Smiling at the screen, carefully I explain the 12 ways women can orgasm. Did you know you can have an ‘energygasm’ just by breathing in a certain way, I ask?
The eight women before me stare back incredulously. We have never met but, over Zoom, these women are beginning to discuss the most intimate details of their lives with me.
They include a married and menopausal solicitor from Surrey, a Dorset mother of two and a recently divorced author in her 40s, from Kent. It sounds bizarre, but I am coaching them in my role as a sexual priestess, and my mission is to help them rediscover — or learn for the first time — how to find joy in the bedroom.
Why priestess? Yes, I know it sounds far-fetched, but, to me, the sexual and the spiritual are closely connected.
For £5 a class, through meditation, movement, conversation and healing rituals, I teach women to enjoy their sensual power and fall back in love with their bodies.
I care passionately about this as, now 44, I spent decades hating my body, comparing it to those of women I saw in the media. This was not helped by years of Catholic guilt about sex, and the traumatic birth of my son.
Lucy-Anne Holmes, (pictured) 44, from Hertfordshire, teaches her sex and orgasm workshops on Zoom
I’m sure my methods will seem ‘out there’ to some. Certainly, the mums on my school WhatsApp group in Hertfordshire would be surprised to hear I carry such an exotic title. But I have actually studied this subject for more than two years now, and last year I was initiated as a sexual priestess.
Before you dismiss me as just some eccentric midlife mother, let me elaborate. Because, actually, the kind of work I do might help you feel more sexually alive, too. And with Valentine’s Day approaching, what better time for that?
Female pleasure has been treated as taboo for too long — the side dish to a meal enjoyed largely by men; something we don’t really talk about or even feel we’ve any right to experience once we pass a certain age.
That’s why for my latest book, Women On Top Of The World, I interviewed women of all ages and backgrounds about sex. I asked them what they think about during sex and was amazed at how much this varies at different ages.
She tells women to enjoy their sensual power and fall in love with their bodies
Many of the young women I spoke to think about whether they are pleasing their partner or worry they are doing something wrong. Sex, for them, is a performance, and they rarely consider their own pleasure.
New mothers say they find it hard to separate their role of mum from that of lover, so many struggle to feel present during sex — they are thinking about everything else they need to do! And many resent that sex is just another thing they need to get right to keep their husband happy and family life on track.
But the older women I spoke to are more liberated — if sex isn’t good with a partner, they think about how they can communicate that.
One woman, who is single at 70, complained that she felt frustrated her libido was so high while that of the men she meets is flagging.
Another topic of conversation among young women is porn, and the damage it can do to sex lives. Some are dealing with boyfriends who see sex through the prism of the porn they watch. It can be aggressive, not loving, and lacking intimacy, but women feel they have to go along with it to please their partners.
Most of the young women I spoke to said they rarely orgasm with their partners.
Sadly, studies have shown that 66 per cent of British women are dissatisfied with their sex lives, with one in three claiming they don’t want sex at all. But a great many are quietly signing up to classes and workshops like mine because they do want to feel like sexual beings again.
And I can help them. I was thrilled when a 40-year-old woman I coached rang me the next day to say she had enjoyed ‘beautiful’ sex with her husband after several years of abstinence.
Each class costs £5 and she uses meditation, movement and healing rituals. Lucy is pictured with her book
Renowned sex educator Betty Dodson delivered a masterclass in pleasure, aged 90, on Gwyneth Paltrow’s Netflix series The Goop Lab, and it was the most popular episode in the whole series.
Eye-wateringly candid to some, she encouraged viewers to really look at their bodies in the mirror. Her goal? An understanding of what makes our bodies tick, why every female body is beautiful and how to harness our erotic potential.
What I’ve discovered from the courses I run to help women reignite their libido is that more often than not, sex issues come down to poor self-image.
I know the corrosive misery of hating one’s body, feeling sexually repressed, all too well. Like almost two-thirds of British women, I disliked what I saw in the mirror and I believe that, for many of us, this stems from the way we were raised.
From the age of four, I attended an all-girls Catholic school and grew up with the belief that even thinking about sex was sinful. By the time my sexual feelings began to awaken in my mid-teens, I’d been programmed to view those natural urges as forbidden.
Lucy (pictured) says one woman rang her to say she’d had beautiful sex with her husband after several years of abstinence
That only made me want to try it more. But while having sex felt like an act of rebellion, I didn’t really enjoy it. Self-conscious about my body, I felt ashamed and exposed when I was naked. I’d have to get drunk to take my clothes off. Hardly conducive to sexual fulfilment.
I spent a lot of my 20s single. In fact, my love life was such a disaster, I began writing about it, finding humour in my situation as I shared the details of my failed dates.
My blog led to a publishing deal, so I took up writing full-time. Happily, I have now made a career out of both writing and teaching about women’s sexuality.
I met my partner, Robin, an estate manager, six years ago at a festival in Sussex, near where I then lived. Robin pitched his tent next to mine; we got chatting and have been together ever since.
When we met, I’d already started asking myself difficult questions about what I wanted from sex, and why it was something I so rarely experienced in a sober and present way.
I realised I didn’t have much love for my body or respect for my own sexual needs. If sex was going to feel more meaningful, I needed to express what I wanted.
That mindset may well be what made my connection with Robin, who’s 45, much stronger than anything I’d experienced before. We moved in together, settling in Hertfordshire, and six months after we first met, I was pregnant.
SENSUAL GAME TO RELIGHT YOUR FIRE
When it comes to rediscovering your sensuous side, I’m a great believer that a little goes a long way. Sex techniques are great — but you have to be in the mood for making love to want to use them. Often, re-connecting with your partner on an emotional level will lead you to sharing better sex. Here are some of the methods I use on my couples’ courses:
1. Both of you close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Now, think back to the first time you met. Where were you? What were you wearing? What were you doing? How did you feel? What did you think about this person? Open your eyes and share what you remember with your partner.
2. Close your eyes again and this time think back to the first time you kissed your partner. Where were you? How did you feel? Share your memories with your partner. Chances are, you might feel the urge to kiss again.
3. Next, think of a time when you looked at your partner and thought, ‘Wow’ — a time when you watched them doing something and felt huge admiration for them. Enjoy the memory. What were they doing or saying? How did you feel? Now open your eyes and share the memory with your partner.
4. We all want to feel heard. One technique that can help bring couples closer is to take turns asking each other questions, then focusing on the answers. Here are three questions you could ask:
- What are three of the best moments we have shared?
- What three things would you like us to do together during the next year?
- What was the last thing you remember really laughing at together?
5. One of the phrases we perhaps don’t use often enough in relationships is ‘thank you’. This is another example of a little going a long way when it comes to working at strengthening your emotional connections. Take turns completing the sentence: ‘Thank you for . . .’ Going back and forth three times each.
6. Communication is key to enjoying a loving and sexually fulfilled relationship. So why not play the Three-Minute Game? You can play this fully clothed or not. Either way you will learn something about yourself and your partner.
Here’s how to play: with a three-minute timer ready, say to your partner: ‘How would you like me to touch you for three minutes?’ Discuss so you’re both happy with what will happen, then spend three minutes giving them the touch they crave.
Swap roles, asking: ‘How would you like to touch me for three minutes?’ Again, discuss so that everyone is happy.
Couples I have coached say this one really works.
Raffy, who’s now five, was meant to be born at home, but there were complications and I ended up being blue-lighted to hospital. After a traumatic ventouse birth, sex became the last thing I could imagine enjoying again.
Research shows 83 per cent of women still experience problems with sex three months after birth, with lack of libido and pain during lovemaking the key culprits. Of course, all the official literature said that within six weeks I could be back to enjoying sex, but nine months down the line, any attempts to do that were agony.
I wondered whether there was an emotional element at play. Was I transferring the negative feelings I had towards my post-pregnancy body on to sex?
I tried to change that by looking at myself without judgment in the bedroom mirror.
One day, I touched the scar that had meant sex seemed prohibitively painful. It didn’t hurt. I began to cry. Those tears shocked me. As they flowed, I realised I felt differently about myself. I’d made friends with my body again.
This shift in my thinking was so profound that I decided to take it further. I dug out a flyer I’d picked up at a festival and then stuffed in a drawer. It was a course offered by a sexual priestess called Katinka Soetens, and on her website her work seemed to be as much about personal development as it was about sex.
Katinka, who is 57, was reassuring from the start. A mother of three from Glastonbury, she has been a priestess for 15 years and, before Covid, travelled all over Europe teaching women. She is one of more than 100 sexual priestesses in Britain today and she explained that, while trainees can study for a full five years with her, I could call myself a priestess after studying for two. And so, from early 2018, I spent one weekend a month with her studying female sexuality.
Katinka showed me the sensual heights I can reach simply by dancing and shaking my body in a certain way. And I was encouraged to look lovingly at every part of myself. With two years under my belt just before the pandemic, I was treated to a secret initiation ceremony to mark my progress. Inspired, I’ve set up my own classes on sexuality and body image that I now run virtually.
I had no idea what the take-up would be when I started last December. I simply posted a call for sign-ups on social media and was inundated with interest from hundreds of women.
There are definite benefits to a virtual class — I’ve had women from as far afield as South Africa and the U.S. attend, and many feel they can be more open when they’re not physically in the room with you.
During one session, I had them write the story of their body, of what it had done for them and where it had taken them since birth. After all, no-one is born hating their bum. By having them look at their body’s story, they could see what key events had impacted them the most.
For some it was becoming mothers; others felt their bodies had been ravaged by the ageing process; and bad sexual experiences played a part, too.
Midlife women who have lost their libido tell me they can’t be bothered with sex any more — they have got into a rut, sex is mediocre and they can’t see the point of even trying.
I suggest blowing a bit of energy into the topic, asking themselves what they truly want in bed . . . and then suggesting ways they can comfortably and confidently ask for it.
During another session, I got them to write a private letter from their body to themselves.
Amazingly, every woman who took part said she now sees herself through kinder eyes. It’s a simple but powerful exercise anyone wanting to feel a bit better about themselves might like to try.
I also do couples sessions, looking at the importance of emotional intimacy when it comes to desire. Men ask me how they can be better lovers and my first advice is not simply to focus straight in on the known female pleasure spots. One of the main complaints I hear from wives is that sex is too basic, too aggressive, too masculine to meet their needs. ‘I want gourmet sex!’ one frustrated midlifer cried.
Lucy also does couples sessions, looking at the importance of emotional intimacy when it comes to desire (file image)
I suggest men run a light touch with their hand over their partner’s whole body for a few minutes. It sounds simple but it is a lovely, energising way to wake up the skin. I also suggest they start a proper dialogue, asking their partners questions during lovemaking. Do you like this? Can I do that? Even if it’s just kissing the top of their breast or caressing a thigh, asking for permission can be genuinely sexy.
And then there are my Sexy Sunday get-togethers, where I invite experts to come and chat about various aspects of sexuality in a fun and informal way.
Helping guide so many women back to confidence has made me deeply proud of what I do — and of my new role as a sexual priestess.
Women On Top Of The World, edited by Lucy-Anne Holmes, (£20, Quercus) is out on February 25.
As told to Rachel Halliwell.
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