The contraception conversation

When I was 16, my mother found my contraceptive pills in my top drawer.

She brought them and held them out in front of me, like something dead and dirty, accusing:

“What are these, and where did you get them?”

“They’re my pills,” I said. “I didn’t want to get pregnant.”

“Are you having sex?” she demanded, her face angry.

“No, no,” I denied, lying to her face. “I just want them…just in case…you know…” My voice drifted away into nothing.

That was how the brief conversation went, all those years ago, but I remember it clearly.

pill

Pressure from all sides…

What I didn’t tell my mother was the fact that those pills were like gold to me. Three months earlier, I’d started having sex. We’d used condoms that time, but then my boyfriend had asked me to go on the Pill.

Of course, it was the woman’s job to get contraceptives and sort all that out. It still is mostly, here, nearly thirty years later from back then.

But I did what I had to do. The sexual health clinic was nearly two hours away by bus, and I didn’t have a car. I was 16. I arrived way too early for my appointment, and walked around the block near the clinic about three or four times before I summoned up the nerve to go inside.

I felt like a criminal. All I wanted was to not get pregnant. You wouldn’t think it would be so difficult to avoid that. Yet it was, for me. I felt ashamed and embarrassed. I’d been taught to think of sex that way.

The people in the clinic were friendly, and put me on a low dose pill, but it was really expensive. I wasn’t earning much at that point, and it used up all the money I had just to get three months’ supply. But what else was I supposed to do?

I remember wondering if my boyfriend, who had a lot more money than me, would chip in for some of the cost, then threw that idea right out. Guys didn’t pay for this sort of stuff. Sex was free for them.

My mother held my pills in her hand. “I’m throwing these out. You shouldn’t be having sex yet. You’re too young.”

And she took them away.

I looked in the bins to see if I could find them, and even went through the garbage cans outside, but no luck. They were gone. And I started bleeding a couple of days later, because I’d stopped in the middle of taking them.

The next day, I rang the sexual health clinic again the moment my parents were out of the house. They couldn’t get me in until the following week, and I asked if I could pay for just one month of pills, not three. I couldn’t. They were sorry about that.

I said I’d see what I could do and made the appointment anyway.

That was the only thing I ever stole money from anyone for: I took the money I needed from my mother’s purse.

I don’t think she missed it.

Next time I got hold of my pills, I made sure Mum wouldn’t find them – I hid them in my secret hiding spot that even she didn’t know about, under the bottom of my wardrobe at the back. If she found them, she never said anything.

From then on, whenever I needed more money for more pills, I just stole it from my mother.

I think that was the point at which I began to grow up: when I stopped trusting my parents. When I realised they would steal my things and they weren’t on my side.

I stopped trusting them when they stopped trusting me.

Sluts and whores

Looking back, there is so much wrong with my experience that I don’t know where to begin.

The fact that contraception was, and still commonly is, solely a woman’s responsibility.
The fact that I had to deal with all this alone, even though I was hardly still a woman.
The fact that my boyfriend was absent from the conversation and from responsibility.
The fact that my mother felt she had control both over my body and my property.
The fact that my mother judged me, and felt she had the right to judge.
The fact that caring for my body was seen as a shameful thing by my mother, as was sex.
The fact that, even at 16, my mother had still never talked about sex with me, even though I desperately needed her support and help.

Most of all, looking back, I’m amazed that my mother was angry that I took care and responsibility for my own body.

If I had a daughter do that, and go get pills all by herself, no matter what age, I’d be proud of her actions and initiative. I’d be glad she was keeping herself safe from pregnancy.

I’d be sorry I didn’t get a chance to help her first, but glad she respected her body enough to care for it and plan ahead.

But maybe I don’t see sex as something we should be ashamed of.

For my mother, women who had sex before marriage were sluts and whores. I don’t know whether she was silly enough to believe that taking my pills away would stop me having sex, but if she was, she was wrong. All it did was make me steal from her, lie to her, and not trust her.

prudewhore

The contraception conversation

Contraception – and sex generally – is the conversation we desperately need to have with our children.

And it’s the one conversation we’re not having.

When we judge our kids, this is what happens.
When we judge our kids, this is what happens.

Over and over, I hear parents say that they want to talk to their kids about sex, but “just not yet”.

If not now, then when?
When they steal from you for their contraception?
When they get pregnant, or get someone else pregnant?
Or maybe when they get an STI?

“Tomorrow” is too late.
We need to talk today.

It is our responsibility to keep our children safe, until they’re able to do that for themselves. That’s what parenting is.

Our kids need to be able to trust us, and in order to earn that, we need to start the conversation by trusting them.

We need to talk.

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Does God care about gender? Transgender people and the Divine

Everyone is talking about Bruce Jenner at the moment. So here’s an interesting thought: does God – or do the Gods – care about gender?

Do our souls – if we have them – have genders?

You know, this never really occurred to me until recently. I remember reading somewhere that hardly anyone has a transgendered friend, and it’s something that few people connect with.

I must be different, because I can’t count the number of transgendered friends I have on one hand – I think I have eight or nine, last time I stopped to think about it.

The thing that strikes me most about people who transition is how little it affects who they are, to we people on the outside. To me, perhaps the most amazing feature of the whole process is how much they remain the same. They’re still the same people.

I remember being worried, when my friends have transitioned, that I’d lose my friends. But my friends have remained the same people inside. Their souls, if that’s the right word for it, have remained the same.

I suppose it’s naive to expect that gender should make such a huge difference, but before I knew people who had become male when they’d been female before, or female when they’d become male, I guess I’d expected their innate personality – the person they are inside – to change dramatically. It didn’t; it hasn’t.

So if it doesn’t matter to me, does it matter to the Gods?

A Goddess for everyone across the spectrum of gender

My patron Goddess is Aphrodite. Of all Goddesses she’s one to have a little fun with gender. She’s the Goddess of switching forms, of hermaphrodites and androgyny, and of playing games with gender roles.

A lot of people, when they think of Aphrodite, imagine this very, very feminine Goddess. But they forget that Aphrodite is also the Goddess who was spawned, so the legend goes, from the sea foam created by the castrated genitalia of Uranus, and her children include Hermaphroditus. She governs gender fluidity and transition, and is accepting of transition and non-traditional gender roles. The Gods aren’t necessarily easy to categorize.

Looks can be deceiving

Nor are people easy to categorize. Bruce Jenner, of all people, was portrayed as the stereotypical All-American male – the perfect athlete, the good-looking man who every man wanted as his friend and for his daughter as a partner. He was incredibly desirable and high-profile. Could anyone have seen this coming?

According to Jenner, it’s been here inside him all his life – inside him, waiting to come out. He started taking female hormones in the 1980s, 30 years ago. This isn’t a new thing for him.

That’s something you hear, again and again, from people who transition. The pressures to remain the gender they were born into are incredibly strong, and it is only once the pain of remaining who they are becomes too intense that they break the chains and push for the freedom to become themselves. Transitioning isn’t a kick, or a fad: it’s something they must do, and have needed to do for many years. It’s only society that has held them back.

We are all in transition

It’s both an indictment and praise to our societies that people feel such pressure to remain hidden for so long, yet are finally able to become who they feel they are meant to be. I think we’re societies in transition too, perhaps. But the signs are good that we’re becoming more tolerant, more accepting, and more positive for transgendered people.

We are transitioning too: we are learning, as a society, to be kind, open-minded, and to love unconditionally.

Do the Gods care? Personal perspectives

So – do our souls have gender? Do the Gods care? Will the transgendered be judged? Does any of it matter, apart from the happiness of the individual?

Or are the Gods, as the ancient Greeks might imagine, just playing games with us all, throwing the dice, making life more difficult for some than for others?

As a woman who, I suppose, is very gender-neutral, I’ve never felt the need to be a man. I can’t imagine what it is like. Yet I certainly fit more of a male stereotype than a female. I don’t own any skirts or dresses – at all. I wear a lot of men’s clothes. I’m a bodybuilder and weightlifter, spent time in the army, own a farm, castrate sheep and do most of the yard work around the property, work in tech, have tertiary experience in software engineering…the list goes on.

I can’t think of anything worse than knitting or sewing or quilting or wearing frilly clothes. But do I want to be a man? No. I’m just me. Somewhere in the middle of the gender spectrum, I guess. I don’t feel confined by any roles. Why should I be? But my experiences are different to those of others. I have no right to judge. My right is that of support, and of friend.

If I have a soul, it’s not pink or blue. It’s probably orange, or yellow, or maybe lime green. I’m not really into the concept of souls anyway, but if the Gods care about gender, then I believe it’s a very small part of what makes a person worthwhile.

So my view is, if a person needs to transition to be complete and whole and happy, then let them. Support them. They’ll still be the same person inside. Because they always were that same person inside.

We just couldn’t see it.

Paganism and simplicity

When a lot of Pagans start out, they get a bit of the “gear witch” vibe about them.

They buy stuff. Lots and lots and lots of stuff.

In the Pagan community, there’s so much stuff to be had, so many fabulous tools and toys. It can all be a bit overwhelming. And if you like to spend and possess and have lovely things, it can be real easy to start collecting a lot of stuff.

I went through this, and a lot of my friends did too. Tarot sounds interesting, so you collect a few tarot decks plus some books on the subject. Runes sound great too, so before you know it you have a few sets of rune stones and some books about them too.

You figure you must have a Wand (everyone knows a you’re not a Real Pagan[TM] unless you have a Wand!!!) and you must have a Blade (because they’re cool too, and a Blade has different energy).

Before you know it, you’re eyeing off those fancy swords online and wondering which you can afford. Or how many. Maybe a collection. Yeah…a collection would be great.

It all adds up, and builds up, and when you add the candles and bells and Tibetan singing bowls and God and Goddess figurines and chalices and cauldrons to the collection, no wonder so many Pagans are drowning in stuff! Plus the clothes – you feel like, as a newbie, the right ritual robes and capes will give you pagan “street cred”.

So you buy, buy, buy.

It’s all very addictive. And very, very easy to do.

And very, very wrong.

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Paganism comes from within

All the stuff in the world won’t make a person a Pagan. Which is a good thing. We’re a bit selective like that! Likewise, I’d argue that any path that encourages you to buy and own lots of stuff is a fool’s path.

You’ll find lots of Pagans with lots of fancy stuff all around the world…and they’re usually the silliest Pagans of the lot. They’ve forgotten that the Divine is immanent. Within us. It can’t be bought or sold.

The more stuff you collect, the harder it is to focus on the inner self, your connection with the Divine, and what really matters. Fancy stuff is just a temptation; a lure. A diversion from the truth.

A diversion from the truth.

prince

We all know that of course. It’s written clearly in one of the most valued early texts in modern Paganism, which is the Charge of the Goddess:

    “…If that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, thou wilt never find it without thee.

    For behold, I have been with thee from the beginning; and I am that which is attained at the end of desire.”

You won’t find Paganism in stuff, and you certainly won’t find Divinity. All the tools, and toys, and robes are just props.

You could even call them diversions for the weak-minded. They help set the scene for those who can’t focus without them. They hold no real power by themselves. Only living matter can do that: living energy.

That’s what we Pagans do: channel energy; create energy; focus energy. A wand in the end is just a stick. A blade in the end is just a hunk of metal. This is the real truth. Connection to the Divine comes from within, not from these lifeless things.

If you want to find the Divine, get rid of everything that isn’t essential. Then you will find what you truly seek.

aphrodite4

Voluntary simplicity – the anchor and the albatross

Never say that a Priestess of Aphrodite isn’t busy, because I’ve been flat out!

My house is currently undergoing renovations, so naturally I thought it would be a great idea to have a big clear out of old stuff at the same time. It’s odd how renovations get you in the mood to clear out the clutter, isn’t it? It’s even odder how much clutter tends to build up over time – especially when you have kids.

But I’ve been really enjoying the sense of release that comes with selling stuff I just don’t use any more. A lot of old books are going, and a lot of old bone china, that for some reason I thought I just had to have when I was younger. Now I’m older, I look at it a bit the same way you might look at an albatross around your neck – it’s weighing me down, sapping my energy, and I just long to be free of the stuff.

So out it goes.

albatross

The older I get, the less STUFF I seem to need. And the less attraction STUFF has for me.

When I was in my twenties, I really wanted to collect belongings, gather my identity. Now I’ve come to realise that my identity comes from being who I am – not from what I might happen to possess.

These days, I’m far more interested in going places and meeting people than in owning things. I understand the lure of voluntary simplicity. I want to scale my life down, remove the clutter, and relax.

Be free.

We humans are moss-gatherers. We like our security blankets of possessions – clothing, furniture, homes, tools. Stuff. It tells the world who we are, our status, our value.

However, I can’t help thinking that I don’t give a damn what value other people place on me. I’m a successful woman. I know my own value. I don’t need others to calculate it for me – and anyone who does calculate my value based on how much junk I happen to possess is a bit weak in the mind anyway.

So here I am, clearing the junk, getting rid of the flotsam and jetsam I’ve collected in my life, and I’m not missing any of it as it goes out the door to new owners.

All I can feel is the weight lifting off my shoulders.

aphrodite4

Aphrodite and men: the gifts of Aphrodite

I’ve talked a fair bit about Aphrodite and embracing our sexuality and sensuality as women. But what about men?

men

How Aphrodite is relevant to men

Aphrodite teaches us that our sexual, sensual nature is a part of us, not separate and closeted away. That it’s okay – more than okay – to be sexual, physical beings.

It’s okay to feel, to experience, to love, to enjoy our bodies, to lust, and to experience pleasure and revel in it. It’s okay to enjoy beauty and enjoy being beautiful.

Being sterile, celibate, unfeeling, uncaring – none of these is a natural state of being for humans. Sex is something we all do. It’s part of who we are. It’s fun, it’s positive, and it’s something to enjoy and explore without shame or fear.

These lessons are just as relevant to men as they are to women. Yet they are not where we are beginning from.

Although it’s rapidly breaking down, we still live in a largely puritanical society that tells us to fear sex, be ashamed of our bodies, hate our physical selves and the selves of other that do not conform to some mythical standard of perfection (whatever THAT is supposed to be) and, in the case of men, hide away our emotional and sensual selves and pretend they don’t exist.

That’s a whole lot of negatives.

The Man Box

Start with The Man Box – everything that Society tells men they should be in order to be a Real Man:

The Man Box. Be a Real Man, dammit. Or you're nothing but a pussy!
The Man Box. Be a Real Man, dammit. Or you’re nothing but a pussy!

According to the Man Box, and the dysfunctional patriarchy that created it, men are not supposed to express or feel emotion. They’re not supposed to receive pleasure – only to give, in a very assertive, Dominant, forceful, controlling kind of way.

They’re not supposed to see women as equals, but as chattel, objects, items to be used and bought and sold. This is why “purity” and the concept of virginity in women is so highly prized in patriarchy – because women are objects to be valued and owned, rather than individuals with their own agency.

Men are not supposed to feel, or to cry, or to express weakness, or humility, or need. Yet all of these emotions are part of what it means to be human: they’re all part of the complete human experience.

The Man Box is strong, its mythos still alive and kicking. Our world is full of men who have been sold the Man Box, sold the patriarchal model of behaviour, and been screwed up mightily by it.

Can you imagine this guy expressing love and tenderness? Nup, neither can I. But I'll bet he'd be lousy in bed, and clueless about how to satisfy a woman sexually and emotionally.
Can you imagine this guy expressing love and tenderness? Nup, neither can I. But I’ll bet he’d be lousy in bed, and clueless about how to satisfy a woman sexually and emotionally.

Men who have bought into the Man Box model often can no longer connect fully with their emotions, are unable to have fulfilling, satisfying relationships with women or other men. They feel a huge amount of anger and resentment at the world, yet are not quite sure why. They’re also often quite homophobic – because being gay is the antithesis of what a “real man” should be.

They’ve been damaged by a model of being that doesn’t fit with what real, whole, healthy humans are, and need to be.

The healing powers of Aphrodite

The power of Aphrodite – embracing our sexuality and sensuality, reconnecting with our emotional selves, accepting all mutually consenting acts of love and pleasure – is incredibly healing.

The puritanical society we live in, where sex has been hidden away and seen as something dirty and shameful, and where women have been scapegoated for millenia for society’s ills (remember Eve and the snake? Yeah, it goes back to that old yarn and possibly well before it), has been in need of healing and resolution for a long time.

Society needs Aphrodite. We need Aphrodite. And men need Aphrodite too, just as much as women.

Reconnecting

Just as women have been disconnected from our sexuality, so too have men.

Sex has been hidden away for men too. There has been an insane amount of pressure on them to perform, to achieve in sex – and you see this in men continually wondering and worrying about the size of their penises, where the truth is, most women couldn’t really care less.

Is it big enough? ;)
Is it big enough? 😉

Becoming whole

Aphrodite teaches us to become whole. Stop comparing ourselves with others. Opt out of patriarchy. Choose not to see sex as something dirty but instead as something precious, sacred, joyful. Our sexuality is the gift of Aphrodite: it is given to us for pleasure and enjoyment, not for shame or ridicule or insecurity.

Once men start understanding that they can be whole, sensual humans – not mechanical, unfeeling robots that must exert power over others in order to have value – that’s when the healing begins. Men can receive as well as give, be beneath as well as on top, penetrate as well as be penetrated, and enjoy their bodies instead of feeling shame or insecurity, creating a healthier, happier dynamic between the genders.

Paganism, Sex, Ritual and Kink

Mainstream culture and religion have RULES about sex.

Sex should be…

– private.
– between a man (singular) and a woman (singular).
– in a bed.
– between married people.
– for procreation only.
– in the missionary position only.
– penis in vagina.
– between people who love one another.
– a relationship where women are submissive and men are dominant.
– between people of the same race, age (roughly) and demographic (roughly).
– something that men initiate, and women never ask for.
– something that women don’t actually enjoy, desire or actively search for.

The list goes on. It’s all so confining and restricting that you have to wonder that a) any sex ever happens at all and that b) when it does, people are able to enjoy it.

Then there’s Paganism and Kink.

What If?

What both do is ask, What If?

What if we throw out the rules that somebody, somewhere told us we had to attach to sex and communication?

What if we just explored our bodies and our minds with curiosity and fascination, and experimented with what feels good, what feels bad, and what our responses to various stimuli are?

What if we made our own rules, instead of accepting, without question, the rules that society has given us and expects us to accept in our lives?

Hieros Gamos
Hieros Gamos

Throw away the rule book

Mainstream religions, to my way of thinking, are about accepting dogma and rules. They give us guidelines and boundaries, and say: Here you go. This is how things are. Accept these rules, and give us your money, and we may choose to accept you. Or not.

Yes, that’s a very cynical viewpoint, but I haven’t seen anything to discredit it.

And mainstream sexual ethics tell us, from that first sex ed class in school through to what is reinforced in movie love scenes and advertising and cultural tropes everywhere we look, that some ways of enjoying sex are more equal than others. Anything outside a fixed set of narrow practices will mark you as a pervert, as a deviant, as somehow wrong.

If you’re a man that finds other men attractive you’ll be scorned. If you’re a woman that loves women, you’ll be abused. Experimenting in bed is frowned upon. Anal sex is sodomy and a sin. Sex between partners of different ages and cultures is disgusting. Women who actively seek out sex are whores, and those women who enjoy sex and are open about the fact are sluts.

Men who prefer the submissive role are unmanly, and sex where there is no penis in vagina penetration – well, that isn’t sex at all, as the thousands of so-called virgins in the Bible Belt who are enjoying regular anal sex with their partners will be quick to point out.

Why we have these rules is an interesting question. I think it’s all about control. Not content with control our finances (job laws and taxes) and our living arrangements (through marriage laws, housing laws etc.), governments and mainstream religions have sought to control our sex lives too.

Telling people how to behave sexually is just another form of control, of subservience, of domination. Do what you’re told, even behind closed doors. Controlling what people think and want to do is the highest form of absolute manipulation.

Aphrodite
Aphrodite

Finding connection

Paganism and kink are, for me at least, intrinsically connected. They’re both forms of free thought and experimentation. You don’t have to like or accept eveything available – not by a long shot. They’re not about conforming to the Church Of Wicca or to the House of PVC, if that doesn’t float your boat. When you enter the world of Paganism, you don’t have to go buy your cape and wand, and when you start in kink you don’t have to go buy a set of handcuffs to be accepted. Everything is valid between consenting adults.

Paganism doesn’t have to be kinky, but it’s a lot more fun when it is. Because, in the end, life is about sex. And so is religion. Religion should be sexy. For too long we’ve been used to the stale, sexless, Godless churches, which thrive on taking away the physical from the spiritual – separating the two and neglecting the needs of the body.

Yet our bodies are Temples – beautiful, sacred temples. To ignore their needs and their desires is foolish and ignorant.

I’m not suggesting that every ritual needs to contain a sexual element. It doesn’t. Or that religion is always about sex. It isn’t. But sex does need to be recognised within religion in order for us to be whole, complete, satisfied beings. Our bodies need to be recognised and fulfilled for religion to feel complete and whole.

With Perfect Love and Perfect Trust

I believe it’s time to put the sex back into religion. Yes, I’m a sensualist, but I do believe it’s time to put the curiosity and the bliss and the spirit back into sex. It’s time for Paganism and kink and sex to all come together within sacred space, and to connect again. It can be done, and it can be done well. “With perfect love and perfect trust” not just as empty words, once again having real meaning in our lives.

Paganism has become tainted by puritanism and consumerism. So you see circle after circle, coven after coven, all geared up with the nicest of trinkets, yet afraid to talk about sex. They’ll discuss everything and anything but. They’ll comment on one another’s latest greatest toy scrying mirror, but won’t share any deep ritual that can truly help them find the Divine God and Goddess within.

Sex is a scary topic. It should be. We bare our souls, and who we are, when we go deep and open with others. We show others who we truly are, and that can be a frightening prospect. There is no turning back, once another person has seen the light that guides you within, in a sexual, spiritual setting. Yet there is so much more to be gained than lost, the fear is worth the risk. Because we risk losing so much more if we remain forever afraid to share who we are.

So yes, I’m advocating our putting down of the capes and the wands and the pretty knick-knacks on the shelves. To truly connect with the Divine, we need to start by exploring our own bodies – what they do, how they respond, how we can connect with others. The human body truly is a miraculous, Divine thing.

It’s time we learned, once again, how to experience our own Divinity.