real life

Caitlin Moran first learned about sex from books. Unfortunately, most of them got it wrong.

Caitlin Moran is a writer, columnist, novelist, dramatist and one of the most optimistic and funny writers on the planet. She’s published six books, writes two columns a week for the UK Times and she’s just written her second book in a teen trilogy, called How To Be Famous.

The hilarious novel dissects the concept of fame and serves an antidote to pop culture’s fraught approach to sex; from what’s good to what’s bad and why so many of us get it wrong.

The mother of two discussed all this and more with Mia Freedman on Mamamia’s No Filter podcast. Here is a snippet of their chat.


MIA: I was reading your book and I was trying to do the maths, and going ‘Hang on, when did she write this?’ Because it was before #metoo.

CAITLIN: It was crazy. So I’d had the idea of the book for ages. I wanted this book to mainly be about sex, because I realised that because I was home educated nearly everything I learnt was from reading books, and so much of the sex out there is written from a male perspective.

There are beautiful lines out there describing women and stuff, but to read them as woman makes you feel really bad. Like Raymond Chandler describes a dame being ‘so beautiful she’d make archbishops kick in a stained-glass window’. Now that’s beautiful, but if you read that description of a woman when you’re 14 you’re like, ‘Oh God, have I got to be a dame that makes archbishops kick in a stained-glass window? I’m a fat girl in leggings; I just want a hug.’

And similarly with the sex, it’s kind of like James Bond is always ravishing people or doing it because he wants to get secrets out of them.

Particularly now, the only sex that’s available for young people to see is either online pornography – which I keep having to remind everybody is not sex, it’s two people doing a job – or 50 Shades of Grey, which I think it’s awful sexual template for young girls to have and really scary. I don’t want to think when I’m 15 that in a couple of years time I’m going to be being whipped.

MIA: Could we start with a cuddle?

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CAITLIN: Yeah. So what I wanted to write a book about three different kinds of sex.

So first of all, there’s a scene where she takes the virginity of one of her friends, because it really is a culture that we always see men taking girls’ virginity. Which is weird, because usually the first shag you have as a girl is the one you’re most worried about, you’re scared about, it hurts, there’s blood, you’re terrified of getting pregnant even though you’ve made him put on two condoms and come in the bathroom in a sleeping bag. That’s a fraught shag. But when a woman takes a man’s virginity there’s nothing to lose there really. That’s going to be fun. So I want to write about that.

I wanted to write about good sex. So the book ends is like an amazing shag, in which I’m very precise and physical about what’s happening, because I think you want to know what sex is like, you want to read about different kinds of sex – particularly from a female point of view.

And then the third one, which drives the plot, is right at the very beginning. Dolly has sex with a famous comedian and he makes her do things that she’s not sure she wants to do. But as she puts it, ‘I’m so young, I don’t know if I want to do these things. Maybe this is the day that I discover this is what I want to do.’ And it takes her a while to realise that that has been an abusive thing and that she wasn’t happy with it and for her to get angry about it. And he’s made a sex tape of her.

I’d had the plot for this book for 10 years, and as I was writing this – that she’s being sexually shamed by this famous guy and she finds out he’s been doing it to lots of other people – the Harvey Weinstein story broke, and I was like, ‘Oh my God. This is what’s happening in the world now, this is the book that I’m writing.’ The conclusion that Dolly comes to and how she solves problem is what these women have done as well, which is that you have to talk about it, you have to say, ‘The shame is not mine. I did nothing wrong. You must have this shame back. You are the person who did the wrong thing.’

But for years the presumption has been that if a woman is abused she has to keep that secret, she is damaged, she is shamed. It becomes her responsibility, which is crazy. It’s amazing we’re having this global conversation about this now, but it’s almost extraordinary that it’s taken this long for us to have that conversation.

For more from Caitlin, listen to her wonderful chat with Mia Freedman…

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