rankie Wells and Anouszka Tate present Project Pleasure on Transmission Roundhouse, the brilliant online radio station from Camden’s iconic venue-cum-education charity.
Now in its second series, their weekly podcast deals frankly and informatively about our bodies, and our capacity to enjoy them.
We spoke to the duo ahead of a special live version of the show for International Women’s Day.
How did the podcast begin and how did sex end up being the topic?
Anouszka: We met producing the sex-and-relationships show on a national radio station. Every Saturday evening we’d have listeners calling in with dilemmas and questions that were often so basic. We wondered how people in their thirties, fifties and seventies got through life without knowing these things?
Frankie: After one shift I joked with a friend about not knowing where our clitorises were until we were in our twenties and that made me think, ‘why aren’t we encouraged to talk about our sexuality and explore our bodies as women’?
Anouszka: At the same time, we were seeing a consent crisis at universities, we were hearing about young girls missing school because their periods are too taboo to mention, and we listened as our male friends told us sex was ‘good’ if they had an orgasm, whilst our female friends deemed sex a success as long as there was ‘an absence of pain’.
We momentarily wondered why we should be the ones to lend our voices to sex education in the UK, but quickly realised it’s because we feel comfortable talking about this stuff, which we’ve learnt is extremely rare. With that privilege comes a sense of duty to make others feel as safe as we do. There’s great power in hearing the experiences of others and thereby feeling a little more ‘normal’, and a little less alone.
Frankie: It’s so fun working with Anouszka, turning the lights down low and being really open about sex with no prejudice. I already had a show at Transmission Roundhouse; it’s been a great support to me since I graduated, working out what I was doing in radio and has been fundamental in me growing as a radio producer. It was important to find a safe space and somewhere we and our guests felt comfortable as we talk about vulnerable things. The team at Transmission are great facilitators of conversation and radio makers – to me there was no better home for Project Pleasure.
You covered a lot of the big topics in the first series, so what highlights should we listen out for in the new shows?
AT: Where series one was our curriculum overview module, series two is going to be like the further reading. It’s about exploring the experiences, emotions, interactions and prescribed ideals that have shaped how you feel about your place both in the bedroom and the wider world. How do body image, race, religion, schooling, gender, illness, parents, the media, societal expectations…anything you can think of, intersect with your sexuality? What has influenced and shaped your sexual self?
FW: The reaction to the series opener, the ‘Desire & Libido’ episode, has been incredible. We’ve heard from so many people saying it’s been a conversation starter between them and their partner or made them address their feelings about their libido, noticing how it changes and why.
AT: We’ve got some phenomenal guests, like Jamie Windust, the non-binary editor of Fruitcake magazine. They talked to us about the ridiculous stereotyping they have to deal with on dates. We also spoke to YouTuber Hannah Witton about body image and having sex with a stoma. The women behind The Pink Protest are also great fun; we’ve chatted with them about how to get the message out there that women do masturbate too.
We’ve also got some really moving, and at times quite difficult, stories to tell. Catriona Morton has talked to us about reclaiming sex after sexual abuse, and Jessica Duffin told us what sex feels like with crippling endometriosis.
How important was it to have the word ‘pleasure’ in the title of the podcast, and why?
FW: This show is about finding and embracing your pleasure with pride. It has done wonders for me – because I’m selfish and want a great sex life! The name was the last thing we came up with as we were mulling it over for so long. It’s encompasses what we we’re doing: a project to find pleasure, and we shouldn’t be embarrassed or ashamed of seeking that.
AT: It’s vital that the word ‘pleasure’ is in there as we need to make it explicitly clear that pleasure is the point of sex. Language matters, especially when it comes to female pleasure.
It can seem like a small detail but, for example, when we call oral and manual sex ‘foreplay’ we’re relegating the kind of sex that’s most likely to get a woman off (clitoral stimulation) to a warm up act before the ‘main event’ that’s most likely to get a man off (penetration).
We need to stop saying ‘vagina’ when we mean ‘vulva’. By misnaming our own anatomy we’re erasing all the parts that have the potential to bring us most pleasure – the clitoris, the labia, the perineum. We need more realistic language to talk about our sexual encounters; at the moment it’s about power dynamics and conquest rather than mutual pleasure.
There are a lot of confident young women broadcasting about sex these days, but less straight male voices. Why do you think there’s an imbalance and does it need to be addressed?
AT: Since the beginning of time, sex has been for – and is seen through the eyes of – cis, heterosexual men. Sex works for straight men, so there’s no sense of urgency in talking about it. In what we’re doing, we’re not wanting to take anything away from a man’s sexual experience, but we certainly want to make sure mutual pleasure is the absolute bare minimum we should all be getting from sexual encounters.
It’s also extremely important that men engage with the conversations we’re starting, because – especially for those of us who have sex with men – we can’t do this without them. And that does seem to be happening; we get so much feedback from straight men thanking us for giving them a place to safely learn about other peoples’ experiences and thoughts in their own time, without being judged.
Attitudes towards sex education seem to reflect our polarised society, with more intelligent debate and resources than ever available, alongside some enduring puritanical ideas too. Where do you see things leading next?
AT: I’m not hugely confident about where sex education is going in schools. Even though new curriculum guidelines are coming in for relationships and sex education, it’s still all about damage limitation – how not to get pregnant, how not to get an STI, and the legal provisions around ‘dangerous’ behaviours – just like it has been for the last hundred years.
This is where platforms like podcasts have a huge role to play because they give space for considered conversation. We are an increasingly polarised society, which is why it’s more important than ever to put human faces and voices to the statistics and laws.
Change minds by changing hearts. Someone who thinks it’s funny to shame others for having an STI will learn so much more from hearing one heartfelt first person story of having an STI than they would if we gave them ten factsheets of boring stats and bullet points.
FW: I found the new school guidelines particularly upsetting. Sexual Health for LQBTQI+ students is completely ignored, which is not only hugely irresponsible but also makes young teenagers feel excluded, lonely and turning to porn as education, which can be quite damaging and causes bad habits.
However, I do think porn can be a great thing too. Just listen to what the likes of Frolic Me are up to in this episode for instance.
Maybe I’m in a bubble, but overall I feel we are becoming more sex positive as a society, and there are more platforms that allow young people to learn about sex safely. For example BISH, run by Justin Hancock, has great resources plus it’s really engaging and fun. The reactions we have to the podcast also keeps me feeling positive.