Exhibitionism does have someappeal for me, but I'm not totally enjoying the mildly clinical version I'm engaging in right now. I'm "on the table," during the third meeting of a six-week workshop called Vulvalicious. We're a group of nine women -- six participants, two facilitators and me, the assistant and demo massage model. We're learning how to give each other "vulvalicious" full-body erotic massages.
Six people stand around watching intently as our facilitators, Pat Parisi and Carlyle, demonstrate the moves everyone will be expected to know by the workshop's end. It's weird to feel so nervous and exposed while getting more and more turned on. While Carlyle tenderly runs her fingers through my hair and along my face, Pat expertly traces my body with her hands, rocking, stroking and teasing me to get me ready for the yoni massage, when my clit, G-spot and all the unnamed points in between finally get their due.
Most nerve-wracking of all? At the end of my abbreviated demo massage, I've got to do a "big draw."
In the tantric/taoist erotic massage community that's grown out of the initiatives of the San Francisco-based organization Body Electric, the big draw is the climactic end to a well-given and well-received massage.
As Pat and Carlyle continue to stimulate me, I speed up my deep breathing and then enter the "big draw" cycle. One deep breath, let it go. Second deep breath. Third deep breath, and this time I hold it and clench every muscle I can find in my body.
My legs and chest rise right off the table. I can't imagine what my scrunched-up face must look like. I hold breath and muscles till I can't any more, and fall back to the table with a deep grunt.
By now I am in an altered space. Tingling currents run through my body. Emotion, voice, breath and mind have coalesced into a new configuration. I am so grateful for the respect and patience I feel from the people around the table. At the same time, I am still aware enough of my surroundings to be feeling very vulnerable.
As its name perhaps inadvertently implies, the Vulvalicious workshop could be understood as training in vulnerability -- how to open up to it, how to accept and love oneself in the midst of it, and how to harvest its ecstatic fruit.
By our second meeting, for instance (the week I join), we're already doing our first unveiling. Colourful sarongs go up on the window of our cozy space. Carlyle puts on some soft, sensuous music.
Participants split into two groups of three and gently remove one another's clothes, asking permission to take off each item. The facilitators and I simply strip and dance to add to the ambience. Everyone's surprised afterwards at how easy and natural it feels to get naked with a bunch of relative strangers, despite our many different shapes and sizes.
Of course, the context has been carefully prepared. The group's already done two in-depth check-ins, letting one another know about all our fears, anxieties, hopes and turn-ons. We've also done our "heartwheel" exercises each week, breathing together, gazing into one another's eyes, placing our hands on one another's hearts.
Each temporary partnership is surprisingly intimate, and as the workshop goes on, some of us, myself included, find that doing the heartwheel piece is actually more challenging than exchanging yoni massage.
It's in our fourth and fifth weeks that we give one another massages, and as we get ready to plunge into this new erotic territory together, we share more and more of our fears. Some of us are scared that if we really let go we'll be rejected. Some wonder, How do you do this kind of thing respectfully?
What if you get turned on while giving a massage? Carlyle reminds us that arousal is natural when you're touching somebody else's naked and excited body. But the rule of this game is to focus only on serving the receiver's arousal.
As for your own desire, she says, you can use your breath to stoke it and increase the erotic charge you're offering, but never touch the receiver with the intent to satisfy yourself. That way the person on the table feels safe, taken care of and free to concentrate on nothing but her own experience and pleasure.
Her words help us pass another hurdle. Now we know what we're doing, and why. From my perspective, knowing that we will all have a turn at the turned-on centre of the massage is what makes it so easy for us to give to one another with total commitment during the next two weeks.
Halfway through our fourth meeting, the long-anticipated yoni massages finally take off. In the candlelit room, we move together through our shifts in breathing, our laughter, our desirous screams, our tears and sobs, our deep, sinking silences, and the knowing transmitted from body to hand and back again. We move together through places of pain, places of pleasure and places where such notions no longer apply. Immersed in the salty deliciousness of our real-ness, I am at home, sweet home.
We end with our final stories, questions, wishes, chocolates and little stones from Pat. I walk out the door, wondering, as I always do after I've exchanged erotic massage, how something that feels so utterly natural and nourishing can be so hard to find. Why is this Toronto's only all-woman erotic massage workshop (firstname.lastname@example.org)?