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The Man Diet

Today’s guest post is from Zoe Strimpel, author of The Man Diet, which follows her quest to free herself of bad dating habits. You can find Zoe’s blog here


I’ve never been very good at food diets. But when it comes to following the different sort of diet prescribed in my new book, The Man Diet: One Woman’s Quest to End Bad Romance, I thought I was doing well. My motivations, you see, are greater than shedding a few centimetres around the waist (though that would also be much appreciated). They are about feeling good inside by cutting down on “junk food love”: Facebook stalking binges; callous sex; obsessing about men with friends, for example. The stuff that it’s hard to avoid, but that makes us feel like crap and erodes our self-esteem, just when we should be flourishing most.

But even the desire to be good to myself, to be the best woman I can be, has not kept me on the straight and narrow recently. I admit it: I’ve fallen off the Diet bandwagon once or twice in the past few weeks – and, unlike after a chocolate cake moment, I’m not licking my lips for more. In fact, I’m regretting my slip in resolve quite bitterly

The slide from grace began two weeks ago when I had arranged to see a guy for a drink. We’d met once at a dinner, and I’d followed up (breaking one of the rules of the Man Diet right there: No Pursuit). He acquiesced with charm and before we knew it, we were the last ones in the restaurant, draining a bottle of cava. We moved on, then, to the Groucho Club. Here, despite having had far too many drinks (breaking still another rule of the Man Diet: Cutting Down on Booze), he ordered us another. Then another. Suddenly we were kissing. It was terribly exhibitionist, but by this point I felt that my limits had dissolved in alcohol; and the inevitability of going home together felt overwhelming. A voice in my head said: “This is not going to be healthy for you. Sleep with him and feel rotten tomorrow when he shows no interest.” Echoing the voice was the question: “Why? Why do this?” My answer was that in addition to his being good looking and fun, a trophy of sorts, I felt it would be boring to pull out now.

And so the inevitable happened. A night of of pleasant-enough but ultimately forced passion ensued – forced being the only type of passion that happens when two people aren’t particularly enthralled by each other or bonded by insane chemistry. As he kissed me goodbye the next morning – I do have to hand it to him for his displays of affection even in the cold light of day – the arbitrary, programmatic nature of that kiss and the preceding ones hit me with a dull thud. This truly was anti-romance, and worse, now I had to put up with the deafening silence that would follow his exit (in addition to the hangover throbbing in my temples).

A few days later, I had an email from him, saying he would maybe see me “one day” again, but generally he was not comfortable with post-sex meetings with women he had no intention of dating. I felt crap and rejected, despite not wanting to date him either. I was also aware that I’d put myself in this situation and had nobody to moan to but myself.

See, one of the big problems with junk food love is that it is addictive. So having had one unsatisfactory experience, I quickly sought another to erase the bad taste left by this encounter.

I sought it with a truly hot guy, a friend of a friend. I was abroad and looked him up in his hometown. I had entered our meeting without expectations, but after three hours of intense conversation, and several drinks, I felt it would be a “waste” not to push it further. So further is where it went. Turning this encounter into a spot of junk food love was a particularly bad choice because I liked this guy. He was interesting and complex as well as really good-looking. But instead of leaving our evening with a “nice to meet you”, a peck on the cheek and the chance for it to develop into something real, I pushed it into the sexual sphere for validation. Why, I reasoned tipsily, have a hangover with nothing to show for it?

But as with so many men, the disjoint between night and day was as harsh as ever. Hot Man was all sweetness before the bedsheets were parted: as soon as the sun rose, the game changed vampire-style, and it was a case of hustling out to work as quickly as possible. Our delicate, new intimacy couldn’t withstand the flip from boozy, candle-lit night to factual, non-sexy day, though I wished it had. So, sitting in the taxi in last night’s clothes, I felt uncomfortably bloated on junk food love, and not a little melancholic.

There’s one upside to these encounters: they have reminded me just how useful the Man Diet is. My next step? Taking a leaf out of my own book.

The Man Diet was published by Avon on 30th November as ebook, with paperback to follow on 22nd December.


If you’d like to write your own Whisper, we’d love to read it! The submission guidelines are here.

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Whisper #37 – The Naming of Cats

Author: P

Ladies, let’s not beat around the bush here. No pussyfooting around. You’ve no doubt had cause on occasion to rue the paucity of positive, useful English language words for the hoohah. You know what I mean. Yes, that. The snatch. The vagina.

Language is taking from you your right to express yourself positively, with ownership, when discussing a part of your body you have every right to feel happy with and empowered by and this has affected our culture in myriad ways, small and large.

When you pick a word, or a meaningful shrug of the shoulder or a raised eyebrow and swift glance down, it cannot be comfortable to find that you’re limited in choice by overly clinical terms or words heavily loaded with abusive or twee connotations, hence the proliferation of almost one-use words whose meaning has to be divined based on context and body language.

Perhaps we can do better. Please find herein for your consideration and discussion a set of words derived from a common root, designed to cover a wide variety of social situations. They’re certainly far from perfect, but perhaps they can represent a starting point on a journey to reclaiming in language and hence perhaps culture that which is yours to express.

For the root word, purely as a starting point, a word designed to be a replacement for ‘vagina’, consider if you will a little two seater Italian sportscar built for fun, something with some Va-va-voom. Perhaps if Alfa or Fiat were to make an MX-5?

How about ‘fa-jini’? It’s less harsh sounding than the alternative. You can even say it with a lilting Italian accent. Go on, give it a go, then try it again slightly Anglicised. Gesticulate a bit even. Then go back and look at the alternative.

Next, it’s always useful to have a good coarse word at your disposal. One you can wield in the bar, a few cocktails to the wind, shouted over the music. What we’re looking for here is an alternative to the irredeemably harsh and profoundly negative ‘cunt’.

How about ‘faj’? It’s short, it’s punchy, it’s feisty. It’s very close to ‘fab!’ which of course opens the possibility for Cosmo to start using ‘fajulous!’.

‘Hey! You! You think it’s funny to stare at my faj?’

Now we need a word with a little mystery and potency to it. Something a little bit sassy and maybe even a little romantic, a better version of ‘pussy’. May I suggest ‘jeanie/genie’. It’s already a feminine name, which is a good start, and it’s also a powerful and magical entity contained in something small.

Heck, it also lets everyone hum Christina Aguilera; ‘I’ve a genie in a bottle, baby…’

Perhaps most importantly, what’s needed is a word for situations where one just wants to describe a part of the body. One needs to be able to say it swiftly, it needs to be a word you can say quietly, surreptitiously, with small motions of the mouth.

Consider ‘jin’ or ‘jun’ or ‘j’n’. The shortest possible spoken combination of J and N. Something you can insert into a sentence as a tiny spoken marker with meaning, that you get past and then onto the rest of the sentence but that does not require that you have to jiggle your shoulders just so to get the point across.

This is a word you could use sitting in a cafe or in conversation while waiting outside school.

‘That stupid woman there just smacked her damned shopping basket right into my j’n’

It has tremendous compassionate utility. Consider the situation where a counsellor or care worker or solicitor needs to talk about something sensitive, but also wants to distance herself from the clinical terms that a victim or patient might’ve heard from medical or police personnel.

Finally, we have the case where one needs to have a chat with or about a lil’un. Perhaps you’re at a doctor’s surgery or talking with your sister about your niece or having to mention something to a friend’s young daughter. These are the situations that can haunt you for days. The sheer terror of overcoming the linguistic barrier can stop you from discussing an issue completely.

There is a beautifully simple solution. One that doesn’t involve ‘vajayjays’ or ‘froofroos’. I suggest ‘ini/eenie’. Short, sweet, simple.


If you’d like to write your own Whisper, we’d love to read it! The submission guidelines are here.

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The Fur Purse

After yesterday’s post on waxing, it was good to be reminded that there are professionals out there who can do a half-decent job.

The Ministry of Waxing have teamed up with Peta to campaign against both human and animal fur, by donating £2 from every Brazilian or XXXX wax to the pressure group.

My favourite part of all? The poster. A few years ago, I began my own (very small, largely ignored) campaign for the phrase ‘fur purse’ to enter the lexicon as an alternative to ‘vagina’. Now, visually at least, my dreams have come true. Thank you, Peta.


And while we’re on the subject of the vagina/purse analogy, I couldn’t resist sharing one of my favourite covers ever, Granta’s ‘Sex’ edition from 2010.

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Tearing off a strip

Austerity measures are in place in the B&H household. Budgets have been drawn up. Certain parties (ahem) have vowed to not be quite so profligate with money. There is a distinct whiff of penitence in the air.

But for each item we have ruthlessly slashed from our budget (newspapers, meals out, the prospect of a holiday ever again), there is a sister item that refuses to to be cut. Take, for example, hair removal. I am used to happily trotting down to my local waxing parlour once a month to be thoroughly defluffed. This may now be £35 we can’t afford, but that doesn’t mean that I’m willing to let my lady garden fall to ruin.

A bikini wax is something I just can’t live without. I routinely receive lectures from other women that this is not the case, but I can only assume that they have a lot less public hair than I do. Left to its own devices, my bikini line extends halfway down my thighs. I would like to say that this is a joke, but it is not. If it is slightly thinner around the edges that it used to be, then that is due to years of devoted waxing. On the rare occasions I’ve tried to grow it back, I’ve developed thrush from the sheer heat it generates. I concede that no-one ‘needs’ a Hollywood (great to have the choice, though), but without my bikini wax, my pubis would resemble Brian Blessed after a particularly heavy night out.

So, there’s only one thing for it. Herbert will have to become my waxing technician. I ask him if he’d mind.

‘Of course not,’ he says. ‘It sounds quite entertaining, actually.’

Entertaining for you maybe, Herbert. Come Sunday afternoon, I spread an old sheet over the bed, and make up a batch of sugaring wax (see recipe below). I have taken the precaution of buying proper spatulas and waxing strips, and I lay these out on a tea-tray covered in newspaper. As a final touch, I bring in my desk lamp so that he can see what he’s doing.

‘Right,’ I say to H, ‘Spread the wax in the direction of the hair growth and smooth on the strip in the same direction. Pull it off in the opposite direction, but not upwards. Parallel to the skin.

‘Okay,’ he says, ‘I’ll just switch the tennis on to keep us company.’

I’m not sure this is a good idea. H is a tennis junkie, and in a battle for attention between my crotch and the ATP finals, I’m pretty sure I’d lose.

Nevertheless, I lay on my back and bend my legs outwards, revealing the full splendour of my thigh fuzz.

‘How far do you want me to go?’

‘Well,’ I say, pulling up my knickers, ‘you see the line where the hair goes from thick bush to wispy hair? That’s the line I want you to follow. Make sure it’s a triangle.’

‘Fine,’ says H, sunnily. He layers on a thick line of wax, smooths on the fabric strip, and then pauses dramatically before ripping out a big clump of pubes.

‘Ouch!’ I say. ‘Do you think you could avoid the long pause before you pull it off? It makes me nervous.’

‘That was brilliant,’  says H. ‘So much came off in one go. Look!’ He waves the strip under my nose and I see an alarming amount of black hair.

‘Remember, don’t go too far in,’ I say. ‘I don’t want a landing-strip.’

‘Don’t worry,’ says H, one eye on the telly. He smears on another streak of wax and tears it off.

‘H!’ I say, looking down, ‘You’ve gone even further in this time!’

‘I’m following the line of your knickers, but you keep moving them in!’

‘I’m moving them out of your way.’

‘Oh,’ says H. He peers in. ‘Problem is, there’s still a big patch covered in wax. Shall I just take that off anyway?’

This would mean losing most of my public hair, and I don’t fancy getting H to wax around my labia. ‘No,’ I sigh, ‘I’ll have to try and shower it out. We’ll do the other half in a minute.’

In the bathroom, I find that the right hand side of my pubic hair is a series of waxy dreadlocks. I shampoo them, but nothing seems to budge, so I begin to tug at the wax, hoping to loosen it. This leads to a huge line of hair tearing out in my hand. ‘Flaming Norah,’ I imagine Keeley, my usual waxing technician, saying. I can’t help but agree with her. I wish Keeley were here now. She’d be able to sort this out.

‘Right,’ I say to H, returning to the bedroom. ‘You’re just going to have to try to make this even. No-one will see the wonky bits but you anyway.’

‘Yeah,’ says H, ‘But I might find that a bit distracting, now that it’s my own handiwork.’

All I can hope is that I don’t have to show it to the midwife next week.




Sugaring Wax Recipe

I learned to make sugaring wax from an Iraqi friend when I was a teenager. It’s pretty simple and dead cheap. You can buy 100 fabric strips from Amazon for about £4 (we used about 1/3 of a pack, but I’m sure we’ll learn to improve on this rate), and 100 spatulas for about the same amount, although you only use one per session. That means my bikini wax cost about £2.50. Bargain. Clearly you could cut this cost if you had an old sheet you could cut up instead.

1. Mix 2 cups caster sugar, 1/4 cup lemon juice and 1/4 cup water in a saucepan.

2. Bring to the boil, and let it bubble away for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly. You have to stand over it to make sure it doesn’t boil over.

3. Gradually, it will thicken slightly, and become darker (see pic above). Test it in a glass of cold water – if it disperses, it’s not ready yet; if it stays together, and is pliable to the touch, it’s ready. Because it’s basically a caramel, you can also taste it at this stage – it takes on a toastier flavour when it’s done. N.B. while still hot, it will feel too thin to be used as wax. Have faith.

4. Take it off the heat and cool for 30-45 mins before using – test a small patch of it on your wrist before smearing it on! If it gets too cool and hard while you’re waxing with it, you can ping it in the microwave for 10 seconds or warm it in a bowl of boiling water, but make sure you test the temperature before you use it again.





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Aaaand squeeze…or, actually, don’t…much

Alright, I admit it: I’m a slightly smug Kegel-er.

Over the course of my working day, I like to give my pelvic floor muscles a good ol’ flex as often as I remember. Which is sometimes lots of times, and sometimes not at all. Not to worry. Despite my scattergun approach, they seem to be pretty good. For example, they did not fail me when I was required to empty half my bladder during a recent ultrasound.

The benefits of a strong pelvic floor are well known. Better bladder and bowel control, improved posture, reduced back pain, and of course, enhanced sexual pleasure. I started my daily flexes during the year of Seductions, mainly because I thought H would notice. I was genuinely surprised when my body’s response changed too: the whole length of my vagina now feels much more sensitive and ‘alive’, and orgasms almost tumble out of me.

But it turns out that my Kegel-ing efforts might have been in vain. A growing number of experts now argue that Kegels can do more harm than good – especially as few of us are doing them properly. It may be better to pay attention to our core muscles in general, rather than the specific muscles in our lower abdomen.

This all gets very complicated, very quickly, so I’ve compiled a handy guide.




1. What muscles are we talking about here?

Good starting point, imaginary questioner. The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that stretch from your pubic bone to the base of your spine. They support your bladder, uterus and bowel, and help these to open and close effectively. We often use the term ‘PC muscles’ when we’re talking about a strong pelvic floor, but this actually only refers to one of the muscles (the pubococcygeus). It’s better to talk about whole lot together.

Pregnancy  and childbirth are renowned for damaging these muscles, but apparently they only tend to exacerbate existing problems. We’re suffering a epidemic of pelvic floor problems because of – you guessed it – our modern habits.

This is only half relevant, but I find this Betty Dodson video enlightening. In it, she draws the internal structure of the clitoris and vulva, which helps to illustrate why strong PF muscles can lead to orgasmic fireworks.


2. What’s a Kegel?

A Kegel is the classic exercise recommended to strengthen the pelvic floor. It simply  involves drawing the PF muscles upwards, and holding for a while. I say ‘simply’ but it can take a bit of learning so that you’re not tensing every muscle in your body, holding your breath, or generally making yourself dizzy in other ways. But once learned, it’s simple and convenient. There’s a good factsheet of how to Kegel from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital here.


3. But you said that Kegels might not be the answer. 

Well, yes and no. As this post on Mama Sweat shows, Kegels can make the PF muscles too short and tense, causing a knock-on effect to other parts of your pelvis. Your vagina may feel tight, but you’re not getting the support you need. This is particularly a problem for pregnant women, for whom Kegels can make it difficult for the pelvis to open up fully during childbirth.

Far better, says biomechanical scientist Katy Bowman, to do regular squats (not the gym sort, the ‘peeing in the woods’ sort), something that our ancestors would have naturally done all the time. She suggests you start squatting in your bath every time you pee, but if that’s not your bag, she offers a great squatting programme here, and a basic guide here.

As with all things, it’s essential to do these exercises with a correct posture. This video from Hold It Sister shows good practice.


4. So it’s goodbye Kegels, hello squats?

Well, no. Alyce Adams, the self-dubbed Kegel Queen, argues that there’s nothing wrong with Kegels if they’re done properly. Her guide to the Five Biggest Kegel Mistakes shows how many of us are misinformed about how to Kegel correctly. The most important point is this: to avoid over-shortening the PC muscle, you should make sure you fully relax (not push out) after every Kegel. And there’s absolutely no need to do hundreds every day.

It’s all about balance. The squats are great for overall pelvic health, particularly for pregnant women, but (properly done) Kegels have their place too – they’re convenient, discreet and really target sexual pleasure for those interested in that sort of thing. The Kegel Queen has something to say about that, too.


5. Okay, so it’s really a case of squatting a few times a day, and Kegelling a few times a day. 

Probably, yes. Let’s be honest, integrating both or either into your everyday life is your best chance of sticking with it.


6. What about all those PF exercisers that are on sale? Worth it?

Jury’s out. Studies seem to suggest that exercising alone is more effective than gadgets, including those that use electric currents. And pregnant women are at a higher risk of infection, so shouldn’t use anything that’s inserted into the vagina.

On the other hand, PF exercising gizmos may add an extra element of motivation, because they’re pleasurable, and you can sometimes leave them in place while you get on with your life, without having to remember to keep squeezing or squatting. Given the concerns about shortening muscles, though, it’s probably a good idea not to leave them in for too long, so that you make sure your vagina gets some r’n’r between sessions.

Also, for the love of all that’s holy please don’t use PF trainers with horrible chemicals in them. Just think: these things are sitting in your vagina for extended periods, thereby offering plenty of time for you to leach the nasties out of them. The lovely Amy of Pomegranate Boutique explains all here.

If you’re interested in a PF exerciser, Pomegrante offer a great, safe range, and I’m personally a fan of Coco de Mer’s breathtakingly expensive stone love eggs.


7. Shouldn’t you issue a disclaimer for all of this?

Yeah, probably. Take responsibility for your own pelvic floor, kids. If you’ve got any doubts at all, check with your doctor. And bear in mind that I have no medical training whatsoever, except a Girl Guide First Aid badge, and that really didn’t cover pelvic floors.

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Knicker Glories

I’ve featured Strumpet & Pink’s divine knickers on this site before, but when they sent me some of their latest photos, I couldn’t resist sharing them with you all over again.

I adore the playful, sexy details like buttoned-up gussets and bow-fastenings that invite your lover to unwrap and explore. Not so much underwear as a seduction in itself.

Click on the images to enlarge. 

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Bumpy Rides


We’ve had Women Laughing Alone with Salad and Women Struggling to Drink Water (which I think is subversively rude, but that’s another story). Can we please now have Women Smiling Inanely at their Bumps?

Let’s face it, it’s ripe for parody. As the obligatory cover of every pregnancy manual, and the go-to image for every pregnancy-related product, it has become the great cliche of maternity, a symbol of the wonderful optimism and joy that all pregnant women feel.

Because that’s how it feels to be pregnant, right?

Oh, er, well maybe. I mean, sometimes, yes. Perhaps. With a prevailing wind.

Well, actually, can I admit that pregnancy has made me the most miserable I’ve felt in years? Yes, there are definitely moments of wild excitement and happiness, but frankly, they’re few and far between. Maybe it’s because I don’t have a bump to gaze at yet, although I’m fast developing a sort of gentle incline that’s pushed my belly fat upwards, creating a rather nasty spare tyre.

Since I’ve been pregnant, I’ve never felt so isolated. I’ve spent the last ten weeks pretty much stranded on the sofa, feeling sick, exhausted, faint and shivery. On the rare moments I’ve left the house, I feel vulnerable to every passing person, and am liable to suddenly feel so sick that I have to rush home again, back to my safe encampment in the living room.

There are black days, when I feel so miserable I can barely move, like a damp, heavy blanket has been thrown over me. There are paranoid days, when I become convinced that everyone hates me. There are tearful days, when I simply cannot stop sobbing.

And then there is the restlessness, the sense that the world is speeding past me while I sit and brood. It’s appalling to realise how limited my choices are already; and how limited they will continue to be for many years to come. And the doom-laden, insomniac worrying that cuts a 2-hour swathe through every night’s sleep: how on earth will we make ends meet? Will I lose myself in all of this? What will it do to my marriage?

Being online was such a comfort to me when I was writing The 52 Seductions, but at the moment it just makes it worse. All I see is women judging each other. It’s like a horrible premonition of my future, when I too, will no doubt be judged inadequate in so many ways (hey, I’m probably making a good start with this very post). When did parenting become so ridiculously political? And why on earth can’t we accept that different people will do things differently?

I seem to be entirely at odds with the world, because I just don’t feel particularly ideological about all this. I just want to see how it goes, and make decisions from there. I used to be irritated by stridency with which women argued for their chosen position on birthing, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, childcare or whatever; now, it’s become actively toxic to me, a series of hurdles lined up for me to trip on. Frankly, I just hope I can get some sleep, and, in the absence of any grandparents nearby, get some time on my own occasionally.

It feels incredibly transgressive and ungrateful to admit all of this, and it feels dangerous, too, in such a climate of judgment. But then, there is something I feel strongly about: that we can’t only find one side of maternity acceptable – the pie-eyed, bump-gazing, joyously martyred side. It’s just not the whole picture. When intelligent, high-achieving, complex women become pregnant, we ought to expect a questioning, critical response. And with that, no small sense of loss, despite all the wonderful things we also stand to gain.

Maybe I just need a project to take my mind of it all. Look out for my future Tumblrs: Pregnant Women Doing Yoga, and its darker cousin, Pregnant Women Breaking a Cigarette with Fire in their Eyes. In the meantime, I’m delighted to present you with a meta-stock photo – Delightedly Pregnant Woman Laughing at Salad. Enjoy.

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