5 years ago on Christmas night I stayed up late reading a book written by Naomi Wolf, called “Vagina.” Having just begun to feel an awakening in my own sexuality I was searching for guidance from other women on what this meant and, in some ways, the permission to allow it.
Naomi wrote that “Female sexual pleasure, rightly understood, is not just about sexuality, or just about pleasure. It serves, also, as a medium of female sexual knowledge and hopefulness; female creativity and courage, female focus and initiative; female bliss and transcendence; and as a medium of a sensibility that feels very much like freedom. To understand the vagina properly is to realize that it is not only coextensive with the female brain, but is also, essentially part of the female soul.”
Even with my very limited first hand experience with these words, they resonated deeply with me and I knew that this was not only what I was seeking to learn, but also what I’d been afraid of and holding back from for years. My identity had been tied to mothering, being a supportive wife and giving to others. Seeking this pleasure – which honestly almost felt like a bad word – seemed selfish and unmotherly.
Nervous yet Inspired by the book I decided to touch myself – something that I’d never done before. This idea seemed foreign and because I didn’t really like my body, having to touch it reminded me of everything that was “wrong” with it. Unsure and unconvinced about what I was doing, my first few attempts didn’t go very well. I was so completely focused on having an orgasm that I hardly felt a thing. Like an over eager lover I went straight for my clit and ignored the rest of my body – which needed to be touched just as much. Frustrated that this wasn’t working I thought that there was surely something wrong with me until one day it just happened – I’d brought myself to orgasm with just my hands!
I was thrilled and the orgasm was a great reward for all my persistence and hard work – but what ended up being the most profound for me was what I learned through the process of discovery. I learned about my body, what feels good for me, that I actually liked what I felt like under my fingers and because of that I imagined that someone else might like it too. I learned to be patient, to enjoy the build up, to use all of my senses and all of my body. I also learned that my own touch – whether or not it led to orgasm – could help me at difficult times in my life, reminding me that I’ll be okay and that I’m always here for me.
I’m so grateful to be able to say that in these past 5 I have come to not only understand but live what Naomi was saying. Through embracing and seeking out pleasure I have healed, became a better mother, more self aware, learned to trust and honour my intuition, set boundaries, seek out my passions, forgive myself, grow through vulnerable situations and finally to love and be loved. ……and as Naomi says that “feels very much like freedom.”
.Merry Christmas. <3
I wrote the following blog post nearly 3 months ago yet haven’t had the courage to share it until today. Wondering what was holding me back I sat with it for awhile and realized that it isn’t that I’m afraid to be seen this way – that’s my old story. It’s more that I’m afraid that in sharing my feelings about something that has been this difficult for me, I might being dismissed. I’ve heard many well intentioned women say to me “God if I had your stomach I’d be laughing” or “I don’t know why you’re so hard on yourself – I wish my stomach looked like yours.” I understand that they see theirs as much worse than mine but those words don’t make me feel better – they make me feel worse. They dismiss how deeply painful it was for me to not give birth naturally. How hard it is to have visual scars of pregnancy and yet no real birth story that gives me “credibility” amongst women. My shame is drawn in the scars on my stomach and today I’m saying fuck you to the shame. This is my mama tummy and I accept it.
We read and hear so much about self love, radical self love and the idea of loving our selves exactly as we are. I think that this kind of dialogue is important and the idea is a beautiful one, but I also think that in it’s own way it sets us up for disappointment and failure. When my teachers Betty and Carlin interviewed me for Bodysex facilitator training 2 and a half years ago, they told me that they believed the biggest gift that comes from Bodysex is self acceptance. They made a point of saying that this was more important than self love. At the time I didn’t fully understand what they meant, but I listened and held that idea in my mind as one of importance.
Body shame has always been a part of my life. As a teenager I remember feeling insecure about my small breasts and overly muscular legs. I thought that, like the women in Cosmo magazines, my breasts were supposed to touch together. When I had sex with my boyfriend I’d use my arms to push them in – hoping that he wouldn’t discover my “deformity.” The main source of my physical shame however, has been my stomach. Not only have I felt shame over how it looks from stretch marks and loose skin, but after losing one baby and giving birth to 4 by cesarean, the ever present scar has been a visible reminder of how my body failed me at what I’d wanted the most.
Late this summer I asked my friend Dana to take photos of me naked exposing my stomach. It felt like a monumental thing for me to do as I’ve always found ways to keep this area hidden. The meaning of shame is to cover and hide and a part of me has believed that if people knew what I really looked like or my full story they’d be disgusted.
As I stood having these photos taken I felt beautiful. It wasn’t that I necessarily loved my stomach the way it looked or that I loved all of the stories that brought me to this place. I may always mourn the stomach of my youth or the fact that my babies weren’t born naturally. But I can and do accept that this is how I look now and that my babies weren’t.
Fast forward to today and I’m soon to lead my 5th body sex circle. For the first time in my life I feel like I can understand what Betty and Carlin meant. And because this acceptance is true and not an attempt at some form of radical self love that isn’t really there, I no longer care if someone else doesn’t like my body, finds it unattractive or if they think I’m less of a mother for not giving birth naturally. I’ve nourished all 5 of my children with this body (plus a couple that weren’t my own) been cut open 4 times, given love and caused pain. I’ve experienced grief, loss, joys, endings and beginnings. Through all of this my body has carried me. This body and the stories drawn on it, are me. By accepting it and them, I accept me.
*photo credit 1 – Stiina
*photo credit 2 – Dana Kellet
Bodysex is a transformative and undefinable experience for women, of all ages and sexual orientations, interested in the empowering freedom that comes from shedding the masks, roles and clothing that we hide behind everyday. The workshop is done in the nude yet it is non sexual. It is about raising consciousness, creating sisterhood, healing body shame and celebrating pleasure.
The next Bodysex Retreat Weekend will be March 3-5th 2017, held at a private retreat centre near Saskatoon SK. Canada. It’s the perfect place to relax, let go and just be. The retreat has a “slumber party” feel to it with healthy home made meals and snacks lovingly prepared by me and my assistant Patti throughout the weekend. Henna tattooing and hair braiding is also offered by local artist Stiina. During non workshop hours participants will be free to walk trails or the labyrinth, spend time alone or visit with the other women.
The two day workshop will include:
- Sacred circle where, in first person, we share how we feel about our bodies and our orgasms. This is the time to let go of any shame that has been holding us back from fully celebrating our pleasure. Through this, the roots of sisterhood will begin forming as we accept each other for who are. No more and no less.
- Group genital show and tell. This is a powerful ceremony where we display our vulva one at a time, identify all of the parts of our anatomy and recognize the beauty and diversity amongst us.
- Learn new methods to enhance our orgasms and our self loving practice. Understanding our sexual anatomy, how breath, movement, sound and our pc muscle work to enhance our pleasure on all levels.
- Self loving, side by side, in the circle during “erotic recess.” Sharing our own pleasure, without expectation, with other women is one of the most powerful experiences that you will ever have. This is about learning to be our own lover, healing body shame, overcoming sexual guilt and sharing in sisterhood. This is also an opportunity for me to help personally guide you, towards orgasm or increased pleasure if you have never orgasmed or are having difficulty and would like help.
- Group massage. This ancient practice is almost impossible to describe in words. It is a transcendent experience where we are able to give and receive loving, non sexual touch from the other women in the circle.
Location: Outside Saskatoon SK. Canada. (exact location will be disclosed to registered participants only)
(transportation from Saskatoon to the retreat location provided for out of town participants for a fee)
Dates: 1pm, March 3rd – 1pm, March 5th
Cost: $575 CDN for first time participants, $375 for returning. Included in this fee is the full Bodysex workshop, mystic wand vibrator, healthy meals(locally sourced and organic where possible) shared accommodation for 2 nights (there is a price reduction of $70 for women not wanting to use a vibrator or bringing their own)
$200 NRF deposit on registration.
Space is limited to 10 participants
Please advise me of any dietary restrictions
Last weekend’s fall Bodysex retreat began with Patti and I greeting each of the women naked as they arrived, and asking them to undress. Having been a Bodysex participant myself – before becoming a facilitator – I understood very well the look of fear and nervousness on most of their faces. Arms crossed, eyes down and some holding back tears, the women made their way to the circle and sat down.
The circle begins with the sharing of our “honest “I’s” – stories and feelings that we carry about our bodies and our sexuality that are our own and no one else’s. I think of these stories as invisible layers that hang over us. Sometimes while sharing a story I realize that it isn’t even my own – and with this understanding I can choose whether I want it to stay with me – or to let it go in the circle. Whichever way I choose, it can mean one less layer of covering. As the women took their turns to speak, I was struck at first by the bravery it takes to share and secondly by the acceptance and love that was reflected back on the faces of each and every other woman in the circle.
With this shared acceptance, the women appeared to soften – relaxing their shoulders, melting a bit into their spot in the circle and allowing their legs to open and lay comfortably. In this particular group – for whatever reason – this process seemed to happen very quickly.
With relaxed bodies and true curiosity, we moved into what I consider to be the most intimate part of the workshop – the genital show and tell. Guiding each woman through her turn to look at, show, and finally name her vulva – we marvelled at the individual beauty, diversity and difference in colours.
As the sun was setting and our first day workshop hours over, I let the women know that they were now welcome to get dressed if they wanted to. In stark contrast to only 5 hours earlier when most seemed scared to be naked – no one was in a great rush to get their clothes back on. In fact some of the women hardly got dressed again for the rest of the weekend.
With this newfound acceptance, pleasure was celebrated in many ways:
Being cooked for, eating delicious meals together, being naked, orgasming, farting ( “OMG I orgasmed and a fart came out!”), belly laughing, walking the trails, energy treatments, gifts of essential oils, naked yoga, henna body art, laying under a quilt lovingly made by another sister, hair braiding, cheering our way through an old porn dvd, sharing more stories, holding space for tears when they fell, singing to each other, group massage and encouragement to “just go for three!”
We were active participants in our own pleasure with masturbation circles happening during the second day, as part of the workshop, and spontaneously initiated by women at night by the fire. Some women chose to orgasm both inside and outside of the retreat centre – in rooms alone and rooms with others. Masturbation became so normal that no one even blinked an eye at the sound down the hallway of another woman cumming.
Betty Dodson, the grandmother of masturbation, the woman who created these circles and the one who trained me, says that “Body sex is about letting go of shame and celebrating pleasure.”
Well Betty, I say: “We celebrated well.”
Thank you to my “engorgeous” sisters: Oakley, Flying squirrel, Buzz Lightyear (“to infinity and beyond!), Merridah, Vina, Nightingale, Moonstone, Chandelier, Sunset, Shakira and heart.
*** photo and henna body art credit to Studio Stiina
I Came Home And Stripped Naked And Looked In The Mirror And Said “You Are Beautiful, You Have Beautiful Curves.”
I haven’t finished my write up from this past weekend’s Bodysex retreat but a couple of testimonials have already come in. Here is one of them. I’m so happy for her!!!
“That was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. All of those women made me feel so comfortable and every one of them are so real!!!! I need more sisters in my life to make me feel that way. I came home stripped naked and looked in the mirror and said “you are beautiful, you have beautiful curves.” Today and going forward I am gonna love myself and exercise and eat healthy and nourish my body and make love to myself……. And fucking orgasm. YES!!!!! Thank you for helping me find myself again.”
Justine (Stiina) was a participant of my first Bodysex Retreat and, while I didn’t really know her before that, it became apparent very quickly that she was an artist who truly enjoyed creating art on people’s bodies. As the weekend went on -and the rest of us got over our issues with accepting love and gifts from another – it was a common sight to see Justine (often naked) creating art on different women. Being on the receiving end of this I can’t express what a gift it was. I’m usually the one doing the mothering and having another woman braid and touch my hair or gently adorn my skin was wonderful and healing for me.
Justine registered again for my second retreat and after that I knew that I couldn’t imagine her not being there. I decided to offer her a permanent seat in the circle as my gift to the other women. Much like Patti, Justine brings something special to the weekend that I don’t – and I want the other women to be able to experience it.
Bodysex is a time for reflection, healing and celebration. By making it into a weekend retreat it also becomes a time to be mothered. Thank you SO much Justine for making our space more sacred through your loving touch and beautiful art. I can’t wait to share the circle with you again this Friday.
I’ve known Patti for over 10 years but it wasn’t until she participated in my first Bodysex workshop, 2 and a half years ago, that I really got to know her. I’d always admired her strength, sense of adventure, independence and “fully live life” attitude, but sitting beside her in the Bodysex circle I got to know and admire her vulnerable, soft, motherly side as well.
When I decided to turn the workshop into a retreat I knew that I’d need support from someone who felt – not only passionate about Bodysex – but who also brought different gifts to the retreat than I do. Patti seemed like an obvious choice and as I watched her greet women naked at the door with ease, lovingly prepare food, make sure that coffee and tea were always on and model taking time for herself when needed – I knew that I couldn’t imagine doing it again without her.
Patti has no children herself and yet mothers us all as if she’s been doing it her whole life. I know that it’s an effort for her to fly in from out of province 3 or 4 times a year to do this, but I’ve never once heard her complain. I’m grateful beyond words for all of the support she gives me both during the retreat and behind the scenes with planning.
Along with Betty and Carlin, Patti is like the earth beneath my feet – giving me grounding, support and love.
Thank you Patti for the gift that you are and for making the retreat space feel like HOME. You are the best S.C. a girl could ask for.
Much, much love (and orgasms!!!)
This is a beautiful story – written by Lauren who has sat in the circle with me 3 times – about the quilt she made in exchange for her friend to attend my upcoming workshop. To me it epitomizes exactly what the Bodysex circle and sisterhood is all about………..
Over the last few years I’ve been on a journey, supported so often by Natasha and the other women I’ve shared the circle with in her workshops. I feel like I have come so far, feeling generally grounded and connected to myself. I wish more women had the chance to experience the loving environment Natasha creates. I have one friend in particular that I believe would love the experience and it would be so good for her. At various times I’ve even tried to figure out how I could afford to just pay for her to attend. So, this summer, when Natasha posted a request for someone to sew a couple quilts for her office in exchange for counselling or workshop services, my mind started swirling. I had so many ideas. I was so excited and had to get in touch with them both right away. I have been working on the first of two quilts that will hopefully help provide Natasha’s clients with some extra warmth and love.
This sewing project felt amazing, as I poured so much love, energy, and intention into each step. Throughout the work of planning, cutting and sewing I have reflected on my own experiences within the circle and continued to process. I remembered each of my circle sisters and the many other women who have influenced and supported me.
Before I had even talked to Natasha about the quilt, my mind went instantly to circle imagery. I knew I wanted to create a circle to represent the circle of women in Natasha’s workshops. I have so much fabric and scraps and old clothes to repurpose, it was like an adventure picking out the pieces that would go together. I found twelve different fabrics to represent the twelve women in a circle.
I look at the fabric. I see the two pieces I bought traveling alone in Thailand which have been used at different times for table cloths, a skirt, wall hangings and a few handmade ornaments. I see leftover pieces of fabric from baby carriers I made for a dear friend as well as two other women. I see a skirt my mom made me almost twenty years ago, and the outfit she made me for grade seven grad. I see a dress I made myself that I loved so much but never quite fit properly. I see a piece of fabric I think my sister bought so many years ago that I can’t even keep track of all the incarnations of decorative and functional uses it has seen. I see my kids curtains from their room when they were tiny. There’s also a piece of fabric that I loved but never got around to making the intended project, a piece I scavenged years ago from my mom’s fabric stash and an old favourite pair of pajamas. In each piece I see myself, through the actual memories and through the varied styles (sometimes subtle and winding, sometimes bold and vibrant, sometimes quiet and subdued). It’s also fun to look at the styles and imagine which one best suits and represents the women I got to know in the circle.
Each fabric and each woman has a different story, similarities and unique beauty; they (we) are now forever connected to each other. I feel like the quilt shows the light and love we each bring into the circle and the energy we shine outwards in our lives after we leave the circle. Once the fabric was pieced together, I saw an eye shape that I hadn’t planned. It’s funny, once I noticed it I couldn’t miss it. I think that connects me to the sense of feeling truly seen that was at first a little terrifying and then so soothing. This quilt and my experiences of the workshops have so much story woven into them.
The quilt itself is imperfect and flawed. My technique is improvised and made up. My stitches wobble and waver just as my body and confidence do. I cringe at the thought of a real quilter looking at it, just as I once cringed at the thought of revealing my imperfect body. It reflects so much of me and my journey with my circle sisters. Even as I sit writing this, with the quilt around my shoulders, I feel held and safe. I dearly hope that many other women can accept the love and energy of other women daring to be vulnerable together.
“It looks like a gaping wound,” “It’s ugly,” “It’s too fat,” “Somethings just not right,” “ Too dangly,” “Not like the one’s on porn,” “It’s the wrong colour,” “It looks loose,” “Smelly,” “Dirty,” “I’m too scared to look,” “I think it’s damaged from masturbation,” “Not tucked in nicely,” “Too wet,” “It’s uneven,” “I thought of cutting that part off before I showed you so you wouldn’t see it.”
These are words that I’ve heard from women in Bodysex workshops or individual Coaching sessions, and I’ve tended to think that I’m immune from these thoughts. However this week I saw my vulva “style” in the “before” pics for labia plasty surgery and I can’t stop thinking about it. If someone like me feels bothered by it, I can’t imagine how a teenage girl would feel. I don’t have what in todays society you’d call a “porn pussy.” I have longer inner lips than outer causing them to “peak” out. At any given moment my vulva looks like a flower that’s just beginning to bloom, but when I’m really turned on it’s in full bloom – open to the sun. It’s beautiful. I know it is. I really do. And yet here I am terrified to admit this. My fear makes me realize just how deeply entrenched the cultural shame is, over how we think our bodies are “supposed” to look.
It’s my hope that by sharing this slideshow we can all gain an understanding in the wide range of normal in regards to vulva styles. We birth from our vulva – it’s sacred, special, unique and has evolved to be this way over thousands of years. Our children need to know this. We all need to know this. Give your vulva a hug today.
For more information check out this fantastic video: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/video/2016/sep/23/vagina-dispatches-part-one-what-vulvas-look-like
* Art by Betty Dodson. Special thanks to all the women who gave permission for me to share their beautiful vulva pics.
** For people reading this who have chosen to undergo labia plasty for medical, emotional or cosmetic reasons my intent is not to shame you. I realize there are times when this surgery is necessary for the physical and emotional well being of the person. It’s my intent rather to support and educate people on the wide range of normal in regards to labia so that unnecessary surgeries may be prevented.
It’s From This Collective Compassion And Mutual Vulnerability, That We Grow New Shoots In Support Of Each Other.
The spot for this photo (taken at my May Bodysex Retreat) was chosen because of the trees above us. The tree on the right side of the path had uprooted, causing it to fall towards the tree on the left. What made the spot so special though, was that the tree on the left had seemingly grown a new shoot – strong enough and in exactly the right spot – to be able to support the other one.
Like the trees in this forest each woman in a Bodysex circle is unique – with her own roots, colours, scars, and place in the forest. As we share our stories, vulnerabilities, fears, shame and pleasures we gain individual strength as well as understanding and compassion for each others uniqueness. It’s from this collective compassion and mutual vulnerability that we grow new shoots in support of each other.
There are only 2 spots remaining in my fall Bodysex retreat and I invite you to share the circle with me. http://natashasalaash.com/fall-bodysex-workshop/
* * photo credit Dana Kellet