Offering people permission to experience more erotic aliveness is a core part of my work. Recently I came across a journal entry of my early days of training in somatic sex education and I was touched by the memory of my own struggle and joy in obtaining permission for pleasure. I wanted to share it with you.
April 20, 2015
Today marks the start of my hands-on training in Somatic Sex Education through the Institute for the Advance Study of Human Sexuality. Somehow, I have the miraculous good fortune of doing practice exchanges with one of Vancouver’s best sensual massage practitioners, Casey, another student in my cohort.
Today, our assignment is to try something called Erotic Massage Dancing. It’s a practice where the person receiving the massage moves, breaths and makes sounds to expand their range of arousal beyond their typical patterns of staying still or tightening up their body, holding their breath or moving hard and fast. The theory goes that when they integrate new patterns of breath, movement and sound, while receiving erotic touch, they establish new neural pathways to pleasure, and expand their capacity for sensual joy. Or so it says in our course readings. I’ve never tried anything like this.
It’s a glorious spring morning. The warm sunshine dances in golden sparkles on the surface of False Creek as I cycle over the Granville bridge. I feel a rush of erotic aliveness that’s mirrored back at me by flamboyant daffodils, crocuses and snowdrops. As I walk into the lobby of Casey’s upscale Yaletown building, my heart beats so loudly I worry it’ll jump out of my chest.
Casey greets me silently at the door, and welcomes me into her warm studio. She has long chestnut hair and eyes that twinkle with mischievousness. Her movements are direct and efficient and she begins undressing nonchalantly, gesturing towards the massage table. As she asks me how I’m feeling, her voice stutters slightly with what I imagine to be nervousness, but her anxiety is soothing to me. I can connect to it. I don’t feel alone as we wander out into the wilderness.
The room is lit by the glow of a himalayan salt light and tiny candles. There’s a small shelf with a collection of books about sexuality and a table where Casey has laid out fruit and tea. The massage table is covered by crisp white sheets, giving an air of purity and simplicity. Like an alter waiting for worshipers to arrive.
She is wearing a matching bra and panty lingerie set that strikes me as incredibly sexy and sophisticated compared to the simple white cotton bra and undies I’m sporting. Instead of feeling ashamed, I am inspired and grateful. This is the goddess I get to study with. I can’t keep my eyes off her.
She notices I’m slow to undress and asks me if I’m worried about nakedness or my body. Obviously, I think to myself, who wouldn’t be nervous around a goddess? She reassures me that she has a background in anatomy and she has seen a lot of bodies. Everything is normal and ok to her, she has a medical approach. I take the cue. There’s safety in that role and structure of medicine. The idea of anatomy as neutral and healing as universally available and all bodies being ok. But I’ve seriously never had such a drop dead gorgeous sexy clinician.
I have printed out a waiver we’re supposed to complete for our coursework and I offer it to her with sweaty hands. We’re both going to sign it and initial after every sentence. It says we’re not going to date. It says we’re going to not endure any touch we’re not enjoying. It says gloves will be used for any genital massage. It says all touch will be one-way, from the giver to the receiver. (note: This is the protocol commonly used somatic sex education, which I found very beneficial for my learning at that time. I currently use a less restrictive protocol in my practice.)
I cling to that waiver like it’s a permission slip to skip class. It’s the waiver that says, I don’t have to get drunk at a party and go home with the random dude that’s been hitting on me all night in order to feel physical pleasure. And I don’t have to say no to a million unwanted requests for sex. And I don’t have to go down on anyone out of a sense of obligation. And I don’t have to buy him breakfast in the morning, or return phone calls, or move in with him, or meet his parents.
The waiver says in no uncertain terms, “This sensual experience is for learning - sanctioned by The Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality.” This means no one has to feel bad or guilty or obligated to do it again. This waiver is a get-of-jail-free card.
I take a deep breath and pass Casey the waiver. I’m feeling wild, giddy with nervousness. I’m on an edge about to dive off a cliff into a dark pool. I don’t know what’s in those depths but I want to find out.
I undress and lie down on the massage table. My breath is tight and my muscles are tense. I feel shy. I worry, what if I don’t get turned on? What if I get too turned on? What if I look silly? Her hands come to rest gently on my back and we take three deep breaths together.
She asks, “How would you like to be touched?”
My words are caught in my throat. Or actually, my mind is just blank and I literally cannot think of any words for touch. ‘Umm, can you massage my back?’ I awkwardly ask.
She responds with a menu of options, “Would you like feather-light pressure or deep compressions? Full hand or finger tips? Fast like a river or slow like caramel?”
Words. Words. Okay, there are words for touch. Yes. “Feather light. Slowly, with your finger-tips only,” I say.
She invites me to let my body move however it wants to move. This is new to me. Massages usually happen to my body, while it lies still. Just like sex usually happens to my passive body. There’s no me actively ‘doing’ sex.
So with permission and her invitation I move.
I stretch and reach and twist and shake. I try out different movements, tentatively at first, guided by my mind. Then gradually my body takes over with impulse, when I notice something I like. Ahhh, there we are, now I’m moving with pleasure and not just my minds idea of how I’m supposed to move or guess at what my body might like.
I am remembering that I am in charge of my body and its pleasure.
At one point I yearn to ask for more focused attention on my clit. But my mind bombards me with excuses like, “This is the best touch you’ve ever had. Just take this as it is,” and “If you make a request, you might ruin the mood,” and “The whole body is supposed to be your erotic playground, stop being so clit-focused,” and even “ If you do try ask, you’ll get the words wrong and you won’t the touch you want.”
My mind is not co-operating. I breathe and sigh.
I get very quiet and still, and Casey’s hands come to rest on my belly. Very gently and slowly, my pelvis starts to rock in circles, like a spoon stirring a deep cauldron. Her hands mirror the movement, slowing swirling and matching me in speed and intensity.
So we speak through movement instead of words. My body moves and her hands calls back in response.
Movement and touch, this is my first language. I arch my hips. My hands reach down to touch her hands, gently guiding her up, up, to the apex of my vulva. Yes. That’s what I want.
Gradually, gently, her fingertips trace the map of the archipelago of heart, pussy, belly, lips, tits, arms. Formerly isolated islands of sensation are now linked together by waves of pleasure that flow between and lap upon the shores my erogenous zones. Her hands slide over my smooth belly, inner thigh and her finger tips graze over my pubic hair and vulva lips. My skin feels so electric, so on fire, so melting like butterscotch over ice cream, so fingertips on pussy lips sliding into folds up and through and down to toes and back winding around my calves and knees and yes please, yes please, yes please.
Finally, her hands rest on my chest. My core tremors and my own hands reach up to hers. Hold me there, steady on my ribcage, the rooftop of the cathedral of my heart. Boom, boom. echo. The choir of my moving limbs are silent now, resting. I feel open, expanded, filled with love, freedom and gratitude.
After I leave Casey’s studio, I head to my office job. I walk down the long generic hallway and find my desk in a little beige cubicle. My head buzzes, my body vibrates. I notice that I still have the waiver folded in my hand. I carried it like a passport, my travel visa, an official document. It says, I was allowed to do that. That was legitimate. It’s my permission slip.