Being Alone With Arousal

Note: this post talks about my eating disorder, including mentions of purging through vomiting, and my experiences of being sexually abused, including subsequent dissociation and general difficulty being alone with arousal. If any of those are tough for you, give this one a miss – I’ll be back on Saturday with a post about why you might find more autistic people than you’d expect in your local kink scene!

My fear of wanking came up in eating disorder therapy.

This is not wholly a surprise. Lots of things come up in eating disorder therapy, because eating disorders are deeply rooted, born of decades of cultural conditioning, dysfunctional coping mechanisms and adverse childhood experiences. But the more I’ve reflected on it, the more I’ve come to realise that my fear of wanking and my fear of food are two heads on the same beast.

One common starting point for eating disorder therapy is to consider what we’re actually afraid of. In my first round of it, two years ago, we unpacked a lot of my internalised fatphobia and my fear of taking eating to its extremes, which is an offshoot of my anxiety: it’s pretty common to consider the logical, if unlikely, extremes in any scenario. But I only got six sessions, and we didn’t have time to dive any deeper.

This time, I get a whole eight.

The thing that scares me about food is that I enjoy it. Enjoying things, I have learned, is scary and dangerous and often has real and terrible consequences. Having lived with abusers during a few critical formative periods, I learned and internalised that nothing good is without cost and that the more pleasant the calm is before the storm, the more devastating the storm will be. Best not to let my guard down, enjoy anything too much, or trust my senses to tell me when something is safe or nice.

Then there’s the complicating factor of having learned to wank through being groomed. As well as reinforcing my existing belief that my own sensory pleasures must always come at a cost, it created some really specific associations between the physical act of masturbation and a strong sense of danger. Specifically, fucking myself with an object when nobody is watching feels so wrong that it’s akin to practising a secret handshake on your own,  and fucking myself with fingers is very much the same. If there’s no webcam between my legs, nobody watching my face and nobody talking dirty to me – if there’s no audience to validate my pleasure and benefit from it – it not only feels asymmetrical and disconcerting, but dangerous.

Indulgence has always led to violence in my life.

I am now, of course, free of all the abusers who have made and reinforced that connection, but that doesn’t undo it. It’s wired into my brain like the connection between an object flying at one’s face and one’s inclination to duck. And because I’ve had so much else going on, and so many spectators available to me, I haven’t had time to rewire it.

Being horny alone feels like being in pain. It’s frightening and distracting and I don’t want it. If I do attempt to masturbate, I usually dissociate, failing to orgasm and also failing to feel my own face or entirely remember where I am. If I don’t, I have this constant nagging sensation somewhere in my physiology that feels like an alarm going off, reminding me that indulgence is possible, and therefore, so is danger.

I am fucking sick of it.

I wrote out a plan for a Masturbation Boot Camp (and yes, I titled it exactly that) which instructs me to spend day zero practising mindfulness, day seven touching my body and exploring sensation, and day fourteen actively attempting to come, with every day in between requiring an incremental step towards these goals. I showed it to my tipsy, dyslexic girlfriend, who saw straight through me and said, “And how much of this is procrastination so you don’t actually have to wank?”

It’s a great idea and it’s one I’m going to try, but she’s right. I live in fear of my body and the pleasure I can experience within it, and even the idea of self-massage or watching porn for fun fills me with sickening dread. I suck at most mindfulness activities because, between the chronic pain, the chronic trauma and the violations I’ve been subject to when I have indulged in pleasure, I don’t want to be in my body. I don’t want to ground myself in it. It’s a horrible place to be.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any other vessels to contain my soul (this is a Kingdom Hearts joke), so I’ve got to get used to this one.

I’m getting better at indulging in food, and even at indulging in food without punishing myself. Sometimes I devour cheap kebabs with gusto, and sometimes I go halvsies on a £27 Hotel Chocolat Easter egg with my partner and savour tiny mouthfuls of gourmet chocolate. I’ve managed to bully myself out of the bulimic practice of purging my meals – at first, this was because I was and am on oral hormonal birth control, and consider it a consent violation to jeopardise that without notifying anybody who might jizz in me, but over time, once I’d detached the act of eating from the act of puking, the mere hassle of purging became enough to deter me from it. Eating can still be a challenge, but it’s a rewarding one.

I’ll get back to y’all about my success with Masturbation Boot Camp. I’m hoping it’ll be a challenge, but a rewarding one, and I’ll learn to indulge in self-pleasure like I’m about to indulge in a sliver of salted caramel chocolate.

Borderline Personality Disorder and Relationships

Image is a selfie of Morgan, a white blue-haired nonbinary person with multiple facial piercings, who appears to have been crying very recently: their nose is pink, their face is damp and their mouth is sort of pulled off to one side because they are too sad to smile. They're holding two fingers up to the camera in the peace sign and their face is framed by the fluffy hood of their coat.

I’m going to have to start this post with a disclaimer. I was referred to a psychiatrist for an assessment as to whether I had BPD in 2017, and their conclusion was that I had borderline personality traits but didn’t meet the criteria for an actual diagnosis. My theory is that this decision was reached in part because my existing diagnosis of autism accounted for some of my symptoms and my trauma-related stuff means that I suppress or downplay some others. Regardless, I don’t want to position myself as an expert on BPD, and I’m using it as a piece of vocabulary which explains my experiences whilst trying not to attribute everything and anything to a diagnosis I don’t actually have.

With that out of the way, here’s the post proper:

I sometimes refer to my BPD as “Big Emotions Disorder”.

If you’ve seen Disney’s Peter Pan, you might recall that Tinkerbell, like other fairies, is so small that she can only experience one emotion at a time, and she experiences it so intensely that it clouds her judgement and she seems to forget anything that she has felt or experienced in the past, as well as forgetting the possibility that she might feel or experience anything different in the future. That’s how I feel emotions.

It fucking sucks.

It doesn’t always suck, of course: when I’m happy, I’m Big Happy, and that can be really pleasant, as can other Big Emotions such as Big NRE, Big Stoned and Big Inspired and Determined. But even those have their pitfalls. Big NRE can cause me to lose all sense of perspective, ignore or misread red flags and rush into relationships that are, at best, not well-suited to me and my circumstances (and are, at worst and alarmingly often, abusive). Even plain ol’ Big Happy can be detrimental in that it causes me to forget that I am, in fact, mentally ill, meaning that I over-commit to things, insist to medical practitioners that I’m doing fantastically and am horrified when I plummet back into depression and/or anxiety. This doesn’t just occur if I’ve been Big Happy for a number of days or weeks; a few hours of Big Happy is all it takes for me to become convinced that I was faking the depression, anxiety and PTSD all along.

And then, of course, there are the “bad” Big Emotions. Big Sad feels like an all-consuming tidal wave of despair and can be brought about from something as simple as Tesco running out of my favourite cookies. Big Scared triggers my fight-or-flight response in mundane situations such as visiting a new restaurant. Imagine every unpleasant emotion a human can feel multiplied by ten and made much, much easier to trigger – that’s my constant, day-to-day, exhausting experience of emotion. The one that seems to have the biggest impact on my relationships, though, is Big Insecure (and its cousin, Big Self-Hatred).

When I’m Big Insecure, I cannot see anything good in myself. Even the things I’m usually proud of, like knitting tiny hats for premature babies, are warped beyond recognition in my mind until I convince myself I’m only doing those things to earn praise or to hide my true (disgusting) nature. I grow to firmly believe that my partners only stay with me out of fear of the consequences our break-up might have, even though I’ve tried hard to make clear that they’re not responsible for my mental health or safety, or that they stay with me because I’ve manipulated them, taking advantage of trauma-bonding and their individual insecurities and sometimes-low self-esteem to ensnare them, so they can’t even see how despicable I truly am.

On average, I attempt to break up with at least one partner at least once a month. I explain that it’s for their own good, that I love them so much I could burst but that’s why I have to turn them loose from my machinations, that I never meant to manipulate them but I know that I have done so and that soon, once freed from me, they’ll realise exactly how awful I was and be unspeakably glad to have escaped. And my partners, every single time, have to spend hours reminding me that they are autonomous adults, that they love me, that I am not all that my brain says I am and that I do this all the time. They promise me that if I ever want to break up with them for my own reasons I’m welcome to do so, but firmly remind me that I can’t just break up with myself on their behalf: that’s their call. If I continue to spiral, sometimes they get me to take the PRN medication I keep on my person for acute episodes of anxiety, and sometimes they prompt me to phone my mum or get another partner’s opinion on the situation.

They do all this knowing that in three hours’ time I’ll be right as rain, planning my next sixty blog posts or an entirely new project that will most likely never see the light of day.

My BPD can put a strain on my relationships because I experience my lows so intensely and require so much reassurance to dig myself out of them, but I work hard to make sure my partners aren’t walking on eggshells around me. I remind them that even if they’ve done something that sparked a Big Emotion, it’s not their fault that the emotion is so Big. I tell them often that I want to be told when I’ve upset them, done something inconsiderate or otherwise could change my behaviour, but I also provide them with templates for how to convey that information to me in a way that minimises my unhelpful Big Emotional response. I go to therapy and I do my best to implement CBT techniques in my self-talk as well as teach my partners how they can help me to use them: they often ask me what evidence I have that I’m a terrible person, remind me of evidence that suggests I’m not, and gently suggest I may be misinterpreting evidence so it better fits my schematic beliefs. I also find healthy outlets for my Big Emotions, like baking bread (which is a constructive way to beat the shit out of something for ten-plus minutes), singing loudly, ugly-crying at documentaries or films, long walks, bad sketches and, when all else fails, screaming into cushions until my throat hurts.

It’s a lot of work and it’s never-ending, for both me and my partners, but I like to look on the bright side. My engagement with therapy coupled with my determination not to become the self-centred delicate monster I fear I might be means that I have a huge amount of insight into my emotions and my thought patterns, as well as some sophisticated ways to communicate about them. My Big Emotions make me fiercely loyal, unreservedly affectionate and as emotionally available as it is possible to be. My disordered personality isn’t a bad personality, or even an especially difficult one: having BPD as part of my vocabulary means that I know what challenges I face in relationships and can come prepared with reading material and my own bread flour, which puts me at an advantage over neurotypicals who haven’t done such intense introspection and research. It doesn’t make me a better partner, but it does help me be a more prepared one.

I wanted to write this because so much media regarding BPD and relationships is about how to be a good partner to people with BPD, except for the truly unkind stuff which argues that people with BPD cannot be good partners at all. I wanted to put into the world something from the perspective of a borderline person who is doing their fucking best and who does, whatever Big Insecure says, have a number of fantastic qualities that make them an excellent friend, partner, family member, employee and whatever else they want to be. I wanted to be a voice that says, “I’m borderline and it’s hard as hell but it’s worth it, it’s so worth it to pursue relationships and love people in the unabashed, unreserved and totally unconquerable way that us borderlines do.”

I’m Big Hopeful that I’ve achieved that.

Formatting And Self-fornication: What Is A Wank Journal, Anyway?

Stock image of a white person's hand holding a blue ballpoint pen over a notebook. The rest of the person is out of frame and the table upon which the book sits is a neutral beige colour.

Content note: This post refers to sexual trauma & trauma responses to solo pleasure in the abstract, but does not contain details of consent violations or acute trauma responses.

A few weeks ago, I tweeted about the genesis of my Wank Journal. I did say that it would stay private for the time being, since it’s a tool to help me reconnect with my body and my sexuality in solo settings where my pleasure isn’t “for” anybody else. And I intend to keep its actual contents private (partially for the above reason, and partially because my handwriting is atrocious even when I’m not writing immediately post-wank) for now, but I thought I could explain exactly what a Wank Journal is (or might be) and how I use it (or how you could use it).

I bought my Wank Journal from a fancy stationary place. Its iridescent blue/pink cover gives me good autism (in other words, I find it a uniquely pleasant sensory input) and its lined pages make sure that my writing stays legible-ish so I can revisit it another day. It also has a section in the top right corner for the date (appearing like this: _ /_ / _ ), which means I don’t forget to date my entries and satisfies my autistic love of consistent formatting.

And regarding formatting: I put information into my Wank Journal under four subheadings, which I write out each time I make an entry, rather than pre-writing them and finding I’ve left myself too much space for some subheadings and not enough for others. After all, every wank is different, and I can’t predict how many lines I’ll need for my ‘Context’ section for every one of my next however-many wanks. If I were/you are recording my/your Wank Journal entries digitally, this is less of a consideration, but I’ve pre-filled aspects of journals before (like writing future dates at the top of every page of a diary) only to find that I’d over- or underestimated how much I’d write on any given day. Opting not to pre-fill pages in any way means that I can allow myself flexibility and spontaneity, so I could change my subheadings or the level of detail under a subheading on a whim.

The subheadings themselves are quite straightforward. The first is ‘Context’. This is where I note down any pertinent information about my day, my feelings and my surroundings. This can include where I’m at in my menstrual cycle, whether I’m at my own house or that of a partner, whether I’ve been under the weather… Really, anything goes here if I think it’s of relevance to the wank in question.

Subheading #2 is ‘Implement(s) Used’, and it’s exactly what it says on the tin. I write down the names of any toys I’ve used and denote whether or not I used lube. You could be as detailed as you like here: for example, you could write “hand”, “left hand” or “left index & middle fingers”, depending on what sort of sexy solo statistics you’re looking to garner. Since I just like reflecting on successful wanks and having a sense of how I might replicate them, I list toys by brand names or nicknames I’ve given them, and I don’t need much information about what I do with my hands unless it was especially mind-blowing.

The third heading I use is titled “What I Did” and involves, you guessed it, descriptions of what I did to get myself off. This is one of the things that helps prevent me from dissociating after wanking since it keeps me grounded in reality rather than allowing me to “check out” and forget I even have genitals. Again, the level of specificity you use really depends on what your objective is – if you want to connect with yourself and your sexy solo experiences, I’d just outline which body parts you touched and what made you climax/brought you the most enjoyment; if you’re looking to collect data on how you jack off to construct the perfect wanking experience for yourself, or just because you’re a nerd about sex stuff, you can get more nitty-gritty about it and write down all of the movements you used, which positions you masturbated in, and anything else that you deem noteworthy. Nobody’s grading you on this.

Fourth, we have the subheading “What I Thought About”. I don’t usually use porn or erotica when I’m getting myself off, but this is where that would slot if I ever I did, along with an outline of fantasies I had that were particularly hot and/or memorable. I use the term “fantasies” in the broadest sense here – I could have constructed an entire sexy universe in my mind, along with nuanced characters and a compelling story arc, or I could just write down “dick veins.” and call it a day. Generally, my input into this section leans more vague than specific, mirroring my sexy thoughts themselves, but again, you could dictate your every thought into your phone to transcribe at a later date, or take the “dick veins.” route according to your needs.

Lastly, we have the section titled “Aftermath”, which might not be of use to you if you’re using a Wank Journal to record wanks, rather than to explore your trauma responses and thoughts about said wanks. Here I write about any dissociative symptoms I’m experiencing, whether I have the shakes, any emotional reactions I’m having and anything else that seems to be a direct result of the wank itself. Sometimes this section is overwhelmingly positive and sometimes it’s not, and that’s fine. The important thing for me personally is gaining insight into my wanking and wanking-related trauma with the aim of making masturbation less difficult and more enjoyable. You might find an “Aftermath” section useful to gauge the relative intensity of your wanks, to explore your emotional reactions to certain kinky fantasies or porn, or to unpack negative associations you too might have with wanking in order to work through them.

However you use your Wank Journal, I recommend getting one with a water-resistant (or rather, let’s be real, a cum- and lube-resistant) finish to it – something plastic-y or at least waxy to keep your journal safe. (It was for this reason alone that I didn’t select the pink and fluffy journal that was also available and similarly formatted.) I also recommend having it near where you’re wanking, along with a pen, so that you can record your thoughts and feelings whilst they’re still fresh in your mind – you’d be surprised how quickly your recollection of a wank can fade! Of course, if you’re keeping a Wank Journal digitally, you needn’t worry about its material makeup nor its location – but I selected a real life paper journal specifically for its physicality. I find that the process of writing with pen on paper requires focus and prevents me from checking out of my body, keeping me mindful and present instead of dissociating with a vibrator still on my belly. If you’re thinking of using a Wank Journal to tackle sexual trauma, the physicality of it is 100% something to consider.

But at the end of the day, there’s no right or wrong way to keep a Wank Journal, just as there’s no right or wrong way to wank. Kate Sloan writes about sex spreadsheets and tracking sex-based data more broadly here, in a post I found fascinating – so I hoped y’all would find this insight into my sex-related data collection fascinating, too (even though I have no colour-coding to speak of). You do you, and as we head into 2019, I wish you all happy wanking.