By Izzy Harris
Flo Perry is an illustrator, author, self-described “sexpert” and graduate of Durham University. She is best known for her 2019 book How to Have Feminist Sex: A Fairly Graphic Guide. She told me about her work, sex advice and her most recent project, Couch Fiction.
Perry has spent the last six months illustrating Couch Fiction, a graphic novel written by author and psychotherapist Philipa Perry, who also happens to be her mother. The book gives insight into the power of therapy by telling the story of a client’s year of psychotherapy sessions.
I asked Perry about her experience of working during lockdown, a time when many people in the creative and artistic industries have struggled to find work. She explained that, “this was the ideal job for me to do during lockdown. It was a long job with good money so I didn’t have to worry.
“It was engaging enough to keep me interested, but I didn’t have to do any writing so I could still daydream, listen to the radio, or chat to my girlfriend at the same time. And even then, I still had two weeks off at the start of the pandemic to cry and stare into space! I am so impressed with anyone who’s got anything done this year.”
Her work illustrating this novel is particularly interesting given the family dynamic that came with working alongside her own mother. I asked if having a psychotherapist for a mother ever impacted the way that Flo has thought about therapy. “I think if you know a therapist personally it demystifies therapy as a miracle solution.
“You understand that not all therapists are good for all people, that therapy is about the relationship you have with the therapist as much as anything else. I’ve never felt the need to have therapy, but it’s definitely something I feel like I will have at some point in my life.”
She went on to explain how working with her mum affected her in this project: “Luckily we actually hardly had to work together. I think we sent four emails the entire time. She was very trusting of my abilities.”
It’s not surprising that Philipa Perry felt comfortable using her daughter’s work, as she is an experienced illustrator with credits including the books, The Girl’s Guide To Growing Up Great and Remember This When You’re Sad, as well as freelancing and producing comics for BuzzFeed. Many of her comics have gone viral on social media which, Perry notes on her website, means that “literally millions of people have seen my drawings of boobs”.
I asked how she adapted her illustrations for Couch Fiction which discusses mental health, a sensitive and often stigmatised subject which is hard to avoid in a book on psychotherapy. Perry explained, “I suppose I drew James, the client in the book, quite seriously compared to my usual comical style.
“A lot of the comedy of the drawing comes through drawing Patricia the therapist, and her cat Kevin”. Comedy is an important aspect of much as Perry’s art and she is known for her humorous style, which she also used in her own book.
How to Have Feminist Sex is Perry’s first publication in the dual role of author and illustrator. The “fairly graphic guide” was first published in 2019 and broaches many topics, including consent, kinks and virginity, and why we should talk about sex more.
Perry describes feminist sex as “sex that makes a women feel good”. In the book she explains how patriarchal constructs limit women’s enjoyment of sex. She discusses the issue of negative body image, explaining how it can distract people from feeling “in the moment” when they are too busy thinking about how they look.
Perry elaborates on this issue: “It’s definitely something I’ve had to overcome. Challenging our fatphobic idea of beauty is something we all need to do, and if we manage it will make every one of us happy.
“Being fat has got to stop being seen as a tragedy, something to be feared. A huge breakthrough for me was realising that it’s not guaranteed you’ll be happier if you’re thinner. A slice of cake everyday might make you happier than a flat stomach would.
“Another thing to keep in mind is a flat stomach isn’t everyone’s sexual ideal. Lots of people find lots of different body types attractive. We do know this, we all know there’s every kind of woman imaginable on Pornhub, but still we think that everyone around us must be attracted to mainly slim people.
“We should destigmatise having a sexual preference for fat people. Live your life as though this is the body you’re always going to have, and work on loving it today, instead of changing it for tomorrow. I am the fattest I’ve ever been right now, and definitely the happiest too”.
These are ideas that resonate with feminists within the body positivity movement, and in discussions about fat acceptance and pretty privilege.
The book keeps up with the times and talks about how to take a ‘feminist nude’, which is a subject that Perry personally gives talks on. Often, nude images of women are shaped by patriarchal ideals of the female body, especially when we see them portrayed in pornography and the media.
With this in mind, I asked if it was possible to detach oneself from the misogyny when taking a cheeky picture. “Definitely. You can take nudes that show off your cute round belly, or your womanly leg hair. Nudes are an art form, be experimental.” This advice seems especially topical as we enter our second lockdown and many partners are separated in different homes.
Flo’s current career seems leaps and bounds away from her studies at Durham University, where she gained a degree in chemistry. I was interested to see if her time in Durham had anything to do with this transition from STEM into the arts. “I got to where I am now through student journalism! I was a Tab columnist and I loved it – sorry, but at that time Palatinate was very boring. I hope it’s improved.
“It was the funnest thing I’d ever done. And so through that, I got an internship at BuzzFeed straight out of university. And through my BuzzFeed career I got my book deal, and here we are today.” On her degree, she went on to say “my chemistry degree is 99% completely useless in my life. And there are definitely days where I think ‘why the hell did I do that?’. But it hasn’t held me back, I’m glad I have a piece of paper that shows I can work that hard.
“You can learn about a lot of arts subjects by reading a book, but chemistry is far too boring to learn from a book. Doing chemistry was an extended exercise in delayed gratification, and thank fuck it’s over”. Perry is a clear example of someone who transitioned between career paths after university.
She is also a feminist and LGBTQ+ advocate who gives talks on the topics of consent, being queer and feminist sex. I asked her if she had anything to say on the criticism that Durham University currently faces about sexism, lad culture, homophobia and racism.
She offered a statement of hope for students impacted by these issues, saying that “Durham was a cesspit of all those things while I was there. I hope it’s changed, though with the recent news I don’t think it’s changed enough.
“All I want to say is to the students at Durham who are feeling the impact of its sexist, racist, homophobic culture right now, the rest of the world isn’t like that. You will find your people, university doesn’t have to be the time of your life, you have plenty of time to have fun.”
Perry calls herself a “sexpert”, a title that she gained through reading books and “some field research”, she explains with a wink. With this in mind, it didn’t seem right to finish the interview without asking for her best piece of sex advice, which she kindly gave.
Perry thinks that the best way to improve your sex life is to “talk about sex. With your friends, but especially with the person you’re having it with. Share your sexual fantasies with your partners.
“Stop assuming that what you want is what everyone else wants too. Don’t make your sex life something you only talk about with your partner when it’s going badly. Keep talking about sex, have it as an ongoing conversation in your relationship.”
Couch Fiction will be released on 26th November.
Image: Flo Perry