E20: Woman and Sexual Freedom: Natalie Lee, Feeling Myself

[00:00:00] Section: Teaser

[00:00:00] Natalie Lee: It's just ridiculous, isn't it? 18% of women can orgasm through penetration, yet here we are still bloody bashing away at it, thinking that that's what's gonna get the woman off. Well, yeah, we need to revisit that for sure. Don't we?

[00:00:18] Section: Podcast introduction

[00:00:19] Overdub: Hello, welcome to The Story of Woman, the podcast exploring what a man-made world looks like when we see it through her eyes. Woman's perspective is missing from our understanding of the world. This podcast is on a mission to change that. I’m your host, Anna Stoecklein and each episode I'll be speaking with an author about the implications of her absence - how we got here, what still needs to be changed, and how telling her story will improve everyone's next chapter.

[00:00:52] Section: Episode level introduction

[00:00:53] Anna: Hello friends. Welcome back. As always, I am thrilled that you are here. Speaking of a thrill, we've got a great thrilling subject to chat about today: sex. Something that is universal and human nature, but remains shrouded in stigma and taboo. 

[00:01:16] And I'm not gonna lie, I was a little nervous for this one because I'm not used to talking about sex, especially behind a microphone to all of you. But that's exactly why I really wanted to do it as we'll hear from today's guest, not talking about it, talking around it, using euphemisms, all these things perpetuate the problems we'll get into today. Like the massive pleasure and orgasm gaps, and the internalized shame so many women and marginalized people carry, and some men too. 

[00:01:53] My guest today is Natalie Lee. Natalie began her career as a midwife before starting her blog, which began as a fashion blog, but evolved to open up about other things like body confidence, mental health, and her healing process. For a decade, she has grown her platform from a blog to a brand and now reaches women across various different mediums. We're speaking today about her debut book, Feeling Myself: How I Shed my Shame to Find Sexual Freedom, and You Can Too. 

[00:02:23] Did you know that the CTS has 8,000 nerve endings and penises only have 4,000? Me either. By that math, women should be having twice the orgasms as men, but in reality, women are way behind their male counterparts in this arena. Today, Natalie and I get into why this is and what we can do to start closing that gap so everyone of all genders can have better sex. Because as with all gender inequities, men have much to gain as well. 

[00:02:57] And as always, if you like what you hear today, maybe share it with a friend. Personal recommendations are actually one of the main ways people find new podcasts, so it really helps. Or leave a review in iTunes, Apple podcast, or wherever you're listening from. 

[00:03:14] And if you want another 10 minutes with Natalie and I, or to listen to episodes uninterrupted without ads, consider becoming a Patreon of the podcast, this monthly cup of coffee cost goes a long way in helping me put out more and better episodes. 

[00:03:31] There's a link in the show notes, but for now, please enjoy this conversation about the story of woman and sexual freedom with Natalie Lee. 

[00:03:40] Section: Episode interview

[00:03:41] Anna: Hi, Natalie. Welcome. Thanks so much for being here today.

[00:03:46] Natalie Lee: Thank you for having me. I feel very honored.

[00:03:49] Anna: Absolutely. I'm thrilled to talk to you. This is a very exciting topic that we are talking about today. So we're discussing your book, Feeling Myself, and it is all about sex. Our deep held beliefs about it, trauma, porn, orgasm, sex and marriage, sex and motherhood and so much more.

[00:04:12] And you write, sex might seem like a small part of life, but actually you think it's a microcosm for everything. So I wanted to start there with the question of why sex? Why is it so important, and why did you choose that as the central theme for your book, which is really about self discovery and liberation.

[00:04:34] Natalie Lee: Yeah. Great question. I've always wanted to write a book and I knew I had a lot to tell in terms of my own personal story. And I think whilst I was writing it, it just became really evident that a lot of very prominent and pinnacle moments in my life were centered around sex in some way, good or bad.

[00:05:00] And, yeah, that just kind of became the theme of it. I didn't intend to be the theme of it when I started writing it. It just became apparent and very obvious. And it was nice because it gave it a focus. It really did help me hone down what I wanted to say. And, I'm so proud of it. I'm so happy that I've wrote this book, and I just feel like it was a real, sort of coming home to myself. And, I know that it will resonate with lots of women out there. I've had lots of feedback already about how many women love the book and uh, see themselves in it. Sometimes that's good. Sometimes that's bad, but yeah.

[00:05:42] Anna: Definitely resonated a lot with me, and I'm sure, yeah, almost everyone listening would feel the same, but, um, what is it about sex is so important for our lives and for our own mental health, mental wellbeing, personal development? 

[00:05:58] Natalie Lee: I think sex is a really like intimate facet of our lives, and I think for centuries, well, I don't know how long, but for a very long time, you know, there has been this shame attached to women and sex. We haven't been able to explore our sexuality openly and honestly, and it just feels like it's this kind of mythical creature that isn't supposed to be like, talked about or faced or it's supposed to be done in silence in the dark, you know? And um, I just feel like it needs to be taken out of that darkness and we need to own our sexuality and be able to explore all the outer realms of it, indulge in it, and have fun with it. You know, it's so serious. It can be quite morbid sometimes. I think it just kind of resonates and reaches all areas of our life. And that's why I think it's important. 

[00:07:08] Anna: It really does have an impact on, on everything else. Even though we don't always think about it that way. So it's incredibly important for all these different aspects and yet exactly as you've just begin to lay out, experiencing pleasure is something that many, many women struggle with and a big reason for that, as you've just said, and that was definitely a common theme throughout your book, is shame. You even called shame in the book, sex's partner in crime.

[00:07:36] And that's a part of the subtitle, How I Shed my Shame to Find Sexual Freedom, and You Can Too. You've mentioned that darkness, and I really liked the line from your book, which said that one of the best things that we can do is drag shame into the daylight. That's what you do in your book, and that's exactly what we're gonna start to do today. So can you tell us a bit, what was sex like for you before you began to shed that shame?

[00:08:05] Natalie Lee: With hindsight, I think sex was bad. Um, but obviously I didn't really know at the time that it could be any better or different. It felt like a bit of a chore, I guess, a bit of a chore. One of those things you have to do as a woman to kind of keep your man. Um, and there was very little connection. I was very much in my head, there was no sort of, uh, feelings. You know, I wasn't concentrating on what the sensations were.

[00:08:44] I also had no language for expressing my needs. So, you know, basically we were shooting in the dark, and so yeah, there was a lot wrong with it. And you know, that's not down to my partner. It's down to the shame. It's down to my lack of being able to fully be present. You know, shame does a lot of things and one of the things is it causes that disconnection, in terms of sex.

[00:09:20] So just very much going through the motions, making the right noises. Doing the right moves. The stuff I'd seen on, you know, pornos and um, getting through it basically. I think I was very good at acting. I knew how to bring it to an end quite quickly. So, yeah, it doesn't sound good, does it?

[00:09:48] Anna: Yeah, but I mean, as you know, you're so far from alone in that, and it's understandable that you and so many women are this way when it comes to sex because of all of the messages and what we are taught, how we are supposed to be and who the pleasure is for. And, you know, you, you've mentioned porn and I wanna get into that and I wanna get into all the different ways that shame and these messages are kind of embedded into us from such a young age.

[00:10:24] But I'll, I'll just kind of ask a general question and then we can dive into some of these specific areas of, of where do you think all of these messages come from? About how we're supposed to behave and the messages that end up leading to us feeling shame about our sexual identities.

[00:10:45] Natalie Lee: Well, I think society as a whole helps to reinforce that shame. I think religion has a very big part to play in shaping our views around how society views sex. I think it's been about control and because women have the reproductive capabilities, there's been a lot of taming, trying to tame women and trying to make them fall in line and do what they're told to do.

[00:11:19] And shame was a very great tool in that. But there's so many kind of ways it's infiltrated society in our lives and it's really difficult to kind of extricate all of the tiny little reasons and ways it's done because you know, there's a lot of processing that is still, I'm yet still to do. But yeah, I think, that's for me where my thought process is at the moment, but I'm sure there's more answers to that question.

[00:11:55] Anna: Yeah. So I wanna pull on some of the themes from your book that will help us paint that picture, even though as you say, it's, there's so many different areas that this stems from. But one that you talked about was this idea of virginity. You wrote that it's a social construct and we all know who it's for. As you put it in the book, women are pressured to keep it, and men are pressured to lose it, which of course, just mathematically does not add up. So, can you tell us a little bit about the problem with virginity? I like to think we've come a long way since the Virgin Mary, but how exactly do we see this playing out today?

[00:12:40] Natalie Lee: Wow. I mean, there's lots of problems with virginity, but I think my, my thinking is, is that there's two main areas. First of all, the fact that when we talk about virginity, we are talking about sex in a very heteronormative sense. We're talking about penis in vagina kind of sex, which I think has to be redefined and revisited because it's definitely not inclusive of all types of relationships and experiences. Even in heterosexual relationships, we know that lots of people don't have penetrative sex and for various different reasons, Va... I can't say it now.

[00:13:29] Anna: Vaginismus?

[00:13:30] Natalie Lee: Vaginismus, that's right. Thank you so much. I need to put my teeth in. Is is something that is fairly common and you know, a lot of women experience it, so therefore it makes penetration very painful. But that doesn't mean that they're not having sex because, there are different ways to have sex. So that's the first issue that I have with the term virginity, cuz it all kind of stems from that basic principle. 

[00:14:01] But also, it means that sex is commodified. That women have this kind of gift that they must hold on tightly to and if they don't, then they suddenly go over into a different realm. They're no longer sweet and innocent. They become more of a woman, more worldly, more slutty, maybe less good. So that's one issue. There's also, oh God, there's just so, you know, there's so much wrong with the virginity concept, isn't there?

[00:14:43] You know, there's this fetishisation of youth. Virgins are more prized possessions than women who have had multiple partners or lots of sex. And it's just such a ridiculous notion and it that notion of virginity is not as treasured as it is for men. So therefore there's that real disconnect and that real, as you say, the maths just don't work, do they? But I think it, it, it just solidifies that sex for women is shameful and virginity is something to be upheld. And it's this mystical, magical thing that makes a woman good.

[00:15:31] Anna: Mm-hmm, that her whole reputation hangs in the balance from. 

[00:15:36] Natalie Lee: Exactly. And we hear, that playing out a lot in, on social media, in how boys talk, about girls and, you know, how they're slut shamed. And there's a, a lot of talk at the moment about a guy called, Andrew Tate, I don't know if you've heard about him on TikTok, who talks about, how, you know, he's into young women because they can be trained and they haven't had multiple dicks inside them.

[00:16:06] And you know how their value somehow decreases the more sex they've had. And it's such a, it is such a damaging and negative rhetoric that is being spouted about. And he is incredibly popular. At the moment with the youth on TikTok, you know, millions and millions of followers, and he has these training programs and he's being listened to.

[00:16:37] And so this, you know, this is a big problem that we have in society. It's not something that is, sort of olden day stuff. Stuff that is no longer relevant. It's very, very relevant and this thinking is still very prevalent.

[00:16:51] Anna: Yeah, I think that's a, that's a really good point because it can be easy to say, Oh, you know, the Virgin Mary, like I mentioned, and Oh, this is just olden time messages, but we don't live in a society like that anymore. But we absolutely do. And I mean, you've just laid out the overt ways, not to mention all of the covert ways that this messaging is continuing to be reinforced.

[00:17:15] So you have people on TikTok speaking out, and of course then you also, which you mentioned in the beginning, you also have porn and you see lots of these virgin, pure narratives reinforced through porn and that's not the only problem with it. Uh, you kind of have unrealistic narratives left and right, that get reinforced through porn, but that doesn't make porn itself bad. And I really enjoyed your chapter on that because, you know, there's a lot of nuance that needs to be had in, in the conversations surrounding porn. And you really took us through your journey of going from liking it to strongly disliking it, to liking it again. And I think that story really represents the struggle that a lot of women face when it comes to porn. But, you know, of course I don't think we talk about enough. So can you tell us about that journey that you went through with your relationship to porn?

[00:18:14] Natalie Lee: Yeah, absolutely. Again, I think porn is demonized a lot. I think it's really difficult to talk about porn as a whole because there is lots of different types of porn. But let's talk about just the kind of mainstream porn that most people will think of. We're talking about the free sites that, you know, is just a couple of clicks away on your phone that we can utilize at any time. The free porn sites, they weren't out when I was, when I first started watching porn. So I would, sort of basically nick the videos on, on my mom's shelf that weren't expertly hidden. And, that's where I started watching porn first of all. And it intrigued me, really intrigued me.

[00:19:05] I um, was probably far too young to start watching it, but, you know, it's the reality of a lot of people. You kind of stumble across it, and, it's not when you're ready to stumble across these things. But I think I kind of used it to learn how to make those noises and do those moves and, throw my head around and, and try and be sexy.

[00:19:35] It was, uh, definitely a learning tool. I wasn't, I was probably turned on by it. I'm not actually sure whether I was or not. Can't quite remember. But I'm sure it did become, you know, titillating and I did like it to a certain extent. And then, you know, you kind of become a little bit more aware of the wider context as you grow up.

[00:20:02] And I then started to realize that a lot of the women involved in it were probably exploited and were also definitely, not probably, not having fun and all of the orgasms that I thought were real and that meant she was enjoying herself, weren't real. It was acting. So then I started to feel ashamed about watching porn because there was such a kind of conflict there.

[00:20:32] And that was kind of difficult, you know, you would kind of watch it and then feel really icky about watching it, but it was still quite addictive and enticing. But then I discovered ethical porn or feminist porn, depends how you wanna describe it. But there's lots of porn that is really becoming a lot more popular now that is done by female directors. It's not just stuff that is for the male gaze. They interview the actors beforehand and you see what they give consent to and they talk a little bit about their background and, you know, you know they're not being trafficked or, you know that they have consented fully to the work that they were doing.

[00:21:23] Cuz I believe sex workers a very valid form of work if it's done with consent. So I then started to realize that actually there's all this porn out there that women look like me. They've got hair. They have different kind of colorations on their vulvas. And they have stretch marks and sometimes bruises in odd places and, you know, and they have different types of bodies.

[00:21:54] I think that was, that was the really kind of incredible thing that I found out. They weren't fetishized, you know, they weren't put into different categories that, that made it feel very icky. It was good to see. So I kind of fell in love with porn again. I dunno where I am with it now. I would say, I do watch porn, but rarely. I like to use my imagination a lot more now, now that I'm more connected with my body, my imagination is better and um, you know, I'm good at that kind of thing now. Much better than I was before. I just taken you on a little bit of a roller coaster there.

[00:22:40] Anna: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think that, you know, that's that nuance part of the conversation. I think that's exactly it that sex work and being able to enjoy and watch porn is not in and of itself, this dirty, bad, negative thing that we are sold. But when you try to reconcile that with exactly everything you just laid out, the fact that all of the directors and people behind the camera, the people with the money are, are men and are creating this and catering to the male gaze, and you're not sure where the women and the girls that are participating, you know, is are they consenting, have they been trafficked? Everything that you say. That in combination with the fact that as it's catering to the male gaze, you know, it creates this vision of what sex is like. Like you said, that uh, women just have orgasms, loud screaming, throwing their hair around, very enthusiastic orgasms on demand, and you get this kind of misogynistic power play rather than kind of intimacy and exploration.

[00:23:53] So I was really glad to read about, and I have before your book as well. I, I feel like I've seen this ethical feminist porn coming up more and more because it's not just that you feel good about the actors behind the camera, but also the stories that they're telling, the narratives are, are much more realistic. And even if there is a power play involved, you know that it's a consenting power play and it's not necessarily feeding into this real world that as you mentioned in the book, and I would be curious to hear you elaborate on now, is how these unrealistic narratives and how a lot of the narratives, you know, center around men are predators, women are prey, how does that impact sex in the real world? How men behave...

[00:24:41] Natalie Lee: mm mm well, I think it's, twofold. I think you can't just say how men act. It's also how women are conditioned to act too. So I, I believe, you know, you talked about the prey and the predator aspect. I think that plays very nicely into the fact that men are kind of taught to take it and to expect to, for example, have an orgasm. You know, women are trained to pleasure her partner, especially in heterosexual relationships. And therefore that exchange, you know, that's not balanced, that's not collaborative, there's only really one side of that party getting what they want. 

[00:25:35] And, I'd argue are they really getting what they want? Because I'm pretty sure that a lot of men would want that tenderness that you speak about, that kind of intimacy. The real, real deep connection that is so beautiful when you experience it with two people. You know, I think actually men would really want that, but they haven't had that.

[00:26:02] They haven't been shown that, and neither have we, you know, we haven't been shown that we can ask for things in the bedroom, you know, traditionally. That we can be present in our bodies and actually have the kind of sex that has not been shown to us. You know? So I think men actually do wanna please women, but the kind of misogynistic sort of view of it and way we've been conditioned is short changing all of us, not just women. Men are also being short change because they're not getting that true connection and it's a shame. It's a real, real shame.

[00:26:51] Anna: Yeah, I think, that's a really, really good point. Just like every aspect of this conversation around gender equality, men are losing out in the status quo. I couldn't agree more. 

[00:27:04] So onto something a little more exciting, uh, hopefully , um, the incredibly important, but way too infrequently experienced orgasms.

[00:27:16] Um, so as we've mentioned, we've seen how women in these mainstream type of porns have their orgasms, loud and enthusiastically from penetrative sex. Um, so the narrative, the, the mainstream narrative at least, is that this is what's normal and if you as a woman do not in fact orgasm like that, there's something wrong with you, which of course brings us back to our old friend shame. And starts to paint the picture of why we might act a certain way in the bedroom as you were laying out in the beginning. So I just wanna start first with getting some facts straight about orgasms. Can you talk to us about what is the current state of orgasms for women really? Like how many are having them and what kind are they having?

[00:28:08] Natalie Lee: That's a really good question and one that I'm really passionate about because, you know, there was a time when I felt like something was wrong with me because I wasn't having orgasms regularly. I didn't know how to make myself come and neither did my partners. So , you know, there was a, there was a lot of issues with orgasms and I think there's so many women that don't actually orgasm and they internalize that, that there's something wrong with them. So I just want to put that out there. There's absolutely nothing wrong with you. it's difficult. It's difficult, but we don't have enough education around it. But, um,

[00:28:47] Anna: Yeah.

[00:28:48] Natalie Lee: Actually physically, apparently, having orgasms is not easier for men than it is for women. And we would assume that because, you know, men come all the time, don't they? We would assume that it's actually easier for men to come, but it actually, physiologically it's not. We do know that most women actually prefer cliteral stimulation in terms of helping them reach orgasm. And what we also know is that less than 40% of women in heterosexual relationships are having orgasms regularly during sex, whereas less than 40%, whereas over 90% of men in heterosexual relationships are regularly orgasming. So there is a very big discrepancy there. And you know, clearly something needs to change. And I think there needs to be a lot more focus around women claiming that pleasure and men knowing how to pleasure women. Firstly, women have got to communicate that, but they also need to have ownership over their own bodies.

[00:30:09] They need to know that, that it's okay to explore their own bodies, to discover what they like and what they don't like. When I had sex education, there was no mention of the clitoris. No one told me where the clitoris was. I left school not knowing I had this organ, the only organ on the body that is made purely for pleasure. I didn't know that and neither do a lot of people out there. So I think it's really important that we try and educate people about anatomy, about where it is, about what it's called. Most of us are woefully uneducated in terms of what different parts of our vulva and our vagina are. Because we are just not taught that, you know, we all know what a penis is and where the testicles are and various different parts of that anatomy, but there's a real lack and hesitation in terms of educating people on women's sex organs and reproductive, not necessarily the reproductive, maybe we do know a lot about that because there, there's actually a heavy focus on the reproductive side of women's biology, isn't there?

[00:31:32] Anna: Yeah, that's, that's what everything's for. That's all it's there for. So

[00:31:37] Natalie Lee: Yeah.

[00:31:40] Anna: I, one of my, uh, most astonishing facts that I've come across in doing this podcast and reading these books, um, was that the, the full understanding of the clitoris, you know, the, the organ itself wasn't fully discovered until 2005.

[00:31:57] Natalie Lee: Really?

[00:31:58] Anna: which yes, the, the full shape. And, you know, most people listening probably won't know that the whole structure is nine centimeters long and six centimeters wide. And that is understandable when you realize how it's really the full understanding is only 17 years old. 

[00:32:20] Natalie Lee: Yeah, 

[00:32:22] Anna: I just find absolutely mind blowing that we did not know this until 2000 and five. So what, how would you recommend that people go about getting this education? Do you have any tools or resources or anything you wanna shout out or do you wanna give a little anatomy 1 0 1 lesson? I know it's it's audio, so it's a little bit harder medium to do that.

[00:32:46] Natalie Lee: is, it is actually. But we now have lots of images of the clitoris available to us online, and I think it's really worth, you know, just doing a little search and having a look at it. Because we also know that the clitoris, when it is stimulated and when it is engorged with pleasure, that it's actually very similar to the size and shape of an erect penis, but it's all internal. So I think it's really useful to know that because we know that it's bloody important. If it was on the outside of our body, maybe like men's, maybe it would be taken as seriously, but who knows. 

[00:33:35] So, um, actually like the reeducation, sex reeducation is one of my big sort of passions at the moment, and I'm really trying to get together a group of people who know what they're talking about, but from very different perspectives together, who can basically be a resource for people to learn about sex again, because as I said before, I feel like our sex education has been well crap.

[00:34:12] Basically . Yeah. Well, mine, mine was crap. It wasn't the kind of education that I needed. So there's this whole generation or few generations of people who are not well educated. And it certainly doesn't empower them and inform them in the way that I think is useful and necessary. So one of the projects I'm trying to get off the ground at the moment is bringing that all together, bringing those resources all together, making sure that, for example, we have gay men who talk to us about, you know, the prep that they do for anal sex, like who's ever talked to us about that?

[00:34:58] We, we, we don't know what we are doing. And I would love, you know, men who do this often to give us some tips on this, you know, so just kind of pulling together lots of different perspectives I think is really important. Making sure that sex education is given to reflect the society we live in, to reflect people who are non-binary, who are in same sex relationships, just to be informative and to not be so narrow minded, is one of my passions at the moment. And I'm just struggling to find the time to get that off the ground. But it's coming, it's coming. And there's definitely, there's definitely a lot of sex education tools online that you can look up. I follow so many accounts on Instagram, that is designed to inform female pleasure.

[00:35:56] And I can't actually think of them now, obviously, because, um, But, um, just doing a little search online is really easy. And the more you dig into it, the more you'll find out and the better informed you'll be.

[00:36:10] Anna: Mm-hmm. , I'll pop some in the show notes and, uh, including Natalie's Instagram, which I definitely recommend following Style Me Sunday. Um, and especially, yeah, especially as you work on this very important project. So I hope you do find the time because we could all use it. Um,

[00:36:30] Natalie Lee: definitely.

[00:36:31] Anna: And, and you mentioned this kind of at the beginning, but I thought this was a really important point that you drew out. And, you know, speaking of narrow mindedness, is that we tend to call sex penetrative penis and vagina, that's what sex is. That's it. And we call other sexual acts like oral sex foreplay. And I'm wondering if you can talk to why, obviously it's, it's not inclusive, but, in addition to not being inclusive and feel free to talk on that point, why is that kind of a harmful narrative?

[00:37:06] Natalie Lee: Yeah, so I think there's lots of terms that we need to revisit, that just don't speak to everyone. Like, for example, let's take the term foreplay. You know, foreplay is seen as the kind of oral sex part or masturbation, that kind of thing. And actually, for a lot of people, a lot of different, sexual orientation, that is the main part. That's the whole bloody meal. And even for women having heterosexual sex, like sometimes we don't wanna get to the penetration, we just wanna stay in the foreplay part. So, calling it foreplay, I think undermines it. And it has that expectation that it is before the main bit, doesn't it?

[00:38:04] And I think we need to include it in terms of what we view as sex, because lots of people are doing it as the main bit. And so, so why are we separating it. It just comes with assumptions already being made that don't need to be made. And that's my issue with it. And with lots of other terms. They're very, very heteronormative.

[00:38:31] Anna: Yeah. Yeah. Very heteronormative and exactly as you say it's implying that it's the lead up to the real thing when, you know, in your book, I think you had the stat that only 18% of women can reach orgasm through penetrative sex alone. So implying that how they do orgasm is not actually sex.

[00:38:52] Natalie Lee: Exactly. Thank you for reminding me of that start. I'd actually forgotten about that, so I, I can't, you know, again, it's just, it's just ridiculous, isn't it? 18% of women can orgasm through penetration, yet here we are still bloody bashing away at it, thinking that that's what's gonna get the woman off. Well, yeah, we need to revisit that for sure. Don't we?

[00:39:20] Anna: Absolutely. And one way we can revisit that one way we can start to empower ourselves to have our own orgasms is masturbation. And you had a wonderful chapter on that as well. And I would love to talk to you more about this now. You know, obviously if female orgasms elicit shame, there's no doubt that female masturbation, will, and you know, you wrote about all the myths that exist around female masturbation that have happened in the past, but still that it will cause infertility, mental health issue, sexual dysfunction. Uh, you wrote in the book that someone even once told you that masturbating could make girls go blind. So I think we can all really start to understand where this shame comes from. But I'm curious, I'm wondering if you can tell us about why masturbating is so important in the first place. You know, what is the detriment of carrying around all of this shame when it comes to masturbating?

[00:40:22] Natalie Lee: Yeah, I think for me, I felt a lot of shame around masturbation. If I, you know, touched myself, I thought that people would think I was dirty, disgusting, and, you know, if they really knew what I was doing, they wouldn't like me anymore. And that's basically what shame is, right? You internalize that sense of not being good enough, not being the right kind of person.

[00:40:53] It's different from guilt you know, that's outside of you. You can feel guilt about doing something, but shame is when you internalize that guilt and it actually makes you feel like a bad person. And that's what I felt whenever I did to touch myself. So I really, really lost the art of masturbation, cuz it is a fucking art form, for a very long time because it was something that good girls didn't do.

[00:41:26] And that is a real shame. I think. First of all, I wasn't taught to explore my own body. I learned about my body. Through other people touching about my body, and still then you don't really learn about it because you're not even directing their hands. So masturbation is so important because it teaches us autonomy over our body.

[00:41:50] It empowers us to know what we like and what we don't like. It helps us communicate our needs then if we do have partnered sex, and this is sex in the whole term, you know, there's lots of reasons why masturbation is good. Ultimately, it increases your self esteem. There's nothing better than being able to give yourself an orgasm.

[00:42:19] There's no greater feeling than knowing that you can have orgasms all on your own and you actually don't need anyone else. It's such a lovely, beautiful feeling, and I didn't really know that. When you're a kid and little, you know, you kind of do these things that feel good, like rubbing up against stuff.

[00:42:41] It feels good. It's just one of those basic, intrinsic kind of desires that we all have. And then society gets in the way and tells you that you are terrible for feeling this pleasure and for doing this, and then you kind of stop doing it. But actually, there have been studies that have shown that babies have been doing it in the womb. So

[00:43:08] Anna: Wow. 

[00:43:09] Natalie Lee: Yes, I know. So we actually are doing, so much harm by taking this very, very innate and basic right away from women. And, And I say women because women get the bulk of the shame. I'm sure that men do too in some part, but they certainly don't feel the full weight of the shame of masturbating as much as we do.

[00:43:41] Anna: Yeah. Yes. Yeah, definitely. 

[00:43:45] Natalie Lee: It's a big one, isn't it?

[00:43:47] Anna: it's, it is, it's a big one and I just see how it, it all plays together. Obviously, the shame of masturbation means that we're not masturbating, which means we are not understanding our bodies, which means we're not communicating what we want done to our bodies with our partners, which means that we're not having orgasms, which means that, that stat you said, 40% of heterosexual couples, the women are having regular orgasms, only 40%.

[00:44:13] So it all, it all ties together. So it is a real shame and a real shame, all of the shame. So I wanna, I wanna start learning from you and seeing how we can start shedding that shame in our own lives. So if someone has never masturbated before or never had an orgasm before, or possibly both, what kind of advice would you give to them? What would you say?

[00:44:41] Natalie Lee: Hmm. I would, if someone has never masturbated or had an orgasm before, I would say get curious. Get curious, you know, use the hands that you've got and just explore, just explore your own body. One of the things that I found really helpful is it doesn't even have to be a sexual thing. Sometimes I have just needed to tell different body parts that they're safe you know, a lot of, a lot of us have had quite a lot of trauma, some of us a lot, some of us a little bit. Usually some trauma, whether it's a big t or little t at some point. So, you know, even just holding, you know, I put my hand and hold my vulva and just kind of giving it some love and some the attention and reminding it that it's safe and it's okay. You know, you don't, yeah, as I said, it doesn't even have to be a sexual thing at first.

[00:45:53] Just that connection with your body is actually probably the most kindest, gentle, and loving way to start that connection in the first instance because there's nothing like feeling unsafe to being a roadblock to pleasure. Safety is so important for us to feel that pleasure and it can't be, you know, undermined or ridiculed or diminished. That has to come first before, before you do anything else. So get that connection back just slowly, just intentionally, be so intentional about it, carve out some proper time to get that connection started, and then go from there, see where it leads you.

[00:46:50] You know, I don't ever wanna tell people they should do something. They need to do this. Ultimately, we've been told we should be doing things for so long. I don't wanna be another one of those voices that tells you to do something that you really don't wanna do or that you feel, you know, some people might not feel sexual. 

[00:47:14] That's okay. You don't have to do anything. So I'm just very aware of being that kind of point waggy finger that tells people they should do these things. But yeah, just being aware, being present, getting connection. They're all the most important things with finding that again.

[00:47:37] Anna: I love it. So you had a great chapter about having sex after becoming a mother, and we don't have loads of time left, you're welcome to talk about that, if you'd like, but I'd really like to hear as well, how we go about talking about these things with our children and at what age you think that it should start? 

[00:48:00] Natalie Lee: Anna, that's a brilliant question to end on and one that I'm so passionate about. I think there's no set age, for me personally, you know, if my children are old enough to ask a question, they're old enough to get a real honest answer. There's no stories of stalks or cabbage patches being talked about in my household.

[00:48:25] Um, and I think, you know, if we don't tell them the truth, we are short changing them and actually just reinforcing the shame that is held. If we are, if we are making up stories, if we are using really fantastical names to name parts of our bodies, then we are just perpetuating that cycle that says we shouldn't be talking about this, we shouldn't be doing it.

[00:48:59] Or if we are doing it only certain people it, you know, it's just so ingrained in us to not be open and honest about sex. And that's one of the things I am trying to get over. You know, we do have to get over our own shame around sex and be able to talk to kids. It's not easy, you know, my whole body reacts, not now, obviously, cuz I talk about sex all the bloody time, but my whole body

[00:49:30] But my whole body used to react when, you know, I was asked a question. And then, you know, you just got to take a deep breath, take a big couple of deep breaths, and actually just give them what they're asking for in the most appropriate and understandable way that they will be able to process and digest what you're saying.

[00:50:00] I think let's just try and stop not talking about it, because not talking about it doesn't prevent people from having sex. It just prevents them from having good sex. And I don't want my children to not have good sex for so many years like I did. So, yeah, that's really important to me. 

[00:50:24] So let's call, vulvas, vulvas. Let's call vaginas, vaginas. Let's actually show our children the different parts of the vulva and the vagina. And just like you would call an arm and arm, let's call it what it is. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the names. 

[00:50:47] it.

[00:50:47] But I know that there's hundreds of different names our vulvas, and you know, only a handful of different names for penises. And that just shows you how much we are playing around the edges of actually just naming it and yeah, as I say, that just reinforces that notion that it is something shameful, dirty. Something to only be talked about in hushed voices. You know, Not only are we kind of condemning them to a life of bad sex, but there's also a real big safeguarding issue here as well. We know that if you don't talk about sex, if you don't, explain to them what it is and talk about consent and, and all of those, you know, really important topics.

[00:51:41] If you don't talk about the right anatomical names then we also know that that is a very big barrier to actual convictions. When sexual abuse cases are brought to trial the majority of them are thrown out of court because children can't correctly name parts of their body, and that's huge.

[00:52:07] If we are showing that we can talk about it in an everyday way, then our children are much more likely to come to us and speak to us and ask questions when they're confused about something or when they're put in a situation and they're not, they're not sure what's going on here. They're gonna speak to you about it because you role model to them that they can speak about these things openly and honestly. And that's a huge reason to talk about it to our kids.

[00:52:42] Anna: Yeah. Uh, I think that is, that should have everyone sold . Um, and as you say and as you say, sex is human nature. So to deny it and suggest that children can be shielded is, is completely unrealistic. Uh, it's dangerous and can lead to a life of terrible sex. So, 

[00:53:02] Natalie Lee: Mm-hmm. 

[00:53:03] Anna: Sold. 

[00:53:06] Natalie Lee: What I, what I would be interested to hear, Anna, is what you called your vulva vagina when you were little.

[00:53:15] Anna: uh, you know what I feel like I, I called it absolutely nothing. Like I feel like there wasn't even the, even the euphemisms or maybe like, maybe, maybe slightly older, I guess what age we're talking about here. Like hoo ha that was one. Cooter, coot. 

[00:53:39] Uh, like those are like my teenage years. I can remember that. Yeah. No, never, never vulva that word. Probably wasn't said until like my late twenties.

[00:53:50] Natalie Lee: Yeah, yeah, I know. And even now, I think, we are seeing, I think things are changing now, but it's often called vagina, isn't it? And we're actually not talking about the vagina. Vagina as we know, cuz you used to be a nurse and I used to be a midwife. We know that the vagina is actually the internal canal. And everything that's on the outside is called the vulva. But those two terms are still very much interwoven and often um, mixed up aren't.

[00:54:21] Anna: Absolutely. I think that that could be a light bulb moment for some people even listening now. I think that that is, I'm really glad you brought that up. That brings us back to the anatomy 1 0 1, to the lack of sex education and absolutely. So I guess that is something else that it would've been called or just have been vagina, or vag 

[00:54:41] Natalie Lee: I used to call it a mini.

[00:54:43] Anna: A mini, 

[00:54:45] Natalie Lee: I think, I think it's mini mouse, maybe. I don't know. 

[00:54:49] Anna: Mini mouse.

[00:54:50] Natalie Lee: I don't. But yeah, there there is. There is

[00:54:54] Anna: It has to be a cute little mouse. 

[00:54:56] Natalie Lee: It does. It does. I don't, I don't think of it as cute nows. Insatiable is probably a better term.,

[00:55:09] Anna: I love it. Love it. So, so education, saying vulva, saying the words, talking to our children about it. Keeping on educating ourselves. You wrote about how we shouldn't ever stop educating ourselves. and you had a whole list of books for continued reading in your book. So I loved that and I've written a lot of those down for myself.

[00:55:34] Um, I have one more question that I like to ask, which is that if people take one thing away from this conversation with you today, what would you want it to be?

[00:55:43] Natalie Lee: I would want it to be that you have autonomy over your own body. You have a right to explore your own body. You have a right to claim your own pleasure, and it's really important that that empowers you in your exchanges, in how you talk to yourself and how you talk about yourself with other people.

[00:56:14] And also how you role model that to the younger generations. I think that's the most important thing that I didn't know. I know it sounds so basic, but it's actually so prevalent. I just didn't know that my body was mine. I just didn't know. And, uh, I didn't know that, I didn't know that but, uh, I didn't, It was just something that I, I held within me and that motivated a lot of my actions, negatively. So, uh, I think that's just one thing I wanna help install in other people and hopefully they really take that to heart.

[00:56:56] Anna: Well that is a lovely note to end on. 

[00:56:59] Overdub: And now for: the “feminism gets a bad wrap because the narrative has been just a bit one-sided" corner.

[00:57:06] Anna: And then just for some rapid fire questions to wrap up. These are questions I ask every guest at the end. What does feminism mean to you?

[00:57:15] Natalie Lee: Feminism means equity of the sexes. Equality is not good enough. I think it has to be equity and yeah, that's, that's what it means to me.

[00:57:28] Anna: Uh, what is the story of woman to you?

[00:57:33] Natalie Lee: Oh, wow. The story of woman, story of woman. I think the story of me is, and I am a woman, so let's just go, let's just start with that cuz that feels much more doable. Uh, it is how I eradicated shame. That's my story.

[00:58:01] Anna: Love it. Love it. And I think that can be applied to all of womankind, you know, that's what we're, what we're doing. Um, I love it. Uh, what are you reading right now?

[00:58:13] Natalie Lee: Uh, I've always got a few books on the go Uh, I am reading a book called Bi, "B - I" by Julia Shaw, and it's the Hidden Culture, History and Science of Bisexuality. But I'm also listening to a few audio books as well at the moment, re-listening to the Holistic Psychologist book, How to Do the Work. I love that book. I think it's really great in terms of healing and working through trauma and things like that.

[00:58:49] Anna: Amazing. And in addition to your book, any books that you think everyone should read or any recommended reading, your favorite books?

[00:59:01] Natalie Lee: Oh, um, well, definitely, 

[00:59:04] Anna: One of them.

[00:59:05] Natalie Lee: Definitely How to Do The Work. That's one of my favorite books. But I also listened to Viola Davis Finding Me, and I really enjoyed that book. Really great. Existential Kink is another one that I love. Come As You Are by, I mentioned it in my book actually, emily Naroski, I think it is. What else? Loads. Find Your True Voice is another one. Uh, yeah. I'll, I'll leave it there cuz I could go on and on and on.

[00:59:42] Anna: Yeah. We've got lots of reading to do. We're gonna be busy. And is there anything that you're working on now that you would like to share?

[00:59:51] Natalie Lee: Yeah, so we talked about the project of trying to bring together, you know, a really good sort of, uh, foundation for sex education or sex reeducation. That's one of the things I'm working on. I am working on my second book as well at the moment. I am also doing manifesting course with my friend Cherry. There's loads of things I'm working on, actually, I have my fingers in a lot of pies and that, and that's how I like it. So it just prevents me from getting bored.

[01:00:24] Anna: Amazing. And where can we find you so we can keep up with all of the things you have going on?

[01:00:30] Natalie Lee: You can find me @StyleMeSunday. I'm on Instagram, dabbling in TikTok. Not convinced about it yet, but and, uh, I, I've got a, I've got a website and a newsletter. You can sign up for the newsletter on the website. And, um, There's lots of information on my website and that's StyleMeSunday.com

[01:00:52] Anna: Amazing and all that will be in the show notes. Thank you so much for your time today, Natalie, author of Feeling Myself. It was such a pleasure talking to you.

[01:01:04] Natalie Lee: I really enjoyed it. Thank you so much.

[01:01:07] Overdub: Thanks for listening. The Story of Woman is a one-woman operation... so if you enjoyed this episode, there are a few small things you can do that make a big difference in helping other people find the podcast and allowing me to continue putting out new episodes!

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Natalie Lee
Natalie Lee
Author of Feeling Myself