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Sex and the Pregnant Girl

No sooner did I find out I was pregnant than I started to feel pregnant too.

How does that work? I was perfectly fine the day before I took the test. And then, a mere 24 hours later, I was feeling a little bit weak at the knees. Two days on, I felt like The Gods had located my ‘off’ switch, and were using it at random for their own amusement. On Saturday, for example, I got into bed for a lunchtime nap, reached down to take my socks off, and woke up an hour later with both socks still in my hand.

What’s more, I am treading the tightrope between feeling sick because my stomach is empty, and feeling sick because I’ve eaten something. Yesterday, I had to take to the sofa in groaning nausea because I’d eaten a salad. It’s a wonder I’m finding the time to continually take pregnancy tests, just to check it’s still there.

Anyway, amongst all of this, I have been reminded that I’m supposed to be a sex blogger. People keep telling me how rampant I’ll feel after these trying first thirteen weeks (THIRTEEN WEEKS?!?), but for now it’s hard to see the appeal. Still, it was Herbert’s 40th birthday on Monday, and seeing as the matter of sex hadn’t even been mentioned since that second red line appeared (a whole fortnight ago), I thought I ought to make him an offer.

Sex in pregnancy is a complicated matter. One gets the sense that it’s not really supposed to be at the forefront of your mind. After all, as soon as egg meets sperm, we’re supposed to turn into sanctified beings – all martyrdom and delicacy. Some of the (many) books I’ve bought tell you not to have sex at all in the first trimester – although most tell you to go right ahead.

What’s more, it feels a bit counterintuitive to generally prod, squash and jiggle the container that holds your precious embryo (which, this week, is the size of a blueberry and is busy growing a face, arms and legs, a bit like a Ribena berry). How come you’re not allowed to eat soft cheese, take a hot bath or roller skate (I imagine), but you’re allowed to do that?

But it is his birthday. He kindly volunteers to have a shower before he gets into bed (given that my sense of smell is currently so sensitive that I am tormented by the odour of other people’s hair, this is wise), and then snuggles in beside me. I am watching telly in my new voluminous Victorian nightie.

‘Shall I take this off?’ I say.

‘No, leave it on. It’s got a kind of Hammer House of Horror vibe.’

‘Is that good?’

‘Yeah. Sure. Why not.’ I can’t help but feel pleased that he’s never seen Rosemary’s Baby.

We begin to kiss. Then we stop. ‘That’s making me feel sick,’ I say.

H winces. ‘I’m guessing a blow job’s out of the question then.’

Too right, Herbert. Right at this moment, you activate my gag reflex at your peril. He’s looking distinctly put-off. ‘Look!’ I say by means of distraction, ‘You can entertain yourself with my enormous boobs.’

‘When do they start producing milk?’

‘When the baby comes. Don’t worry, they’re not full of anything. They won’t leak. They’re just big because…I don’t know. Because they are.’

I can’t tell whether he’s reassured or disappointed. Actually, I think he’s mainly scared. I don’t blame him. Neither of us are particularly convinced that this little berry has stuck fast yet. We’re doing all we can. But suddenly my body has become a great deal more mysterious to both of us. I’m sure we’ll get the hang of this eventually, but in the meantime, it feels a bit like learning all over again.



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A tiny bit pregnant…

Sunday morning. Herbert is having a lie-in. I’m wandering around the kitchen, fretting. My period has started and then stopped again. This is most peculiar.

The thing that’s bothering me most is: how will this affect my charts? I am poised with a Basal Body Temperature thermometer (don’t panic, it goes under your tongue) and a sheet of graph paper to track my every hormonal move this month. But, during my training session with the charming fertility nurse, no provision was made for false starts.

Was that a period? I am wondering. Do I count that as Day One? I gaze at the pristine tracking sheet in front of me, which I am loath to ruin. I do love a chart.

Perhaps it was my cervix bleeding? We did, after all, have sex on the last night of our holiday, only for the blood to dutifully appear the next morning. I thought I’d put all that behind me. But maybe not.

What’s more, I had spent the whole week in slight trepidation, not wanting to kick back too much and overdo the booze, but feeling frustrated at my own timidity too. The arrival of my period was a huge relief. I could, finally, have a proper glass of wine. Or three. And maybe a little nip of frozen vodka to send me to bed. I was not going to miss this one guilt-free opportunity of the month.

Perhaps this is why I take a pregnancy test. Sheer guilt. Sheer uncertainty. A quiet, unexamined thought says: If it’s positive, at least you’ll know where you are in your cycle. As if positive pregnancy tests are of no significance at all, and crop up all the time in this household.

I dutifully pee in a plastic cup, dip in a testing stick and then get in the shower. I get out, dry myself, and then think how stupid the logic of my test had been. Nevertheless, I glance at it, and think I see something.

I squint. A faint pink line, so pale it’s nearly invisible. I hold it to the light. Yes: definitely something there. I put it down on the sink, and walk into the bedroom, where I find H propped up, watching TV.

‘I’ve got a second line on a pregnancy test,’ I say, in a flat voice.

Before he can even answer, I’ve walked back into the bathroom to look again. Still there. I return to the bedroom.

‘What does that mean?’ asks H.

‘I don’t know.’ I go back to the bathroom again, and so on: back and forth a dozen more times until H suggests I bring the test in to show him.

He squints, just as I did.

‘Hardly anything there,’ he says.

‘Yes, but my ovulation tests were all like that.’

‘Hm,’ says H.

‘And they say you never get a false positive.’


‘So I think I might be a tiny bit pregnant. Not properly. Just sort of on the verge of.’

‘Is that possible?’

‘I don’t know. I wasn’t really prepared for this eventuality.’


It is only the next day, after we’ve umm-ed and aaahh-ed and felt generally confused, that it all sinks in. I turn up for my weekly acupuncture session, and say,

‘Before you start, I’ve got a faint second line on a pregnancy test.’

‘You’re pregnant, then,’ says Emma the acupuncturist, grinning. ‘Am I the first one to say congratulations?’

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When counselling is anything but

First of all, full disclosure: I’ve never had an abortion, or had to consider it.

But I wanted to tell you a story that I think is relevant to the current debate surrounding Nadine Dorries’ proposed amendment to the Health & Social Care Bill.

Ten years ago I was a teacher, working in an girls’ school. As part of the school’s obligation to provide a moral and religious education, the school organised an afternoon focusing on abortion for the sixth formers. We were told that this would be an opportunity for the students to explore and debate the ethical issues around abortion, and as a sixth form tutor I was obliged to take part.

On the day, it turned out that the head of sixth form had only managed to book a Christian abortion counselling organisation. It had, apparently, been impossible to find a pro-choice group. We sat through an hour’s lecture on the evils of abortion, presented in the most lurid and biased terms possible. The speaker focused solely on very late-term abortions. I remember seeing a photo of a foetus having its spinal column severed by a surgeon. It was, deliberately, hugely disturbing, and completely lacked any context regarding how rarely this sort of procedure takes place, and the benefits that some women may find in ending a pregnancy.

At one point, one of my students ran out of the room in tears. It was known among some of the staff that she’d recently had a termination herself. At the end of the talk, the speaker told the students that her organisation provided free counselling for women considering abortion, or who had already had one. Anyone was welcome to access their services. As I took my group away, I noticed people from the anti-abortion organisation gathering around to comfort the girl who ran out.

On the face of it, the amendment to the Health & Social Care Bill sounds perfectly innocuous – providing counselling for women considering abortion, and ensuring that they don’t come under any pressure to undergo an abortion they’re unsure about.

No-one could argue that women shouldn’t be offered support. No-one could argue that abortion is a decision to be taken lightly. But it’s vital that any counselling received is unbiased. Effective talking therapies rely on an absolute bond of trust between the client and the therapist – in particular, the client needs to feel free to express every element of their opinion and thought process. I don’t believe that this is possible if you already know what your therapist – strongly – believes.

It would be brilliant if David Cameron announced funding for self-referring, walk-in, value-neutral counselling for any woman who needed it. In the landscape of cuts, though, it’s hard to imagine this happening. Instead, vulnerable women may be forced to use services provided by biased, proselytising organisations whose express intention is to prevent abortion.

A fascinating and furious debate took place in my classroom after the talk. Quite contrary to my fears, my students saw straight through the excessive manipulation they’d endured, and led their own, far more moderate debate on abortion. Not everyone thought it was a good thing, but both sides of the debate were united in their disgust at being spoken to like children. I was proud of them. But the sight of that girl in the folds of the anti-abortion counsellors still snags in my throat. She deserved much better therapy than that.


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Don’t Tell the Children

I am peeing in a plastic cup. H is in the bath, probably deciding whether he should watch or not. I’d like to say we’re the kind of couple who retain our erotic mystique by not performing bodily functions in front of each other, but we only have one bathroom so sometimes needs must. I should make it clear, though, that we both draw the line at pooing. This occasionally means we run into the bathroom and yell at the other party to get the hell out of the bath, but it’s a boundary worth drawing, I think.

Today, it’s in aid of an ovulation test, and, frankly, I’m attempting to share my pain. I last caught myself ovulating two months ago, and that was on day 9 of my cycle. Not a peep last month. Today it’s day 14, and I suspect this means I’ve missed the boat again. There’s something miserable about dunking your little stick in a pot of your own urine every day, only to get the single control line, day in, day out. It’s such a non-event that it doesn’t really merit a conversation; but its effect is cumulative misery. Still nothing.

‘I’m beginning to wonder if I haven’t bought a duff set of sticks,’ I say to H. ‘The ones that registered an LH surge cost £35 from Boots. These ones were a fiver for 50 from eBay. Maybe they’re just shit.’

‘Cheaper though,’ says H.

‘Yeah,’ I say. I count under my breath as I watch the stick turn gradually pink, and see the familiar control line appear.

‘Why don’t you try both at the same time next month?’ he suggests. ‘That way, you could see if both types say the same thing.’

It’s a good idea, particularly seeing as I have a whole drawer full of the cheap tests remaining. I balance the test stick on the sink and begin to put on my makeup. Then I glance down.

‘Bloody hell,’ I say. ‘Would you bloody believe it? It must have heard me!’

I wave the stick in front of H’s nose, and squints at it. ‘Yup,’ he says, ‘that’s definitely a second line.’

‘We’d better get busy in that case.’

The following evening, I’m still registering a faint second line, so we decide we ought to make a second attempt at the baby-making sex. Seeing as I recently learned that sperm live for up to five days inside your uterus (which, in my view, counts as an infestation), this amounts to sending in reinforcements, which will mass around my fallopian tubes, waiting for one of them to feebly cough out an egg.

We’re both hungry, so we decide to go out for dinner first, and so, inevitably, we’re both feeling sleepy and bloated by the time we get home to bed. H takes off his clothes, and belches loudly.

‘I’m guessing you’re not much in the mood,’ I say.

‘Well, ordinarily no,’ he says, ‘but that doesn’t mean to say we won’t have sex. Maybe you could go on top; I think I’d be sick if I had to bounce around too much.’

‘So romantic,’ I say. ‘Maybe we should try spoons instead?You can’t burp at me from that angle.’

‘Sorry,’ says H. ‘I’ll try to stop.’

I lean in and kiss him. ‘I’ll get my vibrator. I think I might need it.’

‘Fair comment.’

‘Maybe some lube, too.’

‘Oh.’ H’s face scrunches up into something resembling devastation. ‘It’ll take it so much longer for me to come if we use lube.’

‘I tell you what,’ I say, ‘if tonight’s the night we conceive, we’ll tell our offspring that it happened some other way entirely. We’ll pretend that we were having amazing, romantic, spontaneous sex somewhere glamorous.’

‘It’s fine,’ says H. ‘If we conceive this month, we’ll have no idea whether it happened tonight or last night. Last night was fun. We can just push tonight out of our minds.’

‘Agreed,’ I say, smearing myself with lube and firing up the vibrator. ‘And anyway, I believe it’s mostly considered inappropriate to talk to your children about the sex that conceived them.’

‘Yeah,’ says H, ‘that too.’

And then, weirdly, we end up having surprisingly pleasurable sex, free of burping and complaining. Or at least, that’s what we’ll tell the children. When they’re old enough.


This post will self-destruct in a fortnight.

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The Sex Lives of Neanderthals

A sexy neanderthal?

I hope you enjoy my interview with archaeologist (and great friend) Dr Beccy Scott, who sets us straight on the assumptions made about the sex lives of Neanderthals and early humans.

What you don’t get to hear is five minutes of us giggling and saying, ‘Shut up! You’re making me laugh too much!’ at the beginning. Given this inauspicious start, it’s surprisingly enlightening.

This interview was recorded over Skype, so apologies for the occasionally fuzzy sound.

Click here to listen in Podbean.

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Smoothing Things Over

A couple of weeks ago, a photo of me appeared in a women’s magazine. ‘Fuck me,’ said Herbert, ‘they’ve made you look 21 again.’

‘No difference, then,’ I joked weakly. But I felt churningly guilty. Because I’ve done my fair share of expressing horror at the way magazines routinely airbrush the people who appear in them. And yet, when the time came for my own image to appear in the glossy pages, I made damned sure that I’d be airbrushed, too.

Airbrushing (or more accurately, extensive Photoshopping) is the beauty world’s equivalent of phone hacking. It’s something we’ve all known about, if we’re honest. But faced with the brutal facts – the already very thin Kate Middleton made to look even thinner by Grazia; L’Oreal giving their foundation a little helping hand – we declare ourselves appalled.

And, like phone hacking, we’re complicit. We buy those perfected images, and rather like them. We drool over the exquisiteness of actresses and models who pose in clothes, not as real people, but as platonic ideals of the human body, unattainable paragons of loveliness.

In many ways, I don’t have a problem with this – so long as we remember to acknowledge that what we’re looking at is impossible. If some of the most beautiful people in the world are deemed to need airbrushing, then we mere mortals don’t have a chance.

But the problem is, we forget. We get suckered by the pristine skin and elongated limbs, and then we gaze down at our ordinary bodies and feel the lack. We can’t help but compare ourselves unfavourably to bodies whose beauty is maintained by continuously eating below the recommended daily amount of calories, or by surgery or beauty treatments way beyond a normal person’s reach.

What’s more, we relish the schadenfreude of watching these icons fall off this precarious pedestal – as is endlessly documented in highly-successful gossip mags – by putting on weight or leaving home without makeup.

We begin to view our own bodies with disgust. We forget that, in the real world, it’s a full time job to maintain the skinny frame of an 18 year-old, or that our skin inevitably ages, or that having babies stretches our bodies into different shapes. We only need to look around us to see evidence of this, but we choose to discount it, believing that we can do better. And then, when we can’t, we spiral into self-loathing. We become unable to enjoy the most natural pleasures of life – eating, sex, resting – because we can’t stop thinking about our ugly, imperfect flesh.

It fascinates me that, every now and then, we all rise up and get angry with ‘the media’ as if this is all their fault. But we’re the ones who pay good money to access this stuff. Millions of us buy images of impossible, celestial beings, and we recoil in disgust at the sight of real bodies. This is not men oppressing women; this is women oppressing each other.

For my part, I asked to be airbrushed because I was worried about my legs. Owning a bedroom roughly two inches larger than my bed has left me with scarred shins from continually walking into the damned frame. In real life, I tend not to wear things that reveal my pock-marked legs, but apparently that wasn’t an option. If I wasn’t to be allowed trousers, tights or leggings, I was desperate to make sure that my legs wouldn’t look like a pot-holed road.

What made me think that this was necessary? I’m an author, not a model. Why do I think I need to be beautiful to do that? Do I basically believe that I ought to be attractive in order to write about sex? I’m not sure, but I know that I came home feeling depressed and insecure, like I couldn’t quite fit into the right-sized hole.

That was never the point of The 52 Seductions. It was never about being perfect or being a ‘sexpert’. In fact, it was quite the opposite – it was about revelling the glory of imperfection, inviting everyone to feast at the table or normal. It was about saying that normal bodies – wobbly ones, scarred ones, funny-shaped ones – can be loved, admired, and desired. It was about saying that those bodies feel pleasure just as intensely as the ones we see on TV. Maybe more so, because we’re not constantly afraid of breaking an expensively-manicured nail.

What is beautiful  – and what is sexy – is the ability to feel comfortable in our own skin. We all have some work to do on that front, but we could start by opening our eyes on the streets around us to see bodies as they really are.

And another suggestion: the next time a magazine or a newspaper prints photos of someone looking minutely overweight in their bikini, why not tear out the page and post it back to the editor? For as long as we blindly accept these images, we’ll never accept our own bodies.

And, by way of atonement, here’s a picture of me at the hairdresser last week. I know what you’re thinking: the glamour.

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Dear Kate Moss…

Dear Kate Moss,

Now don’t take this personally, but I wanted a quick word about your wedding photos (or at least the ones you shared in Vogue).

Kate, you look very pretty in them. You know that, of course. It’s your job, and you do it marvellously well. But surely we all know that we shouldn’t take work home with us?

Take the photo below. I can’t help but feel that you’re going to flick back to that one in five years’ time and feel a little bit silly. I mean, it’s lovely, but it’s a fashion shoot, isn’t it? Fashion shoots are your day job, Kate. Your life is something different.

You’re the ultimate arbiter of taste, but I think you’ve slipped up here. It’s just a little bit naff – not the fabulous dress or dreamy flowers, but the sheer level of posing, the for-the-camera eroticism. It reads as insincere.

Really, isn’t selling your wedding snaps a tiny bit Big Brother contestant? Granted, you chose Vogue over OK!, but it’s hard to imagine why. You’re not short of a few bob, Kate. And you’re not short of attention, either. Seeing your over-posed photos (Kate does radiant bride-to-be in the back of a car! Kate does sexy face! Kate does loving-if-rather-hot mummy!) made me feel a bit grubby.

But I suppose you’re no different to anyone else. You’re smart and stylish, but not enough so to reject the Princess for a Day myth. The big, ridiculous, expensive wedding is every woman’s birthright, as is showing it off. I expect that yours cost considerably more than the much-quoted average of eighteen grand. And, of course, there’s no question that you can afford it.

But the problem is, Kate, that you’ve made the same mistake as the women who can’t afford their weddings, who begin their married lives mired in debt and coming down from a massive egomaniacal high. And that is, you’ve mistaken the wedding for the marriage. You have assumed that, if the wedding is perfect, your marriage will be perfect too.

They are not one and the same. A wedding – and the legal status of ‘wife’ that it brings – means absolutely nothing. It is a contract easily broken. By all means gather your friends around you and celebrate, but know that a marriage – whatever it is that you want from it – will never be wall-to-wall glamour. It’s a life’s work. It’s a commitment to tackling the crappy bits as a team. And it’s a place to give and receive love, even when that’s knotty and difficult.

Marriage is the meeting of two imperfect minds and bodies, Kate – yes, even yours. Perhaps you know that already. But you will have to forgive me for assuming you don’t, because the photos suggest someone who believes that one immaculate day is all you need to pull off. If only it were that easy.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the tastelessness of airbrushing the bridesmaids.

With love,

Betty x


To see the whole gallery in Vogue, click here.

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