What Women Talk About When They Talk About Sex Transcript #4: Thighs, Sex and Apologising

Thighs, Sex and Apologising for Our Existence

In this fascinating set of extracts the group gets to grips with the patriarchal (media) fragmentation of the body and some of the consequences of adopting the props of sexuality, whether stockings or fishnets for the living, breathing, sweating and moving female body. This discussion shifts to related topics of gendering, significantly the socialising of women into habitual apologising. The group concludes by returning to the ineffable question of ‘what women want’ from sex.

Quote from What Women Talk about When They Talk About Sex discussion group participantI don’t like putting on… not a show, but having too many things that cover up what I look like because then I’m even more afraid of seeing on their face a look of ‘oooh that’s who you’ are or something. If you make someone think that you look better than they think, then there is that fear that you will disappoint them in some way.

Ellie: Chafe. that’s immediately what I think of.

Jay: On top of chafing, it’s your jeans and your legging just full of bloody holes.

Kim: I’ve gone through three pairs this week.

Jay: Why don’t they make seams on trousers or leggings that are going to last?

Kim: Or maybe if they ran the seams down the top of the leg – why would you put it at the crotch area? That’s where my thighs seem to want to be free and bulge out.

Ellie: Topshop have this policy where the jeans need to last six months. I get the high waisted ones because they make my bum look amazing. I felt like I had a monthly contract there because I kept having to buy like a new pair, it was 36 pounds a month! But my friend who works there told me I could take them back. So one day I was feeling a bit cheeky, I went in with them and was like ‘I would like to return these and exchange them for those because they only lasted a month and a half and that’s ridiculous!’ The girl seemed quite embarrassed, I was just like ‘it’s because my thighs keep rubbing together, do you know what chub rub is? Have you experienced this horror? These are faulty. They cannot withstand these thighs.’

Jay: hahaha

Ellie: I just kept pushing her, but I ended up walking away with like a free pair of jeans so I was like thanks, that’ll be great, I will see you in a month.

Kim: I have gone through so many leggings, I can’t deal with them any more they are just so expensive. And I want jeans that fit. Tights, leggings, jeans they are so poorly made and they don’t deal with my thighs and…

Susannah: Take them back.

Jay: That’s what we should be doing. Actually going back and saying these are not fit for purpose.

Kim: You are right – it should be a hashtag campaign every time we take them back, instead of throwing them out.

Ellie: Yes!

Jay: But we are apologising for having –

Kim: Our own bodies.

Jay: We are apologising for having variable women’s figures and having secret shame. We are all walking about with thighs rubbing together or with folds of skin as you you know as are getting older, or after you have a child, you always have a wee bit of a hanging flap even when you have lost weight. You get sweaty and you are always apologising for that. It just seems to be a constant apology for existing, for actually having a body that works and does things.

Ellie: Up to a few years ago I probably started every sentence with I’m sorry but this happened, it’s somehow my fault.

Jo: About ten years ago I made fun of a good friend of mine used to start a lot of sentences with I’m sorry. I think she got the message you don’t have to be sorry about this; I often picked up on it in moments when the “I’m sorry but” had nothing to do with what she wanted to say. I am amazed at how she has gone from that girl where she was sorry about things she said all the time, who was very shy and reserved, and she is now the same person but she has become this self assured, much more complete person. I did say to her how in awe of her I have become. You can see that in people, I mean physically, it’s also in the clothes she wears now, in the earrings she buys herself or the things she does, it was great to see. I think I was also a bit envious of that but it’s great to see that some women can change and in a sense it was like a butterfly thing.

[Agreement]

Jo: It was beautiful to see that and at the same time what is important is that she is still the same person, it doesn’t mean she has changed who she was. She has but in the best possible way and it is, it has been great to see that.

Kim: Like becoming more of her full self.

Jo: Yeah. It has been great to see that, and now she doesn’t I’m sorry so much.

Kim: I got an email today – so there are three of us working together on this project, and I had such a busy day yesterday and when the meeting came, we hadn’t talked about it between us, so I just facilitated the meeting. I emailed them both this morning and said I’m sorry I realise I just did that and I didn’t ask, I was just in ‘get shit done’ mode. And Mary emailed me back saying “I think both of us need to commit to not apologising when we haven’t caused any harm.” But my phone just shows you the start of the email and when I saw it start “Kim I think both of us need to make a commitment” and I was like oh god what have I done.

Jay: “I’m sorry”.

Kim: Exactly – the first thing I assumed was that I have made a mistake. I have a friend who is incredibly competent – she’s a doctor, was head girl at school – and she always asks for permission for everything: “oh is it okay if I just”, “oh is it okay”, “is it alright if I just have one of these” when it is a chocolate, it is out on the table, and everyone has said help yourself. It is really extreme. She is so capable.

Jo: Sometimes I can leave work and go to a shop to buy a drink and I’ll start babbling like a 12 year old because then the shopkeeper is the person who is in power or in control of what is going on. Sometimes I think to myself how can I revert back to that person and act like this – but I guess we all do that.

Kim: It’s like a default setting isn’t it. I recently learnt to drive and my assumption is that I am in the wrong and I am getting into everyone’s way, like I don’t want to intrude. Usually I’m like “shit I messed that up”, “was it my fault” or “I shouldn’t have done that”. I would like to know if boys learning to drive have that as a default setting, you know is it just the learning that you are in charge of that vehicle that’s quite scary, is that normal – or is it because I am a girl trained to think that I should be deferential?

Susannah: I have never had that because I have realised that somehow, I learned to drive through embodying the image of my father. My mother doesn’t drive, and my father drives a lot and my grandfather was driving a lot, so when I am driving I see myself as if my father is sitting there – the way I have my hand on the gearstick. Maybe this type of visualisation has saved me because I have embodied a male figure in that position, saved me from that sense of doubt…

But back to thighs, and sex – I want to talk about stockings and the obsession of men of women to be wearing stockings. It is like do you not understand that my skin needs to be part of this and it can’t be covered, like you know my body is a total object, and the skin everywhere needs to participate in the act. Also I don’t like them, my legs are horrible, stockings are designed for very specific legs, not for normal womens’ legs, and it feels horrible because I can see how I look with them. But it covers the skin of my legs which is a really important part of touch.

Jay: Yeah you’ve got your legs covered except this bit at the top, it’s like the bit that is most vulnerable to sort of like wobbling, feeling, being sort of sensitive. Because I would quite honestly sometimes rather give birth again than have that feeling where you have sweaty legs.

[Laughter]

Jay: One time, I was feeling really good about myself, I was going out. I had fishnet tights because I think they cover a multitude of sins, they give you a slightly different silhouette, like that paint they used to put on the tanks in the war, battle dress, you know what I mean… So I went out and had a great time, but you forget – your inner thighs, it’s like minced meat, you are like I’ll never wear this again, I’ll never do this again! You’re like should I be wearing a pair of cycling shorts over them or under them – but you don’t want a pair of fishnet tights with a huge gusset on them. That’s a word – gusset.

Ellie: That’s a really ugly word.

Kim: Horrible word.

Jay: Just call the blog ‘Gusset’.

[Laughter]

Kim: I vividly remember the first time I experienced that kind of leg chafing. When I was 15 we had a stopover in Singapore, and I had never been in that kind of humid atmosphere. I was wearing my denim skirt, I felt good, went out and within about two steps I was like oh god I can’t walk its so sore – but I was with my dad so I couldn’t say anything and so we had this whole time sightseeing and he thought I was being totally miserable. I vividly remember that realisation that my own body is attacking me here.

Jay: But you don’t mention it. If your hands are sweaty you would do something with your hands, in your oxters you would go get some deodorant, but because it is that intimate region, we connect it somehow to our sexuality, so you can’t just stop and have a good old pull your tights ups – it’s sort of like, just bear it.

Kim: It’s definitely more acceptable for boys to be footering with themselves.

[Agreement]

Ellie: Right I need to say something about the fishnet tights but do you all know what a pink wafer biscuit is?

Jay: No. Oh like a biscuit.

Ellie: The first and last time I ever wore fishnet tights, I stupidly, I can’t even remember why I chose not to wear underwear but I just ended up resembling a pink wafer biscuit. It was the most excruciating experience of my life and now I can’t eat wafer based biscuits. I had to swear off them in principal.

[Laughter]

Kim: I like some stockings but it never occurred to me it was about covering your legs. I think that’s probably why I liked them. Especially darker ones that make your legs look slimmer but then you do have this big white morass at the top. But it takes so long to put them on and you are like this is not sexy – step outside while I transform myself, and I need to go and shave… We have constructed this whole thing, you can’t have sex until you are hairless and clean and have the right uniform on.

Jay: Yeah.

Jo: There is the risk of when you take your bra off the other person will think ‘oh that’s who you are’.

[Agreement]

Jo: That’s why I don’t like putting on… not a show, but having too many things that cover up what I look like because then I’m even more afraid of seeing on their face a look of ‘oooh that’s who you’ are or something. If you make someone think that you look better than they think, then there is that fear that you will disappoint them in some way. There is that risk I would say.

Jo: Yeah. It’s okay if it’s sexy and a game both people want to play. As long as both people are fine with what is under the layers. Sometimes I think people want to transform what they look like or who they are too much and I don’t know how they cope when they get to business and then you have to show who you are and what you look like. Then what do you do.

Ellie: There’s this whole process of shaving yourself down and then putting stuff over yourself to cover up. So you lay yourself bare unnaturally and then put more clothes on. I don’t understand the point of that because it’s like plucking a chicken and then putting a cardigan on it.

[General hilarity]

Ellie: There’s no point. It’s supposed to be tactile, your thighs are supposed to be part of your experience not someone else’s.

Susannah: It is important to some men, most men in my experience, because of this fragmentation of body that the media create so your body is bait.

Jay: Parts in a window that’s what it is.

Susannah: That’s why they don’t understand the continuity which is a shame because if they had been left alone, like things had not been put in their heads they wouldn’t have that problem because I think originally they are fine but too many things have been kind of hammered into their heads for years and that’s what happens.

Jo: I think it’s maybe also to do with the fact for a woman sex can be a more complete experience – it’s not one act or one part of the body. I think that’s why it is important that the whole body gets included and gets into play and I think sometimes that gets forgotten. It’s true all the senses come into play. That’s quite important. I think if that is not there then that’s why it doesn’t really work for some women sometimes.

Kim: Yes, and women maybe having a different conception of sex because a lot of women don’t orgasm through vaginal sex. Sex doesn’t mean penis in vagina.

Jo: It’s not one act, it’s not one performance and it’s not the combination of things to get to one act, it’s a more complete moment. That’s why for me there is no beginning and end and that’s what can make it fun, you don’t know when it ends or how it ends and I think that’s something that really needs to be understood by women and men, by everyone, because I think too often you start at point A and you go to point B and there is no way to diverge from that route and that’s a shame. I don’t see sex as it starts here and ends there, I think that it’s fun because you don’t know where it starts and where it ends because otherwise it would be boring.

Ellie: I don’t want A plus B I want the whole alphabet. Like fridge magnets on a fridge.

Jo: It should be more like those awful Starbucks that I never go to but where you can pick –

Kim: All the toppings.

Jo: …from five million different kinds of coffee selections, so you know it’s not A to B, it’s not just coffee with milk or no milk its oooft I don’t know what to choose from.

Jo: I think that’s what puts so much pressure on women is this idea that there is a goal, to achieve orgasm, and when it doesn’t happen you feel its your fault even though you know it’s not. It’s extra guilt you carry around. I think it’s because of this idea of one way to do it and it’s all about performing and if you do come that was okay. Sometimes when you are asked what happened and you don’t know. Others forget that you don’t always know why things went well or didn’t go well on this day or that night. We understand some of what happens but not all the time and not completely.

Ellie: My friends always want a run down, as if it’s a series of performances. You do act one, act two and then the finale and then you go back and read the review with your friends.

[Laughter]

Ellie: You write the reviews even, and they speculate on the reasons and what it all meant and why didn’t he this, he or she – but it’s not like that at all. Every bit should be enjoyed individually and as a whole.

Susannah: I don’t think that men are necessarily different, but again I would blame society for so much pressure that they have to be in this pre-determined set of behaviours. What a shame.

Jay: Yeah, it’s like putting something into route planner – to get here you have got to go here then here. And never ‘lets go down this wee lane here that takes us somewhere’… it’s’ we’ve got to get back on the motorway and following the signs’. There is a real anxiety.

Ellie: Shagnav.

Jay: It’s what?

Ellie: Shagnav.

[Explosion of laughter]

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