Love & Sex

Storytime with… A Sexercise Instructor

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Storytime with… A Sexercise Instructor

If you could only do two things for the rest of your life: planks and squats.

By Nick Keppler

It’s hard to stay financially afloat as an adjunct — the neglected temp of higher education — but Timaree Schmit made it work by moonlighting as a fitness instructor. She became accredited in Pilates, kickboxing, aerobics, and other areas as she earned a most unique degree: a doctorate in human sexuality studies from Widener University, the only school in the U.S. to offer a Ph.D. in that particular field. These days, Dr. Schmit is a speaker, professor, blogger and podcaster on all things sexual. She’s also gone back to her former part-time career, teaching “sexercise” workshops. “As I was doing both [kinds of teaching], and in about equal amounts, I realized they were serving the same function,” she says. “I wanted people to feel better about themselves and move around and love their bodies.”  

What happens at your “Fitness, Body Love, and Sexercise” workshop? Give me a run through.
The idea is we talk about why those two things are connected, the ways in which sexuality affects fitness and vice versa, the way body image comes into play. We do some talking first and the latter half is literal physical exercises that strengthen the body — as they are perfectly good exercises for working out — but they have practical applications for sexuality, and I explain why and in what ways, what positions this would be useful for, how this would strengthen the pelvic floor, how this would improve flexibility or balance or something like that. [It depends] on who’s in the room how advanced we get.

What types of exercises should I do if I want to improve my sex life?
Sex in general and fitness in general are both a matter of plank and squat. If you could only do two things the rest of your life, plank and squat, if you have the right form, will serve you better than most anything else. In sexuality, you are either holding a plank on top of somebody or somebody else is coming down on top of you, and squats are just a really efficient use of time. Both [planks and squats] strengthen a whole lot of muscles. I could be specific on what sexual positions an exercise would be most useful for, but those two are going to have the most applications. 

You teach Pilates, Zumba, spinning, kickboxing, cardio, and others. Out of all these, which is the most beneficial to improving your performance in bed?
If the quest is improving existing performance, I would need to know what existing performance is like. For some people what is lacking is the endurance: They’re having a great time but can’t sustain it. For someone like that, I am going to recommend cardio. I’m going to recommend conditioning that is endurance-based, where you hold asymmetrical poses or where you are doing longer sets with more reps. For some people, the issue is mobility or being flexible enough to get to a certain spot, in which case Pilates and yoga make you better at everything. They emphasize those core activities. Bodily awareness and flexibility are going to be more important. For other people, it’s about having the strength to sustain your own weight or to support someone else’s weight, in which case you are going to be doing strength-building stuff: higher weight, higher resistance for a smaller number of reps. 

It seems like this involves a lot of questions and answers and personalized information. What sort of things do people ask you about?
Sexuality is something people are nervous to talk about but fitness is, weirdly, also. A lot of people like to act like they already know, which is why a lot of people won’t go to a personal trainer. Some of it is really basic. [I explain] really rudimentary understanding of anatomy and physiology and how any of this stuff works. Then there is bringing in their personal experience. [For example, I’ve been asked], “I really like being in a shoulder bridge.” That’s being down on your shoulders with your butt in the air, so you are like in a wheelbarrow position or something like that. They like that. They like how it feels because they are getting penetration to the g spot. Their partner had access to the entire vulva or whatever. But they can’t sustain it for very long. I can explain how to work to make [those muscles] stronger or I can suggest putting pillows under there. Some of it is suggesting things like that as well. 

Is it more difficult talking about these mechanical, for lack of a better word, aspects of sex than it is to talk about the psychological aspects you talk about in your academic research, hang-ups, and fetishes and such?
There is a lot of awkwardness talking about weight. For me, I approach fitness from a health vantage, to be able to use all my parts. I want [students] to work their best as opposed to looking a certain way. That can get very touchy when people are asking questions about how to get their waist smaller and their ass bigger or whatever that might be. I just want to be sure I am not encouraging them not to work out for the look. The look might happen but the point is not that for me. 

Is it embarrassing for bigger people to talk about sex?
It depends on the person. I’ve taught this class before at a sex store. Two people came into the class where they didn’t know what this would be. I think they thought this would be some random kink workshop. They did not look like they wanted to be part of it. They were a pretty big couple, both of them. Talking about body image in front of a group of people might not have been something they were prepared for. People feel a lot of feelings about sex and about bodies, so anyone who comes to a workshop must already be very brave, because I know that can be button-pushing. 

What is the general mood of a sexology program like Widener? Is it just like any other department on campus or is it scandalous?
The program started at UPenn and it’s [inspired by] a program that started at NYU. The program at NYU I think was basically killed for political reasons after the person who was the head of it died. [After the UPenn also ended], Widener said, "We’ll take it. We would love to have the only nationally accredited doctoral program in something, even if it’s weird." It is its own department now, the Center for Human Sexuality Studies. It used to be under the umbrella of Human Services Professions. I think a lot of people on campus don’t know that it exists. But also a lot of people move across the country for it. So it’s nationally famous but not even known about by the undergrads. But they hold events and pass out condoms and make themselves available to undergrad classes if they [need a guest lecturer] about something.

What are the career goals of people in this program?
There are a few different tracks. A lot of folks go into this wanting to be therapists, so they might do a clinical track, so they might do a duel degree with an MSW, masters in social work, or a doctorate in psychology. Another major track is an educator, which is what I did. You learn how to educate, in addition to the sexuality content. They also have, interestingly enough, dual degrees where you also have a law degree. That could have a lot of applications because there is a lot about sexuality in the law. Then there’s also a theology degree, a Th.D., for someone who wants to be a minister. A lot of religious folks go to their minister or priest to talk about sexual stuff because that’s their value system and a lot of clergy don’t have a lot sexual education. This would be for someone who wanted to do marriage counseling for their parishes.   

You’ve done comedy shows and podcasts and your approach is “edu-tainment.” Is that the general mood in this program or is everything kept stately?
The program is very academic. They’ve worked very hard to be very above board. This is the one program in the whole country where you can get a PhD in human sexuality and you have a legit graduate degree. We have a good time because the people who go into this are weird and our content is weird. We see porn in our classes. But papers are still entirely serious. Research is still entirely serious. We take comprehensive exams.

Why did you get into it?
Because it was an option! How would you not want to do that as a job? It’s awesome! I was a teenager and found out it existed and was like, “Obviously, that’s what I want to do!” It was something I was already doing on an amateur level. I’ve always read about sex since I was a little kid. I knew all the technical stuff, so other people would ask me questions about puberty things and relationship things or sex things. I personally wasn’t experiencing these things but I had the book smarts and people I didn’t even know were asking me. 

So, you were the girl in the neighborhood that when someone discovered the term “blowjob” for the first time, they went and asked you what it meant and you decided to make that a career?
Sure! I started doing it at the amateur level, being the girl who knew about that stuff in middle school. I read all the books on periods in the library and dorky stuff like that and it would escalate. People knew they could ask me stuff and I wouldn’t tell anybody. That was a big part of it, too.

There are a lot of sex podcasts out there from people with varying qualifications. Does having a PhD in sexology make you a better sex podcaster?
It depends on what you are looking for. I would argue there are more entertaining things to listen to. But what I am aiming for — with whatever degree of success — is, “Let’s have a fun conversation but you know that I know my shit.” I’m not just talking about my personal experience, which can be really limiting. I mean, it’s great when people do a sex show and talk about all the sex they have, and it’s interesting, but they may not be helpful to anybody else. Who I bring on as a guest is a really big part of it, too. They might be super entertaining and I have to provide the context or they may be so chopped full of information but they’re not funny. I have to find that balance.

You study sex, teach about sex, write about sex, make podcasts about sex, and — I assume — have sex. Now sex seeps into your exercise class. Do you ever get bored of the subject?
The nice thing is that it is everything! Human sexuality is everything! It touches on every other subject. Not only is there anatomy, physiology, biology but there is the law, art, sociology, culture and history of it. If I spent all my time talking about queer rights or the g spot, I’d probably get sick of it. But it’s not like that; it’s everything. 

You are physically fit and highly educated, and your field is sex. When you are dating, are potential partners intrigued or intimidated?
I would imagine anyone who is intimidated, that would self-select them out. They would probably be like, “Whoa, that’s a little much for me.” I guess you’d have to ask them. I would imagine that, to date me, you would have to be cool with those things. I imagine anyone who found me appealing in any way would find those things appealing. 

Image via Shaun Hines

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