About Last Night: I feel like a freak show 5-08-18

Q: I suffer from the problem most men want to have, but it isn’t an advantage. It seems I’m bigger than most (in length and girth) and it’s ended more than a few relationships, with discomfort for her, and dissatisfaction for both. Now in my 40s, I feel like a freak show who’ll never be more than a big dick, but never happy. I know sex isn’t everything but I feel I’m never going to find anyone who fits.

A: Penis size is one of the main themes in male sexual self-image, and this anxiety lies behind a lot of bawdy humour in popular culture. When celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain died recently, one commentator eulogised him for having “big dick energy”. This sparked a social media frenzy of defining just what that is. Apparently it has nothing to do with genitalia, and both men and women can possess it. I find it dated, and lame, to be generating new penis-related colloquialisms, but it seems to equate to “ballsy” or feisty.

Like large breasts, big penises are the stuff of sniggering innuendo, and macho bragging, making it difficult to have a serious conversation about the reality, which is often less erotic, and more problematic. Massive breasts often cause embarrassment, physical discomfort and restricted movement, and a large penis can restrict a man’s sex life.

A big penis can be long, wide, or, as in your case, both. With a long penis the man has to control his thrusting to avoid hitting the cervix and causing pain. A thick penis can rub the skin, causing soreness.

There is no physiological reason why the vagina cannot accommodate a large penis especially if the woman is in her 20s and 30s, when she is most elastic.

As gynaecologist Dr Lauren Streicher, author of Sex Rx: Hormones, Health, and Your Best Sex Eversays: “In general, most vaginas are able to fit all shapes and sizes of penises. Given appropriate arousal and lubrication, most vaginas can expand to fit whatever size penis.”

The trouble is that not all women know, or believe this, and apprehension will prevent many from even trying. Those who do can find it difficult to relax, and if there is some discomfort, they are unwilling to persevere.

Streicher continues, “Sometimes, it can seem like a penis is too big for a woman’s vagina. And if that’s the case, the important thing is that you need to figure out why it’s happening –because it can be solved.”

Two factors can contribute to any discomfort. “If a woman is not aroused, it’s very possible that a penis may not go in, or if it does, it could hurt or bleed or cause tearing. To fix this problem, be sure [she is] lubricated enough before [penetration, and] engage in some serious foreplay before the main act, or use lubricant to get things going. Always use plenty of personal lubricant, and take things slowly, so that the woman can relax into experiencing desire. When a woman is properly aroused she not only gets wet, her vagina lengthens, making it possible to go deeper.

“Another possibility is that certain medications could be making her vagina a little dehydrated, and she may not even realise it. Many low-dose birth control pills cause vaginal dryness, as well as antihistamines and even cancer treatments, like radiation.”

A woman’s natural lubrication can decline with the hormonal changes around menopause. The vagina walls can thin, and the vagina can shrink as well, so time, and lubricants are even more essential as a woman ages.

Reassuringly, Streicher concludes: “This is a solvable situation. I have not once seen a patient who hasn’t been able to successfully have intercourse after taking the proper steps to fix the problem.”

However, while this is positive news for couples that are having difficulties, it does not address the problem of how to get into an intimate relationship with new partners when they are reluctant to even try to have penetrative sex. You would probably benefit from seeing a professional sex therapist in order to get support, learn useful strategies, and address your current fears and insecurities so that you can engage in a relaxed, confident, and positive way with the women you encounter.


You would probably benefit from seeing a professional sex therapist in order to get support.

About Last Night; Can we work despite differences 29-07-18

Q: Gale and I are talking about moving in together, but although I love her, I’m not sure. She’s heavily into personal development, selfhelp books, and going to workshops. She believes in the power of positive thinking to make the world a better place, and can get a bit intense. I’m more laid back. I go with the flow and try not to over-think things. When she gets too full on my response is more likely to be to slip off to the pub. Can it work?

A: What you describe is a common phenomenon of our times – the determination to be positive, no matter what. It is also touchingly human.

Throughout history, idealists have believed they had the recipe to create Utopia. The founders of religions, the thinkers of the Age of Reason, political revolutionaries, hippie counter-culture drop-outs, and other, single-minded ideologues, all had the best of intentions. Unfortunately, it was up to flawed human beings to apply their ideals and, inevitably, they inadvertently had dystopian outcomes.

People like Gale believe that, by living in this moment, with a positive approach, it is possible to find happiness, and to become a better person. If we could all do this, the world might become a better place. The risk is that, in the pursuit of happiness and perfection, we can become sanctimonious, and a pain in the neck.

‘‘Super-blogger’’ Mark Manson, examines this in the best seller The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F—: A Counter Intuitive Approach to Living a Good Life.

The second chapter, ‘‘Life is a Problem’’, is based on the Buddhist premise that ‘‘pain and loss are inevitable, and we should let go of trying to eliminate them.’’

Manson believes that pain and suffering are biological necessities. They are a signal that something needs to change. A burn teaches you not to touch fire. The entire process of evolution is based on problem solving, the fittest problem solvers survive.

Emotional suffering serves a similar purpose. Manson says that our emotions are also signals that there is something that needs to change. Instead of allowing yourself to be ruled by your feelings, allow them to direct you to the site of your next problem-solving exercise.

The trouble with the word ‘‘problem’’ is that it has negative implications. We are actually problem-solving animals. Chess, Suduko, Candy Crush and cryptic crosswords are all problems that we enjoy solving.

Manson cites the example of the beggar and the billionaire. Both of them have financial problems to solve, but the billionaire’s are good problems.

Happiness is not a destination, like successfully completing a complex Lego set. It is ‘‘an activity, a process’’, and the aim is not to eliminate all problems, it is to find problems you enjoy solving. Manson says that unhappiness is the result of denying that you have any problems, avoiding problems, or being a victim who either

blames problems on others, or thinks they are incapable of solving them.

We may seek relief from emotional pain in numbing highs, through the use of alcohol, drugs, or in extreme activities. Yet another escape mechanism is to charge up on righteous anger and moral superiority. Many workshops, festivals and rituals can also provide a consoling high. Ultimately, however, escapism is not escape, and problems can worsen, or multiply.

So, if happiness comes from solving problems, you and Gale are faced with a challenge. Do you think that you can enjoy a lifelong game of problem solving as a couple? Are you willing to do less escaping to the pub, and more talking to Gale about how you feel? Is she willing to lighten up a little? Only the two of you can decide if this challenge is worth tackling.

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About Last Night; How can you mix disrespect and love 15-07-18

A: In the dozen years that I’ve been writing this column, the most angry letters I received were about this subject, so I am aware that feelings run high when it comes to housework.

Many families struggle with the division of labour at home, but it can be exacerbated if the female partner ‘‘owns’’ the housework, as though disorder is a reflection on her moral rectitude. Ed seems to have mastered the art of passive aggression, avoiding conflict by zoning out, and doing chores badly to avoid being asked again. In a busy household it can end up seeming easier to do everything, but that is unsustainable, and only entrenches the problem.

Step back, and lower your standards for a while, even if that is difficult. Consequences are better teachers than critical words. If Ed does a job poorly, do not do it again. Do not wash clothes that are not in the laundry basket. When he runs out of clean socks, tough luck. Even better, have two baskets, and let him do his own laundry.

Whenever Ed trails snack wrappers, coffee mugs, phone cables and toenails, gather them all up to clear space, but pile them on his side of the bed. If the dishes are not cleaned well, serve his dinner on the dirtiest plate.

Similarly, leave him to organise his own doctor’s appointments, car services, dental checks, and suchlike. Meanwhile, focus solely on what is necessary for you and the children. Ed must take responsibility for his own stuff.

He seems to be competent at work, and great with the children. Does he have other areas that he might prefer to take on – maintaining electrical and computer systems, gardening, heavy lifting? Perhaps he could take the children out so that you can clean in peace, or you can relinquish all responsibility for the car.

You say that you need a certain level of cleanliness, but, actually, you only want it. Research suggests that we are too clean, exposing ourselves to toxic chemical cleaners, while failing to challenge our immune systems. It is unlikely that anyone will sicken and die if you let things slip for a while. Often, housework is only appreciated when it is not done.

If Ed is feeling unwell due to anxiety, this is not your responsibility. The onus is on him to seek treatment, not to rely on you to remove his stress. Similarly, deal with your

own anxiety. It is not helpful to wait for Ed to change to alleviate your stress.

This situation is going to come to a head when you return to work. Dwelling on what Ed should do, or ought to remember, is actually going to stress you out, without changing anything. If your aim is to restore order, calm and personal wellbeing, it might be better to hire a cleaner. You might object on principle, but it is more important to be happy than to be right. If money gets tight, that is a consequence Ed can fix.

Your children need to see you taking care of, and respecting, yourself. Ed’s example might be poor, but so is being a doormat.

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About Last Night: Prejudice in the workplace 22-07-18

Q: I’ve been promoted to manage a team that includes a couple of older men. They comment on how good I look in a skirt, but deliberately ignore my directions. When I sought advice from my male superiors it was laughed off, and dismissed as “how blokes behave”. I’m becoming impatient and argumentative, even with good men, and blow up at my husband for honest mistakes. I want to be healthily assertive and progressive but end up hating men. Which is petty and juvenile. I don’t want to be an angry feminist, but do want to effect real change for women.

A: It is incredible that this kind of behaviour persists in our workplaces. The pace of change in male culture is positively glacial, and I can understand your frustration. Apart from your personal discomfort, this makes no sense, in business terms. Why would a company pay someone a manager’s salary, and then not support him or her so that they can manage, and why pay those being managed if they are not doing their job? It is irrational, and counter productive, but so is all prejudice.

Our prejudices are deeply entrenched, but are not necessarily conscious. Misogyny is particularly crazy. Women make up more than half of the population, but often find themselves experiencing the same injustice as people of colour, the disabled, the aged, refugees, and sexual minorities. Most right-minded people do not condone prejudice and injustice, and witnessing it can cause outrage.

The trouble is that outrage alone goes nowhere. In fact, tabloid journalism thrives on confecting outrage in the community, but rarely supports meaningful activism. Outrage on its own gives us an emotional rush, and we can revel in the opportunity to express righteous anger, but real change happens when people keep working for justice after the emotion has died down.

Indulging our knee-jerk prejudices leads to tribalism, to gross oversimplifications and generalisations, and to an “us” and “them” division that is dehumanising. Once we make a person the “other”, it becomes easier to treat them badly. This makes authentic change almost impossible. We need to treat one another as individuals, with unique circumstances.

You are only human, so do not berate yourself for being overwhelmed by negative emotions. You need to own and acknowledge your rage before you can move forward. However, you are right in wishing to get past your emotional responses. Extreme emotional reactions can stem from insecurity. Do you truly believe, in your heart, that you are competent, equal, and deserving of respect? You need to love and respect yourself to reach a position of strength, and of implacable resolve and confidence. As someone once said, you do not get hurt and offended if a monkey at the zoo throws its excrement at you, because you realise it is only a monkey.

We often take out our upset on our family and friends, especially if we are insecure. They are safe targets to whom we can vent, trusting that they will forgive us. This is only true up to a point, however. Unrelentingly unjust attacks can eventually become tiresome, and impact negatively on your relationships.

Powerful public figures who have wrought real change, such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Bob Brown, are usually characterised by a quiet strength. They are determined and willing to face any challenge, but do not rant and rave and whip up hysteria. As a result, they effectively bring about change.

Not all of us can be this brave, nor are we all cut out to be martyrs, but they can serve as an example of how best to pursue your aims. Cultivate a deep conviction in your position that is immovable. Try to behave with quiet confidence in the rightness of your position. Then, when a situation arises where action is needed, such as at work, you will be more effective, and more likely to command respect.

Engaging in personal feuds and vendettas weakens your position, so act with quiet and courteous determination.


About last night: Get past your fear by talking about sex and having a massage 08-07-18

Q: I would love Tess to reciprocate foreplay with me, but it seems she only wants to receive, not give. After 15 years of me actively showing her attention and pre-intercourse play, is it now too late for me to seek some pleasuring from her? I know it’s not about having to be always 50-50, but it’s been a long time since she focused on my body and I don’t know how to raise it with her. I’ve never strayed from our bed, although I wonder if I’m missing out?

A: At the heart of your issue lies the telling phrase, “it’s been a long time since she focused on my body and I don’t know how to raise it with her”. No matter how long a couple have been together, or how much they love each other, it is often excruciatingly difficult to talk about sex.

Our sexuality is linked to many powerful emotions. It can be embarrassing. There is fear involved – fear of rejection, of hurting someone’s feelings, of saying something that haunts the relationship, or, worse, ends it. Get past fear, and talk to Tess.

Right now, you are making up stories that trigger your emotions, but may not be true. Is it true that Tess never reciprocates? Can you know for sure that she only wants to receive, not give? Is she knowingly being unfair, or causing you to miss out? Is your best option for getting more sexual attention infidelity?

Byron Katie invites us to challenge the stories that cause us to suffer. She teaches strategies to escape our unhelpful thoughts in her powerful audiobook, Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life. That is a big claim, but I have personally experienced to benefits of doing ”the work”.

Even the most loving long-term couple can find their lovemaking becoming formulaic, predictable, and a little repetitive. Also, in times past, men were expected to pursue the woman, and to initiate sex. It still does not come naturally for many women to be proactive, or to take control. Tess might be oblivious to your frustration. Is it reasonable to be resentful if Tess is unaware you have a problem?

Tell her how you feel, but avoid sounding critical, self-pitying, or as though you are giving an ultimatum. Nothing blocks the ear, and the heart, better than defensiveness, or perceived injustice.

Find a time when you two are getting on well, but are not in bed, and say something like, “I love you and our lovemaking. I would really enjoy it if I could lie back and have you caress my body. Is that something you would be willing to try?”

Only when you listen to her response will you learn the truth of the situation.

Because many women are not used to doing the seducing, Tess might have no real idea what to do, and might feel inadequate, or foolish. That is where massage can be useful. Massage does not have to be sexual, but it can be a great way to explore, and get to know your lover’s body, and the kind of touch they enjoy.

Consider getting an inexpensive massage table. Trying to massage someone on a bed can be awkward, and uncomfortable. Also, when your partner lies on that table they are surrendering to your touch, which can be empowering.

Use a good quality massage oil, as this makes touch far more sensual. If you dislike feeling oily, or are worried about mess, use pure maize cornflour It can easily be shaken out or vacuumed.

Rubbing someone all over, or caressing their genitals, might seem to be a no-brainer, but an online search under ”learn sensual massage” will bring up numerous sites offering tips on how to achieve even more subtle, pleasurable, and erotic results. For example, who knew the sensual possibilities of the front of the neck, the lower back, behind the knees, or that dip on your ankle? Check out, ”9 Tips for Giving Your Partner the Hottest Massage Ever” (

Do not allow your imaginings to spoil your relationship. Instead, talk, clear the air, negotiate, and move into a better future.

About Last Night: What to do when sexual intercourse is painful 01-07-18

Q: Lily and I met last summer, and are crazy in love. The problem is that Lily can’t have sex. Her muscles clamp shut if I even try to use a finger, and persevering hurts her. It’s driving us both nuts. Last weekend, after we’d had a few drinks, she asked me to tie her up, and have sex with her, just to get it over and done with. I was shocked and upset. I could never do that. Help!

A: Lily might be suffering from vaginismus, which is an involuntary spasm, contraction or reflex of the muscles surrounding the entrance to the vagina. It can make penetration painful, or impossible. The severity of this response varies from woman to woman. It can be triggered by attempts to have sexual intercourse, as well as attempts to insert a finger, a tampon, a speculum … The danger is that, if it is impossible to take a pap smear, or perform other pelvic examinations, medical problems might be missed.

Primary Vaginismus occurs where a woman has never been able to have pain-free vaginal penetration, or intercourse, whereas with Secondary Vaginismus, a woman develops the condition after having been able to engage in these activities previously. In many cases, it is not clear what causes vaginismus. For other women the cause can be located in sexual abuse, persevering with intercourse when it is painful, surgery, or emotional trauma. It could be more common that the statistics suggest, because shame and embarrassment can lead to under-reporting.

Apart from any health risks, vaginismus causes personal distress for the sufferer, and puts a strain on relationships. The frustrating thing is that most of these women, like Lily, are able to get sexually aroused, and desperately want to have intercourse.

Fortunately, it is treatable, and the sooner it is diagnosed, and treated, the better. Lily needs to see her doctor, who will examine her in order to eliminate other health issues. Some questions may also be asked to try to identify what has caused this.

The most important thing to remember is that treatment can take time, so be patient.

There also can be a counselling component to the treatment, so be prepared to be involved with this if required. Having the support of a loving partner can be invaluable.

One treatment option involves a specialised form of physiotherapy, and Lily might be advised to use dilators. Often made of glass or smooth plastic, these consist of a set of rods, or “fingers”, that go up in size.

Using plenty of personal lubricant, the woman practises getting relaxed, then, taking it slowly, attempts to insert the smallest dilator. Over time, she tries to go up a size, but only when she feels comfortable.

The smallest is the size of a little finger, and the largest, penis sized.

At first, this needs to be practised alone, as it is essential to be as relaxed as possible. Further down the track, as her confidence increases, Lily might choose to incorporate these exercises into your sex play.

This journey will be easier if your relationship is in a good place, and you continue to enjoy pleasure and desire. Please stop saying that Lily cannot have sex. Too many people equate having sex with having penetrative intercourse, but that is only one aspect of enjoying great sex.

Agree to avoid any attempts at vaginal penetration. Psychologically, Lily needs to separate sex play from pain and disappointment. This can be very erotic if you are both willing to use your imagination. Sensual massage, passionate kissing, caressing and fondling, oral sex, mutual masturbation, role play, restraint games, anal play, and experimenting with clitoral stimulating sex toys … whatever appeals to you.

Once Lily trusts that you will not initiate vaginal penetration it is likely that she will enjoy having her vulva touched.

If, in time, she feels ready for sexual penetration, proceed slowly, with a little finger, your tongue, or a tiny vibrator. Vibrators massage the vagina, encourage engorgement, and can enhance sexual pleasure, but you must start small.

Enjoy fabulous sex today, whilst embarking, together, on this healing journey.


About Last Night: Joni Mitchell’s thoughts on long-term love 24-06-18

Q: My partner and I met in the mid-’70s. We’ve shared blissful highs, awful lows, and bumped along through the dull times. We’ve always loved each other, but haven’t always liked each other. At times, anger and resentment have separated us, and, occasionally, it’s been tempting to run away, be free, and experience new thrills. Yet, life’s challenges have also made us close ranks, and nothing has become a deal breaker. When asked the secret to a long-term relationship I have no answers. Do you?

A: When you two met I was an undergraduate, and one of my idols was singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell. Her lyrics resonated with many young women of my generation.

Feminism, sexual liberation, and the ideal of pursuing alternative lifestyles brought their own challenges, and Mitchell articulated these, with her themes of multiple lovers, hitting the road, betrayal and loss, and the getting of wisdom.

Today, I also find that I have been with my partner for more than 40 years, and I reflect on how we got here. I was, therefore, fascinated to read what Mitchell herself had to say on her website, earlier this year:
“I don’t know if I’ve learned anything yet! I did learn how to have a happy home, but I consider myself fortunate in that regard because I could’ve rolled right by it.”

Often, part of the “secret” is knowing when you have found love, and committing to it.

Mitchell then describes the aspects of our modern world that make finding love so tricky.
“Everybody has a superficial side and a deep side, but this culture doesn’t place much value on depth – we don’t have shamans or soothsayers, and depth isn’t encouraged or understood. Surrounded by this shallow, glossy society we develop a shallow side, too, and we become attracted to fluff.”

The epitome of this is to be found in soap operas, such as my personal favourite, The Bold and the Beautiful. In this world a misplaced kiss can lead to divorce, most characters have been married multiple times, often to the same few people, and intrigue and misunderstandings are key.
Mitchell explains that, “… this culture sets up an addiction to romance based on insecurity – the uncertainty of whether or not you’re truly united with the object of your obsession is the rush people get hooked on. I’ve seen this pattern so much in myself and my friends and some people never get off that line.”

One way to avoid getting hooked on “fluff” is to cultivate some depth in your own personality, Mitchell says. “Along with developing my superficial side, I always nurtured a deeper longing, so even when I was falling into the trap of that other kind of love, I was hip to what I was doing.”
Esquire magazine might seem an unlikely source of insight on this topic, but Mitchell quotes its article entitled “The End of Sex”.
With a long relationship, things die, then are rekindled, and that shared process of rebirth deepens the love.
Joni Mitchell
“If you want endless repetition, see a lot of different people. If you want infinite variety, stay with one.”

Mitchell’s interpretation of this statement is powerfully insightful. “What happens when you date is that you run all your best moves and tell all your best stories – and in a way, that routine is a method for falling in love with yourself over and over.

“You can’t do that with a long-time mate because [s/he] knows all that old material. With a long relationship, things die, then are rekindled, and that shared process of rebirth deepens the love.”
She acknowledges that this can be difficult to sustain.

“It’s hard work, though, and a lot of people run at the first sign of trouble. You’re with this person, and suddenly you look like an asshole to them, or they look like an asshole to you – it’s unpleasant, but if you can get through it you get closer, and you learn a way of loving that’s different from the neurotic love enshrined in movies. It’s warmer and has more padding to it.”
A relationship is like playing see-saw. The game lasts as long as both players are willing to make the necessary adjustments.


About Last Night: Monogamy doesn’t necessitate sexual exclusivity with just one person 17-06-18

Q: Some weeks, reading your column makes Mark and me question if we’re off the spectrum of normal and beyond adventurous. We both enjoy (safe, consensual) penetration and play from a variety of adult partners, and sophisticated sex toys, yet we are still deeply in love with each other. Monogamy doesn’t necessitate sexual exclusivity with just one person, and we want like-minded consenting adults not to feel judged as perverted. Are we beyond normal?
A: No, and I’m so grateful to you for taking the time to share your positive experiences. It is a timely reminder of what is possible.

The secret lies in being able to share fantasies and learn about each other’s desires.
They say that no news is good news, but it can seem that, for many commercial media outlets, good news is no news.
People love exciting stories. Someone once challenged me to name a successful novel that featured a happy relationship, and I could not think of one. Plot is driven by conflict. The media’s imperative is to boost profits, and confecting outrage, playing on fears, and focusing on violence and suffering have proved to be effective ways to generate sensational headlines that sell their offerings.

This is why we need independent alternatives, such as a national broadcaster. It is important to have platforms where lateral thinkers, challenging commentators, and people who are prepared to allow the truth to get in the way of a good story, can seek to redress any imbalances.

When it comes to human sexuality, the issue is complicated, and our emotions are heightened by our sexual anxiety and shame. There is a deep-seated notion that sexual adventuring will all end in tears, and an expectation that transgressive women, in particular, will get punished. For the media, that means that most of the stories that involve “swinging”, promiscuity or infidelity have headlines such as “The body in the boot”, or “Shooting at swingers’ nightclub”.

Our negative attitude is reinforced by the nature of much of the sex-related social issues we face: the sexual abuse of children, violent rape, attacks on sex workers, domestic violence, the trafficking of sex slaves, STIs, and so on. When doctors, the police, therapists and social workers encounter situations involving sex it is usually to deal with something damaging.

The reality is that most people have untroubled sex lives, but their natural reticence and discretion prevent them talking about their private lives. My years running Bliss for Women enabled me to hear a more accurate, nuanced, and varied range of normal sexual experiences. The truth is that many people enjoy experimentation and adventurous sex play with no ill effects.

Of course, nothing is compulsory, and the success of your intimate life is not measured by the scope of your activities. The secret lies in being able to be open, and able to share fantasies, and learn about each other’s desires. For many, talking and sharing are erotic enough.

Unlike sky divers and rock climbers, most people who enjoy “extreme” sex games realise that their friends do not want to hear them banging on about their exploits, but if, somehow, something does come to light it is not for others to judge, and there is no need for shame.

Of course, as with other extreme sports, there are always risks. Responsible participants understand these risks, take all known steps to minimise them, and undertake to balance the risks and the rewards. In terms of sex play this means respect, and getting enthusiastic consent, observing safer sex protocols, and maintaining good communication. However, it is irrational to be more freaked out by the idea of a couple having group sex than by their plans to free dive.

The word “monogamy” is the opposite of “polygamy” and really means being married to one person at a time, and, if both partners are willing, does not necessitate sexual exclusivity with just one other person.

I wish you and Mark well, and thank you once more for sharing a good news story that might be useful for others who would like to push their boundaries, but who are limited by fear and ignorance.


About Last Night: Why we shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed 10-06-18

 Q: Bill Cosby’s conviction triggered memories of a drink-spiking incident I experienced. An older married man, who I’d volunteered with for ages, got me a drink at a volunteers’ function. After two wines, I couldn’t talk, or move properly. He tried to take me to his house in a taxi. I managed to call my husband, who found me, stumbling, beside a freeway, where I’d been dumped. Shock, anger and shame stopped us going to the police. When I told my father, he blamed me, bringing back childhood memories of his own dubious transactions with women. I feel like a loser.

A: What you experienced was not your fault. Engaging with the police when you are in shock is difficult, and it would have been better if your husband could have put his feelings to one side, backed you up, and encouraged you. Your father’s unfair victim blaming, combined with your memories of his own misbehaviour, served to compound your own doubts about your judgment. It might be too late to pursue the matter with the authorities, but you would benefit from talking to a therapist so that you can overcome your low self-esteem.Shock anger are natural emotions to feel after such an attack, but shame has been used as a tool of control for too long, especially against women. Many cultures, and religions, place a ridiculously high value on virginity, sexual purity, and a woman’s virtue. Women are often disempowered in these societies, and yet they carry all the blame for rape, sexual assault, childhood sexual abuse and unwanted pregnancy.

In some cultures, female rape victims can be charged with a crime, are shunned and know that no man will marry them. Until this year, Irish women were banned from terminating a pregnancy that resulted from rape or incest. Women who dress provocatively have been described as meat put out for cats.

Often the men involved close ranks to preserve male privilege, to save face or guard their honour, or to avoid taking responsibility for their own misogyny or bad behaviours. The tool that is used to maintain these injustices is shame.

Sexual guilt or shame refers to a feeling of grave responsibility and deep remorse associated with participation in or even thoughts and fantasies about sexual activity. For some people, this reaction is so deeply entrenched that they are incapable of enjoying healthy sex lives with their partners, resulting in depression, relationship strain, and the passing on of unhealthy attitudes to their children.

This indoctrination goes very deep and is not just a gender issue. Women who have internalised the patriarchy can be the harshest enforcers. Also, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse revealed that thousands of boys were victimised.

Any form of abuse is traumatic, but for many survivors it was their sexual shame that was ultimately most disabling. Their indoctrination kept them silent, allowing the perpetrators to continue with impunity. I encourage everyone to take stock of their own levels of sexual shame.

The opposite of feeling ashamed is not shameless promiscuity, immorality, a loss of self-respect, or the abandoning of modesty and good taste. It is a healthy respect for, and appreciation of, the human body. It is being comfortable looking at your naked self in the mirror, including your genitals. It is being able to fully express and enjoy sexual desire and intimacy. It is also being comfortable getting medical help when necessary. Too many people compromise their health because they are too embarrassed to have a pap smear, or a prostate examination.

As a first step, take a look at these videos. For men, Overcoming Sexual Shame and Guilt (, and for women, Overcoming Sexual Shame ( Having heard what these doctors have to say, you might decide that it is too difficult for you to tackle this issue alone. Seek out a sex therapist to help you. They are particularly qualified to assist with a topic that even some medicos, psychologists and counsellors find confronting.

In order to do better in future, it is also vital that our children get a healthy, accurate, and emotionally balanced sex education.


CORRECTION: Last week’s column mistakenly said that Jamie McCartney’s artwork The Great Wall of Vagina was at the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart. There is a similar work at MONA by Greg Taylor and friends called C—-… and other conversations, 2001–11.

About Last Night: it’s a Vulva not a Vagina 03-06-18


From time to time, a lover has told me I have a pretty vagina. I know that they are trying to be respectful by not calling it a ‘pussy’ etc, but it irritates me that nobody seems to understand the the external, and visible part of a woman’s genitals is called the vulva. Most people are familiar with the terms describing a man’s genitals.Why do people find it so hard to get this right?


Yes, this is an annoying error that is made again and again. When sex-ed expert, Virginia Hamilton ( wrote an article

about teaching children the facts of life, she provided a chart which labeled all of the body parts with their correct name. You can imagine her disgust when, in the published piece, she found that ‘vulva’ had been changed to ‘vagina’.

Hamilton’s insistence that we teach children the anatomically correct terms is not ‘political correctness gone mad’. She believes that using euphemisms for sexual parts gives children the idea that there is something bad, dirty, or shameful about sex. Children need to feel comfortable talking to a doctor, and able to communicate issues such as sexual abuse.

In spite of our apparently liberal attitudes to sex, there is still a taboo surrounding female genitals. Even in pornography, women are often favoured who have featureless vulvas, without prominent labia, or idiosyncratic features.


My ‘millennial’, neighbours, who are avid gamers, told me about a lighthearted computer game called ‘Genital Jousting’ (Google it if you do not believe me). In it, players try to insert stylized penises into cartoon anuses. When you succeed, the penis ejaculates confetti. I asked them how the game would be received if the anuses were vulva’s, and they were taken aback. They agreed it would be confronting, and, possibly, banned.I was surprised by this uncomfortable response.

The one thing most Australians know about Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) is that it has a ‘rude’ exhibit – Jamie McCartney’s ‘Great Wall of Vagina’. McCartney explains,

:“… I cast, over the course of 5 years, the vaginas (well the vulva area in fact) of hundreds of volunteers. The Great Wall of Vagina is an exploration of women’s relationships with their genitals”.

His motivation to do this is very worthy,”… vulvas and labia are as different as faces and many people, particularly women, don’t seem to know that. Men tend to have seen more than women, who have often only seen their own, and many have never looked that closely. Hence the exposure of so many, showing the variety of shapes is endlessly fascinating, empowering and comforting. For many women their genitals are a source of shame rather than pride and this piece seeks to redress the balance, showing that everyone is different and everyone is normal”.

This is certainly laudable, but it is a pity that he perpetuated a prevalent error just so that he could make a bad pun.  Would anyone accept casts of penises being entitled ‘A Forest of Testicles’?

The problem with this inaccuracy and ignorance is that it serves to perpetuate shame, discomfort and fear about women’s sexuality. Whilst it might be considered vulgar, few people are outraged when comedian, Adam Hills tells someone not to be a ‘dick’, or if a nasty person is described as a ‘prick’, but it is still totally unacceptable to call someone a ‘c—t’, in fact, I cannot even use the word here.

So, guys, show your respect for the women in your life by getting it right. The external parts of a woman’s genitals, including the labia, that unique flower that is to be honoured and admired, that part that you might want to describe as ‘pretty’, is her VULVA (not to be confused with the Swedish motor vehicle). Her ‘vagina’ is the internal passage that leads to the neck of her womb, or ‘cervix’. You will be able to put your female partners at ease when you can talk, comfortably and accurately, about this perfectly acceptable part of her body.