Sunday, 4 March 2018

Taboos, Trivialisation and Turn Ons

We often see articles online with the title "How Many People You Should Sleep With Before You Settle Down", or "The Ideal Number of People to Have Sex With". Sex is in the media 24/7; we are engulfed in explicit images posted by our most loved celebrities. It has become the norm to see a sex scene in any film you watch (minus the children's films of course). So is there still a taboo? 

It is evident that sex has been in the past, a subject that is not widely spoken about in public. It is something that has been seen as a taboo. My sex education at school consisted of gory images of STI's; merely showing us what sex was in the first place, and by that point most of the girls in my school were on their second pregnancy. 

We can fool ourselves all we want, by saying that the topic of sex is no longer a taboo. So many people are talking and writing about it, breaking the stigma that comes with such a natural act of love. But, this does not mean that there is no longer any stigma. (Included in this post, are quotes from a man *He chose to be anonymous*; as I wanted to give you all a point of view from both sides). 

I have been going on a few dates for the past couple of months. I have met new people, shared new experiences and just generally had fun! It has been nice to 'get back out there' and do what I want, while I am still young! So why, when the topic of sex comes up (excuse the pun), do we shy away with the fear of being judged? If it is something that is so openly spoken about, why are we worried about the reaction of our date, when we say that we've only slept with a handful of people, or hundreds of people for that matter? 

Someone I have been speaking to said, that they had only slept with one person and for me to not 'run away' when I hear them say that. He then went on to say, that many girls had dismissed him and turned him down after finding that out. Which confused me. Why would I run away, because a guy has only had one sexual experience? Which then made me think, why do guys feel under so much pressure to 'get laid'? Is it because people do not see them as 'experienced', therefore they do not want to waste their time pursuing something with them? 

"Unfortunately, as a guy, I can confirm that the whole “lad” culture surrounding sex is still very much a thing, even if more men aren’t so fixated on the idea of “conquests” determining manhood anymore."

In my opinion, no one is ever truly experienced or advanced at sex. Especially, when you bring numbers into the situation. I've slept with someone who has had a lot of sex, with many different people; and I've slept with someone who has been in a long term relationship and only slept with a couple of people. My first 'sexual experience' was not exactly the best, but it will always mean something to me. Each person I have been with, has had a different number of 'sexual experiences'; and do you know what?! They have all been completely different. No single person, has been the same as another person, or better than the other person. 

Men usually give it the 'big I am' when they talk about their sex life. Explaining in graphic detail, how they have had sex with multiple people in one night; or saying that they had sex in, said unique place. I've been told by a guy that his group of friends share who the last person was to have sex, and they then give them a nickname of some sort. I don't know about you, but that kind of thing does not impress me. I will not judge someone purely on the amount of people they have been with, because that feeds into the taboo even more. 

"There is a pressure, often more subconscious and unspoken than explicitly outlined, amongst single men to go out and sleep with as many people as you can, playing the field."

Someone could sleep with hundreds of people and class themselves as a 'sexpert', when in reality, no girl or guy is the same; we all get turned on and off by different things. To me, I see sex as something that should have no pressure. Something that is fun and a connection between two people. Having said that, it is so important that you are on the same page. Sex is about learning and experimenting; finding out what works for you. So, why should guys or girls feel embarrassed when they share their 'magic number'?

"The idea pervades that the more people you sleep with the more successful or desirable you are, if you aren’t doing so (even if you aren’t that fussed) you are viewed in a slightly different light to everyone else."

"Nights out for a group of single men, for example, can be wholly focused on “conquests” - the pressure being that there should be nothing stopping you from adding to your “total”, even if you don’t want to. The culture still inherently suggests that this is the done thing to do."

I started this discussion on Twitter and I had mixed reactions. Most people did not care about how many people their date had slept with (and rightly so, in my opinion). However, others (mostly men) said that they feel embarrassed that they've only slept with one or two people, due to being in long term relationships. Which raises another question... why should people feel embarrassed for being in long term relationships? 
I've been cheated on by someone who had admitted to having a very sexual past. I was not fazed by that and did not judge them. However, since this has happened, I have found myself wanting a guy who can show they are loyal. So, when a guy says they have slept around and disrespected girls, this does not impress me. The 'alpha male' vibes they are *trying* to give off, do not do anything for me. But at the same time, there is nothing wrong with someone who sleeps around and does not want anything serious. The main thing is that they are honest from the start. If you want a hookup, just say it; it is normal and fine! 

However, when I brought up the conversation about women sleeping around; men didn't seem too keen. Society has made us believe, that women need to be 'pure' and are deemed 'sluts' if they have had a lot of sex. So why do men feel the need to either lie about how many people they have slept with, or express that they have slept with hundreds of girls, in order to impress their date and make them think they are more experienced? 

The point I am trying to make with this post is, no one is classed as 'experienced'. Having sex with hundreds of people, does not make you experienced, as everyone is different. Sleeping around does not make you a slut, slag, whore... whatever you want to name someone who is carrying out a 'natural act'. Sex should not be the be all and end all of a relationship. Men or women should not be embarrassed to tell a girl or guy that they have only slept with one person. Men or women should not be embarrassed to tell a girl or guy that they have slept with hundreds of people. Sex is sex. Make of it, what you will. 

Sex is still very much a taboo, especially if men feel the need to lie and say they have slept with hundreds of girls, in order to look impressive and experienced. Sex is still very much a taboo, especially if women feel the need to lie and say that they have only slept with a handful of people, due to the fear of being called a slut. 

We need to start being more open minded when it comes to sex. Do not feel the need to hide who you truly are, or lie about your experiences, in order to fit in with society. Those who judge others based on their sex life, are not worth your time. So let's stop fooling ourselves when we say that, sex is no longer a taboo. Yes, we may have come a long way (clean minds please haha), but it can still be very much a taboo. 

What are your thoughts?
Let me know in the comments below or Tweet me @petalsofperfect!

Thursday, 1 March 2018

How Sharing Your Story Can Empower Others || Uni Mental Health Day 2018

With it being University Mental Health Day, I thought I would take this opportunity to give you an update on how my university journey is going, and as the main aim for this year is to 'empower', I hope my story empowers you to keep fighting on!

As my time at university comes to a close, I can't help but go into 'panic mode' and worry about what the future has to hold. Recently, I have been struggling to cope with not having a plan and a path for my life, as in a couple of months' time I will be unemployed and on the job hunt! This is normal to feel like this, but for someone who has a mental illness, it can be ten times harder.

If you have followed my university journey since the beginning, you will know that it has not been easy for me. When I began in 2015, I felt like a tiny fish in a massive pond; I was not quite ready for the jump from my small school, to a university with over 20,000 students. During my first year, I struggled to cope with the work load and my mood dropped dramatically. I hated going there every day. I live at home, so I also missed out on the Freshers events and I found it hard to make friends. This left me feeling very isolated and depressed.
It was in the summer after my first year where I was 'officially' diagnosed with social anxiety and depression. Even though it was great to get a diagnosis, it did leave me with that 'now what' feeling. You've suddenly got this label that you have to live with. Going into my second year of university was scary! The pressure built and suddenly everything seemed a lot more difficult, now that I had the diagnosis. For the majority of the time I was fine, but then other days I couldn't even leave my bed or show my face in a lecture. I would be crippled with anxiety or dark thoughts.

However, going into my last and final year, things have improved massively! I am now no longer in a relationship, where looking back on it, I felt like I was not able to be myself and I became very unhappy. I am now independent, strong and ready for the future (however scary it may seem now)!

So, you may be asking how I managed to improve so much this year.

Well, I am going to give you my 5 top tips to coping with life stress whilst at university:

1. Don't look at the year as a whole!

Every single year at university begins in a blind panic. I list all the deadline dates for the whole year and completely overwhelm myself. This is definitely something that you should NOT do. Break the year into terms, weeks or even days if you need to. Take it deadline by deadline!

2. Give yourself a break!

Admittedly, I did not give myself enough breaks in my second year of university. I would work pretty much 24/7. Any free time I had was spent writing assignments. This left me having a lot of sleepless nights and panic attacks. This year however, I have noticed that I am letting myself have a break, if I feel like I need it. When I feel myself getting too stressed, tired or anxious, I stop, close my laptop and go to bed. Pushing yourself, will only make things worse.

3. Ask for help!

In my first year of university, I felt ashamed to ask for help. I would suffer in silence. However, halfway through my last year, I began cognitive behavioural therapy and told my lecturers about my mental illnesses. This helped massively! It took the pressure off and the CBT trained my brain to think more positively!

4. Make time to do things you enjoy!

When you're at university, you can isolate yourself in your work and forget that you do have a life outside of your studies. Make sure you do things you enjoy! Keep your brain active and engaged in leisurely activities. This could be something simple like having a bath, seeing some friends, writing a blog post or going on a run! Don't lose who you are!

5. Talk to people!

When I shared how I felt about university at the end of my first year, I had such a massive response. So many people felt the same way as me, including one of my friends at university. Everything you are feeling and experiencing, might be how someone else is feeling. The best thing I ever did, was share my story and talk to people about how I felt. This opened up so many doors for me, as well as allowed me to meet new people and make so many friends! I no longer felt isolated and it helped me rationalise my thoughts and stress!

This last tip in particular is something I am very passionate about. I have been blogging for 5 years now, starting off as a beauty blog and now developing into a lifestyle and mental health blog (with the occasional bit of beauty). When I hit 'publish' on my first post about my mental health, I did not think it would open as many doors as it has done for me. I have become a sub-editor and press ambassador for Student Minds, a media volunteer for Time to Change, I have been featured in the Guardian, BBC Newsbeat, The Mighty and filmed a documentary with the BBC, which should be hitting your screens very soon *squeals.

However, one recent thing I am particularly proud of, is my work with Samaritans. On one day in the Summer when I felt particularly depressed and wanted to do something with my day, I emailed Samaritans my story and they decided to make me and my story, the face behind their February Appeal Campaign! I did not expect it to happen at all! Samaritans have helped me a lot in the last 6 months. As some of you may know, I went through a lot of personal issues in the summer and I'm still going through a lot of them now. However, Samaritans were there to help me through it all.
On days where I'd wake up feeling helpless, I'd give them a call or email and they'd give me a reason to fight another day! This is why it was such a privilege to work with them on their recent campaign! We had been working on this since around September, so it was so nice to see everything come together, and the feedback we have had so far, is so heartwarming! I was even more proud at the fact that, I did this all off my own back! I can't wait for everything else I have planned with them for this year... so, keep your eyes out for future projects!
Sharing my story has also inspired me to create my own mental health project, Student Stigma. I was awarded £250 funding from O2's Go Think Big, in which I have used to set up this project. I still have a lot of plans in the works, but it is doing well so far! By starting this project, I have allowed others to have a safe place to share their story and help others in the process! I am so proud to say that I have given people this opportunity, and I think it is so important to raise awareness about student mental health, in schools and all the way up to university!

So, if you are starting university in September and you're feeling anxious and worried about the whole process, PLEASE look after yourself. Talk to people, ask for help... do whatever you need to do, to make your university experience worthwhile and rewarding!