Updated: Sep 19, 2019
After leaving my third sex positive festival of the season, I thought I would share a bit about my experiences with these types of events and why I think they are SO important, and why I think EVERYONE should go to one at least once!
As you probably know if you're following me already or if not, because you've just found this article elsewhere on the internet... I'm a full time conscious sexuality teacher and event organizer, and tantric sex & relationship coach in training. I run frequent workshops in cities all over the world, as well as run my own sensuality retreat, and I previously ran a sex positive festival... The sex positive world is my chosen workplace, as well as my passion and when I go to teach at festivals I am mostly 90% facilitator, sometimes (rarely) just a participant, sometimes a volunteer and sometimes a mix of them all.
So what is a sex positive festival? They are generally multi-day events that feature sexuality related workshops during the day and often entertainment and play spaces in the evenings. The first time I went to one, it felt like a high school of kinky, playful delight and freedom! I attended workshop after workshop, soaking up the knowledge and experiences to be had in the time I was there and met so many lovely new people. By the end of my first festival, I was exhausted but completely changed, equipped with tools that improved my relationships, sex-life and my perceived identity. Most that I have attended have held between 80-500 people over the course of the event, so they can be intimate or big events.
There are many different kinds of sex positive events and festivals around the world- some more political, some more spiritual, some more artistic and some more poly-community based. There are festivals for all kinds of people of all different types of backgrounds, beliefs, abilities, genders and sexualities. I'm quite certain that there is a place where any open-minded and curious person can go to learn and explore.
Whether it's learning how to negotiate consent in a playful and sexy way, how to spank properly and safely, tie someone up, how to make someone squirt or how to do sex-magic, there is so much to learn and explore in these fields.
Most of us know by adulthood that the sex education we receive in school is poor at best and completely, harmfully negligent at worst.
Many of us never learned about consent, how to ask for what we want, how to give pleasure and how to be aware of trauma and help create safety for our partners.
Many of us never learned how self pleasure is good for us, and how we can use self pleasure as a tool for emotional regulation, self love and self exploration- let alone that it can be used to create manifestation/magic, transmute 'negative' emotions or reach ecstatic, trance-like states.
We may have put a condom on a banana if we were at a progressive school, but most adults still have no idea about safer sex practices in group settings, for oral sex or anal sex. We still may fumble when trying to ask if someone has been tested for STIs or what exactly we need to say before entering a kinky scene.
People rely on porn for figuring out how to make a vagina squirt or how to have great anal sex, not realizing that the staged performances require so much preparation before and after, and that trying to replicate these acts as they are on screen is dangerous and can cause serious physical and emotional damage to their partner/s.
Sex positive festivals aim to educate and give embodied experiences to participants and an opportunity to ask questions, try new things and explore their desires with tried and true tools and professional guidance.
The festivals host adults of all ages, so whether you're young and curious or you're much older and looking to explore you'll find others you can relate to! Some festivals may draw more of a certain age demographic (I've definitely been the youngest a few times in festivals with older crowds) but generally people are happy to include everyone.
You can also attend these festivals as a monogamous couple! Often workshops will invite people to switch partners and work with different people, but you always can chose to work with just 1 person or watch a workshop and not participate. Often workshops will request you bring someone to work with for certain practices, and you can find what classes interest you both as a couple.
So, what kind of festival is for you? This would depend on your experience level, your desires and what you want to learn. Personally, I love festivals with a focus on spirituality and conscious sexuality with a good dose of kinky fun. This is the kind of spaces I run and the kind of communities I feel at home in, but other people might not feel the same.
I'll talk a bit about the 3 festivals I attended in the last months to give you some examples of what different style festivals are like and what you can get from them.
Xplore festival has been going for a long time, and doesn't just happen in Berlin but in other parts of the world too. It was actually my first sex+ festival, though personally I wouldn't consider it a beginner experience at all.
Xplore, like the title suggests, is a festival about exploration- exploring your sexuality, desires, curiosity and the edges of your comfort zone... It has a very contemporary and artistic vibe to it and the participants tend to go pretty hard in the workshops and play spaces. Each year has a theme and the festival is massive- hosting multiple workshops at a time plus ongoing play spaces, massage and shibari areas, a roleplay space and areas to hang out and meet people.
It is located in a big industrial area in large buildings, and runs for 4 days, but people do not stay on the site at night and instead commute in and out of the festival.
The workshops vary in intensity and style- some of them can be quite intense and some are soft and playful. Felix and his team who run the event tend to book unique and creative workshops as there are a lot of returning patrons each year who want something new, so you won't find a huge amount of beginner level introduction workshops. A lot of workshops will have people engaging in sex and BDSM during the practices, so if you're totally new to this world it might be a little too much to start with- but if you're an experienced kinkster, swinger or general sexy adventurer then you will likely have a great time. This year my favourite workshops were the 'Erotic Hypnosis' ones, 'Kinky Tantric speed dating', 'Til death do us part' and witnessing 'The Jesus Experiment' where people got to explore being tied up on a cross for a period of time.
The 'School of Love' was a roleplay space where you could go and be guided through some fun kinky roleplay scenes if you so desired. There was also the opportunity to be tied by teachers from one of the Berlin shibari dojos. One thing I love at Xplore is the ongoing silent play space. It is nice that at any point if you don't feel like joining a workshop you can go there to play and move or just witness. A lot of other festivals only have play spaces at night which I don't personally like as someone who likes to go to bed early, though I find silent spaces a bit difficult to navigate as I really like having check-ins and constant communication with play partners. As I was a participant at this festival and not a facilitator, I got to have some fun of my own which included lots of sensual contact dancing, rope play, role play and cuddles.
Xplore is a really unique experience and really well crafted for people who want to find their edges and explore sexuality as an art form, as a place to observe a variety of sexual expressions and question the ways you may label or categorize yourself. The workshops are often so unique you would be hard pressed to find them in other places or get other opportunities to experience them. However, if you're someone who is new to learning about their boundaries, dealing with sexual trauma or totally new to play parties then I would suggest finding another option to begin with, as the festival definitely doesn't give a gentle approach to exploration, and even I have found some workshops and experiences triggering there.
Xplore also run retreats in different places, which I hear are much more 'gentle' and relaxed, so I would love to attend one of these in the future and see the difference for myself.
THE SUMMER HOUSE (UK)
The Summer house was a new experience for me, my partner and I were invited to teach by one of our fellow Sensual Arts Retreat facilitators, Katy. The Summer House has also been going for a long time, building up from a small gathering of friends into a massive festival (I think there was 450 people or so at this one). This year it was located in regional Scotland so it was very difficult to get to for us as international folk, but a really beautiful location. Most people camp on the site though there are some rooms in the mansion that you can rent. We luckily got to stay in the massage tent at night because we weren't able to bring all our camping things on the flights, as well as all our workshop gear- though we wished we'd had some privacy as teaching can be very draining and being able to recharge is super important. The Summer House is by far the most diverse festival I have been to, proudly boasting a large community of queer folk, POC, trans, non-binary and people with disabilities. Related to this there was definitely a political tone to the festival with a lot of emphasis on empowering minority groups, education and political correctness. There were a lot of sharing circles and workshops specifically for groups to talk about their unique experiences with their sexuality and to bond in a sex positive space. If you are someone in a minority group and you're worried that many festivals seem very white and heteronormative, this is definitely a festival where you won't be alone and you can connect with others with similar experiences to you. Everyone works really hard to be as inclusive as possible and celebrate diversity, though there was also a lot of tension around this and 'calling out' in ways that didn't feel fully integrated and constructive to me personally, but I really appreciate how hard everyone seemed to be working to do their best. The care team worked really hard and were always available and accessible.
There wasn't much spirituality at this event, though Katy and another friend did an amazing Queer Tantra workshop that was really magical and powerful, I got a lot out of it, even as a tantric teacher. We taught a workshop on consent (There were 3 consent based workshops, which I think is amazing and so important, and consent was an ongoing and important topic addressed over and over again) as well as our 'Erotic embodiment and lap dancing' workshop (always a big hit and a lot of fun) and 'Primal Playfighting' (Which got totally wild and ended up spreading across the large outdoor lawn when the dome couldn't fit all the wild folk!). I didn't get to attend many workshops at this event due to us teaching quite a lot and not having much free time, but another workshop I loved was 'Decolonize, galvanize, moisturize'. There were lots of other ones I wish I could have attended (though usually scheduled while we were teaching!) like non-binary panels, sensual kink, a rave ritual, a beard making workshop, partner dancing and so much more. I always get overwhelmed when festivals have so many spaces open at the same time, and the schedule was overflowing with great content. The nights had really high quality performances and entertainment by members of the community and all of this supported and made possible by an ace production team. A massive bonus was the hot tubs and sauna, which were vital in the rainy Scottish 'summer' and total lifesavers.
In all I found this a really interesting festival and I learned so much, though I was definitely missing the 'conscious' and heart-centered feeling I get at the more spiritually focused events. I'm curious how it will evolve over the years so that this diverse space can be revolutionary and inclusive in a way that feels truly loving and relaxed, and deals with conflict in a more integrated way that can make people feel more safe and less triggered.
My favorite event of the 3 was Sexolution, a festival only in it's first year that managed to pull off a truly amazing event. This festival was run by Schwelle Wien, a sex positive space that has been running for many years. The event was focused on tantra, kink and love... so it was absolutely perfect for me!
Located about an hour from Vienna, the festival was run at a beautiful hotel in the mountains with an incredible view. It was peaceful and relaxing, and I was stoked to have a hotel room to share with my partner! People could choose between staying in the hotel or camping depending on their budget. There was a huge natural pool made by the hotel just in time for the festival which was a much appreciated bonus.
Some really amazing teachers were part of the team, including Seani Love (@realseanilove) , Blixx (@xperience_blixx), Rosie Heart (@golden_clit_on_tour) , Wilrieke Sophia (@the.intimacy.coach) and many more. The schedule was nicely spread out where I felt I got a lot of time to socialize, relax and sleep as well as attend lots of workshops and host the three I ran.
I got to enjoy some very powerful workshops like Blixx's sex magic ritual, Seani's consensual non-consent, tantric meditations, orgasmic cacao ceremony, surrender through breath and lots of other goodies. Even as a pro I felt like I gained a lot from these workshops and the quality was really high, as well as accessible for absolute beginners (as there were a LOT of first timers!). The first workshops of the event were all consent based so everyone got to attend one before going further into the festival. I chose Seani's 'Consent and boundaries save the world' workshop and really enjoyed his exercises (and I'm glad he's bringing it to the Sensual Arts Retreat 2020!).
The evenings had dance parties, karaoke and play spaces, as well as an art space with some exciting installations, though my partner and I enjoyed our room and each other most of the evenings after building up so much sexual energy in the days.
I found there to be so much love and acceptance at this festival that it really felt warm, accepting and SAFE! I have really learned how important feeling safe is to my enjoyment and ability to open up, and it felt like most of the team also shared this passion for creating nourishing safety and encouraging people to find their boundaries and honour themselves, not to push themselves out of their comfort zones in unhealthy ways... This actually has the effect of helping people to explore deeper and further than they usually would in a way that is really nourishing and integrated.
I was blessed to share 3 of my favourite workshops at this event- Self-worship (an honouring self pleasure ritual), the Embodied Erotic dance and lap dancing again and the Sensual Rope Ritual. All of the workshops got great feedback and I felt so grateful to get to share my passion in these spaces with so many lovely people. I can't wait to reconnect with the people I met there and hopefully return next year!
There are more and more sex positive events and festivals popping up all over the world, and it makes me so happy to see this. Taking some time to learn about your sexuality, explore your desires and learn communication and connection tools is vital to our collective healing and sexual liberation. Most of the trauma in the world begins with disconnection from others and from ourselves, and most of us underestimate how much our sexuality and relationships play into our whole lives.
Unlearning shame, guilt and disgust around our sexuality happens best in community and with guidance, it isn't something that is going to come naturally to us when we have been negatively conditioned around our sexuality for our entire lives. Having a container to learn, ask questions, be vulnerable, share and try out new things is so powerful and healing.
Whether you want to learn new skills to up your game as a lover, meet people who share your kinks and desires, put yourself on the edge of your comfort zone to meet new parts of yourself or you want to learn about consent and boundaries... We could all gain a lot from these spaces.
Retreats v Festivals
Personally I stepped out of running a festival and into running retreats for a few reasons. Festivals are beautiful opportunities to have a space to meet a lot of new people, try lots of new things and have a short and intense exploration, however I find the most transformation happens over a longer period of time and in a smaller container.
Usually in 3-4 days you see the rise and peak of emotions, things start off pretty exciting, ecstatic and blissful. You're learning new things, meeting new people and feeling good about yourself! This is when the deeper wounds start to feel safe to come up... And at festivals this is usually when you go home. If you don't have a supportive community then integration can be hard, and you just met all these lovely people who then leave and you might not see them again. In a week period you can ride the wave and stay in the container for the whole experience with the support of the team and the other participants, which enables you to process any wounds that come up, so you can release and integrate them. In a smaller group you can connect deeper with people and feel more 'seen' in the space. Also festivals take huge teams and a lot of work, and can often not even make much money, which generally means underpaying the teachers and team, which I don't like to do anymore.
Festivals are great if you don't have much time or money for going on a full retreat (as yes, retreats are generally expensive!) and a great place to start if you're not quite ready for a deep process and just want to learn some new tools and meet some new people. They're great for having a huge selection of workshops and getting to choose from many different things at once, so you can 'pick your own adventure'. They're also amazing for networking!
If you're someone who likes things a bit more slow paced, and you want to go on a deep journey, then week long or month long intensives will really create shifts in your life.
If you're interested in the Sensual Arts Retreat, registration is open for our 2020 Bali retreat!
Find more sex positive events on the S+ Europe facebook group!