You bet there is! And I am going to tell you why I think so.
When I was a teenager, I used to hang out with a lovely group of boys and girls whom I got on with splendidly. But every now and then one of us girls had a crush on a boy and of course the boys would have told each other, so we wanted to discuss those matters in private. So that’s my first experience of the need of talking in a female only environment. Funny how as teenagers boys were the most important topic of our conversations. Which leads me to my second reason for the need of female only spaces.
When you have female only issues to discuss, how do you get the boys out of the room? Well, I had found a dandy little trick. When it was clear the girls wanted to talk, I would pose the question “So, I just wanted some advice, do you use pads or tampons?” and watch the boys’ faces completely derail while they scurried out of the room as quickly as their oversized feet would carry them. We never actually did talk about our periods, only about boys. But in hindsight, I wish we had. I may have found out sooner about the menstrual cup that revolutionised my life when I turned 30.
Of course, the reaction of teenage boys may not be comparable to that of grown men. Men who have had long term girlfriends and who have been out to buy her favourite hygiene products and sailed the red sea. Yet I have found most men to maintain feelings of being deeply uncomfortable around this conversation. It is not like a period is a one off thing that surprises and shocks us. No, it happens every damn month and is a sign that my body is healthy and functioning as it should. Yet there is so much shame around it. How can we discuss anything when it is hiding behind that thick, dark curtain of shame? Under those circumstances a lot of things just aren’t being said. No matter how much a questions are burning on our tongue, we will swallow it back down.
And let’s throw some darkness into the mix. 90% of adult rape victims are women. That is a very clear majority. Most women (in fact all women I know) have experienced one or more forms of abuse, violence or intimidation on the grounds of being a women. Whether that being groped on the underground, cat called on the street, approached by a complete stranger on the way home after a night out (that happened to me at 1 am and it was bloody scary!) or even physically attacked – most of us have a story to tell. And I have always heard agreement that these issues are best discussed in a female only environment.
But there is a lighter a side to female only places too. Our events focus on female sexuality specifically. Yes, we talk about sanitary products, rant about pink tax and how misogynistic and quite distasteful a lot of the porn out there is and what we’d rather see. These discussions can actually benefit men as well, despite them not being there. Why? Well, it never ceases to amaze me how out of touch many women are with their own bodies and their own sexuality and I count myself into that category. For centuries we have “outsourced our sexuality” learning from men. The porn industry, sex ed that focuses on mechanics and avoiding pregnancy rather than pleasure. Finally, growing up in a society that through slut shaming and victim blaming still tells girls how we should behave and feel in certain ways. If we learn sex from men, how do we ever learn about our own bodies? Self pleasure is still a taboo and the full structure of the clitoris wasn’t even discovered until 2009. There is a downside to outsourcing our pleasure – we also outsource responsibility for it.
I was seeing a guy not too long ago who would always tell me how it was his responsibility that our sex was good and that I had an orgasm. That put a lot of pressure on me because I did not want him to feel bad. Not being one to ever fake an orgasm the disappointment could not always be avoided. It really got me thinking. Why is it that he takes full and sole responsibility for both his AND my pleasure? Surely with two people having sex, we are in this together.
I realised then that I needed to get in touch with my own body, my needs, desires and what gives me pleasure. If he was keen on pleasing me, then surely it would be only fair for me to show him how to. Only I had no clue. No clue what I actually wanted and even less of a clue of how to communicate it. It would have been a big step for me to try and have that conversation.
Doesn’t it make sense to have women talk in a female only space about those things? To learn from each other. To get in touch with themselves. To learn ways to communicate. To get the practice and confidence to openly talk about their sexuality. Once they have that, it’ll become so much easier for them to take that home to their partners.
What I see in our events time and time again is that there is something magical happening when you chuck a few women in a room together, strip away shame and judgement and create an environment of open sharing. Don’t be surprised if you see tears and laughter and tears from laughter all in the same evening.
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