fbpx

Period Story Podcast, Episode 78, Emilie Lavinia: Better Communication Leads To Better Sex

My guest on today’s episode of Period Story is Emilie Lavinia. Emilie is Cosmopolitan UK’s Sex and Relationships Editor, LBGQT+ sexologist and sex educator and a UK Delegate for UN Women. 

In this episode, Emilie shares: 

  • The endocrine condition that means that she doesn’t really have periods that often
  • The difference between good and bad sex education
  • What the orgasm gap is and how women can have better orgasms (and sex!) with their partners 
  • How to instigate a conversation with your partner about how to have better sex and more pleasure  
  • How social media censorship and ‘algo speak’ is impacting the way we speak and learn about gender and sexuality 
  • Her advocacy work with UN Women 
  • And of course, the story of her first period

Emilie says that why we need to teach people how to connect and how to speak to each other about sex so that we can have conversations with our partners about what we like, not fake orgasms, talk candidly about how we like to pleasure ourselves and then transfer that to a partnered experience.

Thank you, Emilie! 

Get in touch with Emilie:

Instagram

Website

Substack


LISTEN IN APPLE PODCASTS

LISTEN IN SPOTIFY

LISTEN IN GOOGLE PODCASTS


SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise Brothers:

Hi Emilie. I’m so happy to have you on the show today. I really want to talk about all the work that you do. It’s so interesting. But first, let’s talk about the story of your very first period.

Emilie Lavinia:

Sure. Thank you for having me. Well, should I just start at the top?

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah.

Emilie Lavinia:

I think my first period was a bit of a weird one because I got it when I was on holiday with my family in Portugal, and it was strange and unsettling, not because I didn’t know about periods, but just because it wasn’t what I expected. It wasn’t what I had been led to believe a period would be like. So I wasn’t really quite sure if I had even gotten it or not. So I went to my mom and said, oh, I’ve got this weird stuff in my knickers. And it wasn’t blood, I wasn’t bleeding so to speak. It was just this kind of brown sludge. And we don’t get taught about brown sludge in school. We get taught about this free flowing river of redness, and I didn’t have any pain. I didn’t have any cramps. It was just there one day and hadn’t been before.

And she said to me, oh, well, I said, is it my period? She said, it might be, I don’t know. Why don’t you have a bath and see how you feel? And then I was like, oh, well there’s nothing there now. She said, okay, well maybe it was just a bit of discharge or something. And I said, yeah, maybe. But then the next day it was there again and I thought maybe this is a period, but it didn’t seem like one. She just told me not to worry and said, do you think you need anything? And I said, well, I don’t know really because how can age 13 on holiday in Portugal? So I just sort of cracked on and it was there for three days, this sort of weird brand sludge. And then it was gone and then it didn’t appear again I guess until a few months later, but it certainly wasn’t the next month. So looking back, it definitely was my first period, but at the time I wasn’t really sure.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And when did you, or did your periods ever regulate? Did you ever get what you were expecting a period to be?

Emilie Lavinia:

No, never. And that’s also why I think I’ve always had quite a complex relationship with my menstrual cycle and with my period, because unbeknownst to me, I have an endocrine disorder, which meant that my periods have never been regular. Sometimes they’re there, sometimes they’re not, sometimes they’re regular, but primarily they’re not really. So that was kind of the beginning in a lifetime of guesswork, that kind of first experience of isn’t, it was basically going to color the rest of my experience of having periods.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So can you say more about the endocrine disorder, what the name is, how you were able to get diagnosed after what you say is a lifetime of guesswork?

Emilie Lavinia:

Sure. Well, to be honest, it was bizarre because like many women, I wasn’t having regular periods. So I went to my doctor and my doctor just put me straight on the pill. So I didn’t receive a diagnosis until I was in my thirties, which was in the last few years. Really strange because obviously having started my periods around age 13, that’s a long time to not really know what’s going on with your body. I’d always been on and off the pill. So I just assumed that I was having regular periods even though I wasn’t. And yeah, then aged sort of 31 thought maybe I should get myself checked out because I had all this new knowledge about hormones and was thinking something definitely isn’t right with me.

I’m eating right, I’m sleeping right, I’m a healthy weight, I’m doing all these things to support my endocrine system like we’re supposed to, but it’s just still not clicking. And they said to me after many blood tests and all kinds of different analyses, your body isn’t making progesterone and we don’t know how long that’s been happening for, but it explains why you’ve got chronic fatigue. It explains why you have these mood issues and why you experience intense anxiety. There’s a key female hormone that your body just isn’t making. The average level’s about 70 and you were on about 4. So yeah, that explained a lot about why I was feeling the way I was, why I had always had irregular periods. Sometimes they were there, sometimes they weren’t. And they said, yeah, the fact that you are not making progesterone means your womb lining isn’t thickening, you’re not ovulating as you should be. And sometimes they’ll pop up, sometimes they won’t. But there’s no real explanation for that other than the fact that there’s a key component missing.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So did they talk to you about ways that you could support ovulation in order to start making more progesterone?

Emilie Lavinia:

Yeah, so they suggested I go on HRT and I tried that for a while and I was taking HRT to basically up my progesterone and my DHEA levels because they were the ones that were very, very low and that made me feel a little better for a while I felt like I was sleeping a little better because they said to me, if you’re not making progesterone, your body can’t actually enter proper REM sleep. So that explains the chronic fatigue you experienced. For years, I kept going to my doctor and saying, I think I might have an autoimmune disorder or I think something might be happening with me. I shouldn’t be this tired. And they were like, well, stress affects women in different ways. Anxiety might be the reason you’re not sleeping properly. Try doing more exercise. So I really leaned into things like the gym and yoga and mindfulness, but I was still really tired.

So that HRT helped with my sleep and it helped with me feeling anxious and less tired, but it didn’t really regulate my periods. There was one month when I was on for 20 days, there was one month when I was on for two and then off for three and then on for two. It was kind of wild and quite unmanageable. So I spoke to my doctor and said, do I need to be on this? And she said, no, you don’t have to be if you want to be and it’s helping you can be. But the other thing about it is that it was a private healthcare experience, so it was costing me money every month to be on these drugs. And I just thought, well, I survived without them, maybe I’ll come off them and see how I fare, which meant that I just went back to how I was before.

And she said, well, it’s a weird one because you’re not technically disabled, but you do have a chronic condition, but if you feel like you can live with it and manage it, that’s fine. So it was a really weird experience for me. It was all caught up in my periods and it explained a lot, but there still wasn’t really a quote unquote cure for me. And I think that’s an experience that probably many, many women will relate to and something that we’ve all experienced where we kind of have to manage ourselves because there just isn’t the support there. But yeah, that’s where I am now and I do occasionally have a period, but not that often.

Le’Nise Brothers:

What I find so fascinating is that you were put on the pill, you were just so young, and then you were on it on and off for a long time. And then when you talked about you found out that you weren’t making progesterone and we only make it when we ovulate that the answer was to just put you straight on HRT. And of course as this is my specialism. So in my mind I’m thinking, what about this? What about that? What about this? Did you ever get a formal diagnosis? So was it something like premature ovarian failure or is there anything like that or was it just a progesterone deficiency?

Emilie Lavinia:

No, they said there could be several reasons for it. They said it could have been something that happened with my hormones during puberty. It could have even been something as simple as a knock in sports, like a damage to the pituitary gland. And I did have a pretty bad accident when I was much younger on a school trip where someone rugby tackled me and I ended up going to hospital in a brace, but I ended up being fine. So I was thinking, oh, it could have been that they also said it could be something called Addison’s disease, which is like a hormonal disorder, but they said it’s going to take more digging into this to figure it out. I thought I know what’s wrong with me now and I dunno that there’s a cure for whatever the cause is. So I am just going to carry on because again, it would be something I’d have to do privately. I’d have to really dig into that. And I thought, one, do I have time for this? No, not really.

Two, now I know the answer as to what’s going on with me. That’s kind of enough I guess, if I can find a solution. But I think again, that speaks to a lot of people’s experiences where you might be given this is why this is happening, but the real why is still out of reach.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, thank you so much for sharing that. I think it’s really interesting how you were put immediately on this kind of medicalised route and then also the layer of having to do this privately where of course we know that being able to do things privately is a privilege, but being able to do that gave you more, it moved you towards the answers that you were looking for. And I see so many women in my clinic where they’ve been going through the NHS, and of course whenever we talk about the NHS, we have to say it’s amazing and it saved my life, but so many women are going in and out of the NHS and just not getting the care that they need and just kind of almost feeling fobbed off with certain medications or being told that it’s all in their head or you just have to live with these things. So I guess what my question is now, is there a next step for you or have you made your peace with your experience and your experience of your period now?

Emilie Lavinia:

I suppose I have made peace with it somewhat because my period and I have never really been best friends because I don’t see them much. I don’t really know when they’re coming.

I’m okay with being the sort of person that doesn’t have a regular cycle because I know it’s not because I’m not feeding myself properly, I’m not moving, I’m not doing all of the kind of complimentary therapies that help with hormone support. I know there is a literal deficiency and it’s something my body isn’t able to do, so I kind of feel less guilt like I’m not doing something right. And yeah, I suppose it’s okay that it only pops up occasionally because I know that’s not a signifier of there being something really, really wrong. My fear for a long time was that we talk about your period as a vital sign and there was no sign of my vital sign. So it made me worried. Now I know that there’s a reason for that and I’m not really sick in another way or there isn’t something that’s going on with me. It does make knowing where I stand in relation to sex and contraception slightly more challenging, I don’t know when it’s coming. And I also dunno if I’m ovulating, and my doctor did say to me, if this becomes an issue for you because you want to start a fertility journey, that’s when it might get dicey for you because we don’t really know what’s going on and we also don’t really know whether or not there’ll be a success story there. But that’s not something I’m going to worry about right now.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Just thinking now about the work that you do as a sexologist and a sex educator, there is a hormonal side to libido, although we know for most women that a lot of libido is mental. I just wonder about that side of it because there’s research that tells us that the pill does have an effect on our libido. And can you talk a little bit about your experience of that, especially wrapped up in the work that you do, and if you noticed a difference when you were coming on and off of it?

Emilie Lavinia:

Definitely. Well, again, I think my experience is quite similar to lots of other peoples in that I felt like the pill, certain different iterations of it were not good for my mental health. I felt like I had intense bouts of anxiety and depression that I didn’t experience when I came off it. And I also felt like it did dampen my libido because when I decided to completely cycle off the pill, I had this newfound vitality that I think also came with moving forward in my career and shaking off a lot of shame, but it was almost like a fog had cleared because I felt more emotionally regulated and also much more up for sex. And it’s funny because the pill is supposed to make sex safer and more enjoyable for us, but in many cases, not for everyone, but for many people it does suppress libido and makes you feel like you don’t want to have sex.

So it’s kind of a catch 22 situation. For me, coming off of it really helped me to feel much more in my body. And it’s weird because we’re talking about the pill so much in negative terms these days, but there’s a lot that is kind of positive around it. It gave women so much freedom and the ability to have body autonomy and to go back into the workforce, which is great. But I think, yeah, there’s a lot to be said about personal experiences like mine and that have so many other people whereby it made us crazy and it made us not even want to have sex. So there’s a lot of digging to be done there. And I think now we’re doing a bit more research, not as much as we should be because like we mentioned on the panel that we both did recently when we sat with Dr. Sesay, she was talking about the fact that 1% of funding goes to women’s health issues and that all issues that’s menopause, that’s fertility and contraception as well. So not great in terms of how far we could be getting. But yeah, I think there are definite drawbacks to being on it as well. And it doesn’t necessarily help everyone, especially when it comes to libido.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And the work that you do. So you are a sex educator, you are an LGBTQ+ sexologist. Can you talk a bit more about that? So firstly the term sexologist, what is that for people who may not be familiar?

Emilie Lavinia:

Sure. So it’s quite a broad term because it can cover clinical sexology through to coaching, through to academic sex study. So on my part, I trained as a sex educator and as an intimacy counselor. So that means that I can coach women and it means they’re not qualified to do so on matters of intimacy and sexual dysfunction. And I come at it from a trauma-informed LGBTQ+ perspective. And a lot of what I do started with just a really deep interest in sex and sexuality. Growing up I noticed the kind of shame and stigma around sex. I noticed that that shame was a real blocker for women and girls, myself included. And I thought that the study of relationships, intimacy and human sexuality was really, really interesting. So alongside my work as a journalist, I decided to specialise in becoming the sort of person that had a broad knowledge on the subject was always on top of the discourse and the academic and medical discourse, and could be someone that could help and support other people understand sexuality better and tap into their own and overcome those blockers that they might be facing. Now from a medical perspective, I’m not qualified to give advice because I’m not a doctor, but a lot of what I do is signposting the sorts of medical professionals that can help with something that someone might be going through. But as you say, a lot of libido is mental. And that’s where I come in trying to bring the study of human sexuality to these people that might be experiencing those issues that are more mental so that they can overcome them.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And in terms of the work that you do, you have a really, really interesting social media presence. Your Instagram is so interesting and informative, and one post that you did that I found really interesting was about bad sex education and how we need to leave that in the past. What makes sex education good and what makes it bad?

Emilie Lavinia:

Well, I think bad is very much like a non-existent sex education. So it’s almost like it’s a misnomer because it can’t be bad if it doesn’t exist, but sex education that doesn’t exist is the worst kind. There were a lot of gaps in my personal experience of being educated about sex and about intimacy, consent, bodies and periods. And I found that as I got older, I wanted to fill those gaps and learn more. But a lot of people don’t decide to become sex journalists and sexologists. So that experience for them of that sex education is where the buck stops. That’s all they’ve got. And then they’re just released into the world and expected to get on with it. And good sex education does cover all the things that I just mentioned, and it is almost a golden thread running through everything that we do. Sex and intimacy kind of influences everything when you think about it in terms of the way we move through the world, relationships are so important to us and especially as young people start to develop their idea of who they are, how they fit in the world, and how they relate to others.

Knowing about sex, intimacy, pleasure, consent, how we treat our own bodies and how we treat them when we’re with other people is so, so important. But a lot of that information is missing. I think sex education is a lot better than it used to be. Knowing what’s being taught in schools now and doing the kind of facilitating that I do for young people and for women, it’s great. It’s not putting condoms on bananas, splitting boys and girls up, making things gender essentialist, telling us don’t get STIs and not telling us what the symptoms are, how you catch them, how to prevent them. There’s a lot missing. And most teachers who teach PE or science didn’t sign up for that experience and they don’t have that knowledge themselves. So I can understand that, but that’s why we need really, really great resources and why we need to signpost this stuff, which is why I’m so passionate about doing that.

Le’Nise Brothers:

What’s so interesting about this is now I have firsthand experience. I have a 10-year-old son and they started learning about this in PSHME last year. So he’s in year six now. And we’ve always, well, I certainly, my husband less so, but I’ve certainly been quite open with him about these topics because of the work that I do. And I try to talk to him about sex and relationships in a really kind of not gender, sorry, age appropriate way. But it’s also interesting hearing how they’re learning about it in school. And I think it is very clinical still and it is very, they talk about consent, but it’s in a very strange, strange way. And I almost wonder, and I know this is a sample of one, and I know everyone’s experience is different, but I wonder, it’s almost like it’s gone too far and I don’t mean this in a Daily Mail, the world’s gone mad sort of way. I’ll give you an example. So my son came home from school and he told me how a teacher said to him that if you fall and you touch a girl by accident that sexual harassment. And I said, what? But you’re not doing it on purpose. And I was trying to understand the context and why this example was the one that was being used and this is what he took out of the lesson. And I just kind of worry about that because obviously you can’t touch someone without their consent. But then framing things like falling down and touching someone’s leg by accident as sexual harassment, especially to 10 and 11 year olds, I do worry, I worry about that a little bit. It makes me think, okay, I just need to continue to have conversations about consent with him at home and what it actually is. But what do you think parents can do around sex education in the home to make sure that this topic, even if they feel nervous and they feel shame around it, that they’re not transmitting that to their kids and also not leaving the job up to the school and to porn?

Emilie Lavinia:

Yeah. Well, I think when parents do feel shame, they tend to just say nothing. So the first step I guess is kind of overcoming it so that you can have that conversation. But it’s also interesting because a lot of the things that we discuss when I do my training are things like kids don’t really want to talk to their parents about this stuff. And that’s why it’s so important that good sex educators are available and that school is doing the job. But I think if you are the kind of parent that takes an active interest and can have those conversations, I think neutrality is really important. And I think making your child feel like it’s not frightening is important because you illustrated schools can be trying to do the most and in doing so might completely traumatise and terrify kids. We know that Gen Z is the population that’s having the least amount of sex ever.

And I personally, and this is my personal view, think that it’s because they’re just completely freaked out. When you see the horrific consequences of stuff like sharing images around school or looking at the Stephen Bear case and looking at revenge porn and the effects of that or just not feeling sexy enough because every other post on Instagram is an OnlyFans model, it kind of turns young people off and they don’t really want to touch each other or explore or lean into pleasure, which I think when they get to a certain age, you kind of expect kids to be curious. They don’t really seem to be as curious. I think people in their late teens and early twenties as you’d expect to be dating and getting it on just aren’t really doing that. But it’s also, I guess because we’re so zeroed in on our phones and the individual self and we’re not as we used to be, and we’re also in a cost of living crisis, kids aren’t going out and having fun with each other because really expensive.

So I’m hoping that the next generation kids of nine and 10 that are now starting to have that initial conversation about sex aren’t going to be as frightened. And I do think parents can really help with that. Think be a reassuring voice in the conversation to say, look, sex and masturbation are fine. Once you get to the age of consent, if you want to explore, that’s okay. Just make sure you are looking out for yourself and for young boys, I think teaching them not to be afraid to speak to women, to speak to girls, and just to ensure that everyone is seeing each other respectfully and as a human being. If you fall and touch someone’s leg by accident, that’s not a sexual harassment. I would hate for young men to feel scared that they might trip over because it’s all about intent and it’s all about seeing other people as human beings. And I think teaching young men and women that other people deserve as much respect and that we’re all equal and that we all deserve to be treated kindly is the way to go. And teaching them fear of you might be held up in court if you trip over is not the one.

Yes, we need to teach kids self-awareness and respect and never touch anyone without consent, but also that if you trip, it’s okay. You are not a bad person and you’re not going to be in trouble.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So talking a little bit about pleasure. So we have the gender pay gap, we have the gender pain gap, and you’ve talked about the orgasm gap. You correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel like this is something that is really affecting heterosexual women specifically where they don’t ask for what they want and in some cases they don’t know what they want and they don’t know how to get themselves to an orgasm. So why do you think this is think so many heterosexual women in specific put up with this?

Emilie Lavinia:

Well, I think it comes from a very ingrained culture of shame around sexuality and there’s a lot of fear. A lot of women that I speak to are frightened to ask because they don’t want to question their partner’s ability. So they just put up with subpar ability. And that is a really difficult conversation to have, especially if you’re in the middle of sex, to turn around to someone and say, oh, I want it a bit differently. But that’s also why we need to teach people how to connect and how to speak to each other. But because we’re also ashamed about sex, we don’t want to have those conversations and it’s really hard to do it. Everyone is very embarrassed, and I think as we start to move towards a more sex positive society, it is kind of one step forward, two steps back. We are facing a lot of pushback in terms of how we speak about sex, what’s appropriate.

But at the same time, there’s a lot of sex in media and magazines like the one I work for Cosmopolitan are posting more and more information about how to have these conversations and that’s great, but practicing it in action is quite difficult for people I think. And certainly when I was much younger was a statistic in the orgasm gap data because I did fake orgasms and I didn’t ask what I wanted, but that didn’t serve me and it didn’t serve my partner because my partner didn’t get any better at sex and I was not having any more pleasure. So we find ourselves at an impasse with this data, which as you’re completely right, it is that big gap in the data, it does pertain to heterosexual couples. We know that men who identify as gay and women that identify as gay are not having that big disparity.

It is straight men who sleep with straight or bi women that are experiencing it. The way we can close that is really through that communication, having conversations with our partners about what we like, not faking orgasms, talking candidly about maybe how we like to pleasure ourselves and then transferring that to a partnered experience. But also it comes from a place of listening. If you are someone who gets defensive and thinks that you are God’s gift to women and you then don’t want to take feedback or criticism, that creates a difficult situation. And that’s also why women might be frightened to raise it because you don’t want to upset your partner or create a difficult situation. I think for a long time, not so much now, but certainly in the last 600 years, women were quite frightened of men and how they might react to criticism.

Now we have a much better culture of understanding and of communication. We’re not there quite yet. So I would say being able to learn to have those conversations, learn to listen, learn to develop together. Everyone wants to have great sex. There’s no one I’ve ever met that said, no, actually I like subpar sex and I don’t want to have a good time. No one says that. And every man I’ve ever spoken to wants their partner to enjoy themselves. We hear a lot about selfish lovers, but a selfish lover can’t change if we don’t tell them what they’re doing wrong.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So how would you advise someone who’s listening to this and thinking, okay, I need to have that conversation with my partner. I don’t feel like I’m getting the pleasure that I want, but I’m a bit nervous. How could you approach that conversation in a sensitive way?

Emilie Lavinia:

So I would advise not going in head first and just kind of drip feeding it a little bit and maybe not waiting until you are having sex to have the conversation. It can be a real mood killer. I think positing conversations and questions about what you like or shall we try or I like it when you, or do you want to, not necessarily around the breakfast table, but if you can instigate a conversation about sex and then start having that conversation with your partner, it can be really fruitful. So even a text conversation, if it’s awkward to have it face to face, there are other ways to do it. You can text your partner and say, oh, do you know what I was thinking? I was thinking maybe we could do this because I really like this, this, and this, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about.

Your partner will take that on board and we’ll bring it into your next session when you have sex together, you can also try it in the lead up to sex. So when you are starting to get off with each other, starting to kind of think about, oh, maybe this is going to turn into sex. You can start raising it then, and it doesn’t have to be a situation in which you’re dressing them down. You can make suggestions by when you’re making out with someone or when you’re having a cuddle, just turn around to them and say, do you know what I’d really like? I’d like it if maybe you did this. What do you think? And that can open conversations. The thing I think that women struggle with is when they’re in the middle of sex and they’re not enjoying something and they think I’m not going to come, they just kind of check out and think, well, I can’t say anything.

Or they turn around and say, can we stop or can we not? Or I don’t like that, or you are doing or you’re doing this, you’re doing that. And the conversation becomes quite negative, quite accusatory. Now I’m fully aware that I hate the fact that women constantly have to modify their behavior to make things better for themselves. We should live in a world where we don’t have to change what we are doing in order to feel safe or receive pleasure, but unfortunately, unless we have conversations with our male counterparts and with our partners, things aren’t going to change. So we do kind of have to be the activists in this situation and take control. And in doing so, we can then start to work with our partners, but we do have to take the first step and it pains me that we are constantly having to modify, but we hold power. So let’s use it.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So this leads nicely into your role as a sex and relationships editor at Cosmopolitan UK. So this is a kind of advice that I am guessing that you give on the website and the magazine, Cosmopolitan is such an interesting one because it was founded by Helen Gurley Brown, who’s a really pioneering woman. Talk about getting this role and what you want to achieve in this role.

Emilie Lavinia:

So yeah, I’m really lucky to be surrounded by brilliant women at Cosmo, and I’m really, really proud of how far the magazine has come because I do remember reading it when I was younger and seeing it as this kind of bastion of female identity. So to be there now is a really brilliant experience, and I’m so glad that we get to talk about the things that we do. We cover ground that a lot of publications don’t and we really go there and some of the stuff that we are writing, sometimes I think especially when we’re talking to other teams, my team really gets into it and someone will walk past my desk and look over my shoulder and see when I’m writing and they’re like, wow, Emilie. I’m like, yeah, we’re really doing it. But I think that’s great, and I’m very privileged to work with culture shapers and really talented women that are really pushing conversations forward.

We have that privilege and we have that power. So it is a great position to be in, and I am really proud and really grateful that I get to do it. I also think we’re up against a lot of censorship in media and especially on social media, even at Cosmo. There are things that Meta won’t let us post, which I think is a source of frustration for all of us in publishing because we want to help women. And I think especially in media, there’s always been certainly in romcoms and that kind of movie that Cosmo is kind of sex tips and salacious and how to please your man. We’ve come a long way from that. We’ve got brilliant LGBTQ+ sections. We’ve got amazing sections on body and confidence and sexual dysfunction. Talking about me not knowing what my first period was about or what it was supposed to look like.

We’ve got a great piece that’s written by my colleagues on the Body desk about what color is my period blood and what does it mean? If I had read that, I would’ve been so much better clued up. So yeah, I am really, really excited about where we can go with it. I hope that we don’t keep hitting these walls of censorship because the stuff that we publish is really important, I think. And a lot of the first person reportage makes women and girls feel less alone. We have amazing first person essays and investigations that really show the complexities of what women are dealing with these days, with their bodies, with their hormones, with dating, with sex. And that’s really important as well, because we can’t just be giving advice. We need to have an open dialogue. And telling stories from writers and individual people I think is such an important part of what makes this discourse relevant and reflective of what happens with real women in their lives.

Le’Nise Brothers:

The censorship side of it is really interesting because on the panel that we were on a few weeks ago, you talked a lot about censorship and having to use these words that we’d never use in real life. How do you think that, because we know that young people are getting so much education on loads of different topics from social media platforms like TikTok, but if you’re having to speak in a certain way, do you think that affects how you’re taking in information?

Emilie Lavinia:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, this whole kind of algo speak problem, having to call sex seggs with a double G or having to swap out letters for numbers. I mean, in a way it’s reflective of how lexicons change. I find language really interesting. I find the way we talk about sex very interesting, and that was one of the main subjects of my study when I went to do my MA, is this kind of idea of censorship and how we speak about bodies and sex and how we speak about gender and female sexuality. But I find that there’s something quite insidious about it because in having to use a turn of phrase to describe something, we take power away from the original thing. We’re wrapped up in this enormous discourse at the moment about, call it a vulva. It’s not a vagina use its proper name. Vagina, the Latin root of it is sheath. So the idea of the whole female anatomy is that it’s meant to hold something is problematic, and you should call it a vulva because that’s what it’s, and I worry about the fact that, as you say, people are going to TikTok as a search engine, and there’s about 60% of information on there according to a stat that I read recently that pertains to body and health that is just false, just not true. And I see it every day. I see stuff popping up that is wrong and sometimes a bit dangerous and often quite problematic, especially in terms of how young people see themselves. So we’re kind of in the middle of it at the moment because we’re recording this in November and we’ve got this whole no nut November thing going on. There’s this trend where you’re not supposed to ejaculate is problematic, quite bad for you. Obviously it pertains to the sexuality of people that have got penises, but there’s a lot of that for people with vulvas and vaginas as well. So it’s dangerous and having to censor yourself and using different language confuses people. We need to be giving clear, factually accurate, medically sound information. And social media doesn’t let us do that, which is a big source of concern for me. And lots of other educators, journalists, medical professionals, we’re out here trying to make a difference and it’s just getting harder and harder.

Le’Nise Brothers:

You said that it’s no nut November, and people are saying it’s not safe to ejaculate.

Emilie Lavinia:

No, they’re saying it’s not safe. So the whole idea is that this trend is no nut November, so you don’t ejaculate for the whole month of November. So if your girl’s asking you to have sex, you’re not allowed to. If you want to masturbate, you’re not allowed to. And it’s like this weird challenge, but it feeds back into this kind of bizarre puritanical culture. And I suspect it came from some kind of religious or kind of esoteric thought leader saying that semen retention is good for you, but unless it’s your kink and you’re practicing it safely, that kind of withholding does create a lot of negative associations with sex. You can give yourself pain, you can give yourself a lot of discomfort. Blue balls isn’t a medical issue, but it can certainly make you feel quite uncomfy. Yeah, we, we’ve just got a lot of weirdness around these bizarre challenges that people are doing, and I don’t think these kinds of challenges should be normalised, and I don’t think people should be doing them because one, they’re not good for you. Two, it perpetuates bizarre ideas around sex. And three, your sexuality shouldn’t be something that you start messing with in order to set yourself weird TikTok challenges. It’s a vital and important part of you. It is an extension of your health and wellbeing. Don’t be silly with it.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah. I want to talk about your advocacy work because I think it is so interesting being able to educate yourself around all of these topics and the work that you do is so powerful, but then being able to work with the UN and to work with really important charities in the UK to spread this message and the messages that you share even wider is so important. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Emilie Lavinia:

Yeah, absolutely. So I do feel really, really privileged to be able to work with amazing organizations and charities to get healthy messages about sex and women’s health. Further, it was either last year or this year, I was on the commission for the status of women with the UN Women, and some brilliant conversations were had around the importance of sex education, body autonomy, access to resources and information that globally women are not able to come by easily. I also work with brilliant charities around healthy conversations around gender violence against women and how that feeds into porn. I do some great work with a porn conversation who are really trying to spread messages around the importance of healthy depictions of sex and healthy body image. And all these things I think are so heightened in the internet age because everyone’s on their phones.

I was sitting in a tube carriage the other day and I looked up and I couldn’t see one person that wasn’t staring into their tiny little computer, and I was thinking, that’s fine, but what are we all consuming if loads of information is wrong, if loads of information is barred and there are barriers to entry, that’s problematic. And I think advocacy work and charity work is a big part of changing that because we can influence policy, we can influence the way social media disseminates information, we can put pressure on big tech and firms like Meta to rejig and reiterate their safety strategies. I think it’s really, really important that if we’ve got this amazing technology at our fingertips, we are using it in the best way possible, especially when it comes to young people. But also there are big problems with access and funding, and that’s something else I’m really passionate about, and that’s where a lot of the UN Women’s staff comes in.

It’s where a lot of the work that I’ll do that kind of feeds into government policy comes into play. It’s not the most interesting stuff to talk about. I think to some people it’s quite boring, but I think it’s so vital, and I think if you can be an advocate yourself, it’s much better to join one of these organizations who have a strategy and know what they’re doing and can put pressure in the right places than posting a graphic on your Instagram because although it’s great to spread clear information and show support for causes that matter, you posting up something about the statistic of women who experienced period poverty or the statistic about young girls who watch porn is well-meaning it doesn’t necessarily help solve the issue. So I would urge anyone listening to this podcast to reach out to organizations where they might be able to lend their skills and support, write your MP and properly educate yourself around what the big issues are and figure out what you want to support so much that can be done on the ground level.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So interesting. I think the UN women, the work that they do is so, so powerful, and I think there is so many amazing charities that are doing brilliant work that just are so under the radar. So it’s really powerful that people like you who have a platform who can spotlight these charities and then just go in and help them with the brilliant work that you do. On that note, what do you have coming up next? I know you’re doing a lot, so that you might say, well, I have enough, there’s nothing coming up next, but do you have anything else coming up that you’d like to share?

Emilie Lavinia:

Of course. Yeah. So in the new year, I will be giving some talks, some of them with a brilliant studio in Shoreditch that is really channeled into helping women become their best self. I’ll be giving some talks on sexual power and how to lean into that and to take charge of your sexuality. I’ll be doing some great lunch and learn stuff with other women’s clubs and organizations. I’ll also obviously be writing, you can find all my writing and all the brilliant work that my colleagues do on the Cosmopolitan site, that’s cosmopolitan.co/uk and not the US Cosmopolitan site, or they do brilliant stuff too. And you can also just follow me on Instagram. You can keep up with what I’m doing there. I’m always posting about any event I’m taking part in or any new piece of work or research I’m working on. I do work with lots of different organizations on data gathering and research, which I think is really important.

Again, slightly on the nerdier side of things, but often there’s really great campaigns that come out the back of that. You can look at my Substack newsletter where I interview really, really cool people and often say a lot of the stuff that I think might be a bit too spicy for Instagram or elsewhere. So there’s a lot of really cool conversations that I have on there, which I think are really worth reading with real game changers and really, really powerful people. So I think it’s definitely worth hearing what they have to say. And other than that, yeah, just you might see me popping up with different charities and working with brands that I really support and advocate for like I did with you on the panel a couple of weeks ago. So yeah, there’s stuff in the pipeline. There’s stuff cooking.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Great. And all the links to everything you mentioned will be in the show notes. What thought do you want to leave listeners with?

Emilie Lavinia:

So I would love to really just impress the importance of self-study and self-knowledge. I think often when we are told something at school or by a parent, or even if we read it once in a magazine in our early twenties, and it doesn’t necessarily carry with us in a way that it should, even if we don’t feel like it’s quite right or it’s quite true, we don’t question it. And we often don’t double check information on social media and we don’t further our study of our body or our mental health. I love this kind of culture of self-development that’s popped up over the last few years because you are the only body, mind and soul that you get. So it really pays to take care of it and to educate yourself about it. And we don’t come in one size fits all box that we just jump out of and therefore everything’s fine and we can relate to each other.

We all come with different, we all come with different idiosyncrasies and different health issues in different perspectives. So I would say just really further your knowledge, learn as much as you can about yourself, your health, how to move through this world safely and with kindness and softness because there’s a lot at play when it comes to you, your mental health, your hormones, and then how you relate to other people. And I think finding good sources of information and finding good communities like community around your podcast or communities around different women’s health issues, there’s loads out there that you can find. I’d say the Internet’s a great tool if we use it for good. So search for it and find it. And if you’re not sure, ask a question. People can always come to people like me and you, and the best we can do is try to answer those questions.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Brilliant. Thank you so much, Emilie. I know that listeners will get a lot out of this podcast and of course out of all the work that you do. So thank you so much for your time.

Emilie Lavinia:

Thank you so much, Le’Nise. It’s been such a pleasure.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.