Self-touch that’s not genital. 45 minutes. Movement. Music. Coconut oil. Body devotion.
Photos by Brooklyn Bujold
Self-touch that’s not genital. 45 minutes. Movement. Music. Coconut oil. Body devotion.
Photos by Brooklyn Bujold
I’m ready to remove fear from our conversations on pleasure. I’m ready to work to help others heal their trauma, to rewrite their scripts, to enter into relationship consciously, to both seek out pleasure beyond sexuality, and to dive into bliss within sexuality. To use eroticism to generate compassion and love. I’m ready to stop infusing my touch with Worry. I’m ready to live in world where every single persons autonomy is respected, valued, and all touch is touch that is desired, wanted and needed. I’m ready to take touch off the pressure cooker of Only Within Sexual Containers and even then Not The Touch I Was Looking For. I’m ready to bring consensual, enthusiastic Happy Touch into my life, into the world.
I’m ecstatic to be on the forefront of this new healing modality. I’m ecstatic to change the landscape of touch interactions in our culture. Let’s bring pleasure, delight and bliss back into our bodies. Follow the Happy Touch Movement on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
“How would you like to be touched?”
The Happy Touch Movement is a global phenomenon. Pleasure is your birthright. Consensual and pleasurable touch is an inherent component of our wellbeing and thriving health. Every body is capable of experiencing ecstatic joy and abundant bliss. We are committed to changing the landscape of pleasure; in your body, in your relationships, in the cities and cultures around us.
With training and tools from The Somatic Sex Educators Association, the Institute of Sexuality Education & Enlightenment, the International Professional Surrogates Association, and the brilliant Betty Martin, Happy Touch offers workshops, services for individuals and couples, and group retreats; all with the goal of bringing more pleasure into your life.
Our work is client-centred, trauma-informed and encompasses one-way touch (the practitioner is always fully clothed and only uses their hands). We use research from scientific studies, the innate wisdom of the bodies biology and physiology, communication and boundary exercises, embodiment practices, playfulness, consensual touch, and relaxation techniques to aid you in building and enhancing your daily experience of pleasure and happiness.
Day 1: Our classroom is a plounge couch. The four of us sprawl while our generous and kind-hearted teacher imparts years of wisdom on us.
We take each other’s histories and only touch the surface of who we are, wishing we had more time.
We decorate our binders in stickers and eat popcorn while we watch a documentary. We learn the importance of calling ourselves “Surrogate Partners” not “Sex Surrogates” because it has very little to do with actual genital sex when it comes down to it (compared to the social, emotional, and intimate learning components).
The day ends and I call my partner back home and cry some more and do some things that need to get done, worrying about time and self-care amidst this intensive.
I go back downstairs to find dinner ready and everyone jubilantly drinking by a fire outside.
It is a very good group of humans.
Day 2: The simplicities and complexities of touch; how histories lie in our bodies and how to navigate trauma, fears, and shame within the surrogate partnership. How important it is to stay in your pleasure, otherwise this work will not work. I am in awe of the power of this process, the immense amount of love and presence that must come with it.
Day 3, 4 & 5: STC’s and contraception, anatomy & physiology. We recognize what relaxing feels like in the body and how to teach others to notice it.
We lightly drag our fingers around our partners faces for our own pleasure. It is to help them notice sensation and to model how to touch.
The next day we undress. A brave woman in her 60s runs our body image exercise. She is nervous but certain; she gives of herself generously and we are all captivated. Completely naked, we give the histories of our bodies.
We do more Touching For Our Pleasure and receive this Touch from others. In these exercises, we learn to feel touch that is not how we would touch. We learn to feel pleasure where we might not know to look.
The next day our relationships escalate. We are fully nude and fully body touching. The boundary between acquaintance and lover is crossed from long distances; but there is no insincerity, the relationship develops in the stages they have supplied. It is a dynamic with another person I have never had in my life and navigation is difficult and messy.
In between exercises we listen to stories. Stories upon stories upon stories. I am rapt with stories and what learning they contain. I begin to recognize that this work is for those who need it most. This work is not for easy pleasures or simple solutions. This work is for those who cannot touch. For those who it might take years to achieve a goal. For those whose pasts are dense and never knew how to move forward.
Day 6: Three men stare into the depths of my pussy to see a cervix up close and personal. It is my first time seeing my cervix, too. It looks, hysterically, like the head of a penis. I show my practice partner my vulva and go through the anatomy, the history, the feelings. I show him how I touch myself and invite him to explore. He does the same for me with his penis.
Day 7: It is a day off and we have a family outing to a nearby beach. It is overcast but warm. It is reflective but social. It is much needed and well used.
We live together, there is little separation. Each night we all eat together. Sometimes we watch a movie. I kind of feel like I’m on a Reality TV show but there are no cameras and the drama is pretty much non-existent; everyone is a lovely human.
Day 8: These weird little dynamics of our partnership are at pressure points. The time and place where we cross from the easy places of caressing, into the harder places of genital touch and arousal. We touch to touch, we touch for our pleasure, we touch for the other persons pleasure. A lot of feelings come up; feelings that we have to examine and dig into and “therapize” ourselves; the ultimate goal is to be as mindful and aware of our own reactions and the effect we are bringing to this dynamic. It is hard. It is reading my body, my brain, my feelings in ways I have never even considered. This person who is not chosen, this person who is not client, this person who is very close now all of a sudden. This is the work we seek out to do when we leave this training. How to be genuine, how to be in your pleasure, and be a sensitive partner.
Day 9: I realize that we have just undergone a very systematic training to be very good at sex – it is foreplay, but the concept of foreplay is silly, so it is sex, but with no penetration. We are allowed to create our own sessions with our partners based on everything we have done so far, the only rule is that we cannot go further. There are resistances, there are conversations, there are touches. This is a most fascinating and bizarre experience. My brain is expanding in directions I didn’t know existed.
Day 10: We discover and break down the concept of “mutuality” and what it means within the context of sensuality. Kissing, hand-holding, spooning, fucking; two-way street enjoyment. We do a simple exercise, dancing together with our eyes closed, and it is vulnerable and intimate and tentative; a wall is slowly coming down and I can choose to either lean into it to see how far it will fall, or try to cement it back together.
Day 11: Today we talk about Resistance and I learn something scary and vulnerable about myself. Resistance is an attempt to hold onto familiar patterns; the comfortable ways we have learned to relate to the world and your entire way of being is threatened. I sit out in the sun at lunch and feel my brain working out at high cardio rates and feel my heart becoming expansive; I feel light-headed, I feel nauseous. I see my own patterns: 9 times out of 10, sex has come before intimacy. And I see my own patterns of how intensely these two things are connected for me, and suddenly it dawns on me that I must practice intimacy before sex and that feels terrifying and completely nerve-racking. But if I want to do this work (and I really want to do this work), and if I want to be good at this work (and I really want to be good at this work), then I know what I need to practice.
Day 12: We practice Closure and we say Goodbye to each other. We acknowledge the relationship was always going to end, and consciously uncouple ourselves and review all that has happened, all we have done. “Don’t forget: this really happened. This was always supposed to end, but it was real, and it was meaningful.” I practice intimacy in ways that make my heart race, but the results will forever stay with me; it is the beginning.
“We will embark on a process of getting close.”
This thing is frickin’ magnificent.
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*This post was inspired by Jessica Valenti’s ‘Sex Object’
I lie in bed with my partner one morning and we scroll through tumblr together… Thin, make-up drenched girls covered in cum. Their bodies filled with cocks. Bodiless penises with girls. Women that are acting like girls. Girls that are paid to act.
Peggy Orenstein writes “I used to say, when speaking publicly on college campuses or to groups of parents, that one could disentangle sexualization from sexuality by simply remembering that the first is foisted on girls from the outside, the other cultivated from within. I’m no longer sure it’s so simple.”
I watch nature documentaries with my partner, lying across his lap as he delicately and patiently paints images on my back with Non-Toxic markers he insisted I use instead of regular crayola’s. The male species on-screen is always trying to convince a female to mate with them. Later he will be loving and empathetic when I get pouty that he’s not in the mood for sex, a weird result of my vaguely anxious attachment style: If we don’t have sex then you don’t find me desirable, if I’m not desirable then I have no worth, and who would want to be with a partner that has no worth. I know it is illogical. It does not mean it isn’t there.
“[…] girls begun responding ‘to questions about how their bodies feel – questions about sexuality or arousal – by describing how they think they look. I have to remind them that looking good is not a feeling.’ Self-objectification has been associated with depression, reduced cognitive function, lower GPA, distorted body image, body monitoring, eating disorders, risky sexual behaviour, and reduced sexual pleasure.
In one study of eighth-graders, self-objectification accounted for half the differential in girls’ reports of depression and more than two-thirds of the variance in their self-esteem. Another study linked girls’ focus on appearance to heightened shame and anxiety about their bodies. A study of twelfth-graders connected self-objectification to more negative attitudes about sexuality, discomfort in talking about sex, and higher rates of sexual regret.
Self-objectification has also been correlated with lower political efficacy: the idea that you can have an impact in the public forum, that you can bring about change.”
His hands on the back of my neck make me melt into a pile of comfort, “you are mine” they say. And I wonder what part of me is turned on by his ownership; what is genuine and what is derived from cultural messages shoved down my throat ever since the first utterance of “you’ll never find a boyfriend if” – my entire personality and demeanour and habits based around my acquiring a heterosexual mate who finds me appealing.
We’re non-monogamous to a degree that doesn’t take up much extra energy. I see messages from other girls pop up on his phone about how they want to fuck him. I beat down the feelings that him wanting to fuck other people isn’t a commentary on how much he loves me or how good our sex is; I want to fuck other people, too, sometimes. I want to be able to fall in love with other people, too, sometimes.
Recalling one time years ago, when I was jealous and upset that a boy I was interested in wasn’t responding to my texts or giving me the attention I desired, I went to Guelph to consume too much alcohol with friends from high school.
“So she distracts herself with challenges. No longer any fun to kiss boys in bars, but boys behind bars; a sense of the unobtainable obtained.”
My finger gave the ‘come-hither’ signal to one of the cooks behind the burrito bar at 1 or 2 AM and I grabbed him by the collar, pulling our faces together for a soppy and tonguey kiss. “You made him all flustered.” As if this sexual assault did either of us any good.
A few days ago, a good friend and I are talking on a bench. It is rainy and dreary. She is wearing last nights makeup and I haven’t brushed my teeth yet. We are talking about men and how we are stuck in this loop of wanting their approval yet hating when it is given to us. We are cut from a similar fabric in that neither of us could go to a party and feel like it was a good party unless we hooked up with someone by the end of the night. The only way we could have a good time was if someone with a dick had validated us with their sloppy, drunk erections. I became so good at performing this character to be validated, I had numerous men whisper to me in shadows, alleyways and basements: You are magical. Their eyes heavy from drinking and their brains fire-working as their hands cup my tits. They have not exchanged a word with me beyond this.
I was a cheerleader in high school; the reaction men have to this is far more exciting than it’s reality: I practiced throwing other humans into the air and then worried about catching them. But they also choreographed us spanking ourselves into our dance routine, just in case we thought for a second that we might be anything but objects to be consumed.
I am a rugby player in high school; this only gets a chuckle. I never really played in games anyways.
I wrote, at the age of 17, all about how sometimes we needed to give ourselves superpowers:
“They felt simultaneously that they actively chose a sexualized image- which was nobody’s damned business but their own- and that they had no choice.”
I go camping with my partner and don’t shower the entire 3 days. I leave my makeup bag at home and don’t look in a mirror at all. He reaches for me and holds me, we talk about our future together; he builds us a home in his mind and asks me questions about environmentally-friendly architecture every half hour. It is hard for me to articulate to him this part of myself that is object objecting to objectification yet demanding of it. It is difficult for me to swallow his gutteral reactions to beautiful women on the street because I am that woman and I hate it and I also hate that he is not giving that reaction to me.
“If, as bell hooks suggested, pop culture portrayals of women beg the question ‘Who has access to the female body?'”
I wasn’t given access to my body. I had to go looking for access to my body and I am still learning how to interact with it.
I’m interviewed for a Montreal CBC show and they ask me what’s the difference between mainstream porn and feminist porn. I thought about this after they left my apartment in a flurry of French. The difference is in my reaction. The difference is that one makes me feel nauseous, anxious and panicked; that I am not them, and that even though I have been dragged through the process of objectification to it’s entirety, I will never be them. I cannot act that long and remain whole.
The other makes me feel like there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
“If you are sick and want to be well, you need to relay the details of your symptoms: glossing over them ensures a lifetime of illness.” – Jessica Valenti, ‘Sex Object’
[This is a post about my experience with Sex Educator training… Unlike my other very story-like posts, this might only interest you if you are looking into pursuing educational pursuits revolving around sex, health & well-being, therapy, etc.]
Over 3 years ago, I desperately searched the internet for some form of Sex Educator schooling program. I had dropped out of university three times at this point; I didn’t understand the relevance of the subjects I needed to take, I was infuriated at how much of my time and money was wasted on courses I ended up despising, I hated the ‘professor/student’ dynamic in which my face and ability disappeared into the crowd of other mediocre students. The only solace I found was in my small creative courses, where there were 10-20 of us, everyone spoke, the professor knew and remembered everyones names and my work was pulled out and given the attention I needed to push myself further.
I researched my options and discovered AASECT (American Association of Sex Educators, Counsellors and Therapists), a prestigious credential that would land me into the pool of the best in my field. The certification process is intense and lengthy, and would require me to go back to university for something totally different, and they require 90 hours of Core Knowledge coursework around very specific topics. This was when I found the Institute for Sexuality Education & Enlightenment (ISEE).
And while I didn’t forsee myself going for AASECT certification anytime soon, I clung to the idea of ISEE. I would walk away a Certified Sex Educator – a title I had been scouring the internet for to give myself some sort of credentials.
After three years of typical life things happening, I finally was able to go down to do the in-person coursework in Northampton, MA, in April and July of this year (3 weeks total).
I left Toronto in a flurry; my sister, my partner and my downstairs porn biz partner (aka, basement son) were all variously organizing and cleaning my AirBnB ventures and walking my dog. The planning for the thousands-of-dollars event I was running was put on hold, my hair was green because I hadn’t had time to re-dye it after misusing some Manic Panic, and I had booked the cheapest mode of transportation: the night bus. I had an 18 hour bus ride ahead of me that started at 11:55 PM.
The bus was not ideal, but it turns out that you can kill a lot of time by trying to sleep. In a haze of half-dreaming & kind-of-eating, I made it to Northampton by 6 PM the next day.
I had not given this experience any forethought whatsoever except for doing the required bookings of beds & transportation, and in my mind, it was this thing to get done because then I am one step closer to having a certification for this odd little career choice I made 5 years ago. It seemed like one more thing to cross off of my never-ending To Do list, and I was mentally prepared to hold onto all of the stress of event-planning and multiple business running to achieve yet another goal.
And then I stepped off the bus and nearly cried. Maybe I did. I can’t remember. It sure felt like I had. The weather was 20 degrees celsius (there would be a blizzard later in the week, but whatever) and everything little friggin’ thing about this stupidly adorable little town made my heart sing. The main street consisted of local, healthy restaurants, coffee shops, crystal stores, used bookshops, antique furniture shops, and small salons. It was as if I had walked onto the set of Gilmore Girls (hysterically, Stars Hollow is anecdotally just outside Hartford, which is not far from Northampton… I just googled it).
I breathed deeply and finished my trek of dragging my belongings half an hour up hill to get to my AirBnB. And when I finally reached my destination, I cried some more. A) Because it was so friggin’ adorable, B) It reminded me of the house in Sabrina the Teenage Witch (one of my favourite shows, to this day) and C) All of a sudden, I had absolutely zero responsibilities. I showered, sat on my bed and thought of all the things I didn’t have to do and realized that this was a surprise enforced vacation. Even if the courses during the next two weeks happened to be dry and tedious, I had the full-fledged excuse to not do a single thing and it felt gloooorious.
I drank a glass of wine and passed out.
For the next two weeks, I would be immersed in sex learning… My schedule looked as such:
Week 1-2 (April 2016)
Day 1-3: Sexual Awareness Reassessment
Day 4: Body Enrichment
Day 5: The Joy of Intimacy
Day 6: Female Sexual Dysfunction
Day 7: Sexual Development: Young Adulthood through Middle Age
Day 8: Silver Sex; Sex Later in Life
Day 9: Sex & Culture
Day 10: Frank Talk About Men
Day 11: Orientation As Living Entity
Day 12: Professional Communication & Ethics
Day 13: Non-Monogamy
Day 14: Pleasure
Week 3 (July 2016):
Day 1: SexAbility
Day 2-3: Presentation Skills
Day 4: BDSM: A Working Introduction
Day 5: Advanced SAR
Day 6: The Deep Yes: The Lost Art of True Receiving
Day 7: Introduction to Tantra
As a sex educator, these types of courses are my bread and butter. There are so few opportunities for us to learn and grow and gain and become better at what we do, and I was so hungry for these topics I don’t think I could’ve been bored even if the World’s Most Monotone person was teaching us. But the moment I entered that small, floral-themed conference room in a corner of the Hotel Northampton, I was swept off my feet.
I had met Rosalyn Dischiavo (Roz, for short) through Betty Dodson in June 2013. She had briefly mentioned the Institute for Sexuality that she founded and that little snippet of information stuck to my brain like a fleck of glitter. A few months after meeting her, I made a phone call to Connecticut to talk about the process of enrolling in her program.
Roz teaches a hefty amount of the courses at the Institute. Her teaching style is personable, holistic and professional. As someone who has dropped out of University 3 or 4 times (…who’s counting, really), I find it extremely important to talk about the word ‘holistic’ for a second, because it kind of sounds like the hokey pokey language we associate with people who are living somewhere up in the clouds.
Holistic is “characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.” And to expand on that: everyday that I left class, I felt as though someone had reached down my throat and into my gut, fiddled around with some pieces that weren’t fitting quite right, shuffled some stuff out, re-arranged the furniture and then when they were fine and happy with the job they had done, extracted their arm from my esophagus and kissed me on my cheek.
For the person who despises metaphors: it is one thing to take a course on the Joy of Intimacy so that you can bring back exercises and activities to your clients, it is another to recognize where you have trouble with intimacy. Where do your walls begin? Are they pliable? What scares you? Who are you? What do you want? One risk-taking activity after another, each person in the room was called on to do what they could to push their comfort levels and take a risk and see what happened. And you know what happened? You fell into a pile of warm hugs and empathetic eyes. Right now I am trying to recall the specifics of each individuals own life and struggle, and while I know the details of all of their lives (who they live with, what they do, etc.), the trials and tribulations each of us have gone through seem to have merged into a collective, vibrating pillow of… love. (I started crying writing that sentence, recalling the feeling I left the program with, and I so badly wanted to come up with something less common, but alas, this is the word we have.)
It is hard for me to summarize the effects of the program… I know that it was an educational and professional experience, because I paid for it, learned a whole bunch of things and will eventually come out with a certificate and a slew of connections across North America. But damn. None of my higher learning experiences even come close to this one. So here’s an excerpt from my diary instead…
“This program was invaluable. It will be the best thing I have ever done for myself and so deeply life-changing. Thinking about it brings me immediate sadness, joy and gratitude to my eyes. The intensity of all these feelings is insurmountable. I had no clue what I was in for but it wound up being such a transformative experience. These people are my tribe and will forever be a part of my heart.”
It irritates me to no end that our current cultural expectations of educational experiences are so removed from the body. If your head isn’t spinning from reading dense texts from dawn to dusk, if you aren’t breaking your body by consuming gigantic quantities of coffee and not sleeping, if you’re bored out of your skull than you’re doing it right and then once Friday hits you work-work-work and play-play-play so hard that for me, my body and my mind were sapped of any energy to absorb information that might be useful. [Of course, this style does actually work for some people… I am not one of them.]
One of the many things I learnt in my program were the 5 researched methods that actually work to learning something: movement, frank & open discussion, graduated risk, touch and facilitating commitments. My University experiences offered me, at best, 20% of those, on a good day. Within this program, there was barely an hour that passed that we hadn’t actively engaged in almost all of those things.
I am so eternally grateful for this experience Roz created for all of us that attended the ISEE program this year. Roz, you have shaken me and given me so much to work with. Thank you <3.
And here are a bunch of pictures:
If you are at all curious about this program, feel free to get in touch with me to ask me more about my experience!