Review: Masturbation workshop

"The phrase 'go fuck yourself' underwent an empowering makeover at this workshop."

The phrase “go fuck yourself” underwent an empowering makeover at the hands of sexologist Georgia Grace and USyd student Lily Reynolds, at their masturbation and pleasure workshop for Radical Sex and Consent Week.

Two trepidations made me hesitate to cross the threshold into the Eastern Avenue tent: firstly, the focus of this thing was masturbation. Secondly, it was a workshop, implying interactivity and personal sharing about the subject. Two taboos, one tent.

Grace dissipated the tension gathering in our little circle of bean bags by listing her credentials as a student of the Somatic Sexology Institute and asking the group to meditate by focusing on our genitals. As I was instructed to breathe into my heart and out into my crotch with ten other people, I realised that the initial urge to giggle like a Year Seven in PDHPE faded quickly. Instead, Grace allowed us to see how senseless it is to omit recognising our genitalia by articulating their existence.

Reynolds and Grace’s frankness and unapologetic passion for their area of expertise gave the participants social permission to be curious and learn. Reynolds provided an informative barrage of sex shop and toy recommendations, with Newtown’s Max Black store given repeated praise. Grace provided a scientific explanation of male and female erogenous zones, followed by varied advice on how to pleasure each.

When the floor was opened to attendees, the talk turned to stigma and high school bullying surrounding those who had dared to admit to masturbation, specifically for women. Grace separated pleasuring oneself from the stereotype of the seedy pervert it’s frequently attached to, by emphasising that masturbation is fundamentally an empowering act of self-love — even with a partner — by saying, “your partner is not a vending machine for your pleasure.”

The real strength of the workshop showed itself at its conclusion. An attendee positioned outside the circle raised her hand and shared that she had cerebral palsy, and that in the absence of being sexually active she was left to pleasure herself, but the deterioration of her dexterity made this next to impossible. Grace gently thanked her for sharing, and the entire group began a discussion on the wonders of modern technology and remote control vibrators.

For me, this small interaction showed the workshop had achieved the objective set by Radical Sex and Consent Week. This young woman could be unapologetically vulnerable and supported by a group of strangers about a subject that is irrationally cloaked in shameful invisibility. Although the workshop was  unstructured and probably not for the faint hearted, its fluidity and honesty allowed for a forum in which the curiosities and needs of those who attended were satiated by the expertise of a professional in Grace, and a relatable voice in Reynolds. It achieved the difficult task of providing a voice for a paradoxical practice: performed by most but spoken about by next to no one.

Content note: Some Rad Sex coverage uses language that reinforces the gender binary to reflect the content of reviewed events. Honi understands that this does not represent the identities of all our readers.