Sex Issues

If you’re sick of magazines whose take on sex extends only to dipping dicks in chocolate, and want some frank discussions of sex from angles you’d never considered before, keep an eye out for Ladybeard

‘Girl Power 3.0’ is how the Observer  described Ladybeard back in 2013, while over on Radio 4, Jane Garvey hailed it as ‘stylish’. This is an unusual level of hype for any student publication, and raised Ladybeard from the masses of magazines that are born and die each year in universities across the country. It had a lot to live up to when in late 2013, after a successful Kickstarter campaign, ‘The Body Issue’ was finally published.

The editors describe the magazine as ‘an antidote to the toxic feminine and masculine ideals promoted by women’s magazines’. After a launch party in Cambridge, the first issue was distributed for free in ten universities. Then the money ran out, editors got sucked into exams, and Ladybeard went silent. It seemed that ‘Girl Power 3.0’ would suffer the same fate as its student mag compatriots; consigned to a box in the corner of a childhood room recently requisitioned by an unemployed arts graduate.

But that was not to be. Ladybeard is back, and this time with a more sustainable business model. With the aim of creating a strong capital base without returning to online crowdfunding, on April 24th Ladybeard held a fundraiser for its second issue: ‘The Sex Issue’.

At the Russet in Hackney Downs, under a ceiling of red balloons, hip young things in black lace and overalls rubbed shoulders with an older, more refined crowd; a refreshing mix not often seen in the environs of Dalston. For the price of admission, the audience had been promised food, two free drinks, a panel discussion, films and a set from local band JTT.

As one of the people shamelessly poaching falafel and pork crackling from the kitchen area, I can confirm that the food part of the evening didn’t disappoint, with smoky pulled pork ciabatta sandwiches and hummus-smothered falafel wraps courtesy of the Pillbox Kitchen. There’s nothing like a room full of people trying to wrap their mouths around overstuffed sandwiches to break down the barriers of social awkwardness before a long public discussion of sex.

Free Peronis and white wine in hands, we crowded into the back room. The panel discussion was designed to be the highlight of the evening, and there was an appropriately febrile and expectant air.

Chaired by sex therapist Dr Meg John Barker, the panel had been carefully selected, each person with a unique take on the topic of ‘Sex: Mythmaking and Taboos’: there was Alex Cowan, sex and disability adviser and campaigner; Petra Joy, award-winning director of feminist porn; Pavan Amara, founder of My Body Back, an initiative helping survivors of sexual violence reclaim their sexuality; and Melina Antunes, sex worker and activist. It was clear from the outset that this discussion would not be a simple feminist rehashing of Cosmo’s sex advice pages.

Each panellist had been asked what sex myths they’d like to see challenged, and Alex Cowan started off the discussion with the rousing statement: ‘disabled people actually do like sex!’ She confronted the way in which sex and disability are mutually exclusive in many people’s minds, including health professionals’. ‘I prefer sex to sunbathing’, she declared, met with whoops and applause from the audience.

This celebratory and supportive atmosphere continued as Petra Joy littered jokes through her discussion of female subjectivity in porn; her aim is to create something different to the usual cum-shot-focussed films (hers often forego this hackneyed shot) that service male sexuality. Punning on her first porno’s title, ‘Sexual Sushi’, she announced: ‘I think we are ready for diversity. We crave sexual sushi. It’s all about variety!’

In measured speech, Pavan Amara talked about the culture of guilt and silence that surrounds women’s sexuality post sexual trauma. Stemming from her own experiences, she set up My Body Back to break this taboo, and now holds workshops for survivors, coupling advice on using vibrators with therapeutic aspects, to show that ‘you can have it on your own terms’. It’s a sombre and powerful moment that draws head nods and murmurs of assent.

The presentations were rounded off by Melina Antunes, who dismissed the ‘victim vs. hypersexual’ stereotypes of sex workers: ‘mainly, we’re just normal’. In her  speech, she called for people to see sex work as work, and to reject the idea that all prostitution is rape.

The following questions and discussion ranged from risk-based sex education to Fifty Shades of Grey, issues of consent to human trafficking; this may have been preaching to the converted, but the converted called back ‘Preach!’

The evening then moved into the post-free drinks stage; as some packed the bar, others searched for Petra to get one of her free porn vouchers. One of her films, bodies floating lazily in blue water, screened on the back wall. Later, JTT crooned Bon Iver-esque songs in front of a projected backdrop of women looking longingly out of windows onto picture-postcard flat views (courtesy of Liadain Evans). By the end of the evening, the projector was being used to play Jennifer Lopez ‘Jenny from the Block’ and Destiny’s Child ‘Independent Woman’, people dancing in a style typical of a Friday night anywhere.

The fundraiser, as well as being an enjoyable and engaging evening, served its purpose; ‘The Sex Issue’ is now fully funded, and will go to print (hopefully) some time this year. With interviews or articles from all of the panellists, it promises to be refreshingly varied in its outlook and challenging in its approach.

So if you’re sick of magazines whose take on sex extends only to dipping dicks in chocolate, and want some frank discussions of sex from angles you’d never considered before, keep an eye out for Ladybeard. And let’s hope they don’t leave it another two years before issue three.

The Ladybeard Fundraiser was held at The Russet in Hackney Downs, 7pm-midnight, April 24th 2015.


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