I drove towards Seattle questioning everything. What am I supposed to wear? What am I supposed to bring? What kind of people go to this? I’ve been feeling a little disconnected sexually and socially. I was going to a community masturbation workshop.
When I arrived at the center hosting the event, I wasn’t sure if I arrived at the right place. There was only one truck waiting with me. An older man hung his legs outside of the driver’s side. He looked at me like I didn’t belong and I know I looked at him in the same way. Soon after, I saw one other human being going to a door to the center. She had a white blanket over her head and pushed in a code to go inside. I still decided to go through with this and find the entrance, but not before giving a friend of mine the address and time it would be over.
After circling around the building, I found a door with “MAIN” spray painted right next to it. I walked into the darkest entrance, furnished with a counter full of brochures. This seemed like the most normal part. A friendly voice greeted me and asked if I was here for the workshop. She showed me the space and introduced the two instructors, Tai and Toby. None of this was what I expected. In my imagination, I saw white, open, and welcoming. I imagined uniforms, a tea station and hand sanitizer dispensers along the walls. I was waiting to walk into something clinical and this was far from it. I was in a dark warehouse.
Tai and Toby spoke to me in the most gentle tones. I questioned how awake they were because they seemed so relaxed. I was a bundle of energy, darting my eyes around and asking as many questions that seemed appropriate.
“What should I expect? I’ve never done this before.”
Toby began to give me an introduction, but promised something more in-depth once the workshop began. I stopped listening and gave way to just his cadence as I gazed over the room. The futons were all arranged in a radial pattern. Scarves were thrown in the center of the futons. There were other random couches in the back. A door held a sign that read “after care”. Some kink equipment was stowed away in the hallway. The skylights had black paper over them. The lighting was barely there, just enough red illumination to highlight the shadows of all of the strangers I would touch myself in front of. I was instructed to pick a bed and make it. I picked the most isolating one.
Five others came in before the workshop began, three other men and two other women. Tai and Toby introduced themselves at the beginning as sexological bodyworkers, belonging to the local Seattle branch and community. Both explained that the workshop, Mindful Erotic Embodiment, focused on the self and exploring in ways in which you're comfortable with. It was described on the internet as “a conscious self-pleasuring exploration practiced within a communal erotic space”. Orgasm, or trying to achieve orgasm, is not necessarily part of the practice. We were instructed to use a “soft gaze” if looking around the room.
“Remember to breathe, and breathe deep.”
They assigned themes to each workshop. This theme was abundance. Toby asked us to put ourselves in the mindset of feeling that.
“How would you feel if you had everything you wanted already? What if you had enough time? Love? Money? Attention?”
We all went around the room and gave our first name, preferred pronouns and three words describing how we felt before we began. Most of the room used words like, “nervous”, “intrigued” and ”excited”. I only gave two because it was really hard to find words to describe how I felt in that moment. We were told that we could get completely naked if we wanted to or we could keep our clothes on. It was all entirely up to us. We had an hour.
I kept my dress on but slipped my underwear off for convenience. I took a scarf in the middle of the room, thinking it was better to wrap it around my eyes and not see what was going on around me. I realized a few things, laying on that futon and staring at the ceiling for the amount of time that I did. I have subconsciously held onto a lot of shame when it comes to sex, masturbation and pleasure. It was a transformative moment, being in a community setting and atmosphere to be supportive of complete strangers pleasuring themselves in whatever way they wanted.
I lightly traced parts of my body to feel if I could ignite something new. I wanted to feel something that I have never felt before. I became impatient with myself. I wasn't interested in this. I started to hear other people in the class moan. What was I doing wrong? I focused my attention inward but couldn’t help to glance outside of my scarf beforehand. I saw most people on all fours, furiously going at it. I laid on my back and attempted to meditate. I thought about abundance. I imagined myself having more than I needed and began to let go of the tension I had been holding onto for weeks. I never felt like I had enough time. I stared at the ceiling and oddly felt the transformative experience I had been promised before walking through the main doors.
My mind catalogued all of my previous sexual encounters and I gave myself time to think about how I engaged and how I felt following the experience. I made mental notes about what I think I truly like versus what I’ve always thought I should be into. With hesitation, I began to throw away the notion that I’ll never have enough time in the world. I started to accept that I have everything I need, and I’m realizing in the most surprising of venues.
We were given five minutes of silence following the hour-long playlist of strange music the instructors prepared for this session. In those five minutes, we were asked to savor all the feelings from the workshop. Once everyone got dressed and cleaned up, we went around and shared three words describing how we felt in that moment. Again, there were no words. I wasn’t sure what to say.
While bundling my sheet up from the futon, I realized that I bled everywhere. I started my period at the community masturbation workshop. I felt connected now.