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Dicey Topics: Clementine Ford talks sex, religion and bodies

Why was religion something for you in your teens?

I have obsessive-compulsive disorder, and it was very strong when I was a teenager. So I used to pray the way some people [with OCD] wash their hands. I used to do the Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary, then I’d also do a personal prayer to God and promise I would be good. It also coincided with me really getting into masturbation.

[Laughs.] Okay, what’s the link there?

Because I felt sinful about the exploration of my body. I felt like I was doing something wrong and dirty.

So prayer was a form of penance?

Yeah, I would pray to God after I masturbated, apologise and say I’d never do it again. Of course that lasted less than 24 hours. [Laughs.] But the reason I’d describe myself as agonistic now is I am open to all possibilities. When my mother died [Ford’s mother died in 2007 of cancer], I took a lot of comfort in thinking there might be another place where I’d see her, one day, in whatever form that might be.

My mum always used to say two quotes, one from Peter Pan and one from Hamlet. The Peter Pan one being: “To die will be an awfully big adventure.” And the Hamlet one: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” It’s exciting to think of the possibilities that might come after life, and I don’t feel it hurts anyone to consider possibilities. I always think: if you die and there’s nothing, then you don’t know. And if you die and there’s something, then it’ll be an awfully big adventure.


What was your sex education like?

I’m the youngest of three, and my mum decided she was going to tell us all about the birds and the bees one night over dinner. I would’ve been five. She got the butcher’s paper out and drew a very detailed medical science [depiction]. She never used euphemisms. It was “penis”, “vagina”, “vulva”, “fallopian tubes”.

By the time you started having sex, did you feel you knew everything you needed to know?

Definitely. I’d read a lot of [Dolly magazine’s medical advice column] Dolly Doctor.

On the Kinsey scale where 0 is exclusively heterosexual, and 6 is exclusively homosexual, where would you sit?

Probably a pretty even three. I usually refer to myself as “queer”. I’ve been with men and women and there are different things I’ve appreciated from those relationships. But that scale is weird; some days I feel like a six; some days I’m definitely a one. So very fluid.

Three sexiest qualities in a person? Sense of humour. Kindness; empathy. And people who try. People who really give in to pessimism piss me off.

You’ve listed all internal qualities. Nothing physical?

Oh, I have a type. Swarthy men and soft, butch women.


In your first book, Fight Like a Girl, you discuss having an eating disorder. When did that start?

At 13. The loathing for my body started before that but at 13 that loathing came out in a really physical way.

How did your eating disorder manifest?

I started off with cutting calories. It became another obsession. Obsessively counting calories, measuring myself, weighing myself, writing self-loathing screeds in my diary. I lost a lot of weight in a short amount of time. The sad thing about it is we live in such a fat-phobic culture, that despite the fact I was incredibly unhealthy both physically and emotionally, everyone around me was really so encouraging of my weight loss.

How long did that period last?

It lasts for the rest of your life, because it’s an illness. But the immediate threat to my physical health lasted a couple of years. It’s easy to say, “Work hard at body positivity. Work hard at feeling good about yourself.” But it’s something that honestly comes and goes. I think that recovery for me will be lifelong, with lapses. But hopefully not quite as bad as it was in the beginning, when I didn’t have any of the additional understanding or knowledge around it.

You and your partner have a two-year-old son. Has becoming a parent changed your relationship with your body?

I try to be more forgiving of the ways my body has changed. Some people who give birth say they look at their body and love all the ways it’s changed. That’s great, but I hated being pregnant. The physical toll childbirth has taken on me isn’t as bad as it is for some, but you have to deal with how your pelvic floor is much weaker. It’s just a reality you’ll have bladder leakage and that’s a very confronting thing to deal with. One in three women who’ve ever had a baby will wet themselves for years afterwards. Up to 50 per cent of people who’ve given birth will have some form of prolapse in their lifetime. It’s not just that you’ll have a crying baby for the rest of your life. Your vagina could fall out.

To read more from Good Weekend magazine, visit our page at The Sydney Morning Herald or The Age.

Writer, author of The Family Law and Gaysia.

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