The Feel Institute

articles

  • Erectile dysfunction – a different point of view

    Genitals and Erectile Dysfunction (ED)

    Many of the people who contact me cite erectile dysfunction or an issue with their genitals as their primary reason for seeking a sexuality professional.

    Whilst there are medical reasons why some people cannot get or stay hard, in my experience, most people with some sort of erectile dysfunction are cerebral.

    In other words, they think more than they feel.

    When I work with men who have erectile dysfunction, we focus on getting them into their bodies.

    It has taken me the best part of 4 decades to realise that the body is wise.

    Wise beyond belief.

    Way more wisdom than my computer of a brain.

    My computer of a brain which is full of past experiences and a robust alarm system which highlights patterns from the past.

    Blame and shame

    Something I have noticed with some of my clients is that they blame themselves for too much masturbation in their youth.

    Others think they have watched too much porn, or the wrong kind of porn, or some other thing they did which explains why this is happening.

    I am yet to find any evidence to fully support this.

    What I do see is an embarrassment, anxiety, fear and shame. A belief that there is something wrong. That something is broken. That there is something that needs to be fixed.

    I also recognise habitual patterns which are deeply engrained and the possibility of a different way hard to imagine.

    Listening to your body

    Our body communicates with us. It has messages for us. If, we are prepared to listen.

    Most of us don’t listen.

    We ignore the tension, the pain and the discomfort.

    Feeling a niggle and noticing something isn’t quite right?

    Too often, we turn a blind eye or pop a pill to make the symptom go away.

    We endure. We tolerate.

    I wholeheartedly believe the body is an incredibly eloquent communicator.

    And it can only take so much.

    It can only absorb so much of the stress, expectation, judgement and punishment that we put it through.

    And then it packs up in one form or another.

    That is what I think many a ‘mid-life crisis’ is.

    Sooner or later, after being ignored, the container breaks.

    The body says, ‘fuck this! I can’t do this anymore.’

    Erections are no different.

    How we treat genitals

    I ran a self-pleasure workshop recently and when preparing, I was working through it with my mentor, the incredible Betty Martin. We were talking about genitals and how we treat them.

    Most of us, including me, treat them like they have a job to do.

    We work them.

    We have expectations and judgements on what they should be doing. How they should be performing.

    I understand how we got here.

    We received sex education which is all about reproduction and penis in vagina sex.

    You must have a hard-on.

    I haven’t noticed any soft cocks on the top 100 porn videos, have you?

    It is expected that if you have a cock it must be hard on demand. I wrote more about this in ‘Who is this erection for?

    If the erection is elusive, it is a failure on your part, or the part of your partner, lover, whatever. It is somebody’s fault.

    And you are right.

    It is someone’s fault.

    We are all accountable.

    The truth about erections and genitals

    You might want to sit down for this next bit as I am about to say something that goes against what we are led to believe.

    I rarely talk about one truth, as I believe there are multiple truths to almost everything, however, this is one truth I believe covers the vast amount to people.

    Our genitals do not need to please us.

    We need to please our genitals.

    Really.

    It is worth saying again.

    Our genitals do not need to please us.

    We need to please our genitals.

    What do your genitals want?

    How do they like to be touched?

    What do they enjoy?

    How can you be in service to your genitals?

    Come to think about it, how you can you be in service to your incredible body?

    If any of the above resonates, and you want my support in getting back into your body and pleasing your genitals, get in touch with me here.

  • Who is this erection for?

    Who is this erection for?

    Yes, I am talking about erections, hard cocks, erect pricks, and big knobs. Maybe you prefer a more technically correct penis, or is it a love muscle when you are in the mood for some Barry White?

    Whether you’ve got a cock or not, erections seem to be a measure of a successful sexual encounter. There is a billion-dollar a year industry built on the back of the seemingly elusive, ever-present, ready whenever, rock hard cock.

    Why are we having sex?

    This is a question I notice is rarely asked nor can the real answer easily be admitted. There is often more than one reason, most of which are unknown or unsaid. Reasons range from wanting to connect and feel close to each other, from orgasms to intimacy, from feeling something (anything!) to lustful fucking.

    Sometimes I forget I want to give and receive pleasure. If I strip it all back, that’s what I think I am usually wanting when I end up having sex. It is a nice reminder that pleasure doesn’t have to include an erection. Pleasure can come in an almost endless variety of forms, so why is it so focused on the erection and who exactly is this erection for?

    Ego strikes again

    I must confess, I do get a thrill during a deep delicious kiss when a person I am hot for gets a stiffie. It becomes about our erotic possibility and my ability to bring this state on in another.

    Similarly, when I want that cock inside of me, and it is not quite as alert as I would like, and neither of us seems to be able to muster up the rigidity, despite tried and tested measures, a part of me does wonder ‘what am I doing wrong?’. That’s quickly followed by, ‘Do they still find me attractive?’ and ‘Am I losing my touch as a lover?’.

    Where did this expectation of erection come from?

    Is it because the sex education most of us received was reproduction based and to produce semen is the norm, so, therefore, there must be an erection?

    Perhaps it is as simple as the cocks we see in porn being generally big and hard?

    My intuition says it’s that those with cocks aren’t taught or encouraged to talk openly about this part of their beautiful bodies and they aren’t hearing others say, ‘Yes, that happens to me too!’.

    I’ve definitely picked this unhealthy hard cock expectation from somewhere and I know I am not alone.

    A professional understanding

    The sex coach part of me knows it is natural for erections to come and go. I know that arousal has a natural plateau and that you can feel pleasure without an erection, in the same way, I’m not always dripping wet when I am turned on.

    Despite this, I find myself taking on a range of unhealthy and mostly unspoken stories and meanings about the state of another person’s body part.

    Exposed and vulnerable

    This also got me thinking about how vulnerable it is for the people who have willies. Having the primary sexual part of your body being external and often on show for all to see, well, that’s a lot to contend with.

    I have a vulva and a vagina. My arousal fluctuates, even in the most erotic and exciting of experiences, however, the dips are less obvious. I’m noticing how it seems to be less of a deal-breaker and often goes unacknowledged.

    With a cock, on the other hand, a similar fluctuation can bring an abrupt stop to proceedings and it frequently has feelings of shame, judgment, anxiety, and embarrassment associated with it for those involved.

    Performing penises

    It is not just about getting and sustaining an erection either.

    Once you’ve got it don’t shoot your load too quickly! Others say ‘don’t come before I do!’, ‘make sure you do come though’ and ‘don’t take too long’.

    Premature ejaculation is defined as coming before you or your partner wants you to. How do we measure that let alone agree how long is long enough?

    I’m getting tense just from writing this. Are we still doing it for pleasure?

    Appreciating touch

    Multiple hands touching a man's back, consoling him: a hard cock is not the be all and end all!

    Touch, touch and more touch

    I’m reminded how lucky we are to be sensory beings with the capacity to touch and feel.

    The honour of being able to touch ourselves for pleasure never mind other people is a gift. For me it is about seeing the person and having compassion.

    Personally, I love a soft cock.

    If anything, I don’t get to touch soft cocks as much as I would like. Cradling a cock and balls in my hand is yummy and I appreciate the trust. I have had numerous lovers where I would fall asleep cupping them. It was comforting and an honour. It was an incredibly intimate and beautiful experience for me and them.

    Acceptance

    Rather than advocating a flaccid cock fan club and losing the love of the erection, I would love to see a celebration of all cocks.

    Let’s see them in all shapes, all their sizes, in both natural and assisted states, with proper signposting and celebration.

    I reckon we’d be kinder and more appreciative of each other and ourselves if we did.

  • Supporting healthy male practitioners working with sexuality

    Trigger warning:

    This article deals with challenging content around non-consensual sexual behaviour involving men and will be uncomfortable for many people to read. Please check in with yourself and consider whether you want to continue…

    Healthy or unhealthy? Stop or go?

    Trigger warning. Please stop and check-in before continuing…

    Working with men

    I have a burning desire to work with men. It has always been there and each day it gets stronger and stronger.

    In this patriarchal society, I recognise the challenge to be an open, ethical, aware, vulnerable and honest man today, let alone be a man who wants to work with sexuality.

    One by one some of the men we knew, or at least suspected, were using their power to torment, manipulate, and in some cases abuse people, often women, were being called out.

    Publicly denounced in an article as having raped or committed another form of non-consensual sexual touch is what is expected when the word is out.

    And then what?

    What happens then?

    Without a criminal case, they seem to disappear.

    Men working with sexuality: angry, ready to fight and pushing away.

    Angry, ready to fight and pushing away

    Without hard facts, a judge or jury, no-one knows the truth. Speculation on past abuses becomes a talking point. People keep quiet, people defend their position, people are left hurting, fearful, and isolated.

    I rarely see those who have worked with the named abuser make statements on how they will no longer be associated with, nor work with the abuser again. I get that it is tricky without a judicial ruling. There comes a point where there must be sufficient noise to say a pause is needed. Some time out to investigate is warranted before we move forward.

    Those that have made statements, thank you. It matters.

    Silence erodes trust

    The problem is when any brand, organisation, or community who have worked with a perceived abuser says nothing, there is a credibility issue in my mind. How do I trust you when you have been their advocate and then go silent? That silence makes me feel uneasy. Over time that silence erodes my trust.

    There is a school of thought for some men wanting to work in this field of connection, intimacy, and sexuality that they will wait until the storm passes. They will put their profession aside for a period and hope that everything calms down. They can try again when there is less fear of being targeted.

    I am almost certain that this strategy won’t work. We need healthy, skilled, ethical male practitioners in the world of sexuality now. There are going to be more and more people who have been put up on a pedestal by many, that will be unveiled by some brave souls as being perpetrators. On some level, we know this, don’t we?

    I understand why men are staying out of the spotlight

    There are huge barriers to male practitioners continuing to work in sexuality, let alone those wanting to enter the community as practitioners for the first time.

    There are people out there who have been hurt by men and are fearful of men as a result. They want someone to pay for what has happened. Many men believe they are good, healthy, and ethical. Hannah Gatsby did a brilliant short speech about this which you can watch here.

    I know that there are men who have done some awful things. I do not expect all men to apologise on behalf of all men. I wish they would acknowledge that many other men have behaved in an unacceptable way and as a man you represent those people as well as yourself.

    Being observed

    Tape measure wrapped around a hand used to symbolise being scrutinised by men working with sexuality.

    Being sized up and scrutinised

    All practitioners, consciously or unconsciously, are being sized up by others in the community. I wonder how many people would be comfortable asking some direct questions to any practitioner about their ethics, boundaries, and consent? Are people more fearful of the answer or asking the question in the first place?

    I want to be clear here that I am not in any way saying that this is only a male practitioner abuse problem.

    This is about people. People who are offering services, running events and creating workshops. People who may have good intentions and lack the necessary awareness, ethics, support, education and motives for working in this delicate field of intimacy.

    High alert

    I know that some male practitioners are collaborating with women to run workshops and events to feel safer. It feels less risky. I also know men who are changing their offering to work with couples, again to not have to be alone with women or being the sole person in charge. They are on high alert. They are also unsupported in this largely unregulated industry.

    Regardless of what we do as practitioners, there is always a power dynamic at play when we are holding space. It is part of the role. Being clear on the boundaries and creating a healthy ethical container for that dynamic is an ongoing practice. I’ve witnessed first-hand and heard countless stories of messy boundaries, poorly held containers, and an urgent approach to sexual touch with little time for the brains, bodies and nervous systems of all involved to feel safe, seen and respected.

    Making mistakes

    Person walking on a yellow line in the road used to symbolise being on the line about men working with sexuality.

    On the line and not over it

    As humans, we will make mistakes. To say we will never get it wrong or cross a line is naive. This attitude and mindset sets us all up to fail. We need to understand and be trained in how to recover from an accidental human error which can support both the client and the practitioner. There are occasions where boundaries get crossed by mistake. Finding ways all parties can be empowered and grow from the experience is essential.

     

    I would like to see support networks for healthy ethical practitioners and neutral spaces for practitioners to voice fears and doubts. That includes tailored support networks for healthy male presenting practitioners.

    Recognition of abuse by men in this field is needed

    The slate can’t simply be wiped clean. There is an ancestral gender debt.

    That needs to be acknowledged and followed up with direct action to be better, to know more and to do the increased awareness work. Otherwise, those impacted by the abuse are soaking up the pain yet again for those wanting to learn about the misuse of power and privilege.

    Taking responsibility

    More men need to take responsibility for increasing their awareness. This means working on themselves, owning their part of this situation and not waiting for others to come to their rescue. There is an inherent irrevocable entitlement and privilege that most men are born within our society.

    Far too often at sexuality and intimacy type events, I see men waiting and expecting to be paired with a female. They don’t even consider that they could take the opportunity to work with each other.

    We can’t turn our backs and say it is not our problem either.

    For those able and willing, for those who feel safe enough, there must be a collaborative effort. There needs to be a way for men who want to offer high-quality work and are committed to continual professional development to have help. Support is needed to increase their awareness of the impact the past is having on the present.

     

    Working together

    Part of the reason I want to be involved with men’s groups is that having men-only groups can only go so far. If men are working with clients and workshop participants who are not men, surely, they need to have representation and perspective from those parts of the community. Only then can they gain knowledge and awareness of what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a power dynamic with a male practitioner.

    I was in a small working group of men talking about the subject of supporting men who want to work in sexuality. As the only person presenting as a woman in this group, I asked if they recognised that a significant majority of women would be uncomfortable and potentially avoid talking about this subject with a group of men the way I was. They all acknowledged that there was some awareness of it in the background. By simply saying it out loud brought it to a front and centre awareness again.

    Collective awareness

    What collective awareness could be harvested from working groups including women, LGBTQ, non-binary, gender fluid, with a range of ethnic and generational backgrounds on this topic?

    Imagine what we could all learn if we stepped into this highly emotive and deeply uncomfortable area with a mindset of broadening our awareness and hearing each other?

    We are healers on the edge

    How do we safeguard our clients and ourselves to ensure we are not the next scandal 3 or 4 years down the line? Can we adapt to recognise what is on its way so we are not the next example of abuse? Can we call out other practitioners on their shadow behaviour?

    Having a diverse group to gain an educational understanding of trauma with continued professional development, confidential sharing, a space to own what has happened, to be vulnerable in and, most importantly, comfortable in the uncomfortable could make a significant difference.

    It would also help combat the loneliness of being in this profession. The loneliness that men often feel. The isolation of working with sexuality and trying to get it right. I feel that too.

    Personal fear and anxiety

    I am also aware that I have had this article circling in my head for months and months. There is a resistance to putting it out. I finally got it written over a week ago and here I am reading it again.

    Have I said enough? Have I said too much? Does anyone even care?

    There is a part of me that has been scared to even write this down never mind have it published. Fear of the backlash. It is a challenging subject and I want to see quality practitioners covering the whole spectrum of being human, and that includes men.

    If you want to help support ethical healthy male practitioners or are a male practitioner wanting this kind of support and supervision, please contact me and let’s start talking.

  • Pleasure based Sex Education for children AND adults please!

    It is arguably well-known that Sex Education in schools is, overall, inadequate. Part of that is the absence of pleasure.

    Both despite this and because of it, there is an enormous amount of shame, stigma, fear and judgment for most people around the subject of sex and pleasure.

    When I think back to my childhood, I cannot recall any sex education in primary school. The sex education in schools back then was strictly for secondary school and was exclusively focused on reproduction.

    I never heard the word pleasure uttered once.

    Many people agree that our desire to connect is what makes us thrive. It is what makes us happy. In contrast, pleasure-based sex education seems less worthy, less important than sex education around making babies.

    In my sex education classes, I recall nothing being said about gender identity or status, sexuality, attraction or the different relationship styles.

    LGBT was not an acronym I even knew back then, let alone GSRD (Gender, Sex and Relationship Diversity).

    As for masturbation, it was certainly discouraged and usually one for the boys. The pleasure aspect was implied and gendered.

    The unspoken message I received and continue to receive to this day is that the things I think about, and the things I want to know more about and do are wrong. My pleasure was undervalued and secondary at best.

    For many, the sex education they receive is via conversations and experiences with others and watching porn.

    It seems very much like the uninformed informing the uninformed, or maybe it is the unempowered passing on what they knew. As for porn, it is often lacking real-life information, intimacy, verbal consent, boundaries or healthy role-models.

    Generations of stigma and loneliness

    This lack of sex education in schools means we have generation upon generation who are learning the hard way if at all. Many of my clients are adults in the forties, fifties and beyond, who are wanting to discover their sexual selves before it is too late.

    The majority of adults do not, or cannot, talk to their friends, families or partners about sex. It certainly isn’t talked about healthily in any religious capacity I have seen and I am yet to see any work lunch and learns relating to sex. Have you?

    I know that we must talk about this more openly and engage each other in conversation. By doing this we can counteract the loneliness and the lack of intimacy and connection prevailing our society.

    Sex Education Role Models

    As adults, those of us who want to work in this area are often targeting for gossip. We are deemed as living ‘alternative lifestyles’. We are shamed for wanting to talk openly about the secret stuff and regarded as less than. It goes with the territory.

    I struggle to think of any mainstream role model who is openly talking about sex and is celebrated and championed for it. Can you?

    Do you remember how in the 80s or 90s of tales of Sting, the lead singer of The Police was known for his tantric sex moves? The tirade of jokes and newspaper stories that followed that reveal was mocking, shaming and made the common man look like a joke too.

    Part of my work as a sex educator is to unpick the stories and experiences from school and beyond. To nurture the parts that have been hidden due to shame, stigma, judgement, bullying and abuse.

    Empowerment comes from understanding our bodies and allowing our sexuality to be seen and expressed in a consensual way.

    Sex Education Resources

    For adults who want to learn about their bodies, there is a fear of having to get naked. You do not have to get naked anywhere other than the comfort of your own home. Can we learn about our bodies without the need to be touched by anyone? Yes! Similarly, we can be naked and if there is a desire for touch we can ask for it. It can be done consensual, ethical and honouring.

    Anatomically correct vulva cushions, soft cocks, photos and books used for sex education.

    Anatomically correct vulva cushions, soft cocks, photos and books are the new resources available

    I use anatomically correct vulva cushions and soft cocks to encourage engagement. Can we explore these parts of our bodies in a fun and interactive way?

    I can show images of bodies, including genitals, to re-frame the images we have about what is acceptable.

    Through embodied coaching, I encourage movement, breath and self-touch to soothe, stimulate, nourish and excite.

    Sometimes I wish I could take a photo of the people I work with before a session and after a session. The relief is palpable, and their bodies and faces are visibly different. More open, more relaxed, more seen.

    Sex Education in Schools

    Progress is being made in schools. On 5th April 2019, the government published a news article introducing compulsory Relationships Education for primary pupils and Relationship and Sex Education for secondary pupils. You can read more about it here.

    The target dates to start this new approach are September 2019 for early adopters and September 2020 for the remaining schools.

    I wonder who will be training the teachers. Will they be bringing their legacy of misinformation and their lack of sex education with them to the classrooms?

    How can I help you?

    Do you, your partner, your friends, your work colleagues, your community, dare I say it, your family, want to know more about real sex education?

    I am based in Central London and offering in-person and video conference sessions and programmes for individuals, partnerships and groups. You can find out more about these sessions here.

    Programmes include Sex Ed on Tour, which is a clothes-on experience, open to all genders, all sexualities and all identities. I can come to your location whether it be an office, public venue or home, suitcase in hand, packed full of materials to give a playful, information and personalised experience.

    Finally, My question to Corporate colleagues:

    Will you be the first to bring Lunch & Learn Sex Education sessions to your business?

    What would it be like to know you have made a difference to the people you work with? Could you empower the people who work for you in a way that helps them be happier in themselves and their personal lives?

    Something to ponder…

  • What is sexological bodywork?

    Me: A Sex Educator and Sexological Bodyworker…

    Them: You’ re a sexological bodyworker…a sexo…do you have sex with these people?

    Me: No.

    Them: Are you a prostitute?

    Me: No. I am a sexological bodyworker who is trained to work with and include sexuality.

    Them: Did you go on a weekend course, or is it one of those certificates you can print off the internet?’

    Me: No, it’s a proper, intensive, study programme.

    Them: And you are definitely not a prostitute?…

    These are just some of the questions I get asked when I explain to people what I do. I get it. The term ‘Sexological Bodywork’ doesn’t reveal much and can pose more questions than it answers.

    In this article, I am going to answer, and address, some of the real questions, and comments, I have been asked and received, to try and shine some much-needed light, on this growing profession.

    These are my answers and my views, and I have asked permission for those who posed the questions and made comments to use their words anonymously. Thank you. You know who you are.


    Is sexological bodyworker even a real qualification?

    Yes, it is a professional qualification and is gained after a period of training for 6 months.

    The training amounts to 330+ hours and includes in-depth anatomy, extensive hands-on & trauma-informed practice, plus 25 supervised sessions.

    When all practicum, and assignments have been completed, the person is recognised as a Certified Sexological Bodyworker (CSB).

    (Below) On the final day of the 2-week residential intensive. The facilitation team (from left to right: Katie Serra, me, Joseph Kramer, Kian de la Cour).

    Sexological bodywork practitioners (left to right): Katie Serra, Sue Sutherland, Joseph Kramer and Kian de la Cour.

    (left to right) Katie Serra, Sue Sutherland, Joseph Kramer and Kian de la Cour

    It was started in 2002 by Joseph Kramer and was originally accredited by the State of California. At the last count, there were approximately 1,500 CSBs worldwide from independent training centres.

    You can read more about the UK and Ireland certification here.

    Do I have to take my clothes off?

    You do not have to take your clothes off. However, you have the choice to wear as much, or as little as you want, and change your mind, during the session.

    Are you taking your clothes off?

    No. I will remain clothed in sessions.

    Do I get to touch you?

    Touch is uni-directional, in other words, it is one way.

    That means I can touch you, at your request, as the sessions are client-led.

    If we were working on Betty Martin’s Wheel of Consent, we could, as part of an educational agreement, use 2 way, non-genital touch, to embody and differentiate the ‘Serve’, ‘Accept’ quadrants and the ‘Take’, ‘Allow’ quadrants.

    If sexological bodywork sessions are client-led, does that mean I have to come up with all the ideas?

    No. As sex coaches and somatic practitioners, we offer the techniques and tools we learnt and practised, as offerings to the client. Often, we will suggest a couple of options and a ‘something else’. The client may come up with a ‘something else’ from hearing the suggestions. Ultimately, the client chooses what they want to explore, for how long etc, and this forms the educational contract.

    Are you going to touch ‘my bits’?

    Assuming that ‘my bits’ means your genitals, I can touch them, if you ask me to and we agree to it, yes.

    All CSBs are required to wear gloves for genital and anal contact.

    Sex Ed - A soothing belly massage being given to a sexological bodywork client.

    A belly massage can relax the client, soothe the nervous system and develop trust. It is also a new experience for most people.

    For many people, having a hand on their belly is a massive step, never mind being naked and having genital touch.

    I have found belly massage to be an incredibly intimate and vulnerable experience for even the most adventurous amongst us, and a way to create trust and relax the nervous system.

    What does that mean you can offer people?

    Sexological Bodywork is designed to improve the connection between the body and the mind and to allow the sexual and erotic aspects to awaken or deepen.

    CSBs coach, teach and support individuals, partners and groups to learn about their bodies by offering a neutral space, free from expectations and performance, to practice and integrate new techniques.

    We can support people in their exploration of their sexuality and work through sexual issues or concerns.

    Sessions can allow people to direct their erotic development, access their arousal, and experience pleasure for pleasure’s sake. To many, we are best thought of as sex coaches.

    The modalities offered in the sessions may include some, or all, of the following:

    • breathwork;
    • sound and movement;
    • body awareness, focusing and sensation;
    • conscious consent using techniques developed by Dr Betty Martin;
    • embodied counselling;
    • scar tissue remediation founded in research by Ellen Heed;
    • sexual anatomy education;
    • neuroscience and interoception, and how to process memories and experiences stored in the body;
    • genital mapping;
    • anal mapping;
    • sensual and erotic massage;
    • erotic bodywork;
    • breathwork and erotic trance;
    • mindful masturbation and orgasmic yoga coaching.

    What if I’m asexual?

    Sexual attraction and/or desire does not preclude anyone from this work. Sessions can be used to explore breath, movement, feelings, sensations, expression using words, non-sexual touch and so much more. A person’s gender, sexuality, identity or relationship status is irrelevant in terms of participation.

    Can I have a session and not be touched?

    Yes, for example, we could spend the entire session on breathing, moving and talking techniques, as well as using educational props to learn more.

    Exploring genital anatomy using anatomically correct vulva cushions during a sexological bodywork session. Image courtesy of Laura Doe Harris.

    Exploring genital anatomy using anatomically correct vulva cushions courtesy of Laura Doe Harris

    Do I have to live near you to have a session?

    No. Sessions, such as masturbation coaching, can be over video conferences such as Skype or Zoom.

    How do I know you aren’t going to project your issues on me through guru complex, the way some/many therapists do?

    I have been on the receiving end of this and it is awful and damaging.

    First of all, I take great care to make sure I am emotionally, physically, sexually, sensually resourced, and full, before a session with a client.

    In other words, I make sure my needs have been met.

    Furthermore, I have a routine which includes clearing the space, grounding with my back against a tree, prepping a list of as many tools and techniques that may apply to the client, so that I can be as present as I can be in session, and make the session about them and not me. These are offered to the client, and the client chooses.

    It is essential to me that I have a coach, a supervisor, a therapist, and peer support which support me so I can be in service to clients.

    Finally, recognising that I am also human, and there are times where I will make a mistake. I will try as hard as I can to own what is mine.

    What if something goes wrong? Is there a complaint’s procedure?

    There is a code of ethics for Sexological Bodyworkers, which is one of the first areas covered in the training, and most are members of ASIS (The Association of Somatic & Integrative Sexologists), which also has a code of ethics and a Complaint’s Procedure. Many CSBs show the ASIS logo on their site. If in doubt, ask your CSB or contact ASIS.

    Are you going to put your finger up my bum?

    If you want a finger up your bum, you can have a finger up your bum. It will be a gloved finger.

    Can I have an orgasm?

    Yes, you can have an orgasm.

    I am intrigued. Is it expensive?

    Different practitioners charge different rates, depending on location. It can be anywhere from £70 to £150 per hour. Sessions can range from 1 to 3 hours and can be face to face, or by video conferencing. Some practitioners offer discounts if you book and pay for a series of sessions in advance. Many offer a free, brief, initial telephone call for those who are curious and want to know more.

    Who is paying for this sexy bodywork?

    A whole variety of people. Clients usually have common reasons to seek this kind of help and it is starting to become better understood by people.

    The most common reasons are they have or want:

    • more choice around orgasm, in contrast, they could be unable to orgasm, have early or delayed orgasm
    • erection difficulties
    • to rely less on porn
    • anxiety or trauma around intimacy
    • they are bored
    • desire to practice something new
    • there has been a change in their libido
    • to experience more pleasure
    • feel disconnected from their genitals
    • to rediscover their body, as a result of a change, such as childbirth
    • recognise they are stuck in a pattern that doesn’t satisfy them anymore
    • struggle to ask for what they want, or even know what they want
    • want to be touched
    • have scars from gender reassignment surgery, or childbirth, and feel uncomfortable about their bodies
    • don’t know how to masturbate
    • didn’t have sex education that was meaningful to them
    • want to have better sex…and many, many more reasons.

    Are you going to fix me?

    A few days ago I was checking some facts in my research and Joseph Kramer said “What I think is most important is that Sexological Bodyworkers do not fix people. We don’t do therapy. We help people become more embodied and more aware of their aliveness. Some of the practices we suggest and offer might assist a client’s problem therefore we intend to help students/clients have better sex which always means ‘more embodied sex’.

    Most noteworthy is that we are not therapists, we are somatic sex educators and sex coaches. Much of what we do can be beneficial and is consequently therapeutic.

    We offer new experiences rather than fixing. It is, therefore, a broadening and whole-body approach.


    So, there you have it. My take on Sexological Bodywork. Your questions answered.

    If you would like to ask another question, are sufficiently enthused by what you have read, or simply curious, you are welcome to contact me on sue@thefeelinstitute.com 

  • Is masturbation a part of your self care?

    I don’t know about you, but nobody ever spoke to me, in a healthy way about masturbation. Come to think of it, nobody really told me about touching any part of my body in a caring or loving way.

    In a world where having a self care ritual is core to being a healthy human, I wonder, how many of those rituals involve masturbation, touching your body, or self pleasure?

    Masturbation remains heavily stigmatised. If you are having sex with another, or others, then you must be doing something right, right? But, having sex with yourself. Touching your own body for pleasure! No, no, no, or at least, keep it to yourself. Shhhh!

    Why? Is it a problem with the word? I think it could be.

    What is masturbation?

    The definition of masturbation is, ‘stimulation of the genitals with the hand for sexual pleasure’.

    Masturbation is, inherently, goal orientated. Often, it is so we can have an orgasm, and once we’ve got it, we stop. Job done. Worse still, it might not be as big as we wanted, or maybe we couldn’t get to an orgasm. What a failure! So much shame and judgement. No wonder so many of us don’t talk about it.

    Could it be different?

    What if, we took away the need for success or failure to be orgasm related, and instead, change the emphasis, so that the stimulation was of the body, including the genitals. An invitation to explore our amazing bodies, rediscover the sensations, unlock the emotions, and be a lover to ourselves.

    What if we added some mindfulness to it with some intention setting? ‘I want to touch my body with the tips of my fingertips and feel as much as I can’, ‘I want to give myself the most sensuous shower, and enjoy the feeling of water running over my body’, ‘I want to notice the difference between excitement and enjoyment’.

    The best bit about the mindfulness part is, that this is your body, your time and your exploration. You can pick the intention you want and the only person you need to please is yourself.

    What if we scheduled it in, like we would a massage, or a haircut, or a therapy session? What if we carried on for the full scheduled session, no matter what happened?

    I have been coaching people on this for the last few months and this part, this is the ‘oddest’ part for most. What do you mean schedule it in? Well, why not? Seriously, why not?

    As well as all this, we have to start talking about self pleasure. We have to reduce the shame, the judgement, the secrecy. The body shaming can’t win if there is body loving!

    Masturbation education in schools?

    There is a push going on in the UK around the schooling system and sex education. I welcome this. I had nobody to talk to about masturbation at school. It wasn’t even mentioned, well apart from as an insult, ‘so and so is a wanker’. Even that, there, is adding to the taboo. It is something that ‘bad’ kids do. My ‘masturbation’ was something I kind of did, not really having a clue, in a very quiet, small way, not really sure of what was happening or why.

    I didn’t know what an orgasm was, that happened by mistake, many years later, with my boyfriend, whilst having sex. Even then I couldn’t share the excitement as I had been faking them until then. My friends told me it was what we did. It is funny now, and also such a waste.

    As an adult, not that much has changed. It is still something many refuse to admit to doing, and often something perceived as not needed when we are in relationship.

    Why masturbation is important

    When it comes to relating to others in a sexual way, we typically need to know what we like. Through self touch, we can discover the parts of our body that yearn to be touched, the parts that feel so good and so naughty, the parts that make us shrill with delight, as well as the parts that make us feel sad, upset and anxious.

    As wonderful as it can be to have sexual, sensual and erotic partners, we are sexual beings in our own right. We can tantalise and tease ourselves. We can soothe and stimulate our bodies. It also means that we are less reliant on others for touch. We can enjoy the connection for the sake of the connection rather than a desperate need for intimacy.

    Be your own lover.

    Make self pleasure a part of your self care.

    Tell someone something new you discovered about your body.

    Go on, I dare you.

  • One for sorrow. Is single bad?

    Single = bad

    For as long as I can remember, I knew that seeing a single, solidarity magpie was bad luck.

    As a child, the nursery rhyme was both superstition and fact. I believed it to be true, and why wouldn’t I?

    For those not familiar it goes like this:

    One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy…..

    I didn’t understand the three or four, nor the 5 or more magpies, but that one for sorrow stuck. It was bad and undesirable. For the next 40 years, whenever I saw a single magpie I nervously, anxiously, scanned for another to break the curse of sorrow. If I didn’t I was fear that something bad might happen.

    Lived experience of being single

    A couple of years ago, my quest was to further understand the words we use, what they mean, and generally how to communicate better. I realised how divisive a request for the alone time could be. When I wanted to spend some time by myself and voiced this to others, all too often it seemed to land as not wanting to be with them, rather than me wanting to have some alone time with me.

    I changed the, ‘I want to spend some time alone’ to ‘I need Sue solo time’. The difference was huge. It turned out a whole new dialogue was available around the importance of spending time with yourself and this vital act of self-care.

    The magpie connection

    What the fuck has this got to do with magpies?

    Well, earlier this year, I’m heading out from home on a beautiful late morning and I spot a solo magpie. For the first time, I asked myself why is this not ok?

    If me being solo was an essential part of living a healthy life, why was it not ok for a magpie to be solo?

    When I am wandering around doing my solo thing, 99% of the time, I am not sad.

    There is no sorrow.

    There is integration, relaxation, enjoying, being nosy, people watching, following impulses. The list goes on.

    Single = precious

    I realised, that seeing a solo magpie might be this precious, dying earths way of saying, ‘Sue, keep doing what you are doing’. Sometimes it’s, ‘Sue, how about some solo time to get back in touch with yourself?’. Over the next day or so, every time I saw a solo magpie, I smiled and felt a wave of connection with it and myself.

    A couple of days later, a pair of magpies arrived on the roof of the building directly opposite my living room window. I’ve lived in this home for 11 years. They’ve been based around that roof every since.

    Acceptance

    I couldn’t help but think that acceptance and awareness of the beauty, and necessity, of our solo time, allows us to be in healthy connection with others.

    I wonder what impact, that myth of one being for sorrow, has had on me and others brought up with this way of thinking.

    I also noticed that the version of the rhyme that predates ‘three for a girl, and four for a boy’, was ‘three for a funeral, four for a birth’. I will save my thoughts on that for another article…to be continued.

  • Harvesting the gifts of pain

    5Rhythms – an ongoing practice

    He did it again, except this time it was deeper and longer.

    I’m talking about Richard Wiltshire, a 5Rhythms movement meditation teacher based in London. This weekend, he led ‘A Deeper Acceptance: creating healing through movement’. A sister to the workshop where I found the words to write permission and pain

    Embodiment is challenging at the best of times. Those who experience chronic pain are often trapped in a no win situation.

    A Deeper Acceptance employs the 5Rhythms wave to heal, by being true with what is actually happening, rather than the fabricated, tortuous, pushing through and putting on the brave mask affair so many of us adopt.

    5Rhythms – shadow work

    Flowing was the inertia. The resistance. ‘Can’t get off the floor’. ‘Won’t get off the floor’. Sloth and petulance in equal measure.

    Staccato was tight fists, head to the carpet, silent screams, clenching every muscle to contain the rage. The ‘I can’t even get onto my feet’ dance.

    And then there was Chaos. The overwhelming, engulfing, massiveness of the sheer volume of crap we are trying to take on. The, ‘too many things to do’, ‘can’t stop’, ‘can’t start’, ‘can’t get out of my head’, and there, there, over there, back, forward, darting everywhere and getting nowhere. The ‘whirling dervish’ dance.

    Overwhelm

    I had never danced my overwhelm. I know this head space so well. Once I started moving, I wondered if I would ever stop. The tears inevitably came. There was that all too familiar urge to pull myself together. My body had waited too long for this moment and kept the momentum, discarding my mask, face wet and red. And then it slowed, the body had expressed itself. It was cathartic.

    The rest of the wave was one of liberation. A lightness. The realisation that this practice is still accessible to me. This is the elusive alchemy we strive for.

    Gratitude

    After our stillness and integration, we got into 3’s and spoke of our gratitudes. What the pain, the illness, has gifted us. 4 minutes of uninterrupted stream of consciousness with ears and attention on you. It is surprising what comes up.

    I am much more creative

    When you can’t stand on your feet for long you find alternatives. I have a brilliant scooter now, which I zoom around on. In dance spaces, I am a diva on the floor and a chair. I find different ways to get what I want and need.

    I give less unsolicited advice

    There isn’t much worse than well meaning people offering a variety of suggestions and fixes for the ‘problem’ you shared. I have learnt to say less, mean more, and try really bloody hard to only give advice when I’ve been asked to. I also don’t change the subject. This is important!

    I see duality everywhere

    I am physically strong and can wrestle most people to the ground, yet the weight of that bag I’m carrying magically bears down on the exact point in my foot that hurts the most, and every single gram feels like a kilo. I am strong and I am fragile. It’s not just me. When I see someone using inappropriate words to chat someone up, I also see someone wanting connection. When I see someone pushing themselves to burnout, I also see someone wanting appreciation and acceptance.

    I am aware of the invisible

    Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there. The vast majority of chronic conditions are invisible. Often the only clues are props like walking sticks, hearing aids and wheelchairs. I rarely assume that the people around me are healthy and trouble free.

    I am learning to speak my truth

    I kept quiet for a very long time about anything I thought might rock the boat, or upset the apple cart. I didn’t want to be needy. I was a people pleaser. I learnt the hard way how vital it is to express with mouth words. Despite what most people think, we are not mind readers. Plus, when you identify yourself, your tribe can find you and quite often the ones that don’t get you, drift away, or, ironically, accept you as you.

    It’s not ok

    Anyone who knows me will tell you I am not a fan of the permanently happy, smiley, fake, woo woo, all peace and love stuff. Show me the darkness, the grit, the struggles and the matters of the heart.

    The not pretending everything is ok, when it is not, helps me see you. With that recognition, we can thrive, and that’s the point. When we can be seen in our mud pit, get the chance to roll about it in like happy pigs, and still look you in the eye without shame and judgement, we can cope so much better.

    Then, and only then, can we appreciate what else it has given us.

    There is always something to be harvested from the pain.

  • The Naked Photoshoot

    Naked again

    Anyone who has known me, in particular settings, over the last few years, may have seen me naked. It has been a thing I have been doing more and more.

    Earlier this year, I’d stumbled across a post for a project called ‘Age cannot wither her’, a set of 16 women in their glory, in their ‘birthday suits’, looking regal, exotic, confident, shy, soft, fierce and so much more. ‘Wow’, I thought.

    I left a comment below the post, saying I’d love to have been part of something like this. It was met with a sharp reply encouraging me to contact the photographer.

    Did I get naked?

    Long story short…..I did. The date of the shoot was booked. The photos were taken. The final image picked.

    Yesterday I finally plucked up the courage to write the words to go support this version of me and now, today, it is live. Eeeeeek!

    Here it goes. I will now be able to answer, in confidence, the question, ‘Is there a naked photo of you on the net?’

    Yes. There. Is.

    Seriously, following this link will show me naked

    Using my naked body to speak up

    These are the words that supported my mask removal:

    When I turned 40, everything changed.

    Suddenly, I had a voice. It seemed as though I was able to speak up and, more importantly, speak out. There is a permission that comes with age, a credibility.

    Now that I am nearer 50 than 40, I realise this decade, for me, is all about transformation.

    I started the decade as a consultant in the city, unsatisfied with life and love, and failing to adhere to the gendered, patriarchal societal expectations around me. My curly hair wasn’t neat enough. I wouldn’t wear the obligatory heels as the arthritis in my feet was too painful. I wasn’t small or quiet enough and no matter how good I was at my work, I didn’t fit the mould.

    Making the change

    I am hardly recognisable as the deeply in love, ethically non-monogamous, pansexual, freelance problem solver, soon to be a certified sexological bodyworker, skyclad howling, dancing, shamanic goddess, little girl, queen, mama wolf, strong, fragile, human I am today. Hallelujah!

    This is my first photoshoot, never mind my first naked one. The excitement of being part of something this important, hid the process that was about to unfold. I have been getting more and more naked these last few years. I find it liberating and can often be found in some festival dancing scenario getting my kit off and encouraging others to do the same. We were born this way.

    Societal expectations

    Despite all that, as soon as I agreed to the shoot, my inner critic, judge and jury, went to town, subtly at first, although the town was where they were heading, make no mistake!

    I wanted to look good. I didn’t want to embarrass myself. I wanted to be a better version of me. My serious significant chocolate addiction was tempered at first. I got on my bike a bit more. I told myself that this was a good thing, and, to certain degree it was, however, at the same time why couldn’t I show up as I was?

    Predictably, the 10 days running up to the photoshoot, involved a foreign trip, more than typical booze consumption, a chocolate mountain, lack of sleep, a dodgy tummy and, wait for it, slashing the sole of my foot open, on an acrylic table, whilst trying to see the moon out of my window, less than 9 hours before the shoot. You couldn’t make it up.

    What do I see when I look at this photo?

    I see a girl with a woman’s body. Strong, hard-working legs, a tummy that holds lots of emotion and feels delicious to the touch. A Predator. A fragility. Certainty. A pride at getting this far alive. Sadness that I trimmed my beautifully wild pubic hair right down, just a week previously, in a moment of self-doubt because I wanted to fit into someone else’s ideal of what a woman should look like …… a lover, an artist, a sister, friend, confidante. An activist. An aspiring life model?

    Most of all, I see a woman in the prime of her life, with hopes and dreams.

    I have so much more to do, to learn, to be.

  • Permission and Pain

    Pain and 5Rhythms

    In the last couple of days, I have tapped into something new in relation to my constant, and ever present, pain.

    For the very first time, I was given permission to feel it. I mean, really feel it.

    It would be so easy to assume that the permission was granted by another, and, that was partly true. The permission I am talking about, is darker and lurking in the tightest corner of my psyche. Let me explain…..

    pain – A Deeper Acceptance

    On Friday, I was on the door for those arriving to ‘A Deeper Acceptance: moving with chronic illness’, a 5Rhythms movement meditation practice led by Richard Wiltshire as part of the Rhythm Village Festival. In my head, I was there as an advocate. In my head, it’s not really happening to me. In my head, I do not have a chronic illness.

    5Rhythms is often explored via a wave of Flowing — Staccato — Chaos — Lyrical — Stillness. Each state has a quality, a tone, and we move through them silently, typically to music.

    The session started simply enough. Dancing a wave with our hands, only using our hands, whilst sitting on chairs. So simple, so stunning, so new. I’ve got this I thought. This is going to be nice.

    Nice. Nice is not a word that sits solo with this work. When it’s pleasing, agreeable and delightful so early on there is usually some new territory to be explored.

    Dancing with the Shadow

    When Rich mentioned that we were going to then dance the shadow of the first 2 of the 5Rhythms, my ears pricked up. I got hot. Right up the back of my shoulders and neck.

    It is often really difficult to do this in a busy, fast moving class when you are carrying an illness or pain, or both, in the same way it’s difficult to go to a keep fit class with a pulled muscle. As dancers, we still want to move, we still want to be in community, we still want to belong, regardless of what else we are carrying.

    Integrity

    How do we keep the integrity of the dance, the wave, yet include chronic illness and pain? In other words, how do we belong and stay true to ourselves?

    Flowing can be heavy. Heavy as in the full weight of the often invisible illness and pain we hold in our beautiful bodies. The lethargy that comes with the starting so far from the starting line, with no energy, no magic wand and the full weight of reality. The, ‘I have all these things to do and I just want to stay in bed and rest’.

    Staccato can be the frustration. The irritability. The clenched fists. The fucking unfairness of the situation. The not being able to do what you want to do. The rage. The unheard screams. The barrel of tears. The, ‘why is this happening to me?’. The, ‘I don’t know how I am going to get through the next 10 minutes, never mind the next 10 hours’.

    …and this is where the game changer of permission revealed itself.

    The Power of Witnessing

    We paired up for this, and when it came to Staccato there was one song each. One person moving and the other person witnessing.

    I closed my eyes and there I was, stood in the beautiful church I had danced in countless times before, with space and permission to be in pain.

    I could feel the resistance, the desire to trivialise, the desire to push through. I didn’t need to push through. I could be really fucking frustrated. I could hurt. I could express the grief.

    The pain of having permission, both within and in my surroundings, far eclipsed the physical pain I feel in my body.

    The emotional toil and loss of self is thick, horrific and abhorrent.

    To be seen in this state, with no solutions, no remedies, no apologies, no abating others for the comfort of the collective. That, there, is a deeper understanding.

    The seering pain, the frustration of the inability. To not be able to do what your heart wants, what your soul needs. To participate. It’s a fight I don’t even want to be in the running for.

    Acceptance that the body cannot follow your desires.

    Sometimes, I wonder why I even show up.

    And yet, I do. I show up, we all do. Even in our absence.