When it comes to matters of the heart, I believe there are no questions and answers, only questions and ideas. So one year ago, I started Touchpoint, a town hall about sex and partnership, as a space for people of all gender identities, cultures, and sexual persuasions, to share their ideas and experiences in bed, in love, and in life.
On April 7, 2016, I hosted the first Touchpoint on the Lower East Side with ten friends. The question the group voted to discuss was, “How do I introduce BDSM into my relationship?”
I was wildly uncomfortable with this question. After all, I had no experience with BDSM. I barely knew what it meant. And I had never facilitated a conversation like that before.
Ultimately, we spent five hours talking. One woman shared a story about her boyfriend handcuffing her to a kitchen table and having the best sex of her life. My mind was blown. I was inspired and decided to host Touchpoint every month moving forward.
Over the past twelve months, I’ve hosted Touchpoint more than 20 times, including special events in Mexico City, San Francisco, Miami (2x), and Montreal.
1400+ people have attended and 400+ questions have been submitted.
I’ve learned a lot about what’s working and what’s not for people in bed, partnership, dating, marriage, and more.
Below are some of the things I’ve discovered. So far.
I hope this is helpful while you are on your own journey.
Here. We. Go.
1. Many of us are looking for permission to be ourselves.
More than 20% of the hundreds of questions submitted to Touchpoint so far, begin with the phrase “Is it okay…”
Examples of this are: Is it okay to date someone significantly younger than me, Is it okay to sleep with someone I work with, Is it okay to tell my partner that I’m attracted to other people, Is it okay to wear women’s clothing under my clothing?
I was moved by the realization that nobody was asking for permission to do anything we may collectively consider to be wrong or amoral, i.e. Is it okay to have non-consensual sex with a minor?
All of these questions were posed by adults just looking for permission to be themselves and explore perfectly healthy experiences and relationships.
It appears that in some sense, many of us are looking for validation that we aren’t ‘weird’ or undeserving of love. Keeping this in mind as we navigate our lives and relationships is paramount to truly showing up for ourselves and others.
2. Slow the f*ck down.
We grow up learning that sex is basically a means to an end, a way to scratch an itch, the resolution of involuntary biological needs. So discovering Tantra through the Touchpoint community was life-changing for me.
Tantra redefined sex for me as a way to get as close as possible to another human being — and myself.
It’s not about where we go, but where we are. How conscious can we get in this moment, in this position, in this inhale or exhale?
Someone recommended a book that started my journey called Tantra: The Art of Conscious Loving. It covers the basics of the chakras, breath work, and intimate, new ways to explore yourself and your partner.
3. Your imagination is a sex toy.
I used to think that BDSM was a scenario in which I was naked and chained to a wall while a woman dressed in leather whipped me, called me names, and I was most definitely crying. Just weird, kinky, painful, aggressive sexual exploration. Not into it.
It turns out — I was wrong. After listening to dozens of stories shared by ‘mainstream people’ who explored BDSM with partners, a new definition emerged for me: BDSM is Fantasy.
It’s an exercise in tapping into your imagination to elevate your sexual experiences from the purely physical to the psychologically fantastic. And it doesn’t have to hurt.
BDSM can be something as simple as role playing or experimenting with restraints or blindfolds.
Turning sex into something playful and imaginative can bring two people closer together, cultivate trust, and whip your relationship into shape.
4. Words matter.
The word promiscuity makes people feel badly. Especially women. It’s harsh, judgmental, and actually, incredibly sexist. For instance, there is a Wikipedia page for Promiscuity and a separate one exclusively for Female promiscuity. Additionally, the etymology for promiscuity means “indiscriminately choosing sexual partners.” Selecting things indiscriminately and having a lot of them are not the same. For instance, Warren Buffet has many investments. I don’t think he chooses them indiscriminately.
Just because someone has many sexual partners, does not mean they haven’t chosen those partners carefully and with intention.
One suggestion that got a lot of nods was replacing promiscuity with a new phrase: sexual exploration. Hundreds of Touchpoint attendees reported that exploring themselves through sex allowed them to figure out what they want, what types of people they’re attracted to, and how to communicate needs and boundaries in life — not just sex.
Sex can be incredibly empowering, and serve as a doorway to personal discovery.
Words like boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, and wife are loaded with gender-specific expectations that feel outdated and often unjust. Touchpoint attendees tend to use gender-neutral terms like partner, which can be defined uniquely by anyone. It shifts the definition of roles within a partnership from this is what society thinks we should be to this is what we think we should be.
This one’s specifically for the bros. We need to stop referring to fully grown adult females as “girls.” They’re women. We need to show them the respect they deserve.
5. Partnerships are constantly being redefined.
Defining the relationship (DTR) is generally a conversation centered around two questions: What are we and where is this going?
Traditionally, the answers to these questions tend to point to things such as “we’re boyfriend and girlfriend or husband and wife” and “we’re working towards a long-term commitment and possibly a family.”
The problem with these questions and answers is that they don’t clearly define how we plan to serve our partnership, and how we need it to serve us in return. This generates a lot of poor assumptions around commitment, communication, sex, and more.
Instead, the better questions when defining the relationship are “What can I count on you for?” and “What do you need?”
These questions can and should be revisited regularly.
Answers to these questions may range from things like monogamy, a weekly date night, or candid conversation when I feel something is wrong.
Being truthful about these things seems to be integral when working towards cultivating space and safety.
We are constantly defining and redefining our partnerships. It seems best to do it consciously, honestly, and with the intention of getting closer.
6. Masturbation is more than touch and go.
I used to think that masturbation was squarely at the intersection of I’m alone and I’m horny. But as we touched the subject over and over again, I realized that masturbation is incredibly nuanced, and serves a variety of purposes for people in addition to having an orgasm.
People shared stories of masturbating to release stress, to tap into creative energy, or to distract themselves from physical pain. Some people masturbate in public because the possibility of getting caught turns them on. Some people fantasize about current lovers, while others exclusively fantasize about former flings. Some use toys, some use shower heads. One woman shared a story about masturbating to videos of herself masturbating.
In general, there is a lot of shame and denial around masturbation. But when we make it safe to talk about, the way humans explore themselves can be a fascinating window into their self-esteem, creativity, and needs.
7. Space and safety, FTW.
Whether we talked about BDSM, dating, kissing, fighting, polyamory, anything really — it seemed that two things needed to be cultivated in order to create and maintain a healthy, thriving relationship: space and safety.
Space is the freedom to explore myself and the world around me without the fear of judgment or abandonment.
Safety is the freedom to express what I’m thinking and feeling without the fear of judgment or abandonment.
When either space or safety is compromised, relationships can feel suffocating and stressful and don’t promote us being our best selves.
It feels like this stands true for all relationships including with family, friends, and colleagues.
8. We can all learn to be great lovers and partners.
There was a time, early on in our lives, when we didn’t know how to put on our own socks. Someone had to teach us. It may have been frustrating at first, but eventually, we got the hang of it. This year, I learned that being good in bed, in partnership, and in life is similarly skill-based.
The idea that some of us are good in bed and some of us aren’t is false. The more accurate statement is some of us have learned how to be good partners and some have not, but each of us has the capacity to grow.
There are practices, tools, and techniques that we can each acquire to become more empathetic, communicative, sensitive, and supportive — to be better in bed, in love, and in life.
These things show up in the forms of stories, books, podcasts, ted talks, products, and of course, events. If we want to be amazing lovers and partners, we can be. Like anything else, it takes a bit of intentional practice.
9. When you pursue magic, you find it.
Last July, at the fourth Touchpoint ever, Nyla met Andrew.
This summer, Nyla and Andrew are getting married.