Join me at Minge Fringe where I’ll be reading extracts from my forthcoming book, Eve’s Volcano – Saturday 18th May
Join me on Saturday 18th May, when I’ll be speaking at Minge Fringe at Brighton Arts Club, as part of The Brighton Festival and Fringe. The event will comprise “an amazing array of Vagina art and performances celebrating the female form.”
It all kicks off at 3pm with live street art from Emma Buggy, then I’m on at 4pm, reading extracts from my forthcoming book, Eve’s Volcano. I’ll also be talking briefly about an innovative research programme I’m undertaking with my Women4Real colleague, Sabine Tyrvainen – we’re looking for women to volunteer an hour of their time to have their brainwaves scanned using neurofeedback, to help us develop a cognitive management programme for chronic sexual pain.
Women4Real – offering new insights and options for the 2.5 million women in the UK who find sex painful and unfulfilling
Exciting news! Women4Real is now up and running. My business partner Sabine Tyrvainen and I have just launched our innovative new health & communications consultancy. Our business focuses on what’s REAL in terms of women’s sexual experience, offering newinsights and options for women and working with a diverse range of organisations and businesses to bring about a large-scale shift in both the perception and treatment of chronic sexual pain.
A recent UK Sex Census reveals that 12% of women regularly find sex painful and unfulfilling – that equates to more than 2.5 million women in the UK who are denied what most of us take for granted as a basic human right, let alone be able to aspire to the mind-blowing sex lives we’re led to believe are the ‘norm’.
At Women4Real we are determined to make a positive difference to the 2.5 million women in the UK who are currently unable to experience fulfilling sex lives and relationships due to chronic sexual pain (as a result of conditions such as Vulvodynia, Vulval Pain, Chronic Thrush, Vaginismus and other health issues).
Whilst some superb organisations and charities exist to support women with these conditions (we are working closely with several of them) we are focusing our energy and expertise on bringing about a wider shift not only in awareness, support and treatment options but in cultural attitudes and expectations around sexuality.
The Centrefold Project, an innovative animated film about labiaplasty, is now available to the public. You can view it, download it and use it as a resource for FREE at www.thecentrefoldproject.org . An accompanying documentary, featuring interviews with leading clinicians Sarah Creighton and Lih-Mei Liao, from University College Hospitals London, further explores the issues surrounding so-called “designer vagina” surgery.
Over the past decade, female genital cosmetic surgery has increased by a staggering 500%, with girls as young as 11 approaching doctors to request surgery, concerned about the appearance of their genitals. Centrefold takes an innovative and balanced approach to this controversial topic, following three women, aged 24 -41 through their different experiences of labiaplasty (surgery to trim or remove the labia). By documenting what is involved in the procedure and its varying outcomes, the film seeks to offer a non-judgemental view of labia surgery and to encourage informed discussion.
I joined the project last year as a PR consultant and we launched the film in London last week with a special screening and panel discussion to an invited audience of media, cosmetic surgeons, health workers and leaders of women’s organisations. Dr Phil Hammond chaired a heated discussion between audience members and our panel which included the film’s director Ellie Land, feminist author Susie Orbach, body sculptor Jamie McCartney (who created The Great Wall of Vagina) and clinicians Sarah Creighton and Lih-Mei Liao.
Join the debate and have your say at www.thecentrefoldproject.org… Is labiaplasty anti-female ‘pornification’, or an empowering personal choice?
Last week I spoke at the SHE SAYS Brighton event, “Get Over It! Overcoming Obstacles”, along with the fabulous Cara Courage. SHE SAYS is a global organisation that does fantastic work around the world empowering women in the media and creative industries, by running free mentorship and networking events. Our venue at Lighthouse Arts was full to capacity with a lively, inspiring and supportive crowd including digital creatives, writers, film-makers, illustrators, students and freelancers, as well as journalists and PR people from the Brighton Dome, the Argus and Southern FM. Met some wonderful women and can’t wait for the next session!
I approached the subject from a personal perspective, speaking about some of the big challenges I’ve moved through, including vulvodynia, chronic fatigue syndrome, periods of unemployment and my dealing with my inner critic. It was interesting to look at some varying definitions of what an ‘obtacle’ is what we mean by ‘progress’ , ‘happiness’ and ‘success’. For me, ‘success’ is now as much about how I feel, as what I achieve in a material sense. How do I want to feel in five years time? What do I want to learn and share? This opens up a greater flexibility and creativity, because if a particular path, or specific goal, proves difficult, there is always another route to feeling fulfilled. I finished with a quote I love from Napolean Hill, 1930s pioneer of personal development: “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.”
Join me in Brighton on Thursday 12th January when I’ll be speaking at “Get Over It! …overcoming obstacles”, a SHE SAYS BRIGHTON event
Following last month’s brilliant launch event for SHE SAYS BRIGHTON, I’m thrilled to be speaking at the next session, about overcoming obstacles. I’ve faced some big ones over the years with regard to life, health and career, but it was the painful journey through these challenges that connected me with a deeper wisdom and creativity, and inspired a positive change in direction. Out of adversity came Eve’s Volcano.
Also joining me to speak on the subject is Brighton arts consultant Cara Courage – check out Cara’s super impressive website, www.caracourage.net, so looking forward to hearing her take on the topic. We already have 70 women registered to come along, so do join us – tickets are free – it’s going to be a great night!
Visit SHE SAYS BRIGHTON for more info. SHE SAYS is a global organisation that do fantastic work around the world empowering women in the media and creative industries, by running free mentorship and networking events.
A superb documentary by Shelagh Fogarty, on BBC Radio 2 this week, asked ‘What has religion done for women?’ The programme sought to understand why some women feel valued and empowered by their religion, whilst others find religious dogma oppressive and misogynistic. Cleverly melding pop culture and kick-ass music clips with incisive journalism, it’s well worth a listen on BBC iplayer . There’s also a great article on a similar theme in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune, by Rabbi Adam Chalom, ‘Religion’s treatment of women key to understanding progess’.
Listening to Fogarty’s documentary has inspired me to dip into some Hildegard Von Bingen, a heroine of mine both for her ideas (that were centuries ahead of her time) and for her startlingly beautiful choral music. Hildegard was a 12th century nun unlike any other, an extraordinarily talented woman who was inspired by her Christian faith, but also by science, cosmology, art, music and medicine. She believed that both men and women were made in God’s image, a progressive view for her time and she extolled sexuality as natural and a symbol of the union of God and humanity. In a diversion from 12th century medical opinion, she claimed that female orgasm was an important part of conception (not entirely medically correct, but a great push for early feminism!) She writes:
“When a woman is making love with a man, a sense of heat in her brain, which brings with it sensual delight, communicates the taste of that delight during the act and summons forth the emission of the man’s seed. And when the seed has fallen into its place, that vehement heat
descending from her brain draws the seed to itself and holds it, and soon the woman’s sexual organs contract, and all the parts that are ready to open up during the time of menstruation now close, in the same way as a strong man can hold something enclosed in his fist.”
One fabulous 12th century nun, who valued sensuality as well as celibacy.
A new study suggests that as many as one in 12 women suffer from a type of genital pain known as ‘vulvodynia’, yet few have a diagnosis or seek treatment
Having survived a long and arduous journey through the burning pain of vulvodynia (which inspired Eve’s Volcano, my upcoming memoir) I was interested to read about a new research study that indicates that the condition is far more common than was previously thought.
The following is an excerpt from a recent press release I have just sent out to media on behalf of the Vulval Pain Society…
Vulvodynia refers to pain, soreness or burning of the vulva (the external genital area) in the absence of skin disease or infection. The symptoms may be constant, or arise from contact during sex, tampon insertion, cycling or wearing tight clothing. Although the condition is farily common there is frequently a delay in diagnosis and patients are often wrongly told by doctors that ‘thrush’ is the cause. Anecdotal evidence suggests that over-use of topical antifungal medications such as Canestan may make the condition worse.
True estimates of the prevalence of the condition remain unknown in the UK, but a recent study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology has suggested that of 2,300 Michigan women surveyed, at the time of the study, 8.3 percent of women had been experiencing symptoms fitting the criteria for vulvodynia for at least three months [......] a similar study found 15 percent of women had experienced genital pain for more than three months. In the Michigan study, vulval pain was rarely diagnosed and properly treated. Of the 208 women with current symptoms, almost half had sought treatment for their pain, but only three had been diagnosed with vulvodynia.
Dr David Nunns, medical advisor to the VPS and Council member of the British Society for the Study of Vulval Disease, says: “Those women currently diagnosed with vulvodynia just represent the tip of the iceberg. Misdiagnosis is common and labelling all women with vulval symptoms as having ‘thrush’ is simply wrong and detrimental to their treatment and recovery. The pain of vulvodynia can have a devastating impact on a woman’s life, affecting everything from sexual functioning and relationships, to her ability to work, exercise and socialise.”
Dr Nunns points out that women with vulval symptoms have a variety of different problems and treatment will depend on the individual needs of the patient. This might include pain modifying drugs, sexual therapy, physiotherapy, creams and possibly surgery.
The Vulval Pain Society (VPS) will be hosting a ‘Super Workshop’ at London Southbank University on Saturday 10 December 2011, geared towards women with genital pain and their partners. It will be a full day of information given by leaders in
the field from all disciplines including dermatology, psychology, gynaecology and more.
For more details and to book a place at the VPS ‘Super Workshop’ visit the ‘Meetings & Workshops’ section of the VPS website at www.vulvalpainsociety.org
“We still have an attitude that sex is a function – the truth is it’s an emotional, physical, spritual expression.”
Just back from speaking at the brilliant “Does sex really matter?” conference in Nottingham, a one-day meeting for GPs, sex therapists and other health professionals who work in the sexual health sector. I was there to speak from a patient’s perspective about my journey through the pain of vulvodynia to treatment and recovery, and to offer my thoughts on the way the medical sector treats patients with sexual health issues. Not so long ago, patient input at a medical conference would have been unheard of, so I am thrilled that we are now entering a new era of co-operation and can begin to work together towards better standards of healthcare.
In my closing comments I included a recent tweet from the wonderful Sam Roddick, founder and creative director of Coco de Mer, “We still have an attitude that sex is a function – the truth is [it’s] an emotional, physical, spiritual expression.” A truth that has was lost for decades in the medicalization of sexuality and is only now being incorporated effectively into sexual healthcare. My own experience of sexuality echoes Sam Roddick’s viewpoint and it has been the joy and pain of my sexuality that has led me to confront some of life’s big questions; questions that, historically, have been asked and answered by spirituality. But my journey has not been about sanctifying sex with Christian morality, or even transforming it with the Tantric teachings of the East. What happened occurred in the humdrum wonder of the every day. Through living my sexuality – through both the pain and the pleasure – I began to open to joy and sorrow, light and darkness, as parts of a remarkable, unfathomable Whole and slowly that realisation connected me with a deeper, richer experience of life.
For centuries, Christianity (my uncomfortable heritage) pitched the sexual and the spiritual as opposing forces, condemning sex as a dark, dangerous obstacle to spiritual enlightenment, body versus soul. Yet in darkness there is often wisdom, knowledge that must be felt before it is seen or spoken. And in the words of Carl Jung, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” Sex does this – it makes the darkness conscious, if we let it. Its pleasures, inhibitions and dynamics are all expressions of the ego’s deepest fears and desires. It is of course also a source of immense joy, where deep love, connection and transformation can flow. Sex is both light and shadow, a potent mixture of body, soul and ego, a place to become whole. In this sense it is sacred, the creator of life and a celebration of all that it means to be alive.
“The Vagina is becoming big business” reports Associated Press - US ad spending on feminine hygiene products is up by 30% from two years ago. With most women menstruating once a month for the best part of four decades, the market leaders know that securing brand loyalty during the teenage years can mean big bucks through to menopause. With this in mind, marketing executives have tuned into the teen zeitgeist and created a range of products that are pitch perfect for today’s girls who want to be ‘fun but fierce’. Get ready for ‘limited edition designer series Punk Glam tampons’ in a series of hot dayglo colours and sanitary towels emblazoned with stars, hearts and swirls. Because, as US brand Kotex declares,“Isn’t it time the pad got attitude?”
Kotex are currently running a campaign called ‘Ban The Bland’, with Patricia Field, the uber stylist from Sex and the City encouraging girls to “help color [sic] the plain old world of feminine care” by submitting their own colourful designs for funky pads, tampon wrappers and storage cases. I want to love it because it’s creative and fun, and Kotex also has some great health info and discussion topics on its site and a buzzing teen forum. But as is so often the case with the commercialism of women’s sexuality – it’s style over substance and ‘beauty’ at the expense of health.
A few years ago it was scented feminine hygiene products that were all the rage, now it’s all about getting the look. I’ve got no objection to jazzing up the packaging, but do we really need the products themselves prettified? Using scented, coloured feminine hygiene products that are synthetic, chlorine-bleached and full of chemical additives isn’t ideal and you’re only going to glimpse your funky patterned pad for 30 seconds before it gets put to use anyway. I wonder what’s next. With the boys from pop ‘sensation’ JLS now emblazoned all over Durex condom packets, surely it’s only a matter of time before I take the wrapper off a sanitary pad and find The Saturdays or Girls Aloud staring back, wishing me a poptastic period.
Centrefold is a ten-minute animated documentary exploring attitudes towards labiaplasty. The project brings together award-winning filmmakers Ellie Land and Siobhan Fenton with leading clinicians Sarah Creighton and Lih-Mei Liao from University College Hospitals London. The film goes into production in summer 2011 and will premiere at international film festivals and screen on the Centrefold website in Spring 2012.
Funded by the Wellcome Trust, the film will combine women’s real experiences with ground-breaking research from Creighton and Liao to look at the reasons why women want labial surgery. If you have had or thought about having a labiaplasty, the Centrefold team would love to hear your thoughts or personal stories. Visit their website to find out more and toget in touch. All conversations will be treated respectfully and in confidence.