Queenagers, self-pleasure and a very intimate workshop!
The Queenager: Eleanor’s Letter (September 4th 2023)
Sorry this is a bit late...
Please excuse the tardiness of this newsletter. I was away at a women’s festival (the pic is of an offering under a tree) all weekend and didn’t get back till late. And with only a month to go I’ve also been working hard on my book…. it’s like I can see the summit but it’s still a heck of a climb.
I wanted to share what I learned from a workshop entitled: Sacred Self-Pleasure because it was so important and resonant and necessary…. and I’d also love to know what you all think!
So to set the scene, I’m at a small festival for women on a beautiful estate in Kent. We’re camping in the middle of a deer park, the weekend included Ecstatic Dance, sound baths, music, singing and all sorts of incredible workshops from Family Constellations to Yoni Rose healing… but I wanted to write particularly about a session called Sacred Self Pleasure which took place in an extremely hot yurt on Sunday morning.
Now first up what it was not. This was NOT a masturbation workshop. The idea behind it was to deprogram women from guilt and shame. What was striking was woman after woman revealed the trauma that separated them from enjoying, or feeling comfortable in their bodies. Many women talked about how they had been told not to touch themselves because it was ‘dirty’. When they did masturbate many felt shame – saw it as a quick release to be got through as quick as possible and forgotten. A few talked about delightful self-care rituals involving candles and time and slowly, slowly bringing themselves to arousal. But most said they hadn’t the time, energy or capacity to indulge themselves like that. They had kids, or jobs – or elderly parents, or all of the above. Many hadn’t realised that that kind of indulgent self-pleasure was even a thing they could do.
Inside this round yurt, decorated with roses, lying on rugs and cushions, many of the women talked about not even knowing what their bodies wanted, or liked. Why? Because they had only experienced what partners, usually male, wanted to do TO them, never explored their own reaction to touch. The sexologist running the workshop encouraged us all to touch ourselves, caress our skin, try out new places (without genital touching, slightly to my relief….) There were soft gasps of joy as 35 women in a small hot tent, discovered the tenderness and delicious sensations possible when they stroked the insides of their arms. Or their throats. Or let their own touch linger without judgement on the parts of ourselves that women are taught to hate. I caressed my capacious inner thighs, thinking how often I have felt hate towards my wobblers in a culture which glorifies a thigh gap. I lovingly stroked my bulging belly which has birthed two humans. Feeling not the usual toughness of the internal voice which has been taught self-disgust at this flabby shortcoming, but instead approaching my tummy and thighs with self-acceptance and gratitude for my sturdy, trusty body. Later it occurred to me that the culture may tell me that I am a failure because I am not thin and toned but the reality is that I am successful, loved, have two daughters, a husband of nearly three decades standing and that I have achieved all of that with fat thighs. So the circumference of the tops of my legs is really NOT that important. That was embarrassingly liberating!
Around me, young women spoke of how sex for them had been all about pleasuring a man, his needs, his satisfaction, his desire. About becoming an object for his gaze, his delectation, not about their own sexual pleasure. Several women with large breasts described how their relationship with them had become warped because of the attention they had garnered from a young age from men. How they tried to cover them up. Or didn’t even think of their breasts as being part of them because they had been so externally objectified for so long. I could relate to that. I remember being a girl in the sixth form of Westminster, a boys Public School; no one called me Eleanor they called me ‘Jugs’. For two years, whenever I was greeted, boys would say: “Hello Leftie, Hello Rightie… oh, hello Eleanor.” It was like I was far less important than my appendages… When a woman talked about how her body had for so long been broken down into parts that people would comment on: nice legs, good tits, lovely hair –I resonated with how it had made her feel that she was not a person.
But we had got off lightly. A surprisingly large number of the women wept, describing how their own relationship with their body had become warped and terrifying because of the memories of sexual abuse stored in their most secret parts. They spoke of how they had been violated by fathers or brothers, or friends of their parents; adults who were supposed to care for them. What was clear was that the legacy of that early abuse was so much shame and pain in private places that should have given them pleasure. The wise leader of the workshop explained that one route route back to a more positive relationship with their own pleasure, their own sexuality was through self-touch. After all, if we are in charge, doing it to ourselves it is always safe, we can always stop. There is no other person involved who can hurt us. She explained that having gained sensory self-knowledge of ourselves we could then share that with our partners. The women talked about how good it felt to touch themselves slowly and softly. How pleasant it was to be gently stroked all over their bodies – not just in the genitals or breasts beloved of men. Several of the women spoke about how this experience had given them confidence, that for the first time they were going to go back to their partners and ask for what they really wanted.
It was such a strange and unusual experience to be lying with thirty or so other women as they unpeeled themselves, explored their bodies all of us sharing a safe and intimate space – helping and learning from each other’s experiences and fears.
I have to say that if Queenagers ran the world such workshops would be mandatory in schools for teenage girls, and be widely available to all women.
How much more power, how much more pleasure and autonomy would women have if we were all schooled from puberty to expectsensual pleasure and female satisfaction. Taught that sex was about us, our orgasm, our pleasure, that sex is NOT about pleasing men, or satisfying only them, but a mutual exchange, made better when women are equal partners, in charge of their desire and arousal. Women deserve orgasms too! They should make that a slogan on t-shirts.
More next week – hope you enjoyed Book Club, I did!
By Eleanor Mills