Fine, I’ll admit it. I’m a bit of a prude.
Conversations about sex make me uncomfortable. I blush at the mention of anything remotely sexual, and have always felt somewhat apologetic towards both my gynaecologist and my waxer. I seem to be stuck in a time warp where nudity and sex and women’s business still happen behind closed doors. In inside voices.
So when I was invited to Pleasure Weekend, a two-day workshop with the purpose of “discovering the depths of my sexual and sensual self”, I politely declined. Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll be fine back here in my 1953 sewing circle.
But as fate would have it, no other writer could attend. The task was on my shoulders, and the more I was appalled at the idea of going, the more I realised I had to go.
First thoughts: Is it possible to die from stress rash?
Despite having put myself in a variety of challenging situations for an article many times before (three words: adult ballet class) ‘Pleasure Weekend’ had to take the cake.
It was so far out of my comfort zone it wasn’t even on the map. Just the idea of talking to a room full of women about sex was making me blush.
An otherwise very open-minded person with an issue with oversharing, I was confused at how resistant I was to the experience. Why was it making me so nervous? Wasn’t I more mature than this? Was there something wrong with me?
My intention for the workshop was set: to try and figure out why it scared me so much.
Oh, and not run from the building screaming.
And the woman to answer my questions was Melbourne sexologist and yoga teacher Vanessa Muradian.
Vanessa has worked as a facilitator and educator in female sexuality for almost a decade now. She started her journey hosting sex toy parties at age 22, finding that her work in the industry sparked many conversations from friends wanting to discuss their sex life. People felt comfortable with her.
Some friends had questions, some had bad experiences, but all just wanted a safe space to discuss sex and sensuality.
Vanessa had found her calling. Naturally curious, she set out to find out more about female sexuality by taking on a postgraduate course in sexology at Curtin University in Perth.
As a former editor, Vanessa decided to combine her passion for sexual education, holistic practices, and writing with Mia Muse, a blog and online store. With a massive following of fans, the Mia Muse brand is as much about selling high quality sex toys as it is publishing frank and honest discussions about female sexuality.
Fair to say that if there was going to be someone to lead a workshop about vaginas, this was the woman to do it.
The first stumble of the day came well before I even stepped into the workshop. What... what was I going to wear?
"Wear something you’re comfortable in, but also feel good/sensual in," read the instructional email sent the day prior.
"If you’re overwhelmed by the thought of that, just wear something you can move in."
So were we talking sport clothes? Satin pyjamas? A black cocktail frock? Lacy underwear? A jumpsuit?
After three rounds of Phone A Friend and several panicked costume changes, I went with black yoga pants and a yoga top. I figured that the push up bra underneath added some spice.
Overwhelmed? Me? Never.
The workshop was held at North Yoga in Melbourne's suburb of Fitzroy. It was set up beautifully with candles, flowers, and herbal teas. It felt warm, and cosy, and safe.
But after a double shot coffee and a not-so-encouraging text message from a friend - 'OMG ur going to implode' - my anxiety levels were off the charts. I was twitching. As the other guests begun to file in, I begun to feel slightly calmer - I could sense the terror in a couple of others as well.
We kicked off proceedings with a welcome circle, going around the group to introduce ourselves, adding why we were there, and one thing we liked about ourselves.
While Vanessa was talking, I wondered what I would say. Why was I there? It wasn't just for the article, it was something deeper than that. My response surprised even myself.
"Uh, hi, I'm Maggie," I told the group. "I'm here because the idea scared me. Terrified me. I've recently come out of a long-term relationship, and I'm feeling a bit lost in finding myself again. That's what I'm here for."
Vanessa thanked me, and asked what I liked about myself.
"That I turned up." (Post continues after gallery.)
One of my favourite moments of the whole workshop happened in that introduction circle.
Every woman there had a different reason for coming. Some, like me, had come out of relationships and wanted to reconnect with themselves. Others battled confidence issues, some just wanted to learn more about what it meant to be a woman. Most were just really curious about what there could possibly be left to learn about their sexuality. (A lot, as it turns out...)
But the one story that stuck with me was a woman, early '60s, who was in remission from breast cancer. She had a double mastectomy. Though we all told our stories in shaky voices, this woman was the first to cry.
She spoke about her wonderful relationship with her body and her husband of 30-odd years, until she lost her breasts. She told us about how difficult she was finding it to love her body again, and to enjoy sex.
It was heartbreaking, and wonderful, and the first glimpse I had into how important this weekend is for the women who attend.
Listen: Mamamia's Prude and the Porn Star podcast covers all things sex. (Post continues after audio.)
Pleasure Weekend takes place over two days, and is divided into two sections: the letting go of past pain and prejudices, and taking on a new pleasure routine.
Part one was a three hour deep dive (bad choice of words?) into the female anatomy, and taught me more about my vagina that I have learnt in my entire life. Vanessa walked us through a variety of slides looking at the different parts of our body, and how our pleasure centers work.
We unpacked concepts that I had never thought to question before: like, what was an orgasm? What did an orgasm mean to us? Was our perception of orgasms a healthy one, or an unhealthy one?
As the lightbulb went off in my head, I began to realise how far the average woman has to go before she really, really knows her body. So much of our understanding of sex and pleasure comes through the lens of male narratives - plastic porn sex and rom-com orgasms.
The real side of female sensuality is, as Vanessa puts it, ugly. It's sweaty faces and wobbly bits and grunting noises. It's yelling and groaning and dirty bedsheets. And it's time to embrace that.
"My favourite thing is to go where I've never been." - Diane Arbus ⭐️ What a weekend, I am soooo grateful to these women for showing up and allowing @yogawithjessie_insta and I the chance to do this kind of work. I love the vulnerability, the strength, the sharing, the willingness to go there and the energy, enthusiasm and love that we all feel as the weekend ends, but a whole new bunch of sensual, powerful, unique women are unleashed onto the world. I love you. Thank you. ????????????????❤️ Fuck yeah Pleasure Weekend! - MM x Ps. If you're interested in attending our next event in April, shoot us an email at [email protected] or, let me know somehow. ????
The lessons taught in Pleasure Weekend should stay in those four walls, but but I can assure you it is worth every moment.
There was yoga, and ceremonies, and discussions. It was educational, and bonding, and such a joy to soak up that golden energy that is created from a room full of women who know each other's secrets.
I experienced a gamut of emotions, ranging from horror at how little I know about my vagina (did you know our internal clitoris is 9cm long?), to overwhelming relief at having a space to let go of some pretty heavy emotions. I realised how deep the pain from my separation was, and how unkind I had been to myself.
This workshop was about more than sex. It was about to learning to love ourselves, every last little bit. And I think we all agree that women are not so great at that sometimes.
You deserve to feel whole, you deserve to feel sensual, you deserve to love yourself fully. Exploring these ideas isn't always easy, but we've created this beautiful space at our Pleasure Weekend workshop for you to grow, connect, explore and flourish into your full self. Join us women. We've got one workshop tomorrow and there's still a few places. Is one yours? Link in the bio. Lots of love, MM x
Sex, sensuality, and our emotional state of being are more connected than we care to believe.
Sex can become compartmentalised from concepts of health and pleasure, a robotic practice that is so deeply engrained in our female psyche as a performance for men. What about you? What makes you feel good?
But perhaps the greatest lesson I walked away from the weekend was how important it is we educate ourselves, and future generations, about pretty basic female anatomy. Vanessa says her mission is to have the conversations we aren't meant to be having - and we all should too.
All women should know about how their body really works. This isn't 'secret women's business', this is basic knowledge that can empower all women to create a connection with their bodies. And not in a clinical, anatomical way - in a loving way that makes you feel good.
Like most transformative experiences, much of the workshop felt very confronting. Sensual yoga? A little awkward. Opening up to a room full of strangers about my deepest personal experiences? Bloody terrifying. But I am so, so glad I did it.
Go on, make pleasure your priority.
You can find out more about the next Pleasure Weekend workshop, here.