Stella Anna Sonnenbaum is an intimacy teacher and founder of Stella With Love. She trained in Sexological Bodywork and Somatic Sex Education with the don, Joseph Kramer. Here she tells us why she’s decided to run a course – Liberate Your Libido – just for men.
The lockdown stopped all of us in our tracks – people are dying, others are fighting for survival… so why do I keep talking about sexuality and pleasure?
Just a week before everything closed down, I realised I wouldn’t be able to make it to Canada to see my Beloved. I lay in bed, feeling sorry for myself, and longing for sex and touch. In the midst of feeling quite miserable and tearful, I had a sudden flash of insight – my feelings are the result of how I see myself – I was making the situation worse by projecting a ‘poor abandoned me’ image onto it!
Instead, I imagined myself being held, being sexual – my body memory instantly recognised the situation, and made me feel warm and yummy and expansive – and much happier with the situation.
Our society is not exactly pleasure positive. It takes courage to take our pleasure seriously and to put our love for ourselves and our partners first. It also takes courage to continue to show ourselves as sexual beings when getting older.
An emergency situation does not mean that we ourselves need to adopt the pain around us. We can let it in, feel empathy, and breathe it through us.
Figuratively speaking, we need to put our own oxygen masks on, before helping others. ]
Loving touch and sexuality are great immunity and happiness boosters.
Pleasure is needed, in emergency times. Lovers continue to make love if they can, babies are born, birds are flying free and happy, flowers grow.
Last Saturday I had 100 people – mostly men – booked for our free webinar ‘Liberate Your Libido’. How can we liberate our libido in lockdown, and why would we even want to?
There is a life after Covid-19. I don’t know about you, but I want to imagine skipping into the sunset, feeling juicy!
Being stopped in our tracks could be exactly the reason we can reconsider what is truly important for us.
Many years ago, I was in a sexless relationship. I have a healthy libido, and I had just never come across a man who deals with his sexuality all by himself, and truly didn’t like partner sex. It was like a chore for him, and he tried to avoid it. At some point in his life, he had decided he was ‘no good’ at it, and had left it at that. ‘Surely we can fix that somehow’, I thought. (Never try to fix your partners, please!!). Meanwhile, I was hoping and suffering. By and by, the situation took its toll. I felt unseen, and something very important in me felt unacknowledged. It took a toll on my self-esteem. It was time to do something. I knew about Tantra and dragged him to a Couples Weekend Retreat. And then another one! He must have loved me very much to step out of his comfort zone to such a degree, and I really want to acknowledge that, too.
For me, Tantra was where it all started. I stepped into my femininity and started to own it, instead of hiding it away. I embarked on a beautiful spiritual journey of heart-opening. It also transformed my relationship, brought intimacy and communication, and owning up to vulnerability, even though it didn’t bring sex back to a degree that I could truly let go, and enjoy.
Fast forward, I met Joseph Kramer, the founder of Sexological Bodywork, started training with him, certified in Sexological Bodywork and Somatic Sex Education, and founded my company Stella With Love.
I know what a difference it can make to be in a happy sexual relationship and to have satisfying solo play, and my endeavour is to bring this to others, too.
This lockdown is an opportunity for many of us to step into new and better ways, involving more of ourselves, and is a chance of taking close look at how we see ourselves because that might determine our actions.
There is no imperative to be sexual, not with your partner, nor with yourself.
I would just invite you to consider if you have decided at some point in your life that there is only this much pleasure available to you, and then left it at that? There may be another way!
I know very happy and loving sexless marriages, with separate bedrooms, where the higher sexed partner engages in regular extensive and satisfying solo play. Did I mention he is in his seventies?
I also know about men well in their seventies who are VERY sexually active, with one, or multiple, partners.
Our sexual journey is ongoing, and I hope that we will continue engaging with it, and find new pleasure zones and preferences all the time, and particularly as we get older.
I think it makes for happier lives to include our sexuality, and to engage with our sexual pleasure, and age is not really an excuse to refrain from it. On the contrary!
Yes, our libido might vary, however, the rule ‘use it, or lose it’ is also true. Body memory fades over time, and it’s good to remind ourselves of the source of so many delicious pleasures.
A lot of men I see in my private practice would like to find a solution for performance issues, and I decided to compile 80% of my tools in an E-book, which is the handbook for my 7-week online course for men. The booking deadline, to include 3 online group coaching calls in May, is Wednesday, May 6th.
The course is aimed at making solo play more satisfying and whole-bodied, falling in love again with your own sexuality, taking pleasure to new dimensions, and transforming your lovemaking skills via pleasure, and staying in the moment, rather than working towards a goal. Particularly, it teaches tools to last longer, because 60% of my male in-person clients would like to learn that, and have more fun in the bedroom.
It’s never too late to reinvent ourselves, and find new bliss – whether solo or with our partners – and we can all do with more pleasure in this long lockdown period! Join us on the journey! A small group of men is taking shape, and I’m looking forward to working with you. More info, and booking, here: https://stellawithlove.com/liberateyourlibido/
I joined Instagram over a year ago thinking that this would be a good way of promoting my book. My goal was to reach 10,000 followers. Then I got really scared. Did I dare to come out as a sexy, older woman on a platform like Instagram? I thought everyone would laugh at me and say; ‘How can someone over seventy, be sexy?’ I dared.
The response has been amazing. It seems that most people love it. They say it gives them hope. So, I have reached 10K followers and it has been great fun. And is also how I found my publisher, Publishing Push.
This book follows me from the misery of menopause, through my 50s and 60s, to 70. It has been a life-changing journey. I was so happy to finally really wake up. I have written the book for people, especially women, who think that menopause might be the end of the road. For many years, I really believed that my days as an attractive, interesting and sexy woman were well and truly over.
Especially, when I knew that my quota of eggs had run out. I believed Cher when she said: ‘Fifty sucks. Men don’t look at you anymore.’ I bought into all the societal messages that I was a dried out old husk, heading for withered crone-dome. I hated getting old. Cruise ships were full of ageing wives whose husbands had left them for a younger model. The world seemed grim. I ate too much and my evening quotient of wine rose steadily. I developed more chins. I became an apple shape as my middle expanded. I started to wear loose floppy tops.
Annoyingly my husband, Jake, got better looking with age. I railed and railed that it was totally unfair. Men got more debonair as they got older. I hated getting wrinkles. I became obsessed with having a facelift. ‘I will leave if you do,’ said Jake. My interest in sex dwindled to almost zero. I gobbled yam pills and a herb, suitably or unsuitably, called ‘horny goat’, but to no avail. I read Germaine Greer and Leslie Kenton who talked me out of HRT. ‘Was that right?’ I wondered on a bad day. ‘Surely estrogen rollicking through my veins might make me look younger and sexier.’ Germaine said she was happy that men didn’t look at her as a sexual object anymore, but appreciated her brain. I personally would have happily traded in my Ph.D. for just one wolf whistle.
Things came to a head when my husband was smitten by another woman who was half my age. I was devastated. But what could I do? Especially when I was being stalked by the Dowager of Decrepitude. Well, I turned and faced that Dowager head-on. I kicked myself up my sorry backside, dyed my hair black and had a spiky cut. I bought a black leather jacket and leather pants, and out I went to claim my man back. This is described dramatically in the book and with it came an intriguing twist that I hadn’t expected. The best outcome was that my sexuality came back like a tsunami.
Little did I know that this blast of sexual awakening, after several years of being a dried-out husk of a woman, would launch me into a fearsome self re-evaluation. I would become to my total surprise, a sexy, rampant flirt in my 60s. And with this came a re-emergence of my spiritual self. Really? Sexy at 70 and spiritual? I had engaged in many spiritual practices for over 30 years but had not yet learned one of the fundamental principles of those practices – which is to accept and love oneself totally.
With the aid of some tough self-inspection, deep inner exploration and openness to new experiences, I faced down my negative spectre of cronedom. Jake and I found some younger friends who introduced us to a whole, buzzing, new party world and I started to learn to flirt. Jake enjoyed flirting too and encouraged me. The book describes some of my early woeful flirting experiences, but I persevered. What I discovered was it had little to do with wrinkles and sagging skin, but all to do with inner confidence and self-belief. It was transformational and I had a blast.
I also explored different gurus and different spiritual paths, which all helped me see what was in the way of me truly accepting myself. I also explored the therapeutic effects of drugs, which helped me overcome limiting self-beliefs. My mother was destroyed by severe schizophrenia, which caused havoc in my childhood and teenage years, as I watched her descend into a drooling vegetable. She had never overcome growing up in Stalinist Ukraine and then at age 17 was taken as a prisoner by the Nazis, and forced to work as a slave in Germany. One of my powerful beliefs was that I would also go mad. So, I went to Peru to face my fear of madness, once and for all. With the help of my husband, Shamans and the jungle drug, ayahuasca, I managed to put my mad demons into cages where I could keep them in order. That was incredibly freeing.
There were other tough lessons along the way and many tests, especially physical. Debilitating sciatica nearly ended my marriage and cancer spread its dark shadow over our lives; as well as claiming the life of a dear friend. My husband got lung cancer and I developed a rare cancer of the blood. The book describes how we dealt with these misfortunes and fell more and more deeply in love with each other.
By dealing with my unruly unconscious, and as a result of further meditation, I made a startling discovery at age 64. Inside me was a Russian Bar Girl waiting to come out. This was not easy to accept. Russian bar girls are young and beautiful, they stereotypically pick up men in bars. Here I was supposedly on the way to becoming a wise old crone, and instead, I had to come to terms with this voluptuous, seductive inner woman, chomping at the bit. I started to do sexy dances for my husband. I said to him; ‘Aren’t I too old for this?’ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘I have been waiting patiently for years.’ So at least once a week I put on a sexy outfit, some music, and dance; such fun and so liberating. Below are some of the many IG photos, entitled ‘date night in’.
Michele Kirsch, 57, is a brilliantly witty writer and cook. She used to be a cleaner. She’s a regular AoA contributor. NME, City Limits, and Men’s Health were all lucky recipients of her work. Her first book Clean – one woman’s story of addiction, recovery and cleaning – is out on March 7th. Buy it here,
What is your age?
I am 57, turning 58 in April.
Where do you live?
I live in Hoxton. I am the Accidental Hipster. I live in a Tower Block and none of us talk to each other but we nod in familiar, ‘You’re not a ruffian on the stairwell’ sort of way. We have many ruffians on the stairs. It is a warmer place to do drugs than outside.
What do you do?
At the moment I am working for a charity that supports people living with the effects of brain injury. I support people in getting kitchen confidence skills back, or learning how to cook. It doesn’t feel like proper work. A lot of it is just hanging out and having chats with people who, outside this setting, are treated as ‘other’. In our place, we just shoot the breeze, cook, play music, play games, hang. It’s brilliant. I never want another job. Except I sort of have another job. I’ve written a book and I still write. The book is a memoir, out on 7th March, It is called Clean and available from the proper WH Smiths, the ones on the train stations. As well as other bookshops and Amazon. Some people thing it might be big. That would be great. But I am OK with just doing the job I have now. I am glad I have written and published a book that is going to be in proper shops.
Tell us what is it like being your age?
I am happier now than I have ever been, probably. I had a drug problem for a long time and I am free of that, now. I didn’t get on with my children for a long time and we get on very well right now. Physically, I am very well though I feel I may have messed up my stomach with the long term drug and alcohol use. Though I had stomach problems always. I love my job, I have a good roof over my head in a great neighborhood, I see my grown-up children as often as we can as we all work, and I have a good relationship with their dad, my ex. I guess the one difficulty is that I only get to see my mum and sister, who live in NY, about once a year. My life feels contained and structured, in a good way. Recovery is the gift that keeps on giving. I don’t mind the physical effects of getting old nearly as much as I used to. I still love Topshop and Miss Selfridge. I am absolutely working the mutton dressed as lamb thing and I don’t give a hoot. If the book does well, I suppose I can dress up as more expensive lamb.
What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?
Oh my gosh, where to begin? Mainly I live in a country and city I LOVE. I grew up between Liverpool and New York but always felt pulled to London. To live here is an honour, a dream. I have a job I love. At 25 I was starting out as a journalist and making very bad money and I was never getting the great stories anyway. I had no confidence in my ability as a writer. I also thought I was passable in the looks department, but never actually pretty.
These days I have pretty moments or pretty days. It comes from inside, nothing to do with men. I have two wonderful, street smart, loving grown-up children, a huge amount of very good friends, a lovely ex-husband. I also have a sense of purpose, which comes with my job. I can make peoples’ lives more bearable. And I’ve written a book, which some people may find that they can relate to, on some level. I also have, as well as all my new friends, all my old friends. I am a stickler for keeping in touch. I love the internet for that. It makes it much easier. I have freedom from my addiction. That is my number one gift. 57 has probably been my greatest year, in terms of contentment.
What about sex?
I find at my age my appetite for it has diminished but not disappeared. Having said that, I still get the horn if I see a Paul Newman film, or Betty Blue. In real life, I have a boyfriend, and though it’s slightly complicated at the moment, I would say we are well matched and all will be well. We tend to be in the same mood at the same time, which is a bonus.
I have this notion of myself of being rather plain when I was younger, but I always had boyfriends or husbands (two) or men after me. I have no idea where this idea came from, that I was not fanciable. I was a very late developer. I did not start my menstruation until I was 16. Then it all kicked off. I also had the luck to be in love with my very first lover, when I was nearly 18. It was mutual. He loved me too. We are still friends.
One thing that has always been the case is that I feel ridiculous when I try to ‘look sexy’. It never works and I always burst out laughing. I can barely put stockings on, I don’t understand the little clippy things at the top, and I still put a bra on with the back facing the front so I can see myself doing it up. I used to have good rack, but after children and a pretty druggy career, my curves diminished, so bras don’t really do anything for me either.
My bed is never sexy. It is covered in books and newspapers and the cat and cat hair. I’m a mess. My sheets are mismatched and I fall asleep most nights listening to old comedy shows on the radio. The only thing that looks right in my bed is my hair, because I have permanent bed hair. I don’t have to buy a product to make it that way. It’s just like that. Oh, I will say this! I do have an erogenous zone I never knew about until recently. I have an unusually long neck and I like people stroking it. This man at work, he’s, you know, brain damaged and has no impulse control, he stroked my neck and I had to firmly pull away and tell him that it was not OK to do that, in a nice way of course. But I have to say, it felt really nice. That’s a shocking thing to say, but, a brain-damaged guy stroked my neck and I liked it. Doesn’t really scan so there won’t be a song….
I have many, many very good friends, some for 30 or 40 years, in America and over here. My relationship with my boyfriend is a separate thing. I do not have sexual relations with people unless I am married to them or they (he) is my boyfriend, or I think I am in love with them. Serial monogamy is what I do. Though I had some short-lived obsession in my early 20s. That drove me crazy. Everything now feels so much easier. I LOVE Facebook and I’ve made many virtual friends as well as all my real life ones. The relationships I value most are with my family, children and best friends.
How free do you feel?
Obviously, I have commitments, my job, my children, my bills, my relationships, my recovery (first and foremost) but paradoxically the more I do, the free-er I feel. Unfortunately, I am still plagued with worry and anxiety, these are long-standing issues, but I have come to accept they are part of me and just try to ride the waves of panic. It’s not always a heap of fun. I find travel …. hard. But most of my friends know this about me and know if I don’t go somewhere I am not being antisocial, just a bit agoraphobic. I have never found anything- meditation, yoga, exercise, chanting, whatever, that works totally, but I did have a short course of hypnosis, which helped a bit.
What are you proud of?
I am proud of my children. I am proud of my job, which is the best job I ever had. I am proud that I wrote a book that might make waves, somehow. It might help people who have been through a similar situation – feel less alone. I try not to be too proud, as I absolutely believe pride comes before a fall.
What keeps you inspired?
I find inspiration in so many things. I am proper nosy and I love to listen in to other people’s conversations on public transport. Whole little dramas unfold. I can’t wait to get somewhere to write it down. I love little alleyways and cobblestone streets. There are loads of alleys in Liverpool and lots around Hoxton where I live so I love to just wonder down one and wind up somewhere I’ve not seen.
Music always inspires me. I play all my old records all the time, and music can transport me back to a certain time and place in my youth more than anything else. I dance all the time, anywhere. I have no shame. My sponsor inspires me in her recovery. She has gone on to do remarkable things after a very long period of drug-induced crazy times. She is so loving and caring and inspirational. I can’t tell you who she is but I think she will be famous in the thing that she does, professionally.
I am also inspired by couples who have been couples for a really long time. Just because very long lasting love didn’t happen to me, though I was with my second husband for nearly 20 years, most of them pretty good, it doesn’t mean it can’t happen. I am also religious, and I find inspiration in Bible stories. I did something quite unusual several years ago, which was a formal conversion from Judaism to Christianity. It’s a long story, but actually there are many similarities in the two faiths, as I understand them, though they end differently. I do pray, but I don’t pray for obvious things like success or money or to win something. And I don’t pray for big, worldly things like world peace and a reversal of climate change. I can’t tell you what I pray for, it’s personal, but it’s important to me and it is an inspiration. The Big Book we use in recovery is inspirational to me as well.
When are you happiest?
Without a doubt, I am happiest when I am dancing. I don’t get out dancing enough. I used to go to a soul night with my girlfriends and dance all night. Not even on anything. At work, I have music on in the kitchen, where a few of us make lunch together. People get very excited about lunch where I work. It is the dividing time between morning and afternoon. And people are really into their food. They love it.
I’m am OK cook, not a great cook by any means, but when the music is on and we are, say, all dancing to ‘Monkey Man’ ( I LOVE Ska!) I am just so happy and thinking, I can’t believe I am at work, dancing and cooking and getting paid for it. I cook with this one guy who absolutely goes nuts when he hears Justin Bieber. I am not even a fan, but when this guy goes so crazy when Bieber comes on, I go crazy with him, and we dance and do the bad boy rap gun hands and all that silliness. I am extremely happy then.
I also love walking home from work. And if I am feeling low, I take myself down to the Thames and stand on London Bridge and remind myself that I live here. I live in this fantastic city. People save up all year to spend a few days in London. I LIVE here and I LOVE it. I am also happiest just hanging with my kids. They are great, really grounded and good people.
Where does your creativity go?
I like to think some of it goes into my cooking that I do at the centre, but I have had mixed reviews. I am the skinny chef you are not supposed to trust. My creativity goes into my writing. I write all the time, even if it just little entries on Facebook, I am always writing.
What is your philosophy of living?
Tricky. Though I am religious, I would not say I was particularly spiritual. Many people think the two go hand and hand, or you can be spiritual without having the structure of religion. My philosophy of living is to do no harm, and to try to be kind and considerate. Don’t shout, except for joy. Be patient. I have waited all my life to be patient (see what I did there) and it is finally starting to sink in.
Working where I do, you HAVE to be patient. Chose your battles, and when possible, chose not to have battles. Be generous with time as well as material things, or only with time if you have few material things. Don’t preach. Don’t complain about minor ailments, though I did this all the time until I started working with people living with brain damage. It’s a real wake up call. Be grateful, every morning – think of at least five or ten things you are grateful for. This is not original, it comes from working my recovery programme, but it’s a good way to live. Be kind to your friends and animals, always. Be kind to strangers, unless they are unkind to you. Then you can tell ‘em to fuck off. Keep your body in good nick as much as you can. If you can exercise, exercise. Get fresh air every day.
I have had more than my fair share of death in my life, compared to other people I know. Death has punctuated and punctured my life at various points. I would like to die when I am old, and after a brief illness. I hope whatever takes me out doesn’t take too long. I don’t really have a fixed notion of an afterlife, but I do secretly (well not so secretly as I am saying it here) I hope that after the body dies, we are somehow reunited with the dead people we have loved and lost. I don’t know how I would find them. There are a gazillion dead people. I hope they have a sort of filing system and index cards. There are definitely people I want to see again. But I don’t like the idea of an eternal afterlife. That idea horrifies me.
Are you still dreaming?
I am not sure what you mean. If you mean if I have big dreams for my life, not really, no, I am amazed I get to be this happy, right now. I would be happy to feel this happy for the rest of my life. I guess I can choose this, I can chose to be happy. At night I have strange, psychedelic dreams but I don’t talk about them as nothing is as boring as other people’s dreams. I used to love it when my kids told me their nightmares. They were damp with sweat, I remember the little wriggling bodies, the recounting of the story, a glass of water, a cuddle, ‘til they drifted off back to sleep.
What was a recent outrageous action of yours?
I chased a swan all along the Thames embankment. I know the swan could have turned on me, they are angry birds, but the tide was out and the swan was pretty tame, as swans go. My friend and I went there to look for treasure, but she wound up getting all eco and picking up garbage, and I chased this poor swan around. I said to my friend, ‘See, this is a fundamental difference between you and I. You see a discarded bottle and pick it up to put it in the bin. I play silly buggers with a swan.’ The other tiny act of outrage I always commit around Easter is when all those little gold chocolate bunnies are facing one way on the display in a shop, I take one and put it facing the other way around. I have to do this. It is a compulsion. I am really not very outrageous. A bit mischievous, but not outrageous.
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)
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?”
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.
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
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.