As I walk up the stairs to the long, low-ceilinged room above Stuart Street, Mullumbimby, a wave of fear rises up from my belly.
‘I don’t know if I can do this,’ says a little voice inside.
‘Maybe I should turn around…’
Another, more practical voice chimes in.
‘Come on, how bad could it be? It’s just a workshop about vaginas and stuff, right?’
‘Sure, just a workshop… let’s go home,’ says the first voice.
It isn’t, in fact, ‘just a workshop about vaginas and stuff’, it’s a workshop for men about women’s sexuality and arousal – an exploration of the ‘Yoniverse’.
The idea of taking part in this kind of thing wouldn’t normally have me running for the hills.
But things haven’t exactly been normal of late. More like surfing in a cyclone.
So going to a full-day intensive about women’s sexuality on my own is feeling pretty challenging.
On my way to the workshop I spent at least ten minutes imagining a series of scenarios where my lack of ‘yoni-knowledge’ would be glaringly exposed by the goddess-like women running the show.
In one scenario a goddess stands next to a large diagram of a vagina, holding an extendable pointer, and quizzes me on the finer details of female anatomy, her eyebrows raised.
I look around the room; no extendable pointers as far as I can see; just a group of about 15 slightly nervous-looking men and three women with big smiles.
I take off my thongs, breathe deep and dive into the Yoniverse.
It begins with our two yoni guides for the day, Karlyn and Elise, asking each of us to share how we feel.
I take another deep breath and haltingly inform those in the room about the ‘um…fear’ I’m feeling.
I don’t know what it feels like to be a woman and, chances are, I never will.
But what I learned from our two yoni guides over the next 90 minutes gave me an appreciation of the feminine experience that I’d never had before.
They spoke about growing up in families and communities where female sexuality was often a source of confusion and shame.
They described the tightrope walked by many young women as they explored their sexuality.
On one side of the line lies the risk of being branded a ‘slut’ for the simple act of expressing your sexual desire, while on the other the possibility of being labelled a ‘frigid bitch’ waits menacingly.
I started to reflect on this in the context of my own teenage experience.
Far from being shamed for having sex, I was more likely to be greeted with begrudging respect by mates and apparent indifference from the rest of the playground.
I’m ashamed to admit that I participated in conversations littered with references to ‘sluts’ and ‘slurries’ until I hit my late teens.
Many women carry the legacy of this trauma into their adult lives, I learned. It affects the way they relate to their boyfriends and partners and their experience of sex and sexuality.
Women reading this may be struck by the sheer obviousness of what I’m saying. But I have to admit that this was a revelation to me and, I believe, at least some of the other men in the room.
The good news was there was something I could do. Men love that. With honesty, presence and gentle touch, I could help my future partner to safely and genuinely express and explore her sexuality.
Together we would take a beautiful journey into cosmic lovemaking, helping us to forge a deeply loving, lasting relationship.
Awesome. I was starting to feel my confidence returning.
But then the yoni guides told us it was time to tackle the subject of my nightmarish morning imaginings – anatomy.
After 38 years on the earth and my fair share of intimate relationships, I was confident I could locate the erogenous zones on a woman’s body, even if I couldn’t name them.
Man, I had a lot to learn.
Did you know there is not only a ‘G-spot’, but also an ‘A-spot’ and a ‘U-spot’?
And did you know, men, that the clitoris has ‘legs’ running down either side of the vagina? This, I discovered, was just the tip of the erogenous iceberg.
As the discussion and demonstration unfolded I couldn’t help but reflect on the fumbling encounters of my youth and – if I’m completely honest – intimate moments from the more recent past as well.
Why on earth don’t they teach this in school instead of the sterile diagrams that completely ignore feminine pleasure? As one of our yoni guides opined, if all men and women were introduced to these wonders at an early age there would be more love, less war and definitely more orgasms.
I’d survived the morning session and was starting to relax. It was just in time to explore the magical world of yoni massage, aided by another beautiful guide, Yasmina. Watching the massage unfold was beautiful and revelatory.
I discovered that a yoni massage is not an erotic massage that precedes sex. It’s not about trying to make something happen.
It is about giving without expectation – exploring in a playful, curious, loving way and deeply connecting with your partner.
This was not a completely foreign idea to me, but if I’m completely honest, few of the intimate massages I’ve given to my partners over the years have been completely expectation-free.
I won’t go into the intimate details of yoni massage here, but here are a few general tips for the curious reader: Do the dishes beforehand so your partner can relax (I’m not kidding), start from the extremities of your partner’s body and move in (never underestimate the importance of feet!), be present and respond to what comes up rather than sticking to your plan no matter what and relax (yes, I can see the irony in this right now).
It was late afternoon and I was still in the long room above Stuart Street.
The fear around my own ignorance had faded and I was feeling pretty comfortable about being around the other men and our yoni guides.
But the maelstrom in my personal life was still hanging over me like an autumn monsoon.
What happened next changed that. Unfortunately I can’t tell you exactly what transpired. Every member of the group was sworn to secrecy about the ritual that ended the workshop that day.
It’s not because it was graphic or sexual; we were just asked to keep it between us so that future participants could take part without expectation.
But I can tell you that it has helped change the way I think about and engage with women.
Though I find it hard to admit, I’ve had a long-standing pattern of trying to ‘achieve’ something with women, especially those whom I find attractive.
I wanted them to like me, to want me and to need me. This would invariably start with a charm offensive – lots of jokes, smiles, flirting – and then move on to making promises that I couldn’t keep.
In the final part of the workshop I committed to letting that go, to honouring and respecting the feminine without needing or wanting anything in return.
I won’t pretend that I have cast off my mask completely, or that my interactions with women are now without expectation of any kind.
But I’m getting there.
As I sat cross-legged on the floor at the end of the ritual, I finally felt myself ‘arrive’ in that long room in Mullumbimby.
The fear was gone, my feelings about my personal life were less heavy and painful, and I felt confident that I could handle whatever the rest of the weekend threw at me.
I hugged everyone in the room, put my thongs on and walked back down the stairs into the warm evening air.
For more info on the Yoniverse workshop visit www.theyoniverse.com.