Carey said on Twitter:

“Cottaging etc developed cos of centuries of taboos re gay & extramarital sex. He ignores socio-cultural history. And men traditionally had much more freedom than women, esp middle/upperclass women, to go out looking for sex.”

Also bizarre is his comment that the only women who would have sex “like that” must be prostitutes, who like sex as much as men only because they are being paid for it.

Though there are some who argue that Fry’s comments are referring to the ‘differences between the sexes’, women’s sexuality has evolved in the past century.  Here in Ireland, as the grip of the Roman Catholic Church loosened on society women were more free to explore their own sexuality. The legalisation of the Pill, availability of condoms, the growth of the LGBT movement and feminist movement all had roles in creating freedom of sexual expression for Irish women.

This is not to say that sexual freedom has been ‘won’, but that women in Ireland today can enjoy sexual freedoms hard fought for.

To have someone of such a high profile as Stephen Fry treat female sexuality like it is a ‘price to be paid’ for being in a relationship is quite baffling, and not a little infuriating.

Perhaps he needs to educate himself in how enjoyable (and different) women’s sex lives can be – this recent Anti Room group post might be a good place to start.

What do you think of his comments? Let us know below.

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Happy Halloween!

TODAY is the day when spirits are let loose by divine dignitaries to mingle with the living and even the half living or those who are long dead but are still refusing to lie down. Not just ordinary ghosts either but sinful smelly souls – destined to return in the bodies of animals – black cats, dodgy donkeys, foaming-at-the-mouth dogs, etc. This year’s ghoul factor is on a special state of high alert with the addition of dozens of ghost estates, zombie hotels and abandoned train stations for never-to-be-built towns.

Originally Halloween sprang out of the celebrations of the Celtic/Druid pagans of our sumptuous shores, as well Scotland, Wales and Brittany. Every October 31st, these groups celebrated the return of winter, as well as honouring Samhain (not to be confused with salmon, another Irish export) a kind of Celtic lord of the dead geezer. On the feast of Samhain, the Celts celebrated by telling lengthy yarns about their ancestors. They also made desperate fraught attempts to glimpse into the future: a practice which has now been more or less replaced by tarot, angel card and aura readings, mediumship, psychotherapy and TV3’s Tonight with Vincent Browne.

Even the jack-o-lantern is all about an Irish manDe Oirish have played a huge part in Halloween right from the off. Even contemporary “jack-o-lantern” – popular in the US – was named in honour of an Irish blacksmith “Jack” who St. Peter refused into heaven and Satan barred out of hell. As a result, Jack’s spirit was doomed to rove the planet, with only a scabby coal from hell in his hollowed out pumpkin to light his pitiful passage. Even our “Help the Halloween Party!” childhood cry for a trough-load of e-numbers stretches back to the 17th century peasant tradition of darting about asking for gifts of food on Halloween in the name of St. Columbia, an Irish priest who established an early form of social welfare.

Another slant is the plastic Halloween masks that have their roots in Celtic myth and legend. Fearful folk wore disguises when heading outdoors on Halloween so roaming spirits, with a bone to pick with the living, wouldn’t recognise them. Celtic Druids dressed up in elaborate costumes to disguise themselves as spirits and devils so as to avoid real ghosts, ghouls, witches, vampires, goblins, zombies, mummies, skeletons, werewolves and demons. This practice was later adapted into the wearing of balaclavas by the Provisional IRA and various gangland criminals during bank robberies. Swingers from Kildare – to this day – wear eye-masks in case business people and high-ranking legislators recognise each other in the course of sexual duty. Hmmmmm, nice!

A quick glance at this weekend’s papers discloses another startling Halloween phenomenon. Modern-day Irish folk believe in ghosts more than ever. It can even look super on your CV. Former Miss World Rosanna Davison admitted this weekend she was haunted by a young maid when a kid. ‘The model made the spooky Halloween confession as she told how she was left terrified after coming face to face with the spirit in her sprawling family home,’ the Irish Daily Mirror article read. “I saw the spirit of a young girl in my house when I was about 11 – it was in one of the downstairs back rooms and it was terrifying. I just stared at her for ages and my heart was racing but eventually I lost the bottle and ran away. Last year I discovered through the 1911 census online that the room where I saw the ghost was a young maid’s bedroom”.

Paul O’Halloran an ex-soldier from Connemara insists in The Sun that he’s ‘a strong connection with the other world as a result of a near-death experience in Lebanon’. Most of the dead souls that contact him are simply looking to be released, he reckons. “If there is a spirit or an energy in a house, I can remove these energies and help to heal the situation,” he said. He also told the newspaper how he can see ghosts in the most unlikely places, even when he’s taking time off to sup the pints. “I go for a pint and they come up and tap me on the shoulder. They’re just looking for help. If people die suddenly or with guilt, they often have a connection with a person or place and they don’t want to leave.”

Ghosts (taidhbhse) and general purpose dead things can also be very good for live business. Old pubs, haunted castles, spooky hotels and bog-standard bogs are all fodder for an industry that is flagging under the strain of recession. From Jonathan Swift’s mental hospital ghost in James’ Street to a bloodied butcher in the ruins of a house in North Dublin, years after he’d cut his throat in 1863…we just love to be petrified at any cost. The ghost of Archbishop Narcissus Marsh still haunts the Marsh Library (especially during the tourist season), sadly searching for a letter from his eloping niece. The Olympia theatre ghost never bores of following/floating around after actors in the staff dressing room during rehearsals. Eerie tales of a Cork poltergeist in a house in Hollyhill too (96fm covered the story). Every corner of Ireland is haunted and if it’s not, it soon will be. An international Paranormal Directory of Ghosts describes Irish ghouls as: ‘ranging in size from the nearly invisible to the huge, from tiny sprites to giant headless horsemen. Some of them are vengeful, some mischievous, some helpful.’ Hopefully this is useful while on the lookout later today.

Another story in the Irish Daily Mirror concerns psychic medium Angie Freeland, who claims she videoed a spirit moving a torch in the historic Wicklow’s gaol. It led to Angie’s Halloween ‘vigil’ selling out in record time. Angie dressed in the traditional costume of the gaol’s matron Mary Morris in the hope of drawing a reaction from the spirits. It allegedly worked as when Angie reached for the torch it chillingly moved towards her, sliding across the table on its own in the spooky schoolroom.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by the intense paranormal activity since I first came to the gaol. Now the public can view the evidence for themselves,” she said. You can also ghost hunt 16-year-old Helena Blunden from the comfort of your DFS couch. She fell to her death from the stairs of a Belfast mill in 1912. The ‘live cam’ project on the Ireland’s Eye website has been on the go 24/7 since 1998 and is still visited by millions every year.

What’s left to say except happy apple bobbing, stay safe, eat plenty of Barnbrack. If you do happen to have Samhainophobia or other phobias such as fear of cats (ailurophobia), witches (wiccaphobia), ghosts (phasmophobia), spiders (arachnophobia), the dark (nyctophobia), and cemetaries (coimetrophobia), it might be an idea to stay indoors till Monday. But please do get in touch if you’ve a decent ghost story to share…

June Caldwell is a writer, who after 13 years of journalism, is finally writing a novel. She has a MA in Creative Writing and was winner of ‘Best Blog Post’ award at the 2011 Irish Blog Awards. You can read this post on her own blog here:

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As I brace myself for the first Irish winter of my life, I’m realizing I truly have no clue what it’s like to try and manage the day-to-day in below-zero temps. I grew up in Los Angeles, the land of eternal sunshine and palm trees, where as kids we actually prayed for rain on Christmas Day so it would feel more “Christmas-y.” Yes, I know you’re laughing.

My Irish friends are quick with their warnings: “The pipes will freeze!” “Cars will be slipping all over the road!” “The trains will shut down!” Needless to say, they aren’t helping. So I am expecting the worst, but hoping for the best, and will be making lots of comforting, winter dishes to warm my soul and keep me optimistic through what will certainly be the coldest days of my life so far!

Comforting Stuffed Cabbage
(Serves 4)


8 large cabbage leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chopped chives
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
½ of a cooked potato, mashed
230 grams of lean ground beef
1 egg
80 grams of finely grated Parmesan cheese (use a microplane; if using store-grated use only ½ cup)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 jar of your favorite marinara sauce

Preheat oven to 180 C. Fill a large soup pot with water and put over high heat until boiling. Place the cabbage leaves in the boiling water, and cook until soft – about 10 minutes. Remove from the water and place on a baking sheet to cool. Once cool enough to touch, run a sharp paring knife along the surface of the stems if they are too thick (some cabbage stems are so thick they won’t soften enough even after cooking). The point here is to make the stem part of the leaf about the same thickness as the rest of the leaf, so you can roll it easier. Set aside.

In a sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook the bell pepper and onion for about 4-5 minutes, and then add the garlic and cook for another 3-4 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Place the vegetables in a large bowl and let cool for a few minutes. Add in the chives, basil, rosemary and mashed potato and mix. Then add the ground beef, egg and Parmesan and mix together using your hands until all the ingredients are incorporated. Add salt and pepper to taste.

To assemble: Take a small amount of the meat mixture and form it into rectangular meatball. Place the meatball at the base of a cabbage leaf, tuck in the sides of the leaf and roll. Place the roll, seam side down, into a casserole dish. After all the rolls are in the dish, top with the marinara sauce. Make sure the cabbage is well covered by the marinara sauce or the tops will burn. Bake for one hour. Serve hot!

Clare Kleinedler is an American freelance journalist living in Ireland. She writes about her transition from life in Los Angeles to small-town Ireland on her food and culture blog, An American in Ireland. Twitter: @clarekleinedler

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We’ve been meaning to post more foodie content here (especially as we count Aoife Barry of Adventures in Veg among our contributors). As Saturdays are perfect for pottering, newspaper-reading and faffing around in the kitchen, we figured why not start posting regular recipes from food bloggers and writers?

We kick off our Saturday Dish slot with American Journalist Clare Kleinedler and her Stuffed Cabbage recipe.

If you’d like to contribute a recipe – and we’d love to hear from you – leave a comment or drop us a mail to theantiroomATgmailDOTCOM.

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Whether you’re a fan of Christine O’Donnell or not (and I’m not), this grubby, tell-all piece by a 25-year-old man who had a Halloween one-night stand with her is mean and personal. Apart from criticising her sexual prowess and her, er, lady garden, the tone throughout is meant to undermine and demean O’Donnell. The night in question was three years ago and Tea Party hopeful (dressed up as a ladybird) is painted as predatory – yes the word ‘cougar’ is blithely used – and because she made the first move, is described as “aggressive”. This guy agreed to let her use his apartment to get changed, then dressed up himself for Halloween, went to a bar, drank heartily with her, got “cosy” on the couch in his apartment before moving to the bed.  So maybe the sex wasn’t great and that he had a bad hangover on no sleep, but does the encounter warrant this sort of mean attack, which is so personal?

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Jane Suiter is a former economics journalist at the Irish Times and the Sunday Times and is now lecturing in politics at UCC.

We need an election not a phoney budget consensus among parties. Ever since Irish Green party leader John Gormley called for the opposition parties to be given a full briefing on the truly appalling state of the state’s finances many otherwise sensible commentators have been backing the call.,seeming to believe that the leaders of the various political parties sitting down together to agree on the framework of a four year budgetary plan is a sign of political maturity and the least that is needed to get us out of our economic mess. The public for its part, sick of the sound of politicians bickering, was in broad agreement.

House of Pain

Yet, this is nonsense and anti-democratic nonsense at that. What we need  is an election and a government that has a mandate to deliver a budget and a four year plan that will bring the economy back from the abyss. The figures are as Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan said with some under statement “daunting”. In order for the Irish government to meet EU rules it needs to cut more than €3billion in the budget this year and as much as €12 billion over four years. That means a lot of unhappy citizens but it also means a lot of difficult choices for any incumbent government.

Demanding a consensus is simply a fig leaf for the current government and a barrier to the people holding the politicians to account. It is rubbish and potentially dangerous for a number of reasons, not least that it effectively disenfranchises the people. Second, it negates the reason for an election, if all parties agree why ask the people? The current crisis may be the most serious in the history of this state but it is not akin to the second world war where the British had a clearly defined enemy. It is also nonsensical from the point of view of expecting the opposition parties to come up with detailed plans following a 90 minute briefing from the Department of Finance which cannot realistically be expected to give full information.

Enda Kenny’s demand that the figures be given to a third party may be a stalling tactic but that does not lessen the underlying logic that the Department of Finance has a poor forecasting record at the best of times. Giving the figures to independent academic economists at TCD, UCD or the ESRI surely makes eminent sense in terms of devising a budgetary strategy. The current government’s strategy of relying solely on the mostly “gifted amateurs” in the Department has been shown to be seriously deficient already and is a policy that could be wisely rethought.

When the NTMA left the bond markets last month it created a window of opportunity for us to attempt to put our affairs in order. We need to take advantage of this and have an election within the next or six weeks, emerging at the end of the year with a government which has a mandate to implement a four year plan. Whatever the details of that plan it will be politically unpalatable for the majority of the population as all parties will need to look at cutting wages and social services as well as raising and introducing new taxes. If the people turn out to vote for parties which have such proposals in their manifestos it would go a long way to assuaging the fears of Europe as well as the markets and the rating agencies that we have the means and the determination to get out of this. Simply put, if all the parties set out their economic plans and the public vote on them then the resulting mandate is far more powerful than any photo op with four party leaders on the plinth of Leinster House.

We need to remember that the other side of that coin once  you make the decision to leave the bond markets is that it can be extraordinarily difficult to re-enter. On its own the current government simply may not have enough credibility with the markets to allow the NTMA back in the New Year. A consensus would increase our chances of being able to borrow again and EU Commissioner Oli Rehn cannot of course demand an election. But the truth is that a new government with a fresh mandate from the people can only make the job of selling Irish debt easier.

Our funds run out next spring and thus if we cannot re-enter the markets before that it will mean that we will have to go to the European Stabilisation Fund and the IMF. Of course all parties desperately want to avoid the legacy of being the people who ask the EU and IMF to come in. This is a real dilemma for the Opposition parties.  An election before Christmas means that the danger period when we try to go back in the markets next year likely occurs on their watch.  A spring election on the other hand means the first auctions and the real danger period occurs on the current government’s watch.

Some argue that the intervention of the EU and IMF would be the preferable policy, allowing the hard decisions to be outsourced but the problem is of course that if you lose your sovereignty you cannot make decisions on even the basics such as the balance between tax rises and spending cuts or even the retention of specifics such as the low corporate tax rate which looks to be in the EU’s sights. In addition, there is even doubt that if we were to request funds how much would be available. the Fund is not pre-funded and all involved would be praying that the request would not spark wider bond market contagion.

For now, the detail of the plans to reduce the deficit does not matter to either the Commission or the markets; all they care about is simply that there is a credible plan and a likelihood of success. This is just as well as the prescriptions from Fine Gael and Labour may be radically different. Labour leader Eamonn Gilmore said this week that he would not touch tax for lower and middle income earners or make changes to social welfare or child benefit. Fine Gael, on the other hand, is talking about hard medicine. This is part of the party’s culture which is so intrinsically bound up with saving the institutions of the state and being seen to do the “right thing”, the bottom line though does not differentiate it much from Fianna Fail economically. In addition,  Fine Gael has indicated that it is looking to a balance of 80% spending cuts and 20% tax rises, Labour has not set out its  plans but they are likely to be the reverse of this. Unless Labour takes the decision to stay out of Government, compromise will be inevitable perhaps with an even balance between tax and spending. But for that to have credibility the parties cannot be fully bound in now. Thus the Opposition parties have to argue that they do not get full disclosure on Monday morning allowing them to declare once they reach office that things are in fact much worse than they thought giving leeway to make compromises. They also need to stress the radical change in political and business culture needed where both are singing off a similar hymn sheet. New politics, open government, reform of party financing, an end to crony capitalism which has transferred seamlessly from Taca to the Galway Tent, are all areas where both parties have a lot in common.

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Like some of the best and worst ideas, this post was inspired by a slightly wine-fuelled conversation – when did you have your first orgasm? Orgasms can be a tricky subject for women – unlike the vast majority of men, many women don’t have orgasms until well into adulthood, and some never have them at all. Some never have them through penetrative sex, while others can never really please themselves. Here, some very anonymous Anti-Roomers remember their first times. And yes, this is totally anonymous – not even the editors know who wrote these confessions.

We'll have what she's having

Orgasms were treated with scepticism among my teenage friends in 1980’s Dublin – there was an impression that only men got them and that women’s orgasms were invented by women’s magazines. That they were a myth.

Anyway, I soon knew better: I got my first orgasm was when I was 15, standing at my parent’s front door with my then boyfriend. It was about 7am, we had been to his debs and were crawling home. He fumbled for a bit under my bridal hoop (yes, the dress was a disaster!). His groping was less inept than usual and suddenly I was enjoying it. Woo! It felt like I had wet myself, which was weird but I was chuffed when I realised that I had had my first orgasm; I felt a bit superior. I dumped him a few days later. Job done.

*            *            *            *            *            *            *            *

My first orgasm happened during a blackout under a fish tank. Not an electricity blackout: a gin one. Worse than that, it was at the hands of a woman and I wasn’t even gay or bi. She was the daughter of psychiatrists – recovering from an abortion – her best friend had just died of moles. Some of the best friend’s clothes were vacuum-packed in the wardrobe. Kate Bush waaa waaa waaaa’d in the background. “She wouldn’t leave the sun alone,” she said, pouring more gin down my throat. There was a Victorian bath in the house which she showed me just before I collapsed. My last memory was her standing on the scales announcing that she’d stay seven stone all her life because all she ate was a small bowl of tuna & pasta per day: no biscuits or crisps, pastry made her sick. Six weeks later she told me that we’d slept together on our way to a History of Ideas exam. I never remembered the moment and never got over missing my first orgasm.

*            *            *            *            *            *            *            *

I was 18. He was 35, unavailable and therefore deeply unsuitable. But I was in thrall to this experienced man, convinced we were in love. Our meetings were infrequent, clandestine and unbelievably thrilling.

He would pick me up in his car at a prearranged spot, well away from my house (I still lived with my parents) and we would drive to a quiet seaside or country spot. After a walk or a drink in the pub we’d head back to the car for some action.

Man, did that guy deliver on the orgasm front – I got quite an education. Oddly, we never had penetrative sex (but hey ladies, no woman gets orgasms from penetration eh? Am I right?). He never even took his trousers off. Everything was done for my pleasure, things progressed with exquisite slowness – he always made sure I was ready before moving on to the next stage. I had the time of my life, but I was never quite sure what he was getting out of it.

Our meetings came to an abrupt end when my parents confronted me about my secret life – a concerned person had reported his suspicions. They agreed when I begged to be allowed meet him one last time. No orgasms that night, he couldn’t wait to get away when he heard my news.

That was the last time I ever saw him. I was technically still a virgin, but I had had some amazing sex.

*            *            *            *            *            *            *            *

Which kind do you mean? Because I know there are at least two.

Would you believe me if I told you I have never had an orgasm brought about by having penetrative sex? I’ve had lovely lovers who knew what I was talking about, but not one of them ever made my body convulse through repeated stimulation of my g-spot with their erect penis. Am I weird? Do I not have a g-spot? Is it a myth?

I love having sex, I have a high sex drive, I’ve been an active masturbator since my early teens, and probably before. My clitoris jumps when I click my fingers, and swells and shivers under an expert tongue. The orgasms it fires through me are heaven. It’s brought me more fun and games than I could ever record. But inside, deep inside, where The Other Orgasm happens? I draw a blank, or it draws me.

This is the truth. I just haven’t met it yet.

*            *            *            *            *            *            *            *

My turn. I so get you. I’ve had precisely one proper penetrative orgasm in my very long sexual life, and I actually stopped what I was doing in surprise. The only thing that was different from the usual (perfectly pleasant) experience was, well, it was outdoors. Must have been the moonlight.

I’m expert at faking it. Why? Because it’s the only way to get a guy to stop before you get friction burns. I’ve tried explaining that penetrative orgasm is stupidly rare, almost mythical, but each man wants to think that he’s different and that he’s got the knack. Bless. It’s sweet, but not biologically likely.

*            *            *            *            *            *            *            *

Mint ice-cream. When I remember my first orgasm, I can never forget the mint ice-cream. It was a wintry, Sunday afternoon and I was sitting on the bed of my first boyfriend, who lived at home. We had just had dinner with his parents downstairs and brought our dessert upstairs. Our relationship was three months old and I was 17. It was intense, first love stuff, but had been very physically innocent, that is until he removed my underwear that afternoon, placed mint ice-cream between my thighs and proceeded to lick it all off. When the orgasm finally happened, I thought my head would explode. He never made me come from penetration, but he was spectacularly good with his tongue.

*     *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

I was 21 before I had an orgasm, which in retrospect makes me quite angry because if I’d known how easy it was, I’d have had plenty of them a lot earlier. Thanks to a sex education which paid absolutely no attention to female pleasure, I wasn’t exactly sure where the clitoris was, and teenage attempts at masturbation had involved trying to stick in my finger in, which wasn’t in any way pleasurable. A few inept boyfriends later, I thought I’d had an orgasm – a sort of quivering feeling – but as it turned out, I hadn’t. I finally discovered what a real orgasm felt like when I was away for the summer and went out with a very talented young man who was particularly good at cunnilingus. And this was how, on hot July morning, I came for the first time and realised that there was no mistaking this particular feeling. Luckily, I was able to make up for lost time. He was so good that one morning I came so many times I was literally too exhausted to go to work and had to call in sick. Once back home, I realised that I couldn’t live without coming, and quickly figured out how to give them to myself. I haven’t looked back since.

*     *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Strangely, I can’t remember my first orgasm but I know where it happened and with whom.

I met my first boyfriend when I was sixteen, by which time I was proficient at The Art of Self-Love. Two years previously, my hippy aunt had loaned me her copy of Our Bodies Ourselves, which had an entire chapter devoted to masturbation and was full of stories of sexual awakening that I found very…err…inspiring. Needless to say, the book was never returned.

At sixteen, I’d never gone further than kissing but that all changed when Boy #1 appeared on the scene. After the preliminary niceties had been observed, it was all fumbling, all the time. My earliest orgasms with him came about in a frenzy of fully-clothed grinding on the gravel footpath of a park near my house. Neither of us was deterred by the possibility of discovery nor by the painful grazes caused by our encounters and it was several months before we moved on to more comfortable locations.

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In a recent episode of the greatest show on TV (Mad Men of course), Don Draper’s daughter Sally cut her long blonde hair one night when Don had left her with a babysitter. A furious Don sacked the hapless babysitter as soon as he clapped eyes on the resulting hair atrocity. His reaction was mild compared to that of his ex-wife Betty. She slapped little Sally hard across the face when she saw the damage done to her lovely golden tresses. And the poor child had only cut it to bob-length.

When I was slightly younger than Sally (about 7 I think), I nagged my mother for months to have my long fair hair cut short. She was extremely reluctant but eventually gave in to the pestering. The poor hairdresser was similarly reluctant and kept saying what a shame it was and asking if I was really sure about taking such a drastic step. I was, and with a single snip of the scissors the ponytail finally came off. My mother has kept it to this day.

Kate rocking the short hair look

I never regretted it. Over the years I made various half-hearted attempts to grow my hair but it never got much beyond shoulder length. It was always a relief to go back to the salon and emerge with a crop of some kind. Looks I have tried include slicked back like the women in the ‘Addicted to Love’ video in the eighties, a rockabilly style quiff and a full on Sinead O’Connor-esque scalping in the early nineties. I grew it before my wedding in 1996, only to scrape it all back off my face, Eva Peron style, for the day itself. In childhood I was sometimes mistaken for a boy, and had the so-called insult of ‘lesbian’ shouted at me occasionally when I was older. I was never remotely bothered; I never felt unfeminine just because I had short hair.

On Twitter a while ago, someone was bemoaning the fact that some women give up on longer hair as soon as they have children, and that it’s all part of ‘letting themselves go’. But in my view many women cling on to their long hair when they would look infinitely better with a chic crop. I can think of many celebrity women whose finest hour came when they had a radical haircut – Victoria Beckham, Emma Watson and Carey Mulligan spring to mind. And as for style icon Kate Moss; to me she never looked better than when she had her dirty blonde locks cut into a short (and brunette!) elfin style.

It is said that most men prefer long hair, but I doubt that’s the reason women grow it long. I don’t envy the work involved in maintaining long silky tresses – the endless blowdrying, conditioning, GHD-ing – so you must be doing it because you love it. Right?

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Hi. I’m new here. Now, my Aunty Cynthia always said you should start off as you mean to carry on, so I guess I should launch straight into a topic that is weighing on my mind and close to my heart, or at least close to my knickers. Deep breath, and we’re off…

The feminist writer Naomi Wolf recently wrote about visiting a specialist masseuse who had dedicated his yogi-life to helping women get in touch with their inner goddess. He provided this service over a few hours, largely by massaging their inner goddess through the portal of their, erm, yoni.  Yup, yoni. Or something. I was too busy squinting and squealing about actually paying a passing hippie 95 pounds sterling to prod me in the bits, albeit a passing hippie who said he wanted to help, to make me happy. Hah! Like I haven’t heard that one in the pub already. But I digress…

A yoni is better known by it’s biological name, a vagina, or it’s yank-confusing name, a fanny, and then 734 other names bandied about in locker rooms by boys. Ya know the ones – twat, beaver, muff, poon, and so on and so forth including the big filthy C-word, the one I told the teenager off for using on Facebook.
“Is it a four-letter word?” wonders my Little Fella with big eyes, on overhearing the kerfuffle.
“Yup,” I say.
“Beginning with C?”
“What is it?”
“I’m not saying.”
“I think I know.”
“No you don’t.”
“Can I spell it?” he asks.
But he’s off regardless: “C-R-A-P”.
Phew. No, not that one. And no, I can’t tell you what it is, son, but I’m sure you’ll hear it in the rugby maul someday all too soon.

In our house – boy heavy – we call lady bits “fanny”, or at least I do on those rare occasions the vagina comes up, and always to wails of “awwww, mum, stop”. However, boy bits are bandied about willy-nilly, if you’ll excuse the choice of expression.
I like the word “yoni” though, and have henceforth adopted it, although I haven’t yet test-driven it on the kids. It’s completely new to me, yet it’s charming, un-rude and just saying it – “yoni”  – makes me feel a little wave of rare affection for my nether regions. But, while I like the word yoni, I remain disturbed by the general colloquial naming of the female, er, “lady bottom”.

For the vagina, there are precious few of the fondly intimate names that boys have for their knobs/dicks/peckers/todgers/schlongs. Even the rudest penis name of all (sensitive readers should look away now), “cock”, is only really a little bit rude. Boy bits are given names that are all quite pert, and at worst, a little giggle-inducing. There’s the throbbing shaft of romance novels, there’s the one-eyed trouser snake, there’s willie and winkie in the playground, and there are endless pet names like Fred, Dirty Harry, John Thomas, Thumper,  and the notorious you’ll-never-get-laid-calling-it-that-buddy Meat Injection.

There are penis names that big up the business and imply the prowess of the machinery in question, like truncheon and third leg and trouser snake, and penis names that are really filthy in a way that demeans women, vaginas and the very notion of making lurve. Girls don’t have the same easy familiarity with their vaginas though. Why not? Every single phrase I can think of that refers to the vagina – even with the help of the all-knowing Googlemeister – seems, well, unnecessarily rude, and too often downright crude. Or clinical. Or cringe-worthy. Why?

Is it because nice girls don’t mention their vaginas? Because nice girls are supposed to ignore their existence? Because nice mothers say “did you remember to wash down THERE?” like it’s an unmentionable secret? Even modern, forward-thinking parents discuss their daughter’s nether regions with clinical politeness, primly annunciating “vagina” as if it’s something separate, functional and purely biological.

And now Hollywood calls them va-jay-jays – a term gaining in popularity and reducing our most womanly parts to something that smacks of baby-talk, uncomfortably close to Lolita, to paedophilia. And while being rather fond of the term “fanny”, I wouldn’t be saying it to my grandmother. Other than that, just about every vagina name I can think of clearly came straight from boy porn – I mean, what girl would refer to her minge or muff or pussy with any comfort? – and too often these names have girls labelled like pieces of meat, or receptacles for sperm, names like fur burger and meat curtains and feedbag… Oh lord, I can’t continue. What if my mother reads this?
We need to reclaim our vaginas and all their cunning linguist nicknames as our own – and with it all the pleasures and uses and functions they encapsulate – because they are ours and ours alone, these yonis, these fannies, these little bits of heaven that we may occasionally share. And yoni is a whole new name. Well, to me. It’s slips off the tongue with friendly ease, remaining slightly mysterious but also delightfully cheerful. A yoni doesn’t have issues, emotional, hygienic or otherwise. A yoni is upbeat and enthusiastic, but knows when to be serious. A yoni doesn’t care for extreme looks or Brazilians or dye jobs or anything that might make it nervous or paranoid. A yoni is interested and interesting. A yoni wouldn’t be caught dead in anything that made it itch or crept up at the back.

A yoni is pithy and no-nonsense, the Yardley Oatmeal type, holding personality and content of character in high esteem, while eschewing all that would undermine its sense of worth.

A girl could value a yoni’s opinion. And a girl should, because a yoni has got, well, balls…

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The New York State Department of Health says in a campaign targetted at women on low incomes that it can help them lose weight. Some focus group somewhere came up with this or some patronising public health professional?

h/t Sociological Images and more on the NYT Motherlode blog.

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