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A Book of Its Time – Female Sexual Fantasies by Hanja Kochansky


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Hanja Kochansky, 82, is a free-spirited iconoclast who has led a big life including acting, writing and living in a ménage a trois. Her book, Female Sexual Fantasies was published before Nancy Friday’s Secret Garden in 1972. The excerpt, which is an interview with Yvonne, 74, reads like a document of its time, the only sexual fantasies, in fact, come right at the end!

A Book of Its Time – Female Sexual Fantasies by Hanja Kochansky

I have to confess that it all started because I wanted to earn some money as a writer, and asked myself, what sells? Sex, of course, sells, but what hadn’t been done as yet? Ah, women’s sexual fantasies hadn’t been explored. I certainly knew a lot about those, seeing as I practically never had sex without thinking up elaborate ‘dirty’ scenarios while I was doing it.

I soon found a publisher who gave me a decent advance, and so, armed with tape recorder, curiosity, enthusiasm, and considerable apprehension, I set out to interview many women from different walks of life, and stepped into a labyrinth of euphemisms, revelation, truth, laughter, sorrow and words. I detected an undercurrent – words are distortions, contradictions, hazards. The sentences we’ve been taught automatically shape our notions and label our emotions. And most often, the idioms we’ve been unconsciously indoctrinated with – formulate the patterns of our lifestyle. I tried to avoid these traps and pitfalls as I endeavoured to arrive at each meeting fresh, without preconceived notions, and let the individual talk freely, and in so doing reveal both herself and her sexual fantasies.

I took it for granted I would have no trouble gathering a bouquet of carnal Scheherazade stories, and hey presto, the erotic best-seller would be on bookshelves. I was wrong. As I found myself unwittingly stepping into lives that I had not given much thought to, I very soon discovered that most of the women I met lived their mundane existence without fantasy, and this reflected in their sexuality.

It’s rare to hear tales of perfumed gardens by chemically sedated housewives, bored-to-death establishment teachers or robotized secretaries. Most often I encountered simply the real need to talk, share secrets, ask questions.

I became a feminist then, when, due to the interviews, I became conscious of the hardships of both ordinary and not-so-ordinary women. As my research proceeded, my heart went out to the women whose secret confessions I heard.

It soon became clear to me that the nature of my own fantasy life was not unique, that multitudes of women shared the masochistic orientation: degradation, brutalization, flagellation and slave images which are so much a part of their role. I felt that if women could verbalize them and share them, perhaps it would serve to clarify both their own sexual identity and to what degree these fantasies are a product of male domination and, therefore, not genuinely their own.

The women arrived organically – one sent the other. They all wanted to talk – for the majority, this would be the first time they could speak openly about their sexual fantasies. I was privileged to be able to give them a voice.

When I presented the manuscript to the publishers they were furious and asked for the advance back. Yeah, sure. They accused me of giving them women’s real stories rather than hot sexual fantasies.

They were right, because as I started to speak to the women, whose lives mostly seemed miserable, I was drawn to their stories.

They did publish it in the end but cut the women’s stories considerably.

When I finally got the rights to my book back I typed my original out and gave the women their voices back as I self-published.

Here is one of them.

YVONNE interviewed in 1971

Seventy-four year old Yvonne chars in a recording studio: she exudes energy as she dances to the music while she sweeps the floor. The full volume which pounds into my brain and hurts my ear-drums doesn’t seem to bother her. She chats, jokes, and speaks loudly in a foreign accent. The sound engineers smoke dope; she refuses the joint, saying she’s never been able to inhale, but accepts a glass of red wine from the producer; then goes to the pub next door, brings back toasted sandwiches for everyone, makes coffee in the studio kitchen, gives her opinion on the music. Her grey hair is pulled back in a bun; her round face speaks of good-natured as do her bespectacled, lively black eyes. She laughs and laughs, showing horsy teeth; her short, stocky body is strong. Everybody in the studio loves her: she’s part of the group.

I ask her shyly if she’ll talk about her sexual fantasies. “Sure dear,” she says enthusiastically. We make an appointment to meet at her flat.

Her bed-sitter is in an airless, dark, damp basement in a seedy building in a characterless street: a non-residential area almost exclusively utilized during the day by office workers.

A couch which doubles as her bed, two standard sofas, a green rug, and several small coffee tables covered with lace doilies and many framed photographs of her children, grandchildren, herself when she was much younger and her family in Belgium. Well-cared for rubber plants, potted violets and ferns all giving an impression of warm overcrowding. The sparkling-clean bathroom, she tells me, has only been installed a few years ago after much pressure on her part.

In the diminutive kitchen yeast pills, organic medicines, herbs, vitamin C, brown rice and potted herbs crowd on each other. After our talk, she was going to the Health Food Fair which had opened the previous day.

She likes to go to the cinema, spends time in the pub, but finds that usually she can’t communicate with her contemporaries.

Born in a village on the periphery of Brussels she’s been living in London ever since she married her Irish husband.

She serves me jasmine tea.

*******

“I’ve been by myself for twenty years now. I don’t hate men, I tolerate them. I like men’s conversation and I like men’s company, but I don’t want to know further than that. I regard sex . . . I can feel it in myself that it’s not dead, but I don’t want it. I sometimes think it would be nice to meet someone, a companion, nice and loving, but as soon as I start saying, he’s a nice chap, why don’t you bring him home, my husband comes right back, right into my mind I get him, and I revolt against him . . . a kind of revulsion inside me. The first thing that comes into my mind is, they only want you for sex purposes, and I don’t want a person for sex purpose only. Sex without love for me . . . yes . . . you enjoy it the same . . . but it’s not satisfaction.

“A few months ago a bloke had the cheek to come and say to me – he’s younger, about 20 years younger than me – he has the cheek to come and ring my bell and says: ‘Yvonne, whenever you feel you want sex I can oblige. It’s my duty to make you come.”

“I could have hit him, but he’s bigger than me, so I shut the door in his face. And he was an intelligent person because he was a housemaster . . . but he has no sense. Sex is not duty; sex is because you want that person. How can the brain of a person work so it thinks that it’s a duty?”

“My husband wasn’t what you might call a very good man. Oh, there’s not another person on the face of the earth, no matter what nationality, like my husband. I have wasted my time in every kind of way. No satisfaction in sex, no satisfaction in love, no satisfaction in having a good husband and father.”

“Well, I loved my husband when we first married and he killed absolutely everything . . . I mean right down to the respect I had for him, and by killing that he killed the lot. I’ve had so much to put up with. I’ve got five children by him and he’s never treated me like a person . . . anybody look at me he’d punch them in the nose – because that belongs to me. He’d make me feel like a piece of furniture. Well, your dream gets broken I suppose. He was like an animal, if you understand what I mean . . . he wants it, no matter if you was half dead, he had to have it . . . he called that my duty.”

“Sex to me should be loving, tender, warm, beautiful. With flowers and poetry. How can men satisfy themselves in sex and then leave you behind? How can they make a person happy, how can they call that love?”

“Well, you don’t realize it at the time that you are not satisfied. I had to put up with him for thirty years and then I couldn’t bear it any longer and it was finished. Now if you come and tell me he’s dead, alright, the neighbour is dead too.”

“When I first came to England I heard a woman saying that there was nothing on the face of the earth more disgusting than childbirth. And I thought, well, I don’t know if she’s going barmy or if she doesn’t understand, or if I’m unusual. I was very sentimental as a young girl and very home loving and I didn’t mind having children because I love children. I don’t regard them as sex, if you know what I mean.”

“You see when I come to England I couldn’t speak English at all and it took me quite a long time. In those days you wasn’t allowed to speak about sex. You wasn’t even allowed to mention period time. My husband said my period was a dirty thing. In Belgium it was different. When a girl becomes a young woman – the first period she had – the family gave her a little present and they make a special occasion, the whole family, men, women, boys; and they know she’s a young lady now and they give her presents because they are thankful she has become a woman.”

“In Belgium, you talk about sex. When I was young they talked about sex more there than here now. They have jokes as well. Here they talk about sex as if you’ve got to shove it under the carpet or something. What’s there to be ashamed of? And another thing – my father was at the birth of all us children, and I’m seventy-four, so that’s not new, is it? Here it’s new. Now, why? He’s the father, why can’t he see the child born? I think if the father was to be at the child’s birth they’ll be better fathers and becoming better fathers they’ll be better husbands and better lovers. But not such a coward as the ones who don’t want to be there.”

“Also I used to strip at the waist in one house I lived that had no bath. I always do, to wash every day, and I didn’t think anything was wrong, then my husband’s sister said I was dirty. But I’d just washed myself!!! You see because my mind didn’t work that way, I said: ‘I just washed myself, how can I be dirty?’ ‘Fancy doing it in front of the children,’ she said. ‘Do what in front of the children? I never done anything wrong in front of the children.’ ‘You strip,’ she said. Oh my God! So you have to feed your baby, and you strip to the waist and that’s called dirty also. Now, this I can’t think why.”

“Is sex dirty? Still, to some people it is because they make it. Like my husband. As I said he acted like an animal and therefore sex was dirty in his mind, except when he needed it and then it was a kind of my duty. But not lovable . . . It’s so very difficult when you come across people like that . . . well, to put it plainly, they turn you off.”

“But I think the young people, they’re all right. I realize it more and more by seeing the young people. They are free, free of mind. But the older people . . . “

“Well, of course, I’m alone most of the time. I do go back to Belgium sometimes to see my sister, yes, and last year I went to Spain to see one of my sons who lives there. Well, I don’t mind where I live – there are good things everywhere. But I would like to see more of my children. The thing is, my family, I don’t know whether they’re trying to be funny or what is wrong with them, they say I talk too much, but that’s because I’m so much alone that when I get the chance to have somebody, I think I chatter, chatter. They want to know why I talk so much. They don’t realize that they talk just as much as me.”

“Now, another thing is a woman, when she has a child, she loves her child. Why a man is jealous of his children I don’t understand. They start to think that they don’t get the attention, but they do, you see, if they look at it properly, they do. You love your husband just as much as you love

your children – I did – and the things he is able to do for himself, surely he don’t expect you to do it when you’ve got youngsters that need to be attended to. That’s where the man goes wrong; they don’t want to do for themselves that which they are capable of doing.”

“It starts with the mothers, doesn’t it? I brought up four boys and one girl and I used to say: ‘All right, you get up and you do that, you do this, and you do that’. And one day Paul came in and said: ‘Not my job to wash up; Mary’s job to wash up.’ ‘Mary’s job to wash up?’ I said. ‘Yes, it’s Mary’s job to wash up. She’s a girl.’ So I said, ‘What difference it makes, you’re a boy and you eat like her, don’t you? Every job has to be done by everybody, and you’ll find out when you grow up.’“

“Now, some women say if their husbands really loved them they couldn’t go somewhere else . . . with another woman. In my feelings as a woman, I think a woman can’t do it. A woman feels guilty when she goes with somebody else because she’s doing it without love, but a man, although he’s in love with his wife, he can still go with another person because a man in his own mind wants a certain kind of satisfaction. A woman thinks there should be love on both sides, and that’s why there are more women who are true lovers than men.”

“Now, if I think how I would like to make sex, it would be with a gentleman who really loves me and thinks of my pleasure as well as his. He would kiss me all over, like my husband never did, and tell me he loves me. And we would have this lovely sunny bedroom with lots of mirrors and flowers and wall-to-wall beige carpets. And there would be pink satin sheets on the bed.”

AofA People: Stephanie Theobald – Writer


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Stephanie Theobald, 52, is a writer and sex rebel. The Times once described her as ‘One of London’s most celebrated literary lesbians’ but that was before she started having a bi-sexual relationship with novelist, Jake Arnott. Interestingly, she says in her AoA Q & A that she seems to be at her most attractive right now to both men and women. Her latest non-fiction book Sex Drive – On The Road To A Pleasure Revolution is her fascinating road trip across the USA using self-pleasure to find her lost libido. BBC Arts described it as ‘Part Jack Kerouac, part Joan Didion’. It’s out on Oct 18th.

Age (in years)

52

Where do you live?

Between London and LA

What do you do?

I’m a writer: journalism, corporate – whatever pays the rent and allows me to do what I really want such as write a book about female masturbation.

Tell us what it’s like to be your age?

People joke about it but turning 50 does actually feel like walking through a ring of fire. But now I’m 52 I can honestly say that I’m confident about the second half of my life. Having seen a big love of my life die of breast cancer, I’m seeing this stretch of life as icing on the cake and what brilliant icing it is. I don’t care so much about what people think of me. I’m like, I’ll write a book about female masturbation because I don’t want to spend the next 50 years writing about the latest trendy restaurant in a swivel chair in a newspaper. It’s like that line from The Wild One: What are you rebelling against and Brando goes, “What have you got?”

Stephanie Theobald

What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?

More confidence, better orgasms

What about sex?

See above. Weirdly, I seem to be more attractive to men and women at the age of 52. I’ve never had such a great lingerie collection. Cheap, “dirty whore” lingerie because that turns me on the most.

And relationships?

Just evolving from a 10 year relationship with a bisexual man. Still lots of deep love there but sexually, we both realised we needed to open it up. Mainly having booty calls with women right now.

How free do you feel?

Ludicrously free, but freedom’s not always an easy one. Joseph Campbell encouraged people to “follow your bliss” but then he later added that he should have said, “follow your blisters” because bliss can be a roller coaster ride too.

What are you proud of?

Having slept on sofas for the past 3 years and sacrificed the safe and prestigious road of having a proper swivel chair job in order to write a book about honest female sexuality that none of the mainstream publishing houses would touch but which has since been endorsed by the likes of Emma Thompson, Baroness Helena Kennedy and punk poet John Cooper Clarke

Advantages of Age | The Advantages of Age

What keeps you inspired?

Masturbation, hanging out with the under-30s, nature

When are you happiest?

When I’m hugging a tree or scudding along on my bicycle

And where does your creativity go?

Sometimes I dream of being a bricklayer. I look out of my flat window in London and I see the guy on the building site making a regular £200 a day creating a wall and I think, That’s the kind of creativity I’d like because creating a world on a piece of paper can be exhausting. But all ways of making money are a nightmare in the end. The best creativity is when you are not aware you are being ‘creative’ so it’s not a strain. Coming up with a masturbation fantasy is a good example of this. Sexual fantasies make Marquis de Sades and JK Rowlings of us all.

What’s your philosophy of living? Stay in the moment. 

And dying? A Mexican once told me that people in his culture “flirt with death” and I can see that. I think death pervades everything. In a good orgasm, there is always a taste of the infinite and ergo a taste of death. I think death and sex are definitely on the same spectrum. My experience of watching a beloved former love die before my eyes was the most terrible, most beautiful thing I have ever seen. The experience will live with me forever and ultimately it inspired me to write Sex Drive which is about loss as well as sex.

Are you still dreaming?

Always dreaming. My regular dreams revolve around Sex Drive being made into a movie. My masturbation dreams revolve around a spaceship and a woman with big breasts and a voice like Brigitte Bardot.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

Masturbating in front of 40 people during a “Fifty Shades of Kink” sex symposium in San Francisco.

Sex Drive is out on 18th October. You can purchase a copy here.

Culture Interview with author of The Ethical Slut, Janet W Hardy.


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Janet W. Hardy is a provocative American sex educator and one of the leading authors and publishers on alternative sexualities including BDSM, polyamory and alternative gender/orientation expression. Author of ten books, including her notorious and groundbreaking guide to polyamory and open relationships The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities (co-authored with Dossie Easton), Hardy has been one of the most infectious and compelling voices of consensual non-monogamy and the pursuit of (ethical) pleasure for more than twenty years.

She is doing a talk in London on Oct 3rd. You can purchase a ticket here.

We’re called Advantages of Age and we’re hopefully challenging media stereotypes around ageing, do you see this pursuit as relevant to you and your work? Could you tell us how old you are?

I’m 63, due to turn 64 in February. Not quite old-old, but not really middle-aged anymore either.

Your new book is called Impervious – Confessions of a Semi-Retired Deviant – so we were wondering what you are still up to as a deviant?

I think of myself as a “deviant emeritus” – with all the knowledge and experience I acquired over three decades of exploring alternative erotic behaviors, gender expressions and relationship structures, but not very actively involved in any of them anymore – hence “semi-retired.”

Could you let us into a few juicy interludes that you have included? Why did you want to write this memoir?

I wanted to write it for a few reasons. First, because I think any one individual’s personal experience of kink gives a very different perspective on kink as a whole than can be gleaned by a media-filtered overview. Second, because I don’t think enough has been written about kink as an ecstatic experience, and for me, that’s by far the most important aspect of BDSM. Third, because it’s fun to write a smutty graphic recounting of some of the amazing experiences I’ve had through the years.

 Some of my favorite chapters of the book include one about an encounter in which a group of women spent an evening preparing a very small woman to be fisted for the first time by her very large husband; one about an encounter where my partner and I broke the common BDSM rule about “never play while angry,” and one about agreeing to become a substitute disciplinarian for a dominant who was out of the country and could not properly chastise his slave.

You and Dossie Easton wrote Ethical Slut over 10 years ago, why did you use the word slut and has it served the cause?

Actually, the first edition was published in 1997, so that’s upwards of 20 years now. In the beginning, we were calling it “The Ethical Slut” as a working title, kind of a joke between us – it was a phrase Dossie had invented, but we never thought we’d actually publish under that title. But as we tried to come up with something more socially acceptable, all we could find were horrible clunky textbook-sounding things like “Multiple Loving for the Coming Millennium,” blargh. Finally, we had to get our cover designer started, and we really couldn’t think of another title than “The Ethical Slut,” and some friends encouraged us to go for it, so we did. And it turned out to be a brilliant move. I think we helped jumpstart a whole new part of the sex-positive movement, one in which people of any age, gender or orientation can claim the title “slut” with pride.

Is society catching up with you now? How do you view polyamory and pansexuality now? Has your attitude towards polyamory changed?

My attitude hasn’t changed at all – I think polyamory is one of many excellent ways to manage a relationship, and that any relationship style that works for the people in the relationship is great. But there’s no question that polyamory is far more broadly understood and more socially acceptable than it was in 1997. There was a Newsweek cover, there was a reality series, there have been uncountable newspaper and magazine articles, podcasts, etc. 

I do want to note, however, that pansexuality and polyamory are not the same thing. Pansexuality is a retooling of “bisexuality” for people who believe that bisexuality implies only two genders (it doesn’t). Polyamorous people can be hetero, bi, pan, ace, gay, or any other sexual identity.

I guess the Metoo campaign has made ethical all the more important?

I think what #metoo has done is brought to the forefront a very long-overdue conversation about the nature of sexual consent – and that’s a conversation that’s changing shape almost daily. Poly people do not have a monopoly on ethical sexuality. Everyone, whether they identify as monogamous, poly or something else, has to consider the ramifications of their sexual and romantic behaviors, which must be respectful, consent-aware, honest and growth-oriented in order to be considered ethical.

Polyamory is difficult to do – jealousy has to be dealt with – but do you think it’s easier for older people?

I don’t really have an opinion on that. On one hand, older people are often more comfortable with who we are as individuals, with less need to seek out romantic partnerships in order to feel whole. But older people got indoctrinated into normative monogamy at a very early age, and may have to work harder to overcome that conditioning. Younger people these days are likelier to enter the sexual/romantic arena with more sense of what possibilities are out there, but they may not have as much self-awareness as older folks, and self-awareness is essential to ethical poly.

Are you in a non-traditional marriage?

Sure am! My spouse and I are both genderqueer, bisexual and kinky, none of which makes us all that non-traditional in the groups we run in. However, we have never had sexual intercourse, and we no longer have any form of genital sex, which is still pretty non-traditional, even among our perverted friends.

How has ageing affected your desires on the BDSM and leather front?

My libido is certainly not what it once was, but it’s still very present. However, I rarely-to-never feel the desire to indulge it with anybody but myself. I still do the very occasional BDSM scene, either as part of a lecture/demonstration or with an old and beloved friend, but the hunger that sent me to play parties every weekend and play dates once or twice a week is not part of my life anymore, and I find I rarely miss it much.

What do you see as the possibilities re ageing and sexuality?

I think the work being done in alternative sexuality toward creating forms of sex that are not predicated on penetrative intercourse (we sex educators call this “outercourse”) has the potential to be extremely helpful for older folks who still want the excitement and connection of sex. Penetrative stuff can very often be problematic with older bodies – penises refuse to get or stay stiff, vaginas get stubborn about lubricating. But outercourse can be fun for anyone.

I see you have also been into tantra and full body orgasms?

Yes. When my coauthor Dossie and I were researching our book “Radical Ecstasy: S/M Journeys in Transcendence,” we took many tantra classes together and had some astonishing experiences. While I don’t think full-body orgasms scratch exactly the same itch as genital orgasms, I also believe in having lots of arrows in my quiver, so I like doing some of each!

Are you still working with Dossie Easton? I was intrigued by the scenes that you two set up together when you’re writing about sexuality.

We don’t have any new books in process – we don’t have anything that urgently needs saying right now, but if that changes, we’ll definitely be back at our keyboards. 

Our scenes together have always been part of our process as writers. If there’s an issue on which we need clarity, we create a scene to explore it together. I don’t think I can recommend our technique to all coauthors, but it’s worked pretty well for us for thirty years now.

Are we making progress re openness and sexuality as a society, do you think?

Right now, depressingly enough, we’re in the midst of a sex panic – finding ways to talk about important sexual information is more challenging right now than I think it’s been since the Internet started enabling people to share information about sex. But I don’t think the genie of good sex information is going to go back into the bottle. There is a lot more information about sexuality than there was when I was young – I was pushing 30 by the time I figured out that I wasn’t the only person in the world who got turned on thinking about spanking, and it’s hard to imagine that happening now. But the more forthright and informative sex information becomes, the greater the pushback against it from conservative forces who want to restrict sex to a very narrow form of expression (married/heterosexual/fertile/etc.).

What’s important to you now re sexuality and desire?

Self-awareness, access to information and tools (any older person who does not have a bottle of lube on their nightstand is missing out on a lot), fighting back against shame and oppression.

What mistakes have you made on the relationship front and where have they led you?

I am by nature a caretaker, and that’s led me down some unfortunate paths. I don’t think I get to stop being a caretaker in this lifetime, but I have gotten better about distinguishing between caretaking and codependency, and at looking for relationships where my caretaking is met with appreciation and echoed by someone who wants to take care of me too.

Can we be old and bold on the sexuality and relationship front? And what does that look like for you?

The best thing about being old, as far as I can see, is getting over caring what strangers think of you (aka “having no fucks left to give”). I fear that many older people avoid being overtly sexual because they think they’ll look ridiculous. And what I think about that is, who cares? If you feel hot, and you look hot to the person you’re in bed with, what some twentysomething thinks of you is the least relevant issue imaginable.

For me, this plays out as a lot of experimentation with gender signifiers, and a lot of thinking and discussing the possibilities within our grasp when we let go of conventional thinking about questions like “What is sex?” “What does it mean to be female?” “What do we actually need from relationships?”

What happens when you age – a scientist debunks popular myths about sex and brain power | The Conversation


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Most people view ageing as negative. But, research shows, there’s actually a lot to be positive about. As this ageing of society only really took off in the last century, it’s unsurprising that much of what we think we know about ageing is untrue.

Read the full article here: What happens when you age – a scientist debunks popular myths about sex and brain power | The Conversation

Young Hearts | Vimeo


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Our three couples – Hans (79) & Edith (76), Ellen (84) & Horst (77), Ralf & Kristin (both 73) – have two things in common: After being together for 3, 16, and 51 years they are all still heavily in love.

Watch the video here: Young Hearts | Vimeo

Neha Misra Tries Out Her First Workshop – Naked Dating!


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I have a confession to make, until last weekend I was a virgin in the realm of workshops. Despite being an intuitive life coach and healer, the word ‘workshop’ and the thought of all that navel-gazing with a load of strangers has always made me want to run for the hills. Maybe because I am such a rebel and that it seemed almost ‘de rigueur’ that by a certain age, 53 in my case, with a certain lifestyle, one ought to have attended some kind of self-development workshop/course/retreat.

However, I came at Jan Day’s workshop ‘Meeting without Masks’ in a back to front way that sidestepped all my knee-jerk reactions. I went to a talk she gave in Portobello Road’s Electric House one rainy night in February and was immediately struck by Jan’s gentle energy and the powerful content of her conversation. She discussed intimacy in a way I had not heard spoken about before – with really intelligent observations around consent and about when ‘yes’ truly means ‘yes’ and ‘no’ truly means ‘no’.

I was totally hooked in and wanted to know more, because in the months post the beginning of the ‘Me Too’ movement, I was predominantly working with clients wanting to heal and release their sexual traumas. I liked the way Jan talked about how critical it was to explore one’s own boundaries first, and how vital boundaries are in a trusting relationship.

Of course on the actual day, I wasn’t so keen to go. We were having a rare moment of stunning sunshine after the Beast from the East plus it a was the London Marathon and it felt like the entire world had stepped onto my tube platform, it was worse than any rush hour scrum. Consequently, I was a bewildered hot mess when I arrive a few minutes late.

However, Jan and Frieder, (her husband and co-workshop host) couldn’t have put me more at ease with no judgement. In fact, the moment I walked into the room, I felt the loving playful way in which they were holding the space for everyone. Participants were already sitting down in a circle and the only place left was between Frieder and rather fortuitously the best looking man in the room.

The icebreaker in the first exercise was designed to loosen us up and inspire playfulness was actually my idea of hell, plus it didn’t help that Mr Good Looking was my partner. I was even more flustered. Thankfully, he seemed to find it equally awkward and I sensed a mutual rebellious spirit against anything contrived to force merriment. He had a droll deadpan humour and I couldn’t stop giggling. The group was gender-balanced with ages ranging from mid-20s to early 70s. As we moved onto the next exercise, I could see how cleverly they were designed to subtly yet skilfully lead us into exploring true listening and being present to our partner. I know from my marriage of 18 years that this is an area that gets woefully neglected in long relationships.

Meetings Without Masks or Naked Dating (in other words allowing you to remove your social masks) is not created for participants to get to know one particular person, but more to look at one’s own interactions and to get us accustomed to interacting in more heartfelt ways. As I worked with different partners, it struck me just how many men hadn’t considered what kind of relationship they really wanted. I actually started to really appreciate and respect the courage it took for everyone in the room to articulate this. It wasn’t easy to pull masks off that had built up over the years of self-protection. True intimacy requires vulnerability and that requires courage and most of the people I worked with seemed utterly frozen in their fears of rejection.

As the morning continued, I felt that shifts occurring. That maybe some of those shackles were loosening. Jan and Frieder were pushing us gently yet firmly to move out of our comfort zones. We had been asked to write notes of appreciation about everyone we encountered which would be put into envelopes with our names on it to take home. At one point Frieder even came up to and asked if I had written a note to Mr Good Looking and I recoiled in fear at the mere thought of it. I told him if I ever found a man attractive, it actually made me want to run away or even leave the room. Then to my extreme surprise, he asked me if I had been abused a lot by men, which I had. Having done decades of healing on myself, I was shocked to realise there is so much residual trauma left which still impacts the way I behave in a relationship. This workshop shone a torch into all my dark crevices making me see right into those areas that had yet to be healed.

In another exercise, we had a fabulous opportunity to start an honest dialogue with the opposite sex, which is so rare and precious. We were divided into sexes and invited to think about three questions. Firstly, we were asked to think about one thing that we appreciated about the opposite sex, then to consider one aspect that aggravated us, and finally to ponder a question that had always intrigued us about them.

I found myself in front of Mr Good Looking again and despite my lack of comfort, I forced myself to look into his eyes and tried not to get flustered as more masks came off. His answers were surprising and yet confirmed what I had already realised, we are all scared of getting rejected, and we all just wanted to be accepted, heard and loved. The vulnerability of showing these feelings of fear and discomfort – is real heartfelt intimacy.

By lunchtime, I had a lot of insights to mull over. For a small extra amount of money, there was a delicious vegan and gluten-free buffet.

The kindness and nurturing energy emanated by Jan and Frieder throughout the workshop, reminded me of my doula (trained birthing assistant) when I gave birth. They know that this isn’t an easy process and they hold the space in a strong, loving and supportive way so that participants can push through the layers of social masks to give birth to themselves safely if they wish.

It felt as if time was slowing down as we dived deeply into examining our responses to exercises, which encouraged us to practice vulnerability and openness. We went from less talking to more experiential work. In a very simple exercise where we could explore consent, we walked towards a partner after they had indicated their consent with an open or closed arm gesture. This became a moving, revelatory and extremely powerful experience for me because as someone who was brought up with the ‘disease to please’ simply taking the time to check in with myself that I was okay with moving forward, was an alien concept.

I had to consciously stop myself going on doing what I thought my partner wanted. Although a total stranger, my partner displayed extraordinary kindness by waiting patiently and holding the space in a non-threatening manner. I felt safe so I eventually was ready to move forward. It was the first time in my life that I felt that kind of patience from a man.

Having said that, when I was about three feet away from him, I felt the energy between us dramatically change. So much so that I had to go backwards in a knee-jerk reaction and take a moment before I stepped once again into that challengingly intimate space. It was almost too much for me and even though we hadn’t exchanged a word yet I knew he could feel it too. When I caught his eye, we both burst out laughing with the surprise and intimacy of it all.

The second version of this exercise became even more interesting as it required us to look at what was leading us to make the decision to move forwards or backwards. Was it our head or our sexual desire? Jan knows this is an enormous challenge for most of us and I loved the way she gently introduced it – especially to the men – as a way of unapologetically standing in and embracing one’s own sexuality.

As the day ended, we left holding our envelopes with the notes of appreciation and there was no doubt many masks had been removed. I felt tired but lighter. As I left, Mr Good Looking asked me how I had found it? The energy between us felt different. We had both just done the workshop and it felt as if there was another quality to the communication. I felt as if my words were truly being listened to, as if my words were falling into a deep pile that softly held it.

The truth is that I felt a bit discombobulated after the workshop. I was shocked that at 53 and after an 18-year marriage, I didn’t know how to respond to an attractive man. My traditional response had been to run away. Yet now I could look Mr GL in the eye without needing to control the situation. I could be instead present to the connection we were making.

Therein lies the beauty of this day course. Its tools are so accessible and immediate. Perhaps we were still in the bubble of the workshop, however, I think there was a difference to the quality of our communication as we walked and talked and got to know each other better in the beautiful back streets of Belgravia bathed in spring sunshine.

Later that night, I read the notes of appreciation we had been encouraged to write. Mine were touching and sweet. They reminded me of the courage that it takes to be vulnerable. True intimacy is so scary for so many of us, especially for those who have never had it. The last note I opened was from Mr GL, it said; ‘I loved your infectious joy, positivity, sense of mischief and curiosity – and your jewellery which was nearly as plentiful as mine.’

As for what happened next with Mr GL, well that’s a story for another time…

The next Meetings Without Masks is on June 17th in Belgravia. More info on meetingswithoutmasks.com or janday.com

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