Love & Sex

I Did It For Science: Intimacy Coaching

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Can the secrets of good sex really be taught?

All photography by Susan Egan

To get over my inhibitions by visiting an intimacy and sensuality coach.

I’ve taken classes for just about every other area of my life, so why wouldn’t a mindful-sexuality class work, too? I’m hoping these experts can help me loosen up, get down, and end my six-month-long dry spell.

As a single, twenty-something woman supposedly at the peak of her desirability, I should be running wild like a pre-kids Angelina Jolie. Sadly, my real sex life is another story. If things continue at this pace, I’ll be a de facto born-again virgin. It’s the nunnery for me. Ever since my cherry was popped at eighteen, the fears and insecurities I associated with sex had been mounting. I continued having sex with boyfriends, fuck-buddies, and random strangers until my feelings of guilt and emptiness made me avoid sex all together.

That’s when I read about the Slow Sex movement. (If it was anything like the Slow Food movement, I was already on board. When you’re not having sex, spending three hours on a Saturday baking suddenly makes perfect sense.) Founded in San Francisco, Slow Sex is based on the belief that by being mindful of the value of raw intimacy, we can bring meaning back into our sex lives. It sounded a little new-agey, but I was willing to try anything for science.

I scheduled an appointment with intimacy coach, Jessica. She helps individuals and couples build their confidence and enhance their sexual potential. Jessica explained that the other half of her company — her boyfriend, Sam — would assist in the playful exercises that were part of the process. I wasn’t sure how "playful" things would get, but Jessica encouraged me to give it a try.


My first session was on a Sunday afternoon. I had been at a party until ten that morning and still hadn’t slept. I’d also been seconds away from having sex when the guy went limp-dick on me and passed out.

The fact that I was still pretty drunk from my breakfast of Coronas and whiskey on the rocks also helped.

Another failure seemed to be just what I needed: I’d been nervous when I’d scheduled my appointment with Jessica, but now my sexual frustration outweighed my Hooksexups. The fact that I was still pretty drunk from my breakfast of Coronas and whiskey on the rocks also helped.

Jessica opened the door in a lacy low-cut top, worn over an effective push-up bra. I felt overdressed, but I relaxed when she greeted me with a warm hug. Sam gave me a big hug too, smiling, "Welcome, come in." He was tall and slender, and his fisherman pants and loose T-shirt made him a very low-key presence. 

Jessica led me to their "office," a small bedroom furnished with a massage table, a queen-size bed piled with earth-toned cushions, and a few armchairs. Naturally, Enya played softly in the background. "Make yourself comfortable," she said, removing her sandals and climbing on the bed beside Sam, who’d propped himself on a pile of pillows. We sat cross-legged facing each other, and Jessica explained that in the first hour of the session, we’d talk through my sexual history and figure out what I wanted to work on. The second half would involve a communication game or exercise. I couldn’t tell if this college-orientation vibe was comforting or disturbing.

"So what brings you here?" asked Sam. I had never really discussed my sex life with anyone before. I used to write a sex column for my college newspaper, under the name "Jenny Tails," but now there was no pseudonym to hide behind, and I was expected open up a raw part of me to two people I barely knew.

"Well… I haven’t had sex for a really long time. And to be honest, at this point I’m convinced that I have no sexual appeal or potential." Jessica and Sam listened attentively. As I forced myself to keep on oversharing, they continuously reassured me, encouraging me to let down my guard. Gradually, we realized that past rejections had made me feel sexually inadequate. In response, I’d started spending all my energy worrying about the other person’s pleasure and wondering if I was acting the "right" way. Hence my post-coital anxiety. Whoa, did I have issues.

I Did It For Science: Female Pick-Up Artist – What happens when a woman plays The Game?
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Q&A with Debby Herbenick, author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction

Jessica proposed we play a game called "The Gift of the Selfish Lover." In the first round, player one asks player two, "What would you like me to do to you for three minutes?" and then vice-versa. In the second round, player one gets to do whatever he/she wants to do to player two for three minutes, and vice-versa. The exercise, Jessica explained, heightens your awareness of your own needs. This sounded like just the right practice for me.

"Make sure you communicate requests by ‘sandwich complimenting.’ For example, I say to Sam, ‘Ooh, I really like that you’re licking my pussy. It would feel really great if you sucked a little harder on my clitoris… yeah, just like that… that’s nice." Jessica spoke in a low, sultry tone that I imagined you’d hear on the other end of 1-800-CUMONME.

By this point, Sam had placed his hand on Jessica’s knee, and smiled at her with a spark in his eyes. I wondered if that was a cue for me to leave the room for a couple minutes. Instead, I said, "Um, I guess I’ll start by being the giver." This meant I had to give to Sam on his terms. This was the part I was used to.

Well, Sam wanted his head rubbed. Now, I have a thing with hair and scalps, and despite Sam’s lovely curls, the thought of running my hands lightly through his hair made me cringe. But rules were rules.

I was about to fail at a sex game.

"Your hands are so warm," said Sam, "I like that. Can you do just what you are doing but a little harder? Yeah, mmm… that’s great."

This, I thought, could be a sexy game… if I weren’t playing it with someone’s boyfriend while his girlfriend was sprawled out on the massage table a foot away. I also often have an urge to laugh in awkward situations that others are taking seriously. I bit my lip hard to keep from giggling.

But when it was my turn to "receive" from Sam, things didn’t seem so funny anymore. "I don’t know what I want!" I said to Jessica, feeling hopeless. You’d think it would be impossible to be sexually active for over five years and still not know what felt good for my body, but I was stumped. I was about to fail at a sex game, which is only a step above losing at patty cake on the depressingness scale.

"Allow yourself to be completely selfish," Jessica said. It’s hard to be completely selfish when you’ve never thought that way before. Since time was running out, I asked Sam to give me a light massage. He proceeded to do just that and I found myself "mmm-ing" and "aah-ing" at the feeling of his soft, warm hands going up and down the skin of my back. This selfish thing was turning out to be kind of fun.

"Okay, time’s up!" cut in Jessica, just as I started to close my eyes and drift off.

In the second part of the game, Sam asked me to lie down on my stomach and stretch out on the bed, then rubbed his hands over my hip and down my legs and gently kissed the nape of my neck. I in turn wondered if we could go back to the part when I was painfully detailing my sexual past. We wrapped up the session by discussing what parts of the game were hardest for me, and I explained, "It was like he was taking away a part of me. When I am in a situation where I’m submissive to the other person, I feel like my body is being taken away from me. I guess that’s how I feel whenever I have sex." Wow, I thought, I’d never told anyone that before.

"Try not to think of it as someone ‘taking away,’" advised Jessica, "but as someone giving you something. Intimacy is a balanced relationship between giving and receiving. The point of this exercise is to break down those interactions to identify what parts are keeping you from being fully intimate."

I left their apartment with a fresh bounce to my step. Now that I could see the mess that had been burdening me for so long, I had a feeling that great sex was within my reach.

I Did It For Science: Female Pick-Up Artist – What happens when a woman plays The Game?
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Q&A with Debby Herbenick, author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction

A week later, I was back in the bedroom "office " with Jessica and Sam. I’d let the revelations of our last session marinate in my mind, and I was feeling a little more bold. When Jessica asked what I wanted to work on this time, I said I wanted to explore what turned me on, so they offered me a sensual massage. "Sure!" I said, stripping off my shirt and bra. On the massage table, I closed my eyes and buried my face in the pillow. Someone poured lavender oil on my back and started rubbing it in gently. Then another pair of hands started massaging my legs. At one point one kissed along my shoulder while the other breathed heavily in my ear. This was one sensual couple. I could only imagine how hot their sex life was.

After the massage, I felt so relaxed that I easily could have nodded off. But there was work to be done, so Sam and I did another exercise. In this game, Sam played the role of the male attempting to score his goal (me). I was wary — being pursued wasn’t my thing.

Sam started out lightly rubbing my hips, and I winced every time his hand grazed my breast or ventured near my inner thighs. I focused as hard as I could on the fact that we were just "playing," but as he rubbed his hand over my vagina, I jumped away. "You know what would feel really nice?" I said, imitating Jessica’s seductive voice to cover up my timidity. "If you could rub my back…"

"I’m pushing past your boundaries on purpose," said Sam.

"Really concentrate on what your body feels," added Jessica. "What does it want? What do you really like? If your genitals could talk, what would they be saying?"

I suddenly had an image of a giant vagina sitting in Sam’s place, barking, "Yeah, what would I be saying? You never bothered to ask!" Biting my lip to control the laughter again, I concentrated on the soothing sounds of wooden flutes and whale mating calls playing in the background. If I was ever going to help myself, I had to break through my mental and emotional boundaries. And what better, weirder moment could I ask for? What the hell, right?

I grabbed Sam’s hand and guided it over my legs, my inner thighs, and under my shirt. Sam let out a soft "mmmm" of surprise and approval. I felt turned on by my actions and excited that I had received a positive reaction from Sam. Would it be so terrible if I let him wander under my bra? I pressed his hands closer to my breasts and encouraged him to squeeze and grope them. Before long, I’d let him kiss my nipples and my collarbone and nibble my ear. When he glided his hands over the tender region of my genitals, I joined him and kept them there. This was kind of fun. "Mmm… good, that’s nice," said Jessica, her cheek rested on her hands, with the dreamy expression of someone who’d been listening to a lot of whale songs.

Would it be so terrible if I let him wander under my bra?

At the end of the session, I thanked Jessica and Sam for their time, adding that I looked forward to taking control with someone I really wanted under my shirt. "I just need to work on finding out what my body wants," I said. "Any suggestions?"

"Well," said Jessica, now groping Sam’s thigh with a smile, "spend time touching yourself!"

That turned out to be a homework assignment I couldn’t turn down. I ended up feeling so hypersexual from exploring my body that one friend described me as "a walking clitoris." Shortly thereafter, Operation Sex finally succeeded! This time, I made sure my bedmate was a) not an alcoholic and b) someone I really trusted. I couldn’t have asked for a more ideal partner — someone who asked me what I wanted and whom I felt comfortable telling what felt good to me. The sex was rough and loud and good. It was also quick, but I’m not one to go on for hours.

"Sorry you didn’t finish," he said when we were done. "I mean, was I okay at least?"

"Of course you were," I said. Then, thinking how I could make that clearer, I said, "If you weren’t, I would have told you while we were having sex what you could do to make it better." And I meant that. I could almost hear Jessica and Sam applauding in the background. A+ for Intimacy.

"Thank you!" he exclaimed. "See, that’s how it’s supposed to be."

This was called communication, a gateway to that thing called intimacy. Lo and behold, it felt good.

It may have been scary, but I’m grateful for venturing into the world of Slow Sex, and hopefully starting on my way towards not actively avoiding sexual encounters. There’s a lot of work to do, and a lot of sex to have. So let’s get it on — mindfully, that is.

I Did It For Science: Female Pick-Up Artist – What happens when a woman plays The Game?
I Did It For Science: Selling Panties on Craigslist – Can I make money hawking dirty laundry?

Q&A with Debby Herbenick, author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction

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