What happens at a sensual masturbation workshop? Well, it blew my mind. from Mashable


“You are encouraged to make sounds, to moan, scream, gasp, say ‘oh fuck!’”

Stepping into the Sensual Self-Touch workshop, I felt like I was entering another world. About 20 women and non-binary vulva owners were dressed in silk kimonos, popping sweets and fruits into their mouths, as they floated around a glowing, plant-filled room with soft lighting. Am I in a mythical painting surrounded by fairy nymphs? No, I’m at the Sensual Self-Touch Workshop, a two-hour guided mindful body and vulva exploration in East London. 

As we entered the main room, yoga mats were arranged into a circle facing the center, incense filling the senses under pink and warm yellow glowing lights, spa-like music wafting. On each mat sat mirrors, towels, pillows, blankets, lube, and coconut oil. 

Ready to meet our vulvas.
Credit: Mary Morgan

Workshop facilitators and sex coaches Oli Lipski and Valentine Bordet introduced themselves and what the two-hour session would include. The first half was more theoretical, and the second more practical. We would be studying the anatomy of a vulva, they told us, in addition to examining our own vulvas, exploring feelings of experiences of yes/no/maybe and consent, learning self pleasure techniques, and, of course, putting them to use. 

“Good sex and good pleasure is unique to you. It’s mindful. It’s sensual – and not in the pastelly fluffy way we might be sold it as — but in a literal sense that you are connected to your senses and curious about what every movement, touch, breath, moan can do for your pleasure,” Lipski, sensual intimacy coach and pleasure workshop facilitator, told Mashable.

Being the master of your domain also leads to better pleasure, not only in solo practice but also in partnered sex. “Do you want to explore a more rough and fast-paced sensation, or do you want to edge your pleasure with some teasing touch? The only way to know is to become aware and be open to explore,” Lipski said. 

Mary Morgan attending the self-touch workshop.
Credit: Mary Morgan

“How powerful and empowering it is to know your body, know what brings you pleasure and having the confidence to give yourself what you need and want,” said Bordet, founder of Self-Pleasure Club and somatic sexologist in training. 

Why do we need self-pleasure workshops?

Studies consistently reveal a significant disparity between men and women when it comes to masturbation, orgasms, and sexual behavior overall. The Sexual Double Standard (SDS) describes societal gender-based prejudice in which women are judged more harshly than men for engaging in the same sexual behavior. Not only is there more taboo around sexual behavior itself – but there is a notable discomfort and greater taboo in discussing female masturbation, pleasure, and sexual behavior altogether. 

“How powerful and empowering it is to know your body, know what brings you pleasure and having the confidence to give yourself what you need and want.”

The masturbation gap between men and women remains significant. TENGA’s 2021 Global Self Pleasure Report found men are more likely to masturbate compared to women (90 and 82 percent respectively in the U.S. and 95 to 85 percent respectively in the UK.) Lovehoney’s 2024 study looked at weekly masturbation habits in the UK, finding that 64 percent of men masturbate at least once a week, compared to just 34 percent of women. The study states that these statistics are approximately the same across Europe, with an average masturbation gap of 55 percent. 

There’s more. The study also delves into the taboo of the topic, studying how open men and women are to talking about masturbation. Across the board men were more likely to have spoken about masturbation, with 54 percent of men in the UK having spoken to friends, compared to 37 percent of women. The gap remains regardless of the audience, with men more likely to speak to their partners (65 to 53 percent), family (32 to 17 percent), or online strangers (36 to 16 percent). 

There also exists an orgasm gap overall. Shame is one of the biggest preventers of pleasure. Taboos that still surround pleasure for women — whether masturbation or partnered sex — rob women of the ability to not only feel pleasure, but also to truly express pleasure through body autonomy. “We are brought up in a society that teaches us to hide our sexualities, our bodies and our pleasure while simultaneously exploiting it and objectifying it,” Lipski said. “I discovered the power in bringing masturbation to the forefront of the conversation — not in a hyper-sexualised or sanitised way, but in a pleasure-centric way. Because, if you really think about it, who teaches us about our self-pleasure? No one!”

There is also a gender gap in sex education, exacerbated by an increasing stigmatization of sex education as a whole. Even when taught, much of sex education focuses on health and pregnancy rather than pleasure, especially neglecting female pleasure. Men learn about pleasure through media, social interactions, and societal norms, whereas female pleasure is frequently stigmatized or criticized. Female pleasure needs greater representation in the media, educational spaces, and in our society as a whole. Only through this visibility can we foster conversations that inform and empower women to embrace their own pleasure. Normalizing the topic will help shatter the taboo around it. Part of that is being able to speak openly about masturbation, about our own self-pleasure, about pleasure in general. Workshops such as Lipski and Bordet’s are smashing through shame and stigma and filling that space with pleasure and empowerment. 

“Say hello to your vulva.”

What happens at a self-pleasure workshop?

So, what is it like to attend a self-pleasure workshop? We began introducing ourselves and our intentions. Hearing what brought everyone into the room was one of the most powerful parts of the workshop for me. Reasons included dispelling shame; reconnecting with the body; connecting with the body for the first time; unblocking themselves; centering their own pleasure. These wider conversations about self acceptance, pleasure, and body autonomy are so important and so rarely given space. Uninhibited explorations of pleasure are crucial. 

Bordet and Lipski then walked us through the anatomy of our own vulvas – something that is so frequently not taught, or taught poorly. Isn’t it such a reflection of society that we are taught so much more about male anatomy than female? In fact, according to a recent UK poll, 45 percent of male university students and 31 percent of female students said they not only knew what a “nubis” was, but could “confidently” label this part of a vulva. The issue? It’s a part of the female anatomy that literally doesn’t exist, and was entirely made up for the survey. 

“Say hello to your vulva,” Lipski and Bordet said as we laid facing the outside of the circle, mirrors between our legs. Being able to gaze and explore your own vulva is something that many people in the room had never done. “Guiding the attendees to gaze at their vulvas was so enlightening to hear how similar each of our experiences were, and how intimate and vulnerable it feels to connect with this part of our body that is so universally shamed,” Lipski said. 

Perfect lighting for self-exploration.
Credit: Mary Morgan

I highly recommend greeting your bottom half. For me, it was so interesting and powerful to look with intention, positively, non-critically, and patiently. Not a quick glance, but to gaze at yourself. 

After we all did, we shared our experiences, with attendees saying that being able to look non-critically at yourself, or even look at your vulva for the first time, was incredibly empowering. 

“I feel a huge amount of love,” one said. “I haven’t been as nice to her as I should be,” another said. 

After learning different strokes and types of touch, we took a break before returning to the room for a guided meditation by Lipski and a guided touch session by Bordet. 

How do you masturbate in a room of strangers?

This next step was a scary one: taking solo sex to a group setting. How do you masturbate in a room of strangers? I had feared it would be awkward. But much like an orgasm itself, letting go is powerful. 

The meditation encouraged deep breaths, and broke the silence of the room. Inhaling and exhaling louder and louder, slowly but surely letting go piece by piece, the tension melting away and sinking into a gooey feeling instead. The guided touch session suggested a few minutes on each learned stroke, as the facilitators continued to encourage breath, sound, giggles, and of course, pleasure. 

Moans, gasps, whimpers, giggles, little screams bounced across the room. As the two people next to me came, I was incredibly inspired by the collective freedom in the room. 

The power of self-pleasure in a group setting

To me, masturbation is a celebration of body autonomy, and a celebration of your own power and pleasure. We are taught so often that our bodies are not for us. Female bodies are often seen as being for others’ pleasure, for others’ consumption, for child-bearing, for almost anyone or anything but themselves. What is more powerful than being in control of your own pleasure? 

I asked Lipski and Bordet what made them launch this workshop – which is the first they have done, but certainly not the last. 

“I’ve always wanted to do something like this, I’ve been to similar workshops — including genital gazing and sensual touch but nothing like this,” Lipski said. “I’d been aware of the BodySex Circles, facilitated by the late Betty Dodson. She had been facilitating masturbation circles for female empowerment since the 70s — and when I first heard about it I knew I wanted to be a part of something like this.”

“I came into this space after spending years in feminist activist groups and wanting to shift to something more ‘inward’ and group circles,” said Bordet.

Bordet spent years in feminist activist groups, and was inspired to create the workshop by punk feminist groups, including the Slits, Rebel Dykes, Riot Grrrl. “Women organized themselves to ‘fuck with’ the male-dominated music scene,” she said. “I wanted to create a group circle about pleasure because it still feels so taboo, and I felt like we have not had a collective experience of being able to openly talk about our pleasure and especially about masturbation.”

The overwhelming feeling in the room was empowerment. As we closed, there was giddiness, excitement, energy filling the space. People were quite emotional, thanking the facilitators for creating such a powerful and freeing space. 

Lipski and Bordet said they know the event is edgy and requires pushing out of comfort zones, but that they have worked hard to create a safe space for participants to respect their bodies and boundaries.   

“Everything is a balance,” Bordet said. “So if the event feels like it is pushing your comfort bubble a bit, I would say go for it. But if it feels like it’s miles away from it, I would probably say that right now is not the time for it.”

“I never want to masturbate on my own again after this workshop.”

For anyone who looks at a pleasure workshop and feels uncomfortable or that it’s silly, Lipski said to examine those feelings. “I’d say listen to that message you’re receiving from yourself that this is not important. Who told you that? Why is it silly? What is gross about this? It’s good to question ourselves and where our messages came from to see if this is actually true. Or if this is a shame-based belief that might actually be holding you back from experiencing more pleasure in life.”

Leaving the mythical space created by Lipski and Bordet, the participants were glowing. “I never want to masturbate on my own again after this workshop,” one person said.

The main word I walked away feeling was “power.” The power to not only participate in such a rare, unique experience, but also the power to relish in your own pleasure and autonomy. The power is quite literally in your own hands. 

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