This book is one woman’s funny, moving, and sometimes awkward quest to fix her sex life, but it’s the story of millions of women everywhere – half of all women have felt pain during sex.
During award-winning writer and performer Fran Bushe’s journey towards building a better relationship with her genitals, doctors advised her to have a glass of wine to loosen up, and male friends suggested she simply hadn’t ‘tried’ the right penis yet. Unsurprisingly, neither worked.
After a visit to Sex Camp and many attempts to fix her ‘broken’ vagina, Fran decided to share her own hilarious, excruciating, and sometimes upsetting experiences. With the help of her 16 year old self’s diary, expert advice, candid and enlightening interviews with others about sex, and some self-care exercises, Fran sets about trying to make herself, and other people, feel like they’re not being gaslit by their own vaginas.
At primary school, a friend and I would don our imaginary white coats and take to our doctor’s surgery in the bushes. Once fully hidden we would declare, ‘There’s something wrong with my mini and my vagina’ . . . before prescribing the only medicine we knew of: a fresh leaf sandwiched between the buttocks. We then spent the rest of the school day with the rustle of foliage in our pants. Everything seemed present, correct and fun.
Let’s just take a moment to lift our hats to five-year-old Fran for using an anatomical word, ‘vagina’, albeit entirely anatomically incorrectly. This was something I continued doing until my late twenties, except I called the whole area between my legs my vagina, or just nodded pointedly towards my crotch with a wink that I thought screamed ‘VAGINA’. I strode around using the word as a vag of honour, proving my feminist credentials with each one of it’s empowering syllables: VA–GI–NA, VA–GI–NA. I was so proudly unafraid to say the word VAGINA, that I didn’t even notice I was using the word completely incorrectly. I am not alone in this, as a study in 2016 showed that 70% of women could correctly identify the foreskin, penis and testes but 60% couldn’t identify the vulva and 45% the vagina.
Now in my thirties, after having had both body parts for all this time, I know that – let me hear you say it – the vagina is internal and the vulva is external.
Can you share your first memory of having a vulva or vagina? (even if these weren’t the words you were using for them at the time).
When I was four, I thought of my labia as tiny curtains to a theatre stage and made them ‘open and close’.
Watching The X-Files as a kid and getting turned on by the main guy and experiencing a ‘feeling’ down there.
I think I was about three when I realised I had a ‘front bottom’ instead of a ‘sausage bottom’.
I read a book at twelve about a girl masturbating, poked my finger in there and was like ‘This doesn’t live up to the hype’.
My vulva and vagina caused me relatively few worries until I hit my teenage years. Let’s take ourselves back to 2003 and that teenage diary of mine. I’m sixteen years old, Dawson’s Creek has just ended and The Darkness seem like a band that will go on and on forever. Teenage Fran believes in a thing called love and thinks that sex will be like the women in the Herbal Essences adverts, coming exuberantly under waterfalls, with Leonardo Di Caprio leaning on a moss-covered rock nearby and Sarah Michelle Geller dipping one very curious toe into my mountain stream.
PS: I haven’t changed a word of this.
Me and Lee had some serious chats and decided that we were both ready to take our relationship to the next level. So, I went down on him. It is very rewarding to be able to do something like that for your loved one and for them to really enjoy it. Upon writing this in hindsight I’m unsure if I ought to have done it as now it feels like it is all I do and I am beginning to get a sore neck. The difference is he is for sure far more AHEM turned on by it and I can bring him to AHEM climax every single time. But I don’t think I’ve ever been close. This of course isn’t his fault as I’m unsure I will ever be ‘turned on’, I’m just as I told him not wired up right. But this is not important- physicality isn’t important – I love his company and that is all that matters to me. Yesterday we went to the football and after worrying that Blackburn Rovers were a rubbish team, they beat Chelsea 2-1.
Luv n hugs, Fran x
Lee was in the year above at school and intensely passionate about Oasis. I was dating an older man, mature, not like the boys in my year at all. We had an all-consuming teenage love, the sort that makes parents worry about your A levels and hint frequently about birth control. We knew we’d be married at twenty-three, our first child would be called Noel (like in Oasis), our second child would be called Noelle (like in Oasis) and our third child would be called Invisible Ray (I’m not sure why exactly but it probably had something to do with Oasis). We were so in love that he once wished I would die first, because he didn’t want me to experience the pain of being without him – thanks Lee. It was going to be Lee to whom I gave my flower, my pearl, my maidenhood. We were going to eat the apple of knowledge together, losing our virginity to each other and living happily ever after.
In preparation of removing our V plates I bought two bumper value-packs of condoms (because let’s face it, Lee and I were going to be making love all night long and would probably get through 48 condoms), half with a numbing gel in their tip (because Lee had read that he might not last very long on our first time and a numbing condom might help extend proceedings). It was all planned for our six-month-a-versary at the stroke of midnight. I would enter a new day as a new woman.
Somewhere between the pages of teen magazines and whispers during sleepover parties I’d learnt that there would be pain, my hymen would be brutally punctured and there would be inevitable oceans of blood. That was unless I’d done a lot of horse riding or gymnastics (or gymnastics on horseback, preferably while inserting a tampon). I knew with Lee this wouldn’t be the case.
‘Does it hurt?’ he’d ask (because he was considerate like that), the 1,000 tea lights we’d lit reflected in his eyes. I’d nod bravely, never breaking eye contact for a second, and use the power of our love to sail bravely through into womanhood. Two minutes later the pain would be replaced by . . . something better than pain, although I wasn’t really sure what that would be.
My school was located in a borough with one of the highest rates of STDs in London, so our sex education came very much down to watching a nurse put a condom on a purple plastic penis over and over again: ‘Put it on. DON’T GET AN AIR BUBBLE IN THE TIP and roll, roll, roll it down the shaft. DROP AND ROLL! DROP AND ROLL!’
We learnt not to wear lipstick while having sex as this might break a latex condom, resulting in us contracting all of the STDs displayed vibrantly on the overhead projector (the only time my school ever paid for such vivid colour printing). It was implied that it was a girl’s job to know how to put the condom on and at the back of the classroom, we shared tips about how to do this using just your mouth to drive them extra wild.
N.B Early experiments showed this technique to be a choking hazard, it would just take one strong inhalation and you’ve got a condom lodged in your windpipe.
I remember sex education once being left to a substitute Geography teacher who with genuine fear in his eyes, declared, ‘BEWARE OF PRE-COME, THE MOST DANGEROUS OF LIQUIDS’, which made it hard to concentrate on the different types of destructive lava during exam prep the next lesson.
If I felt ill-equipped, I cannot even imagine being LGBTQIA+ in that classroom. There was not a second’s consideration that penis-in-vagina sex might not be the kind we’d be having. Changes are afoot yet sex education always seems to be deprioritised and pushed down the list of essential subjects. Hopefully, by the time you read this book all sex education will be perfect and you’ll be thinking, ‘what an archaic idea that sex education wasn’t thorough and inclusive’. That’s happened right?
Things I was taught about in sex education:
The amount of sperm in one ejaculation (20 million to100 million sperm cells per millilitre of ejaculate and each and every single sperm could get you pregnant).
Things that were not taught:
That I had a clitoris.
That I could orgasm.
That I could enjoy sex.
That I could say ‘no’.
That consent is more than just saying ‘no’.
That sex was something for me, too.
At sixteen, I could have told you more about photosynthesis and the causes of the Cuban Missile Crisis than about what was between my own legs and how any of it worked. I hadn’t considered sex was for me to enjoy at all and any conversations about me ‘receiving’ went as follows (again, incredibly verbatim).
LEE: Can I lick you out?
ME: What? Like a yoghurt pot?
LEE: I guess?
ME: Why? What’s in it for you?
LEE: It’s just what we’re meant to do . . .
ME: Why on earth would you want to do that?
Lee shrugs and starts to play Snake on his phone
ME: Ok, but only if I can turn the lights off. You mustn’t see . . . it.
Cue 45 minutes of Lee trying desperately to find my vulva in the dark. He mostly did not find my vulva, just giving me a very soggy upper thigh. I should have helped him out, but I didn’t really know any better.
It would have been useful to know SEX IS FUN AND ENJOYABLE and that SEX IS FOR YOU TOO and that YOUR VAGINA IS SELF-CLEANSING and DO WHATEVER YOU WANT WITH YOUR PUBES. Without this knowledge, the danger is you endure. You are passive. You are done to. It is fine to consensually be passive, but it should be a choice.
Publishing in hardback, ebook and audiobook on 13th May 2021, and paperback in 2022.