Why see a sex coach?
People primarily come to see Melbourne-based sex coach Olivia Bryant for information and confidence. Some have complaints of pain or numbness in parts of their bodies; others have issues around shame, relationship concerns or problems in their sex life. Much of her work is about helping women commit (or recommit) to being sexually alive, and having honest communication. ‘So many women don’t own and share their desires,’ she said.
Bryant brings women back into close contact and relationship with their female anatomy. ‘It’s about the relationship to the lower part of the body, how women are associating with it or disassociating.’ She is not as concerned with the mechanics of sexuality as what is going on at a deeper level. ‘What interests me is the heart and soul of humans. Sex is just another barometer of what is happening in the whole being. For instance, if a woman isn’t accepting of her orgasm, we’ll work on her sense of self-acceptance.’
Most of Bryant’s clients are women but she will also see men for help in relating to women. ‘We have such an economy of I’ll do to you if you do to me,’ she said. ‘I train women now to receive without guilt and shame and obligation to return the favour, and teach men how to give, how to have stamina and how to love every moment of it.’
Why do women need help?
Bryant blames many of the issues her clients experience on the way we are educated (or not) about sex and sexual pleasure. ‘Where do we get taught the intricacies of pleasure unless we really seek it out?’ She said people often go along with what they might have seen in porn or what peers have mentioned to them. ‘Someone might say; you touch the clit and you have a bit of foreplay that leads to this thing called intercourse, and you’d better have an orgasm somewhere between the two, because if you don’t, you’ll either feel unsatisfied or inadequate.’
According to Bryant, the Western model of sex is male-oriented and goal-focused. ‘We’re schooled in intercourse as being the apex of sexual experience and I think there are a lot of unhappy women out there, because intercourse is not the be all and end all for them and their anatomies.’
She advocates learning how to expand the typical sexual repertoire. ‘Many women don’t know about yoni massage or about having extended play on the clitoris, about expanding their orgasm and learning how to use sexual energy in the body rather than just expel it.’ Bryant defines orgasm as starting the moment we move into our autonomic nervous systems. ‘It begins the minute you start contracting, the minute you start entering more of a trance state. You might not have reached your climax but you’re in a state of orgasm.’
Sex as homework
Bryant’s approach involves setting exercises for her clients to do at home. ‘I think it’s great if couples can put aside a couple of hours once a week for dedicated practice.’ Between times, she prescribes short 15 or 20-minute sessions that focus only on the clitoris, the breasts or the penis to help couples connect intimately. For Bryant, sex doesn’t have to equal intercourse.
Massage is another important part of maintaining sexual well-being. Bryant recommends her clients massage and knead the vaginal canal, just like any other muscle. ‘This part of the body stores so much tension. It holds your past sexual trauma and past sexual experiences; any shame you might feel—it’s all there.’ Massage also releases any knots caused when couples have intercourse before a woman is fully aroused. ‘You’re not always raring to go, and while some people say just use some lube, I think we really need to listen to our bodies. It takes quite a while for a woman’s full anatomy to swell and expand. Receiving when you’re not fully ready—which a lot of people do—is not going to give you the most pleasure, and having something banging up against your cervix when it’s not allowed to open up is going to create tight knots.’
Excuses, excuses, excuses
Not everyone is open to doing these kinds of practices or to making intimacy and pleasure a priority. ‘We put everything above sexuality—how much money we make, being successful, being a good wife, being a good partner, being a good mother, but not really being a good slut,’ she said. ‘In our culture we’re taught that everything else is more important and that pleasure is not a priority. We haven’t made it important enough. We’ve made our fears more important.’
Some clients blame a lack of time, but Bryant thinks that’s just an excuse. When a client says they don’t have time, she looks at what else might be going on. ‘I’ll say can you not find 15 minutes out of any single day to connect?’ Often there will be something there that the client doesn’t want to face. ‘For instance one client was afraid of feeling let down by sexual exchange with her partner so she avoided it.’
Others blame porn, but Bryant sees that as another excuse. ‘If porn use is a problem, I’ll always ask what is he getting from porn that he can’t find access to in the relationship? Is it safety? Is he afraid of being inadequate? There are all sorts of things people don’t have to face when watching porn. Porn is a way of experiencing your sexuality that requires no connection, no vulnerability. You don’t have to do anything except show up and watch, so there is nothing at stake. It’s an excellent avoidance strategy.’
Bryant admits the practices can be frightening. ‘To really let go you’re going to let whatever sounds and whatever emotions come up into the space. It requires being vulnerable, being comfortable with receiving, and getting past any shame.’
From mentee to mentor
From growing up in a household that didn’t discuss sex, Bryant carried a lot of unconscious shame about sex for many years. It wasn’t until her late twenties when she met her mentor, an author on female sexuality, that Bryant realised her potential. ‘My mentor helped open my eyes and normalise everything I’d been afraid of,’ she said. Once Bryant began to explore she felt sexy and free. ‘My libido was so turned on. My sexual partners were exciting and amazing and I was having all of these sexual experiences and I thought, I want other women to have this.’
It took another ten years before Bryant had the courage to put her vision into practice. ‘I needed to go through being a teacher and a healer before I could step into this space.’ Bryant undertook formal training as a sex coach in California though she obtained most of her knowledge through various workshops and practicing on her own body. ‘You are your best teacher,’ she said.
Part of Bryant’s journey involved looking at the parts of her psyche she would have preferred to keep hidden. ‘To be able to hold space for others you need to be whole,’ she said. ‘That means looking at everything we keep in the shadows, that we don’t accept as ours and refuse to look at, the things we would never tell other people. It’s difficult not to judge ourselves, but we need to bring everything that is unspoken and pushed down out into the conscious mind, so we can love and appreciate it all.’
Bryant admits there are a few occupational hazards in her line of work. When she first started, she thought she had to know it all. She soon realised what mattered was being present, providing a mirror and acting as a witness to her clients’ experiences. ‘You can still make a really great impact on someone’s life without having ever experienced what they’re talking about,’ she said. ‘I don’t pretend that I have all the answers now or that I’ve got it all sorted and together and I’m perfect. Clients have something to teach me as much as I teach them.’
Bryant said it’s also easy to fall into the trap of comparing her experiences to those of her clients, but it’s important to maintain that boundary. ‘I have to be so present, without my story, to be able to hold space for someone,’ she said. ‘If a client’s story is affecting me, then I must be making it about me, somehow.’ She also draws a line between thinking about a client’s case and taking on board their issues. ‘I will definitely think about my clients after the session is done, but I don’t take on their trauma; otherwise I’d go mad.’
The job can also affect Bryant’s intimate life. ‘It might sound great to have a partner who is obsessed with sex, but I can be quite clinical,’ she said. ‘Sometimes my partner and I will be having sex and I’ll be thinking about how I’m going to experiment with a technique.’
A take-home message
If Bryant could change one thing about how people view sex, it would be to treat working on sex as you would any other aspect of your life. ‘Find the courage to talk about it. Be real about it and don’t settle. You don’t have to have issues going on and problems to do a workshop on pleasure. Come to enhance or expand your experience being in a human body. Explore what more is there. Don’t put sex under the covers as something functional that you do. Treat it as an incredibly important part of a relationship that mirrors what is going on between you.’
Liv Bryant is a Melbourne-based sex coach who offers one-on-one coaching on all aspects of sex and intimacy. Liv convenes a number of specialist workshops including the popular Pleasure Ed and Pleasure Ed PhD series. Find Liv at Tell Me Darling.