In a world full of sexualised images in lingerie, why have I bothered doing an erotic print called Kliterati?

In a world full of sexualised images in lingerie, why have I bothered doing an erotic print called Kliterati?

This blog contains explicit sexual content, serious TMI on my medical gynae stuff, and quite a lot of not-safe-for-work images. Please don't read it if any of that seems likely to bother you.*

I should also note that I am neither a medical doctor nor a specialist in psychosexual stuff, so if anything in here is also an issue for you, please find a relevant professional.

If you've been following our Kickstarter, you'll know there's a collection of red satin lingerie in there with a black print on it. It looks floral from a distance, but up close, it's pretty clearly also got women masturbating. There's a short story on that (it was one of a number of print ideas, and it was the one that worked out best and seemed the most relevant to the style and you, our fans), and this, the much longer story of why I think it's important to move on from the obsession with breasts and start talking about our genital health and sexual pleasure.


Yazzmin wearing the Kliterati bra and girdle, photographed by Tigz Rice.


Since I was quite young, I have often noticed that the world seems to be greatly run around men's opinion of women's sexuality. At school I was called frigid, at University, a slut (you can't win; don't bother trying. Up-end the board in their faces instead). Dress one way and it's too much, another and you're just asking for it. Many men think they rate what they do and don't find sexy publicly at any time. But start a discussion about women's genital health or menstrual issues and you'd think the apocalypse was nigh. It's completely OK for the entire lingerie industry to be obsessed with breasts and sexy, fun breast health campaigns, but we're only just starting to talk period pants and ostomies. And I I have yet to get a pair of knickers that reminds me that a pap/smear test can be a good idea. Or maybe test for candida. I can but dream.

This is unfortunate because sometimes, Vaginas Go Wrong.

Technically, vulvas go wrong more often (that's where all the nerves are, on the outside), but pretty much no-one knows this word due to that whole taboo thing. Women can talk easily about different ways of removing or styling their pubic hair, but we're still in a place where many people can't tell a urethra from a clitoris.

An early sketch by Miguel, which ended up being called "the grumpy flower lady"

I ran right into this problem at full speed when I was about 24. I had horrendous pain and itching, I'd been to the doctors and been fobbed off, I'd been to the GU clinic, I'd been to the sexual health clinic, and finally, I got told by a qualified sexual health specialist "any undiagnosed vulval pain is vaginismus".

I knew that this was total crap, because by that point I'd done enough counselling training to have accidentally read my "Common Sexual Dysfunctions of the Penis" paper and similar papers on the way home on the tube (never do this), and I knew that vaginismus is a very specific phenomenon. It's when your pelvic floor muscle contracts tightly as a response to anything you try to put in your vagina. It can happen because of physical trauma, pain, anxiety, sexual assault, all sorts of reasons - and it is treatable.
I thank my stars I knew because it meant I raised an eyebrow, said "hrmm" (which is British for, you're talking rubbish and I'm having none of it), went home and googled vulval pain. Shortly thereafter I found the Vulval Pain Society, and the London Vulval Pain Group, and saw a great gynaecologist.

Kliterati Print Brief


I have/had:

  • lichen sclerosus - an auto-immune condition that makes my genital skin allergic to itself,
  • vulvodynia -  makes it feel like there's about 100 tiny cactuses living in my knickers,
  • vestibulodynia -  it hurts when you press on the entrance to the vagina,
  • dyspareunia -  it hurts when you poke me in the gut or ovaries from the inside,
  • clitorodynia - your clitoris hurts like heck
  • levator spasm -  I can't actually remember! It's one of the smaller muscles in your genitals and it was doing some wacky stuff.

But don't panic.

BECAUSE I KNEW WHAT VAGINISMUS MEANT, I AM OK NOW.  LS is genetic, so it will always flare up, and sadly the combination of M.E/general chronic pain and Von Willebrands, a haemophilia type disorder, with all of the above, means I have to manage things, and also ironically rarely wear any underwear, but hey. That's the price of reducing the cactus experiences in your life. I also had to take 3 months off having orgasms and draw graphs on a computer using a sensor in my vagina, but I heartily recommend the latter experience just for the sheer amusement value. I really like graphs.


An abandoned sketch by h.a.nix, who doesn't think she's much good at art; she's entirely wrong about this.


Over a decade later, I have been to lots of groups and talked with other women and spoken online, and also fitted in some masters research analysing what impact how we talk and think about our vulvas has on us. This gave me an academically valid reason to put a nude painting on the front of a masters research paper, so I'm pretty cheerful about that.

The taboo on women talking about vulvas, vaginas and related issues is terrible for our health. This isn't "I compare myself to idealised imagery in advertising and it makes me feel ugly"; this is "I have no idea what I look like there". No idea of what's typical, or what's actually a problem and what really isn't, or what might help and what might not, or when to see a doctor, or when to shout at your doctor that they are not good enough at this and you need to see a specialist like, yesterday.

It is also spectacularly bad for our sex lives. When we don't understand our bodies, when we don't know what does what, and we're not prepared to play because that's a taboo area, when we can't get research money on women's sexuality because it's not interesting or respectable enough, when we just treat everything with "relax and use more lube!"; this doesn't work. Our bodies are used to give the viewers pleasure, to be desirable, to be sexy. But what makes US feel pleasure, what do WE desire, when do WE feel sexy?

And this is why I got totally side-tracked intermittently for two months on developing an erotic print of women in flowers self-pleasuring.


Original artwork by Miguel Garcia


Because it shouldn't be a radical act to know your own body and what makes you feel good, but it is.

This turned out to be surprisingly complicated. Firstly, art work doesn't always translate to print. I really wanted to use the sketch above, by Miguel, but it didn't work on fabric. The flowers came out too blocky and we lost the fine lines on the woman.

Secondly, I have to make money (I know, it's very boring), so it has to be KMD but not totally put people off. Which meant part of the issue with the above is the art style has to match the V-wire bra and girdle or it all looks a bit off.

Thirdly, the two graphics people I worked with were quite young and I ended up spending quite some time explaining things like "male gaze" and "women masturbate differently in porn than they do in real life - in fact every woman will have her own preferred technique or variation", which was awkward even by my standards, though they seem to have survived unscathed! Louise was also adorably conscientious in chasing me up when my M.E had gotten the better of me, for which I will be eternally grateful.

The final print by Louise Strudwick.

Oh, and I'm really picky about what shades of red I am prepared to accept and drove the factory totally potty about it all, basically. I'm still pestering them intermittently about it all being cut the right way up and the lycra content. Plus naming it was a group effort; there was a big vote wanted "tits'n'tulips" but as it involves no tulips I nixed that. "Klittering" is a Swedish word suggested by a Swedish-heritage British Deadly (huge KMD fan) and well, you can probably figure out where I went from there.

I sincerely hope you like it because I've got more of the fabric than I need for this set, For Reasons. It's on the Kickstarter now with all sorts of goodies, will be with us by January, probably, and you can see me nattering to Karolina about vintage bras and print techniques and wires, whilst wearing the full bust version, here.

Tea but no biscuits; Karolina and Catherine talk bras and wires and kickstarters. from Kiss Me Deadly on Vimeo.

If you would like to know more about any of the issues here, I'd recommend clicking all of the links. Go wild, click them all, go on!
My favourites are probably The Guardian's series on vagina issues, and this episode from that wonderful institution, the World Service, which is forever throwing up surprising and informative bits of radio. I believe, because it's the World Service, you can listen to it from anywhere, but I could be wrong. Even if you don't have vulval pain, I heartily suggest the excellent guide "Smears without Tears" from the Vulval Pain Society (who are always in need of funding, by the way), because lots of us hate having them and they could be done better.

If you're like "Wait, what, you're really ill and stuff?", I wrote about what that's like here a few years back.

Be well, and enjoy your bodies. There's not much else you'll keep for the whole of your life so it's worth getting to know them. Or, to paraphrase RuPaul, If you can't love yourself, how in the hell you gonna communicate to someone else better about how to do it? If everyone could write their own instruction manual, life would be so much easier.

*Also, for once I am using gendered language, but I'm mostly speaking to my experience of growing up with ladyparts here, so anything else seemed a little odd.