‘Take my pussy!” yells the woman gyrating on the yoga mat beside me.
“Yes!” call out other women in this dimly lit room, infused with aromatherapy scents. I’m sweating and feel ready to rip off my clothes.
Before I go any further, I must explain that I haven’t entered some strange cult. Rather, I’m learning how to have better sex.
That’s right, welcome to adult sex education or, as this workshop is being billed, Pleasure Weekend.
So why am I attending this sex school? I’m almost 30 and have been largely sexually active my entire adult life. I think I know what I like and what I don’t.
Aside from partaking in the act of sex, there was little I knew about sex outside of the education I got in high school sex ed classes and from the pages of Cosmopolitan magazine.
The rest of the time, I was left to my own devices and picked up what I thought was right “on the job”. That on-the-job training ensured that the majority of my sexual experiences have been anything but pleasurable.
I hate to admit this, but for the longest time I put the needs of my partner before mine. This is what we women are largely and falsely told to believe. I was once made to feel guilty when a man I was dating attempted to pleasure me, but he gave up because it was taking so long for me to reach an orgasm. It must be me, I thought, and accepted the fact that it was okay if he never pleased me.
As an African woman, the only other time I’ll ever get a sexual education in my adult life is before I get married, as is the custom for many women in my native Zambia. I’m told, by the initiated, that you’re taught moves and positions for better sex, though it’s largely centred on pleasing your husband.
What if I don’t get married? Or get married at 50? Does that mean another two decades of kind-of-okay sex and learning on the job? After my past experiences, I was not willing to take that risk and I decided to send myself to sex school.
So here I am. Sitting cross-legged on a mat with about 20 other women from all walks of life. This being Australia, I’m the only black woman present.
Our instructor is a sexologist named Vanessa. She begins by putting us at ease, encouraging us to discuss why we are there.
One woman, the picture of suburban Australia with her blonde hair and perfectly manicured hands, tells us she has been married for 20 years. Her husband has experienced various levels of porn addiction during 18 of those and she misses intimacy as a result.
Another woman tells us her tale of almost newlywed status (it’s been three years of marriage) and says she has no desire to have sex with her husband. It’s not a low libido thing, because she enjoyed having sex before getting married. She just prefers to run for pleasure now.
Then there’s the twentysomething woman sitting next to me, who has just left an emotionally abusive relationship. I find myself reaching for a tissue as she describes her pain, because it’s got all deep really quickly.
I decide to make myself comfortable and lie down on the blanket provided as Vanessa goes through a slick Power Point presentation. She starts at the beginning. Literally. With the privates.
Our reproductive anatomy is projected in front of us, in all its illustrated glory. As Vanessa goes through each part, I realise I’ve been calling what I thought was my vagina the wrong thing. It’s actually a vulva, everything external we see down there is the vulva. The vagina is internal, the birth canal.
Before I could get used to relearning the correct terminology for my lady bits, Vanessa tells us she refers to her vulva as yoni. Sanskrit for sacred cave, she adds.
The rest of the presentation is like a fun facts segment. Did you know that the full research of the female reproductive organs wasn’t completed until 1998? Did you know that the clitoris is the only organ in either gender that is purely designed for pleasure and nothing else? Speaking of the clitoris, did you know that it grows throughout a woman’s lifetime? It has more nerve endings than a penis — 8?000 compared with 4?000.
I have never been this intrigued and fascinated by what goes on down there. Vanessa tells us that each one of our yonis is different and unique, and we shouldn’t be going around looking for perfection because there’s no such thing.
T he vagina, she says, is our creative and confidence centre. This is the place that houses our creative energy and, apparently, if ever you feel a disconnect from your sexuality, it means getting back to that creative space by taking part in activities such as dancing, painting, life drawing classes … you get the idea.
And for any women reading this who aren’t in the mood for sex, it could be owing to the pudendal and pelvic nerves, which are connected to the vagina, cervix and clitoris and meet at the lower back. Basically, if you have lower back pain issues, it’s highly likely that you’ll want to have sex.
Why haven’t we been taught this? Our reproductive organs are so vital to each of us, yet we have glossed over educating women (and men) about these wonderful parts of our bodies that not only create life but also provide us with much pleasure.
What stands out most to me during this part of the workshop is the importance of sexual health for our mental health. Vanessa tells us that sex is more than just the physical, for which foreplay begins at the end of the last orgasm. Basically, everything you do after your last sex session plays a part in how you enjoy and experience sex with your partner.
It’s not about positions, Vanessa says. Or even orgasms. I gasp. Then what’s it all about? According to Vanessa, a lot of us are conditioned to seek goal-oriented sex. That you have to have an incredible orgasm or it’s not worth it.
We’re told to let go of that idea because the pressure of experiencing those sorts of orgasms can lead to an unhealthy and unsatisfying sex life for both partners.
Expectations are the quick road to bad sex. This idea that we’ll enjoy something because we enjoyed it last week, or that because past partners enjoyed oral sex this partner will enjoy it too, is a big no-no.
It’s about eliminating expectations and giving your partner what they want, not what you think they want, and vice versa. Everyone is different and who we are today is different to who we’ll be next week.
So why should how we experience pleasure not evolve as we do? Sex, we’re reminded, is more than just the physical. A happy and healthy sex life is one that allows openness in communication, experimentation and respect. Sometimes a massage is all you need and your partner should be able to respect and understand that.
Vanessa suggests reading (or writing) erotica with your partner in bed instead of having sex; telling each other what you’d like to experience is one way to ensure your sex life is a healthy one. And here I was thinking that great sex was about which positions made you orgasm more — or better. Interestingly, you can experience different types of orgasms, and some of them don’t involve penetration.
We spend the rest of the workshop doing what Vanessa calls sensual yoga. It’s similar to normal yoga, just with more movement around your pelvic region.
As she puts on some entrancing world music, we’re encouraged to let go of all inhibitions, leave our minds altogether and be present in our bodies. At some stage we’re told to move our bodies in whatever way we feel and we’re encouraged to use our voices as well. The woman in front of me decides to let go completely, thrusting and moaning as though she’s having sex.
Everyone soon follows and, despite my cynicism, I too choose to let go (slightly). I find that the less I think about how I look gyrating my hips and making sounds, the more I feel connected to my body. I find I’m touching myself the way I’d want to be touched and experience a perpetual state of orgasm. Not the When Harry met Sally kind, but the constant pleasant state of orgasm.
“Take my pussy!” I hear myself yelling, joining the chorus of women who had begun to use this three-word catchcry. The workshop ends with a meditation and we’re encouraged to do activities that help build and nurture our self-confidence.
A healthy sex life starts with your relationship with yourself. With that, I leave and re-emerge into the world with a better understanding of what great sex and pleasure means to me. It’s enough to make a girl orgasm.
Santilla Chingaipe is a journalist, producer and news anchor for SBS News in Australia.