Sex school for grown-ups: the great universal challenge

It's stating the obvious, but none of us have been to sex school. and generally, we’ve been touched by other people who haven’t either, so we’ve all experienced connection without too much skill, variety or loving communication.

This is tragic, because our hearts have such high hopes for love and connection. It's no wonder sex becomes a battleground or a place of shame, confusion and isolation. 

While I haven't been to sex school as such, I have spent years of my life studying Tantra, sacred sexuality, sexological bodywork and conscious kink. I’ve learned so much about myself through these teachings. I've learned to connect with my body, my feelings and my underlying drivers. My learning has been on a broader picture of connection, developing increased confidence in knowing what suits me and an ease and willingness to talk about it. I’ve picked up some wonderful sensual touch and pleasuring skills on the way, but that’s almost been incidental. 

So..All of this has got me wondering: If sex school did exist, what could we all benefit from learning? 

Firstly, we could learn about how our own bodies work and how arousal works, and this involves a focus on our breath. We could study what we need in a wide range of situations, from healing to nurturing, and from sexual to erotic touch.

It would be useful to learn about our erogenous zones. You might be surprised to hear your skin is your greatest erogenous zone.

We’d go on to learn to be responsible for our own pleasure, rather than being focused on someone else’s. And above all we could learn useful vocabulary and ways of communicating to express our desires in any given moment.

Once at ease with all that, we might go on to learn about other bodies that are different to ours, and how to accept this in people. Rather than assume they are exactly like us and desire exactly what we want them to want, it’d really help us to understand when they might want something different. We’d learn how to ask others what they need for pleasure and arousal. In this way, we could expand our sexual repertoire and find the fun and relaxed pleasure with others that we might long for.

Most of all we’d learn that we’re not responsible for knowing, as if by magic, what someone else might need.

Then we could move on to learning to connect on different levels. If you’re one of the many people who find it hard to talk intimately about feelings and emotions, this level can be tricky, but it is vital if we want to exist peaceably and sensually together. We could safely explore tricky unconscious topics like shame, guilt and fear, which often stop our capacity for connection.

Finally, we might move to specialist skills. What erotic areas would you like to explore? What fantasies do you have and how can you understand these and bring them to life? What sort of person would you like to be if you felt safe to explore and express all of who you are?

Keeping intimacy alive in our relationships adds so much to our happiness and creativity, and offers us a sense of being loved and loving. This can give us purpose and connection, love and freedom.

Sex school for grown-ups might just be the opportunity we all need to heal our wounds and return to new possibilities for love.

Breaking the habit: a life without porn

In this guest post, one of Alison's clients reflects on the role of sex coaching in addressing a complex but common issue: porn-induced erectile dysfunction.

Like many people in their thirties, pornography has been part of my life since my teenage years.

Back then, much of what I knew about sex came from watching porn on the internet, and until my twenties I was far more familiar with the world of fantasy than I was with real sexual interactions or intimacy.

As I grew older and entered long-term relationships, my sex life developed in what might be described as a normal way. But the availability of pornography increased to the point where I was never more than a swipe of my phone away from videos depicting almost anything I could imagine wanting to see.

Breaking point

I didn't see my use of pornography as anything to worry about. Lots of my friends had similar habits and porn was just a normal part of modern life.

But in my early thirties I started to experience what I now believe to be the negative impact of porn on my life.

When I had problems getting an erection with a partner for the first time, I didn't worry too much. But when a pattern started to emerge, I began to look more closely at why I was having trouble all of a sudden.

After getting mixed advice online, I decided to reach out for some support. I contacted a sex coach, Alison Pilling, via Skype and explained to her what was happening.

What Alison did first was incredibly helpful: she listened. Without judgement.

I hadn't anticipated just how valuable it would be to have someone make the space for me to talk about something so sensitive and personal.

She offered me reassurance that I was "not broken", which came as a genuine relief. When your sexual confidence is low, it is a huge boost to have someone with expertise let you know that what you are going through is not uncommon.

Towards the end of our first call, she flagged up some helpful resources and emailed me some of her own practical guides and exercises for me to try.

Reframing pleasure

I soon realised that, far from being alone with my problem, I was part of a growing epidemic – and this again came as a relief. I discovered that erectile dysfunction was a common symptom of pornography addiction.

At first I was hesitant to call my porn use "an addiction", but after trying out some internet addiction tests it was clear to me that this was a relevant and helpful way to frame the issue.

It wasn't a case of taking people's word for it either; there is solid science to support the idea that pornography is not good for your brain's reward circuit.

Gary Wilson's TedX talk on The Great Porn Experiment really crystalised this for me; porn had altered my brain's pleasure threshold and left me unable to feel aroused by normal amounts of stimulation.

I knew I needed a drastic change.

Giving up and letting go

Encouraged by success stories I had read from members of the 'No Fap' community on Reddit, I took the 90-Day Challenge, which involved no masturbation, pornography or orgasms for the entire period.

The abstinence period wasn't easy, but I made it and felt a sense of satisfaction. However, I had no idea what to do next. Without a partner, how was I supposed to start to rebuild my sex life?

What came next was the challenge of facing up to my natural longing for connection, love and pleasure – without my old coping mechanisms. 

One of Alison's areas of expertise is the rediscovery of sensual touch. She works with couples and individuals who, for whatever reason, have lost the ability to find pleasure through touch.

She helped me to alter my expectations of sex and relieve the pressure I was putting on myself. My sex drive had taken a hammering over the preceding months, and I was fearful about re-entering the world of dating and the possibility of disappointing myself or other people, but Alison offered me new ways of looking at my body and sexual connection that are helping to restore my confidence and reduce my anxiety.

The road to recovery is a long one, but through working with Alison I am building a healthier relationship between my brain and my body.

She is helping me to reimagine sex, connection, touch and sensuality, and the possibilities that this work is opening up are far more exciting than pornography ever was.

Sex is complex

It's funny: in life, when we’re wise, we learn not to expect that other people will always like what we like, or want the same things we want.  Obviously, it’s great when that happens and it's the basis of how we often choose friends, or work. After all, shared values and interests are vital for compatibility.

A shared love of macrame, art or sport is wonderful for mutual understanding, dialogue and appreciation.  Yet we don’t expect complete synchronicity in how and when we enjoy them. Usually we chat and agree where and when to meet and what to do or see with our shared time together. It’s obvious, isn’t it?

But not for sex.

What is it about sex, that  2 people, with different bodies, life experiences and perspectives meet in a bedroom and suddenly there appears the assumption that good sex means shared and simultaneous pleasure and orgasm.  It doesn’t make sense does it? It's as if we expect magic to appear in a situation that is, in reality notoriously difficult to communicate about and for which almost no-one has had any education. Yet we appear to rely on telepathy and that other nasty little f*cker: hope.  

No wonder we find sex confusing and complex, and can lose heart or give up or jump from partner to partner. It's not like there are sex classes at college. And, last I heard, pornography is rubbish at teaching love and intimacy. In my experience, telepathy and magic aren’t that reliable. What is, is the courage to explore and talk and connect. To learn what you like, to learn how your body responds and to understand that your pleasure is your responsibility. And to be open to the idea that there’s a liberation in that, rather than expecting another human being to miraculously understand what you need and desire at any given moment. And letting yourself off the task of guessing what they want and then by some other miracle, you wanting exactly the same thing at the same time. Crazy really. 

I have actually been to sex school and what I know is that good sex is learned. And everyone can learn it.

All it takes is courage to show up, then kindness and attentive presence for yourself and your partner. Letting go of old fashioned ideas about 'pleasing your man’ and 'driving her wild in bed’ are replaced by understanding how to feel more enjoyment...the mindfulness of sex, if you like.  Moving from an attitude of ‘am I doing it right?’ to ‘am I/we enjoying what we’re doing in this moment’, and a willingness to broaden your repertoire.  

It sounds so simple, yet there is so much transformative power in these subtle shifts. In letting go of old habits and ideas and allowing new understanding and pleasure in, this change of focus reveals dramatic side effects: increased confidence, power, choice and creativity begin to cascade into your life. Not just your sex life: your whole life.

What are you waiting for?