Our most popular episode of the year! Karen talks with somatic sex educator and prolific author Caffyn Jesse about somatic sex therapy as a way to heal from trauma and expand your pleasure capacity in all parts of life.
We’ll be returning to the podcast Jan. 12 – see you in the new year!
Wild & Sublime Podcast Transcript
#S3E27 | 2022 Most Downloaded! Sexual Healing with Caffyn Jesse
Caffyn Jesse: So what we try and do in somatic sex education is to create a space and an experience of empowered choice and voice. And so things come into balance, and you get a feeling of what is it like to feel this way. And once you feel it, it’s like a portal into a new way of living.
Karen Yates: Welcome to Wild & Sublime, a sexy spin on infotainment®, no matter your preferences, orientation, or relationship style, based on the popular live Chicago show. I chat about sex and relationships with citizens from the world of sex positivity. You’ll hear meaningful conversations, dialogues that go deeper, and information that can help you become more free in your sexual expression. I’m sex educator and intimacy coach Karen Yates.
In this rebroadcast of our most downloaded episode of 2022, I talk with somatic sex educator, teacher, activist and author Caffyn Jesse about their long career helping people expand pleasure, heal from trauma, and more. Keep listening.
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Hey, folks. So, this episode was our hands-down most downloaded episode for 2022. And I think for many reasons. First, Caffyn Jesse, my guest, is a noted leader and author in the field of somatic sex education, and I think you’re really going to enjoy this interview. Secondly, many, many people suffer from sexual trauma, and we will be addressing this subject more in about six weeks with a panel discussion. So be on the lookout for that.
Since our original interview, Jesse has gone on to design the free e-course, Ecstatic Belonging, which “supports the unfolding of ecstatic belonging in contrast to the traumatic belonging that capitalism and colonialism teach us.” The program supports body-based practices and psychedelic medicines to access ecstatic experiences of transpersonal belonging. You can find more information about this course in our show notes.
So on to this week’s episode. Caffyn Jesse, my guest this week, is very special to me. Their many writings on somatic sex education, such as “The Science of Sexual Happiness,” “Intimacy Educator,” “Pelvic Pain Clinic,” and others have influenced me hugely. And more importantly, I studied with Jesse at the Institute for the Study of Somatic Sex Education in Canada, which they co founded with Captain Liam Snowden and Corrine Diachuk, both of whom have been on the podcast as well.
Somatic sex education is a continuation and expansion of the sexological body work tradition, which was recently featured on Gwyneth Paltrow’s a “Sex, Love and Goop” series on Netflix. Instead of using methods employed within talk therapy, somatic sex education focuses on the body as a way to heal from trauma and learn to expand our pleasure capacity. Prior to becoming a somatic sex educator, Caffyn Jesse was a queer activist and artist who authored “Orientation: Mapping Queer Meanings” in 2004, which challenges conformity by engaging the powerful archetypes underneath homophobic stereotypes. In today’s conversation, Caffyn and I discussed their awakening to somatic work and its power to change people, as well as how the somatic sex ed community creates dynamic support and a living, evolving ethics structure. Enjoy.
Caffyn Jesse, welcome.
Caffyn Jesse: Karen, it’s so nice to be here speaking with you. Thank you.
Karen Yates: It is so nice being here with you. You currently are in Canada. Can you let me know the tribal territories that you’re on?
Caffyn Jesse: I am on the unceded territories of the Hul’q’umi’num’ and SENĆOŦEN-speaking people, which is colonially known as Salt Spring Island.
Karen Yates: And that is a very close to Vancouver Island, correct?
Caffyn Jesse: Yes. Yeah, right in between Vancouver and Victoria on Canada’s west coast. Yeah, little island.
Karen Yates: And I am on the territories of the Potawatomi, Ojibwe and the Odawa, as well as many, many other nations that moved across this area, which is also known as Chicago. Well, welcome again. And I would love to begin this conversation with you by reading a bit from a book you wrote called “Intimacy Educator.” And I came across this a couple of days ago, and I thought it would be such a beautiful start to our chat. And can you set this up, what you are about to read for the listener?
Caffyn Jesse: Well, I was in my 40s already before I found this field. And I’d experienced a lot of early life trauma. I’d experience a lot of impacts, and then done a lot of healing, therapy, recovery, different things. But I had never really gotten to the body-based aspects of that healing. I mean, in those days, we didn’t know so much about how trauma gets lodged in ourselves and under our skin, and has an ongoing impact through life. But that came to my awareness through doing a series of bodywork sessions that — it triggered all this body awareness of early life trauma. And then it also ignited this kind of erotic energy that wasn’t directed at that time in my life. I had nowhere to put this erotic energy, or no way to express it that wouldn’t destroy my life. But it felt like just a lifeforce energy that I wanted, I needed to connect with. And I just didn’t know how.
And so I just was in this quandary, and feeling really lost. And I stumbled my way into the world of body-based sexual healing. Just because I so desperately needed it. It’s like I would have had to invent it, except that it already existed. And, you know, I tried to find practitioners. And then, what I’m going to read you, the first couple of pages from my book, are the time I finally found the practitioner that would become my mentor and teacher — that it was like, she was able to touch me in the way that I needed to be touched, to find a healing of that early life trauma, and just open up this life of joy that I’ve been able to live into in these last couple of decades. So I can read that.
“Tears poured down my cheeks as I told Mariana, ‘I just want my genitals to be touched with healing intent. I ache to explore my sexuality.’ But receiving genitally-focused sexual touch from a lover didn’t feel possible or inviting. I wanted genital touch that was slow and careful, that aimed to soothe and awaken. I wanted an integration of sexually sensitive areas with my whole body. Mariana paid attention to creating a container for the experience. Her little house was clean, bright, airy and private. She carefully locked the door behind me. She did a smudging and a blessing. She showed me a Mary Magdalene icon, her patron saint, the sacred whore, and gave me a beautiful rose. These acts and objects functioned to frame the experience as a transformative and sacred ceremony, a space and time of enhanced safety, freedom, care, permission and choice. Mariana helped me hold my attention on my breath throughout the massage. And this kept me anchored in my body. As much as I could be at that time, when my lifelong habit was dissociation. We began with me lying on my belly. I felt safe. It was lovely how she leaned her weight into me and I could feel her body against mine. Her skill for massage was relaxing and enlivening. Usually I crave a very deep touch, perhaps because it helps me stay present. But her lighter pressure felt perfect in this moment. Her breath on my back and my ass was a delicious counterpoint to her hands. As she stroked my whole body, I felt my muscles and my fears release. When she first put her hand on my vulva from behind, just placed it there, I was really ready. I felt the erotic energy streaming in. So often, I get shut down, numbed out, or dissociated from this wonderful force. What is it? Power, energy, sweet feelingness, softening and opening, joy and aliveness. It is rooted deep in my body, and yet not me. It is a greater power. By the time I turned over onto my back, I felt able to be that open and vulnerable. Leaning over me with her hand underneath, pulling, lifting and rolling, Mariana communicated a commitment to my body and my pleasure with her touch. At my vulva, she held still for a while, touching without friction, and invited me to breathe into her hand. Memorable genital strokes included deep pressure on the bones, slapping and vibrating the pubic mound, and pressing the labia together. It was so good to feel a release of my chronic pelvic clench. Mariana asked whether I wanted any internal touch. The question in itself is a part of switching the paradigm from penetration to drawing in. As a trauma survivor, I needed to learn how to find and communicate the nuances of yes and no in my erotic responses. How empowering it felt to be listened to, as I haltingly articulated what I wanted, as I slowly learned to feel my way into what that was. With Mariana’s finger inside me, I felt derailed by a familiar pain. Catching my body’s clench, she stayed still, and allowed me to slowly open. The pain released, and I could move against her hand. With deep breathing and genital touch, I felt waves of erotic energy coursing through my body, up my torso and through my arms and hands. I felt held in all the untouched places, stimulated and open to wave after wave of this energy and power. I used my breath to achieve a sense of climax, releasing and letting go. She stayed with me until I wanted more. I felt another climax — not exactly an orgasm, but a forcefield, shaking every fiber of my being. Mariana kept your hand inside as I came down and detumesced. I felt my body and my heart so open. I was living a deep connection with ancestors, animals, lovers, and the earth.”
Karen Yates: Mmm. Wow. That is so beautiful. Thank you.
Caffyn Jesse: Thank you, Karen.
Karen Yates: I asked you to read that because I just found it to be such a beautiful explication of what a powerful somatic sex education session can look like. And there was so much in what you recounted. This idea of… well, I’ll have you tell me and tell us how this experience, a somatic sex education session, how does it — although we can see from the words, see what you said, how does it differ from a regular erotic massage?
Caffyn Jesse: It doesn’t necessarily. I mean, an erotic service provider, there’s like, a certain cultural context where you go to an erotic service provider to add something to your existing life. But I think like in somatic sex education, there can be an invitation to a little bit of a different context, where you go to perhaps share more intimately about who you are and what your life is, and in the context of longing to restructure your life somehow. So similar to as you go to therapy, you go to share most intimately of yourself in the framework of longing for a life restructuring. Another difference is, people that have studied to be somatic sex educators are deeply imbued with an understanding of the neurobiology of trauma, and how that can prevent us, and how all kinds of pressures around sex and sex negativity in our culture can prevent us from feeling empowerment around our choice and voice, and where we so often go into enduring unwanted touch, or feel like we have to constantly manage threats or be somebody. But in somatic sex education, we’re really trained and experienced in this, like supporting people in the ongoing discernment of what do you really want? And there’s that attunement to the the one that you’re with, that when I was an untrained erotic service provider, I didn’t have that cultural context and community of support to do that. Not to say that regular erotic massage can’t be healing and transformative — it can be. And in the somatic sex education community, we just create, like, the broader context, education, and community support that makes that more probable and more— yeah.
Karen Yates: And you know, as I listened to what you wrote, one thing that struck me this time, because I’ve read it several times, is the power that got unlocked that was bound up in the tissue of your body. This detonation that occurred of the erotic life force. And you said, as you were setting up this reading, you were talking about, if I heard you correctly, it was almost like the fear perhaps of the erotic to destroy, like, what you had. That there was a sort of a clench, a clenching, due to like, ‘Oh, my God, if I actually tap into this, who knows what’s gonna happen?’
Caffyn Jesse: Well, really, I mean, it is a huge force. Like, to me, I feel it’s like lifeforce energy searching through us. And there was good reason to keep it tamped down because I didn’t have — like it felt like, how do I access that with efficacy and power, and being guided by the values that I hold that I want to live life by? So to actually weave that lifeforce energy into my purposeful, values-guided life, that took some doing, some support, some, like physical experiences — or lots of them, and ongoing physical experiences of knowing this is possible, this works. Yeah.
Karen Yates: Because I’m thinking about the pushing down that so many of us do. Whether you’re not out sexually about your various preferences, your orientation, is a pushing down, or say you have a particular kink, and it’s that pushing down. And it’s not a complex action. It’s just pushing. It’s just so it’s almost a binary. Yes/No. No, no! And then, once the yes comes out, the fear is like, oh, it’s gonna be just this firehose of power, and my life… I mean, I can relate.
Caffyn Jesse: Well, it can be, right? I mean, you probably experienced that or, all of a sudden, like, erotic comes through, and like, wow — suddenly your life is upside down. And you know, you’ve run off with somebody completely different. Yeah, that can happen. And so to me, it’s this idea of the spectrum of response, or the old-fashioned garage doors were either just like, shut or open, but the newfangled ones, you can sloooowly open. You can explore this whole spectrum of like, ah, yes, lifeforce energy, ah yes. You build capacity and muscle and experience and support, joyful community around nuanced embrace of that lifeforce energy. Because yeah, if your choice is just either no or yes, then that can be really harmful, right?
Karen Yates: Yeah.
I’ll return to my interview with Caffyn Jesse in a moment. Many of Jesse’s books can be found on bookshop.org, our affiliate program that helps independent booksellers and Wild & Sublime. That link is in the show notes. Do you want to create a podcast, but don’t know where to start? Can I suggest Buzzsprout as the easiest and best way to launch, promote and track your podcast? Buzzsprout is a podcast host, with both free and paid plans. By using them, your podcast gets online and listed in all the major podcast directories, like Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts, and more. They’re great with analytics and support. And I especially love them because their newsletters and podcasts offer tons of tips for growing your pod. A friend recommended them to me, and now I recommend them to you. And if you say that Wild & Sublime sent to you by clicking on our affiliate link in the show notes, you get 20 bucks, and we get 20 bucks. Nice, huh? Go to the show notes to begin.
Wild & Sublime is supported in part by our Sublime Supporter, Full Color Life Therapy, therapy for all of you at fullcolorlifetherapy.com. Back to my interview with Caffyn Jesse. In this segment, we talk about trauma in the body, somatic healing, and how they went from those first, life-changing somatic moments with a body worker to beginning a school.
So, I know you had quite a journey from that moment to this present day. But can you tell us a little bit about what happened from that moment from that session? To really embracing it? Was it a long process for you? Was it fairly quick?
Caffyn Jesse: Well, it really was fairly quick. I just, it was so compelling to me. And like, I felt so excited and alive. Like once I found this practitioner and realized about her work and the doorway to all the other work of Joseph Kramer and sexological body work, I was just like, this is where I belong. And started a practice, just a couple days a week, as a bit of a hobby, and then I quickly realized like, oh, wow, I’m actually earning as much in my hobby as I am in my everyday job. So I don’t know, I opened a studio and just started to work with people. Did some training. I mean, once you open the doors of sexuality, it’s just like, there’s just so much to go on learning and integrating. I felt like I could integrate all that I was bringing through my years of life as a teacher and a queer activist and a writer, and that that belonged, and it was needed by the profession. So yeah, I started to continue my own ideas and books and teachings and bits and pieces.
Karen Yates: You have many books now. And then eventually you came to start the Institute for the Study of Somatic Sex Education, where I met you with Captain Liam Snowden and Corrine Diachuk. So one thing I wanted to ask you about — even though the word somatic is starting to enter the mainstream, I think people still scratch their head a bit. I was looking in your book “Pelvic Pain Clinic” that you wrote with Shauna Farabaugh, and you say, “Our use of the word somatic conceptualizes the body not as a static object, but as a living dynamic intelligence that guides us if we pay attention. Soma is the living body in its wholeness.’ I think that’s such a beautiful way of describing the word soma and somatic. There is an intelligence. And what I loved that you wrote in that book, that you both wrote, was this idea that you don’t necessarily have to throw your brain out with this type of work. Can you explain a little bit, I would like to talk a little bit about the brain/body split.
Caffyn Jesse: Yes, I love our brains, but I just, I don’t want them to rule. Because I want my brain to keep, like, noticing and accounting for, and being guided by the whole of me. So all the molecules and cells of me are constantly generating information, guidance, sensation that is very old and wise, and all the stardust of me has its opinions, its attractions, and repulsions. All kinds of magic is going on, like, in the living body-soul in its wholeness, and yeah, for the brain to just think that ideas should rule or concepts should rule. It’s a very reductionist kind of approach that can really get us in trouble. But our brains are wonderful at having awareness and focusing on the whole of us. And it’s a very important part of our nervous system. So yeah, not to privilege body over brain, or brain or body, it’s about the integration, even though the ways that our our neurons work and everything, the sparkle and the hum of the neurons in our brains, to think in the awareness of that and feeling how our brain is actually working in an embodied way.
Karen Yates: Yeah, and I’m thinking right now about — as the word trauma is also entering the mainstream and there’s the beginning of the understanding of Porges’ polyvagal theory, and through Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book “The Body Keeps the Score,” and your work, “The Science of Sexual Happiness,” and our nervous system becomes impacted when we are traumatized. Can you talk a little bit about how somatic sex education or somatic sex ed sessions can help restore — like what is happening? What is happening in a session, say, that begins slowly to reset the nervous system? Can you talk about that whole phenomenon?
Caffyn Jesse: Well, Bessel van der Kolk, in an early paper, before he wrote his book, he talks about feeling efficacy and power in places where we felt trauma and disempowerment. So that’s the experience. Like what happens is when we experience trauma — and there’s so much trauma around sexuality, and there’s also ongoing trauma. So it’s not like many people have trauma in their past, but there’s also the ongoing trauma of the dominant culture that’s always suppressing people in all kinds of ways around their bodies and sexuality. So what we try and do in somatic sex education is to create a space and an experience of empowered choice and voice, and how that can actually impact our neurochemistry, that can impact the condition of our ourselves and the feeling of our souls that we experience a place apart from the dominant culture, where all of us is welcome. It’s wanted. There’s time to wait until we’re ready. We can change our mind at any moment. We can make mistakes, and figure out how to fix them in this alternate cultural space that’s experienced in an embodied practice. So yeah, what’s happening is like within that space, the corrosive neurochemistry of trauma and distress gets to be resourced by a different kind of neurochemistry, the neurochemistry of it that happens when we have safe and wanted touch and respect and self respect. And so things come into balance, and you get a feeling of what is it like to feel this way. And once you feel it, it’s like a portal into a new way of living. I mean, I’ve seen this again and again over decades, and felt it in myself — you get that portal, you don’t have to go back. You go through. Because your body knows, it can guide. Okay, like, I don’t want to be in this toxic stress and distress, this feels better, this is the way for me. And you keep going, you keep going into a way of life that works for you. And that way, it’s a relational matrix, I call it, a way of being in connection with other human beings. And also with yourself. Who am I, what do I really want? Like, that’s so radical, like not what do I have to do to get by, to get better, to be different? Who am I and what do I want? When you’re in that inquiry, then everything changes. And that’s the experience as I describe it, yeah.
Karen Yates: Yeah, you know, as you were talking, I was thinking about, with the traditional massage, even Swedish, not even erotic work per se, but there is always this, the practitioner is in charge, and you are the body on the table that is being acted upon. And that situation is reversed in a somatic sex education session, because the practitioner does not do anything without the ongoing active consent of the client. And this is a game changer. This is completely a game changer, because you’re checking in with yourself. If you are the client, you’re checking in and being like, ‘Okay, where am I now?’ Because it’s this idea of what would give me — the practitioner is asking, what would give you more pleasure, right? That is one of the critical questions that’s being asked. Would you like more pressure? Would you like less? Would you like more of this or less of this? And so that empowerment at that level leads to more empowerment, and a reorientation.
Caffyn Jesse: I’ve recently written for a new course I’ve got up on my website, a whole thing about how sexual massage as I practice it in the context of sacred intimacy is not therapeutic massage, because of that sort of fixing paradigm of the therapeutic massage practitioner — which is wonderful when we need it. Like, it’s sore shoulders, here you go. Whereas in the way I practice the sensual massage, it’s, there’s nothing to fix, it’s like you are in charge, and what would bring more pleasure. At the same time, I think having an extended massage session, it can give us a bit of a portal into how we want our bodies to feel, right? Because it can be so lovely to have, just feel our bodies touched and in safe and wanted ways, and just feel that relaxation into having a great massage. So I do want that massage training, like, knowing how to competently touch and understanding of bodies’ anatomy, and getting lots of practice touching bodies becomes an important part of training to offer this kind of work. Because sometimes what a person wants or what would bring more pleasure is that they’d like a nice massage. And then the body can find this ease and this opening where the erotic can start to flow through more freely. So yeah, with that, that change in who’s in charge and that there’s nothing to fix, the deliciousness of massage is really good to integrate into our sessions.
Karen Yates: Yes, thank you for bringing that up. Yes, it’s not always just like, minute by minute checking in. It’s a combination of those dynamics. I think it came up in your— the excerpt that you read of your book, “Intimacy educator,” you’re talking about the stillness, which is such a critical part as well. The stillness, as I see it, of allowing something to settle in, allowing — I don’t know; we talked about the savoring, which comes afterwards. It’s just allowance piece. No movement. But the movement, there is a movement, but it’s so deep and, well, it’s still. There’s a stillness. I find that to be one of the more powerful aspects of the work as well.
Caffyn Jesse: That’s where the brain gets some practice attending to subtle sensations, right? Like when you just, say, put a hand on the genitals and just wait. I mean, I’m just putting my hand on my genitals as I say that, and just noticing like, all kinds of, like, subtle and not so subtle sensations start to arise. Just like with stillness.
Karen Yates: Mm hmm. Yeah, I’m putting my hand on my genitals — like, yeah, I’m thinking about this idea of like, how we compartmentalize the genitals away from the rest of our body. Right?
Caffyn Jesse: And how much harm does that do, right? Like every part of you is touchable, except this little six-inch square part of you. Who thought of that?
Karen Yates: [laughter] I’ll return to the last part of my interview with Caffyn Jesse in a moment.
As an intimacy coach, I work with couples in Chicago, helping them learn how to verbalize erotic desires in the moment and master skills of sensual cooperation. If you and your partner are looking for ways to more deeply connect to one another and get out of limiting patterns, I can help. Go to karen-yates.com for more information, and to set up a free 15-minute consultation.
In this last part of the interview, Caffyn and I talk about the changes I underwent during the training of being a somatic sex educator, the differences between sexological body work and somatic sex education, ethics, and sex work.
So, in your work — you’re in retirement quite recently, and not offering sessions anymore to people — but what are some of the changes you see in people as you continue to work with them? What happens?
Caffyn Jesse: Well, so often, I’ve seen this journey, I mean, such a joy and a privilege to be part of, really, I’m just, tears come, of just people going from feeling shame, dysfunction, whatever, like, how can I be fixed? How can I be different? To just, oh, I matter, I can contribute. And just living this life of joy, really. I mean, I don’t know. I’m curious for you, like, what did you experience in coming into this work?
Karen Yates: Well, there was an integration, right? There was this, I guess, you could say the mysteries of the body. There were these profound images that were starting to surface for me, these powerful images that were a part of me. And they were starting to just arise. And they were a part of me. And to be part of this community was huge, right? There was the work I was having done as part of the training that I was experiencing, that was amazing. And also this — which is what I love so much about somatic sex education, is this fluidity, it’s not static. And so I get to, both as a practitioner and as a client, I get to be with my power as it continues to develop, or as I continue to sense it, or as I see how I change, because I’m changing day by day. So to be able to locate my voice, that was very big for me. Locate my voice, understand how to communicate, understand what my preferences were. We talk about the three legged stool of erotic massage, I think, and part of it is moving toward pleasure, being able to choose pleasure. Whereas maybe before one wasn’t choosing pleasure, which sounds strange. Why wouldn’t you choose pleasure? But there’s so many things in culture that keep us from pleasure. There’s a lot. And so, to help the body orient toward pleasure on a daily basis, that was huge, because I saw that I was keeping myself in a self-imposed cage. But before I say self-imposed, I’m also going to say culturally, in conjunction with culture.
Caffyn Jesse: And that pleasure, not only sensual pleasures, like moving towards sensual pleasures, but the pleasure of living your own uniqueness, your purpose. And when I think of you taking all these teachings in this community and integrating it with your theatre background, and this unique you of you, that you created Wild & Sublime, and you’re doing this, and you’re contributing to the community in this way, that no one else could do. What a pleasure, to find that unique you of you, right? And that’s what I see our community supporting, that journey to know, what is the one of me, and how can it be part of this larger us? And that profound pleasure.
Karen Yates: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It was almost disorienting, I have to say, when I was first becoming acquainted with the community, because there was such a kind of radical acceptance, which kind of frightened me! It was like, what is this radical acceptance? I don’t know if I like this. Aren’t there any rules here people?! Come on. [laughs] And, and you do talk a little bit about that. You’re such a prolific writer, I’m having trouble locating where I read it. But I think it was in “The Living Ethos,” about — and help me — you wrote it, it’s this idea of right and wrong and being expelled from the group. Right?
Caffyn Jesse: I’m really writing quite a bit about that now. I have this whole body of work, ethicsforoutlaws.com. But I think so much from European culture, and then that was brought over to America with the colonizers — this idea that we create community by expelling those that are bad and unwanted. And that’s how we know that we belong, because we’re pushing out what’s bad and unwanted. So all of us live in this perpetual terror of abandonment. And all of us have to abandon those parts of ourselves that are considered bad and wrong, so that we can have our provisional belongings. So it’s a paradigm that we can change. And we try to change in the culture that we weave, where a whole bunch of outlaws get together. And like, here we are, outside of everyday life, outside of the village where all those rules apply. What can we create together in this outlaw realm? What’s the ethics that emerge from that place? How do we know what’s good, and what belongs, and how we belong when we’re coming from that outlaw experience, not just to reproduce that experience by creating bad people and the rules of belonging as we’ve experienced in such harmful ways?
Karen Yates: And let me ask you, is the difference essentially between sexological body work and somatic sex education, is part of it around this idea of ethics? And also the vessel of somatic sex education might be a little larger than sexological body work. Can you explain this a little bit?
Caffyn Jesse: Well, sexological body work is a modality that was developed by Joseph Kramer. And he is in charge of the curriculum, and he picks who gets to teach it around the world. And it’s wonderfully taught all around the world by different teachers who have curriculum that they refine and add what they want. And then the way that I decided, like, after teaching that with Captain for some years, I decided, and Captain and Corinne agreed, that we didn’t want to anymore teach sexological body work on its own. We integrate it into the training that we offer under the description of somatic sex education. So everyone that goes through the training at the Institute gets to be a sexological body worker, a certified sexological body worker, and to join this global community. But what we wanted to do is teach that within a frame that integrated understanding of the neurobiology, the trauma-aware practices, the consent-building practices, the understanding of the broader frame of somatic coaching, and just generally, we added a whole bunch more curriculum, we slowed the process down, we created more practice opportunities and more ways to practice. Sexological body work has a specific way that practitioners must practice; they wear gloves and the touch is only one way. In somatic sex education, as we teach it, we integrate different ways which might include interactive touch and mutual nudity. But within this frame, where there’s a lot more training, and care and expectations around having a very careful practice of building empowered choice and voice, and all the other dimensions of that, sort of the science of how that works, and the community support. We feel it’s very important that practitioners not be sort of lone wolves, offering a specific practice, but that we create ethics by living in community and contributing to it.
Karen Yates: Yeah, I think that is one of the things that I appreciate the most, is knowing the community is there, and that I can tap into it whenever I want. There are a number of community calls a week that I can tap into, that any practitioner can tap into. In fact, I think I also talked about it in one of my Sermon on the Pubic Mounds many months ago — well now, gosh, a couple of years ago. But, you know, once you start working, once I started working in sexuality, or just started studying sexuality, there’s immediately a separation that happens. You know, you’re talking about the outside of the village, you’re suddenly out, you’re suddenly outside of the village. [laughs] And it’s well, I mean, it’s like, you know, that’s where all the queerdos are. And that’s cool! I mean, I’d rather be with the queerdos! [laughs] But at the same time, having community and not getting ousted from the community becomes terribly important.
Caffyn Jesse: I mean, there’s a definite danger, right, that when we’re people that have been pushed outside of the village, we can experience that trauma around belonging, then we’re out there in a place without rules, yeah, how do we create ethical life in that? That’s where I feel like having a community of practice, having these regular calls, having these peer support networks, where we know that if you’ve done harm to someone, you can call me, Karen, and I will be there for you, like, I will hear how hard it is, how you blame them, how it wasn’t your fault, and then how it is your fault, and how all the shame is bubbling up — I will be there for you, not to let you off the hook or create a problem for the person that’s brought this thing to you, but to help you be the person that you want to be and that you uniquely can be. That’s what we do for each other in this community. Like, we can make mistakes and still belong and make repairs and do what’s right, take the next step. And having that community of queerdos and outlaws that are committed to deeply ethical life and transformative justice. Yes, this is what we need.
Karen Yates: When thinking about the phrase sex work — because on the podcast, we’ve been looking at sex work for the past couple of months in and out. And Captain Snowden recognizes somatic sex education as sex work in the greater tradition of healing sexuality. What’s your thought about somatic sex education being sex work, per se? Or how do you place it?
Caffyn Jesse: Yeah, I think it definitely is sex work, and that can criminalize us in some jurisdictions. I think, you know, it’s a privileged form of sex work, because we have each other, because we have mountains of neuroscience and ethics, and all the things behind us that make us much less likely to face any criminal prosecution or civil suit, we have all kinds of practices around that. So you know, it’s definitely a privileged form of sex work, and therefore, a bridge between the world of sex work and the sort of world of normative belonging. I feel it’s very important that we, you know, be advocates for the decriminalization of sex work, and that we use our privilege in the service of justice and not to disavow connection with sex work. There’s a certain temptation, because if we sort of built enough legitimacy in the world that we were starting to be more accepted as healthcare providers and professionals, that can be in dialogue with regular therapists and physiotherapists and doctors and so on, that there’d be a certain temptation to disavow connection with sex work. But that is not my choice. I advocate that we use our privilege on behalf of all sex workers, to make more cultural and legal space, and do what we can to support decriminalization and prevent the violence against sex workers that comes from criminalization, and the way that sex workers are despised creates so much precarity and violence for other sex workers that have less privilege. And many of the people that come into my programs over the years have been sex workers. These teachings and this community have found a lot of sense of, yeah, just more empowerment, more safety, and more connection, action, and a place where they can feel belonging and dignity.
Karen Yates: I really appreciate you talking about SSE as a bridge career. I agree. I think it is. And it helps, I think it helps the therapeutic world, psychotherapists and physical therapists, and all sorts of folks see the importance of this work, shining a light on this. So you are retired from teaching, maybe, retired from doing session work, but you’re very much not retired in other regards.
Caffyn Jesse: I am! I’m loving sleeping in and going for long walks in the woods. But I always seem to have my little creative projects, and—
Karen Yates: Little, little creative projects. What are you working on right now? And also, what are you working on now, but I also want to know, what was the retirement shift like for you? I know you’re not very deep in, but…
Caffyn Jesse: Oh, well, yeah. It feels good just to not be involved in the school, and just feel so good about the teaching team that’s there now. Now I wake up and I have no student dramas to attend to, and nothing needs to urgently be done. So yeah, sometimes I feel a little lost, because it’s really different. Now I just, I have more space in my spirit for just little different stuff. Like what I’m doing, I’ve got this project “Ethics for Outlaws.” Yeah, I’m bringing in some of my experience in the realm of psychedelic medicine that I’ve never really talked about before. But now that I’m not a teacher, I feel like I can just bring that in and talk about all the ways that we’re outlaws and where does ethics come like through that experience. And I’ve got a book I’m writing on ecstatic aging. And then I am living that, you know, just oh, how can things keep getting better and better, and now that I’m getting older and older and having a bit more free time? Enjoying the joys of erotic exchanges and an erotic connection with the earth, and my walks in the woods. So yeah.
Karen Yates: Wonderful. Sounds delicious. Just delicious. Thank you, Caffyn, for all that you continue to do for folks in search of healing. Thank you so much.
For more information on Caffyn Jesse and their work and the Institute for the Study of Somatic Sex Education, go to the show notes.
Well, that’s it, folks. Have a deeply pleasurable week. Thank you for listening. If you know someone who might be interested in this episode, send it to them. Do you like what you’ve heard? To give us a nice review on your podcast app. You can follow us on social media @wildandsublime and sign up for newsletters at wildandsublime.com. I’d like to thank associate producer Julia Williams and design guru Jean-Francois Gervais. Theme music by David Ben-Porat. This episode was edited by The Creative Imposter Studios. Our media sponsor is Rebellious Magazine, feminist media at rebelliousmagazine.com
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- Caffyn Jesse – Somatic Sex Educator
- Ecstatic Belonging – Caffyn’s new online course
- Institute for the Study of Somatic Sex Education
- Somatic Sex Educators Association
- Association for Sexological Bodyworkers
- Find Caffyn’s books on our Bookshop page!
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