London - What does contemporary womanhood require to nourish, sustain and detoxify it?
“Orgasmic living,” says Nicole Daedone, the author of a popular book, Slow Sex: The Art and Craft of the Female Orgasm, and a website, turnedonwoman.com, which is sweeping the US.
Slow sex”, as taught at Daedone’s OneTaste retreats in San Francisco and New York, promises to deliver reliable orgasms for women frustrated, blocked or bored by sex.
But more profoundly, and for both sexes, it attempts to meet our “fundamental hunger to connect with another human being”, a need frequently left unsatisfied, Daedone says, in our time-poor and intimacy-averse culture.
Daedone can’t claim to have invented the slow-sex movement. As you might expect, Italy’s slow-food movement produced its own offshoot back in the mid-2000s. Teachers of tantra, who have been turning Westerners on to the benefits of ritual and massage since the 1960s, might also claim that they pioneered a form of intercourse that supplies what Daedone calls “sustainability, nourishment and connection”.
Yet as a cultural phenomenon, Daedone’s success is fascinating and significant.
Sexually evolved women, some predict, will soon be retiring their comically hideous Rampant Rabbits in favour of massage oil, scented candles and rose petals.
For proof of the explosion of interest in “spiritual” sex, just look at Amazon, where nearly 40 books on the subject will have been published by the end of this year alone.
Daedone, of course, argues that she's not surfing a trend, but meeting a genuine need, something on which many women may find themselves agreeing. These days, our sexualised culture seems to offer a synthetic, commodified and ostentatiously visual model for sexual relations, when what most of us secretly crave is connection, intimacy and the capacity to simply be in the moment.
No wonder there's an appetite for a different approach. Just as childrearing manuals bespeak their times, so too do sex guides, a point made by sex educator and academic Dr Petra Boynton.
“Twenty years ago when sex shops began to open on the high street and sex advice became much more frank, that felt like a good thing because it was putting information out there that was useful for people. But the tone rapidly became very aspirational, performative and commercialised. The emphasis was exclusively on penis-in-vagina sex and [things such as] vejazzling and buying an expensive vibrator because you're boring if you don't have one.
“So on the one hand anything that promotes communication and a more holistic view of your relationship, like Daedone's book, is probably a positive,” says Boynton.
“But,” she warns, “there's a danger that it can become equally prescriptive, just in a different way. In fact we are incredibly diverse in the way we experience sex, which is why I'm also wary of anything that assumes that women need time and nurturing because they are somehow more complicated and less sexual than men. There are, of course, women who are just as keen as men to do something graphic and quick.”
However, female sexuality is certainly contested terrain. The notion that women are somehow asexual was overturned in the utopian, experimental 1970s, when we came to believe that “free love” was something in which the sexes could take equal delight.
The experiment ended badly, and relations became predatory again, except that this time women were regarded as being just as capable as men of brutally taking their pleasure and leaving.
When it turned out that relatively few women really enjoyed casual sex, an older paradigm was rediscovered, of a woman who revelled in her sexual power over men. So-called raunch culture was born, accompanied by pole-dancing classes and Agent Provocateur underwear intended to maximise desirability.
However, that relied on consumption, not experience. We seem to want so much to be able to pull instant gratification off the shelf in the form of an outfit, a sex toy or an erotic DVD, but the result is a sugary high, so to speak, which ultimately fails to satisfy. Could it be that, like home-baking and growing your own veg, the quality of the sex you have increases in proportion to your investment of time, effort and commitment?
Pornography, the most plastic and artificial of all our passions, is booming on the web, and while we’re now accustomed to the horrifying idea of men so addicted to porn that they prefer it to sex with a real-life lover, I was bemused to discover that at a UK porn-counselling service, Quit Porn Addiction, almost one in three clients are women worried about their own use of porn.
Daedone disdains the over-iced cupcake in favour of the complex-carb slow release of the artisanal loaf: “A turned-on woman,” she writes, “wants sex that creates energy rather than depletes it. She seeks the slow burn, the kind of sex that heats her up from the inside out, stoking her fire and powering her journey.”
An academic in the study of gender and language, Daedone was teaching a class in sexual semantics when she began to be struck by how many students came to her asking questions. How can I get the love I want? How can I orgasm, or maintain an erection? What is wrong with me?
“There was so much shame around,” she remembers. Then Daedone, already influenced by the work of Zen Buddhist teacher Alan Watts, stumbled on an approach she calls “orgasmic meditation”.
This technique involves one partner (usually the man) spending exactly 15 minutes stroking the intimate parts of the other (usually the woman), while she focuses on her breathing. Not only, claims Daedone, does this practice “bring attention to a place that is very difficult to stay conscious in”, but it also fosters a wider sense of connection and aliveness in those who have previously felt “disconnected and frozen”, languishing in what she calls “a deferred life”.
Her “Turned-On Woman” manifesto is, frankly, full of platitudes to which one couldn’t possibly object, from “don’t believe what society says about women” to “don’t buy off the rack – customise”. But the up-the-sisterhood vibe does tap into a genuine phenomenon, that of the feminist revival being driven by young women, such as the journalist Rosamund Urwin.
“I think the proliferation of strip clubs and pornography have been damaging to relations between the sexes,” she says. “They are depressing and tawdry and also they promote a very narrow idea of what is beautiful and sexual. Funnily enough, I wonder if it is their ubiquity which has encouraged some people to look for something more meaningful. When so much can be bought cheaply, perhaps that makes things that can't be bought even more special?”
According to Reclaiming the F Word, a recent handbook to feminism written by Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune, “there’s evidence that being a feminist improves your own sex life too – researchers found that feminist women are generally more sexually assertive, better able to negotiate pleasurable and safe sex, and experience more equality in their personal relationships”.
“Conversely, women with more traditional attitudes, who associate sex with submission to a male partner, have more difficulty in reaching orgasm,” the book says.
Laura Berman, regarded as America’s queen of sex manuals, has a different emphasis in her new book Loving Sex.
She says slowing down may help frustrated couples.
“Many people believe great sex shouldn’t take work,” she says. “They think it should happen organically, and if it doesn’t they assume it is time to throw in the towel.
“That’s not the case. Any couple can have amazing sex. But it takes effort, commitment, communication and time.” – The Independent on Sunday