From Nowhere to Elsewhere: sex-positivity for burners

The odds are stacked against us when it comes to sexual liberation. Everywhere we look we are told that there’s something wrong with our sexuality: too much, too little, too weird, too kinky, too normal. This is our collective expression of shame – the feeling that we are not enough – and when it comes to sexuality we have plenty to work against. And as with most things we can’t quite feel in ourselves, we turn it outwards: making each other wrong and limiting what’s possible.

Then along come people like Ruby May and I, inspired by our teachers Dossie Easton, Barbara Carrellas, Fakir Musafar, Joseph Kramer and others, with a big sign saying “You can”: as long as it’s consensual you can do anything, be anything, feel anything you want. It’s all about permission – living in a world where we are so constrained, it’s vital that people feel they are allowed, that they are welcomed as they are.

This is why I was so attracted to the burningman culture, which seems to be all about saying YES to who we are and breaking free of individual and collective limitations and constraints. So after many years of flirting with the idea I finally got my shit together and made it to Nowhere (a European regional burn) in 2012.

Faerie at Nowhere 2012

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the desert but I was struck by the attitudes to sexuality I encountered there. Like everything at a burn, there was a broad spectrum, from the wonderfully switched-on and sex-positive Touch & Play (who I camped with) to young folks who only seemed capable of sexual contact when thoroughly bladdered – and quite a bit in between.

I recalled my friend Katie Sarra‘s distinction between shame-free and shameless sexuality. Those who are shame-free are considerate, mindful and conscious with their sexuality – aware of the power it contains and in control of how it’s used and directed. By contrast those who are shameless have to be bold and brash to push through their unconscious shame. This often expresses itself as ‘really going for it’ – usually with drugs and alcohol as a support. The extreme of shameless behaviour is something like Ibiza Uncovered, which is uncomfortable and a bit painful to watch.

Overall there seemed to be more shameless people at Nowhere than shame-free ones. It was a pretty hedonistic, let’s-get-mashed kind of event anyway – but it was striking how little ‘action’ happened during the day, when people were more sober. I noticed that my frank, direct approach – “I’m really enjoying hanging out with you, would you like to play?” – was met with surprise and limited success; whereas the more traditional approach – “let’s talk about anything but sex while shuffling up to each other” – seemed to do much better.

I’m useless at that so I ended up without many playmates during the festival. When I arrived at Schwelle7’s Xplore Festival a few weeks later, where my direct approach was met with considerably better results, I realised that the culture at Nowhere and I were not compatible. It saddened me a bit, since I had wanted to go to a burn for so long – and at the same time I recognised that there was potential for rapid change within this alternative culture.

So you can imagine how excited and happy I was when Ruby May told me about her project Elsewhere, combining what we’ve learnt as sex-positive teachers with the playful, dynamic, co-creative culture of the burners. It seemed to me that this was exactly what we needed to bridge the gap between these two compelling sub-cultures, so I jumped at the chance to co-facilitate the first two Elsewheres (London & Berlin) with her.

Since then Ruby has taken Elsewhere to Prague, Copenhagen and Vienna – and in a couple of weeks’ time we are back in London to do it again. It feels like an enormous gift to help people overcome shame around their sexuality and then create a space where they can be free to express themselves in all their shades and colours. With this beautiful double-whammy of permission in place, amazing things can happen – and we know from previous Elsewheres that they often do!

Would you like to discover what’s possible when you are given permission to express yourself without shame – sexually or otherwise? If so, we’d love you to join us for Elsewhere London. Be part of the co-creation and find out what can happen when you are allowed to be more of who you are.

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Interview by Cate Mackenzie

Earlier this year, gorgeous love coach Cate Mackenzie did an in-depth interview with me. We talked about many things: how I came to do this work, what it means to surrender, non-monogamy and more.

The interview is in 4 parts so you’ll need to click on the next part once a section is complete.

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The thing about sex

The thing about sex is, once we get good at it, almost every encounter is special. Sure, there are some people we aren’t so compatible with; but as we gain confidence we can sense this early on and avoid even going there with people we aren’t likely to click with.

Creative relationships beyond the picket fence

Even when we rule out those folks we don’t have a natural rapport with, there are hundreds (maybe thousands) of people we can have beautiful sex with. Each one is unique, a magic moment that occurs when two energies meet and play. Each one is a dance of delights, an exploration, a journey, a mirror. Each reveals something about us and about the other, and each has the potential to activate something in us that may have been dormant before.

This talks to jealousy. I used to really struggle to imagine my loved ones having fantastic sex with other people. It felt somehow unjust that others could turn them on the same way as me. Gradually I realised that this simply isn’t how it is: others don’t turn my lovers on in the same way as me, they turn them on in different ways. Since each person has a particular energy that has a unique effect on others, it follows naturally that each new connection has a different quality. Why should it upset me when my lover experiences a new type of connection, when I know from my own experience how unique each of my connections is?

One of the hidden core messages from monogamy, which resides deep in our conditioning, is that we are a magic key to our partner’s secret lock: a place only we have access to. It is part of the wider capitalist machine’s indoctrination of us, and I believe that its sole purpose is to make us unhappy so we’ll remain in desire and buy more stuff. (This is a huge subject and I can only gloss over it here.)

By contrast, when we start to find our way beyond monogamy, one of the things we learn is that we are uniquely shaped puzzle pieces that fit together differently, and beautifully, with many other puzzle pieces. The shape I make with my girlfriend M_____ is totally different from the shape I make with my lover S_____, and different again from the shape I make with my playmate B_____. Each one is beautiful and each one can be celebrated and enjoyed, just as soon as we give ourselves permission to go beyond what we’ve been conditioned to believe.

There is something liberating about knowing that we can have great sex with so many different people. As someone who has practiced ethical non-monogamy for over than 10 years, I also know that great sex does not mean a great relationship: as Dossie wisely puts it, there are some people we love to play with at a club but we wouldn’t bring them home, let alone get a mortgage together. Each connection has an appropriate level that is just perfect; as soon as we break free of mono-normative thinking, that suggests that every connection must move towards love and marriage, we free ourselves to discover what is right for us in each connection.

Once we know this, we soon realise that the number of people we can have fantastic sex with is much higher than the number of people we can have beautiful relationships with. The ingredients of a beautiful relationship are many and varied. Great sex is one, for sure: I have never gone into a serious relationship unless the sex has been hot to begin with. (That’s important to me but I acknowledge that it isn’t for everyone; and I do question sometimes whether this makes for more incendiary, unstable relationships.) But there are many other things that are important too, including: how well we get along; how similar our taste in music, films, books and food is; how much our life goals align; whether we both want to have kids or not and so on. There are many factors that determine the depth and length that is appropriate for a certain connection. Once we know that the great sex is not an indicator of anything except great sex, we can look more objectively at what the connection wants to be and let it flow into its natural shape.

This is part of the reason why I believe that non-monogamy has the potential to liberate us so deeply. It forces us to question whole swathes of conditioning around love, jealousy and our sense of who we are. In doing so we begin to find out own way of being in the world – not just sexually but socially and personally as well.

This evening London Faerie presents Permission for Pleasure in Prague, an evening talk about non-monogamy. He is also available for coaching sessions with individuals and couples who are in, or moving into, non-monogamous relationships.

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