The Sex Lectures are the creation of Alison Pilling, and were brought into being in 2018 by a collaborative effort between her and Roger Bygott, a Manchester visual and interdisciplinary artist and dancer.

Alison’s intention was to manifest a place where people could talk about sexuality in all its many aspects, in a way which was friendly and open, neither too sleazy nor too spiritual; a place where people could be challenged, but not confronted.

So far, there have been seven events in Manchester. The evening at the CCA on 23 November will be the first in Scotland. Events are planned for London next year.

The CCA is a perfect location. Urban, arty, risk taking, and at the same time welcoming and friendly. In Manchester, the Events have been held at The International Anthony Burgess Centre and The Whitworth Art Gallery. Not in a basement with sticky carpets.

If you go on YouTube and search ‘The Sex Lectures’ – and you should – you’ll find 31 of the talks that have already been given, with topics such as:

Vulnerability and Intimacy

Orgasm Re-imagined

The Art Of Love And Desire

The Joys Of Real Communication

Sex, Risk & Writing

Female Sexuality & Osho

How To Love A Vagina

Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Sex

Touch Changes Lives

In assembling speakers for the CCA event, Alison has tried to maintain this kind of diversity and eclecticism. So, there will be something about Art, something about Porn Addiction, something about Authenticity, something about Consent..incredibly varied, and because each talk is only 12 minutes long, even if something doesn’t quite float your boat, there’ll be another one along shortly.

There are only 60 tickets available, and over half have been sold as at 4 November, so if you want to be part of something new, go to https://ccaglasgow.ticketsolve.com/shows/873613215/events/

Of all the forms of unhappiness in our society, sexual unhappiness is the most tragic, because it is so widespread, and because it is avoidable.

We are taught that sexuality is about bodies, techniques and orgasms. It’s not true: primarily, it is about expression of the deepest aspects of ourselves, and the overcoming of a profound loneliness and isolation through heartful, embodied connection.

In this workshop, I will join forces with my friend and fellow sex coach Alison Pilling ( www.sexschoolforgrownups.com) to teach Couples how to enable their erotic lives to flourish and deepen.

We will teach you about Mosher’s sexual styles, so you can understand and appreciate the different ways human beings are in their sexuality, rather than see difference as a sign of failure or disappointment.

We will introduce you to the Wheel Of Consent, which can dramatically enhance clear communication with your partner.

We will teach you different ways to touch, and how to greatly widen your touch vocabulary.

We will show you how you can expand your idea of what touch is, so it becomes a source of creativity and innovation, rather than repetition.

We will introduce you to the Wheel Of Sexuality, opening you up to a vast landscape of variety and connection.

We will give you a series of practical, heartful exercises which you can practice at home.

This is the only workshop that Alison and I will be offering in Scotland until Autumn 2020,  we’re inviting 12 couples to spend time with us, enjoying learning new ways of relating.

To book, please go to

https://Facebook.com/events/472227703632585/?ti=ia

” The soul feels unsafe in a frightened body. The Bodywork is to breath courage into the frightened body, to feel pleasure in its own edges again. It is a way of preparing the body to be a home for the soul again”

( Mehdi Darvish Yahya, with thanks to Caffyn Jesse)

The first time I came across trauma in a visceral way was about thirty years ago. I was a young lawyer. A client had just been telling me about appalling abuse she had suffered as a child, and suddenly became very upset. I reflexively put my hand on her hand to comfort her, and it was as if I’d given her an electric shock. I immediately withdrew my hand, unsure what to do.

When the body has experienced something which makes it feel radically unsafe, two responses to touch are common: startle and freeze.

It seemed obvious to me when I started out in this work that, in Bodywork, the key to untangling the trauma was to re-empower the body, to give it agency again. So, I would agree with the client exactly what we were going to do, maintain constant dialogue, tell the client what I was going to do before I did it, ( and then, not to do it without specific consent), be very aware if the client was going to zone out, and so on.

I don’t think that working in this way is wrong, but I think it’s incomplete, because it places insufficient weight on relationship and active autonomy: the client doesn’t just need to reduce the grip of historically based fear, they need to actualise their capacity for active relationship and joy. There’s a difference between the body feeling safe and the body feeling pleasure, joy and connection. The first is necessary for the second, but not sufficient. I think I thought that if the body is free from fear, it will find its own way to joy, but I now think that isn’t necessarily so.

To this end, I’ve been working in a much more flexible, client-led, experimental way, enabling the client to decide when there’s contact and when there isn’t, and the form which that contact will take.

For example, the client might want to embrace, but feel anxious about what sort of touch they will receive. A way round this is to allow the client to lead the touch, and for the practitioner simply to mirror that, at first in the physical movements and then, as confidence builds, in the intent which informs the touch. The client is always in control, and can decide when they’ve had enough.

One client said to me that I was a surrogate. She didn’t mean that I was a sexual surrogate, because I don’t have sex with clients or engage in sexual acts with them, but rather, in one of my modes of working,  I use my body and my intent for the benefit of the client. So, where a client’s body has been traumatised in an experience where they had no power, perhaps involving a man, that trauma can be gradually unravelled by an empowered and autonomous connection with me, and then the body, because it’s safe, can gradually feel pleasure and connection.

This is still quite a new approach for me, and I’ll write further on it in due course.

When my first Zen teacher, Nancy Amphoux visited me for the last time, nearly thirty years ago, she was suffering a recurrence of the cancer which would kill her a year later. Although she could feel it eating away at her bones, she wouldn’t take painkillers while she was teaching, because she felt that her temporary pain was insignificant compared to the risk of imparting error to her students due to befuddling sedatives. I remember talking to her in my living room. We were both standing up. She was behind me. I was pontificating about something or other, when I was suddenly aware of her launching herself towards me, flying through the air, legs first, grasping my hips with her legs. Her response to her impending death was joyful, playful exuberance.

I’ve always been frightened. For years I disguised it with my intellect, my studied vagueness, my capacity for distracting myself, but more recently I have been able to see it plainly. And because of that, I can see other things more clearly: the courage and generosity of my teachers.

Other than my dear teacher Michael Eido Luetchford, who gave me Zen transmission, all my teachers have been women, particularly in the fields of sexuality and dance. And I think this isn’t an accident because in my experience, generally, there’s a crucial difference between men and women teachers. Men tend to want to share their knowledge and wisdom. Women share themselves: how it is to be them, and what they have learnt and understood through that. And because that is so, with these teachers, I haven’t learnt how to become like them. I’ve learnt how to become myself.

In that spirit, I honour my teachers not by copying them, but by doing my best to be completely open to them, to take it all in, and then carry on with this mixture of them and me in as open hearted a way as is possible. To follow and honour them, not by repeating them, but to understand and express how each human heart is transformed by another. So something both new and not-new can arise.

And through my wish to honour my teachers, it appears, from the outside, that I diverge from them. My zen teaching is nothing like Eido. In fact, it often sounds contradictory, but I don’t think it is. It is like dancing with someone. Both persons are unbalanced, but in their unbalance, they create a greater balance, a dynamic one, which can move through time. Not like an object, or an institution, but like a person.

And for the same reason, although I deeply respect and love my tantra teacher, Hilly Spenceley, I don’t want to teach her structures, brilliant though they are. I want to hold them in my heart and then birth something from myself. Likewise, I feel that while I have engaged – and continue to engage – in a deep way with Betty Martin and her Wheel Of Consent teachings, I don’t want to become a certified member of her School. Not because I disrespect her, but because I love her.

Our teachers don’t want us to walk through the world wearing a mask of their face. They want us to take off our masks. They don’t want us to have confidence because we carry their certificate in our hand. They want us to open our hand.

And our heart.

I gave a brief Introduction yesterday to The Wheel Of Consent for Glasgow’s Embodiment Circle. This is a lovely group of practitioners who are all concerned with the body, in its widest sense. So, we had a shiatsu practitioner, a qi gong teacher, a contact improvisation teacher, amongst others.

it was a chance for me to try things out for the two daylong workshops I’m giving at The Wee Retreat in November: a day long Wheel Of Consent Workshop on 16 November, and a workshop for Couples, which I’m running with my friend and fellow Sex Coach Alison Pilling on 24 November, who will be in Glasgow anyway to compère The Glasgow Sex Lectures at the CCA the previous evening.

One of the fundamentals of The Wheel Of Consent is an exercise called a The Three Minute Game. In this game, people pair up, and take turns to ask the other a question. This question is either:

”How would you like to touch me?”

or

”How would you like to be touched?”

The other then answers the question by saying, for example “ I’d like to stroke your hair”, and, subject to clarification and – critically: it is The Wheel Of Consent – informed by a consent which is positive, enthusiastic, in the moment and readily withdraw-able, the participants then engage in this for three minutes, then swop over.

The game is simplicity itself, but it’s also very deep. It challenges us to say what we actually want, rather than say what we ought to want, or what we feel won’t upset the other person, or what we feel is appropriate, because we can have confidence that the other person will say no if they can’t give their enthusiastic consent, and will tell us when that consent lapses.

But here’s the thing: what we ask for is obviously restricted to what we think is possible to ask for, and that in turn is restricted by limiting ideas that we have about what touch is and what it’s for, and more generally, what the body is, and what it’s for.

Something which Alison and I will do in our workshop for Couples is try to teach how to expand our touch vocabulary. We will talk about how to touch with different parts of the body ( the hair, the fingernails, the palm of the hand and so on), how to touch with a particular intention (nurturing, seductive, enquiring etc) and various other things, but I’ve recently come to think that there’s something more fundamental: when we restrict touch to being about body sensation alone ( and hence regard the body as being a kind of sensation machine) we miss something absolutely fundamental, not just in our intimate lives, but everywhere: the body is the soul. What I mean by that is that our body, all of it, is the repository of our dreams, our images, our feelings, our imaginings: everything. And touch is – or should be – one of the gateways to this vast world. And when we restrict our idea of touch to physical sensation alone, that’s when people sometimes go blank, claiming not to know what they want.

When I was working with Caffyn Jesse in Belfast the other week, it was clear – and this is one of the reasons why I’m so drawn to her work – that she’s had similar ideas, as one of her suggestions in a touch based exercise we were doing was for the person choosing touch to be able to say-

Touch me like-

Touch me as if-

You see the difference? It introduces infinite scope. I can ask for you to touch my cheek like an exultation of starlings. I could ask you to touch my chest as if you were a rhino proceeding carefully across thin ice. I can ask you to touch me like an alien incarnated in a body for the first time. I can ask you to touch me as if I am your mother, that you are seeing for the last time. Infinite.

I’ll explore these ideas further in the November workshops. If you’d like to explore them with me, come along.

 

How should we touch? When I was a kid in the late sixties, watching Man From Uncle on the telly, the bit I liked best was Napoleon Solo going into an innocent looking basement shop in New York. He would casually press a few buttons on the back wall and then a door in the wall would open, revealing a completely different world.

Men are encouraged to believe that women’s sexuality is like that wall. All they need to do is find out where the buttons are, and they can be Napoleon Solo too.

So, they’re eagerly receptive for material that will enable them to make a woman ejaculate, or find their g spot, or their third gate.

I say they’re mistaken. Why?

Four reasons:

First, Touch which is future orientated isn’t good touch. If I’m touching you to produce an effect, you’re going to know that. If you sense me thinking “is she there yet?”, you won’t be able to relax. In fact, you may feel somewhat irritated. You may feel somewhat done to.

Second, there isn’t a secret inner world. Our eroticism is completely available to us, and those who love us. It isn’t hidden at all. There aren’t silos of pleasure in an otherwise numb world. The world of the body is completely alive. All of it.

Third, good touch is heartful, not technical. When people tell me they don’t know how they want to be touched, that arises from the deficient notion that touching is just something my body does to your body. But that’s not so. I touch you with my heart, through my body. If we can include the palette of emotions, touch is never repetitive, because it’s always expressing ourselves at this moment.

Look how animals are, how comfortable and easily affectionate they are with each other. Yes, we’re different because we have tools and artifacts and self consciousness, but our intimate connection with all beings remains. And those species developments needn’t determine our nature. When we’re assembling a watch we need to be technical. When we’re expressing ourselves, we don’t.

And lastly, we don’t want to be manipulated. We want to be adored. Lusted after. Be the ravished summer orchard for the hungry hordes. All that stuff:

simple

 

If one person feels something, that’s a personal issue. If a lot of people feel the same thing, that isn’t just personal; it says something about society too. The problem of sexual inexperience falls into this category.

We live in a hyper sexualised society, but a large number of us seem to have no or minimal sex, or have very unsatisfactory sex.

What’s going on?

Well, one factor is that we tend to view sexuality in terms of recreation, and of performance.  It’s a hunger.  It’s something that you do, not a central part of who you are.  We overemphasise the body and underestimate feeling and connection.  We give the body only provisional value: if the body looks great and ‘performs’ well, then great, otherwise, not so much.

And this Tinder-ising doesn’t work for a lot of people. But because the model is so dominant, they think there’s something wrong with them, rather than something wrong or incomplete with the model.

So, I get young women coming to me whose boyfriends have a very pornified idea of what love making should be, and they blame themselves for being inadequate. Other people can’t seem to get started, and don’t know how to.  It’s as if everyone else is speaking a language they don’t understand.

It’s really widespread, but silent, like a secret epidemic of shame.

I don’t do surrogacy work.  It can be very valuable, but often it operates within the dominant model of doing, rather than feeling, being and connection.  It’s those latter qualities I want to bring out when working with clients who have issues of sexual confidence and sexual inexperience, because it seems to me that inexperience is in some sense a choice -perhaps an unconscious one – not to participate in this dominant mode of low-feeling, high action performative sex.

So my starting point is not somehow to reconcile the client to getting out there and get with it.  It is to start with an open enquiry into what the body and the heart feels and wants. Starting from that place, we then ask what wishes, sensations and worlds can come into being.

My perspective is that feelings of perceived sexual inadequacy or inexperience are best addressed not by fixing the body, but by opening and connecting the heart.  Everything positive flows from that.

You can make an analogy with conversation. As a society, we tend to think that the point of sex is orgasm.  But suppose we imagined that the point of talking was to make jokes.  Well, no doubt that would work for some people. And those people, doubtless, would accuse others of having a low humour drive, or being unskilled at punchlines.

It’s a ridiculous analogy, isn’t it?  But is it really?  Sexuality, like communication, involves the whole, unique, feeling person.  The range of expression is endless. It’s not something simple and straightforward, like appetite. Although, of course, it does involve hunger.  But hunger for what?

My friend Minnie Iris is a very talented artist. I have one of her pictures in my practice space. She is a trustee of  the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Trust.

In the words of their website:

The term Body Dysmorphic Disorder [BDD] describes a disabling preoccupation with perceived defects or flaws in appearance. It can affect both men and women, and makes sufferers excessively self conscious. They tend to check their appearance repeatedly and try to camouflage or alter the defects they see, often undergoing needless cosmetic treatments. Onlookers are frequently perplexed because they can see nothing out of the ordinary, but BDD causes devastating distress and interferes substantially with the ability to function socially”

Minnie herself suffered from the condition. It started when she was 11, when she became fixated with creases in her neck. She believed she was ugly, but was able to function until she was 38, when her Mum died. At that point, her hair started to fall out because of the stress. She started to feel monstrous when she saw herself in the mirror. Then she started to have a lot of suicidal thoughts. Fortunately, she was able to access specialist therapy.

BDD is said to affect around 2% of the population in varying degrees. But if we take this as the extreme edge of a spectrum, who can honestly say that they don’t know at least one person who seems unreasonably negative about one or more aspects of their appearance?

When Michael Jackson’s father, Joe Jackson, died, in the obituaries we learnt that as a teenager, Michael was sensitive about his nose. And his Dad, deliberately mocked his nose. Hence all the surgical treatment as an adult, which transformed his beautiful black face into something weird and other worldly.

Often, something like this is at the root. A person perhaps has an accident and their appearance changes. Or, for a variety of reasons, they suddenly lose or gain weight. Or, like Minnie, they suffer bereavement or other loss.

But underneath the wide range of immediate causes, there’s a common mechanism. The mind -an idea ‘I am ugly’ – takes over the body. The person loses a realistic sense of their body because they lose their feeling connection with it.

My Swiss friend, Thea Rytz, was a pioneer in treating eating disorder sufferers somatically. She realised it was no use telling them that their ideas about themselves weren’t true, or getting them to look in the mirror, because it was so easy for the mind to distort. So, she would do things like get her patients to put bags of sand on themselves, so they could feel actual weight, and so the mind could recalibrate itself.

It’s a major problem, a major, widespread cause for great unhappiness.

As, among other things, a body worker, I am very well placed to work with body image, for several reasons:

– I meet the body of the other in love, respect and acceptance, countering the negativity

– I re-embody the client, so the body can become autonomously feeling again, free from the tyranny of the mind

– with the active participation of the client, I help the body to be a source of pleasure and empowerment

– I replace judgement with alive embodied presence.

Here’s Minnie’s picture: it’s beautiful, isn’t it?

In my work with couples, I often find that sex between the partners has stopped, or become radically unsatisfactory, and neither partner really knows why. It usually isn’t because there’s a problem elsewhere in the relationship, as if that were so, talking therapy could identify and resolve it.

The couple – unsurprisingly – expect to just sit there, and someone like me will sprinkle fairy dust on them, and suddenly, everything is as good as new. This tends not to work.

From my perspective, the problem is twofold. Firstly, the couple tend to have a clear idea of what sex should be like. I call it The Hollywood Model. In this model of sex, each is urgently passionate for the other, to the extent they tear each other’s clothes off with scant regard for fabric longevity, have some very perfunctory foreplay then get down to business, and in no time at all simultaneously and noisily orgasm. Whilst having sex, they are very engaged with each other.

That’s the first problem: there’s an ideal of what sex should be like, and you’re disappointed and frustrated if it isn’t like that for you.

The second is the focus on orgasm. Couples tend to speak about this in terms of what “works”. If it promotes orgasm, it’s good, if it doesn’t, not so much. But over time, the sex gradually narrows, until, quite soon, you get to the point where it’s just perfunctory.

And then it vanishes entirely.

How can we think of sex in a different way?

Donald Mosher, an American researcher, came up with the idea that we have three different sexual modes. What I’ve called The Hollywood Model is his second mode, Partner Engagement, but there’s two others: Trance and Play. Discovering these is one way to get out of the Couples Trap.

Trance is where you’re very caught up in your own experience. Your partner might be doing something delicious to you, and you are having an exquisite time, but it’s very internal. It’s as if you are having a wonderful meal. You don’t want to tell the waiter every five minutes what a great time you’re having, because that detracts from the experience. However, because The Hollywood Model is what we think sex is, we often feel guilty and selfish when we’re in this mode, and feel that we’re taking up too much time. And we feel we have to reassure our partner, even though that takes away from our experience.

When I work with a couple, they are so focused on how things should be that they often become, with each other, disembodied. In that case, it’s helpful for me to work with them separately, in the Trance mode, to reembody them, before getting to work on communication and variety.

The other state is Play. BDSM – particularly power games – are the classic exemplars, but it really includes all behaviour where the couple are playing a role.

In my remedial work with couples, I focus on these two other states, so they can broaden out the Couples’ idea about sex, which was largely and culturally restricted to Partner Engagement in the first place, and fatally constricted further by an unbalanced focus on orgasm.

Of course, for other couples, the primary issue is communication, or boredom through repetition, and I will write about this more in future posts.

Photo at station

Well, let’s ask a different question: if you were completely safe and completely honoured, what would you choose to explore?

Some people want to explore what it’s like just to rest in receiving, with no obligation to reciprocate.

Others feel disembodied, or only partially embodied, and want to explore the full range of their potential for bodily pleasure and sensation.

Some people want to recover a sense of themselves as sexual beings which they feel they’ve lost, perhaps due to having been in a long relationship, or having become a mother.

Others need help in opening themselves up to sexuality, perhaps because of difficult experiences when young, or significant life changes.

Some people find that sex therapy which is just talking isn’t enough for them.

Some people want to broaden their sense of what is possible.

Some people want to learn how to say yes, and how to say no. How to find out what they want, and how to ask for it.

Some people just want to talk, and not be judged.

My training is unusual, and broad. I have been immersed in tantra for 15 years with Shakti Tantra. I have trained in Sexological Bodywork. I have trained extensively in The Wheel Of Consent and other modalities. I am a practicing Buddhist who views sexual issues as a major part of avoidable unhappiness, and who treats his clients from a position of respect, empowerment and love.

I understand it is a big ask to step into this arena, and I am committed to try to make it easier. I am always happy to meet potential clients for a free and confidential discussion, without obligation, to see if we can fruitfully work together, or to have a Skype or telephone discussion.