It’s that time of year again when some of us will be delighted and some others of us will be horrified by the ‘Spirit of Xmas’. Whatever your approach is to the festive season, there is a different wee addition to the usual fare is you are a woman who is interested in exploring your sexuality with a group of like-minded women.
The Women’s Sexuality Meet Up Group in Glasgow is a two hour discussion group where we can relax as new friends and share our views and experiences, our hopes and dreams and fears in a confidential and warm environment. We can seek advice from each other, offer our opinions about life and share a good laugh about all the weird and wonderful aspects of sexual expression that we have to come to know in our experience so far. And we can also bring up things we are wondering about exploring in the future.
We are women who are different ages with different levels of experience so we try to bring in a range of aspects to the conversations. We can look at what the words we are using mean to each of us. We can share how the people around us in our lives may respond to the subject. We can talk about what these experiences feel like in our bodies and our emotional responses. We can laugh at the surprises that turn up along the way. And we can share some of the pain of disappointment that we all feel from time to time when life is bringing us the experiences we had hoped for.
Xmas Women’s Sexuality Meetup Group Glasgow – Save The Date
We aim to cover a different theme each time and usually to set this in advance. However at the Xmas meeting we will decide what is important for us on the day. This will be on Wednesday 20 December between 18.00 and 20.00 in the West End of Glasgow. You can book your place by contacting us and paying the £15 in advance. See you there.
Talking about sex sounds easy to many of us. Some of us can’t shut up about it! So it was interesting for John and I when we ran a workshop on Pleasure for the national Sexpression conference at Edinburgh University recently. Young, mostly medical students are running a fantastic sex education programme for 16 years around the country. It is more comprehensive than anything I could have imagined when I was young.
How much I would have welcomed knowing then so much that I learnt the hard way through trial and error in my romantic relationships. Not having a brother, the male body was a strange and unknown landscape and I worked my away around it without a map. Burt more importantly my own body was a wonder and a surprise as I discovered what I did and did not like myself.
I learnt along the way that pleasure is about the senses and my willingness to be in my body. And once in my body pleasure is about how much I am willing to feel not just joy but all my feelings, to be intimate with myself and to let other people be intimate with me when I choose.
So how does this relate to talking about Sex? In our first Women’s Sexuality Meetup Group in Glasgow we dived into conversation about what interested us. And what we quickly noticed was that every term we used meant something different to each of us. Simple words like sex and sensuality and pleasure were not really a common language. Instead our cultures, our life experiences, our age and our social context all meant that there was a rich sharing of what matters to each of us that could enlarge our understanding of what can really be meant when we talk to another person.
We agreed some simple rules for our future discussions
We don’t need to have the same views but the inquiry is really valuable
The value of sharing what happens in our bodies when we have experiences. We don’t want to be disassociated from our bodies and so need pay attention to how the subjects we are discussing really feel like within us
To reflect on our experience of ourselves and our personal peer groups. We come from different backgrounds so we see and can share the ways different groups understand and act on sexuality in their lives
To focus on one main topic for each meeting.
1. What is sexual attraction and flirtation
2. What is sex
3. Tantric Goddess session
4. Relationships and sexuality (not the same thing)
5. Desire and wanting
6. What Feminine and Masculine mean and the impact of these words
And the topic for the next meeting is PLEASURE
If you are a woman who can make it to the West End of Glasgow for 6 p.m. on Wednesdays we will be meeting every four weeks. The next meeting is 15 November and the cost is £15 Please contact us to book a place.
It is a real pleasure for me to see how the community of women who are interested in exploring sexuality and intimacy is growing in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Our August women’s sexuality weekend workshops, “Reconnecting to feminine wisdom for health and wholeness” and “My Body My Self” with Pauline Mc Cluskey brought together a great group of women who dived straight in to the exploration with honesty, vulnerability and strength.
It felt a heart warming to come together with old friends and make new ones. The workshops gave us the opportunity to connect with the glories and challenges of living in our women’s bodies and learn from our different ways of being feminine. It inspired me to set up a regular meeting for women to support and learn with each other about the different paths of pleasure and find more freedom in self-expression. So the Women’s Sexuality Meet Up group Glasgow was born!
Conscious sexuality and body confidence give us a fantastic springboard for tapping into our creativity and living life with more passion. As women, most of us are less confident than we could be in this area and so we can limit our enjoyment in life and underestimate our positive impact on others.
For the first introductory meeting we will be holding an informal and fun session to identify what would really make our group a stimulating, expansive and place to be. We will be setting the agenda for the types of subjects we will be exploring together over the next few months. We will be agreeing how to ensure that we feel safe, supported and also challenged to express our sexuality as women in a way that is fully authentic for each one of us. https://www.meetup.com/Women-Only-Sexuality-And-Wellbeing/
The Women’s Sexuality Meetup Group Glasgow will meet in Hyndland (West End) and there are only 10 places available. The date is Wednesday 18 October between 18.00- 20.00. We will agree our schedule at this meeting. The cost is £15.
In addition, John and I will be running a workshop for students on the lovely subject of ‘Pleasure’ for the Sexpression National Conference at Edinburgh University on Sunday 4 November 2017. I am looking forward to bringing some of the wisdom we have been sharing in our women only forums to introduce to young women and men at the start of their adult lives. The more we can pass on our hard won learning, the more joy will be spread in the world and that feels like a great move in the right direction to me.
When I reflect on what I remember about my lovers, I very rarely remember the sex. Certainly with some of them there wasn’t much to be memorable about and this is a view with which they would certainly concur! But even when there was a strong sexual compatibility, my memory goes in a different direction.
For example, I will remember lying in bed with someone who I certainly had great sex with, but what I remember isn’t the sex, but her sitting up beforehand, taking her makeup off, and me looking at the curve at the small of her back, and feeling very happy and contented. And the other memories are of a similar nature. Not about acts, but about feelings, particularly feeling that I was loved and accepted.
I think a lot of men are over focused on sex, because it evokes those feelings in them. As it were, they find their heart through their cock.
And, if women don’t understand this, they will feel oppressed and annoyed by their man’s singular focus on sex.
Likewise, because men have the need to be loved and accepted, this can easily curdle into an idea that it’s the job of the man to be a ‘good’ lover. And this degenerates further into an idea that men should be technically proficient. This results in behaviour which can drive women crazy, and not in a good way. It’s like the guy is touching you, looking at you to see the effect of the touch, like he’s trying to get his car to start or something. It’s the opposite of intimacy, but it comes about through a desire to be loved and accepted.
And it is exactly that which drives couples apart.
So what can be done?
The single biggest change would be to switch the focus from Yang to Yin. Yang touch is purposeful and goal directed. It wants to get you aroused and have an orgasm. It is about will and intention. It is very prominent in our society.
Yin touch is different. It is very present focused, and the emphasis is on presence, awareness and connection. It isn’t trying to bring about anything. Yet, something always happens. Not in a ‘faster, faster, louder louder’ sort of way, but it always does.
I remember a client reflecting back on our session, saying that I had “very advanced techniques”. But actually, I didn’t. But what I did have was a completely loving, focused, present moment awareness of him, trying as best I could to be in dialogue with his body, not to force it to go to a preordained destination.
If you have a Bodywork session with Karen or me, yin focus is generally where we’re coming from. You can begin to see how liberating and enlivening that is for your body, and you can then apply that to your life and to your relationships.
More details about our two brilliant women’s sexuality workshops with Pauline McCluskey in August.
Reconnecting to feminine wisdom for health and wholeness
Saturday Workshop 13.30 – 19.00
For women who want to reconnect to their innate wisdom and capacity for health and wellbeing.
Childbirth, miscarriage, menopause or problems in the pelvic bowl, combined with the stresses and strains of busy lives, can disrupt our natural creativity and flow as women. This workshop is an opportunity to come back to ourselves, to reconnect with our wholeness, at every age.
Using a combination of meditation, movement and simple, fun Group and partner exercises in our women’s circle, we will explore what holds us back and what limits our connection to our creative feminine energy.
We’ll re-acquaint ourselves with our bodies and our sexiness in a supportive, nurturing space.
My Body My Self
Sunday Workshop 10.30 – 17.00
Will offer some new perspectives on consent, autonomy, body confidence and comfort in our female selves. As women, we are bombarded with messages about how we should look, what we should wear, how we should behave. We’ll give these perceptions and expectations a good shakedown, let go of some of the things that hold us back, and reconnect with our unique, self assured, beautiful and fabulous selves.
Both events will combine fun exercises and conversations to connect us to ourselves in new, thoughtful and experiential ways, with an emphasis on supporting each other as women.
Pauline Mc Cluskey
They will be led by Pauline McCluskey, assisted by Karen. Pauline is a sex, intimacy and relationship coach with a special interest in supporting women to find their natural capacity for aliveness, confidence and creativity. She draws on many years experience as a nurse, facilitator and teacher, and on her training in Tantra and Women’s Pelvic Health Care to support women in groups, in relationships and one to one.
Each day is a stand alone at a cost of £65, or you can attend both days for £110.
Places are limited to 15 for each day and booking is essential. For more details and to book, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Venue is Yoga Healing in Mansfield Street in the heart of Glasgow’s West End, ideally located for transport links to Edinburgh and other cities
As part of my psychotherapy training, I did a placement at the Tom Allen Centre in Glasgow.
One of my clients there was a man -let’s call him Nigel – with quite a few problems, among which was impotence. By the time I encountered him, he had been in therapy, off and on, for over 30 years. He was still my client when my placement ended.
I bumped into him on the train some time later, and I asked him if he was still going to Tom Allen. He told me it had closed down.
It hadn’t, so I imagined that he wasn’t able to go there anymore, and that a reason for that could be that the predominantly female therapists there felt uncomfortable with a man talking over his sexual issues. The shame he had was unlikely to be helped by their awkwardness.
Nigel’s 30 years of psychotherapy had not been of much use in helping him around his impotence issue. And neither had the doctors, who, when he was young, told him there was nothing wrong with him, and when he was older, that nothing could be done.
If Sexological Bodywork had existed when Nigel was younger, I think it likely that there would have been a different outcome, for several reasons.
The obvious one is that we are happy to work with the body. Particularly with sexual issues, it’s frequently futile to try to fix the body with the mind. You fix the body with the body, giving it different experiences to, in time, replace the earlier, traumatic ones.
The more subtle one is that we are happy to talk about all aspects of sex: how it is for the client, their experiences, their fears; everything. And also, to give information. To explain to people how their bodies work, to demonstrate that bodily and then explain to them how the bodies of others work. It’s like the difference between telling some one about a day at the beach and actually being there yourself.
What do we really want sexually? Imagine that we lived in a society where you could have sex with anyone, but conversation was strictly circumscribed. You could only have conversations with your beloved. The rest of social communication is conducted through some kind of bleep technology. Imagine the sort of conversations that could come up:
“I thought you were just going to have sex with Doris. I felt betrayed when I found out you were discussing French literature. What’s wrong with my French literature? I did night school classes on Proust. Bastard.”
Imagine further that in this society, instead of sex workers, there are conversation workers, who you have to make clandestine meetings in order to have a good talk.
What sort of conversations would you pay for? Would you pay to have your views affirmed, your jokes laughed at, your vocabulary favourably compared to your wittiest friends?
I think not.
My guess is that you would want to pay for a real conversation. Not a safe and habitual conversation but one that has risk and uncertainty so that there is some new stimulation. Talking that would allow both seduction and rejection to be possible. Having a conversation that gives you success or failure. Wouldn’t that be more interesting?
So turning to our world, what do people want when they buy sexual services?
Kant defined marriage as a contract for the reciprocal use of the other’s genitals, and in the common understanding of sexual services, the genitals and the wallet are in one place, as it were. But the actual experience is generally joyless and dispiriting. You know the other person is pretending. You know it’s not real. It’s pretend real.
Is that what we really want?
My dear friend Ali Grace thinks not, and to test it out, she has recently started offering a tantric escort service. The idea is that initially you pay to meet up over lunch. No sex is on offer, but you can agree certain other things. It’s a kind of audition. If she likes you, you take it from there. There’s no promise of anything. It all depends how you get on.
So far, it seems to be working very well, and I think she’s on to something, because she’s offering something both real and relational. It’s fun and flirty, and as she’s a brilliant conversationalist, discussions can dip and soar like an exultation of swallows.
Her work is very different from ours in content and form, but both are rooted in actually meeting the other. With her, the primary thing is excitement, and with us, it’s probably devotional love.
Different kinds of conversations: but both equally real.
Whenever I come back from a meditation retreat, people will dutifully tell me that I look much better, much more relaxed. Not having done it, they imagine mediation calms the mind, and makes you peaceful and serene. They probably imagine too that you learn techniques to quiet and empty the mind.
Ideas like this make it difficult for people to persist with meditation, because the reality is so different. Frequently it is an experience of an endless cascade of repetitive nonsense. People don’t understand that what we require to do is move the nonsense from the centre of our attention; we don’t have to get rid of it. We need to understand how deluded we are, not to become enlightened, but to be more responsive, flexible and open. And to move the nonsense from the centre, we need to become more embodied. That is why there’s such an emphasis on breath and posture.
On the face of it tantra seems the polar opposite of meditation. People imagine it is about lots of techniques for having great sex. And they assume tantra retreats are a way of having a lot of sex with a lot of people.
And it’s true that tantra teaches us to be more embodied, and opens us up to more possibilities for pleasure, but to me, what a tantra group experience is primarily about bringing all our suppressed matters out into the open, in an accelerated way. If we’ve just had a lovely experience with someone, the ego can’t normally just let that experience be, with gratitude. No, instead all our patterns of attachment come into play. We want to be with that person again. We get jealous and envious. We make all sorts of stories.
But suddenly we can catch ourselves caught up in our mind and missing the moment. It is just like in meditation, when you realize that you’ve spent the last fifteen minutes idly thinking and dreaming about something or another.
So, although they might look very different, meditation and tantra are very similar. Of course, individual work with a practitioner is different from group work, as you don’t have the added the fuel of other people inputs and interactions. But in both cases the general direction is still to loosen the grip of thoughts and to become more embodied. In this way you can be in the felt and embodied experience of your life right now, rather than staying stuck in the nonsense.
At one of our Tantra Introductory days in Glasgow, we did an afternoon on the Wheel Of Consent. This is the invention of the legendary Dr Betty Martin, which deconstructs our habitual sexual behaviours in order to make them conscious and to reassemble them in a form more conducive to our growth and happiness.
The most controversial part of the wheel of consent is the ‘Taking’ aspect. In that mode, we are primarily interested in our own curiosity, desire and interest. We don’t have to look after our partner, and our partner doesn’t have to look after us. It’s consensual so obviously if I want to do something, I have to ask you. Unless you actively want to allow this, you say no, and nothing happens. If I want to stroke your face and ask you if I can, if you feel no energy for that you just say no. Then I need to ask you for something else until you do feel a yes.
But the reactions people have when we introduce this approach are extraordinary. You would imagine that Takers are molesters, rapists or monsters! But when you point out that the whole point of the wheel of consent is that it’s about consent, that doesn’t change the objections at all. “It’s selfish” people will say. But is that true?
A number of ideas are wrapped up in that judgment.
Firstly is the idea that we are beastly, and left to our own devices, we will just want more and more extreme things. “Yes, I know it’s consent but even so…” In my experience it just isn’t true that people demand more and more extreme or unpleasant requests.
Second is the idea that it’s oppressive to women. We will be just like our male Victorian ancestors, coming back from the pub with a skinful, clambering in an entitled kind of way onto our luckless wife, left only to think of England, or, to bring it up to date, possibly the government’s Brexit policy. Yes, you say, but we take turns. Even so…
Third is the idea that if we men aren’t to be chauvinist brutes of yore, we need to be consensual in our approach to pleasure. But, of course, that’s a weasel word. We really mean contractual. You scratch my back – or some other part – and I’ll scratch yours. And if one of us defaults, the other will be irate. It is like two misers giving each other £5 for Christmas. Is that the best we can do?
This idea of equal exchange, like a business transaction, is the spectre at the feast. It chills and deadens everything.
Explicit taking is powerful in that it banishes more insidious forms of behaviour.
One of these is fake giving. Fake in two senses. Firstly, I am giving you something that I think you want, or should want. Second, that because I am giving, you are contractually obliged to respond. Because I deign to give you unsolicited oral sex, you are under a duty to moan. And if you don’t moan, I will.
Another is the idea that my partner is a mind reader. My partner should know exactly how to pleasure me, without me offering any guidance, and when my partner fails in his or her responsibilities, I am entitled to feel irate.
I talked to my Zen Group the other week about the language we use when we talk about the body. In that context, I noted that in ordinary language, we tend to use the word “body” to refer to the body below the neck, and the word “head” to refer to the neck (along some unspecified boundary) and above. And we identify ourselves with our ‘head’ rather than our ‘body’, viewing the body as a vehicle, or, worse still, a recalcitrant servant, who refuses to do what he’s told.
Until our body breaks down due to ill health or age, or both, the part of the body for where our ‘servant’ seems most uncooperative is usually our genitals. They often resolutely won’t do what we wish them to do.
And so you come and see someone like me. But here’s the kicker: it’s not physical. Of course, we can teach you things that are helpful. If you’re a man, we can help you with premature ejaculation. If you’re a woman, we can help you with genital numbness. We can help with lots of things.
But just as a therapist can do something about your neurosis but can’t teach you spontaneity and joy, so an approach solely based on the body (as we normally conceive it) has significant limitations.
In my experience, I can work with a client and get them into an orgasmic state quite easily, but something is still missing. What is that something?
An example: quite early on, I remember working with a woman and during the session, she became very orgasmic. After a while, this became too much for her, and she asked me to stop. She then just rested on the massage table. I understood that what was needed was for me to lie on the table with her, holding her. When we were talking after the session, she said, “What was that amazing technique you were using? I felt so much?” I thought she was referring to the bodywork part of her session, but she corrected me and said, no, it was afterwards, when we were both lying on the table.
This is the amazing ‘technique’: connection, heartfulness and love.
Another time, I was working with a very sexually active man, who couldn’t get erect other than by progressively greater physical stimulus. A lot of people are like that. They touch themselves accidentally as children and get aroused, but over time the effect fades, so the touch has to be harder, faster, stronger, and eventually, it only gets you part of the way, and then, not at all.
I touched this man’s genitals as I would have touched a wounded person, forced into servitude and injured and hurt by that: touching with respect, enquiry and tenderness.
Every part of us is all of us.
Bear this in mind when you next read an article in The Daily Mail about vaginal massage, or you read about techniques on how to be a better lover: it isn’t that it’s wrong, or not useful, but it’s incomplete.