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The Visit.

N-flat-01-4It must seem to my regular readers that I spend most of my time getting medical practitioners to look at my lady bits. I can categorically tell you that this is not the case, however, if it makes you feel better about getting your own private parts checked out, then so be it.

I’ve heard that HIV is on the rise again in young, gay men and although I myself am clearly not a young, gay man, I’m well aware that we are all at risk and that I’m not immune just because I’m a heterosexual female. I also know that it isn’t just HIV that we should be protecting ourselves from either: there are 27 different types of STI that are waiting to latch onto our genitals, so it really is worth spending the time using protection and getting checked out, however old you are and however many sexual partners you’ve had.

If you’re under 18 and reading this, then I can understand that STIs might still be a little bit taboo for your age range. When I was at school, anyone who took a trip to the clinic was there primarily to collect a ton of condoms to throw around in class and if you were caught coming out of one, it was immediately assumed that your knob had fallen off. If, however, you’re old and ugly enough to take responsibility for your dental hygiene and general health, then there’s no excuse for neglecting yourself from the waist down; you should be leading the younger generation by example.

It dawned on me recently that I hadn’t had a test since 2009. Shameful. Four years, and a few sexual partners later, I could have caught something and have passed it onto a bedtime buddy already. A quick debrief of my sexual encounters would tell you that it was highly unlikely that I’d have contracted anything from a list of bright, well brought up, good looking and charming university graduates (not) but it’s not as clear cut as having chocolate on your chin: sometimes it’s too dark or I was too drunk and just because you’re called Harry doesn’t mean you don’t have Herpes. So I took the plunge and got myself booked in last week.

My clinic is the sexual health hub of West London and had been a haunt for most of my health conscious friends and boyfriends growing up, but I hadn’t visited the place in years. And you know what? Not much had changed. The same hushed waiting room was still there: rows of chairs filled with people avoiding eye contact at all costs, an old radio playing the same tracks from 2006 and as I was visiting so close to the festive season, a comforting array of washed out tinsel was strewn decadently about the room. Something that had changed however, was my attitude to getting this done. Instead of feeling ashamed or embarrassed, I felt proud of myself and of the people around me; I’d had a bikini wax and was ready to take on the swab. I did still want to be invisible however, so when I sneezed and a guy said “Bless you”. I thought, “Dude, we’re not waiting for a bus here. I’m trying my very best to be as discrete as possible so could you please just not”.

This was all quickly forgotten when I was told by the nurse that swabs were a DIY job these days. I could’ve jumped on her I was so relieved – and I’m really not that shy about my vagina – so hopefully this will encourage those of you who are a little anxious, to take the leap. If, by some chance, some clinics do ask you to drop your pants, please don’t panic; it really isn’t that bad and it will be over really, really quickly. And to those guys who think they have it worse when it comes to sexual health screenings: woman up. It’s a cotton bud, not a machine gun.

My brother and his mates used to visit the clinic together for moral support. Afterwards, they’d treat themselves to a Nando’s for being so brave. I don’t care what it takes to get yourself checked out; whether you want to have sex with your girlfriend without a condom or if you need to justify getting your Peri-Peri fix that week, make like Nike and just do it. Remember that those who are there to assist you have seen a lot worse (confirmed when my gyno made a cameo appearance treating genital warts on Embarrassing Bodies a while back) while those who are waiting to be seen are only there to look after themselves, just like you.

Yes, it’s embarrassing when you’re about to show your foof to a complete stranger or when you’re asked a long list of questions about your sex life but it really is so important to make sure you’re clean as more serious diseases are found in young people today. Oh, and a little FYI: never respond with “erm… I tried it once but stopped because it hurt” when asked if you’ve had anal sex during your health questionnaire; the nurse is trying to figure out if you’ve been exposed to potential risks, not whether you’re an experimental lover. Just a little heads up, this definitely didn’t happen to me…

I received my “all-clear” text just this morning and I can tell you that the relief of that message far outweighs the 60 seconds of embarrassment in that nurse’s office or the scratch of the needle from a blood test.

Drop your trousers and get it checked.

All of you.

The Pornography.

large (9)Porn was first thrust upon me, much like anyone else who grew up in the noughties, in the charming form of Two Girls, One Cup. Suffice to say, I haven’t had a great relationship with the medium since.

The next thing I remember was a school trip to Wales, where boys who had only seen nudity in print, were passing a copy of Nuts Magazine around the coach. They shared their thoughts about a lack of pubic hair and different shades of areola, as us girls looked on with both intrigue and fright.

My boyfriend during these younger years was caught watching porn by his mum – an act as alien to me then as peeing standing up – and despite it being a moment of awkward humiliation for them both, she took it upon herself to stand there and give him a rollicking for objectifying girls: what a woman.

Following on from my teenage years, my male friends at university developed my fascination with porn and introduced me to the world of online sex and the delights of ‘Sausage Pizza’. One of their favourite past times was to leave ‘Meat Spin’ running on my unattended laptop during dissertation time for me to return to as a treat after running off for a quick toilet break. (If you’re not sure what either of those food related porn titles are, take it from me, it’s better that way.)

Back in the day, and by this I’m only talking ten or so years ago, porn was taboo and the only way to get yourself off was to watch the 10 minute preview to an adult film on some obscure 900 Sky channel or switch over to TOTP where Rachel Stevens was doing her thing. Nowadays, we can access a whole world of sexual fantasy, in ultra high definition, from behind a computer screen, or even more conveniently, through our smart phones.

The majority of both my male and female counterparts watch porn on a regular basis and I’ve even known guys to share porn between friends. It has become so much a part of our daily lives that questioning the morality of it would be like questioning the morality of a roast potato. But aside from the fact that (some of) the stars of the small screen make a stack of money, how else is it enhancing the lives of these men and women who are having sex for money? To me, there’s no difference between this occupation and that of a hooker on the streets of London, and any monetary transaction that exists when having sex, whether a punter or a production team is paying you, is just wrong in my opinion.

There’s obviously a darker side to the industry, and between the inappropriate videos out there and how easy they are to access, I can’t help but fear for future generations who are watching this stuff as children. Not only are they being educated in the art of bad sex, but these films are taking ideas of brutality and domination, and normalising them. In fact, these films are such a poor example of what sex is really like, that I’d probably give those sex education videos from my school days a little more credit. I also think more time should be given to educate those of an older generation who aren’t aware that these films are but a click away from their child’s reach, but I’ll save that for another day.

A guy I was seeing at the end of last year said that there was something he found shameful about masturbating and that he always felt a little self-deprecating afterwards, like he’d done something really wrong. I think it’s important to recognise that there’s nothing wrong with a little self love, but it’s the tools that are used to get you there that might be the problem.

Perhaps porn is a good way to vent mismatched sexual desires that you don’t share with you partner, or to tide you over until your next conquest, but we need to remember what it was like to be obsessed with what sex was going to be like before we had it. The whole world is obsessed with it because it’s amazing. And why is it amazing? Because you get to touch another person’s body, feel great and if you’re really lucky, connect on a higher level. Watching porn, albeit a fantastic form of contraception, just means more time spent staring at a screen as opposed to each other and I find that tapping at a keyboard to watch people have sex is much like staring through the window of a great restaurant to see people eating instead of heading inside and trying the menu for yourself.

Taking all of the moral questions surrounding the industry such as how these people are being treated behind the scenes and how many of them have actually chosen this as a career choice away, I don’t actually have a massive problem with it being watched, even within the realms of a relationship. I’m safe in the knowledge that my boyfriend isn’t thinking about me as he watches Jenna Jameson’s puppies jump up and down onscreen, but I’m cool with that; after all, my boobs will never be as big as hers and I wouldn’t want him to miss out, being the boob man that he is. But when it comes to my turn, why am I expected to enjoy ‘female friendly’ films?  I feel a need to let all of you porn producers out there know that not all of us girls want to be caressed with scented oils or fed fresh strawberries and I find it simply hilarious how this new age porn industry can be so regressive at times.

As you can see, I’m not 100% sure where I stand on the whole porn debate, but as a little experiment, I think I’ll steer clear of it for a while.

Think that might take too much will power as the winter nights draw in? Film your own and be safe in the knowledge that both parties have consented, are being taken care of (in more ways than one) and I’m sure you’ll feel far more satisfied watching a demonstration by someone with a good working knowledge of the female anatomy, because FYI, what they do in porn films is not good sex and I can guarantee it will not get your girlfriend anywhere near where you want her to be.

I am, shamefully however, looking forward to Fifty Shades of Grey coming out at the cinema next year.

Does that count as porn? 

Who even knows anymore.

The Music.

large (3)There’s nothing worse than a music snob.

You know the types I’m talking about. Those who believe Frank Ocean to be a waste of time without having listened to one of his tracks and those who berate Ed Sheeran for being too mainstream. Basically, I’m talking about those who make unfounded statements for no other reason except for the fact that it’s cool to say that you have a distaste for modern, or even just popular, music.

I tend to just put it down to ignorance and a lack of dedication to the cause on your part. Dig a little deeper into today’s music and you’ll find some hidden treasures. And correct me if I’m wrong but it takes time to tick by for things to be deemed timeless, much like denim or the LBD. You laugh now but Ben Howard or Paolo Nutini, men capable of a lot more than some of your favourite golden oldies, could too be timeless, if you give them time, of course. And if you really do feel that way about modern music, then why are you dancing to the Arctic Monkeys on a night out? They released their first album in 2006. I don’t care if you’re drunk. Don’t be a hypocrite.

I wholeheartedly agree that it’s infuriating when an artist makes millions from generic dance tunes pumped out of what seems to be their arse holes, but don’t generalise and say that there’s no musical talent at the moment when you fail to do your research. Right now, sadly yes, the mainstream is all about mega bucks and fame and I would love to find a way to bring a wider variation of talent to the fore. But when you tell me that it’s impossible to boast about the talent of today compared with musicians from the 1970s, I can do nothing but laugh.

I’m not saying I’m a musical genius and I probably don’t know as much, technically, as some of you reading this, but I do listen to all kinds of music, all the time. My dad had me listening to Suede at ten years old and I was completely unaware of how political I was being when I introduced my best friend to Morrissey back in primary school. But it wasn’t all deep lyrics and men dressed as vicars. Dad also stood by my side as I sang along to B*Witched at Wembley in my pedal pushers with a light up wand and an oversized Fanta, and he whole-heartedly backed me through my Spice Girl phase. I believe that creative taste not only comes from the media, society or current trends, I think it’s also something that’s inherited, which makes it okay to appreciate older music, but we must be tolerable of all types.

I’ve been trained, by my wonderful – but completely barking – parents, to reserve no space in my life for pretentiousness, but I get when it when people are frustrated that a lack of talent becomes a sensation for reasons such as a leaked sex tape or a handsome face. But sadly, that’s been the way of the world for a long time now, and as epic as Elvis was, he too was predominantly a pretty face and a pair of snake hips. Unwarranted success is not a thing of today; in fact, it was something that was born a long time ago.

Compare Primark, for instance, to higher quality labels made with more craft, skill and a higher thread count; yes there’s an obvious difference in quality, but they each have a value.  Imagine you’d spent a shed load of cash on that one off trend last year? These fads are what clothing for a fiver was made for. I mean, thank GOD I bought a trouser skirt for a quid. That’s one piece I’m glad to see the back of, but I enjoyed it while it lasted. And the same goes for music. I was at a party this weekend where I watched a little girl ‘Shake It Off’ with more style and grace than Taylor Swift herself. Alongside her was my mother of 53 years, a granny of 85 years and two 16 year old males. I doubt that we’ll still be singing it in 2045, but a song that brings a range of people together and can provide that much happiness for three minutes, is worthy of something in my opinion and shouldn’t be mocked.

Do more of what makes you happy and less of what you think should make you happy. If you want to compose classical music by day and watch Miley Cyrus in concert by night, then do it. Life is too short to panic about who might be judging you or what is cool. And if you genuinely want to listen to Chopin all day errrday, then okay, but don’t condemn Joe Bloggs for listening to Usher on repeat – particularly if he’s going through a bad break up.

I’m not wholly exempt from this snobbery and have to check myself when I judge the footwear of tube hoppers across the capital or wince at men in jewellery, but if they’re happy, then I should be too. My brother thinks that some of the clothes I wear are outrageous and I do have a somewhat eclectic music taste but that’s what headphones were made for, as well as an inherent lack of giving a shit.

Being able to accept people for who they are and allowing them to love what they love in peace, whilst having your own opinion? You can’t get classier than that.

So just accept that some people prefer One Direction to The Beatles and get on with your life. I’m sure they probably think Dylan is garbage. And that’s fine too, kind of.

Each to their own.

The North.

Noel GallagherI’m a proper southerner.

I question the sanity of anyone who lives past Highgate and opted out of cheap beer for a university in Devon, but somewhere between my love of Ted Hughes and a burning desire to have written Wuthering Heights, I have ended up with a Yorkshireman.

Here in the south, we are still perplexed with prejudices about northern men. We mock them for being those “Brit-abroad” types: sunburnt in the Costa Del Sol, sipping on a Pina Colada in an England shirt – sounds a bit like my recent trip to Italy with a bunch of them actually – (I jest) – but I’m pretty sure that it’s not just the northern contingent who partake in such delights. So do the men of Essex, Plymouth and dare I say it… Chelsea. But for all their boisterous ways, they make up for it by being the most chivalrous, well mannered and caring of the male variety. They have a naturally warm nature and are fiercely loyal. They will pull your chair out for you, they know what a proper ‘brew’ looks like, and after five minutes you feel like you’ve known them for more like five years. They are, for the most part, quick witted and humorous, but they don’t mince their words and they’ll soon dig you out for wearing too much fake tan. But because they elongate their vowels, they somehow get away with it. Being called ‘our lass’, however, is something I don’t think I’ll ever get my head around.

But it’s not just the northern men that I’m here to praise. You know when you meet girls in the bathroom on a night out and you form an unbreakable bond for the next six hours, sharing tampons and lip gloss and tales of torment from the smoking area? The women of the north are like that, but all the time. There’s no time too short for a quick chat or a glass of vino and you’ll be hard pressed to find better company on a night out. But God forbid you sit in their chair or push in front of them in a queue – there’s no stiff upper lip action from these women – prepare to be told.

Not only are the people top dollar but the north comes with all the trimmings, and I’m not talking Yorkshire Puddings. Northerners are matter of fact, they don’t pretend that pastry isn’t the best thing ever invented and they don’t deny that, sometimes, a triple vodka just isn’t enough. They don’t cheat you out of £7.60 for a single gin and tonic and beer will never cost more than a fiver. But it’s not all cheap booze and laid back attitudes. The north is home to some of the UK’s biggest and best creatives in both the literary and music scenes; the Yorkshire Moors are (albeit terrifying in the middle of the night when you come across a dogging site and a lone hitch-hiker) one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been; Whitby is the birth place of none other than friggin’ Dracula and Hull… is, well, shit. But we all have our flaws.

It IS far colder in the winter, there was that whole Northern Rock debacle back in 2008 and Paddy McGuinness isn’t exactly my favourite person in the world, but it’s hard to explain: the north feeds my addiction to nostalgia and is comforting in a way that the south will never be, a bit like beans on toast or ITV. 

But for all the fish and chips, industrial towns and Rovers Returns in the world, am I ready to leave the big city after 25 years?

Haway man.

The Football.

1274245_0I love watching you sit, with bated breath, before the first match of the season. The hope, focus and optimism is something rarely applied to your own life, but for the benefit of your club and those eleven players on the pitch, your support is unrelenting, and so it should be.

Walking home on Tuesday night, I noticed a father and son, wrapped up and huddled in close outside M&S on this chilly October evening, chowing down on two baguettes bigger than the little boy’s face. This, to me, meant only one thing: Chelsea must be playing.

Although living this close to Stamford Bridge is a burden of busy burger joints on match days and growing accustomed to the bellowing of ticket touts, it’s not all bad. The buzz that surrounds the stampede trudging to the stadium in their heavy coats and chilly breaths brings back memories of watching my dad play and having to wait for my brother to finish training on a Monday where I’d sit patiently, watching Art Attack or playing with my Tamagotchi, of course.

People complain about the essence of football being lost to swanky stands and men in suits but, to me, there is still the guy who insists on drinking bovril, the hum of stale beer still resides and I continue to fight the desire to munch on one of those hot dogs that you shouldn’t even want to look at. The air is still full to the brim of chatter about scores, whether so and so will perform this season and a certainty that “this year will be our year”.

And it’s not all about going to watch every game. That Match of the Day theme tune reminds me of roast dinners gobbled in front of the TV for fear of missing that week’s goal highlights. It also reminds me of my deep rooted adoration of Gary Lineker which, somewhat inappropriately, began as a very young child and exists with great valour until this very day.

I have a dad and a brother who practically bleed blue, everyone I’ve ever dated has been into the game and so to have a boyfriend who hasn’t the slightest interest in it, worries me. Some of you are probably wondering why I wish for him to be a football fanatic, and yes, although it is wonderful for trips to Borough Market on a Saturday to not be completely replaced by Arsenal and Coco Pops, I want my kids to keep up this British pastime. I want them to wrap up, wear their colour with pride, sit alongside the toothless grins of seasoned football fans and cheer until their throats are roar, because there’s nothing quite like it.

Although it has to be said that footballers wages and our WAG culture infuriates me and the screeching that results from boys playing FIFA will ring through me until the end of time, I will say that it is worth it for the comradery, healthy competition and upkeep of a huge part of our British culture.

If you’ve never been to a game, try it out just once, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

The Test.

large (5)When Jade Goody walked out of the Big Brother house back in 2003, I thought that all she’d taught me about life was a) never to have sex on TV and b) that salmon satin looks good on no one.

How wrong was I?

The woman single-handedly raised awareness for cervical cancer in young women.

Sadly, it took her dying to do so.

Left undiagnosed, it can become terminal and treatment can grow futile. Wishing to avoid this fate at all costs, I went for my annual smear test this morning.

As I sat in the waiting room for longer than anticipated, due to strains on the NHS, which we shan’t go into now, I grew anxious. As somebody who is, let’s say, unafraid to bare all, these nerves came as a surprise.

Will I wee on her face? Will she find a tampon up there from 2008 that has now turned into a foetus with cotton wool hands? Should I have shaved? Will she care? And WHY does this waiting room smell like poo?!

These were just some of the thoughts running through my mind pre-inspection that I thought I’d share with you because, well, nerves are normal when you’re about to show your private parts to a complete stranger.

But then my name was called.

She closed the door behind us and asked me to remove my pants in the same way you’d ask someone if they’d like to remove their jacket at a dinner party. Naturally I obliged, in awkward silence, and lay down on the bed.

She then pressed on with it – poor girl – and it was actually fine, aside from her awkwardly complimenting me on my pelvic floor muscles and the impromptu arrival of a young man looking for his umbrella. We had a laugh about his ill timing, I put my vagina away and all was well with the world within a few short minutes.

And now it’s over for the next 1095 days and I will endeavour to forget the whole thing until then.

But I don’t want you to forget it. Not the part about me opening my legs – you can definitely forget that part – but I don’t want you to put off getting yours done.

If you weren’t aware of what a smear test was before reading this, then hopefully it’ll spark an interest and if you’ve been putting it off: don’t. It really isn’t that bad.

I can’t help but feel that post-childbirth, I’ll look back at this post and think ‘Dear girl, if only you knew’.

But until then, I will continue to dread them in a mid-twenties, without child, ignorance but I will also endeavour to endure them on a regular basis. And so should you.

Good luck!

The Mind.

large (3)It’s very easy to assume that everybody is okay.

That person you stalk on Instagram might have been to four festivals this year, have the glossiest of hair and a butt to rival Nikki Minaj, but actually? All might not be well in their world.

It’s very easy to spot a cancer patient or somebody suffering with MS but when someone is sick in the head, nobody need know aside from them. And although we are a far cry from lobotomies and involuntary ECT, this means that issues are bottled up and left undealt with because it might seem easier to ignore than to seek help.

I happen to know quite a few people who have suffered and are still suffering from various mental illnesses. Depression and anxiety mainly, unsurprising in this day and age, and for me, understanding mental illness really was a case of not believing it until I saw it. Panic attacks look terrifying from the outside, feeling anxious for no reason looks burdensome and not wanting to eat and not being able to sleep can literally ruin one’s life. I’ve watched it happen and I understand how easy it is to say ‘chin up’ or ‘get over it’ when you see people having a down day. But for some, it’s not quite so simple as pulling themselves together, and getting up on a Monday morning might just be that little bit more difficult for them.

It takes a hell of a lot of courage to ask for help and it also, shamefully, costs quite a bit. Of course, there are options on the NHS but you practically have to be about to jump off Beachy Head to get help and private counselling isn’t always an option.

So what can you do?

When someone is bound to a wheelchair or has a visual impairment, it’s quite obvious how you can help them out on a daily basis, whereas when you can’t actually see the problem, you can feel a bit helpless. So think of yourself as free health care. And not just today on World Mental Health Day, but everyday, make sure you ask that person who has gone a bit quiet if they’re okay and cut people some slack if they’re not feeling their best.

And if you don’t feel like yourself at the moment, talk.

A good place to start would be to check out Mind or if you would just like more of an insight into the taboo topic of mental health, visit TED. Some of the talks on there really are quite insightful.

Most importantly, be patient with people; you’ve no idea what’s going on upstairs, or beneath that perfect exterior.

Enjoy your weekend.

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