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.

Why I Don’t Review Sex Toys (Yet)

Image is of a white hand (Morgan's) holding a box with a picture of the blue Fun Factory Stronic self-thrusting dildo on it.

Content note: this post refers briefly to my experience of being sexually groomed and the subsequent dissociation and trauma I experience. If that’s a bit heavy for you, join me next week for some thoughts on eye contact during sex, and take care of yourself in the meantime ♥

You might have noticed that I tackle a fairly broad range of sex- and kink-related topics on this li’l blog of mine, including detailed discussions of the things I’m into and the reasons I’m into them. You might also have noticed that I am a big user of sex toys, since they feature in a lot of my Smut Saturdays pieces and in some of my other essays too. Surely, then, the next logical step would be to write in-depth pieces on my enjoyment (or dislike) of specific sex toys, right?

Well, much like any other question that starts with, “Why do you…” or, “Why don’t you…”, the answer to this one is twofold: it’s the trauma, and the good ol’ autism.

Let’s get the trauma bit out of the way first. I don’t wank much. My first experiences of enjoyable masturbation were in a grooming context, wherein I was being instructed by someone a lot older than me on technique and fantasies. Six years on, I still find my own arousal unsettling when it isn’t “justified” by a partner’s presence and arousal of matching intensity, and trying to get off without anybody’s permission feels dangerous and unfamiliar. Even with awesome porn, if I’m touching myself while I’m alone, I feel unbearably self-conscious and will often dissociate. As you can imagine, this does not make for very good dildo data.

I could, of course, circumvent this by only testing toys in the presence of a partner – which would also yield more data in terms of how a toy can be used by two or more people. However, I’m depressed and anxious, and both of my partners are busy people, so I don’t want to put pressure on the sexual encounters we do manage to have by making them into research projects; nor do I want to put pressure on my partners themselves by bestowing upon them a responsibility to get sexy with me for the sake of my blog when we’d rather be watching Masterchef or snuggling in silence after a busy, hard day.

The only viable solution to this problem, in my eyes, is continued therapy, gentle experimentation, and lots and lots of time to keep recovering. If I ever do manage to produce a review of a toy, y’all should know it’ll be the product of a huge amount of psychological labour, support on my partners’ parts and way more time testing than the average reviewer probably spends.

With that out of the way, here’s my next point: the autism. Being autistic doesn’t automatically preclude a person from reviewing sex toys by any means, and it might even be an advantage to some, since autism can involve, among other things, heightened sensory experiences and a meticulousness that your neurotypical friends will envy during Deadline Week at uni. Unfortunately, my autism also involves a lack of cognitive empathy.

“But Morgan!” you cry, probably gripping your laptop or tablet screen in dismay. “You’re super empathetic! What are you talking about?!”

You’d be right, my dear fictional and overreacting reader. I have buckets of affective empathy, which is the one that makes you cry at videos of raccoons dissolving their own candy floss or bitterly despise your friends’ trash exes – in slightly more technical terms, affective empathy is the type of empathy that causes you to experience the same emotions that people around you are experiencing, and it’s the type I have way too much of.

Cognitive empathy, though, is the kind of empathy that helps you to understand how other people are feeling in the first instance – and I fucking suck at it. Once someone has very clearly signalled their emotions to me, I’m balls-deep in those emotions with them, but they have to be very, very clear signals. As a default, I assume that everybody is fundamentally like me, so I’m surprised to learn that people are straight, or that they like pasta, because I’m a pasta-hating double queer. In terms of sex toy stuff, I’m surprised to learn that some people like very direct clitoral stimulation or that they might dislike intense A-spot stim – and I tend to forget that information even once I’ve learned it. I worry that my lack of cognitive empathy would make my reviews effectively useless to anyone whose preferences didn’t align exactly with my own.

I also worry that my heightened sensory experiences would skew my reviews in a distinctly unhelpful way. Not only do I enjoy things more intensely than some neurotypical folk might, I also find some things unbearable that barely register for allistic folk. I am intensely bothered by certain textures, so I might slate a toy or a lube for a texture that 99% of the population would enjoy (or be neutral on). I’m also sensitive to noise, so my perception of the noise levels produced by a particular vibe might be wildly inaccurate and totally useless to somebody living in a block of flats with very thin walls.

I know that a lot of these problems could be mitigated by understanding and making clear to my readership that my reactions to stimuli aren’t representative and that I’m just describing my own experiences, but I’d hate to lead someone astray with my autistic fussiness and turn them away from a toy that they otherwise might have loved. I suppose, in a sense, this isn’t so much a problem with my autism as it is a problem with my own confidence in my writing; hopefully, over time, I’ll develop enough nuance to accurately and honestly review toys in a way that’s helpful for autistic and allistic folks alike.

Oh, and one final point: I’m broke as shit. Sex toys can be expensive, especially if you limit yourself to only reviewing body-safe ones, and I’m living off my student loan and the Amazon gift cards my uni sometimes gives me for participating in surveys. If any manufacturers or brands want to help mitigate that factor, since it’s the easiest one to contend with, you can reach me at – which is also one of the many places you can reach me if you’re a reader and you want to share your thoughts on the art of reviewing toys.

Let’s Talk About Toxic Triads

Greyscale photo of wooden triangles in differing sizes, some with jagged edges, tessellating with one another

Content note: this post is going to refer in detail to emotional abuse, consent violations, threats of self-harm (and irresponsible wielding of a knife) and generally shitty behaviour by an intimate partner. Please feel free to give it a miss if you think that it would be harmful for you to read details on any of those topics, and be sure to join me next week for a post about pride month.

Both of the relationships I’m currently in started out as triads.

In the case of my relationship with my girlfriend, it was a case of our mutual friend overhearing my asking my girlfriend out, and asking if she could be a partner to both of us. Honestly, I was drunk and a bit high, so I don’t remember much of that evening. (That became something of a theme.) We operated as a triad for about five months, then dissolved; after about a month of space, my current girlfriend and I got back together, but decided not to let our mutual ex back into our lives.

In the case of my Daddy and I, we met through somebody (I’ll call her C.) who fancied us both, and was definitely hoping for a triad situation to emerge. She introduced us, there was sex (again, erm, I was wankered), and then added the two of us to a group chat which had a DD/lg-themed name. Y’know, because negotations aren’t a thing you have to do before introducing that kind of dynamic into a relationship (/sarcasm). We were a triad for a few months, then,

In both cases, the third person in each triad – the one I didn’t stay with – behaved abusively. I still have some mutual friends with them both, so I’m incredibly frightened about divulging all of this, but I also started this blog with the intention of speaking truthfully and making other people feel represented and less isolated. I’m sure that the toxic triad isn’t too uncommon, and I’m also sure that there’ll be at least one person out there who feels bolstered and validated by my account of the shit I went through. I’m mostly going to discuss C.’s bullshit behaviour, because it’s more “visibly” abusive, and because I’m slightly less scared of her than I am of the ex my girlfriend and I share.

C. would express intent to harm herself, and then explain that the only thing that could make her feel better was sex.

In writing, that strikes me as patently unacceptable behaviour. My self-esteem is boosted by people thinking I’m fuckable, but 1. I don’t place that responsibility onto their shoulders (or genitals) and 2. I’m aware that it’s a flawed coping mechanism that I shouldn’t indulge. I don’t believe that anybody (least of all an ostensibly consent-conscious member of the kink community) can have so little insight that they would fail to understand that they were manipulating my Daddy and I into doing sex things by holding the threat of self-harm over us.

At the time, though, I never really had room to think this through. My Daddy and I were both interested in keeping her safe in the present, and we could think about the far-reaching implications of this manipulative bullshit later.

She ignored requests to not spend money on me, buying gifts I didn’t really need and then lamenting about how little money she had. I didn’t want to be ungrateful, but I already have a tendency to feel indebted to people, and her highlighting how impoverished she was because she’d bought me expensive chocolates or a corset made me feel yet more guilty and inclined to “make it up to” her somehow. (I ended up lending her about £700, which she didn’t pay back until after the end of the relationship – all whilst making purchases like those listed here.)

She also ignored a non-monogamy-related boundary I set (which was along the lines of, “please stop trying to get it on with this partner of mine because I’m insecure about it at the moment and he and I are still trying to figure shit out,”), and then cried when I explained that her ignoring it had made me feel unsafe around her. A few weeks later, she proceeded to ignore a boundary again, this time telling a crush of mine that I liked him in spite of me explaining I wasn’t going to get involved with anyone new for a while (partly because I felt that all my needs were met, and partly because I was crushingly overwhelmed by her).

This escalated; the resulting fallout involved me engaging in a self-destructive eating disorder behaviour, our Daddy leaving (walking out of his own house, in fact), and, when I went to follow him and check he was safe, C. physically dragging me away from the door. This was followed by her telling him, in our triad group chat, that if he didn’t come back, she would cut herself “to pieces”. Meanwhile, in his kitchen, she was brandishing a steak knife and shouting at me about how it couldn’t be “an empty threat”. My mum, who was receiving updates from me whenever I took my eyes off C., wanted me to call the police. When I suggested to C. that I might need to ring the emergency services because she didn’t seem to be safe (what with the knife and all), she only got more aggressive, and she cut into her thigh once, then tossed the knife onto the counter in frustration. When our Daddy finally returned safely, she yelled at him until he shut down entirely.

I thought I was handling the situation badly and causing her distress, and I hated myself for it. I blamed myself. And I still thought this was a relationship I wanted to maintain.

A day or two later, with the intention of patching things up and helping our triad continue to function, my Daddy wrote a lengthy message in our group chat explaining the emotional abuse he’d faced in past relationships, the ways in which C. had frightened and hurt him, and the reasons he’d walked out when he did. She had responded to it with something along the lines of, “I don’t understand what this means. Are you breaking up with me?”

And that moment, dear readers, is when my patience ran out.

My theory as to the existence of toxic triads is this: abuse victims find each other. Naturally, without intention, we gravitate towards one another. My girlfriend and I were both abused in similar ways by similar people; the same is true of my Daddy and I. We didn’t start out our relationships talking about this, but it made perfect sense once we’d disclosed our troubled pasts.

Abusers like C. find abuse victims and single us out because we’re vulnerable. They smell blood in the water: they can’t not know that we’re likely to assume their abusive behaviour is normal, and submit to it. The allure of two victims is too much to resist. You can pit them against one another, play off their shared and their differing insecurities, and they’re both going to assume that this is what triads are usually like, because their previous abusers have trained them not to question things. Plus, they have the added insurance of both victims being too scared to leave and thus lose each other. I remember thinking more than once, This relationship started as a triad. If I leave C., can my Daddy and I make things work as a pair?

The fatal flaw in this logic, though, is the assumption that we think all abuse is normal. (If that were true, we’d probably behave abusively ourselves.) Abusers don’t realise that we think abuse perpetrated against ourselves is normal, but we recognise that abuse perpetrated against other people is unacceptable. After all, other people are actually people.

This was C.’s downfall, and it was the downfall of the first shitty girlfriend I mentioned, too. I could be yelled at and coerced and even dragged around and taken advantage of while intoxicated, and I would never spot a red flag. But watching a partner have those same things happen to them?

I lost every shred of fondness I had clung onto for C. when she ignored and diminished the heartbreak and trauma that our Daddy had disclosed to her. At that point, I saw red, and I saw all the red flags. She had no intention of changing her behaviour to help my Daddy, our partner, feel safer. She was concerned only with herself.

My breakup message to her was so curt that her fiancé contacted me to tell me it was a dick move. I felt physically sick with anxiety, but my mum (a life coach, an abuse survivor, and somebody who’s known me for twenty solid years) forbade me from explaining myself any further. She said I’d only get sucked back into the whirlpool of gaslighting and manipulation that I’d been battling through for days before deciding to call it off, and in retrospect, I think that she was right – and that C. didn’t need an explanation anyhow. My Daddy and I had tried to explain, and she’d masterfully ignored us both, because she didn’t want to understand (or acknowledge) the harm she was causing.

I pushed myself out of my comfort zone in writing this post. I hope that it helps other people in toxic triads, or people who have left them, feel less alone and more understood. I hope that I’ve made those readers feel that they deserve their safety, and that it’s possible to break up with one member of your toxic triad without losing the other.

I also hope that y’all in the comments will be kind.

To find out more about abusive relationships, visit the Women’s Aid website, contact the National Domestic Violence Helpline, or Google the phrase “abusive relationship” alongside the name of your city to find resources based in your area. Stay safe, and remember that you deserve to be treated well.