We’ve all sat through that one painfully awkward sex education lesson, blushing and suppressing giggles as our friend fumbles with a condom stretched over a phallic piece of fruit or veg. We might have shuffled uncomfortably and stared at the floor as our parents tried to explain the ‘birds and the bees’ using as many euphemisms as possible. But for many teenage girls, the reality of having sex remains intimidating, unknown, and surrounded by stigma.
Now, thanks to writer, illustrator and ‘self-appointed sexpert’ Flo Perry, we no longer have to resort to crude definitions on Urban Dictionary to have our sex questions answered.
Her first book, How To Have Feminist Sex: A Fairly Graphic Guide, was published in October 2019, and is full of big-sisterly advice on topics like body image, consent, monogamy, periods, and porn.
She begins her book by praising the efforts that brands make to celebrate International Women’s Day, but poses an important question: why do our sex lives remain ‘as unexamined and as full of sexist bullshit as they were decades ago?’ As Flo says, ‘being a feminist in the bedroom is hard’, but this doesn’t have to mean killing the mood or preaching about equal rights as you get undressed: having feminist sex is mostly about our mindset.
The Student spoke to Flo Perry about how we can tackle taboo in the media and make small changes to our sex lives which will bring more equality, trust and self-respect into the bedroom.
‘Sex is meant to be fun,’ says Flo, ‘that’s the primary aim of sex, and if you’re not enjoying it something’s not right’. She encourages her readers to stop comparing themselves and the sex they are having to what they see in porn, explaining that erectile dysfunction is believed to have increased as a result of men having unrealistic expectations of what sex should be like. Porn also doesn’t include women with body hair or conversations about consent, Flo points out.
Empowering and real from start to finish, Flo’s guide to feminist sex depicts women of all shapes and sizes. Her charming illustrations of women with pubic hair, cellulite, and stretch marks send a message of body positivity which is so needed at a time when, according to the Mental Health Foundation, one in three teenagers in the UK says they are ‘ashamed of their body’.
Flo also comments on the shame and stigma associated with certain parts of our sex lives. In her chapter on periods, she states that ‘no woman should be made to feel gross or unclean on her period’. Discussing consent, she notes that the #MeToo movement has ‘catapulted consent into public awareness’ but adds the important reminder that ‘believe all women’ does not mean ‘prosecute all men’.
On the topic of the pressure associated with condoms, she told The Student: ‘No one deserves to have condom-less sex. Condoms can increase both men and women’s enjoyment of sex by reducing the risk of STIs, pregnancy and cystitis, and therefore making those involved feel safe. That is enough of a reason to use one. I am a big fan of condoms’.
When asked what International Women’s Day means to her, Flo answered: ‘International Women’s Day is originally a big socialist and communist holiday celebrating working women’s role in society. Nowadays it’s often used by brands to sell stuff with a weak, generalised “girl power” feminist message. For me it means remembering that feminism isn’t just about securing my own rights, but about securing a fair and equal society for everyone, especially those who aren’t as white, posh, and able-bodied as me.’
Fortunately, Flo isn’t the only one attempting to shed light on these issues. Boots has put up stands in its stores promoting sexual wellbeing, proudly displaying vibrators and sex toys in an attempt to ‘start difficult conversations’. And despite all the body image qualms associated with reality show Love Island, previous contestant Malin Andersson uses her social media to preach self-love to young girls like herself. She shares images of her body which are realistic, honest and extremely brave, and as Flo suggests in her book, liking pictures of inspirational women who love their bodies is a great start to accepting ourselves.
Flo concludes that feminism is an ‘ever-evolving’ concept which means something different to everyone and is essentially just about choice. As women, and as people, we have the choice to normalise talking about sex, to strive towards a healthier portrayal of body types and diversity in the media, and, most importantly, to prioritise our own happiness and comfort when having fun under the covers.
Image Credit: Flo Perry