There’s a lot going on out there in the sexual wilderness. Sometimes I think I’d rather make myself a nice cup of tea and watch Lateline than wrestle with trying to understand the latest and greatest from the Master Manual of Sex. With so many avenues of sexual expression and so many labels: Master/slave, monogamous, open, gay, bi, trans, hetro – the overwhelmed ‘vanilla’ girl in me wants to know how people manage. How do we traverse the peaks of this modern sexual landscape without falling off a cliff or getting stuck in a bear trap (unless you’re into that kind of thing)?
I recently read Cheryl Cohen Greene’s memoir An Intimate Life. Recounting her time as a sex surrogate, the book has recently been adapted into a feature film starring Helen Hunt. Poorly written from start to finish, An Intimate Life still managed to keep me glued to its pages thanks to its rarely discussed subject matter. A trained sex surrogate from Seattle, Cohen Greene worked with people who had emotional and/or physical difficulties having sex or being with a partner. And she did not discriminate. From paedophiles to men paralysed in iron lungs, as far as she was concerned, no one is undeserving of human intimacy.
An Intimate Life offered up some great descriptions of the techniques Cohen Greene used to get her clients relaxed, comfortable and empowered in the sack. Basic touch and verbal communication played a large part in getting her clients to open up and get horny. After the AIDS crisis of the 80s that saw many of her fellow surrogates either leave the profession or die from the virus, teaching safe sex also became a key factor in her one-on-one sessions.
I consider myself a pretty educated and open-minded gal, but sex surrogacy was not something I’d ever heard of before reading Cohen Greene’s memoir, and it got me thinking: maybe we could all benefit from having a sex guide? Not just someone to walk you through the biological stuff, but someone to help with all of the emotional and, dare I say it, explorative stuff.
Enter Sex Camp. Established by Vanessa Florence, Sex Camp launched in 2012 and is back again this February. A weekend of workshops with names like Open Relationships 101, Orgasmic Yoga, and Giddy Up!, Sex Camp is a drug and alcohol free environment – complete with trained counsellors should camp-goers feel a bit out of their depth – where people can explore their own sexuality.
Curious, I decided to pick Florence’s brain a little about the camp and where it sits in Australia’s sexual landscape.
I think the sex positive movement is growing in Australia but on a whole we have a long way to go. Sex is not often talked about – or talked about in a jokey Sex and the City kind of way – and there is a bit more to it than that. I think it starts with education, and if that means educating yourself when you are a grown adult by coming to a place like Sex Camp, then cool.
What about my theory that sometimes people need someone to guide them past the cliffs of sexual confusion and into the forest of sexual liberation?
It may not be ‘someone’ (workshops, books, etc. are also great), but I definitely think learning about, discussing and reflecting on sex and our sexuality is worthy and important terrain to be exploring. Sex is not just something we do with someone else – our sexuality is a part of us, like our creativity is a part of us, or our intellect. So yes, I think having a guide, or various guides, is amazing.
Just like Cohen Greene, communication was the base camp on Florence’s map of a happy and safe sex life. When clear boundaries have been set up and agreed to, it allows both (or all) partners to feel safe. ‘If something feels strange, say it. If you have the communication skills to express yourself and what you need and feel, then you are protected.’
I felt a theme emerging: feeling comfortable about sex (or any kind of sexual act), as terribly clichéd as it sounds, is all about keeping the channels of communication open, and not about pushing the boundaries for the sake of winning the title Sex Master of the Universe.
The moral here? We, and I include myself in this, should stop worrying about whether or not we have the right labels or are doing the right things, and start putting that energy back into the basics: communication. It’s either that or I go back to sitting on the couch, sipping Earl Grey and watching Lateline.
Imogen Kandel is the Online Editor of Killings, the Kill Your Darlings blog. A former Beijing expat, magazine editor and freelance writer, she is now Marketing Coordinator at the Melbourne Writers Festival. You can find her on Twitter at @imogenkandel.