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
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.