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A quickie with Dr Tuppy Owens

February 16th, 2009

Dr Petra

This week, my quickie is with Tuppy Owens, who has a long and tireless career as a therapist, educator, activist and campaigner. She is particularly well known for her work on sex and disability and for being willing to tackle controversial issues about sex at a time when many folk would prefer not to engage with difficult subjects.

What have been your proudest achievements?

I’m pretty proud of everything I have done, the Sex Maniac’s Diary, Outsiders, the Night of the Senses, the Erotic Awards, the Sex and Disability Helpline, the TLC site, stripping on stage aged 60, moving from London to the Highlands.

What do you still have left to achieve?

Make all of the above projects happen without me. Put an end to the stigma of disability, make sexual pleasure a universal aim to replace the guilt associated with religious dogma

Who are your heroes/role models?
Betty Dodson, Peter Tatchell, Clarissa Dickson Wright, Bruce Parry, Mama Cass Elliot.

Tell me one thing about you that might surprise me.

I love hunting – not on horseback in red coats – but on foot, camourflaged, connecting with nature and ancient history

What do you do to relax?

Lie in the bath or float in the sea. Sit in front of the fire, or under a tree or beside a river in the sunshine.

What makes you happy?

Sex, trees, rivers, making things happen out of nothing.

What projects are you currently working on?

Free Speech Campaign to bring people with speech impairments into conversations and help them become accepted. Re-shaping the Night of the Senses so that we explain what a social service it really is. Perfecting the TLC site. Collecting new nominations for the Erotic Awards. Working on our programme to celebrate 30 Years of Outsiders.

What are the main problem areas in sex/relationships we need to deal with currently?

The fact that they are not being taken seriously at all – the Mental Health Foundation just bought out a book Talking Therapies Explained and sex therapy was not mentioned, nor was peer counselling.

What can’t you live without?

Beauty, a partner.

What sex education did you receive when you were a child/teenager?
I gave the class!

What sex information do you wish you’d been told as a child/teenager?
Playing hard to get

What’s the best sex tip you?ve ever heard?

I am not fond of tips. It trivialises sex. Sex is a dance, a language, artistic expression, a passion, and these things don’t have tips. Sex is not “one size fits all”. The tools I learned in my sex therapy course, to help people with sexual problems were sound, helping people communicate, stop spectatoring, accepting themselves, concentrating on what is going on, etc. these help but they are not tips.

Name your guilty (or not so guilty) pleasures
Masturbation in the countryside. This fits in with Annie Sprinkle’s new “SEXECOLOGY”–combining sexology and ecology, which is about treating the earth as a lover instead of mother. Annie and I always seem to be in tune with each other even though we live on opposite sides of the world.

What do you consider to be the main innovations in sex/relationships over the past century?
Acceptance of gay sex. The existence of the carina (as described in Josephone Lowndes Sevely’s book Eve’s Secrets 1987. The full extent of the clitoris (as described first by Helen O’Connell of the Royal Melbourne Hospital in Australia). Sex Therapy which is not used as much as it should be. Viagra. Kegel exercises.

Where do you see our sex lives going in the future?

Usual cycles of discovery, prudery, squeamishness, separation of heart from the groin and back again, this cycle will never be broken until people realise that religion is nonsense.

What are the main threats to our sex/relationships lives today?

Squeamishness. I am uncomfortable about the commercialisation of sex – people spending money on sex toys and lubricant instead of enjoying fingers and spit. Sex is one of the few pleasures in life that are free so why spoil that? Plus most commercial products are produced by people who know very little about sex. I remember one manufacturer showing me his new artificial vagina, saying, “Tuppy, if you put your finger right to the end, you can feel the clitoris”. I designed a sex toy for disabled people for a “competition” run by another sex toy company and they really didn’t understand what I was talking about.

People have forgotten that spunk contains endorphines, precious pain killing, pleasure-enhancing hormones. They would rather use artificial lubricants than spunk. Safer sex should be “On me, not In me” rather than condom use, because condoms form a barrier which takes away vital connections. The “On Me Not In Me” safer sex notion is for very everybody, not just HIV people, because who knows what status people really are? It reveres spunk rather than treating it as if it’s yukky. These days, people have no understanding of safer sex except condom use. The Pleasure Project even promotes products, rather than activities.

Religion – especially fundamentalist religions that want to take your soul and destroy sex. Fundamentalist feminists who claim all sex work is violence to women.

Is it possible to have great sex?

Of course

Describe an average day/week in your job.

60 hours of pushing, taking on the world, creating, inspiring, and not enough physical exercise. Watching the big charities spend millions on window dressing and spin while I slave away for nothing, surviving on my state pension. But I am happy.

What are the main things people worry about in relation to their sex lives?

That they are doing it “right” as per the tips from journalists in popular magazines

What causes those worries?

Ignorance, lack of confidence because of the tips in popular magazines.

If you could plan school sex education programmes, what would you put on the curriculum?

That some people are sexual from birth, others never, most are for a while after puberty, and it’s OK to be whatever you are. That sex is much better and more important than it is portrayed in the media, and they should read good books on it, and talk about it with friends and lovers, as much as possible.

What sex/relationships issues are worth campaigning for?

All sexual freedom is worth campaigning for.

Are there any issues in sex/relationships are given too much attention?
The way people look, as if good looks are sexy and people without good looks are therefore not sexual.

Are there any issues in sex/relationships are overlooked or neglected?

Yes, men’s inability to start relationships (good that Pick-Up Artistry has come along), and the sexuality of older people and disabled people. That religion causes great sexual unhappiness.

Thanks for your time Tuppy!

As you can see Tuppy champions a number of excellent causes, and if you’ve been inspired by her interview you may want to offer some of your time, skills, expertise and cash :-) If you are a disabled person you can find out more about sex/relationships advice and support from Outsiders and TLC, and health or social care staff working with those with physical disabilities, mental health problems or learning difficulties may also want to share those resources. Sex workers who are interested in working with disabled clients may also want to sign up to the TLC site.

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