“The act of making art exposes a society to itself… It illuminates us…(and) casts a beam into the heart of our own darkness and says 'see?'"
Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
On the anniversary of Sassy Stories 1st Birthday, Founder and Artist Bethany Burgoyne has been reflecting on the catalyst for this project’s existence. She leads us through her own story that has unraveled in the last 12 months, and questions why, even though she is advocating the ability for women to speak up, she still finds herself hitting her own mute button.
I obsessively file all of my work. Different folders for different drawings, material choice, paper size, you name it, it’s got its own label. One of these such folders has been titled ANOMALIES in which I hide drawings that I’d rather not confront. It was after reading the above quote that I decided it was time to try and cast a beam of light into my own darkness. I saw a story take shape within the images that was ugly, sad and hidden in shame. I felt embarrassed that after asking other women to share their experiences on Sassy Stories that I hadn’t been confronting my own. Throughout this article you will see embedded the drawings I have made. I now share with you their explanation. This story is one that involves past sexual experiences that have transpired into a backlog of emotions such as confusion, humiliation and anger.
Three men I’ve had sex with in the last twelve months all told me the same thing when I said we had to use a condom : I don’t like the feel. I don’t experience as much pleasure. Do we have to? After being persistent in my want for protection, this is how the three encounters played out.
For the last few months I have been internally panicking about my chances of being pregnant once again (needless to say how much shame I felt over this considering my past). And alongside these worries was the panic that I am now carrying an STI. To put this in context, post pregnancy I was on a very strong contraception that involved injecting myself with hormones once every three months. For more than a year I used these injections and felt their turbulent side effects on my mental health, sex drive and body (stopping my period all together). I decided to come off the medication and I have since been using condoms. But have !?
Three men I’ve had sex with in the last twelve months all told me the same thing when I said we had to use a condom: I don’t like the feel. I don’t experience as much pleasure. Do we have to? After being persistent in my want for protection, this is how the three encounters played out. (A little side note, when a man says he doesn’t experience as much pleasure whilst wearing a condom, I ask the question: Women, are you feeling pleasured every time you have sex?!)
Man number one ignored my wishes all together. Presuming I was one for surprises, thrust himself into me, no warning, no condom. I was so shocked and slightly scared that I said nothing. I let the man carry on until he pulled out (as a form of contraception!?) and then, after he kindly told me he could lend me his razor so I could shave some of my arm hair, I walked him out of my house. I was left scarred by this moment. Admitting the unpleasant truth to myself; that I wasn’t brave enough to say stop.
Man number two was very respectful of my wishes on our first night together. The second night however I received, once again, the gift of a surprise entry. I was then left worrying throughout the night that I may be at risk of catching an STI. A condom is not just for blocking that sperm from impregnation, it is for the safety of your sexual health too, for your peace of mind and ease of enjoyment. As a friend said to me, safety turns her on. I now share her thoughts.
Man number three acted in the same manner as man number two. As if using a condom once has meant you’ve passed the test and you can take the L Plates off. This is far from the truth.
With all three men I let their undressed penises stay inside of me, feeling like I had to sacrifice something for the enjoyment of theirs. Why?! What about my pleasure, my safety, my peace of mind.
If I’m honest, it doesn’t stop at three. I have encountered this attitude since I was 19 and first lost my virginity. I’m now 27. By sharing with a friend about my concerns she advised me in the following way; to question the lack of my own voice. With all three men I let their undressed penises stay inside of me, feeling like I had to sacrifice something for the enjoyment of theirs. Why?! What about my pleasure, my safety, my peace of mind. Where was my voice saying:
“If you don’t want to wear a condom then you don’t have a chance of having sex with me. I am precious. I am a jewel to be treasured and my voice is its gate keeper. I will protect my body from disrespect, abuse and careless actions. You don’t deserve to share my body if you don’t treat it with respect!”.
There is a myth that condoms are unsexy and old fashioned. That mustering up the courage to ask for a condom mid sexy moment is always going to feel slightly awkward and a mood kill. But why should it not be normal? Do all men assume that a woman is on contraception, and if she’s not it’s fine because they’ll either pull out or, well, there’s the morning after pill. These hormonal aids have huge and quite ugly effects on women. More and more of us are choosing to use apps instead to track our cycle. And pulling out? Well, often, we, the woman, are left to worry about it; counting the days from our last period and then counting with baited breath until our next. These are concerns that, men, they won’t be in the forefront of your mind, am I right?
There is a myth that condoms are unsexy and old fashioned. That mustering up the courage to ask for a condom mid sexy moment is always going to feel slightly awkward and a mood kill. But why should it not be normal?
By sharing, airing and offloading my shameful stories to my friend, I felt somehow freed. But more than that, she helped me to question myself, learning from my actions and feeling encouraged to talk openly about why, how and what can change in the future. Because this silent acceptance is toxic and threatening. I would like men and women to be respectful of their sexual partners and to be using a condom without question from the start. Like putting toothpaste on your toothbrush before you clean those teeth. To normalise their use once again, to achieve healthier, happier, more pleasurable experiences during and after sex.
This is my opinion; my facts are my own and you may criticise me. But I ask you, can you relate? Have you felt or experienced something similar? And is it ok?
I would like to thank the readers and writers, interviewees and mentors that have walked beside me this year. Telling this story also marks the moment that Sassy takes its next step forward. As a project, the aim is to encourage women to talk so that we can make steps to change the lives we lead, to be happier, healthier and more honest. Sassy will be talking more publicly, focussing on encouraging women and girls to join the conversation and make changes to the way we educate ourselves about our bodies and our sexuality; to benefit the next generation so that they don’t go through the haze of confusion and mistreatment that I have discussed with many women my own age and older.
If you are interested in hearing more stories from the Sassy Story Blog (www.sassystories.blog) and taking part in upcoming events and discussions then follow BethanyxSassy on Instagram to get regular updates on the wonderous women’s lives Sassy wiggles its way into.