Valentine’s Day is on the horizon – and you know what that means? My inbox and Facebook feed have been full of invitations to partner yoga classes, acro yoga workshops and introduction to tantra sessions, along with recipes for vegan chocolate pomegranate sauces, five poses to “fire up your sex life” and hearty soups that “support your sex organs.“
My Yoga Online, however, is leading the way with their “Yoga for Better Sex” series running from February 1 – 14. Every day during this two week period, subscribers to the online yoga service get an article, informative video or yoga practice intended to “elevate yourself to a place of intimacy, creativity and healing, just in time for Valentine’s Day.” In the introductory video for the series, MYO identifies the perceived duality in the sex + yoga equation:
Sex = naughty.
Yoga = good.
Together they’re taboo!
And, ultimately, the sex you’re having right now isn’t good enough. This is pretty much in line with the messaging we receive from the dominant culture.
As Kim Anami asks in this video from the series, “Is sex an uplifting, rejuvenating, life-affirming, deeply pleasurable experience for you? If not, you’re doing it wrong.” I know that’s exactly what I want to hear when I’m not happy with my sex life.
Anami does, however, acknowledge that our culture has a “bipolar relationship” with sex, and images in the media contradict our experiences. But she’s sure to point out that this is a modern state, because in ancient cultures (like, you know, India) sex was spiritual and sacred.
For all of her efforts to present sex as essential to life and empowering, Anami’s introduction to “Sex: Your Power Source” has an unconscious negativity towards sex. This is present in other parts of the series, and exemplifies attitudes that run rampant in the yoga community. There are three main patterns reinforced throughout the series.
Limited definition of sex
Throughout the Yoga for Better Sex (YFBS) discourse, “sex” seems to be defined as penetrative intercourse between a man and a woman. It doesn’t aknowledge gender diversity, BDSM, same sex relationships or masturbation. Forget the complexities of sexuality, intimacy and human relationships. In the yoga world, sex is primarily an expression of love, for others and for oneself (just as long as you don’t touch yourself, because that’s kind of icky).
Dichotomy of sexuality
My pal Renee Sills, who offers Sex and Yoga workshops in Portland, Oregon, and I had a conversation about the huge dichotomy in yoga culture: austere and holier-than-thou or candy coated, hypersexualized and aggressively overt. Like the “bipolar” thing that Kim Anami pointed out.
This is definitely something that yoga culture has absorbed from the dominant culture, with its own take. Sexuality is repressed in exotic, mystical sacredness, as practitioners strive to practice their idea of brahmacharya. However, the alternative (hypersexualized imagery used to market yoga, among many other things) can alienate practitioners from the practice, and their own bodies. Is there no middle ground? Some kind of healthy spectrum?
Sexuality is accessible primarily to white, slender, flexible women
First of all, kudos to MYO for featuring Hemalayaa Behl as the poster girl for the series and including her “Yogasmic Journey” video practice. But other than this Indian belly dancer and yoga teacher, the practices and articles were by white women yoga teachers, as seen in these “Constant Orgasm” and “Yoga to Enliven Your Sex Life” videos.
So how is this not sex-positive?
While the YFBS series may have tried to be progressive or opening dialogue about yoga and sexuality, it’s actually not entirely sex-positive, because of the limited definition of sex, reinforcement of duality of sexuality, and presenting a narrow demographic. It’s actually kind of oppressive to tell participants what sex should be (an uplifting experience, of course) and if it’s not, you’re doing it wrong.
Sex-positivity is “an attitude towards human sexuality that regards all consensual sexual activities as fundamentally healthy and pleasurable, and encourages sexual pleasure and experimentation. The sex-positive movement is a social and philosophical movement that advocates these attitudes. The sex-positive movement advocates sex education and safer sex as part of its campaign.”
There is a way to address sexuality and yoga in healthy, sex-positive ways. In her Sex and Yoga workshops, Sills says she, “subverts the idea of sex and sexiness into curiosity towards the self, through a somatic practice. I encourage people to go into the different sensations. The sexual energy of lower pelvic organs and procreative force is essential to good health, spinal health and organs. People can get focused on outward form-oriented approach to both yoga and sex, and they miss the function.”
My Yoga Online’s Yoga for Better Sex series indicates that the yoga scene’s dialogue around sex and sexuality needs to expand. The Frisky posted a handy 8-point guide to determining sex positivity, like being okay with not having sex, not glamorizing sex, and acknowledging that sex you’re having right now, however infrequent or uncomfortable or awkward it is, is just fine. The discourse in the mainstream yoga community could use a few pointers.