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I’ve often described myself as a fringe dweller, being on the edge of a number of communities or social groups; included, yet being fringe enough to move freely from one to another, selecting the things from each that resonated with me and deflecting things that did not. That analogy—which I first used as a teenager—is one of taking, not giving, and building myself from the possibilities I encountered.

crab buckets

Two crab buckets full of crabs.

Researcher, writer, psychotherapist and social activist Meg John (MJ) Barker uses the analogy of a crab bucket to describe how people stay in one category—such as gender, sexuality, sexual expression—where they seem to belong, or want to belong. They actively stop other people from leaving and exploring other options, just as crabs do to stop other crabs leaving the bucket. MJ extends the analogy by adding that people might escape from one bucket, only to go to another, and remain trapped, just in a different situation. MJ acknowledges that the analogy is not their original one; this article gives some history.

Crab buckets image source

 

Today, in a workshop-planning conversation with Rog from www.curiouscreatures.biz he commented that I brought a mix of sex-positive, queer-and-kinky-positive, with academic credibility, wide knowledge, educational skills and experience. These things enable good sex education (and play situations such as workshops or parties) for adults which can lead to personal growth and transformative learning.

I immediately visualised myself on a beach which was dotted with crab buckets, gaily running from one to another, dipping a claw into one bucket, then skipping to another, making connections with different groups, belonging on the whole beach and not just in one confined part of it. “I’ve found my niche!” I exclaimed.

Rog’s comment and this image demonstrated for me that I belong widely, and can contribute with experience and expertise in a number of ways and places. One box (or bucket) will never be enough. What this mature image adds to the fringe-dweller description is of someone who contributes to the communities, not just borrows from them. I do not fit in only one crab bucket, I own the beach and can contribute and share across its many elements. Also, I have an interesting brain.

Bass Coast beach photo by Linda Kirkman

Bass Coast, Victoria, Australia. Image by Linda Kirkman

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I have offered to do sex toy reviews. This seemed like a fun idea and a good way to get some practical knowledge of the tools that are out there. I selected from the things on offer, then started to worry. How might this affect my online safety? I’ve never had a problem with online trolls or negative feedback despite the work I do, and gave credit to how I curate my online presence. I tend to take a cerebral angle rather than discussing my own experiences.

what have I done

What have I done?

In discussing this with friends I introduced the topic by saying I’d been asked to write sex toy reviews. This distortion removed responsibility from me; I had been asked, not had offered. Did this make it more respectable, somehow? Note the first sentence of this post, as I am now taking responsibility for my interest. People responded by speaking of the value of authenticity, of being away from the ivory tower of academe and seeming more connected and believable. In synchronous ways my social media reading and podcast listening included discussions about personal revelations, the vulnerability that people felt and the ultimately positive outcomes. It helped me to hear Alex Iantaffi who I admire greatly, discuss this on a Meg-John and Justin podcast about gender (specifically on Meg John Barker and Alex’s book How to Understand Your Gender) and decide that limited and thoughtful, purposeful disclosures were helpful and professionally suitable.

What am I planning to do? Write some reviews of what could be considered tools of the trade. It acknowledges I’m an embodied sexual being as well as a cerebral one. I’m writing short, considered reviews from an older woman’s perspective. It is a small thing to add to what I do, and not a new career. It supports the advocacy of awareness about older people still being sexual.

The request from Nikki Darling was that I put the reviews on my blog. Here they are!

Tantus Duchess dual-density vibrating dildo

I was excited to get my first package of tester toys from Nikki Darling, and dived in to see what was inside. Being a toy tester from an older woman’s perspective seemed to be a good way to promote a positive approach to sexuality across the life span, while potentially having fun.

My first impression on opening the Tantus Duchess package was that it was somewhat difficult to wrestle it out of its rigid plastic packaging. Once it was out, it was the size that dominated. It seemed HUGE. I felt daunted. From this older woman’s perspective, and generalising a bit, bigger is not better. Post menopause the vaginal rugae (the crossways folds in the vaginal walls) thin out, and elasticity is reduced. While I have given birth, and the Tantus Duchess is smaller than a baby, it looked impossible for my anatomy. Still, a responsible tester does not give up without trying. I tried, a few times. Even with lots of lube and being aroused, penetration of any kind was not going to be successful. The bullet vibe option that came with this dildo was one of the things that attracted me to try it, so I hoped it would give some vibe benefits. Getting the supplied bullet vibe into the housing was a challenge, and I probably should have used some lube to make the task easier. Getting it out again was fiddly too. The effort was not really worth it for me, as the power of the vibe was too mild for what I enjoy, although I’m sure some people would find the gentle buzz an addition to their pleasure. At this point I read some other Tantus Duchess reviews. Other reviewers loved it, while acknowledging the size challenge. It seems the issue with my experience is the limitations of my anatomy, not the toy.

Tantus products have a great reputation and I trust their commitment to body-safe products. This one is made from dual density silicone, which means the outside is soft, and there is stiffness inside to keep it rigid. The dual-density aspect wasn’t obvious when handling it, although that is an advantage, as it made it possible to appreciate the soft outer layer and have the dildo maintain some rigidity without being aware of an inflexible aspect. There was no discernible smell, and the ice colour which is a blue that fades to white at the head, is easy to look at and inoffensive. Official details re size are: 4.5 cm diameter, 17.78 cm insertable length, 254 gm weight. It has a flared base that makes it safe for anal play, and can be used as a suction cup onto a firm surface to add to user options. It can go into a harness (not supplied) and is waterproof.

tantus_dildo-O2_the-duchess_candy-and-ice_400x

In summary, the Tantus Duchess is a quality product made from body safe materials with thoughtful design that means it has versatile uses. However, from the perspective of an older woman, I did not find it to be a toy that met my needs or limitations. My rating of 2/5 stars is based on its usefulness for me, not its overall design or safety qualities. Thank you, Nikki Darling, for the opportunity to review this toy.

YES Organic water based lubricant

Lube is your friend. Lube makes sexual activity better by reducing friction and potential damage to the skin, and can be the difference between an enjoyable, successful sexual experience and painful misery. Not all lubes are equal, and given that they are being liberally applied to mucus membranes with the potential to be absorbed, then they not only have to do the job they are intended for, they have to be body safe too. Nikki Darling has a range of lubes that are reputable products; what is YES Organic WB like to use? The YES Organic WB notes say that it is “Hypoallergenic, vegan, alcohol free, paraben free, glycerin free, palm oil free, non-staining formula. Certified organic. Vegetarian Society approved. Soil Association approved” which indicates an ethical approach to its products. People who do not use alcohol for cultural reasons will be pleased to see it is alcohol free, and vegans appreciate having labelling that reassures them they are not using animal-derived products. It is not only the effect on the body that ingredients matter for; cultural considerations can be important too. Parabens and glycerine can lead to unpleasant side-effects so it is good that they are not included. Phenoxyethanol, which IS included, is a preservative used as an alternative to parabens. Some cosmetic safety sites question the safety of phenoxyethanol and others treat it as safe. Citric acid is used to balance the ph. I tried to find out its osmolality and while YES defines what osmolality is, I couldn’t see the osmolality of YES Organic. EDIT: I found the information about YES osmolality and other aspects, comparing it to different lubes–you can read it here. The YES website goes to a lot of trouble to emphasise that its products are as safe as they can make it. YES Organic WB is described as not being suitable lube to use if you are trying to conceive a baby, which is good to see acknowledged. (They make YES Baby that is recommended if fertility is important.) From my post-menopausal, older woman’s perspective fertility is not an aspect I’m interested in!

The first time I used the YES Organic WB it was in conjunction with the Tantus Duchess, which I also reviewed. The Duchess was too big for me, and may have led to some grazing, and the lube stung a bit. I wondered if the citric acid was to blame there, but don’t know. Subsequent testing sessions were better experiences and I’m pleased to report there was no repeat of the sting. The YES Organic WB does not smell, the consistency is good, and it provided unobtrusive, effective lubrication that lasted well. Clean up was easy, and it did not stain the sheet.

There is absolutely no shame in using a lubricant for sexual activity. Some people feel differently, though. After my testing I read the reviews on the YES website, and gleaned from them that some women feel the need to conceal from their partner the need for a lube. The odourless, natural feel and absence of residue makes the YES Organic WB ideal for these women, as their partners were unaware. It can be bought in an applicator form that deposits it inside the vagina (not part of my review kit) which the YES reviewers appreciated, especially the ones who were being discreet about their use of lube. Many of the online YES reviews were from older people, or women post breast cancer chemo, or who had experienced early menopause. It was interesting to see this demographic featuring so strongly, as to me the marketing did not seem specifically targeted to an ageing population. The reviews were enthusiastic and glowing; although I wonder if a negative review would be made visible. The plant-based organic and body-safe nature of YES Organic WB was a key part of its popularity, as well as its effectiveness as a lubricant.WBNB100C_TUBE_1024x1024

In summary, the YES Organics WB lubricant is a body-safe product that provides effective lubrication, is odourless and does not mark the sheets. Some stinging is possible if there is broken skin. The product has excellent ethical principles behind it. My rating of 4/5 stars is based on its usefulness for me, not its overall design or safety qualities. Thank you, Nikki Darling, for the opportunity to review this toy.

Location and longing

What is it when a particular place draws you? Some landscapes or places engender a particular feeling, yet without any reason for it. When I drive from Bendigo to Ballarat, there is a seemingly unremarkable location with potato farms and a volcano where I feel as though I am home. Why? I wonder if in a previous lifetime this was my country. I have not stopped to check the exact location and if anything is recorded there—I’ll do that next time I head that way.

I travel between Bendigo and Melbourne on the train, and love to look at the spillway from the Malmsbury reservoir. Check out 10 excellent images of the Malmsbury Railway Viaduct here. One wet year I noticed that both spillways were overflowing, and I loved the symmetry, the colours and the energy of the vista from the train. It reminded me of a 19th century landscape painting, such as by John Constable.

Every time I go past on the train I have to check the water level and if it is flowing. If I forget to look, or it is too dark, I get annoyed with myself. At the moment only one spillway is overflowing, which is less symmetrical, although still good to see. While on the train going past it last week I resolved to go there in person to look, and connect with the space. Jim and I did a road trip, which was fun in itself—it has been a while since I travelled the Old Calder—and we took a picnic. A train went over the viaduct while I was there and it was odd to be on the other side of the view.

There are some beautiful old bluestone constructions that relate to the original reservoir work. They are growing some impressive lichens.

Being there seemed to satisfy the longing, and it was good to explore the dam wall and the spillways. It will be interesting to see how I feel about the space next time I go past on the train, and if my perspective and passion are different.

1 dry2 Jim walking3 spillway4 lichen5 train on viaduct

My daughter is pregnant. This is a much wanted and hard-fought-for baby, and the prospective parents are very happy. I wish then all the joy in the world, and the best outcomes for their baby. This post is about me, not them.

I’m not sure how I feel. There is an assumption that I will be delighted and excited and happy. When I say that I’m unsure about how I feel, the response is one of surprised confusion, as though I’m not conforming to the script. The expected social script is that I’m delighted, look forward to being a grandmother, and think it is the best thing ever. I did not want to be one of those women who put pressure on their kids to have kids so they could reach grandmother status. I think that is selfish and controlling. As a person concerned about the environment who knows that overpopulation by humans is one of the biggest problems, I don’t want to encourage more babies. I worry about the future of humans living with a warming planet, exacerbated by the political will of many countries, especially Australia and the USA, which focuses on greed and short-term profit for the favoured few, and not long-term health for all. I am a product of the political and environmental climate of the 1970s when global warming was known about, the trends and science were clear, and we had time to make constructive changes. I do my best to minimise my impact on the planet as a consumer.

“But you had your children, isn’t it selfish to not want others to have theirs?” Yes, my husband and I replaced ourselves by having two children; when I wanted to go for number two Jim famously said “You’ve got one perfectly good baby, what do you want another one for?” This is a line that I am reminded of when number two has done something particularly irritating. (He has turned out rather well, as it happens.) But I digress. The world those children were born into seemed more hopeful, and I knew even then I was taking a risk.

The population is growing beyond what we expected, too. In 1955 when I was born the population of the planet was about 2.7 billion, and in 1985 after I’d had my two (in 1982 & 1984) it was 4.8 billion. Now it is 7.5 billion and the clock keeping score is alarming to watch.

A few years ago, in an effort to make it clear I was not one of those have-babies-to-make-me-a-grandmother type people, and to communicate my concern about the potential future for a child born into the 21st century, I said to my kids “the planet is fucked, don’t breed”. I see now this could be interpreted to be as didactic and controlling as a demand that they do. This meant that when they did decide to start to try for a baby they were somewhat diffident about telling me. I hope I made it clear then that I wished them all the best and have complete respect for their autonomy as adults making choices for their lives.

A couple of people have said, perhaps intended as reassurance, that at least the ‘right’ kind of people are having a baby. I suppose by ‘right’ they mean middle-class, employed, non-illicit-drug-using, intelligent people. I am horrified and outraged by this statement and that someone can think it is ok to say that. I have countered it by saying I’m not in favour of eugenics; a response which seems to provoke some discomfort. If people having babies are in poor social circumstances it is not because the individuals are somehow deficit but because of health influences determined by governments and social structures. If opportunities for income, employment, education, health services, transport, sustainable agriculture, self-determination etcetera are limited by government policies—as they are—then that is not the fault of the individual but the result of wider societal structures if their lives are less than optimal. Let’s not judge people by class either.

So how do I feel? I feel a confused mixture of existential dread and cautious hope, with a growing pleasurable anticipation of playing the role of the quirky, cool grandmother, sharing love, happiness and books with a new human who is continuing my lineage. I have confidence that they will be excellent parents, and that the three sibling doggos will be a source of love and delight. For everybody’s wellbeing I’ll focus on the hope, not the dread.

Seeking 42

The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything might be 42, yet is not helpful. I’m often tempted to distill everything to a simple conclusion or outcome and have to remind myself that it is not always the go-to approach.

The green horse joke is a great way to explain it.

This story is set in times when people had either to walk or go about on horseback.

green horse in fieldA man was really struck on a woman*.  He had it bad.  Trouble was, he hadn’t been introduced, and wanted a way to strike up a conversation, leading to a relationship.  He asked his mate for guidance on how to get the favourable attention of his desired woman.  ‘Tell you what’, says his mate, ‘why not paint your horse green.  Walk past her, leading your unusual green horse, and she’s bound to comment on it.  From there you can get talking, ask her out, give her flowers, and get what you want.’  ‘Right’, says our hero, ‘paint my horse green. I can do that.’

Before long the rather bewildered horse is a lovely grass green, and our hero is leading it proudly past his lust object.  ‘My goodness’, she says, and stopped and stared at the horse.  ‘Your horse is green!’  ‘Yep’, he replied.  ‘Wanna fuck?’

This story is not a description of how I conduct my relationships, but my approach to information.  I want the answer, now. That is not always the best or easiest way, though.

*Insert genders or non-binary options to suit your preferences

I’ve been asked to deliver a workshop on developing communication skills. Perfectionist me has been worrying about how to write the perfect workshop that will give people fabulous strategies to solve problems with communication. That is not possible. Yet communication in relationships is an essential aspect of my business. I decided to explore options by facilitating a meeting with friends attending where it was safe to play with ideas and make mistakes.

Yesterday I facilitated a sex geekdom meetup on the theme of communication, wanting to learn from the participants and test out some ideas. There were about eight people present, we mingled, ate and talked first, then people consented to let me try out the activities. First we did the handshake activity in a pared-down version as described in Meg-John Barker and Justin Hancock’s book Enjoy Sex (How, when and IF you want to)  and that led to lots of useful conversations and insights, including for some people that they did not like shaking hands and strategies for avoiding it. Then we used the 1, 2, 4, all strategy to explore a time when we were proud of communication done well, and share the concepts that made it successful. The outcomes included honesty (and knowing when to lie), trust, story-telling that is engaging and has an unexpected ending (a teaching strategy) and discussing each other’s needs in intimate relationships (and hopefully finding ways to mutually meet them). I had planned to do a version of TRIZ which looks at how to do things badly, but ran out of time.

What I got from this was a reminder that things don’t have to be perfect, baby steps are a good way to begin, that I already have the skills and tools to plan and deliver this workshop. People had a good time, and were happy to have me run the meetup as a facilitated event. I’ll have to be strict with timing in a more formal, paid education situation.

I’ve been reminded in a powerful, embodied way that 42 is not what I need or what others want. No doubt I’ll have to keep being reminded, though!

Entrepreneur

I am an entrepreneur and my work is as a sexologist. It is good to be able to say that with confidence now, although it has taken a while to get there. My employment life transition is just one of many global transitions at the moment and the zeitgeist is not a happy one overall. I am endeavouring to make a positive contribution to the world through sex-positive and pleasure-focused education, as well as through being kind in my daily interactions. What is good for me about the change is that I can teach with integrity and good pedagogy in my own business and not have to comply with a university system that is being run as a business and not as an educational institution.

Letting go of the place that was a key part of my identity for 14 years was hard. There is a grief that comes with change, even if the change is wanted, and that is how it was with me letting go of the university. It took a conscious effort to focus on good things and not on the negative aspects. I was known and valued at the Bendigo campus of La Trobe University, and being there was part of my identity. I did some excellent teaching. Students remember my lectures years later, and as recently as last weekend a woman told me her language use re body parts with her daughter (using accurate terminology for genitals) was influenced by the content of my sex education lecture and the theatrical drama with which it was delivered. There is a greater freedom to teach using transformative learning while being self employed. I had huge fun with lecture writing; these slides are from 2011’s lecture.

Lots of things helped me be grounded and move on.  Claire, my admin assistant, has been a champion of my work and linked me to some useful ideas and resources, as well as giving practical assistance. An aspect of the job she loved was helping to care for Flynn and Fergus, the rescue dogs I fostered for nine weeks. Her support is making a big difference.

Joining the Synergize Hub gave me a new community, one which includes and values me, and where I can access business support. It is a co-working space in central Bendigo. The people are diverse, with shared values and a range of business types. I love going there, and am now treasurer! That is an opportunity outside my comfort zone where I will learn new skills. Every time I go there I receive a nugget of wisdom, and lately I realise I am contributing as well. It is an awesome place to be nurtured and supported as I develop my business, and to offer support in return.

The business is growing slowly. I’m getting more confident to put myself out there, do promotion, and make things happen rather than wait for them to come to me. The pace is ok for me, and I’ll step it up as I become more settled. I have beautbusiness cardsiful business cards designed by Dale Harris of Studio Ink, and have re-vamped the website I established during my NEIS course in 2014. I painted the artwork in the background.

Putting myself out there includes submitting an installation to the Queer Country art exhibition, associated with the Bendigo Queer Film Festival. It is a positive statement on ageing and sexuality, with a bedside table holding a reading light, glasses and case, copy of Joan Price’s Ultimate Guide to Sex after 50, lube, and a flogger.

Note that on the windowsill behind me is a business card holder with business cards. There is a hustle here, and a hustle there, everywhere a hustle hustle. The holder (which Claire refers to as ‘couches’ as they look a bit like a psychiatrist’s couch) was 3-d printed by the fabulously supportive Jim.

I’m feeling really grounded in my business now. I have something valuable to give, and people from all walks of life are supporting and encouraging it. The counselling practice is taking off. My ideas are flowing and I’m writing and delivering good workshops, with plans for lots more. Check out my website for details. Invite me to speak!

It is a good place to be.

Fergus and Flynn walking Hustler's Reef Reserve

Fergus and Flynn looking into the future at Hustler’s Reef Reserve, Bendigo

I got a call in mid-January about a puppy farm raid that meant 15 dogs needed fostering immediately and would I help by taking two of them? Support and information was available, I could give them back at any time without question, so  my dog-mad housemate and I went on a road trip to pick them up. These adult dogs had been in a puppy farm all their lives, were filthy, had no socialisation, and were not used to open spaces.

Waffles (who I renamed Flynn) was introduced to me at a rock star, as he was the dog used on the TV news item about the puppy farm raid. From the shut-down, traumatised dog he was then, has emerged a playful, cuddle-loving creature who enjoys human company. He is the short-haired dog in the crate. I thought he was tan-coloured until he had had a couple of baths, and it turns out he is white. He is happy to hang around the house, although he likes going on walks. He is social with new people, and seeks pats. He likes to sit on your lap. He is calmly sociable with new dog playmates. He is interested in what is going on in the world, and has adapted well to a routine.

Flynn 18 Jan 17

Flynn on the right, with Butterball

 

Flynn March 7 2017

Flynn makes himself at home on the couch

Fergus was a very anxious dog when he arrived, and found security in corners and safe enclosed spaces. His coat was long and filthy. The first bath he had he just froze, and the water turned black as though the dye had run. By the time he had the second bath he was confident enough to try to escape from the tub, indicating that he has adapted well.  He is a gentleman, and curious about the world. He seems quite serious, and likes to sit at your feet rather than on your lap, although strokes and belly rubs are very popular. His coat is soft and feels wonderful. If bones are being handed out to him and his foster brother, he wants ALL the bones to himself. When visiting new places he is curious, confident and friendly. He gets on well with other dogs and seems to ignore cats, except when he sees them while out walking. He loves going for walks.

Fergus 18 January 17

Rescue day for a traumatised Fergus

We gave them love, security, a gradually expanding environment, baths, haircuts, and introduced them to walking on a lead. It was only later when they went to their forever home that I realised how much nurturing they had given me as well. Their love and connectedness with me was positive input that helped me as I helped them. I missed them when they went, even though I did not want to keep them. They look happy with their new family, and are clearly well cared for.

 

Fergus 7 March 2017

Fergus with ALL THE BONES

 

There are many global transitions at the moment and the zeitgeist is not a happy one overall. I am endeavouring to make a positive contribution to the world through my new business, as well as through being kind; fostering rescue dogs was a deliberate attempt to put love out into the world and make the dogs’ lives better. The return of the love was a wonderful bonus.

Fergus looks out to the world and Flynn snuggles in

Fergus looks out to the wider world while Flynn snuggles in.