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Af­ter raw food, med­i­ta­tion and yoga there comes sen­sual body­work, a move­ment to­wards deeper in­ti­macy and plea­sure in sex that’s rapidly grow­ing here and around the globe. Anke Richter meets five New Zealand prac­ti­tion­ers who claim to teach a bet­ter love l

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We learn how to drive a car. We take cook­ing and salsa danc­ing classes. We might hone our com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills in a week­end course and clear our emo­tional bag­gage with a coun­sel­lor. And when our backs ache, we get a mas­sage or – join a Pi­lates class. But who you gonna call if you want to up­skill your love life? Ghost­busters, of sorts: “Sex­ual prac­ti­tion­ers” are the peo­ple who help you to ac­ti­vate your erotic en­ergy, hands-on. And, ap­par­ently, when they take you from agony to ec­stasy, it can feel like a form of mild ex­or­cism.

The sen­sual body­work­ers of the 21st cen­tury come with a much larger reper­toire of Western science and East­ern tra­di­tions than the Vic­to­rian doc­tors who man­u­ally gave their fe­male pa­tients or­gasms to cure them of what they la­belled “hys­te­ria”.

Nowa­days, sex­ual prac­ti­tion­ers are like erotic yoga in­struc­tors, just not as pub­lic. Ex­perts have taken no­tice: In her best­seller Vagina: A New Bi­og­ra­phy, fem­i­nist Naomi Wolf in­tro­duced a charis­matic tantric healer from Lon­don.

The busi­ness is boom­ing, but it’s not a trade that you will find in the Yel­low Pages. And it’s not to be con­fused with sex work or sex ther­apy, al­though it’s in the same steep price range at around $150 per hour.

And while sex ther­a­pists and sen­sual body­work­ers have the same goal – in­creased con­nec­tion and greater hap­pi­ness – the for­mer takes a more cere­bral ap­proach, while the lat­ter is “so­matic”, us­ing var­i­ous forms of touch and breath work, to con­vey in­for­ma­tion di­rectly through the body.

It is a form of sex ed­u­ca­tion – but not the fear-based kind from high school fo­cused on pre­vent­ing dis­ease and preg­nancy. And, ac­cord­ing to the mem­bers of this move­ment, we are still fumbling around in the dark like teenagers be­cause what we do be­tween the sheets is of­ten goal-ori­ented or one-sided.

Most Ki­wis lose their vir­gin­ity un­der the in­flu­ence of al­co­hol, and so­cial me­dia in­creases the pres­sure to con­form or per­form from a young age. We might even be fac­ing an epi­demic of sex­ual dys­func­tion.

“How do we learn to cel­e­brate this beau­ti­ful life force that we have in an au­then­tic and nat­u­ral way?” asks Rex McCann, founder of New Zealand men’s move­ment Es­sen­tially Men. “In 25 years of lead­ing men’s groups, sex­u­al­ity is the sin­gle most per­plex­ing is­sue for men.” The for­mer po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist looks like the lanky ve­gan type with his long curly hair, soft cot­ton vest and gen­tle de­meanour, but tucks into a meat pie out­side a Grey Lynn, Auck­land, bakery, hav­ing just come from an os­teopa­thy ses­sion. The mix of hearty and re­fined, of earthy and spir­i­tual, re­flects McCann’s cur­rent work as lead fac­ulty mem­ber for ISTA (In­ter­na­tional School of Tem­ple Arts), an or­gan­i­sa­tion that started in Ari­zona and is now es­tab­lished in Aus­trala­sia, Europe, Amer­ica and even the Mid­dle East.

Its in­tense week-long ini­ti­a­tions of 30 peo­ple or more have mod­ules of tantra, shaman­ism and group ther­a­pies and are at the fore­front of a grow­ing global move­ment of con­scious sex­u­al­ity that’s com­ing out of the shad­ows.

Most of the lead­ers in this neo-tantra field are women – from South African Shakti Malan, who was a Protes­tant vir­gin un­til the age of 26, to French pi­o­neer Mar­got Anand, now in her 70s but far from re­tire­ment, to award-win­ning Amer­i­can au­thor and lec­turer Bar­bara Car­rel­las ( Ur­ban Tantra).

What looks a bit wacky from the out­side is backed up by the lat­est med­i­cal re­search such as the poly­va­gal the­ory (which ex­plores the idea that we have a ner­vous sys­tem not con­nected to the brain). Once you take the tan­ta­lis­ing con­no­ta­tions away, it is sim­i­lar in its holis­tic ap­proach to yoga or med­i­ta­tion: a fast and ef­fec­tive, if not rad­i­cal, method for heal­ing body and mind at a cel­lu­lar level. And it’s not just a hip­pie thing. Prac­ti­tion­ers say there are doc­tors and ac­coun­tants on this quest of self-dis­cov­ery; women want­ing bet­ter or­gasms, men hop­ing to over­come their porn ad­dic­tion; erotic ex­plor­ers as well as sex­ual abuse sur­vivors. Rex McCann re­calls the story of a pas­sion­ate for­mer nun who joined a course in Ire­land and in­stantly blos­somed. “It’s so deeply mov­ing and lib­er­at­ing to let go of our shame, fear and guilt.”

The urge to bet­ter un­der­stand our sex­u­al­ity is big in New Zealand. Nina Powell’s (see op­po­site) pre­sen­ta­tions about “Fe­male Anatomy of Arousal” or the group ses­sions for women in El­lie Wilde’s

We’re still fumbling around in the dark like teenagers be­cause what we do be­tween the sheets is goal-ori­ented or one-sided.

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