Do you have sex with the lights on?

If you’ve never had a problem with your body and how other people see it, this column is not for you. For the rest, Dorothy Black turns the spotlight on body confidence in the bedroom.


a scientific diagram of what happens when you let bad voices ruin life for you

Lover and I did a strange and unexpected thing the other night. Something completely unusual and a little bit kinky. We had sex with the lights off.

It’s been a while since I did that.

Early in my sexual explorations, my body confidence was at an astonishing low and I felt way more comfortable taking my kit off lights out. Switching on the lights during sex was like turning the spotlight on every body anxiety I’d been nursing since childhood.

In the dark, there were two things I didn’t have to deal with: my embarrassment at my body and, what I imagined, would be my partner’s horror at the realisation that he was not sleeping with Kate Moss.

There’s really no accounting for the crazy thoughts that insecurity breeds.

Fortunately, my boyfriend at the time wasn’t a troll and I my desire to explore sex more fully finally outgrew my insecurity to express it – lights on or off, clothes on or off.

Also, very importantly, it became patently clear that switching off the lights wasn’t exactly switching off the unwelcome voices in my head yammering on about how I *should* be ashamed about being seeing naked.

It makes for an awkward kind of group sex – you, your lover and all the voices in your head judging your every curve

Because isn’t it true that ‘being seen’ naked is less about the seeing someone else doing, and more about how those voices in your head consistently demand you see yourself?

I always imagine these voices being made up of childhood bullies (very often parents who love body-shaming their kids) and strangers marketing pop-culture norms to us. Isn’t that what all those ‘beach body’ ‘lifestyle’ drives are about? Cellulite is not normal, it’s gross; big butts are sexy; flat tummies are better than curved; big boobs are better than small; thigh gap is a thing…

It makes for an awkward kind of group sex – you, your lover and all the voices in your head judging your every curve. Or lack of curves. Self-hate really has the most magnificent scope.

It’s a strange kind of psychological masochism, inviting these kinds of thoughts to hang out with you while you have sex instead of actively ushering them out the door.

I know women who won’t try certain positions (and heavens certainly not with the lights on), because of how unattractive they think they look in it. To remedy this, I’ve heard some experts recommend that women ignore their insecurities and remember how ‘seeing’ you affects *his* pleasure. After all, ‘men are so visual, you know’.

But why not talk more about how insecurity is affecting your sex life and your pleasure?

For me, it had to start at a decision to start valuing experience and pleasure over nursing my shame and insecurities

A young woman emailed me once to ask whether it was ok to keep her top on in cowgirl style because she didn’t want her lover to look at her breasts, which she thought were too ‘small and ugly’. Well of course it’s ok, but keeping them covered because you’ve been lead to believe they’re not good enough is only perpetuating the bullshit and keeping you from accepting yourself as you are. I reckon it might even keep you attached to mean and insecure people who like to body shame you.

I suppose the question comes down to: How do you remedy the problem of damaged body confidence in a context that requires lots of it to really be fun?

For me, it had to start at a decision to start valuing experience and pleasure over nursing my shame and insecurities. It meant I had to start trusting the people who affirmed my confidence and let go of anyone who broke it down, either knowingly or not.

It meant I had to just put that light on.

These days, I prefer seeing my partner and having them see me. There is so much heat in the act of just that, that a new kind of sensuality has been created by the dark for me. Like using a blindfold, the sensory deprivation heightens everything else – taste, feel, smell … even the physical closeness of breath and whispers.

And that, I think, is the only reason to ever put the lights off. So that you can hear those whispers more urgently, drowning out any of the mean voices that might remain in your head.

This column was first published on Women24

Postsecret pic of the week :: I wish I could orgasm

these two appear within a few posts of each other…


Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 11.11.48 AM

though, i must just say, 33 doesn’t seem terribly ‘old’. nevertheless, i’m pleased for your experience postcard sender-inner. and i’ll tell you why.

so i’ve never had a problem with orgasm right? never. ever. ever. it’s always just happened tres easily and in all sorts of ways. expect lately. for the past week or so, my orgasm game has been off. not gone, not wrong … just off. i still orgasm but it’s not hitting peak O. more like peakish o. like a little traipse around the middle-to-top of the peak.

orgasm everest

this is the crappest jpg ever but i’m not re-doing it

why am i telling you this? because i think i’ve written and said about a million times something along the lines of ‘sex isn’t just about orgasm’, and i think i’d like to add some more sentences to that simplified statement.

while still i believe this to be true – because it really is about so much more – my little taste of a not-quite-perfect-every-time orgasm is enough to impress on me the importance of orgasm in the sex experience. that if you’re not experiencing any peak, or if orgasm is painful or suddenly changes to just ‘kinda peaking’, that it makes a pretty big fucking difference to your fucking experience (ah one of those rare moments where gratuitous swearing and syntax align).

like, i get it now. i get how frustrating this is for women who struggle to orgasm at all.

for me, the probable causes of this are clear. i’ve been sick, stressed, abnormally hormonal in not great ways and writing this book has got me so hyperaware of sex now that i’m overthinking EVERYTHING. also i think my sickness cough had me hacking long enough and hard enough to require some urgent rehabilitative kegeling. i am wearing my smartballs as i type.

i’ve had to be really vigilant of not making this into something more than it is; making it into A Problem

so, basically this little hiccup into ‘orgasm wut?’ seems like it’s coming to an end.

but i’ve had to be really vigilant of not making this into something more than it is; making it into A Problem. it’s this spiralling into exaggeration, worry and disaster thinking around making orgasm work that stops you from being able to relax into it (unless there’s some physical block, like medication or antidepressants, of course).

so, yeah, i get it now. and i am sorry to all the ladies and gents who i’ve ever sounded a bit ‘hey-shoo-wow orgasm isn’t the only way to pleasure wo/man, chill oooouuuht’

it might not be, but it’s a pretty good way to go.

although I don’t have time to do a better write up on this right now (have deadline, will book), i found some links that cover everything i would’ve written up here anyway.

  • read this little piece on kinsey confidential: Q&A: Change in Ease of Reaching Female Orgasm, Vaginal Sensitivity 
  • this random, but lovely, insert i found on a site called MiddelsexMD (check the links down the side): Weak or absent orgasm
  • also, if it’s all completely kak and always has been GO AND SEE SOMEONE FOR HELP. my personal first ports of call would be a tantra practitioner i trust (but this is part of my personal mojo), a sex therapist and/or endocrinologist (hormone person). although i do not think all tantra peeps, sex therapists and doctors are created equal and some of them are genuinely shitty, the same could be said for anybody offering a service. so be smart about who you see and get recommends.