“It’s hard to explain how pain can feel like pleasure.”

Content warning for discussion of consensual BDSM, specifically spanking and caning.

I went to a Torture Garden event in Edinburgh last weekend. For those that aren’t aware, Torture Garden is a club night with a fetish element and a strict, sexually charged dress code. I’m not really involved in the fetish “scene”, having only really explored that side of myself privately, but a group of friends were going and I decided to join them.

There’s something wonderful about the atmosphere created by a club full of people who’re into kink. Everyone is there expressing a side of themself that they don’t usually show to the wider world, and everyone there is mindful of the importance of consent. There is something incredibly freeing about being able to walk around a club in a fishnet dress, everything on display, and not feel that anyone is creeping on you. All around you are people being led around on leashes, people half naked, people cross-dressing, and when people stopped me to compliment my outfit I never felt like they were really complimenting my tits. It’s funny that an atmosphere so openly full of sex and sexuality should feel so much less frightening, so much less full of harassment, than your average, fully-clothed club night.

I am someone who has explored her share of kink behind closed doors. It has by no means been a part of every relationship I’ve been in, but my hottest sexual memories are of blood play, of being tied down and degraded, of being spanked until there are bruises. It’s not for everyone, and it’s not the kind of thing I would usually engage in on a one-night stand, but in the right situation it’s never been anything but enjoyable. There is pleasure – for me – in surrendering control, in giving into sensation for its own sake, and in pushing the boundary between pain and joy.

One of my friends was there with a guy from her work. Lining up for one of the playrooms upstairs, she asked me if I would like to be caned by him. I hadn’t really come there with the intention of getting involved, but in that atmosphere it felt right. I watched him cane another woman in front of me and I knew that I wanted to do it too.

When it was my turn, he asked me if I’d done this before and I said yes, in private. He put his hand on my face and looked me in the eyes. He said, “I’ll start slowly, with my hands. Say ‘red’ if you want me to stop. ‘Orange’ if you want to slow down. Ready?” I felt an instant trust. I felt safe. This is one of the things that a lot of people don’t understand about BDSM – when you submit you’re giving in to a fantasy of surrender, but you retain all the control. Whenever I want it to stop, it stops. And part of the fun is discovering that I can take more than I think I can.

I knelt over the table and he clipped a chain around my neck. I was so aware of my body. More aware of my body than of the fact I was in a room full of people, chained to a table, arse in the air. Aware of every sensation as he whispered in my ear for me to tell him how bad I’d been, to ask him for my punishment. I became someone else, or maybe I became a pure form of myself. I felt free, chained to that table. As I counted aloud the strokes of the cane and thanked him, I was lost in my body, lost in taking direction. Lost in the anticipation, in the sting of wood on skin.

It’s hard to explain how pain can feel like pleasure. Maybe it’s all in your head, in the context. It’s not like I enjoy stubbing my toe or burning myself making coffee at work. The pleasure comes from having the freedom to just experience the pain – to feel it as a sensation, not as a jolt of warning. Psychologically, it’s in the joy of letting go. You don’t have to make decisions, you don’t have to be strong. You’re submitting, but you’re in control of everything.

When we were finished, he lifted me off the table and set me down on my feet. He kissed my cheek and hissed in my ear. I leaned against the wall, my heart fluttering, my hands tingling, my skin stinging. I couldn’t stop smiling. I felt light and giggly.

The skin is bruised beneath my clothes now. A vivid canvas of pink and purple, vicious-looking welts and dark bruises. I can’t stop admiring them in the mirror. I get a little twinge of pleasure when I feel them as I sit down. A spark of a memory.

I love the feeling – physically and psychologically – of these bruises. I love knowing that they’re there, secretly, while I’m at work, or running to the shop. I loved every second of having these bruises put on my body, and I love looking at them now.

I suppose the point of this piece is to highlight the fact that there are many different ways to enjoy your body. There isn’t one “right” way to explore your sexuality, as long as everyone is consenting. It doesn’t make me less of a feminist to enjoy consensual submission, any more than someone would be a “better” feminist because they enjoy dominating men. Embracing my sexuality in a trusting, consensual context is a feminist act.

By an anonymous woman, aged 26

NSFW photo after the jump

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“I have never felt so lacking in agency as I do out in public here, because clearly my agency doesn’t matter to them.”

Last week I hit a teenage schoolboy in the face. Now, that’s a way to get your attention. Except what I was trying to do, at the point when this happened, was to not get any attention, to walk unnoticed through the streets of the city I live in. You wouldn’t think that’s too much to ask, but here in Cairo it is an impossibility.

Put your phone in your bag, grab your keys, one last check in the mirror to make sure you’ve not got toothpaste around your mouth again. As you walk out of the front door and lock it behind you, you feel your shoulders start to hunch, your eyes fix on the floor, lines and knots of tension spread down from your neck. Step out into the streets of Cairo; your body is no longer your own.

Harassment here is a well-documented phenomenon. There are even those who believe the increase in reports of harassment since the revolution is a positive sign, that it shows more openness and a willingness to talk about it. This means in theory that the problem might be one minuscule step along the way to being solved. Be that as it may (and for what it’s worth, from my three years of living here I don’t see any progress at all) – these reports and the articles and the discussions cannot cover what it feels like to walk down the street in this country.

Impossible to explain the effects of the staring, the nudging and pointing, the jeering, the honking of car horns. The way you shrink inside yourself. The depression or the incandescent rage, depending on your mood and how much sleep you’ve had. This overwhelming feeling of how DARE you. What makes these people think that my body is something to be commented on, shouted at, gawked at?

I have never felt so lacking in agency as I do out in public here, because clearly my agency doesn’t matter to them. It doesn’t matter that I am an actual person, with thoughts and feelings and a reason to be walking somewhere; all that is totally irrelevant. To them I am just a body. All-too visible while my ‘self’, for want of a better word, feels like it is fading. It wears you down, this assault on your sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

I cannot offer explanations, and to be honest by this point I can’t be bothered to. Unsympathetic as it might be to say it, I don’t care why it’s like this anymore. I just wish it wasn’t. I shout, when the effort isn’t too overwhelming, and give the finger a lot, just hoping that even among the laughter and jeers some part of the message that this behaviour is not OK goes in. I am not optimistic about attitudes so ingrained changing.

So this brings us back around to the teenage schoolboy, who I hit in the face because he grabbed me in the street. It was 8:30am and I was walking to the swimming pool, a half-hour walk in the early-morning cool which in another city would be a pleasant way to wake up. Not here, however. I always have to run the gauntlet of a group of 50 schoolboys hanging around on the street, and on this particular occasion one grabbed me. Pushed by a friend, dared, by accident, on purpose? Quite frankly, I don’t give a shit.

While writing this I was all too aware that it is perhaps not directly relevant to the message of this blog, but the experience of daily harassment has made me more aware than ever how our bodies can so often be viewed as detached from us as people, and how this treatment can affect how you see yourself, how you carry yourself, how you react in different situations. I never thought that my refrain would be ‘just leave me alone’, but now the ability to walk down the street, going peacefully about my dull daily life, seems a necessity to keep the relationship with my body secure.

Welcome to Project Naked

Project Naked is a safe space for women and non-binary people to speak about the stories of their bodies. We want to rebel against the voices that tell us we’re not good enough and then shame us for believing it. We want to share the real stories of our bodies, from the painful to the joyful.

We want this to be an inclusive space for all women and non-binary people to share their stories and speak out against gender-based oppression of our bodies. We want to be as inclusive as possible here so we’re always open to feedback about how we could be doing better at sharing more voices.

If you would like to send us a story, an experience, a photo, a poem, a rant… then we would love to hear from you. We will put up all submissions body related – positive, negative, long or short.

Every body has a story. What’s yours?

Submit your story using this contact form, or using the details below.

Or email us at projectnaked@gmail.com – let us know if you prefer to be anonymous, or if you have a blog you’d like us to link to.

You can also contact us on Twitter and follow us on instagram @project_naked

“My unfortunately convenient way of avoiding confrontation with the reality of my body was my sexual orientation. I shielded myself from the idea that nobody loved me because I wasn’t attractive with the fact that I didn’t know any other women who liked women. “

How do I feel about my body? What do I think of it? I’m impressed that it works, I guess. Considering the years of total…i was going to say ‘abuse’, but i’m not sure that’s appropriate. The years of total…unhealthiness I’ve subjected it to? Doesn’t have the same ring to it though. As I’m sure anyone reading this will understand, my answer to this question very quickly got very convoluted.

I grew up loving crisps and hating exercise. The older I got, the heavier I got, and the more unfit. The more unfit and heavy I was, the more I disliked exercise. This was down to two things: getting out of breath and sweat. I hated sweating. It’s not easy to describe, that humid, damp, sticky feeling. My limbs slid about on my body like parts of a loose hinge with too much oil. It was uncomfortable; I was ashamed and self-conscious. I felt dirty. Losing my breath to exertion was more severe but I minded it less. It would sting my throat to inhale so sharply, and I couldn’t help but notice the only other people gasping like me were the fat ones.

I was a fat one. As far as I was concerned, I didn’t really care. Of course I dreamt of six-pack abs and slimmer ankles and women swooning when I looked at them. Love. That’s what I wanted – I think it’s all I’ve ever wanted – and in my young impressionable mind, you had to be attractive to make someone fall in love with you. My unfortunately convenient way of avoiding confrontation with the reality of my body was my sexual orientation. I shielded myself from the idea that nobody loved me because I wasn’t attractive with the fact that I didn’t know any other women who liked women. I self harmed, I tormented myself, I convinced myself I’d never be loved or I lived happily in day dreams. None of this was rational; it was my life before the age of 16. Indeed, later diagnoses and treatments have attributed a lot of that behaviour to mental ill health (and of course, general teenage existential crises). But my heart felt much older, and lonely. Then for some reason – unplanned and welcome – I lost some weight. I still felt fat, but I grew into my body and started to think I looked alright, though forever insecure.

Puberty started at 10, followed closely by my period. That, I fucking hated. I still do. Menstruation is inconvenient! As a child I thought my hairy legs were cool – the tomboy I was enjoyed some subconscious perception of masculinity about them, perhaps. At 13 I shaved the words “arse” and “hell” in my hairy shins. Thug life. Then, at PE, I was so self-conscious that I hid them as much as I could. This is an awkward task in ‘shorts’ (aka granny pants in school colours), let me tell you. Oxters, I’m still haunted by the memory of what my armpit hair must’ve looked like at the swimming classes at 13 when I remember how long it was the first time I shaved. My minge fascinated me. I kept it trimmed but hairy. When the world told me that bald was best, I shaved it clean. I had tits. I can’t have been much older than 12 when the 9 year old son of family friends on a trip to the beach looked at me, bloated white cetacean, and proclaimed “NICE BOOBIES BY THE WAY!” to all and sundry. I pushed him in the sand and ran away to hide my hideous mammaries. He’s an accountant at a fairly major [read: evil] firm now.

My nice boobies were a bane from day one. Stretch marks on them from appearing seemingly overnight, having to either wear a bra (OH GOD NO! NOT A BRA?! I’M 11 FFS!) and risk being teased for maturing too fast or wear a cropped top which doesn’t support them and risk being teased for not wearing a bra. Basically there were some mean cunts at my school, but I guess they are/were everywhere. Then there was the mantra ‘big boobs don’t count if you’re fat’. WHAT?! SO ALL THIS IS FOR NOTHING?! YOU BASTARDS! Anyway, as a young androgynous lesbian growing up in a very white straight patriarchal middle class environment, I didn’t *want* big boobs. I didn’t *want* to be attractive to boys. I wanted to be attractive to girls. And what’s attractive to girls in that context? BOYS! I wanted to look like a boy so that girls would like me.

Sadly, things did not work that way. If you are a girl who likes girls and emulates traditional masculinities to try and attract girls, you don’t actually attract girls. You attract homophobia/transphobia/sexism/general shite. What did i think of myself? I don’t know. It’s impossible to know what I thought or would have thought autonomously because I still can’t untangle all those other people’s attitudes from mine. I’ve always resented – and still do – the association between me wearing chiefly non-traditionally-feminine attire and the whispers of ‘is that a boy or a girl?’. Not that it should matter; not that it’s any of their business, not that it should make a difference. Either i’m a boyish girl or a girlish boy in their eyes. Is one worse than the other? Depends on the observer, I guess. Mind you, I’ve reached a vaguely zen stage of quite genuine pathos for people who actually think that gender can be identified through such inconsequential factors as clothing, haircuts, hobbies, interests; a sad and blinkered existence.

Is there more to say? Yes; probably more than I could ever say, probably FTL;DR amounts.

“Their Dream Future is Very Bright”

I need to say that FGM is a sin against humanity. It is a cliché, I know, but I had to say that anyway. We must know that not only does it break the confidence of women, it also breaks their souls. Please, if you are in a society where it is practised, educate the people on the need to leave souls untouched, in order for them to help the bodies grow. This poem is dedicated to all women who had to suffer through this canker. I need you to know you rock but you must help with your voices so that your children will not suffer same fates. Thank you.

Their dream future is very bright
But they have been given such fright
Who butchers pleasure tools for love?
Who sees blood without looking above?
Who dares to hurt a pure white dove?
There are no sanitizers, let alone glove
A cut, pain, tears, and they are left
Yes, left maimed in inner souls
Bereft of hope for fulfilment
Could this be seeking equality
For pestles shaped to attract and fit?
Aren’t mortars perfect as they are?
Their imperfections grow with age
Why then must they be pushed to age?
My heart bleeds for you who weep
My soul hurts of all half yous
My voice will sing freedom for yours
In years soon to come
Just be assured
And free yourselves from the chains of shame
I care
And I know many also care

Amoafowaa Sefa Cecilia (c) 2014
(Inspired by fola’s blog on Female Genital Mutilation)

You can read more of her poetry at http://amoafowaa.com/

“I’m not sure if it crept up on me slowly as I advance towards 30 or if it has hit me like giant hormone fuelled rubber mallet, but in the last 6 months my ovaries have been rocking out.”

I have gotten to that age where I love babies.

I’m not sure if it crept up on me slowly as I advance towards 30 or if it has hit me like giant hormone fuelled rubber mallet, but in the last 6 months my ovaries have been rocking out. I used to not really care about pregnancy/children/being maternal but suddenly it all seems so appealing. Now the prospect doesn’t fill me with nausea and dread, but rather a feeling of wonder to see if I can do it.
The problem with this though is that the minute I try and talk about this I am instantly met with eye rolls and patronising comments. It is infuriating to be constantly confronted with the expectation that because I want children in the not distant future somehow I cannot be trusted to not get knocked up. Something I have successfully managed all through my adult life. I cannot help but feel that I cannot be trusted with such important decisions. Something that is very obviously highlighted by the slow erosion of female reproductive rights globally. Society does not trust us enough to choose when to have or not have a baby.

There is such a double standard about when you choose to have children now. If you decide when you are younger you are trapping people, giving up on life, like somehow you are letting the team down. If you wait then you are too career orientated, immature and selfish.

Women cannot win!

But what can we do to change this?

We can rally together, to make childcare more affordable, to talk and let people coo and not deride them for wanting to do something natural or equally give them support when they don’t want to.