It’s not every day you get to speak to someone about which you’ve just read a lifetime’s worth of every sexual encounter, kink, and lustful thought, but that’s exactly what I did last week.
Girl on the Net is the author of one of the most arousing, open and unapologetic sex blogs out there (her blog email used to begin “sendmeacockpic”, which they did, in their hundreds) and her erotic memoir is no different.
The first line of Girl On The Net: My Not-So-Shameful Sex Secrets reads: “I didn’t listen to the lyrics of Teenage Kicks because I was far too busy masturbating.”
In making women feel guilty for enjoying sex, it encourages women to feel ashamed and creates a vicious cycle where they don't want to say 'Hey, I do actually like this.'Throwing us straight in at the deep end, what follows is a frank, confident, explicit, at times combative and often deeply witty read about her life as a stalwart sex and BDSM fan; a book that is equally at home talking about her triumphs as she is admitting her very human, very real fuck-ups.
For a girl who joyfully and repeatedly refers to herself as a pervert, GOTN is less comfortable admitting she’s funny. “If I’m completely honest being thought of as funny is more important to me than being thought wise, or sexy, or cool,” she explains. “I grew up in a family of comedy fans in which jokes are prized far more highly than compliments.”
I laughed out loud – a lot – reading her memoir, and was eager to know if comedy comes naturally or not.
“It’s definitely something I think about when I write, because if I were too straight-faced I’d come across as far more terrifying and angry than I actually am. I do often read through what I’ve written and say ‘Come on, GOTN, you’re not even half as funny as you think you are.’ Then I cut out most of the jokes, then put some back in again because I love them so much.”
It’s easy to see GOTN puts her heart and soul into the book, so who was it written for?
“I suppose like most authors my answer would be ‘everyone – everyone should buy my book immediately!’ but that’s not particularly helpful.” she replies.
“Realistically, it’s aimed at the sort of people who read my blog. People who like sex, who want to hear about it and discuss it, and don’t want people screaming ‘oh God, think of the children‘ just because they’re honest about their more unusual sexual curiosities.”
She is also eager to stress that just because she’s a girl, it doesn’t mean this is just a book for women. Indeed, GOTN’s blog attracts a large male following, most of whom seem pleasantly refreshed by her open, no-bullshit, this-is-what-I-like nature.
And her writing tone is so honest and friendly, it’s easy to feel like you know her. So does she get a lot of people contacting her with the same level of intimacy?
“I get quite a few emails from people either asking my advice (which terrifies me a bit because I’m by no means an expert – just an enthusiastic amateur) or telling me their own hot stories and saying ‘phew, I just wanted to get that off my chest,’” she replies.
“If they want to be my friend, then I’m incomparably flattered, even though I can’t actually meet them because of my anonymity,” he adds.
Has this ever led to guys overstepping boundaries?
“There have been a couple of times when people have stepped over boundaries, but it’s usually guys who are keen that I send them pictures or meet them in anonymous hotel rooms for sex. Most of them understand when I tell them I can’t do that, and it’s only the odd one or two who’ve become angry,” she explains.
GOTN is clearly brave – she puts all her sexual secrets on the internet and copes brilliantly with any backlash – but it’s obvious she can very much hold her own in real life too. That’s why one it comes as a real shock to read about one of her partners (referred to only as ‘number 7’) physically assaulting her in a scene that’s horrifyingly close to rape.
After her account, it’s almost more shocking how calmly she rationalises this ex’s behaviour, recognises her own strength, and moves on, seemingly not viewing herself as a victim of anything particularly nasty.
I was worried this would open a can of worms more potent than the rest of the book entirely, especially in a culture that has almost daily news coverage discussing feminism, rape and domestic violence with alarmingly contrasting points of views.
“Oh boy. This is a tough one. I had to include the story because it would have been conspicuous by its absence – I thought people would ask me why there was no number 7. I agree that the subject itself is a difficult one to deal with – it was hard to strike a balance between accurately reporting what happened and not making out that seven was a monster who ruined me forever.
I wouldn’t expect everyone to react in the same way I did, or feel the same way about it ten years later. They might think I am more dismissive of the incident than I should be, but the reality is that although it was awful, it hasn’t left deep scars years later, and it would be dishonest of me to pretend otherwise. Perhaps what I’m saying is that I’m lucky.”
Grey areas highlighted by passages such as this do make it all the more impressive that GOTN has tried to pass on her own advice and opinions on sex and relationships throughout the book, making it so much more than a steamy read. Did she struggle with the knowledge she can’t please everyone, and that her feisty opinions might grate on some?
“Haha – yes, I am essentially a loudmouthed twat. I had to tone down a few things on the advice of my lovely and incredibly diplomatic editor, because she thought they might rub people up the wrong way,” she replies.
“Ultimately what I’d like is for people to read it and say ‘Yes! I completely agree!’ and punch the air in approval and suchlike. But realistically if you have strong opinions, people will always disagree with you.
I could have toned things down much more, and written a book that would please everyone, but then it’d be a bit bland. If you agree with some of my opinions, and others make you want to push me into a dung heap, I think I’ve achieved roughly what I’m after.”
There are times I was surprised that amid her ‘don’t judge me’ ranting she is pretty vocal on what she thinks is not sexy (oral, and comedy in intimate situations, for instance). However, by being outspoken, she encourages people to speak up with their own opinions and realise that what turns them on is equally as valid, which she thinks is far more important.
“Talking about my own tastes, and what I prefer, again gives people the chance to disagree and shout ‘shut up, GOTN, I LOVE oral’, thus cunningly reinforcing my point about how we’re all unique when it comes to our desires,” she explains.
That’s one of her main aims: to get people talking about sex in order to change the culture of slut-shaming and contrasting gender ideals.
“I genuinely think that the first way to start changing a culture is to discuss it,” she says. “In making women feel guilty for enjoying sex, it encourages women to feel ashamed and creates a vicious cycle where they don’t want to say ‘Hey, I do actually like this.‘ The more we talk about it, the more irrelevant their opinions will become.
Having said that, I think it’s also important to acknowledge that some women don’t like sleeping around. The more people (sex-loving, sex-hating and sex-indifferent) that talk openly and honestly about their opinions, the better a picture we build up of what people really think rather than what people think they’re expected to say.”
Isn’t it important to start this message at as early an age as possible, though? I asked whether GOTN hopes her book will help younger people who don’t have access to such broad thinking (believe me, I went to Catholic school, I know how this feels).
“There’s a lot of content in there that’s probably only suitable for over-18s,” she replies. “But there are certainly some things that I’d like people to take away and bear in mind when they’re discussing sex with their teenaged children – for instance, encouraging them not to feel ashamed of their bodies or the perfectly natural things they want to do with them.”
So why not start ‘em young with this lesson? Does she plan to write for teenagers too?
“I would love to write a less explicit book aimed at a younger audience. I have an idea floating around my head (that has been honed over a few pints with the excellent Justin Hancock – sex educator and all-round bloody nice bloke) which I’d love to get cracking on.
It’s fiction for young people aimed at brainwashing them with my ‘you’re totally normal and fine’ propaganda, while also telling something of an awkward teenage love story.”
This is something I would love to see, and something crucial for shaping people’s sexual opinions and behaviour at the right time. What else does GOTN have planned?
“I have a couple of other ideas in my head too – one a non-fiction book on dating and relationships, and one a fiction book based on short stories about two individuals that’s so safe for work I might publish it under my actual name, so my Mum can see it on Amazon and be proud of me. Unfortunately I have a day job, so all of these things might have to wait a few months.”
And if you can chat about it over a drink with your friends and not feel embarrassed about what is a totally normal and acceptable conversation, then I think GOTN is half way there with her mission.