Excerpt from My Romantic Love Wars
I'd been having orgasms with a fantasy about being a sex teacher for several years. One of my favorite versions was having all my students masturbating in a circle while I showed them advanced techniques. At the end of the class, the group would have a simultaneous orgasm that would get everyone in my apartment building sexually aroused. The sexual vibes would permeate all fifteen floors affecting tenants, doormen, the maintenance staff and any delivery boys that happened to be on the premises. It was a great fantasy because I could throw in all kinds of kinky activity happening in the elevators, laundry room and stairwells.
After my involvement with the women's movement in the early seventies, I began to think about teaching sex to women in more practical terms. As I lay in bed one night, the words "Sexual Consciousness Raising" started to percolate in my mind.
Instead of sitting around complaining about men as we'd been doing in my regular CR (consciousness raising) group, women could discuss sex in detail and share information on how to have better orgasms. These independent orgasms would lead us to having more independent thoughts on how to change our lives for the better. I figured that making our sex lives better would positively affect everything else.
As an art student, I had learned by doing. In fact, every time I learned something new that involved my body, like the latest dance steps, l didn't just sit in a classroom talking about how to make the moves. The problem was how on earth could I teach sex by doing sex, short of staging groupsex parties for women only? Gradually I began to realize that I already had an agenda that I could present to a group- my own successful self-therapy. I named the two big changes: healing my genital shame and accepting masturbation as the key to sexual self-knowledge. Not only would these groups be a way to teach women about sex, but if I charged a small fee, teaching could be a modest source of income while I was learning how to write. Selling art was too difficult and I knew that it would only happen occasionally.
The next night, I couldn't wait to tell Laura about my idea of these sexual consciousness raising groups for feminists. The moment I said the words out loud, a strong sense of invincibility swept over me. She grinned from ear to ear, saying it would be the perfect way to show those matriarchal prudes at Ms. that I was serious about liberating masturbation. When I asked if she'd help me, she nodded yes, and suddenly we were caught up in this radical concept of teaching sex that had our rebellious spirits glowing.
The possibilities seemed endless as our ideas went flying back and forth. One thing was certain: I knew we had to act out what an orgasm looked like, imitating the moves and sounds to give a visual image of sex. Laura thought we ought to include health, yoga, and the martial arts. I agreed. I also wanted to cover genital hygiene plus a discussion on birth control with a demo on how to use a diaphragm inserter that made the whole process so easy.
The groups could be held in my living room, which would easily handle ten to fifteen women- if I got rid of the furniture. The question was at hand: Was I really ready to make some gut-wrenching changes? The immediate answer was yes. Acting instead of thinking, I called my former husband and asked if he wanted our furniture? He thought I was crazy, but after I said I needed to empty the living room to hold classes, he said yes, he'd take it. Within a few days, a truck picked up our Louis Seize couch, chairs, end tables- the whole lot of the expensive period furniture we'd collected during our marriage.
The first weekend I was elated but the following week as I sat on the floor in my empty room I was totally depressed as I wondered if I'd lost my mind. If I'd been smart, I would have sold the damn furniture, but no, I couldn't wait. When it finally dawned on me that my apartment was a blank canvas on which I was going to paint a new lifestyle, my depression lifted. With only a few hundred dollars left in the bank, I borrowed a thousand more and took the plunge. I ordered wall to wall carpeting and bought a dozen pretty pillows. With little else except my art on the walls and fresh cut flowers, the living room looked spacious and serene.
The next day I got on the telephone and two weeks later I had a list of nineteen tentative yeses. I set up two groups back to back. We'd meet one evening a week for a month and I'd charge fifteen dollars a session. Women could pay for individual sessions in case they were unable to attend all four nights.
On the first night of the Monday group, I answered the door nude the same as I did when I had a sex party. Then I ushered everyone into the bedroom and asked them to remove their clothes. Having them undress immediately left no time for them to worry about nudity. Agnes, a clinical psychologist, showed up first and got right out of her clothes. Then four women from my CR group all walked in together and started complaining about taking their clothes off before meeting the other women. Just then, three women who'd been at a few of my groupsex parties came in and stripped as if it was nothing. Finally, all the women except one from my CR group reluctantly removed their clothes protesting the whole time. After everyone was seated, I could have cried from the exquisite visual before my eyes. Except for Francine sitting there in her stupid leotard, we were indeed the Temple Priestesses forming some kind of sacred circle.
"The personal is political," I said with my voice trembling, and then gradually picking up momentum, I shared how I currently felt about my body and my orgasms. Laura spoke about her six years of sex with men without an orgasm and how she finally learned to come with masturbation at the age of twenty six. Joanna said she too could have an orgasm doing herself, but not with her lover. Mimi mostly talked about her lifestyle. Stephanie wasn't sure what an orgasm was, and Joy was being celibate. Agnes had a faithful husband while she played around, and Francine didn't want to talk about her sexlife because "some things are private."
The following week, we covered food and health. Everyone seemed interested in our information about vegetarian and macrobiotic eating which at that time was becoming more and more popular. Then I invited everyone into the bathroom so they could watch me perform some cleansing rituals for the body that Laura and I found to be extremely beneficial.
"Reich often had his patients do this exercise," I said, getting ready to bring back a glass of water from my empty stomach. "He believed that triggering the gag reflex released a lot of throat and stomach tension, which often put his patients in touch with repressed feelings."
"That's disgusting," Francine exclaimed, as she turned on her heel and marched out of the bathroom. Laura leaned over and whispered in my ear, "The controlling Matriarch." I threw up the water, determined not to be diverted. Then I got into the bathtub to demonstrate a thorough douching technique. After filling my vaginal cavity while holding the outer labia together to retain the water, I then forced the water out, spraying it three feet in front of me. That one got a round of applause. Next I was going to demonstrate how to do a colon cleansing, but when I got out the enema bag, the women all gasped and fled from the bathroom!
Back in the circle, no one could see what vomiting, douching, or enemas had to do with a good sex life. As I began to explain, I could see I'd already lost them. None of these women showed up for the third session, but I quickly forgave myself. The only way I could figure out where to draw the line was by going too far.
The Tuesday group went a lot smoother. They were spared the bathroom cleansing demonstrations and I concentrated more on sex. After showing two kinds of electric vibrators, I talked about different masturbation techniques, but since most of them were relating to men, instead of doing themselves, they wanted to know how to have an orgasm with intercourse. My answer was to add some kind of direct clitoral stimulation while being vaginally penetrated.
Laura and I demonstrated different sexual positions that made it easy to add clitoral stimulation while fucking. Each time, I emphasized the importance of using some kind of massage oil during sex. Taking the man's role, I sat upright on my haunches, while Laura was lying on her back with her legs on either side of me. While she pretended to diddle her clit, I pretended to fuck her, telling them that clitoral stimulation during intercourse was the only way I could consistently have orgasms with a partner. Next we did "doggie style," which was totally rejected. The women were unwilling to get into that "disgusting position with their behinds exposed like that."
The right angle position was more palatable. This time I took the female role, lying on my back, while Laura, lying on her side, pretended to enter me from an angle. The beauty of this position, I pointed out, was the ease of reaching the clitoris by either the man or the woman. Moving along like a trooper, I had the women gather around while I prepared to do my first genital show and tell for an audience. As I set up a make up mirror and adjusted the light, I was a bundle of nerves with sweat running down both sides.
Taking a deep breath, I opened my vulva and displayed my extended inner-lips as I explained how I thought they'd been stretched from childhood masturbation. Spontaneously Priscilla, my neighbor, spread her legs and showed her even longer inner lips. Sobbing with relief, she explained that all her life, she too thought she was deformed. She'd always hated the way her genitals looked.
Pricilla's confession and spontaneous display released the pent-up genital shame within every woman in the room. Within seconds, they were all looking at their own and each other's sex organs, marveling at the variety of our shapes, colors, and sizes. It was a powerful moment for everyone. That night was the birth of "Genital Show and Tell," which would become one of the most healing rituals in the thousands of groups I would do over the years to come.