Love, sex and interminable pop-culture references

Month: October 2020

Quote Quest: Work

This is the first time I’m taking part in Quote Quest – probably not the only time, and I’m late to the party, but nevertheless, it’s a start.

Wanking is only two letters away from working!

amy norton

The majority of the people who have taken part in this meme are sex bloggers who write about sex (…toys) for money. Realistically, I can see the link there. In Amy‘s case, that’s very much a thing – as it is with many others – and there are some handy guides, in the links you’ll find, if you want to wank for cash yourself. That’s a route so many go down, and they have my mad respec’.

But what about ILB?

When I started this blog, relatively few sex blogs existed, and those that did weren’t making money in the way that blogs do these days. Bloggers were making money were doing so from getting book deals, and although there were a few of those, a book deal is like gold dust. You may not even have the energy to write a whole book (and those that do have my mad respec’ tag heading tueir way too!).

I started my blog with the very specific aim of sharing my views on sex, curated after many years of being single and getting in touch with my sexuality. There wasn’t even the question of monetisation anywhere in my mind, and it took me quite a few months before I realised that people were starting to do it.

Thirteen years later and I still stand by my principles: this is a non-commercial blog, ergo:

I need to put this badge back
on my sidebar at some point.

No affiliates;
No sponsored posts;
No paid ads;
No paid-for links;
No paid reviews;
No commercial links.

I never have, and I never will.

Back to the quote itself: does I, as ILB, see what I do as work? If I’m not paid for it, more specifically, do I see this as work, compared to – say – my day job working with people, or my former side hustle editing Christian literature? Why am I going to spend two hours writing about soft porn if there’s no remuneration involved?

That’s a far more complicated question…

I will admit that when I started blogging I didn’t expect it to blow up. I wasn’t expecting hundreds of readers, I wasn’t expecting lasting friendships, and I certainly wasn’t expecting wave after wave of nascent sex bloggers – some who vanish after a strong start; some who struggle but stick it out; some who stick and become, if not a face, at least a voice of our sex-positive, sexually open generation.

The sex blogosphere, to the eager newbie or curious journo, can be quite a forbidding place. Inside there lies a network of genuine people, all of whom know each other by name and pour out mutual appreciation for the content we produce… by and for people who are genuinely passionate about our subject. On the outside, though, it is confusing: a sprawl of separate blogs by separate writers, all ostensibly coming from the same direction but approaching sex from multiple angles.

And then there’s the glut of paid content, affiliate links, ad banners, toy reviews with clicks that pay, and the reliance upon sponsorship for those brave enough to take the plunge and blog for money. Wade through this for a while and it’s easy to wonder if the medium has become devalued – content, previously free and easy, looks like something you have to mine for.

Lazy readers won’t have the patience to do that.

So what about ILB?

In response to the quote, then: no, I don’t see blogging as work. Or wanking. Or writing about sex. It may well be my favourite thing to do, but it’s not work.

The fact remains, however, that it is my favourite thing to do. I love sex and I love writing, and I love writing about sex. It’s been thirteen years (almost) and, every time, I thank Past ILB or starting this thing. I can’t imagine life without my blog, and the directions in which it’s taken me. It may not make me any money, but it does so much for me, and I hope that in reading my words, it does something for you too.

And while it isn’t work, it is something I put a lot of work into. A blog is nothing without content. Sometimes it flows freely; sometimes it needs a bit of a push. If I need to work to write ILB, then so be it.

But I’m doing it because I love it.

Your mileage may vary.

QuoteQuest

History Crush

It was the summer of 2004 and I was walking down the crowded History corridor on the top floor of my university (the only corridor related to History – it was a squashed department, as my tutor was continuously telling anyone who would listen). Perhaps “walking” is not the accurate verb – nobody could call what I was doing walking. A more appropriate description would be a sort of ungainly quickstep to avoid the hustle and bustle.

It had also been my last lecture/seminar of the week – on a Friday morning, so I had the rest of the weekend off – and I was considering my options for lunch. I was to-ing and fro-ing between cheese and onion sandwiches or chips’n’cheese from the on-campus pizza place… but, before a decision could be made, my 1337 crowd-dodging skills failed me, and I walked headlong into Sherri.

Sherri, to her credit, didn’t seem to mind that I had walked into her. She never seemed to mind too much about anything, really. But her bright and breezy demeanour was precisely what endeared her to me; it made a change from the neo-Gothic blackness of what my relations were going through at the time (and the ambiguous indifference of the people in hall with me).

“Oh! Sorry,” I said, for want of something to say.
“It’s okay, it’s okay!” she sparkled, flashing me a huge smile with lots of teeth.

There was a pause which seemed far too long.

“Well…”
“Yes…”
“Sherri…?”

I hadn’t meant to say her name before walking off. The fact remains, however, that I did… and now I had to think of something to say. She was looking expectant, so…

Sherri, I have a crush on you. No, that was too direct. I wasn’t even sure that I did have a crush on her. I was clutching my History notebook at the time, and that still had my ex-girlfriend’s name on the back, in permanent marker (and it never came off, either). I could have said I fancy you, but that was far too ’90s. I even considered something odd like, hey, I had a dream where we were kissing, isn’t that funny? but that just sounded creepy when it popped into my head.

Whatever I was going to say, the fact remained that I had, in fact, rehearsed the scenario of exchanging more than simple pleasantries with Sherri more than a few times in my own head, and coincidentally, the bit of the corridor in which we were standing (blocking the doorway) was the precise location we had envisioned it.

“I like you,” I’d say. “In that way. But I don’t want that to change anything. I just wanted you to know.” I’d walk off, and there would be a few minutes of walking down the stairs and through the campus from different angles. In the end, Sherri would run after me, and catch me off-guard with a kiss.

I mean, obviously that wasn’t going to happen. Nobody had a crush on me. The fact that anyone at all would want to kiss me was beyond the reach of human understanding. Sherri, whatever else she might have been, was completely unattainable, just like all the others.

“Are you going to be taking the History module on World War I next year?” was what I eventually got around to asking. It was a fair question – I was going to be taking it despite the fact that I was doing an English degree – and I would have liked to see her again, for fairly obvious reasons.
“Oh… no, I don’t think so,” she answered. “I haven’t decided yet.”
“Right, well, yes, of course,” I said, although what I meant to say was something like, That’s a shame, because I have a crush on you and I want to work with you again next year. I didn’t say that, of course.

We parted ways, and I walked down the staircase and back towards hall, via the pizza place so I could, having made that one decision, get my chips’n’cheese. Sherri didn’t chase after me and catch me off-guard with a kiss. I spent the rest of the day in my room, singing, wanking, cursing, and trying to wash my ex’s name off the back of my notebook.

I never saw her again.

“It’s Not a Him, It’s an It.”

When I was a very small child, I was cosmically in tune with the universe, insofar as I had a genuine belief that everything – even obviously inanimate objects – was alive, and both conscious and sapient. (I still hold the same opinion about non-human animals.) I did the schoolwork in Year 3 which suggested the opposite, but I didn’t believe it.

My mother helped shape my beliefs by using the word “hurt” as a synonym for “damage”.
“You’ll hurt it,” she’d say. “Don’t do it like…” (and then whatever I was doing wrong, likely to cause damage, like trying to shove one of my plastic dinosaurs into an electric plug to “power him up”.)
In time, I adopted this figure of speech, except for the pronoun, which I substituted for a gendered one every time (“Stop doing that! You’ll hurt him!”).
“It’s not a him, it’s an it,” my mother would say in a tired way. “And you can’t hurt it.”
“But I’m just using your phraseology,” I said, “and the message is clear, so why should it matter what pronoun I’m using?”

Only I didn’t say that.

Today is International Pronouns Day, which aims to raise awareness that people have different pronouns. There are multitudes of pronouns out there, and if you don’t like them, you can just make one up. My pronouns, in case you’re wondering, are he / him / his; I chose these pronouns when I chose my gender, and while I don’t like the connotations, they are easy pronouns to use. So I use them.

For a while – and I won’t say when, exactly, but for a while – I occasionally taught English to foreign students. It wasn’t a fantastic way to make income, but it was a way to both instruct people in the ways of language and indoctrinate them politically, and I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to do that. (I wrote “UKIP” on the board once and added synonyms: evil, bad, beware, that sort of thing.) One of the things we discussed, of course, was the use of pronouns:

I am
You are
He is
She is
We are
They are
It is (…not a him, it’s an it.)

And, perhaps not surprisingly, none of the students knew of any gendered pronouns other than he and she. Because why would they? They hadn’t been taught them. Quite why they hadn’t been taught them was beyond me, but in 100% of cases, none of the students asked. And none of them mentioned any third gender, or genderfluidity, or trans identity, or agender, or… well, anything other than male or female, really.

Until of them them did.

A young female student (she/her, cisgender) asked, at one point, what to call a trans person. She had seen a news article about Chelsea Manning on the way in, and she was confused by the use of a female “she” pronoun to describe someone who was born, and still biologically was, male. Suddenly, the ball was in my court. I had the opportunity to give a speech about the fact that gender is a concept (which it is), not an identity (unless you make it so), and doesn’t need to stay the way it was when you were assigned it at birth (because, well, you can change it).

But that would have taken the whole three hours. As her teacher, I had been asked a specific question, and I needed to give a specific answer.

I spent a while writing third-gender pronouns on the board – they/them, he, xe, xhe, zhe, ze, hir… maybe a few more as well, this was years ago – and was pleased to see that she was, indeed, noting these all down.
“There are so many of them,” she said eventually. “What do you do – ask everyone what their pronouns are when you meet?”
I couldn’t, in all truthfulness, say that I did that. I didn’t like to assume – I still don’t – but it wasn’t my usual conversation opener.

[That right there is the sort of thing that International Pronouns Day is trying to normalise. A noble aim and something we, as a sex-positive community, should be striving for.]

Fortunately, I had an answer.

“If you’re not sure,” I said carefully, “you might be able to just use the gender-neutral pronoun they, until you find out. But I’ve found most people don’t mind being asked.”
“What about animals? You call them it, right?”
“Oh, no, no, no,” I said hurriedly. “An animal, any animal, including a human, is a he or a she or a they or a…” (and here I indicated the board and its list of pronouns) “…a plant, or an object, is an it.”
“But I’ve heard people use the word it to describe an animal!”

And we spent the whole three hours talking about that.


Wrap

Some time around 6am, I have a dream about my pet millipede, Big, who died when I was in my teens. He’s not actually in it; I’m singing a song to the tune of something like one of the more melodic numbers from Hamilton. It goes something like:

Look at him
So smooth, so round
Look at him
So sleek, so sound
(I want to see)
Look at him
So tough, so cool
(I have to see, just let me see)
Look at him
Just to hold him
To hold him once more…

I wake up and, not for the first time, I realise that I am crying.

I don’t know why I’m crying. I have nightmares about being cheated on; they make me cry. I have half-dreams-in-my-naps about odd sexual situations; they make me horny. I don’t appear to have any others. Maybe I do – I just don’t remember them. There’s no way of knowing, is there, unless someone invents a video dream recorder?

Girlfriend wakes up to the sound of me crying. I can’t explain exactly why I’m crying. I don’t know myself. Big was a good millipede. He lived a long and happy life, and died of old age. I took very good care of him (and I’m still looking for the only extant photo of us, looking at each other. I know it exists somewhere.); he’s not someone I should be sad about.

She asks; I can’t explain. She rolls over and wraps an arm around me. I cry until I can’t any more. Tears rolling down my cheeks, soaking my pillow. I’m lying there, my duvet half off, some of me hot, some of me cold. Paroxysms of grief, perhaps, or just the fact that my dream was set to music. Sad music makes me cry.

Her arm doesn’t move. She doesn’t say a thing. She just lets me cry while she holds me.

I feel a little better that I’ve got someone holding me. I go back to sleep, and for a while when I wake up a few hours later, I barely remember my sad dream at all.

We have been together for eight years. It was our anniversary yesterday (and we had a good day, for what it is worth). And yet I am still discovering things about her that I had forgotten. The fact that I fell asleep in her arms is one of them.

She may be many things, but one of them is a source of comfort. And, when that counts, it counts for so much.

The Wisdom of Memories

Q: What do you do when you don’t feel inspired?
A: I think about what the 15-year-old version of me needed. And I write about that. It’s a writing prompt that always works for me.

Rupi Kaur

Dear fifteen-year-old me,

It’s now twenty years later and, although I’m aware you don’t think you’ll live this long, I can assure you that you are very much still alive and in your mid-30s. There have, in the past couple of decades, been at least three global pandemics, all of which you’ll survive, despite being frontline medical staff at the height of one of them. I have some advice to give you, which I hope you can pass on to your future self, so keep this letter safe.

First and foremost, it is all right to be interested in sex. Most people are, at your age. While I respect the fact that you don’t masturbate (although I can assure you that you will), I also need to assure you that the ways your sexual identity is manifesting are not odd, unhygienic, or perverse. It’s also not illegal to be watching soft porn, although you think it is.

I’m not going to say something nebulous like “embrace the fact that you are a sexual being”, but you should at least accept it. Your sexuality will become a big part of your identity in the future, but if you’re not comfortable about it now, that’s fine. Be more chill about the whole thing.

You are never going to get over the crush you have now. Not really. You will fall in love again, faster and harder and more desperately than you have ever thought possible. Sometimes these people will reciprocate. Nevertheless, the way this crush pans out will hang over you, like the faint, uneasy smudge of a mistake. I’m so sorry about how it happens, but for the record, maybe it’s best not to ask her out.

When you are sixteen, someone you have only spoken to once will add you as a friend on MSN. She did this because she fancies you. You need to appear approachable and available beyond a vague “oh yes, I remember you.” If you figure out how to do this, let me know.

At your age, most girls want “a boyfriend”, and it doesn’t matter who it is. Your weird friend whose name is evocative of lights in the sky will be dating soon, and everyone will wonder how or why. You will pine, but never take a chance, given how your current crush is going to play out. Future girlfriends are going to tell you how attentive and considerate you are. It’s hard to take a compliment, but however you approach things now, try to be a good boyfriend. You probably will.

Your first kiss will be awkward and messy, and take you completely by surprise. The first time you have sex, you will hardly feel a thing, and it’s only during your second time that you realise how good it feels.

You will never feel closer to death than the first time you get your heart broken. It will happen again, and again, and every time it tears you into little pieces. Nobody else really understands how much of yourself you invest in romantic relationships, and how much it hurts when they pull away. You’ll be told, over and over again, that none of this is your fault, but you’ll always feel like it is. Even at thirty-five, you’re still trying to puzzle out what you did wrong.

You will take some risks, but much less than you’d like. When you’re seventeen, you’ll go to a community event you like so much that you’ll still be a part of that community for over a decade. At eighteen, go to Africa. It seems foolhardy to do so, but you’ll look back years later and be glad you did. When you’re nineteen, you’ll find solace in music and the companionship of an organisation you’re already in. Embrace every second. DON’T GO HOME EARLY – you’ll feel like you’ve missed something.

I have some advice for the future you that you may wish to remember, as well.

At seventeen, you will have a happy holiday that ends in catastrophe. Don’t do anything stupid, don’t assume everything is fine because sleep is a cure-all. But, most importantly, if some accusations against you are false, don’t say they are true because it’s easy to do so. You are never going to recover from this if you just lie back and take it.

At eighteen, you will figure out that your girlfriend is cheating on you months before she tells you. Ask her directly. Keeping it aside on the idea that she will realise she really loves you will not help at all.

At nineteen, you will wave happily to the girl you fancy at university for the last time. You will never see her again. You’ll never know where she went or what happened to her. Ask her for her MSN address.

At twenty-five, don’t ask your girlfriend to marry you by presenting her with a ring. She is under the impression that you get engaged and then go and buy a ring. You’ve never heard this of concept before, but that’s the concept she has. Never mind that you went to Bath specifically to buy it for her. Don’t do it.

At twenty-seven, you will start to question your deeply-held belief that love solves everything, even relationships that have turned sour. Tell someone something, sooner rather than later. Talk to Lady Pandorah, even. The girl who broke your heart at sixteen will also give you some sage advice. Listen to her.

At thirty-three, you will have a large accident. Use the resulting time off to re-evaluate what you really want. Working towards it will eventually yield rewards, even if it seems fruitless initially.

But finally, fifteen-year-old me, I have something very important to say, and I want you to listen.

You are under the impression, now, that you are hated. You have often felt worthless and under-appreciated – an older child eclipsed by a younger sibling, an accessory friend who’s part of the group but not really needed, an easy target for mockery and ridicule at school but not really a person in your own right. Even in your later years, you will think about yourself in such a way. You’re coming home to cry every day and you’re beginning to wonder if suicide is the end point. You don’t know how to do it painlessly, but you’re starting to think about it.

In the end, you won’t do it, and your one attempt won’t work. In fact, you know it’s not going to work before you try. It’s mostly for show, and nobody sees you anyway.

In some says, you will never achieve true self-acceptance. But if you take this advice that I’ve given you above, maybe there will be less “what-ifs” and crippling self-doubt in you as you grow. If you don’t do what I did – even though I know that you will – then there will be other memories. Maybe some good, maybe some bad. But perhaps even more exciting ones. You are waiting, constantly, for something huge to happen; every day you are disappointed that it doesn’t.

But you can be the catalyst for that change. I know you don’t know how. But start by learning to play the guitar, at least.

And I’d like you to do something for thirty-five-year-old me.

You are currently aware of the name of a soft porn sex comedy, possibly French, that regularly airs on Exotica Erotica. It’s got a major-general in it and a butler named Albert. You’ve never seen it in its entirety, but you know the one I’m talking about.

Write its name down. It’s driving the older you crazy trying to remember.

And now for the “awful self-promotion” bit…

October rolls around like the windy, leafy beast that it is, and that heralds both the arrival of terrible, laughable, but nevertheless necessary Hallowe’en nicknames on Twitter (mine is forthcoming…) and the nominations/voting processes of not one, but two lists of top sex bloggers.

I’ve never actually been on every edition of top sex blogger lists. There are two which total one hundred, and a few more from bloggers themselves which total…. well, less; I did one myself at one point… but I’ve never made any of those. The ones whose nominations opened yesterday are the ones I’ve managed to make, even at astronomically high ranks such as #97 (2009) and #47 (2019).

I also once made tenth in Kinkly‘s list of ‘top ten male sex bloggers’, possibly also ‘the ten male sex bloggers’. I put the badge on my sidebar anyway.

Anyway, the lists for you to take part in are:

1. Molly’s list.
This one was started by Rori Sweet back in the 2000s and adopted by Molly Moore once Rori retired from bloggerating (that’s a word now). I’m assured it’s a labour of love, although there’s probably a lot more labour than love actually employed here.
In any case, this always makes for a fascinating read. You don’t need to be a blogger to vote in this, either – just leave a comment on the post itself and you’re done.

2. Kinkly’s list.
This is the one I haven’t made too many times, but Kinkly (which is a commercial venture, so be warned) makes a HUGE deal out of it.
This year I actually updated my blog profile on Kinkly, mostly to reflect the new URL and all. To vote for a blog on Kinkly’s directory (which is, let’s admit it, vast – you need to use the search function to navigate it), you just click the button on their profile to show some love.

I’m not actually going to ask you to vote for me on either list if you don’t want to. If you do, then… great! Thanks, you’ve always been my favourite. It’s only a couple of clicks, after all, and it helps to swell my battered ego just a little.

And, of course, if you do find your way to a list nomination post and you have no idea who to vote for, “ILB” is only three letters, and it’s easy to remember

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