Harriet Walker: 'Can I stop pretending to be sexy now?'


It's funny what passes for sexual liberation these days. As I type this, I'm feeling the aching after-effects of having been so thoroughly sexually liberated last week that I can barely move my fingers around the keyboard. When I ate lunch earlier, I had to lower my head to my fork because I was unable to flex my over-sexed arms in the usual cutlery-to-mouth posture. I am a ragdoll whose limbs have been dunked in ice water; my extremities are dangling heavily by my sides, thanks to all the sexual liberation I experienced a few days ago.

Don't worry, I'm not about to regale you with tales of deviancy, of being strung up in a Barratt Home and spanked with a middle-class hairbrush or fed chocolate pudding while wearing a nappy by a highly paid tormentor working from a back-room in Chiswick.

There's a simple enough reason for my creaky torpor: I went pole-dancing. I regretted it before I went, I regretted it while I was there, and I regret it especially now I've done it and am left so weak I can hardly open the door to my flat. Sexual liberation indeed: I'm trapped on the sofa and can't even change the channel because my fingers hurt too much.

It turns out there's a lot of flinging yourself around in pole-dancing, the bizarre strip-club practice that involves a scantily clad woman heaving herself around a fireman's pole in various combinations of spins, flicks and whirls which is now taught as a hobby up and down the country. Lacklustre housewife? Overworked singleton? Mother who has swapped her carnal appetites for finishing the toddler's leftovers? Pole-dancing is for you. But don't go if you think you'll need your arms again.

Pole-dancing is an odd cross between trying to pull in a nightclub and being part of Cirque de Soleil, the international circus troupe so repellently twee and fantastical that a close friend of mine once soiled himself during one of their shows.

Once inside the chilly exercise studio, I was faced with mirrors on every wall, reflecting the three poles screwed into the floor in so many multiple aspects that they looked like the trees of Birnam Wood coming to get me. The first thing we had to do was approach the pole with intent. This wasn't a euphemism: it's so profoundly evident that the pole is a massive substitute penis that it isn't even worth skirting the issue. So when the music goes on at full blast, you're supposed to march up to that shiny metal penis, feet moving in your heels like a Nazi soldier's (this is not the sort of exercise you wear trainers for), facial expression either coy or brash according to your wont and inner wanton, and grab it – ahem – "like you mean it".

I didn't know what I meant by grabbing it so I sidled up to the pole nervously, like a sweaty teenage boy who knows he is crap with girls and doesn't even need telling that the one he's about to try to talk to thinks he's a loser and will just walk off. I sidled like a pervert and put my hand limply on the cool metal.

Ten minutes in, I was trying to fling myself around it, walking in circles at its base as I used to with our whirligig clothes line in the garden for the temporary thrill of getting so dizzy I'd fall over. In pole-dancing, you basically hold on, walk and then throw yourself in a circle, sometimes wrapping your legs around, sometimes kicking them out, and sometimes – if you're really good at it – kicking yourself upside down and slithering down to land on your face. Sexy times.

Twenty minutes in, I was drinking cava in the corner, claiming to be the official photographer so that I didn't have to pretend to be sexy any more.

The odd thing about being totally sexually liberated (and I use this phrase ironically, just in case anyone still hasn't realised that pole-dancing lessons are just about the least liberating thing on the planet except for cupcakes and wearing your hair in postmodern bunches) is that there's nothing sexy about it all.

Compare these two scenarios and see if you agree. In one room, a group of young women are talking about how successful they are and laughing about all the vast and varied life experiences they've had. Maybe one of them has just bought a house; another simply loves the fact that she's allowed to vote. Down the hall in another room, a group of young women are standing around looking as though they're either frightened of or turned on by a giant knitting needle, which an instructor keeps telling them to wipe down with their hands.

It was as my too too solid flesh came squeaking down that knitting needle, making a sound like a wet dog being smeared across a window, that I realised which room had about 3,000 times more sexiness in it. I bet those other women can still move their arms, too.

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