Why Womxn Talking About Sex Is The Most Feminist Thing We Can Do
Sophie Hellyer is a radical feminist, environmental activist, surfer, yoga teacher and writer whose work has spanned being a sponsored surfer by Roxy for over 5 years to waving her moon cup around at her Tedx Talk last year. Sophie’s approach to feminism is very much ‘speak up, speak out’ and she has never shied away from disrupting, confronting or challenging social norms. We sat down to talk about sex, wanking and the pressure on womxn to orgasm ‘for our partners’.
CAT: What was your upbringing around sex?
SOPHIE: It was never something that was discussed in my family. I remember having sex education in school which involved learning about sexually transmitted infections and putting condoms on courgettes. I think my education and growing up around sex was completed self-educated. It was experimenting and finding things out on your own; it wasn’t something that was discussed with my friends or family.
C: Was there any shame around it?
S: I guess the fact that it wasn’t talked about, led to the implication that there was shame around it. If you masturbated you would never, ever tell anyone about it - imagine?! You just absolutely would never tell someone that you had masturbated, no way.
C: It’s almost as if that word didn’t exist for girls…
S: Definitely. I’m in my thirties now and I have some very close girlfriends of mine who have never wanked. And I think that might be the case for a lot of womxn. I’m sure I have lots of female friends who haven’t orgasmed. I didn’t orgasm until I was in my twenties. And I probably didn’t tell anyone that I masturbated until I was in my late twenties.
C: Were you conscious of the fact that you had or hadn’t orgasmed?
S: Absolutely not. Orgasming for me wasn’t a part of what sex was or what it was about. It wasn’t a case of, ‘I need to have one’ or ‘I haven’t had one’, it just wasn’t even on the radar. Sex was: ‘finish when a boy came’. And it was about wanting to be desired and having a close relationship - but it definitely was never focussed around ‘my orgasm’. That’s something that’s definitely come later in life - this question of ‘oh did you come too?’. I started having sex when I was 15 or 16, and me coming wasn’t even a question until I was 20 or 21 - it just wasn’t a part of the conversation. Sex was about pleasing the guy. Looking back, it’s pretty fucked up.
I also feel like if someone says, ‘I really want to make you come’, it’s a lot of pressure, because it’s not that easy for me. That’s not necessarily what I want either; I just want it to be an exploration, I want to see what happens, and we’ll both enjoy it whether either of us come or neither of us come.
C: Do you feel like you are quite open to having conversations around sex with partners?
S: I would 100% say that now, at 31, I am comfortable with having conversations about sex with partners. First date chat is, ‘so, you need to make sure you have a sexual health check up because it takes a few weeks to get results, and we might want to be doing something by then.’ It also gives you a really nice time span - the first couple of weeks are about working out if you do like them, if you do want to sleep with them.
C: How long do you think it took for you to be comfortable enough to bring up sex?
S: For me talking about sex, not just in relationships but with friends and publicly, has been a conscious decision. The more I learn about feminism, the more I recognise that sex is something that we need to be talking about and be educating each other and young girls about. I think it’s more of a conscious decision to have the power to make change by openly talking about these things.
C: At Ferly, our focus is very much on how you feel about sex, rather than just how you have it. How have your feelings towards sex changed as you’ve gotten older?
S: I would say that when I was younger, I probably didn’t have ‘feelings’ around sex; sex was something you did, as part of a relationship or as part of coming as age. It was a thing that you did. And then it became more about the relationship I have with myself: exploring myself, learning more about myself, working out what I do like and don’t like, then having the confidence and authority to communicate that. Now it’s all about the feelings, right?
C: What does mindful sex mean to you?
S: One of my favourite themes I like to bring into yoga when I teach is this idea of ‘feeling in your body’. In yoga, a lot of people will be striving to reach this final pose that they seek, but instead of reaching for that, it’s about trying to feel in your body and work out what you actually need in that moment. So that’s a kind of analogy I would bring to this idea of mindful sex. So instead of having this idea of what you want sex to look like or how you think you should look - it’s actually about feeling what is good in that moment.