'My Parents Read About My Sex Life In The Papers'
The Debrief: What happens when your dad hears about your floppy hard-on from The Guardian?
Making a living by writing about your love life seems like one of the safer ways to get paid for getting laid, right? Compared to all the other methods of making money from sex, telling stories about your erotic exploits would strike most people as – cough – an easy ride.
But what happens if your mum and dad discover what your job entails, and read up on all the dirty deets of who their offspring has been getting off with?
To find out, I spoke to a male journalist and author who’s written extensively about his personal affairs for a national newspaper, and to a female comedian and writer whose material centres around sex, drugs, and cock ’n’ rolling-into-bed-with-men-while-blind-drunk.
The Relationships Columnist (and the time his – ahem – column flopped)
‘Kit Lovelace’ (not his real name, which is a bit less ‘Austin Powers’ and a bit more ‘Robin Reliant’) describes himself as ‘a hopeless romantic who’s more hopeless than romantic.’ He used to pen a column for the Guardian called My Love Life In Your Hands.
‘It was written in the style of a Choose Your Own Adventure novel,’ he explains. ‘Each week, I’d describe my current dating predicament to readers, then let them vote on a selection of various next steps I could potentially take. Whichever option for action proved most popular, I would dutifully carry it out, then report back for further guidance.
‘I was essentially an Agony Aunt in reverse. I told audiences my troubles, in the hope of crowdsourcing a decent answer. Although they often delighted in stitching me up...’
Kit detailed his dates, dalliances, snogs and shags anonymously. ‘I wanted to be completely honest about my experiences without too much fear of retribution, and also to preserve the privacy of the women involved,’ he justifies. ‘There were a few trusted mates who knew the truth, but there were certain people I wanted to keep my identity hidden from – like my lovers, my exes… and my parents.’
Unfortunately, his ‘gobshite sister’ ended up spilling the beans by mistake at a family gathering – and Kit’s ma and pa immediately started reading about all the women he was attempting to spill his bodily fluids into.
‘My parents became the column’s most devoted followers, avidly learning about all my ins and outs – sometimes literally,’ he winces. ‘They got right into the spirit of it, voting on my proposed next moves and telling me their choices. On the one hand, it was nice that they took an interest, supported me, and enjoyed my writing.
‘On the other, nothing makes you feel like an incapable human adult than having your ’rents talk you through your dating options one by one, every week, for the best part of a year.’
Kit’s mom and pop discovered how he’d broken into a former amore’s flat after their relationship had broken down, to dramatically present her with ill-judged roses (we hope they were at least a decent bouquet, Kit, not one of those miserable, wilted bunches of petrol station forecourt blooms that look like the Daily Mail has asked them to look sad in a photo illustrating how they got sent home from school for not having regulation shoes on).
They heard the tale of him frantically chasing a Canadian girl to the airport to profess his adoration. And they also read about their son’s bedroom balls-ups and things going whack-whack-oops with his wang…
‘I ended up turning the column into a book called Romantic Misadventure, which broadened all my stories out to encompass my entire intimate history from the age of 10 – and mum and dad bought that too,’ Kit sighs.
‘One scene talks very frankly about the crisis of confidence I had while losing my virginity. I was raised Catholic, so that was weighing very heavily on my mind before any actual nookie took place. Then, when it was all over, as well as fretting that I was going to be eternally damned for having had pre-marital sex, I had an almighty post-coital freak-out when it dawned on me quite how much my then-girlfriend looked EXACTLY like my cousin.’
He continues: ‘There’s also one section that’s all about how I tried to style out some erectile dysfunction; and another where I recall a vivid and awful sex dream in which I had to give someone a very thorough sponge bath. All memories I’d never, ever have chosen to tell my parents about – but which they are now vividly aware of.’
Every time Kit scored a bit of how’s-your-father, his mother and father read about it. And whenever he managed to get his end away, he never heard the end of it from them. Thankfully, however, this story has a happy conclusion.
‘The column finished rather well for me, as the person the readers eventually guided me towards became my girlfriend, and we’ve now been together for four years,’ Kit smiles. ‘It does mean that her parents know about my writing now too, though. Which is even worse.’
The Stand Up Comedian (and her one-night stands)
Eleanor Conway is host of Gospeloke – a Sister Act-style karaoke night where you get to wail out your favourite tunes backed by a 15-piece gospel choir – and Musical Bingo – a take on the traditional game where instead of numbers being called out, songs are played. Nothing there sounds like it’s going to prove challenging for her family.
Surely the most offensive thing that could come out of those evenings is someone trying to hit a Mariah-esque high note and producing something flatter than a bottle of pop that’s been left open in a warm place for a week combined with the contents of a 30AA bra?
However, Eleanor is also a stand-up comedian, and her latest show, Walk Of Shame, details the intoxicated flings, flirtations and fumblings Eleanor had prior to getting clean and committing to sobriety just over a year ago, and what life’s been like since.
‘I was a hardcore party girl, and as a result my life was a bit of a mess both romantically and logistically,’ she admits. ‘I’m in a much better place now that I’m off it all. I’m not saying that all my problems are sorted - far from it – but I’ve got my standards back. However, trying to navigate the dating world while newly sober has caused its own problems too.’
Eleanor hoped the thrill of meeting a slew of new guys might keep her busy and distracted, and help her transition away from her old ways of finding excitement through booze, so after swearing off the liquor, she threw herself into using dating apps with renewed vigour. Perhaps unsurprisingly, swapping wine for right-swipes and just drinking coke with blokes didn’t end up working out so well… ‘For a while I tried to fill the hole (so to speak) left by my ‘toxic indulgences’ with dates, and pretty much Tinder’d my way through most of London. I dated some really dodgy dealers and complete freakin’ psychopaths before I got straight, so as a sober person I tried to make more sensible choices, but I discovered that my ability to judge who was a good match for the new me, was often wayyy off,’ she laughs.
Dating apps can be a minefield for everyone at the best of times, but especially early on her sobriety, Eleanor was completely out of practice at making decisions that weren’t based on ripping someone’s clobber off when she was higher than a lost helium balloon on a windy day.
‘In the show, I talk about going on a date with a scaffolder named Jamie, who I reckoned would be a down-to-earth, dependable, stable sort of man. Nope. Despite knowing I was in recovery, he did cocaine on our first date – and shoplifted. He stole a travel-size can of L’Oreal hairspray. Fuck knows why. Because he thought I was worth it?! And yet I still slept with him.’
What that suggests Eleanor may have thought she was worth herself at the time is deeply sad; yet she recounts the story in a way that makes your sides split like a banana in an ice-cream sundae.
Do her family see the hilarity, though, and share Eleanor’s unsquashable ability to laugh at the past? Or do they find it problematic to know she’s on stage talking about the men she’s let cop a feel of her boobs while she’s been off her tits, or the threesomes she’s had while three sheets to the wind? Have they read the piece she wrote for the Guardian this year, discussing how boring Eleanor finds dates can be without the addition of alcohol, and how she’s processing the realisation that she slept with a lot of plonkers while under the influence of plonk?
‘My mum, while I think she’s proud of me, doesn’t really comment much on what I do,’ Eleanor reflects. ‘She’s French, so I do sometimes wonder whether a lot of my jokes and their implications just pass beneath her radar, but in general she’s pretty un-shockable. Years ago I spent some time editing hardcore porn; I became so acclimatised to seeing willies and spunk and splayed vaginas that if there was a clip of a woman licking jizz off a kitchen floor, I’d be thinking, “Ugh, I bet that linoleum’s covered in hair and germs!” rather than “Ew, she’s lapping up ejaculate.”
‘I had to edit a lot of footage of these wonky-looking twins called Kit and Kat [not the ‘Kit’ from above!], and I became so bored of shots of them sticking stuff up each other’s bums that I’d start noticing the crap décor in whatever Barratt Homes “girl next door” set they were screwing in and doing DIY in my head. I’d tell mum all about this, so these days the worst reaction she has to anything I say is just to roll her eyes.’
Eleanor is grateful for her mum’s steadfast support of her career and complete belief in her strength of character, and is thankful for the fact she seems unperturbed that her daughter harnesses highly personal and, at times, potentially upsetting stories as a basis for material that’s shared with a large public audience.
However, the comedian does confess she suspects her mother has ‘kind of given up on the hope that I’ll settle down and give her grandkids.’ That baton appears to have been passed to her sister.
‘My sis is all loved up and preparing for a role maintaining the family bloodline, and I think she often looks at my life with some puzzlement,’ Eleanor muses. ‘We’re quite different people who’ve made different choices, although we love each other, and I hope she’d never be embarrassed or ashamed of who I am and what I do.’
Walk Of Shame discusses larger issues of feminism and women’s rights as well as Eleanor’s own personal experiences, and she believes this is something her relations should stand behind. ‘I talk about slut shaming, and how suffragettes used to chain themselves to railings to fight for equal rights, which has lead to ladies having more freedom to enjoy sex and chain ourselves to some-bloke-called-Dave’s Ikea bedposts, should we want,’ she says.
‘I use comedy as a vehicle to debate all sorts of topics, including my own personal history, and to me it feels like a valid, healthy means of exploration and expression. My family needn’t worry that there will be many more sexual revelations, though – no bugger will sleep with me now, because they all shit themselves that I’m going to turn them into a joke.’
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