(Estimated reading time : 15 minutes)
Sex, Love and Goop, a recent series on Netflix has caused quite a stir. I for one am really delighted to see this show. It is a tender and intimate portrayal of the courageous couples who bared all on Netflix. The show presents a whole different way to work with sex and relationship challenges, including the approach of Sexological Bodywork that I work with, and it illuminates a whole world of possibilities for sex, pleasure and intimacy.
To see the intimate and honest discussions about issues so many people face and the glimpse into the world of practical and embodied sex and relationship coaching sessions on mainstream television is amazing. I feel it missed a few things, particularly around consent and communication and you can read this blog from Quintimacy which shares some valuable points about this. However I also appreciate the enormous task of presenting the vast world of sex and intimacy in six episodes.
What I loved most about Sex, Love and Goop was that it demonstrated the power of working with the body and of practical exploration and learning. When so many sex and intimacy challenges live in the body, they cannot be resolved through talking alone.
The show also highlighted what is possible for sex and intimacy when you move beyond the goal based model of sex which always heads towards penetration (whether with a cock, fingers or dildo) and this is seen as the apex of the experience.
This was shown so beautifully in the show with Damon. He had an idea that he got pleasure from sex in specific ways – the ways he was familiar with. Then he experienced his first energy orgasm which brought him to tears – wow! It was so beautiful to hear him talk about it and how the experience not only cracked him open but also stayed with him as he was still buzzing hours later.
This is what is possible when you let go of what you know, step out of the limited sexual script that most of us learn and spend time exploring and discovering the magic, pleasure, joy, tenderness, intimacy, passion and beauty that is available within each and every one of us.
Indeed one woman who contacted me as a result of the show shared in her email to me:
“I am astonished to see the multiple ways people can experience themselves sexually, so I’m not defective after all!!”
This email so deeply touched my heart for this woman realising there is nothing wrong with her (she had pretty much written off this area of her life). In her mid 50s, this women has now realised that reclaiming her sexuality is possible and she is now embarking on a rich journey of self discovery. Thank you Gwyneth for sending this ripple out into the world!
This woman’s email also touched me with sadness, for all the millions out there that who do feel there is something wrong with them – this is what fires my passion. I too thought I was ‘defective’ and I promise you, if you are feeling this you are not!
To give you more of an insight into this world, here is some ways that I work with Sexological Bodywork in my client sessions. Sexological Bodywork is more than the hands on work that was mentioned in the programme and I am sharing these case studies to illustrate this. These days most of my sessions are done online and so much of what was explored in Sex Love and Goop can also be done online.
This is just a little glimpse into my world and what I do and here I am highlighting the practical side of the work. There is also the coaching and the education piece. All of my sessions are tailored to where the client is at. I have some clients who may never do the type of work I write about below and I have other clients who find these type of sessions are exactly what they need. There is no wrong or right here, we work together each step of the way as you keep exploring the goldilocks spot on this journey – what is just right for you.
Natalie had no relationship with her vulva and her vagina and she was experiencing pain at times during penetration. She didn’t feel any sensation inside her vagina and because of this, she hadn’t had a relationship for a while as she was nervous about the pain reoccurring.
We talked about her sexual history and her life and explored how she felt about her vulva and vagina. We discussed the type of sex she’d been having, what she’d really enjoyed, what she didn’t enjoy and the areas that she felt stuck with, for example, she didn’t know what was pleasurable for her and she found communication really uncomfortable. She thought that sex ‘should’ just happen easily and effortlessly and that her partner ‘should’ just know what she likes. Her belief was that as this area of her life wasn’t easy for her, there was something ‘wrong’ with her.
We spent time exploring her relationship with her body, what she noticed about her body and naming this, noticing how her breathing was and if and where there was tension in her body. We explored a number of other gentle practices such as guiding Natalie to touch her own hand, slowly without any agenda, again to see what she noticed. This as is often the case, was a profound experience as Natalie realised that she always touched herself with an agenda of arousing herself which as she shared, was often laced with frustration. She found touching herself this way was very relaxing and I could visibly see the shifts in her body as she adjusted herself in the chair and her face softened.
We worked together for six months at a gentle pace with time for practicing and exploring and integrating what Natalie was experiencing and learning.
VULVA MIRROR MAGIC
When Natalie felt ready, I guided her through a session where she looked at her own vulva in the mirror. We were on Zoom and Natalie chose to have the camera off. Natalie was in the privacy and the relaxed space of her own home yet I was right there with her. We discussed everything beforehand and Natalie knew there was no goal to get to and that she could pause or stop anytime.
I guided Natalie through some relaxation practices and when she was ready she looked at her vulva. We spent time on this as she told me what she saw and how she felt about her vulva. She was able to ask questions about what certain things were that she wasn’t sure about. She shared how she thought her lips were lopsided and I explained how normal this is.
At the beginning of this session there was both a mix of excitement and nerves in Natalie. As time went on, her curiosity grew as she had never looked at herself in this way before. A big realisation for her was that she could see how this lack of relationship with her vulva and vagina was affecting her pleasure and her ability to enjoy sex. She shared how she was scared to look at herself as she didn’t think her vulva was ‘beautiful’ as it didn’t look like the other vulvas she had seen.
As well as the mirror work we did a session talking about her genital anatomy and the vast network of erectile tissue available to her that most people don’t know about. I love this session as everyone is blown away by it. I shared some images of others women vulvas so that Natalie could see how different women are. She started to appreciate that her vulva was just fine.
Natalie started creating a relationship and a friendship with her vulva and vagina which she cultivated day to day through awareness and attention, massage and curiosity, movement and dancing, bringing this whole area of her body to life.
Another key sessions is what is known as Vulva Mapping. The intention is to notice and explore the feelings and sensations (this can include numbness) that are present in the vulva and vagina.
When you touch yourself it is often with an agenda, to turn yourself on and with that and often many other reasons (wanting to please partners, wanting to be sexually ‘perfect’, not knowing what else to do etc), women either don’t notice what is there (i.e. numbness) or they override their bodies signals such as discomfort or pain to try and find pleasure or can shut down altogether.
The practice of vulva mapping is exploring what is there as opposed to what is not there. What is not happening is often the focus i.e. I am not aroused enough, I am not aroused like a used to be or I’m feeling pain and I want to feel pleasure etc Being present to your body, again with no agenda, focusing on what is there without trying to change anything is a whole new experience for most of the people I work with.
As I guided Natalie, through the vulva mapping session, Natalie connected to many places on her vulva that she realised she didn’t know and that she’d never touched. Her focus, as is many women’s, is on the clitoris and on penetration and the penetration, whether it be with fingers, a dildo or a cock, is often hard and gets faster. For Natalie it was a revelation to touch herself with the intention of discovering what is true in her body.
Natalie realised how little she knew about her body and what a foreign place the inside of her vaginal canal is (many women have no relationship with the inside of their vaginas and therefore feel little or no sensation. To me this is the key reason many women don’t experience orgasms during penetration). She felt some sadness about this and shed some tears, then felt some anger that she got to this stage in her life (46) without knowing the magic of her body. This often happens with my clients.
She found places that felt wonderful, she found places that felt numb and she noticed how her body responded to her own touch and where she felt tension as she anticipated the discomfort that she experienced in the past.
Within the space and safety of the session, where there was no pressure on her to achieve anything or get anywhere. Natalie was able to experience her body in a very different way as she had the space to deeply listen to her body and from that place make choices about what she did next – sometimes she paused, sometimes she moved, she’d explore different types of touch and massage, all done super slowly. Slowing down, she noticed the automatic habits in her body and the impact they were having on her. She cried some more as she contemplated that her past partners and lovers had never touched her this way and how she wasn’t able to ask them as she didn’t know this was possible.
She continued this exploration at home, with relaxed self massage and overtime experienced more sensation on her vulva and in her vagina. As her knowledge and her confidence in her body grew, in future sessions Natalie explored what type of touch was pleasurable and how to cultivate and expand that with tools such as breath, making sound, relaxation and moving her sexual arousal.
With deep curiosity and an openness to learn, Natalie got to know and trust her own body, what she enjoyed and how to create that for herself. We discussed how intimacy might look with her next partner and how she can start any future relationship with open conversations around sex and intimacy.
Natalie came back to me many months later in a new relationship and this was the first time in a relationship that she didn’t try to be something she wasn’t or try and fit into the ideas she imagined her partner had of her (we’d also explored her pattern of putting others needs before her own and trying to please everyone). She contacted me as she was amazed that she could be herself and her new partner still wanted to be with her.
She was finding it was taking courage to be herself and to ask for what she wanted and needed but she knew this was the only way and she was having the best relationship she’d ever experienced. She was having penetrative sex for the first time without any pain by honouring what she needed.
With the vulva mirror and mapping work, I have some clients who don’t need this, some who prefer to do vulva mirror work and vulva mapping on their own at home and others who really welcome the support and guidance. We explore together so you can find out what is just right for you.
JENNY & CHRIS
Jenny (42) and Chris (44) came to me because their relationship of many years was wonderful, yet the sex was getting less and less frequent and they couldn’t understand why. They knew it was the missing piece and they reached out to see if they could revitalise their sex life.
As I got to know them I discovered that they rarely spoke about sex and when they did, the conversations were about it being a ‘problem’ so the conversations inevitably got less and less. And as happens for many couples I work with, it’s easier to put on and the Netfix box set than deal with the situation as they simply didn’t know what to do.
Jenny was worried there was something wrong with them as this area of their relationship was not happening ‘naturally’ and that if they couldn’t resolve this, it might affect their future. They both wanted to wipe the slate clean and start again and both were willing which is a great place to start from.
We explored what they really enjoyed in the past, why they were so attracted to each other and when and where they feel the most attraction to each other. Through contemplation and conversation they shared with each other their vision of what a wonderful sex life looks like to each of them. We looked at the rhythms of their every day life and what might be affecting their intimacy.
Even though this area was not comfortable to talk about they were both very courageous and each time they talked, a little bit more of them felt safer to talk and they realised that talking about sex was far better than ignoring it and they knew it was getting easier.
When we discussed their sex life, they shared how it had become very routine, with the focus on heading to penetration as quickly as possible – wham bam until the deed was done. We used the model I have created, Intimate Sexuality, to compare the type of sex they were having to the type of sex they dreamed of.
Intimate Sexuality is a model I created to articulate how you can move from the goal based model of sex (always heading towards the goal of penetration/orgasm with all the activity getting hotter and faster and centred around the genitals).
Intimate Sexuality is foundations for a healthy sex life – pleasure orientated, authentic, present, relaxed, creative and curious with great communication. You can read about it here. Jenny and Chris could see that there was nothing up with them. Neither of them had any valuable sex education, both had beliefs that good sex in a relationship ‘should’ just happen and they didn’t have the language to talk about it.
Foundational to my work and the Sexological Bodywork training is the Wheel of Consent – I highly recommend checking this out (would have been wonderful to see this on Sex, Love & Goop). Wheel of Consent is a way of exploring the dynamics of consent, pleasure and communication and we explored these exercises for example, requesting your partner touch you on your hand in a certain way. This may seem very simple and sometimes clients look at me when I suggest them as if to say – ‘really’, then they experience the magic. These exercises can illuminate so much such as the relationship patterns and what’s missing for example, noticing how you don’t know what to ask for or how uncomfortable it is to ask for what you want or where you might be focusing on how the other person feels and find it difficult to have the attention on yourself.
We had a number of practical sessions grounded in the different aspects of the Intimate Sexuality model. We explored some of the foundational tools of breath, making sound, relaxed movement and moving pleasure through the body. I guided Jenny and Chris to touch each other – one giving the other receiving whilst they practiced these tools. Jenny and Chris continued exploring these exercises by themselves.
Having a practitioner guide can be invaluable as when things come up, you can work through the experiences in the space such as you have a question about the exercise or don’t feel your partner is understanding what you’re asking for or your finding it challenging to stay present. Whereas at home these things can become sticking points and it’s easy to get frustrated or give up.
Exploring in the sessions also helps to bring understanding, fun and lightness to an area that had become heavy. The couples are then able to go home and practice what they are learning with more inner resources and confidence.
As I frequently say to clients, you don’t learn a musical instrument by sitting down and talking about it with a teacher. You practice it with a teacher and then you go home and practice some more and it’s exactly the same when it comes to this. It’s in the practice where this all comes alive.
We don’t have a practice of a culture of practice when it comes to sex. We’re just expected to show up in the bedroom and for it to all work smoothly and perfectly, but like anything, whether we’re on our own or with partner/s, we need time to tune in and get to know ourselves, our bodies and our pleasure.
With Jenny and Chris we explored how to bring more playfulness, and fun adventure back into their relationship. Adults get far too serious and connecting with playfulness and laughter brings more magic to the everyday. They began to create more time for connection with each other by carving out more time away from emails, work and other distractions.
They started to plan sex dates. Clients often resist this at first but if you didn’t plan to go out for a coffee with your friends, if you didn’t plan to go on holiday, it wouldn’t happen, and the same as when it comes to sex. The container of planned time then creates space for spontaneity to happen, and then more spontaneity happens outside of it as couples creating more erotic space in their relationship.
Jenny and Chris were talking and communicating more and not just about sex. They thought communication was great in their relationship and through this work they could see areas where they could get better. It was getting easier to ask each other for what they wanted, to share their desires without any pressure and to experiment and explore with each other. The quality of their lovemaking changed, as they deepened their connection with each other, and Jenny was experiencing multiple orgasms from penetration, something she had never experienced before.
If you got this far, thank you for reading. This is just a glimpse into my day to day life and it’s my absolute joy to do this work.
If this has aroused your curiosity or you’re thinking, ‘how do I get started?’ take a look at my 1-1 sexual empowerment coaching programme for women or Ignite Your Pleasure, my private coaching programme for couples. It take courage to do this work but it’s so so incredibly rewarding and I’d be delighted to support you. You can book a free consultation call with me here.
If you are interested in training as a Sexological Bodyworker you can read about the UK, Ireland and Portugal training.
And hit reply and tell me how you found this blog. I’d love to hear your thoughts.