By Isabel Losada
When she met a new man after years of being single, Isabel Losada signed up for a tantric sex workshop to get her mojo back.
I was one of those single people who had forgotten that the body is designed for pleasure. I’d been celibate for five years, apart from the occasional glorious stupidity. I had broken my heart over a man and I just couldn’t find another one I wanted to get horizontal with.
But then a new man came into my life. It’s a shock. He is kind and patient, bides his time and makes me laugh. Suddenly sex is back on the agenda. The new man is offering me the possibility of a good sex life, but I find that five years of celibacy and lots of bad sex in previous years have left me as lost and confused as most of the women I talk to. So I’ve decided to make pleasure a priority.
I thought I’d start with an all-women tantric sex workshop, even though any kind of women’s workshop scares me. It conjures up terrible images of being carried off to the woods by groups of women with gold teeth and nose rings and informed that I have to do unspeakable things in front of them or the development of my sexuality will be eternally doomed. I have never heard of a workshop where this happens but it would be just my luck to end up at one.
The woman running the workshop is Hilly Spenceley, an earth-mother type in her 70s with a sense of humour. Having had six children by five different men, she has had a lot of experience of male sexual energy. And she’s been teaching tantric sexuality for 30 years. If we could clone people it would be a good idea to make millions of Hillys. Every town needs one, every village, every street. I’m terrified of her. And somehow I’m about to overcome all my qualms and go away with her and about 30 other women to a place that you’d never find on a map.
When we arrive in the main room after dinner I learn that they call their work a ‘mystery school’. They don’t allow women to talk about some of the methods they use because lots of us would never have the courage to show up if we knew what was going to be asked of us. Once here, miles from home and trapped in a silken web of encouragement from other women, breakthroughs are made. They want women to do this ‘work’ and they don’t want people like me misrepresenting it. But I can tell you how the weekend affected me.
We are asked to think about how we feel about being a woman. I sit moodily and don’t join in the conversation. Then they have a variation on this question about how we are feeling.
‘How does your vagina feel?’ This is just not the sort of question that gets asked every day. I say nothing but I think about it. I mean, physically or emotionally? Physically right now, I can’t feel it at all. I do not receive sensation from my vagina in the normal course of a day.
We are then invited to consider our relationship with our breasts in a kind of meditation. They tell us that breasts nurture our children and our lovers, but we don’t often think about nurturing our breasts or them nurturing us. In every ‘process’ we’re invited to consider the wonder of the female body. I don’t dislike mine but it’s true that I’ve taken it for granted. Even when it miraculously produced a child, I was young and I barely noticed the miracle. How can we enjoy being women more? These are not questions we usually consider in the normal working day.
Talking honestly about sex is hard. The following morning I admit that I’d found the exercises strangely threatening and that being in a room with all these amazing women was intimidating. Some women cry as they share their stories, admitting that they want to run away, or they are not orgasmic or they just don’t have a good time in bed with men in any way. Recognising ourselves in others, we want to keep the group complete and not allow any woman to take her fears home with her.
The second morning, a group of women in the showers compliment each other on how beautiful their breasts are. They’re laughing and it’s funny because some of the aforementioned breasts are huge and some are almost completely flat. I wonder how we’ve been brainwashed into believing that some shapes are better than others. We don’t judge trees, do we, or flowers? That daffodil isn’t more attractive than that tulip.
When are we women going to enjoy our bodies as nature intended and take care of them instead of so often destroying them with bad food and cigarettes? If more women felt good about themselves this would make their men happier and everyone’s sex lives would be much better.
Take two: the couples workshop
On the couples training weekends, it is almost always the women who drag the men along. For a man to come to any workshop with the words ‘sex’ and ‘training’ in the same description, he has to be open to the radical concept that he might have something to learn. For my new man T, this is not a problem, simply because he is interested in anything and everything that will lead to ‘more sex. What man wouldn’t want to learn a million ways to please a woman and be pleased by her?’ he asks.
‘Sadly, many men,’ I tell him, reminded of a married, 53-year-old taxi driver I once entertained with my favourite joke: ‘What’s the difference between a golf ball and a clitoris?’ (Answer: ‘A man’s prepared to spend ten minutes looking for a golf ball.’) The taxi driver’s response: ‘What’s a clitoris?’
So here we are. Away in the countryside with six couples. We have a large private room with a comfortable double bed and a view of fields. The birds are singing outside and I’m singing inside.
A couples workshop is a lot gentler than the one for women. The couple running it, Sue Newsome and her partner Martin Hellawell, are not intimidating, which is a good thing as they explain that you have to take things slower with men. Talking about sex rather than just getting on with it often makes men more scared than women.
The first night we consider different ways of being together and apart. Can we thrive and be joyful whether we are together or apart? There is one simple exercise where we move together and apart across the room. I end up not being sure whether it’s good or bad that I prefer looking at T from across the room, but I love the feeling of wanting to walk towards him. Especially when he has the sense not to walk towards me so that I have to move if I want to be closer to him.
The most profound learning can come from these simple gains. You’ll understand this if you’ve ever been in a relationship where the person always wants to be close to you. I remember a brief relationship years ago where I frequently ended up clinging on to the edge of the bed. The phrase, ‘Darling, please will you give me a little space,’ ceased to be metaphorical. It went on all day and all night until, inevitably I suppose, I pushed him away.
At the workshop, we end the evening by exploring energy through ‘melting hugs’ – a kind of full body hug (no pelvic thrusting) where you simply enjoy the other person’s energy.
Our Saturday morning exercises and discussions are about saying ‘no’. It’s very important to be able to say this simple word before anyone can really say ‘yes’ to anything. ‘Would you like to watch cheap porn in bed tonight before we have sex?’
‘Would you like to be tied up, denigrated and humiliated?’
‘Er – no thanks.’
It’s good for us, the women especially it seems, to establish ‘an authentic no’. ‘How many of you find it hard to say no?’ All of the women’s hands go up. The men admit genuine surprise. They don’t seem to understand why women lie to them. Women don’t like the men they love to feel rejected. Most women are good at empathy and know how rejection feels. ‘I’ve got a headache’ has become a cliché because the man knows that it’s not necessarily honest. What the woman actually means is, ‘I don’t want to have sex with you tonight.’ But if she says that, this begs the question, ‘Why not?’
This is an example (and I am currently guilty of this) of women being cowardly and not doing what needs to be done for us to create better sex lives for ourselves. This, in turn, is disempowering for men as an honest ‘no’ gives them the compliment of assuming that they can deal with the rejection. And if they can’t, it gives them the opportunity to learn how. In a relationship that is hoping to improve and deepen it can lead to an honest conversation about why it’s a ‘no’.
The next words that we explore are ‘yes’ and ‘wait’. Both are equally difficult words to express in a sexual context. I remember having a discussion with someone at the women’s tantric workshop when I was giving her a shoulder massage and getting zero feedback. When I asked her if she’d like me to be softer, harder or move up a bit she replied, ‘Can’t you feel what needs to be done?’
I said, ‘Yes, to some extent but it helps if you give me guidance. Don’t you give your husband feedback on shoulder massage during sex?’
‘No. I expect him to be able to feel and know.’
She actually said that. Ah, the myth of a man who understands us instinctively.
Having told you that I’m not allowed to describe the processes in these workshops because everyone would be too frightened to attend, neither do I want your imagination to run away with you. So, yes, we had a lot of fun taking turns with an ‘ask for what you want’ process. But we only did it with our own partners and the room was dimly lit.
At the end of the weekend we moved away from sex and came back to love. I know many celibates who thrive without sex but their lives are still full of love. But find me a person who has regular sex with no love and is truly happy. So it felt very beautiful and appropriate to end our weekend with emotional connection.
We finished our thank-yous and goodbyes and put our stuff in a cab to get the train back to London. T had done something that no man has ever done for me before: he had booked us first-class seats home.
‘And I’m happy to do it again.’
‘Whenever we spend the weekend away exploring sex, I’ll pay and we can travel home first class. I appreciate a woman who thinks a good sex life is important.’
I can also reveal that since the couples workshop, T and I have purchased, from a posh sex shop, a very long black feather on a stick. It’s a genuine thing of beauty. And I do enjoy asking to be stroked with it, ever so gently, for extended periods of time. And so does he.
This is an edited extract from Sensation: Adventures in Sex, Love and Laughter by Isabel Losada, which will be published by Watkins Publishing on Thursday, price £9.99. To pre-order a copy for £7.99 (a 20 per cent discount) until 1 October, visit you-bookshop.co.uk or call 0844 571 0640; p&p is free on orders over £15.