What is intimacy coaching?
When people come to a sexuality professional, the general sense is that something will be done to them. They’ll experience more, or experience something different, or expand their knowledge and expertise, as in:
“I’ll experience something new”
“I’ll learn something new”
In this scenario, the sexuality professional is the expert, like a doctor, who’ll work out what’s wrong, and fix it. Fix you.
Intimacy coaching is different. It has similarities with surrogacy. The similarity is slightly hidden, because when we think of surrogacy, we generally think of it in terms of sexual intercourse: the idea that people who have a fear of intercourse can overcome it through having sex with a surrogate.
My experience of surrogacy was different. When I was working in London in 2015 with the great Sue Newsome, we would work together with a client. She would take the role of the therapist, and I would take the role of the body, the surrogate. All that was required of me was to be physically available and emotionally honest.
I never had sex with the client, who tended to be of two kinds.
In the first, the [female] client would often have a lot of sex, but would find it unsatisfactory and superficial, because it was normally drink or drug fuelled, and lacked intimacy and emotional connection.
In the second, the client might be having sex or not, but the fundamental issue was a lack of confidence.
Both types of client found intimacy problematic. Eye gazing was difficult for them. Likewise embracing.
It seemed that the first kind of client used substances as a kind of bridge to move from ordinary experience to sexual experience. The problem with that was that the relaxation and connection engendered in the body -which would naturally lead to arousal, in its own time – through simple intimacy was missing, which meant that when it got sexual, the body, and the heartful, loving self within the body, got left behind, rendering the whole experience repetitive and superficial.
And for the second kind of client, they found intimacy difficult because they regarded it as the entree to something – sex – where they felt inept and unconfident. This person thought of sex as being like a skill, or like a language everyone else knew but her.
When I started working independently, I forgot all about this. I thought of myself as a bodyworker, working with people on the massage table, enabling them to feel safe and relaxed sufficiently to experience sexual pleasure, perhaps for the first time in their lives.
However, I found I had some clients who, in response to touch, not matter how slow and safe I went, seemed to become more disconnected from their bodies. In experimenting with ways out of this, I gradually came back into connection with surrogacy.
I found that by coming into relational contact with the client, allowing them to embrace or be in contact with me, or having them experimenting with how they wanted to be touched, or how they wanted to dance with me, changed everything.
The intimacy opened up a space for desire. Relational desire, where it wasn’t what you were having done to you, or what you were doing to someone else, but what you were feeling, and what you were feeling together with the other person, me. Feeling with.
I call this work intimacy coaching. There are boundaries to it. I don’t have sex with a client. And that boundary is helpful, because it removes the idea that intimacy has an end point. Which leaves the client open to experiment with what they want in the present moment.