Reclaiming Her PowHER (Women and SRH): Ortal Hadad
Ortal Hadad speaks to us about sexual and reproductive health advocacy and feminism.
When the evil queen stepmother Lucille La Vern worried that Snow White would grow to be more beautiful than her, she forced Snow White to work as a scullery maid and performed a daily ritual of looking into a Magic Mirror and asking it “who is the fairest one of all”. For years the Magic Mirror replied that it was the Queen until one day when the Magic Mirror answered, ‘Snow White’. Heart filled with rage and envious to the point of wretchedness, the Queen mother sent a huntsman to kill Snow White and return with her heart in a jewelled box.
Women have long been taught that femininity, beauty and sexuality must be repressed from not only men and evil queen stepmothers but the woman herself. Other women were seen as adversaries and women’s sexual desires and fantasies of pleasure were written off as medical illnesses. Ortal Hadad says some of the sexual ideals society holds toward women today remain repressive and representative of the Victorian period.
“It was in my second year of university that I really started to get into it more. I did a course on the History of Sex which was utterly life changing. We learnt about sexuality in all sorts of periods and the thing that stood out to me most was the Victorian Period where a lot of female sexuality was repressed and even medicalised as a pseudo mental illness known as Hysteria,” she says.
Twenty-three-old Ortal believes there is not enough discussion about sex. She says women are afraid to speak up because a significant part of society makes sex, particularly out of wedlock, seem dirty and secretive.
“I believe women should be communicating more to not only make themselves feel more comfortable in the sexual arena, but to also help one another learn more about their bodies and sexual pleasure.
“Men should not be excluded from this conversation. They should learn about the female body and they should learn not to label women negatively for sexual actions that they, as men, would be praised for,” says the journalism graduate.
Determined to break out of the mindset society had placed on her, Ortal created ‘The 10 day dating-app challenge’ or ‘10 dates in 10 days’.
“My 10 day-dating app challenge was the craziest thing! I will say it was quite exhausting going on so many dates, but it was definitely such a learning curve," she says.
Each date was different from the last, which she says showed her what she likes and does not like in a potential partner. She learnt that every single man is different and portrays a different dynamic when dating.
We asked Ortal what the dating challenge taught her:
"I think I learnt more about dating from a technical perspective, for example I learnt what type of dates worked well for a first date and I learnt a little more about the dating process,” she says.
She noticed that some men assumed the more traditional route and wanted to pay for dates whereas other did not; some enjoyed texting over others.
"I think it’s just about finding someone who is compatible to your highest beliefs and values. I’ve realised it’s not about being the same or even having all the same interests, but it is about being compatible particularly within what is most important to you.
For example, if religion is important to you that is something you should factor. Or if spirituality is important to you, you don’t necessarily need to be with someone as spiritual as you but someone who can at least still allow you to and even nourish your growth on a spiritual level,” she told To EmpowHER.
Exploring what she wants in a partner led Ortal to also learn about herself, to be more open and comfortable with the dating process, and to understand that loving begins with yourself.
However, gaining the courage to create the dating challenge came from having difficult conversations with herself about body positivity and sexual pleasure. Ortal describes her relationship with her body as “pretty weird”.
“I used to be fairly overweight and due to that body image is an ongoing battle for me. However, it has improved drastically, and I believe having a positive body image helps one feel more confident in bed,” she says.
This can also be applied vice versa: engaging in acts of sexual pleasure can make you feel better about your body:
“To me part of embracing female sexuality is embracing my body and my female parts as they are. It’s about also understanding that my body is my choice and that I can do what I desire with it. If I choose to shave, that is my choice. If I choose to interact sexually that is my choice. If I choose to wear revealing clothing that is my choice.
“Regardless of these choices, nobody should have control over my body or do anything to it without my consent. I feel in that sense that the way I understand my body now is as an active entity in my life and sexual practices. It is not an object, but rather my power and freedom,” she told To EmpowHER.
For Ortal, viewing her body as an active entity where individual power and freedom resides means looking at her naked body in the mirror at least once a day and giving it love. She says it is important to be comfortable with the naked self and loving every inch of it despite its imperfections.
“I am a believer in exploring your own body via masturbation or other sexual means. Women should not feel ashamed of these acts and if anything I believe practicing masturbation helps you learn more about yourself and what you personally enjoy.
“In turn, this helps you when you are with a sexual partner because you can guide them to please you better. I used to feel super ashamed about these things but by practicing them more often, I am in the process of fully understanding my body,” she says.
With this being said, Ortal strongly advocates for practicing safe sex and both parties going for check-ups to be tested for STDs which she believes is a boundary that a partner should respect and as a result, be respectful of her health.
The journey of self-love and body positivity leads to beautiful self-acceptance and independence. Ortal says if you are positive in your own skin, you will not have to rely on compliments from a partner or seek a partner for the purpose of feeling good or ‘completing’ you.
“Instead you will be a wholesome individual who will connect more authentically and on a higher level where both parties are individual entities who come together to create magic,” she says.
There is freedom in being whole – a notion often discarded in favour of the forever after trope which teaches children and adolescents, via books and movies, that you need a partner (and love from a partner) to become a whole person.
Feeling whole is linked to receiving sexual pleasure in the bedroom because “if you feel good about yourself you’ll be able to embrace your sexual side more. Instead of feeling ashamed and as though your pleasure is not important, you will own your sexual abilities and pleasure which will make the bedroom space more equal and empowering for both partners involved”.
The mandate Ortal enlists is one of empowerment and pride in a body that has been taught it should hide its feelings, desires and needs, leaving women ill-equipped and unable to communicate their wants. This process of not knowing is not necessarily a bad thing, as Ortal maintains “learning as you go” is the first step to body positivity.
“When it comes to your first relationship, I think it’s about going with the flow and learning as you go,” she says. “Emotions can be intense and part of entering a relationship is allowing yourself to vulnerably feel everything. I’d say the most important thing here is to follow your gut, make sure you have a strong trust with your partner and to keep communicating openly.”
As the saying goes, communication is key but so is education. Ortal says there is no rush when it comes to having sex for the first time. She recommends getting to know your own body first and reading about sex from accurate sources.
“I think a key point is also to have communication, and this is even important after your first time. You must never feel afraid to say what feels good and what doesn’t and one should know if anything feels uncomfortable it is always alright to ask to stop,” she says.
Another tip she suggests is “first playing with yourself and learning what you enjoy as well as creating a comforting sexual space.”
Ortal says the second step is to "invite your partner into that sexual space. I would not recommend going all the way first time round, but rather to start of slow and learn about each other’s bodies before going on to have full on intercourse".
First times can be scary, so we asked her what she recommends for shaking off those nerves and releasing tension.
“The first time can be a little scary for some and I will say its normal for it to be a bit awkward but taking it slow really helps along with just being honest, relaxed. The more comfortable you are in that sexual space the better it is," she told To EmpowHER.
Self-care means taking care of your first home: your body. As Ortal teaches, a mind and body that is replenished everyday by positive self-talk enables honest conversations with the person you choose to invite into your space and creates more pleasurable experiences.
If the evil Queen communicated more effectively and tenderly with herself instead of comparing herself to Snow White, perhaps she would have had her very own happily-ever-after.
MORE FROM ORTAL
What advice do you have for young girls who feel uncomfortable, ashamed or insecure about their bodies? I think body insecurity is a challenging battle, especially for women. Part of change lies in the mind in terms of beliefs. I think it’s good to try wire your mind to love yourself. It sounds silly, but I think it’s important to practice thinking positive thoughts about your body. Stand in front of a mirror, look at your body and appreciate it. What has also helped me is looking at how my body functions in my best interests and how it can do so many incredible things. Lastly, I think it’s important we normalise our bodies as they are. There are so many Instagram/social media role models who do this and embrace things such as cellulite, stretch marks, skin rolls and so on. Every body is different and all bodies should be loved.
I will say the only issue I do have with promoting body positivity is that sometimes I feel people promote unhealthy bodies (both overweight and underweight). The important thing here is to teach people to care for their bodies in a healthy way but to love themselves regardless of where they are on this journey and to love themselves regardless of any imperfections.
How can young girls learn about their bodies without access to trustworthy female role models? This is an interesting question. I actually don’t think role models always work, to be honest. I think its inspiring to look up to someone who has accomplished something or practices body-positivity and defies the unrealistic ideals of society. However, no one actually knows the full journey that a person went through because oftentimes this is internal. The lesson here is to not depend on the external environment as a means of growth and self-love. While the external environment can help sometimes, I think true body positivity stems from within. Young girls should try and focus on themselves internally and promote inward self-love which should eventually transpose towards loving their physical selves. This can be done by practicing positive thoughts, connecting with your internal self and valuing all your mental and physical assets.
What books, movies and/or online resources do you recommend for young girls and women to educate themselves on sexual and reproductive health and relationships? There are SO many out there! I think an interesting watch is the film, Hysteria. It’s not fully factual but it gives people some context about where the repression of female sexuality stems from. There is also a website called OMGyes which is all about female pleasure. I must say for me, I feel the best knowledge acquisition is communicating with other women because this creates a comfortable space and is based on real-life experience rather than simply scientific studies.