Last week I requested that you ask me anything. Looking at my mail, I’d say we have a good range of topics for today. Please, if there’s something on your mind, a question, a problem, don’t hesitate to ask. Some questions have had their grammar altered a little, but otherwise they are untouched. If I use politically incorrect phrases it’s either a) trying to be funny or b) I don’t know I’m being politically incorrect (in which case, do correct me).

Dear Mr. Seb, I am 49 but have not started the menopause. Can I still get pregnant at my age?

A good, easy question to get started with! You are sorely lacking on detail — do you want to get pregnant, or are you asking if you can go on one last flight of reckless fancy, sleeping with all and sundry, knowing you’re safe from pregnancy if not from STDs? Your hormones are running rife, spurring your middle-age horn into overdrive one day, and complete disinterest of sex the next.

From a purely mechanical standpoint you can get pregnant until you’ve been a full 12 months without a period (and thus without ovulating). If your periods are simply irregular that’s not the same as menopause — that’s just the build-up, the peri/pre menopause — and you can certainly still get pregnant during that time (but it’s still very difficult).

For more information talk to your doctor, or visit one of many sites or newspaper stories on the topic.

I am a self-injurer. When life gets tough or I get stressed out, or even when I’m bored, I find sharp things to dig into my skin. This is generally viewed as a problem. But that is not the problem or situation for which I am seeking your advice. Generally speaking, when other people find out about this side of my life they begin to take precautions: watching what they say, qualifying statements so as not to upset me, and so on. One of my friends has asked me TWICE now if I am into S&M; I have never experienced it, so I couldn’t really say one way or the other.

Anyway, I was bored today and decided to do a bit of research. The Sadomasochism article on Wikipedia was rather helpful actually, and I got a fairly clear picture of what S&M really encompasses. I think I could totally get into that. It would definitely be the pain side of it all as well, not so much the humiliation. But pain, definitely. So being that I have a… condition, an illness that most people are terrified of, how would you suggest that I bring up this subject to a lover? Bear in mind that said lover would be rather concerned about my injurious tendencies already and may be averse to inflicting pain upon me. Please help, Dr. Seb.

Confused in the Padded Room

Now this one’s trickier. My first reaction was: find a lover that’s also a self-harmer. That’s probably the simplest if not the most healthy solution — you’d probably end up cutting each other in more and more creative and intricate ways until you end up looking like Amy Acker from Dollhouse or one of Hannibal Lecter’s victims, but at least it’d be a consensual and you wouldn’t be hurting any ‘innocents’.

I think it depends on whether you like self-harming or whether you’ve identified it as a problem and want to stop. A loved one — a partner, a friend, a family member — can certainly help you regain a sense of self. They can acknowledge and empathise with your physical and mental pains, both of which can go a long way to rebuilding your sense of self-worth. Remember, pain tends to disassociate you from ‘yourself’, and continued self-harm will probably result in you ‘drifting away’ from reality — self-mutilation might seem like a temporary fix, a fleeting detachment, but it’s certainly not a permanent solution to problems you might be experiencing.

To be honest, I don’t know if you are trying to stop — it sounds like you’re not — or if you are just trying to tell your lover: This is who I am. Deal with it. In which case, I doubt a caring partner is going to be understanding of continued self-harming. If what you really crave is pain (most self-harmers aren’t in it just for the pain, though), S&M is indeed available. Bear in mind that any relationship that revolves around dispensing pain and being humiliated is going to be unlike any other relationships you’ve had.

There’s a world of difference between pain and humiliation though — they’re not inexorably linked — and if spanking and pinching and hair-pulling is enough for you, I’m sure you can find a boyfriend or girlfriend with a domineering streak to keep you satisfied!

For more information there’s a good article on understanding self-harm by the British mental health charity Mind. AskMen has a great article about spanking, which might help you satisfy your need for pain and arouse you at the same time! And if you’re really interested in BDSM and want to get started right now, ALT is the main ‘alternative’ online adult personals site.

The goldfish I have at work is a slob. I purchased him on a whim because I thought he would be entertaining, which he is. He loves David Bowie, and whenever Bowie comes on the radio the fish dances to him. However, the goldfish who shall remain anonymous (we’ll call him Rick [Astley? -S]) is a total slob! He swims around with a fire-hose turd hanging out of his ass most of the day, and now his shit is starting to stick to his fins. I wish the little bastard would just clean it off. I clean his bowl weekly, he has plants to rub it off with, but I think he just does it to irritate me. What should I do?

Pissed in the Pacific Northwest [Come on, I said anonymous... -S]

In my experience, dealing with animals effectively always comes down to physical and visual stimuli. Some animals can be trained by sound, but I don’t think you can train a goldfish by whistling. Maybe one day we’ll understand fish as well as we understand dogs and you’ll be able to buy ultra-high frequency fish whistles; one day. Until then, I suggest one or two options:

  • Hook up two wires from a nearby power socket, run them through some kind of switch (available from your local hardware store) and simply dangle the two ends into the tank. Next, print out a photo of a goldfish.Now, whenever your fish has neglected to ‘shake his fin’, hold the picture up to the side of the tank and flip the switch. This is equivalent to Pavlov‘s famed doggy/ringing bell experiment. It also has the added bonus that if you fail to condition the fish into looking after its hygiene, your cat (or your friend’s) has something to look forward to at dinner time.
  • The other option is far more sinister; a whole lot more Godfather. For this one you need at least two goldfish, so go and buy another one before you start. Got it? Great. You need to force-feed the second fish a solid diet with lots of fibre, one that will encourage lots and lots of poo production. Then, when the shit starts squeezin’ out, turn the pump off — the water must be totally still for this to work. You’re aiming for a long turd: a turd long enough to tie into a noose. Optionally, to speed up the process, you might opt for holding the fish with one hand and squeezing it firmly with your fingers. When you’ve cultured a suitably stringy shite gently tie it into a loop, placing it carefully around its neck.

    This will act just like a goldfish voodoo doll. Chilling. If that doesn’t scare your disgusting beast  into wiping its ass on nearby plants, I don’t know what will.

If you have a question for next week’s edition of Ask Me Anything, go ahead and ask me. Remember, it’s completely anonymous! This is your chance to get something off your chest or find out the answer to something that’s always niggled at you! Or maybe you just want to tax me… meanies (you know who you are).

Phil's parting prophylactic present
Emotional avatars in virtual worlds


I am a tall, hairy, British writer who blogs about technology, photography, travel, and whatever else catches my eye.