Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Guest Post: Going Braless by Caitlin Lomas

I need to start this post with the disclaimer that I have small boobies. If you read this and think "what does she know sitting there with her B cups" I am aware this whole process has been easier because I have a small chest. And I am by no means saying everyone should stop wearing all kinds of bras, more asking you to consider WHY we wear underwired, padded, push-up, cleavage-boosting ones. Are we all on the same page? Good. Off we go, then.

My first ever bra was, I think, a 28AAA. Seriously. It wasn't even a bra; it was a bra-shaped crop top. My mum got it for me because, at 13, I really didn't have any breasts at all but felt self conscious about not wearing a bra in P.E; my crop tops felt childish. Like a lot of girls, I think, I grew up thinking breasts were the ultimate sign of femininity and that NOT having breasts meant I was less of a girl. Eventually I got enough in the breasticles department to fill a cup that wasn't a made up size and off I went and I never looked back.

 A few years ago I finally came to terms with how much I fucking hate bras. They've never fitted me properly even after being professionally measured, they always seemed to make my boobs hurt all the freaking time and despite being fairly thin I always got that weird mini fat roll between my bra-encased breasts and my arms that made me feel ugly and fat and self conscious. “But I can't stop wearing them!” I thought. “That would...just be WRONG. Everyone wears a bra! What would people THINK. What would they SAY.” I struggled on. Then, just over a year ago I decided I didn't give a rat’s ass what people think. I’m uncomfortable enough in my body from the pain of my chronic health condition, without voluntarily adding extra discomfort. So I took the plunge and I did not wear a bra. And no one said a goddamned thing.

Without a bra, I felt free. My boobs stopped hurting. The level of comfort I now experienced was just...indescribable. But more than that, I felt powerful. For so long I wore a bra because I thought that, as a woman, it was what was expected of me. It was part of the social contract. And going against that, and feeling better for it, made me feel strong. I started to wonder why I'd even started wearing one in the first place. I'd not needed the support because of back pain, so why had I bothered?

Because I felt like I was supposed to. Wearing a bra was a sign I was a woman, like starting my period or growing pubic hair, it was a sign that I had Made It. I was part of the club. And I started to feel like the only reason I ever wore a bra was, not because I needed to, but because everyone else needed me to. Because it was expected that my breasts sit at a certain place on my chest and be a certain shape and not move very much and, heavens forbid, never suggest I have nipples. And the more I thought about it the more I felt I'd been duped. I'd been wearing these godforsaken things for a decade and I really didn't need to.

Aside from this, there’s also the issue that the fashion industry expects your breasts to be within a certain size range, and if yours fall either side of this range, you’re punished by being offered bras that aren’t pretty, or sexy, or whatever it is you like to see in a bra, and instead are boring (or ugly) and often expensive, with limited options on offer in limited places. No fair.

Obviously, bras have many practical applications. I know many of us breast-bearers opt for bras for a range of reasons, and going totally braless is not necessarily an option for all. I do think that when we think 'bra' we think of the underwired variety, probs with a bit of padding for maximum boobage and to guarantee nipple coverage on even the coldest of days, and designed to hoist our breasts up to their socially desirable position about an inch below our chins. Boobies are not supposed to go this way. If they were, that's where they'd be already. The point of this post is more to get us to think about what we put our boobs in, rather than just reaching for what we've always reached for. There's bras without underwire, sports bras, camisoles with built-in support cups. Regular camisoles. And yes, going totally braless.

So next time you try on a totally amazing top or dress, but are going to leave it in the changing room because "I can't wear a bra with it" try it on without one. I bet you look bangin'.

For more from Caitlin follow her
 

Monday, 28 March 2016

Being Clear About Getting a Smear

In the UK, once a woman turns 24 or 25, she is invited to go for a cervical screening test, or a 'smear' test. They then need to be tested every 3 years until they turn 50. My 24th birthday came and went, and my screening letter arrived on my doorstep. I promptly opened it, tossed it to one side, and forgot about it. 

Why, you might ask? Maybe it's down to the fact that I am notoriously bad at booking appointments; it took me 18 months after moving to actually register with a GP. But I think deep down I was also feeling what pretty much every woman feels when they receive the letter: apprehension. 

And I'm not really sure. I'm quite blasé about illnesses; I don't worry about catching diseases or developing conditions. I'm pretty laid back in life and it's just not something that I (thankfully) have anxieties about. 



And I knew the procedure might be a little embarrassing, but I've had several STI tests (better safe than sorry!) and from what I gather, they are pretty much the same. Yes it's an inconvenience, but it's over within minutes. 

Yet I joined the thousands of women who put off having their smear tests every year. It wasn't until I received my third reminder letter, and my friend (who I share the same birthday with) booked her's, that I figured that I should just go ahead and book mine.
Smear tests are performed at your GP surgery, and are generally done by a nurse. I worried about stuff that is ENTIRELY irrelevant. What do I wear? How much should I groom? Should I shower before? Or would that affect the results? 

All of this is completely irrelevant! If you want to be able to cover up quickly, I would recommend a skirt, as you can just whip it up for the action and then flop it back down again. But the nurse will give you as much time as you need to take clothes on and off, so just wear whatever is comfortable. I don't recommend fifty layers because you will probably end with something upside down/back to front. 

With regards to the procedure itself – look away now if you're particularly squeamish! – it's pretty straightforward. Once I had undressed from the waist down, I lay down on the couch. They may raise the bed as necessary, so don't be alarmed if you are two feet higher than when you started! It's to save the nurses having to convolute themselves over your nether regions. 

Next comes the part most people dread: the speculum. It's either plastic or metal, and is inserted inside the vagina to hold the walls open so that your cervix can be accessed easily. This may feel a little cold, and some people say a little painful, but I barely felt it at all. There is a slight pressure inside as they take the swab. It's quite hard to describe, but for me it was like a little poke, and just felt very deep? Like an 'oh, that's my cervix!' kind of response.



Bearing in mind the swabbing takes approximately 15-20 seconds, and the speculum 20 seconds to put in and out, the actual examination takes less than a minute. They will ask you some basic questions beforehand, and you can expect results within two weeks. 

The main feeling I came out with is 'why hadn't I done this sooner?'. It's a relatively pain-free experience, took 5-10 minutes of my time, and meant that I can be confident that at least one part of my body is healthy. For the same reason I get STI tested, it's just for peace of mind. And it's great to finally tick off my to-do list! 

If your sample has any cell abnormalities, it will be tested for human papilloma virus (HPV), and if this is positive, you will be asked to go for further testing, known as a colposcopy. There are over 100 different types of HPV, and only a few of these are linked to cancer. 

My results showed 'changes to some of the cells in my cervix'. There was evidence of HPV, but this does NOT necessarily mean I'll need treatment. If you get the same response, I would please urge you to not panic at this stage. If you have low grade changes, most cases do not lead to cancer. However, a colposcopy should confirm what will need to happen next. 

How did I feel about my results? A bit eye-roll worthy, to be honest! It's just my luck that this would happen. I'm glad I eventually went, because having something go undetected could be dangerous, so if I do need treatment, better sooner than later! At the same time, I know the second test is not a result of me delaying the smear, and it probably wouldn't have made a difference if I had been tested straight away. 

What I will say to anyone who has received the invitation letter... just go and have it done. I felt a huge relief once it was over, and it's such a simple procedure. You may not need one if you haven't been sexually active, so check with your GP to see whether you need one or not. 

My colposcopy is booked for next week, so wish me luck! It'll be interesting to have giant binoculars pointing at my vagina...

 photo safe space bio_zps8jlgrcn3.png

Friday, 25 March 2016

Me Time

I took about ten days out from my usual volunteering and daily activities recently.  I'd been very stressed and was feeling pretty run down.  So I needed a break.  Break from the slog of all the things I do.  A break from the expectations others have of me "Oh, Emma will do that."  And most of all I needed a break from the pressure I put on myself to do everything and always say yes because I feel like I should.  It's the downside of doing voluntary work - it's very hard to say no.  Especially with all the pressure and expectation from society that we should be working in paying jobs full time and pulling our own weight. 

I was very clear to everyone what my plans were. I was going to a workshop in Birmingham and to London for two days. And I was going to see a friend. Other than that in the inbetween times I was going to laze around reading, watching TV and knitting.  Several people said that sounded wonderful and they wished they could take the time just to be at home and relax.  At least one person when told I wouldn't be available at that time got the impression I was going away for the whole time.  I didn't disabuse them of that notion because them thinking that suited me.

I enjoyed it and it was very useful.   But getting to the point where I could take this break and put myself first for a few days was difficult.  And even a few days before I nearly backed down - I could hear a conversation going on around me how someone was needed to do something that week. They weren't sure how it could be done.  It was one of my usual days and I didn't have anything planned so for a few seconds I felt like I should speak up and offer to go in as usual.  I didn't though.  Because I knew that actually I'd do better long term and be more useful to them if I did take some me time and recharge my batteries.

After ten days I felt better.  Still tired but less stressed and run down.  I'd done almost everything I wanted to do. If anything I could have done with it being a few days longer - I didn't feel ready to go back to my volunteering this Monday!

Going forward I think that's something I probably need to do much more often.  I need to carve out that time (which I'm not too bad at doing) and stick to it (I'm terrible at that).  But more than that I need to find a way to manage the expectations others have of me and get better at saying no to people when I need to.  Me time is fantastic and so important.  Fitting it in all the time rather than boom and bust like this is more important.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Why I Choose to Live

Over much of the last ten years, suicide has been a very real option for me. When my mood has been at its lowest and I haven’t been able to see ahead because of the fog of depression, life, as clichéd as it sounds, hasn’t felt as if it is worth living. After attempts at taking my life, when medical professionals tried to keep me safe from myself, I was angry. I was angry that they were taking the choice away from me. I asked myself what right they had to make me live when they weren’t the ones living my life.

But today it is different. There remain times when I see ending my life as a means of ending my distress. I still get overwhelmed at the prospect of living for decades to come. Perhaps that will always be the case for someone who has seen suicide as an available option. What I have seen recently, however, are also the reasons to be hopeful. They are the little glimmers of life, the moments I laugh without thought, the fulfilment that comes with doing something I enjoy. Instead of having a list a mile-long of why I want to die, there are greater reasons for me to live.


I choose to live because:

There is the possibility of change and of progress.

I can be with the people I love.

I can see the world and explore new places.

I can read books and listen to music, old and new.

I can help to make the world a better place through my unique perspective.

I can have new experiences – meet new people, go to gigs and events, and do what scares me.

I can use my experiences, rather than wasting them, in order to support other people.

I can make my life what I want it to be.


We all have different experiences and reasons for the choices that we make. I don’t know what your life is like. You may be content, you may be muddling through, unsure what you’re doing, or you may be like me, wondering why you should live. What I do know, though, is that what I saw as permanent has so often been fleeting. Things change. We can utilise the very worst of life and make it count for something. That reality is my reason for living.  


Monday, 21 March 2016

My Favourite Feminists

I’m a fairly new feminist. Looking back I’ve always had feminist views but I’ve only been identifying as a feminist for the last four years. I’m twenty six and have a lot to learn in my journey into feminism.

Today I wanted to share with you some of my favourite feminists of the moment, who inspire me and are making a big impact on the world. This list could go on for a very long time so I’m hoping to make this into a blog series of sorts sharing about feminists that I love as I go along and discover them. Here are my first group to start with, if you're not already following the work of these incredible women then I've left handy links for you to check out.

Emma Watson

Emma Watson is without doubt one of the most influential feminists of the moment. She's the public face of HeForShe a campaign for gender equality that specifically encourages men and boys to stand up to sexism. Emma's speech at UN got everybody talking and has over 1 million views on Youtube here. More recently she's started a book club called Our Shared Shelf which is an open book club encouraging people to read books on feminism.


Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes is a television producer and writer and is known for both her diverse characters and badass leading ladies. Rhimes is responsible for shows such as Grey's Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder. She's a small-screen powerhouse dominating TV and changing what normal looks like on our television sets. She's recently released a book called Year of Yes where she talks about balancing a demanding career and motherhood with refreshing honesty.

Laura Bates 

Laura Bates is the woman behind the Everyday Sexism project and played a huge role in me recognizing that I am a feminist. On Everyday Sexism the public are encouraged to share their experiences of sexism from the big to the small stuff. What makes this project so powerful is that it shows how sexism is happening now everywhere and everyday making the comment "feminism is no longer needed" redundant. Laura has also turned the Everyday Sexism project into a book.


Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift is one of the most powerful women in the world right now. She's hugely successful off her own talent as a music artist and continuously promotes confidence, self worth and being women positive to her legions of fans. She gets a lot of flack for "not being a real feminist" but personally I think she's fighting her own fight against sexism in the music industry and doing things her way and that in itself should be respected as being feminist. Blank Space will forever be my personal anthem.


Malala Yousafzai 

Where to start with the powerhouse that is Malala? She is an activist for female education and is the youngest Nobel laureate. She's one of the most respected young women in history and has won award after award. Her story is both empowering and inspiring and has been made into both a film and a book.



Holly Bourne 

Holly is the author of four books for Young Adults. She has released the first two of three books in the Spinster Club series that follows the lives of three teenage feminists. I love that Holly is making feminism accessible for teenage girls. I think that it's so important that girls are taught about feminism from an early age and that's what Holly does in a really fun and  relatable way. The first book in the series Am I Normal Yet? has recently been shortlisted for The YA Book Prize.
Gloria Steinem 

Gloria Steinem is the very best of feminism and has been fighting for equality since before I was born. She's a writer and the founder of Ms. Magazine and is both a leader and spokeswoman for the feminist movement. She's an incredible woman with a mass of awards and credentials under her belt. She's truly an icon for any feminist.


Laverne Cox 

Laverne is an actress staring in one of my favourite TV shows Orange is the New Black. She's openly a transgender woman on both the show as Sophia Burset and in her own life. She's an LGBT advocate and is an icon for the transgender community. She's won numerous awards such as Glamour magazine's Woman of the Year and is known globally as one of the most influential LGBT people.


Friday, 18 March 2016

Making Friends When Socially Anxious

Joey-No-MatesIf I was to count the number of friends I have, and treat it seriously, I would not get past one. Of course, I have work colleagues I get one with, people from the YA community who I love chatting to, and friends of the family who I think of warmly. But when it comes to real friends - the kind that are there for you no matter what; who you can talk to all the time about absolutely anything; who know you inside out and back to front, all your flaws, and love you anyway; who you can confide in and be silly with and go to for assurance when you're having a wobble - of those kind of friends, I have one. My best friend. And he lives in Belfast, while I live in London.

This hasn't been a problem for me. I've not felt lonely or like something is lacking from my life. I have a very close family, and we spend a lot of time together, and they've come to be friends, too. But at the end of last year, I came to realise that I don't really have a great social life. With a lack of more friends, perhaps I'm missing out on...something. Fun, sure - nights out, lunch dates, catching up over coffee - but also something more. People help you grow, right? They challenge you and educate you and give you a different perspect. My best mate does a fantastic job at this, but maybe I could do with a few more people in my life? And experience more things because of those people?

I decided that I was going to make an effort to try and make more friends this year. For those of you who don't know, #DrinkYA is one of many social events for those in that YA communinity - readers, bloggers, authors, publishing people - to get together and just hang out, chat, and have a drink, organised by the brilliant Jim. I went to my first #DrinkYA event in January, hoping to meet new people, have fun talking about books, and hopefully make some friends in the process.

I have always been quite shy. As a child, I was painfully shy; I remember once hiding in the bathroom when family were visiting my Nan, because I didn't know them well, and I got very nervous and didn't want to talk to them. It's got better as I've got older, university and work have helped, but I still find talking to people I don't know difficult. It's not something that comes easy to me, and I have to work at it. "Don't use small talk. Say something interesting, Stop feeling so nervous. Compliment them, maybe. Look them in the eye. Listen to what they're actually saying." To some I might seem stand-offish and rude, but I'm not, I'm just shy.

But I didn't realise just how socially anxious I was until #DrinkYA. (I'm not talking about Social Anxiety Disorder here, but social anxiety. The latter can lead into the former, but it's not a mental illness.) I went to the event feeling a little nervous, but generally pretty excited. Until I got there and realised in a group of around 30 people, there were only two I knew. It was overwhelming, and I became so uncomfortable. From my intro post, you might think I was a strong person who is happy in her skin and with who she is, and doesn't really care what other people think. And for the most part, I am. But at #DrinkYA, I crumbled.

Jim did introduce me to a number of people, and everyone was lovely. But I struggled with finding things to say. I let them lead the conversation and followed them, asking questions, trying to say interesting things, but I was like a rabbit in the headlights. I felt like I was being humoured, like they were taking pity on me, but weren't really interested. It's hard to describe how I felt. There were all these people, and they were going to judge me and find me lacking, and I just wanted to escape. So I wouldn't have to talk, so I wouldn't have to be judged. It was also hard because everyone else seemed to know each other from other social or bookish events, which I can't always attend because of work, and I was there on the sidelines. So not only was I struggling to talk to people I didn't know, I also felt like an outsider. I even went to the toilet at one point, just to get away from everyone. For a little bit of peace, a little bit of quiet. With my head in my hands, feeling like an idiot. Eventually, I pasted on a smile and went back up, but it was just as bad. As I said, everyone was lovely - I wasn't being judged, I wasn't being pitied, these people were there to hang out and chat just like me. But that's how my social anxiety made me feel, and it was unbearable. I lasted two hours before leaving, making my way home on the bus, feeling like a failure. How was I supposed to make friends, when I can't even handle meeting new people?

A few days after, I had a talk with myself. I wasn't a failure. So big groups are obviously not for me, I can't handle being around so many people I don't know. But smaller groups? I can do that. I organised a get-together with a few people over coffee, and although that was a little awkward at times, I was fine. An old friend from way back got in touch asking to meet up this year, and we had a drink together one night, getting to know each other again and reliving old times. It was a great night! And I went to a gallery with a blogger from the US who is studying here for a few months. Fewer people, but a step in the right direction.

I still have just the one friend, but we're only in the third month of the year. There's time. And I'm hoping that seeing more people at events and organising get-togethers will help me get there. There are several people I know that I would so love to be friends with. People who are so smart, who are just so cool and inspiring, who just seem like so much fun. But it's not really the done thing to go up to people and say, "Hey, I think you're awesome. Please be my friend?" Needy and creepy, much? But I'm sure I'll get there.

And if you see me at an event in the future, and I'm kind of quiet or on my own or not saying very much, please don't feel badly of me. I'm not being rude, I don't think I'm better than you, nor am I not interested. I'm just shy, and I'm probably feeling nervous about talking to you, and maybe struggling for something to say. If you know me online, and want to, please do come over and say hi. You've no idea how much that would mean to me when I'm struggling, how much it would help.

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Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Choosing Happy Not Skinny

Disclaimer: This post is being written from a privileged position of someone who has never been “over-weight” or had any weight-related disorders and is only *my* feelings on this subject as they relate to *my* body. I’m not trying to tell anyone what is right and what isn’t. Your body is yours and nobody can tell you how it should look or how you should feel about it or what you should do with it.

So I’m going on holiday tomorrow. Yep that’s right- tomorrow. As I’m writing this I’m trying to get the packing for me and Le Boyf done (because I have the odd need to be in control of the packing so I know we don’t forget anything), I have to work Wednesday before we drive over to my parents that night so I’m understandably a bit stressed right now.

I did some shopping the weekend before last to get some clothes to take on holiday and had a rather uncomfortable wobble with my self-confidence. I’m well aware that over the last year or so I’ve put on about a stone but since I don’t buy new clothes that often I’ve not had to deal with the nightmare that is women’s clothing sizes. It wasn’t all that fun.

If you didn’t see my tweets about my shopping mishap then here you go. Basically I opted to get vest tops a size larger than I thought I would need in the end rather than have to suffer through wearing super-clingy clothes while in America. Baggier is better when you’re feeling kinda delicate about your middle. The number on the label is bollocks anyway when you think about how wildly sizes vary from shop to shop. A Topshop 10 could be a Hollister XXL (because damn it if the clothes in there are made for human-sized Pepperami sticks).

Growing up I was always very lucky to be able to eat what I felt like and even with the minimal amount of exercise I did, not have to worry about putting loads of weight on. I was pretty much a size ten for all my teen years, maybe a size 12 for tops to accommodate my boobs. Apparently I have some genes on my side in that my biological father (who we’ll *not* be talking about further) was always fairly slim without trying. Silver linings I guess.

But now I’m in my mid-twenties I think the environmental factors *cough pizza cough* are getting the upper hand. I’m hovering around the 9st 12lb mark at the moment which is not making me all that happy. Most of that extra stone has ended up on my boobs (which isn’t an entirely bad thing because, hey bitchin’ cleavage) and round my hips and stomach.

This is what’s making me dread somewhat going on holiday. Currently my stomach is anything but flat and I have noticeable love handles on my hips. Add in the fact that my body is weird and has zero fleshiness around the middle of my hips before curving back out on my thighs makes it very difficult for me to like seeing what I look like in bikinis right now.

I know that my weight is perfectly normal for someone of my age and height (According to this chart anyway) but that doesn’t stop me from feeling horribly insecure about my middle and how crap *I* think it looks in tight fitting clothes. The other weekend I bought a stretchy body-con dress and the moment I tried it on I knew it was going back with NO swapping for a larger size. Even if I bought a size 12 it still would've only drawn attention to the oddness of my hips which just doesn’t work with that style of dress.

I know that the feeling like you don’t quite fit your skin is one that most girls and women experience all too frequently as they grow up. Society shoves these unrealistic ideals of what women’s bodies should look like down our throats from the moment we’re old enough to consume media. As a teen I didn’t really give a shit about being a size 6 and felt comfortable being the size I was which considering how my friendship group comprised of at least three girls who ate little more than fruit and diet coke every lunch it is surprising that I didn’t feel more pressure to be thinner than I was.

Even now I don’t want to be super-thin, I just want to feel comfortable in my own body. I’d like to be able to look at myself naked in the mirror and not frown at the handfuls of flesh that I can grab. I want to fit into all the clothes I own so I don’t have to keep buying new things that I can fasten without sucking in my entire gut. I want to feel happy to wear a bikini on holiday even if the only people who will see me will be my boyfriend and my immediate family.

Artwork by SiminiBlocker
I don’t give a shit if I’m not the magazine ideal of a bikini body (seriously though fuck that), I’m not trying to feel sexy for other people or even myself really, I just want to be able to look at myself and not immediately see flaws. Which I know is a lot to ask when we’ve all been pretty much conditioned as a society to constantly seek out the minutiae of our bodies and obsess over how it doesn’t adhere to some unattainable aesthetic standard.

There’s a pretty damn epic quote from Julie Murphy’s book Dumplin’ that ought to be the mantra of every single woman regardless of her size. It's what I'll be repeating to myself while I'm on holiday when the traitor part of my brain is saying that I should avoid going in the pool because I won't "look good" in my swimsuit.

Those thoughts need shutting down before they dig into your subconsciousness and linger like a poison, slowly dismantling your self-confidence until all you want to wear is baggy clothes that hide everything.

Now it's unrealistic of me to say that I'll feel better about my body by the time I get home from America. With the quantity of guacamole that I intend on eating it's likely that I'll feel even worse for a while but then I can begin to address those feelings and work on getting my body back to a size that feels right for me. Just me. No one else's opinion matters. 


Skinny or not, bikini body here I come. (By that I mean a bikini is going on my body. obvs.)


Monday, 14 March 2016

Hi, I’m Jess and I’m a Hypochondriac

Admitting to you that I’m a hypochondriac is a hard thing for me to do.

When I talk about my anxiety, I’m fine.

OCD? Not a problem. 

Depression? Sure thing.

But it’s hard for me to sit here and fess up to being a hypochondriac and that’s because being a hypochondriac carries a bad rep.

Over the years I’ve been called a “drama queen” and an “attention seeker” by my nearest and dearest. I’ve been told to “get a grip” and that I need to “stop worrying about nothing.” I think it’s hard for me to write this post because hypochondria is an anxiety disorder that’s hardly ever spoken about and therefore has a long way to go in fighting the stigma surrounding mental illness that we’re just starting to break.

In contrast to what has been said to me, my hypochondria is something that I live very quietly with, much more so than I live with my other mental health problems. Unlike common perceptions regarding hypochondria I rarely go to the doctor with my worries and I hardly ever discuss my fears with anyone for fear of being called silly.

For me, living with hypochondria is losing a whole night to googling symptoms and reading about various illnesses online spending hours trying to self-diagnose. It’s lying awake terrified that I’m ill or dying. It’s having intrusive thoughts about all of the big scary illnesses out there and the chances of me one day having them. It’s about worrying that even getting help for these illnesses, like having surgery, carry a risk of death. Truthfully, having hypochondria is terrifying and something that I often sit with alone.

In my experience, when people think of death they see it as a far off thing that won’t happen to them, or at the very least is something that they won’t have to face for a long time. I’m the complete opposite. I’m very aware that death is a part of life and that one day I will die and so will everybody that I’ve ever cared about. I know that death can sweep in and happen unexpectedly when you’re not looking and so I’ve made death my personal enemy.

I try as hard as I can to fortify myself and those I love from death by being a hypochondriac, by worrying and thinking of the worst possibility so that I can act quickly. I’m on constant high alert for the grim reaper knocking at my door.

There are so many health warnings these days, everywhere you look from posters to TV adverts. Now I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, I’m sure these advertisements save lives. But when you’re a hypochondriac being reminded that 1 of 2 people in the UK will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime is not helpful. I look at those odds and I look around at the people I love and a wave of paralysing fear washes over me.

Every. Single. Freaking. Time.

And what’s worse is that I know that dying is inevitable and that for all of my worry and trying to protect myself and those I love against it ultimately there’s nothing I can do to stop it when it does finally decide to arrive.

Because as well as worrying about my own health I also am a hypochondriac when it comes to the people I love. My family get so annoyed with me when they’re ill. If they have an illness for longer than two weeks I’m certain that they’re going to die. I will nag at them to see a doctor and spend countless nights until the illness has passed crying myself to sleep and having panic attacks because I’m certain that something is seriously wrong with them.

In society hypochondria is a mental health condition that is still very much seen as a joke. It’s perceived as self-indulgent, dramatic and pathetic but in reality it is a terrifying condition to live with. On a regular basis I convince myself that I am ill and that I am going to die. I may not be physically ill but mentally I am there living it and experiencing it. I believe it deeply and wholly. To me, in my mind, I am sick and I am dying. Fact. And it’s not until my symptoms subside or I get a doctor's diagnosis that I believe otherwise. It’s petrifying and mentally exhausting.

Hypochondria is not a silly, frivolous or indulgent condition to have. It’s no fun to live with and is certainly no joke to be laughed off. I hope that one day it will be seen as the crippling anxiety disorder that it is and treated with the respect it deserves. But until that day I refuse to be ridiculed for a condition that I have as little control over as my OCD, PTSD and Depression. I refuse to be made fun of and refuse to believe that my very real fear is trivial, petty and insignificant.

My name is Jess. I am a hypochondriac and I will not be ashamed.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Wearing A Mask

It seems to me that society has a way of telling girls and women that the only way to really fit in and be a girl or woman is if you wear make-up. Every single film, tv show, magazine, book cover, etc, seems to show a picture of a female who has professionally done make-up, and lets not go down the photoshop road where we remove all spots and blemishes too. But, needless to say, staring everyone in the face is this idea that without make up, females just aren't doing it right.

This is how I felt growing up. I would watch as my eldest sister got ready to go to school and it would take her over an hour just to put make-up on. I'd go to school without it and meet up with my friends who were all perfectly made-up and liked to spend time discussing the newest line that had been released at the weekend while I sat feeling a little confused and alone. 

I don't remember when I first started wearing make-up. I don't know what it was that made me walk into Superdrug and buy my first product. But I have now come to a point in my life where I am physically incapable of living without it. In fact, I actually did an experiment last month just to see if I could live without it and it was hard, I felt uncomfortable, and eventually I was incredibly glad the month was up. I ran back to my BB creame and plastered it on my face with an odd sense of glee.

This was a revealing moment for me. As I grew up without a clue, it's odd to realise that I now struggle without make-up. Essentially the only make-up I use is foundation. Occasionally I might branch out to some mascara and a bit of blusher but that's as far as I go. Mostly because I wouldn't even know where to start when it comes to the rest of the make up range. But what I discovered about make-up and me is that I find that wearing foundation is similar to wearing clothes.

When I walk out of the house without make-up, I feel naked. It doesn't matter that usually by the end of the day my foundation has washed off anyway, the fact that to start the day I was free of it, left me feeling so uncomfortable. It felt like everyone was looking at me. Like they were looking at all my ugly freckles, at my face blemishes, at the ugly spots and the moments when my cheeks would heat up, and they were judging me. (They weren't, but that's what it felt like to me). It's a bit like when you get home and realise you have something stuck between your teeth and you realise no body told you about it. To me, not wearing make-up and having no one say anything felt like they were just being too polite. 

So while it took me a while to first put make-up on, and while I don't think it's something that women have to wear, I thought it was interesting to discover that I have now become someone unable to go make-up free. To me, make-up is as essential as wearing clothes. Without it I feel naked, on show, and looked at. Make-up lets me blend in and I'm able to sit in the background unnoticed.

Because with society making it seem normal to wear make-up, not wearing it can definitely make it seem like you've got a spotlight on you. (But you don't, you really don't). So what I want to end this post with is to say that while I am unable to leave the house without make-up on, in some ways I wish I never started wearing it. Because I shouldn't have to. I shouldn't feel this uncomfortable about not wearing make-up. If you're someone who doesn't wear make-up, good on you. If you're someone who does, good on you too.

I guess what I'm trying to say is; ignore society. Whether you wear it or not, do it because YOU want to. Do what makes you comfortable. Because at the end of the day, that's the most important thing in life, right?


Friday, 11 March 2016

Feel Good Music

I love music. I love to put it on loud and dance around my flat whilst singing along (badly but enthusiastically).  I probably annoy my neighbours when I do that but I can't make myself stop.

There are a lot of songs that have memories wrapped around.  Songs that make me smile and laugh. Ones that make the bad days better. And ones I probably shouldn't love but I just do.  And I tend to find a lot of meaning in song lyrics.

I'd struggle to tell you my favourite band or genre because I have ecclectic tastes. I have a special place in my heart for musicals and have a lot of soundtracks in my collection and at the moment I'm on a big Adele kick. But other than that pretty much anything goes.

Here are some of my "feel good" songs. It's taken me much longer to write this post than it should have done because I kept thinking of other better songs to include and having to stop to look them up and sing and dance around to them.

Anything Can Happen from the musical Mary Poppins:


"Anything can happen if you let it 
life out there waiting so go and get it 
grab it by the collar 
seize it by the scruff 
onceyou've started living life you just can't get enough
Anything can happen it's official you can choose the super
or the superficial sally forth the way we're steering obstacles
start disappearing go and chase your dreams you won't regret it"


 Roar by Katy Perry




I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire
‘Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me ROAR
Louder, louder than a lion
‘Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me ROAR

Fighter by Christina Aguilera




Makes me that much stronger
Makes me work a little bit harder
It makes me that much wiser
So thanks for making me a fighter
Made me learn a little bit faster
Made my skin a little bit thicker
Makes me that much smarter
So thanks for making me a fighter

Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You) by Kelly Clarkson



You think you got the best of me
Think you had the last laugh
Bet you think that everything good is gone
Think you left me broken down
Think that I'd come running back
Baby you don't know me, cause you're dead wrong

Just The Way You Are by Bruno Mars



When I see your face,
there’s not a thing that I would change,
'cause you’re amazing
just the way you are
And when you smile,
the whole world stops and stares for a while,
'cause girl, you’re amazing
just the way you are


0

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

I'm a Bit of a Girl...

When watching a quiz show on television a few weeks ago, a question about boxing was asked. The female contestant looked dumbfounded and was quick to respond with, “I’m a bit of a girl.” Sadly, her response didn’t surprise me. In part, because I’m absolutely certain I’ve used it myself, but also because it’s a statement that goes unchallenged in many circles. This time, however, was the first time that I noticed my shock about the implications of such a comment.


“I’m a bit of a girl” is always used as a derogatory statement. Instead of claiming our femaleness as fact and observing the strengths that we each have, the comment is used as a put-down. It becomes about what you can’t do (“You run like a girl,” or “You throw like a girl”) and prescribes a set of subjects that you shouldn’t be expected to know anything about, in the case of this quiz show. But do we ever hear men saying their equivalent? Whilst claiming our status as women is so often seen as a declaration of weakness, manhood tends to be seen as the personification of strength and capability. If you cry, “you’re a girl,” is thrown as an insult because the sensitivity that we see as a positive when caring for others becomes a put-down if seen in the opposite sex.

If someone had turned to Nicola Adams, current Olympic, Commonwealth and European Boxing Champion, and told her that her womanhood automatically rendered her incapable of success as a boxer, her life would be radically different today. Yet her sport is the same sport that the quiz contestant claimed automatic ignorance about. I’ve overheard many conversations about sports and about careers, with people claiming that they’re not “very lady-like.” But is history really the best measure of what a woman should be? Perhaps we should be looking at what a woman could be.

The Future Is Now

The vast number of options available, from being doctors to electricians, playing rugby or badminton, demonstrates the vast spectrum of talents seen amongst men, surely showing that gender has very little to do with what we’re gifted at or what we enjoy. Opportunities, no doubt, are far more scarce for women in certain fields, beginning at school when PE lessons are divided into “girl” or “boy” sports. Only 9% of engineeringprofessionals in the UK are female, helped by 80% of Physics A-level students being male. This is despite there being no reason, biologically, why women can’t pursue this career path.

What we stereotype as being the male domain is kept off-limits, with our statements of “I’m a bit of a girl” being used as an excuse. We can’t keep succumbing to an “I shouldn’t know that” mindset and then expect to be provided with more opportunities. To confine individuals to lives guided by their x and y chromosomes, disregards the human capacity for learning and for achievement, whilst society doesn’t benefit from 50% of its inhabitants. If we, the people who so often speak of female empowerment, put ourselves down with our femaleness, we can’t expect others to do any different. It’s time to stand up and claim our place as women as the fact that it is. It’s not weakness, it’s not less. It just is.
Ziwe

Monday, 7 March 2016

Where Have All of the Labia Gone?

When I was a teenager I thought I had a weird vagina.

In this day and age vaginas are everywhere. It’s easier than ever to access porn thanks to the internet. Whether they’re in a picture, gif or video, vaginas can be found all over the place. But as a teenager, no matter how many different vaginas I saw, they all looked exactly the same and nothing like my own.

Frankly, where have all of the labia gone!?


Back when I was thirteen I didn’t know what labia was (if you’re not familiar, they’re the outer and inner lips that surround the entrance to the vagina) all I knew was that the women in porn and my science text books didn’t have what I have.

And that made me feel like a freak.

Was I not normal?

Was something wrong with me? 

Many years later it turns out that the answer is no. Labia minora (inner lips) and labia majora (outer lips) are a completely normal part of the vagina and I wish this was something that I knew earlier in life so I didn’t have to feel so self-conscious about it.


Even though I now know what a normal vagina looks like and that they all look very different, I’m well aware that there are so many girls out there who feel the same way I did. Labiaplasty – a surgery removing the labia minora – is on the rise with girls as young as fourteen going to their GP asking for the procedure because they don’t think that their vagina looks normal.

The main reason for the increasing popularity of labiaplasties seems to be because teenage girls and young women don’t know what “normal” looks like. Talking about sex is becoming less taboo but it seems that talking about our vaginas is still off topic. Instead girls are relying on porn and text books (seriously sex ed?) to see images of other vaginas which are far from reliable sources.

Many porn stars have had labiaplasty so that the vagina entrance is more visible, so seeing an image of what a natural vagina looks like is hard to come by. With no sex education on the matter is it any wonder that more teenage girls are growing up thinking that there is something wrong with the way that their vagina looks?

Sadly another factor that comes into it is boys. Because teenage boys are also not given any sort of education on what women’s genitalia actually looks like they’re also seeing their first vaginas in porn. I’ve heard of girl’s with completely normal looking labia being referred to as having “hanging ham” or “beef curtains” by their sexual partners. If this has ever happened to you take comfort in knowing that this is down to sheer ignorance on your partner’s behalf. Oh and also? They’re an asshole.


For the record, all vaginas look completely different. The labia minora can be tucked in or stick out, it can be darker or lighter than the rest of the vulva, they can be straight or wavy, thin or thick, wrinkled or smooth, and like boobs one can also be bigger than the other. In length labia can be anything from 0-4 inches long.

I’d really recommend getting a hand mirror and taking a look down there. Find out what is normal for you. I promise that whatever you’re looking at is a completely healthy and ordinary vagina.


There are some brilliant websites out there that are doing fantastic work in educating women everywhere about the diversity of labia. I’d really recommend checking out Love Your Labia and The Great Wall of Vagina for a more accurate viewing of all of the different types of vaginas out there.

I wanted to speak up today because it seems like, once again, society has far too much to say about our bodies. The vagina is just another body part that’s being used to make us women feel inferior. Your vagina doesn’t belong to society or to your partner, it belongs to you. By talking about what looks normal for us we’re raising awareness and busting harmful stereotypes on what a “pretty vagina” should look like.

Remember, if a guy ever tries to shame you about any part of your body then he’s an asshole. No matter what your vagina looks like there will be someone out there who loves it and won’t want to change it to make it a more appealing hole for them to have sex with.

Take a look at your vagina, take a look at other people’s vaginas, if you feel comfortable bring up the topic with someone you trust and know that there’s nothing wrong in doing so. Your vagina belongs to you and I think it’s about time that we all showed our bits a little more love.



Sunday, 6 March 2016

Just Pull Yourself Together!

“At least it’s not cancer.”
“So many people have it worse than you.”
“Just pull yourself together; we all have to deal with stuff like this.”
“Have you ever just, you know, tried thinking positively?”
“Mind over matter.”
“What have you got to be depressed about?”

These are just a handful of things that have been said to me and, I imagine, many other people throughout their struggle with mental illness. But why? Why do people regard mental health as a completely separate entity to physical health? Why do people think that it’s just a case of thinking happy thoughts? You wouldn’t say to someone with cancer… “oh, it’s nothing, just think happy thoughts!” Just like you shouldn’t say to someone in the midst of depression, “hey, all you need to do is think happy things!” OMG WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT BEFORE?!?!?!? THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR CURING ME -.-

Mental health is EXACTLY the same as physical health in the sense we ALL have it. Just like physical health, some people have better mental health than others. There are those that are physically healthy and then those that are briefly ill or who have long term physical problems; there are those that are mentally healthy, those that are briefly mentally ill or who have long term mental health problems. It’s the same concept. It should be treated in society in the SAME WAY.

I like to think that throughout our lives we live on a sliding scale for both our mental and physical health. Sometimes we’ll be feeling amazing and we’ll have great health and other times we may not feel so great and be lower down the scale. We are never at one fixed point and that’s OK. Just like it’s OK to have a cold, or break your leg or need some antibiotics for an ear infection. Just like it’s OK to go through depression, or have a psychotic episode or have an intense period of anxiety. It’s OK to slide up and down that scale. (I tried to visually explain this but I fail at art. Soz.)


But, sadly, this is where the similarities end.

Physical health is treated far differently from mental health. If you fall over and break your leg and need some time off work, your boss is likely to pat you on the shoulder and hope you feel better soon. Yet if you were to suffer from a bout of depression and need some time off of work, the same boss may tap you on the shoulder and suggest you’re not committed to the job and are letting the team down.



If you can’t attend someone’s birthday party because you’ve got a nasty chest infection, you’ll be wished well and told you’ll be missed. Yet if you miss the same birthday party because you’re just feeling too anxious, you’ll be told you’re a flake and you let people down.


If you’re having a really tough day and you just really can’t face doing more than staying in bed people may tell you to “get a grip” and to stop being so dramatic because “at least it’s not cancer”.
No, it’s not cancer and I’m glad that it’s not but that doesn’t make my suffering or what I’m going through any less valid or difficult than someone with cancer.


There are many, many times I’ve wished that I could be physically ill instead. Because if I was then people would treat me SO much differently to how they do now. I wouldn’t be criticised at work for not being “smiley enough” during a busy period. I wouldn’t be told to just put “mind over matter” or to “grow some balls”. And I probably wouldn’t be told that I’m letting people down because “I’m not living my life to the full” or doing what a “normal twenty-two year old does”. If I were lying in a bed with cancer that would be the last thought on anyone’s mind. Yet when I lie in bed with depression and have suicidal thoughts, people just think I’m being over-dramatic and selfish?

Go figure.

Some people argue that mental health is easier to go through because you have the power to change it and make yourself better unlike those who may be physically ill and don’t have that ability. And, yes, in some cases that is true. But in the vast majority of cases of physical illness you could say the same too. Got a cold? Take some tablets and wrap up warm. Diabetes? Implement a diet plan and take medication. Broken leg? Put it in a cast and wait until it heals.

So why can’t people with mental illness wait until it heals?

Why are we forced into taking immediate action and made to feel guilty if it looks like we’re not improving? You wouldn’t say to someone recovering from a heart attack, “wow, you had that heart attack like three weeks ago, you still look so rough. You should be better by now.”

WHY WHY WHY DO WE MAKE PEOPLE WHO GO THROUGH MENTAL ILLNESS FEEL REALLY FUCKING GUILTY FOR NOT BEING ILLER?

I am sick of trying to explain what anxiety and depression is like. It’s more than just feeling sad or being a bit scared. It’s completely engulfing and crushing and at times you feel like you’re drowning with no way out. It’s like being in a never ending, dark room and not knowing where the door is to find your way out. You just have to slowly and methodically inch along, searching every single patch of wall until you find that handle to open the door. It’s not about being happy or putting mind over matter. It’s not about comparing my plight with someone else’s.

Just because mental illness can’t be physically seen, it doesn’t mean it’s not excruciatingly painful and real. Yes, you can see a broken leg; yes, you can tell if someone has a bad cough, yes, someone undergoing chemotherapy may lose their hair but just because there are visual symptoms they seem to be cared about more.

Thankfully more and more people are becoming understanding about mental health and are less prejudice about it but there is still a LONG way to go. Sadly one of the reasons for this is that mental illnesses are used as adjectives;


People used the word depressed or depressing to explain something a bit sad which then belittles the experience that people with real depression go through. The same with OCD; it’s not about liking things looking neat and being tidy but how often do you hear people say “I’m so OCD about that.” NO YOU’RE FUCKING NOT. Just like when something scary happens and you have a normal bodily reaction to it you did not just have “OMG A PANIC ATTACK.”

Sigh. Can you tell it makes me a bit annoyed?!

I just wish I could live in a world where it wasn’t a constant competition to see who was worse off or who was suffering more. In comparison to some third world countries we all obviously have a better life. But it doesn’t mean that at the very moment when we’re suffering most that it’s not as bad as or less valid than any other suffering anyone has ever been through.


Treat everyone with care and compassion. One day you may be the one who needs the care and compassion most. 


Saturday, 5 March 2016

Guest Post: Suddenly a Grown Up by Sophie Waters

Within four months of graduating from university I had a job I hated, a house (plus the accompanying stress of rent and bills), a teenager and a cat after the loss of my mum. I went from being the happiest that I can remember while I was at uni to the usual freshly graduated stress to the most adult you can be, all at once, and at 21.


Now I’m a few months off of 24 and my mum has been gone for nearly two and a half years. I have a flat and a 19 year old and a cat – and they’re all my responsibility.

When mum passed away, everything sat on my shoulders. I organised, prepared for and paid for the funeral; I closed her accounts; switched everything into my name; took responsibility for Amy and Lily (sister and cat, respectively); and trudged on, trying to hold our lives together without letting myself grieve or acclimatise to the things that I lost.

Because, boy, did I lose. And I don’t just mean my mum. I lost my plans to move closer to London with my best friend, my freedom, financial freedom, ability to try for the career I want and being guilt-free when I do something for myself. It didn’t take long before I was in a really, really bad place. I was unhappy, lonely, comfort eating to a ridiculous degree (an ongoing battle in my life!) and I felt trapped and stuck. It was bleeding into every aspect of my days. I pushed people away, desperate to convince them that I was fine, that I could handle everything I had taken on. I couldn’t. There were people in my life that stepped back and left me to deal with everything when I needed that support, but there were also others that I couldn’t get rid of – neither was what I needed, but did I say so? Of course not.

But everything seemed to come down to my job. That was where is spent 9 hours a day, the thing that ruled my life and stopped me from being able to do the things I needed to do. So I left. It changed everything for me.

I went on holiday several times, spent time with my sister and my friends, went to book events and became a part of the UKYA community again. When I think of the possibility of not taking that terrifying step I shudder. I don’t know what would have happened, but it probably would have ended with me in hospital. I needed that time to settle myself again. To re-learn how to be a big sister (and a sort of mum, I guess). I needed to come to terms with what I'd lost, but also with the things I've gained. I have no doubts about who and what I want in my life now.

This horrible time of my life has taught me a few things: 
You need time for yourself.
- Take the signals your mind and body are giving you seriously.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Life is unbelievably short – go tell your mum you love her. I didn’t say it enough and you never know when you won't be able to anymore.
- There will be several days each year that even getting out of bed is unbearable: Mother’s day, her birthday, and the anniversary. Doing something you love on those days helps more than I could have imagined.

 For more from Sophie follow her 

Friday, 4 March 2016

Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee!

knickers on the floor - Look at Me, I'm Sandra DeeI'm 28-years-old and I'm a virgin.

I'm a virgin by choice, but it's not something I really like talking about. I'm not ashamed of being a virgin - as I said, I choose to be - but I'm tired of the shock on people's faces when I say so, their exclamations of, "Why?!", the disbelief in their voice. Immediately after the shock, I can tell from their faces, without me having said another word yet, their judgemental thoughts. We live in a society where being a virgin past your late teens is unacceptable. If you're not having sex as a teenager, you're weird. You're also "frigid". That, or no-one wants you, because you're so ugly. Or you're a lesbian*. Maybe an ugly lesbian.

What?!

There is so much pressure to lose your virginity at a young age - not necessarily because you want to, but because you don't want do deal with all the crap from others, you don't want to be that girl. Nor do you want to be the last virgin in a group of experienced friends. It's also some kind of stamp of approval: I have had sex, so I'm wanted, ergo I am attractive. Also, no teenage boy** is going to stick around if you don't "put out". A lot of girls will have sex not for their own pleasure, but to please their sexual partner. I remember my best mate telling me he was on the bus once when he overheard two young teenage girls talking. One said to the other, "He'll like me if I give him a blow job." Does that not make you feel so unbelievably sad?

Not only should you not be a virgin, but you should also have a certain level of sexual experience. It almost seems like guys feel it's a given that you would be happy to perform certain sexual acts, or have sex in certain positions. I think this is probably down to porn; these acts, these positions are just what's done. Is there really any conversation any more between sexual partners - at any age - about what they're both comfortable and happy with, and what they're not?

Back to me. I am a virgin because, for me, sex has to mean something. As a teenager, I wasn't as interested in boys as my friends were; I fancied boys, but I didn't want to kiss them, let alone anything else. It just wasn't what I wanted, what I was ready for. And I wasn't going to be dictated to, and forced into having sex with someone when I didn't want to, because it was uncool to be a virgin. I feel the same way now; I will not have sex if I'm not ready for it.

As things stand now, I wouldn't say I'm not ready to have sex in general, but as sex must mean something to me, there has to be that relationship there; there needs to be trust, and while I don't think I necessarily have to be in love with the guy, there has to be feelings involved, from both of us. I am not in a relationship, and so I've not had sex. Perhaps if I had been a number of years ago, I would no longer be a virgin.

I have no problem with other people having casual sex, but that's just not for me. The idea of a meaningless one night stand is a massive turn off. There is nothing about the idea that appeals to me. I did flirt with the idea of casual sex once. As a child, I was brought up being told that sex is something that happens between two people when they love each other. I know this isn't the case now for everyone, but it's an idea that stuck with me. I wondered if how I felt about sex was down to how I'd been brought up. Does it have to mean something because that's what I actually want, or does it have to mean something because I'm a "good" girl, and that's what I was brought up to believe? So when a really hot guy made it pretty clear all he was interested in was sex, I did think about it. Did I want to have sex with him? He definitely turned me on, and I enjoyed thinking about it... but in the end, the thought of actually having sex with him, when we meant nothing to each other, just left me feeling cold. So this isn't down to how I was brought up, but what I actually feel.

And so far, it's not been much of a problem. I've had two sexual experiences. One wasn't so great; the guy tried to lead us in a certain direction, and when I stopped him, he responded with, "I didn't think so." And although he acted like it wasn't a problem, he continued to try several times more, and I kept having to stop him. He was a bit of a dick, and was quite selfish, to the point where I wasn't being turned on by what he was doing, and I seriously worried I was one of those people who wouldn't enjoy sex.

The second time was a million times better. The guy didn't have any problems whatsoever with me being a virgin. He was perfectly happy to go at my pace, and would check I was happy with and enjoying what was happening, and ask if he could do this or do that. He stopped when I asked him to, and didn't go further than I wanted. He was ok with me not being ready to for certain things. He never rushed me, or pressured me, or expected anything more than what I was comfortable with. He was patient and unselfish. He made it all about me and my enjoyment. And it was amazing.

I do sometimes worry that I'm too old to still be a virgin, that no guy my own age would be willing to wait for me when he could quite easily get his leg over with someone else, whether in or out of a relationship. But I won't be made to feel I must have sex with a future boyfriend in order to get him to stay. Because of my second sexual experience, I already know it's not a problem for some.

I will not be told when to have sex. This is my body, and I get to choose what I do with it, when, and with whom.

And so do you. Your body - and your virginity - belongs to you. Everyone's experiences will be different, there's no right or wrong, it's about what you're comfortable with. We don't have to do anything we don't want to. We should not feel pressured into anything. And there's nothing wrong with exercising your right to say, "No."

There is absolutely no shame in being a virgin.

*I'm sure we all know that being a lesbian is not a bad thing. These are all the cruel things I heard shouted out in the school playground from immature teenagers, mainly boys. This isn't what I think.

**I'm not trying to be heteronormative. This post is based on my personal experience and that of those I knew when I was a teen.

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