Sex is (dear reader, replace these parentheticals with any descriptor. Sunshine. Leftover pizza for breakfast. A blessing or a curse.) But for Lucy-Anne Holmes, the sex she was having wasn’t good enough and she didn’t feel great about it.
Don’t Hold My Head Down is Holmes’ sixth book. She has previously written four romantic comedy novels and a book of nonfiction. The paperback edition will be released in February 2020 published by Unbound, the book chronicles her journey to find some brilliant fucking. Its conversational tone will have you feeling like you’re chatting with a friend, rather than reading the explicit details of a stranger’s sex life. More than a play-by-play, Don’t Hold My Head Down bares it all: sex, relationships, self-confidence, emotional well being, and motherhood. Holmes explores personal and shared expectations of herself as a sexual being.
She asks the tough questions. How does one actually give a good handjob? What does sex mean after giving birth? Why have women’s bodies been co-opted by men?
Her broaching of topics often perceived as taboo (hello, anal stimulation and the trauma of an unregretted abortion) can feel brave, but in an overwhelming and more important way feel completely necessary for the continuation of the narrative of the book and the broader societal conversation.
To read about a woman speaking so candidly about her own sex life and openly discuss topics such as masturbation and pleasure was refreshing. So often, the sexual narrative is presented through the male perspective. Maybe that works for some people, but it can’t work for everyone. Her broaching of topics often perceived as taboo (hello, anal stimulation and the trauma of an unregretted abortion) can feel brave, but in an overwhelming and more important way feel completely necessary for the continuation of the narrative of the book and the broader societal conversation.
Split into twelve sections, Don’t Hold My Head Down follows a rather expected linear progression. Holmes claims no expertise: “It will soon become apparent that I am no sexpert,” she writes. Instead, she confesses she wrote the book because it is something that she wished existed for her. As you read through, more and more it feels as though the intended demographic is simply previous versions of herself.
Existing literature on sex is often smutty or clinical (both okay), and Cosmopolitan suggesting women eat donuts off a penis like a kebab might not help everyone feel sexually empowered or liberated. Holmes comes at the topic of female sexuality from a holistic and honest place. In addition to what Holmes calls her “sexual odyssey,” she provides context around her own experience of female sexuality and takes on tougher topics such as body image, sexual assault, and rape culture. Tucked among the rest, you’ll find a BDSM checklist, a recipe for consent, and bits that feel like a sex-ed lesson. It’s not just a book about sex, but a book about the experience of being in our society and inhabiting a female body.
I would’ve been shouting, “preach, sister” if that phrase fit organically into my vernacular. An anecdote of masturbating with sticks had me laugh-crying. “I’d always been a nature lover,” Holmes writes of the incident.
This book had me laughing out loud, vigorously nodding, and feeling a little sad while wanting to start a complete revolution. I would’ve been shouting, “preach, sister” if that phrase fit organically into my vernacular. An anecdote of masturbating with sticks had me laugh-crying. “I’d always been a nature lover,” Holmes writes of the incident. But I wonder to what extent women of colour, women of varied levels of abilities, or transwomen, or gender queer women will relate to the book. Perhaps that comes back to the intended readership being Holmes herself. What will resonate with people who aren’t white women like Holmes or myself?
As funny and conversational as this book can be, the content adds an undeniable weight. Sex can be sexy and such but it carries with it a lot of baggage. Without Holmes’ Bridget-Jones-esque timbre the book would risk coming off as just another banal think piece about female sexuality or a downright depressing report on the perceptions of female pleasure and bodies. I don’t really want any of those things. But thankfully, Holmes gave us something that we might need and want—a very real and honest take on the state of female sexuality and an inspiring look at one woman’s journey to claim her sexual experience.
Holmes gave us something that we might need and want—a very real and honest take on the state of female sexuality and an inspiring look at one woman’s journey to claim her sexual experience.
Yes, I loved the tone of the book. It added much-needed brevity. But, if there’s anything isolating about the book, besides the isolation that ultimately comes from reading the experiences of someone who isn’t like you, it’s the unstoppable British slang and voicey-ness. Do I run the risk of being deported for saying that? Whatever. For Don’t Hold My Head Down to obtain any sort of international acclaim, which might not even be its goal, readers outside of the UK will have to look past the slang, the uncountable instances of “blimey”, and references they don’t understand to get to the heart of the book. And, I do hope they do because the payoff is worth it.
Comedy can be tricky and often involves self-deprecation. Holmes tactfully approaches her own self-hate in an honest way. “It wasn’t just that I lambasted my body and its various compartments, I berated my actual self too,” she writes. Women are often given encouragements of self-love without the warning that the reality of the journey to actually liking ourselves and our bodies isn’t as simple as a marketing scheme drawn up by some soap company would have us believe. “The business of perfection is a nightmare,” Holmes writes.
I want to make sure to draw attention to and applaud Holmes on her inclusion of writing about motherhood and sex apres giving birth. For many of us, the thought of our mothers as anything besides our mom let alone a sexual being leaves us uncomfortable. But guess what! Mothers are women who have sex and deserve to enjoy it. I’m clearly no expert as I have no children or plan for children, but I hope that Holmes’ honest discussion about post-partum sex and sexuality brings comfort and opens up the conversation among mothers and to-be mothers about what the fuck is actually going on.
While I loved the book as a whole and I will recommend it to anyone who asks, I struggled with the structure. There are segments of the book that feel a little too hodgepodge. Just when I thought I figured out the reason for using a page long textbox, they pop up used in a completely different way a few pages later. Although the inconsistencies feel forgivable and the best course of action feels like it’s just to ignore them.
Don’t Hold My Head Down is a breath of fresh air. Holmes provides a gracious and veracious perspective of female sexuality in an accessible way. It is a book to give to your friends and chat about while devising a plan to overthrow the patriarchy. It is a book to inspire you to stick a flag in your own sexuality and claim it as your own. It is a book to make you think and a book to make you laugh. Of course, it’s a book that you should read if not to understand yourself but to gain empathy for the female experience.
It’s a book that you should read if not to understand yourself but to gain empathy for the female experience.
Lucy came into the book slut offices to sign some books for a giveaway.
AND ONE OF THEM COULD BE YOURS!
watch this space.
Don't Hold My Head Down
By Lucy-Anne Holmes
320 pages. 2019.
Buy it here.