Stepping Into Erotic Wholeness With Darshana Avila

In this episode of LaidOPEN Podcast we welcome Darshana Avila, an Erotic Wholeness Coach you may have seen on this past season of Netflix’s Sex, Love & Goop. She believes we are erotic by nature and is dedicated to helping people feel truly at home in their bodies. Together we talk about how embodied no’s and yeses, how boundaries are medicine, and the ways our bodies try to show us where alignment is. We also talk about what an Erotic Wholeness Coach is and what it entails. You’re not gonna want to miss this. Especially, if you’re looking to learn more about intimacy and the hard work of healing.

Show Notes

Hi, this is Laid Open podcast with Charna Caselle and today I have a very exciting guest Darshana Avila. She is nurturing a culture of erotic wholeness as a nationally recognized speaker, coach and facilitator. Darshana supports women and couples in exploring and reshaping their relationships to intimacy, sex and eroticism. She created the map of erotic wholeness as a path to personal liberation and service to our collective sexual liberation. Darshana believes we are erotic by nature and is dedicated to helping people feel truly at home in their bodies, at ease with their sexuality and in alignment with their hearts. Her unique style of somatic sex and intimacy coaching weaves together a trauma informed nature base justice oriented approach inviting more presence, pleasure and passion into the lives and relationships of those she guides. 

Welcome Darshan, I’m so excited to have you here.

I am delighted to be here. Charna. Thank you.

I feel tingly, Oliver, my legs and arms as I was reading that there’s so much resonance in the things that we value and our approach to work. There’s so much overlap, and I’m excited to meet someone else who’s doing similar work in the world to know that you’re out there feels good to me.

Yeah, we need each other. Can’t do this alone.

Absolutely. So you know, I think a lot of listeners probably and I know your inboxes inundated currently that you were recently on goop, sex, love and goop. And I’m a noob. Yeah, and I’m telling people I’m like, you know, I know people don’t take wellness seriously all the time. But this is really important and valuable work that got put out there. And it’s amazing. It’s on television.

Yeah, it really, really is. And I feel nothing but gratitude to GP of the whole group and Netflix and boardwalk pictures who like we’re the production company like to put this out there. Like, that’s not a small thing. It’s a bit edgy, very edgy in its way. But what what I’ve been getting a lot of feedback on, you know, as communications are coming in, and just people are, are so blown open by it in the best possible way. And these are people who might not be moving in subsets of community where sex positivity is emphasized or open conversations about your relationships, like whatever it is, and yet they’re still finding resonance, and they’re seeing themselves in the couples or on the show. Yeah, but yeah, it really is a special thing, what what we’ve been able to do as part of that show and the platform that it’s given to the wider scope of somatic sex and intimacy coaching, you know, and it’s many different forms. So, yeah, it’s really amazing to have been part of that.

I find myself wanting to ask about things that are on the episode. And yet I don’t want to ruin it for potential viewers, but I’m hoping if I talk about it, it’ll drive out to watch it. So I’m just gonna ask so one of the things that I thought was so profound that was in the episode that you participated in, was doing what look like to my eyes, internal do armoring work, as well as you know, helping someone discover what feels good to them. Yeah. And, and so doing direct genital touch from a therapeutic place is so needed, and yet super taboo. Right,

And that’s taboo, and it’s also just a giant mystery to most people because there’s simply no context for it. So, of all the things related to sex that are taboo. I almost think this falls more into the category and I hear this constantly and I’ve heard this constantly before the show came out when people find me or find other sex illogical body worker is they’re like, I did not know this existed. So it’ll go cuz it’s like it’s not known enough to be chat. But yes, that’s what I’m saying. The idea that you might receive contact that is both erotic and therapeutic, that there would be a container. And this is this is in accordance with the ethics, the ethics and the standards of being a sex illogical body worker, which is one of the modalities that I work with. And that is, what we’re speaking on here is that the container is so highly Integris. You know, we work in such a way that is designed by its very nature to support an empowered, enthusiastic, ongoing conceptual experience, that we’re the touches all one directional, there are particular parameters in place that are all serving the client, in their journey, and walk one of the many reasons why it’s such a powerful thing is because most of us, anytime we’re having her genital touched, it’s happening in a very personal setting with a lover. And the focus isn’t exclusively on us, we’re going to we’re in an exchange of a like an exchange of like for like, oftentimes, and if anything, many of us struggle with worrying too much about our partners experience. It’s not enough about our own, huh. Or you’re in a medical context where there’s no intimacy, it’s very clinical, oftentimes not consent based. The sad reality is that inside of the industrial medical complex, there is not a very gracious and consent focused and pleasures positive way of relating with our genitals or our body as a whole. So what we’re doing in these sessions is pretty unprecedented as far as most people go to imagine that something like this might exist, and then to have it aired on a Netflix show. I’ve been telling this anecdotally. I hope he’s okay with it. My brother, like so interesting dynamic here, but he’s like, You gave him a lot. Now, this is another spoiler alert, y’all. Sorry. He’s like you gave a woman an orgasm on Netflix? Yeah, that’s what I do.

So fantastic. I love it. So when I when I was in when I was in college, I, I was really offended by the experience of God being a young woman going to the gynecologist and having a pelvic exam, and I wanted to do the video that they would show you in terms of what to anticipate was like the Brady Bunch, like Marsha, and she’s disempowered and she’s, you know, doesn’t ask any questions. And there’s the All Knowing doctor and so I decided to make an empowered, you know, pelvic exam video. And so that’s it, I love it. There was a one of my roommates was was the she was a was on a show, a TV show in the 80s. And she was a little exhibitionist, and she was like, I’m down to have a pelvic exam on video. We’re like a bunch of 19 year olds making this video. But you know, she asks questions, she gets consent, she does all these things. And I loved I was, as I watched your episode, I was repeatedly impressed and appreciative of the, of how you were teaching this woman, both of the women how to listen to their bodies, and how to have boundaries, like you, and you were so respectful.

I mean, and that is the foundation of it. And, and, you know, consider that, across the three episodes of this series where my work appears, you’re seeing minutes of something that was in actuality, hours and days. And and so I emphasize that because I do want people to hold that in context, a lot. Everyone is getting this like really buzzy, beautiful introduction to the work thanks to this gorgeous show. And it’s a much bigger process to getting there. That is building a foundation of acknowledging where boundaries lie, but also where desire lies, brave and mean to you know, like, in a certain regard two sides of the same coin. And so there really is an emphasis on what amounts to an intimacy with self and attunement with cells, the capacity to actually be aware of what you want, what you don’t where your yeses where your know is, and then to know that it’s safe to bring that into relationship with another person who is vested in knowing that very same information and meeting you in that play. Like this is where it’s such transformational work that we get up to. Right. Right that that is through and through from, from the very first moment together until the very last like that is the emphasis and so much you know, we’re comparing and contrasting here to what happens in a typical medical scenario. And there’s none of that nevermind the you know, the the fluorescent lights and the cold temperature and you put your feet up in this syrups that it’s, you know, like, it, there’s so much lacking there. And also I hear this often I work primarily with with cisgender women all I also work with a number of trans men, most of the bodies I have my hands on, or vulva bearing bodies at this point in my work. And I hear it all the time, like doctors negating their pain, and, you know, being told, like, oh, well, you know, or that’s, that’s just common like that, just like, it has a way of just dismissing and ever really invalidating our experience, because there’s a power imbalance there, you know, you’ve got a doctor who is in for sake of the role they’re in, they’re imbued with a certain power. And it’s a very vulnerable thing to come into a setting like that as a patient. And so the difference for me practitioner with client versus doctor a patient is, yes, I’m very aware of the power that I hold. But what I’m endeavoring to do is transfer that power to the client. And for them to really take that on for themselves, like my body, Yes, bye bye, my boundaries, my pleasure, I like this, I don’t like that, and to get comfortable. And if they can do that in a space with ni, or with another practitioner, they then you have to carry that with them into all of their relationships, sexual and non sexual. So that’s really the spirit that this work is done it? 

Yes, yes. It’s so important. And that last piece of like, so if you can do that with you, and then often people if you if they’re not connected to what feels good, or what doesn’t feel good, what their boundaries are, what their yeses, then they’re kind of surrendering their pleasure to a partner who may or may not know how to give that to them. So there’s this thing of like, how do I, how do I actually engage and be my own advocate, but then also surrender and receive? And that’s what you’re leaving? That coupled with a blueprint for? Yes, right. Yeah.

Yeah. Because it happens a lot. And again, knowing that, you know, I, as I said, I work with a lot of women I also work with couples so that in that instance, a lot of sis couples, a lot of lesbian couples is what who I have been serving in my years of practice, there is definitely a dynamic that shows up for a lot of sis women and those acculturated as women in our you know, like, even our dominant culture, that we both expect our partner to know everything. And we also expect that it’s okay that we don’t. So you know, like it for either way, you look at it that that is not good. This is not a good dynamic. And so I use this term earlier, and it determines a lot. Intimacy with self includes really getting to know your body intimately. It includes understanding what your Pathways to pleasure are, it includes knowing things about your trauma, knowing things about your boundaries, so that you can then bring this into relationship with another. We, we really need to and I’m conscientious of using words like need and should not like so do not come out of my mouth that it’s deliberate. Yeah, we really need to like let the fairytales go, that we need the magical other who knows everything about us. And I say that as someone who I admittedly, I have learned a lot about my own body, thanks to connections I’ve had with other people. So that’s a beautiful gift. But if I rely upon that alone, or any of us relies upon that alone, we are setting ourselves up for encountering real struggle in relationship at some point in time. Because then what happens when you’re in a moment where you need to know for yourself, and you don’t, or resentment ends up building a big issue that comes in where you feel like you’re having sex for the pleasure of your partner. And they’re not, you know, because they don’t magically know all the buttons to push for you, but neither do you. And so, you know, there’s definitely a piece here about self responsibility and opportunity, responsibility and opportunity go hand in hand, right? You’ve got this gorgeous opportunity to know yourself with a quality of intimacy that that just might transform your whole life. Wouldn’t you want to take that if you could, like, yeah, you know, one of the things you said that I emphasize a lot with my clients, it’s super important is nothing thinking I think about sex is a microcosm. And so you’re like this isn’t just going to be relevant for your sex life and for your sexual partners. This is relevant for you know, outside of the bedroom right you’re what what you want to eat, what kind of job you want, what what you know what feels good in your friendships, all of that,

Right? Yeah, I regularly particularly I hear a lot from my clients who are parents that The work we’re doing informs their parenting in significant ways. Oh, yeah, you know, I it definitely has something to do with the as to your point, the choices you make in your professional realm just how you move in and day in and day out. But there’s so much of this boils down to, to developing a more expanded vocabulary in a lot of ways, and a comfort and a confidence in communicating with a level of skill and precision that we don’t always do. And then when you have access to that, it’s a real game changer for many aspects of your life. No,

Right? All that all that nuance for the quality of touch, or where you want to be touched, or if you don’t want to be touched. And that permission, you know, it’s it’s this piece of like being getting clear about what your boundaries are, so that you can be boundless. Right. So having that sense of anything and self, it really breeds self acceptance, like, okay, so whatever I’m feeling whatever I’m wanting or not wanting, right now, there’s space for.

Yeah, and I like what you just said about boundaries, giving us you know, access to an experience of boundlessness. Because it’s true, it’s like it, you know, if you consider a boundary, just to envision something physical, like it has, it has four walls, if it’s a box, if it’s a sphere, or whatever it is, like when you’re inside of that, yes, you get to be as big as you want to be within that container you’ve created. And that is an embodied experience of boundlessness. When you’re orienting to it as such. And I think we we really have a lot of negative connotation that gets heaped on the word boundary, people get a little like, twitchy when they hear it, oh, that boundary, they’re bad. Or that means you’re rejecting something about another person, you know. And we get to look at boundary as a gift that we’re giving it relationship, we get to look at boundary as the border line that allows us to be loving and respectful of itself and other at once. And I saw and this is not me, originally speaking here, I just saw this on a meme on social media the other day, I wish I could know who to who to attribute it to you. But, but it was something like, my boundary isn’t about offending you. My boundary is about honoring me. And, and when we can really like, let that sink in and operate from that place. And that becomes especially where it’s potent is if it becomes a shared reality, if you and I are in a relationship with each other, and we both are holding that orientation that like Alterna, your boundary is not meant to hurt me or harm weed, you’re taking care of yourself. Yes, I am so much softer in relationship to that, that if I feel like, Oh, you’re doing this to push me away or take something from me like, No, you’re, you’re taking care of yourself. And because I care about you, I want that, right. And so when we learn to have a different orientation and what boundary means, it really does have a transformative effect on our relationships, all of it.

Boundary work is a big embodied boundaries, developing them and all the nuances, all the different kinds of knows that we can have with different people in different circumstances is a big part of my work. And one of the things that, you know, as I’m doing I use martial arts space practices that originate from the Strozzi Institute in generative Cymatics. And with my clients, and often the feedback is, wow, that was graceful. And, oh, I feel relieved the pain so that there’s such actual relief when you when you can trust, often we’re projecting onto other people, like I have to take care of you because I don’t trust you’re going to take care of yourself, right. But when someone has clear boundaries, you’re like, oh, okay, I don’t have to I can trust that. They’re saying yes. And they mean it. And I don’t have to do it for them. Yeah. And I mean, there’s, there’s no one who is not going to benefit from having clear, healthy boundaries. And I think knowing the work that we both do, particularly then when we’re talking about people who have lived through trauma that is as yet unmitigated, let’s say, in their body is like, trauma so often happens as a violation of boundary, you know, something comes at us comes into our space, it’s too much, it’s too fast. It’s too soon, we didn’t want it. And so the idea of boundary when when you’re looking at it through the lens of someone who is still working trauma through their body and through their lived experience, boundary is the medicine very often, you know, that boundary is is what actually allows us to create that embodied experience of safety. Eat a regulation of well being, and, and become more open and receptive. And so to reference this back to the show in the work that he did with Shandra, who who’s half of the couple that I worked with Chandra’s situation was coming from an environment of a lot of religious conservatism and a lot of like a lot of the Orient, patient that sex is bad and negative. And that was living in Kobani, as pain as embracing and thus experiencing pain. And so the healthy boundaries that we cultivated there by her knowing nothing was going to happen, that she wasn’t a yes to going really, really slow, establishing a dialogue about it, you know, it let her body physically open to an experience that she had previously not been open to. And that’s the potential that this work holds. And that’s why coming at it from a trauma informed lens is so important. And why that’s an integral aspect of erotic wholeness is to, to know how to hold trauma well, and move with trauma, well, not just hold the, we’re just holding it. And that’s and that’s not actually the fate we want, we want to learn how to get through. 

So, you know, there’s so many as you speak, they’re like, seven thoughts that I have. To hear, we could go here. And, you know, one of the things that I that I so strongly believe is, you know, our body doesn’t lie, our body communicates when we haven’t gotten the message and heard something energetically, emotionally, spiritually, it shows up physically. Yeah, and, and that also religious shame lives in the body like sexual abuse. And this piece, you know, it’s so this was never named in the episode. But I see clients sometimes that have vulvodynia or vaginal dryness, where there’s, you know, pain around the fall, or the vaginal walls close and don’t allow for penetration. And there’s so much information in what a body is doing. And if the body is having this experiencing pain, so the fact that there was an it was it was profound. And I was curious, I was like, I about how much time you had spent with her before that particular moment, because I want people out in the world to know it doesn’t always happen, that he’s so bright. I think that’s a very important disclaimer to make this there was a lot more than the minutes that you see.

Yeah. And that there was, I knew how like, that was such a profound moment for that person.

Right. And I think, you know, what, what we saw there, and what so many experience much of a we we could in the broad heading or put under the broad heading of sexual dysfunction is not dysfunctional at all to the country, it’s a very functional response to something that is unsafe to something that that that we cannot trust, that something we do not consent to. And sometimes that’s a present moment lived experience that we’re reacting to. But oftentimes, it is an early imprint that we have carried forward with us. And so to your point of like that, this then unlocks and trends and gives rise to possibilities far beyond that moment. I think part of that is rooted in when we get to really like take it in for ourselves embodied understanding, like I was never broken. This was not wrong. If my body this was not dysfunction, this was wisdom, that this was actually a protective measure a means of of endeavoring to keep safe. But the ways that we first learn how to keep ourselves safe in response to something inherently unsafe, often isn’t always the most mature skillful version of that. And so we’ve got to we got to update the script, like, okay, like there’s a maturation process or a new memo that needs to get sent to those to those parts of ourselves that are still clinging to the protective strategy, whether it is a briefing of our bodies that shows itself as imaginisce Miss for if it’s our impulse to you know, to fleet or to be conflict avoidant. Anytime you get a whiff of someone maybe having a differing opinion, these skills have so many implications and the application. And that’s where, you know, this broader scope of sex and intimacy work. It’s about the sex, but and I say this constantly when it comes to erotic wholeness, it’s about sex, but it’s about so much more than that. And that’s not just like a cute little quippy phrase to say it’s the damn truth of it.

Right 100 100% I mean, you know, that when I’m doing physical practices with people, it’s the self that you are Right, so we could be working on something in your personal life. But obviously, if you develop boundaries and the capacity to ask for what you need, asking for that raise is going to be a lot easier transferable skills. For sure. You know, when you’re when you start to feel incredibly fatigued, and maybe early on in life, if you’re not as connected to what your, what you feel, then you think, oh, maybe I’m getting a flu or, or I just didn’t sleep well last night. And then when you start to connect the dots and realize that it could be that there’s a particular person that you just energetically don’t feel uplifted by, and it’s just sucking the life force out of you. So being embodied, helps you be more discerning in all of your relationships.

It’s true, and the, because our bodies are such wells of wisdom, and that’s the piece I just want to I feel to emphasize so strongly here and that it’s not like I I’m thinking of a recent scenario where someone was experiencing a fairly intense pain in her neck, literally, and was going through a really tumultuous relational shift with someone that it just was not aligned. And you know, we’re talking about it, and she’s like, so we broke up, and my neck doesn’t hurt anymore. Like, that’s not a coincidence. Or our body yet because distantly trying to show us to tell us where alignment is and where it isn’t, where for safety is and where it isn’t. And that’s because our bodies are readily why. And this practice of embodiment is effectively a way of learning to become receptive to that wisdom. And the reason why that’s something we need to do deliberately. It’s not because anything’s wrong with any of us individually, that’s a cultural thing. That’s, that’s a collective trauma, that we are all a meshed and immersed in, in this dominant culture where we have been severed from the wisdom of our bodies, and severed from connection to arrows, which is one in the same men as connection to nature, you know, and this is where all these threads begin to weave together into this fabulous tapestry. Like, it matters,

right? Well, this is where, and you mentioned this, and I love your logo, by the way, you have a really beautiful website. This is the importance when you’re dealing with the impact of the collective, the collective unconscious, that systemic culture, you know, cultivated beliefs, and racism, sexism, all these pieces. And so your focus around social justice as well as nature based work is also really important. Can you say a little bit more about that?

Well, to me, you know, for many years, in the earlier stage of my practice, I referred to myself as a somatic sex and intimacy coach, because that seemed like, even if that was a little bit of a mouthful, and some people didn’t totally know, the words in there give you some sense of what I was about. And over time, both in my professional scope, but really, in my personal journey, to put a focus on effects stopped making sense to me, and that’s where the word erotic comes from. And for me, when I say erotic, and when I talk about arrows, it’s our sexuality absolutely has a place there. But it also is our sensuality. It’s our creativity. It’s our activism. It’s our relational dance, it’s our emotions, like arrows is life force. And so it is wider and far more all encompassing than sex itself is and so so this is I’m getting to answer your question. I’m just kind of like framing it up. But like, that’s the word erotic is what just felt resonant in so much as where I was going in my personal journey and where I was guiding my clients. And then this notion of wholeness comes very directly from the work that I’m really deeply immersed in with an organization called animus Valley Institute. And that’s the work of Bill Plotkin, and SoulCraft. And it has nothing to do with sex on its surface, but everything to do with eroticism. And this notion of wholeness there is that we are walking around we the collective we and even if we look the part of adult we’re really not like most of us are, are pretty trapped in an adolescent way of being and we’ve got a lot of pieces of ourselves that are quite fragmented and we haven’t really learned how, how to integrate them into our you know, this is archetypal stop them speaking of here, like our wounded child within the life our one who has escapist or addictive tendencies, the parts of ourselves that have been relegated to shadow. So basically, if we are not here within ourselves, if we’re not taking all of those pieces, all those fragments and really weaving them in well, then how do we show up well in relationships? And when I say relationship, how do I show up well with my lover with my partner with my kid, but also how do I show up well in my community, and how do I show up well, in service to the more than human world, which is the term that I’m borrowing, you know, David Abraham uses that a lot. And it comes up in ego therapy and eco psychology, we’re all like, how do we relate well, when we are so fragmented, and thus we’re strangers to ourselves. And this brings us back to where now what I spoke earlier about self intimacy and arrows that intersects with that, because it is a form of intimacy to do the hard work of healing up your Wounded Child, it is a form of intimacy to look at the ways that you show up in relationship with with, you know, just immature orientation, and I use the word immature, for lack of a better word, because that doesn’t feel quite like what I’m going for right now. But maybe a better word will talk. And I really appreciate that metaphor, because I want to emphasize in all of this, that so many of us walk around with this with this wound, that we’re broken somehow. But I don’t believe that not fully developed. It looks like if you think the seedling it’s a seedling or sapling, it’s not a full, grown, sturdy tree.

You know, I genuinely in my deep heart don’t believe that we are somehow intrinsically broken, wounded, you know, wrong. I mean, yes, we carry wounds. But But more than that we are not fully developed yet. You know, we’re living in a way in at a culture that really encourages us to stay in a path of adolescent existence for way longer than is healthy or ideal. And that absolutely impacts our sex, but it impacts every facet of our lives. And so this whole this work is about growing ourselves up well. And all of this has been a very long winded answer or responding to your mention of the Justice orientation and the nature based components of erotic wholeness. And the nature based has everything to do with what I mentioned around SoulCraft. That and communing with the more than human world, the justice piece is we can’t I think we do ourselves a real disservice when we look at any of our individual stories without placing them in a cultural context. And our dominant culture is rife with injustice. And we know this, well, I’m imagining that most people who might listen to this podcast would probably agree with that, right? Like, we know that the systems of oppression that we are born into and continue to perpetuate through our very existence that we have complicity in these, like, there’s some major injustice to be righted here. And I think that that is an integral part of what it is to be really in our power to feel like the full force of arrows like yeah, have all the great sex, have all the orgasms, I’m a big giant yes to it, please do those things. But also go out into the world and make good trouble and affect meaningful change, you know, or be a model for how to be in integrity, with self with other with nature with please, and right, and start really like dismantling and disrupting this. Am I allowed to curse on your podcast? Goodbye, like it’s a shitstorm out there. Like we just we got to make the good kind of trouble.

Oh, you know what I am? I’ve been a potty mouth since I was two. So yeah, I wanted to acknowledge I got so excited when you mentioned SoulCraft, there was a period of time. So I don’t know if you know about the stepping stones, I used to run these kids groups that and so it’s part of doing rites of passage with 11 to 14 year olds, and you know, camping trips with them and introducing them to their own internal gifts and resources and connection to nature. And so I discovered SoulCraft and Bill Plotkin back then, and that was my gift that I would give to everybody for an extended period of time. And I’m like, Oh, the winter this woman resonates with me. Like we’re just on the same tip. I want to because I realized we never defined sex logical body work, and then that in addition to a question that I had, because I’m curious, what is you in the work you’ve done outside of sex, logical body work and what is what they teach because there is a level of cleanliness on an energetic level, in terms of back to this conversation around boundaries, right, and nuance and sense sensitivity and picking up on because a lot of people are not conscious of sexual energy and a certain kind of leakiness or how they’re holding another, you know, touching someone’s genitals and being able to be clean in that process. So if you could not only define sex, sex, logical body work and like, describe with the kind of the parameters of what that work looks like, but then also get into the question that I just asked. That’d be awesome.

Sure. Yeah, thank you for watching. I wish I had like a neat and tidy, brief, concise definition of sex illogical body word baby that’s on the website somewhere. Sex illogical body work is a modality that is very welcoming of a person’s pleasure, encouraging supportive of it, and also has something of a therapeutic lens that we look through. I mean, I don’t know other other practitioners might not use that word. I speak for myself here. But But what it’s about is really providing a very broad scope, somatic education, when it comes to our bodies sexual response, when it comes to our sexual identity or sexuality on the ground level, what do I like? Who do I like? How do I like it? And and we make space to explore that within a container that is rigorous, in so much as the professional standard that’s being brought to it. And that’s how it feels to me. And it’s a good rigor. Like the reason I became a certified sex illogical body worker was because I resonated with the code of ethics. I’m not saying I didn’t learn other valuable things in the treat age, but I’ve been touching bodies and touching genitals for a long time before becoming a sex illogical body worker. And I wanted to align myself with and benefit from that degree of integrity and professionalism, which that one of the principal ways that it shows itself is that when you are doing hands on genital work with a client, touch is only one directional. So that means that I, as the practitioner give touch to you, you receive touch from me, but there’s no exchange of touch. And then now this is making a reference to a body of work. That is the wheel of consent, Dr. Betty Barton is work which everyone benefits from, please go read her book. Take her courses, she’s one of the most generous teachers out there. Betty talks about in addition to giving and receiving, taking and allowing the earliest four quadrants of the wheel, and this is relevant your question because something that also goes on in any time we’re going to exchange as another human is not just give and receive, but also take and allow. And so what is not happening in a bodywork session is that I am not taking from my client, and not energetically not physically, like I am a neutral channel, I will edit and if I’m not neutral, what I’m doing is really hanging out in a place of like, since serious loving presence, and just saying, yes, you be who you have your experience. And I’m going to be over here, taking care of my own boundaries. So you can be assured of that, like, I’m good. I’ve got me. And I’ve got a space for you to explore and experience yourself in this really profound way. And then from a physical hygiene level, we wear gloves. Oh, you know, you’re always Beloved, when you’re in contact with somebody’s genitals. We remain fully clothed at all times as practitioners were taught as part of the training. And then there are so many things that we use, but in this vein, like we’re taught about hygiene protocols, and how to make sure that when our body fluids are concerned, like things are staying clean, and all of that stuff contributes to the energetic hygiene that you experience in a session as well. Yeah, I did that. I think that answered your question.

Totally. And it did it answered both. So I recently participated in a little performance thing with Annie sprinkle her partner and Joseph Kramer, Joseph is sitting next to me. And so I got the opportunity to meet a variety of sex logical body workers that were stopping through, they were chatting with Joseph and I met somebody who is also a sex surrogate. And so, you know, like, I know, my background, I was a master somatic coach, before becoming a psychotherapist, and I’ve done you know, energy bodywork trainings are this training and that training and so people mix things together to create their own brand of work. And so I guess that was part of my question was, you know, a sex surrogate is going to is going to take that work and do something very different with it.

Right. I feel like I want to define that sex surrogates are people who in a very prescriptive in a good way and controlled in a good way to Taner are available For full scope, sexual experiences with their clients, while also be in relationship with a therapist who is overseeing that relating. So for people who, Whatever their reasons, it might be someone who has not become sexually active until much later in life, they might be someone who has significant trauma, who’s looking to remediate that, who wants skill building, sexual surrogacy provides an opportunity to do that in a really high integrity container. And the other side of that coin would be prostitution and full service escorts which the sad reality is that we have such a horribly negative bias around sex work in our country and dominant culture, when in actuality, I mean, as someone who has had, I have a lot of people who I know in different spheres who are sex workers, I did erotic massage back, like I said, I touched genitals way before in sex logical body worker, I used to do erotic massage on in a different context. And it’s gorgeous work. But because there’s so much shame and secrecy around it from like a legal and cultural perspective, it doesn’t always get the benefit of really bringing forth the full therapeutic value that this can have. It’s not only seen as work. And so this is a very long winded and a bit response. But sexual surrogacy is another one of these things that that sits at a really unique intersection of highly therapeutic and contained in a good way and particular aim. And also, like a deep embodiment, like you get to be in your body with another person’s body and learn about sex. Like, how rad is that? 

Yeah, well, you mentioned earlier that you used to be involved in rites of passage for, for what I’m hearing are like pubescent and cuvettes and age, children, kids becoming young adults. And, and you know, this is perhaps some glorifying something that I don’t know, through my own lived experience. But what I imagined to be true is that in terms of our human ancestry, when we were living in tribe, when we were living in village, and there was a closer relationship to arrows to the feminine to the earth, rites of passage included getting introduced to sex and ceremonially coming of age and coming into your sexuality and being given an education around it, that would let you know how to hold it well, whatever your gender, or whatever your orientation. And that is one of the many things that is non existent for the most part nowadays. And if you get anything, you get an anatomy and probably abstinence heavy, you know, academic, sex ed experience, or you’re learning things from porn, like maybe you’re having a talk with your parents, maybe somebody somewhere is mentioning a little tiny bit about consent or pleasure to you. But the vast majority of us get such a grossly subpar education about sex and feels like sex, illogical bodywork and surrogacy provide an opportunity for the the depth and breadth of education that is truly needed.

Yeah, imagine if everyone had the opportunity to have that, you know, that would be an incredible thing. I don’t know if you’re following what’s happening in the news here, Oakland tech just did it that students there did it organized a walkout in response to sexual harassment and assaults and things that have been happening on campus that the administration hasn’t responded to. And the day before, there were students in San Francisco who walked out. And so our young people, hopefully are getting more and more education around this stuff, but that they’re, they’re demanding a response. And I think, you know, in, in embodied consent, and sexual trauma education is so needed in schools, and it was what my vision was years ago, you know, embodying sexuality education in public schools. And so I’m like, it didn’t feel like it was possible for a long time. And maybe this is the, you know, the time in history natively. So maybe so, a couple of months ago, I was invited to speak to a group of 17 year old girls, in particular, young women to effectively facilitate a sex talk for them as a sex-ed talk. And it was really eye opening for me. And these are Berkeley. You know, we’re the Bay Area where it’s pretty progressive, and I was just kind of shocked how limited their edge the academic education was, I was also touched by the depth and vulnerability of their questions that they, you know, they they’re, they really were thoughtful and deliberate about the things they they’re wanting to know and what they’re grappling with. And so to have sex-ed occasion at any stage, you know, we all need it when we’re younger, but the reality is it’s most of us didn’t get it, then whether you’re 40 or 70, like we still need it now, the poignancy of their questions and the desire to have sex education that is truly relevant, that is accessible that is inclusive of different intersections of identity of different levels of experience. We need this so badly, you know, and I love hearing that the younger ones are rallying more around saying like, Oh, this stuff is not okay. We need to do it differently. But, you know, that’s also like among the bajillion things we’ve passed to them that legacies that they’re holding from the harm that has been perpetuated, and I don’t know where I’m going with this one other than my car? Well, it’s, you know, I mean, it seems to be a consistent thing that we are our parents, teachers, right, that children, our parents, teachers, and that we younger people, they evolve beyond us. And, and that hopefully, that keeps happening. And there can be some turnaround, because, yeah, there’s been a lot of harm and a lot of destruction across the board, whether it’s climate, whether it’s child sexual abuse, all the things, right.

Yeah, yeah, it’s true. These they all weave together. And sometimes it’s a totally tangled mess that we are in a pretty tangled mess. And then sometimes, you know, those same threads turn into beautiful tapestry,

Right? Well, in the consistent theme through all of them, right? Is this is this initial piece of denial, dismissal, minimizing and turning away from? And the shame, right, the shame that really motivates a lot of that it’s like, you know, you can’t, viewers can’t see what I’m doing right now. But I have my hand next to my head and over, if it’s here, and you’re pointing something out, that’s obvious to you, but I can’t see it, because it’s not in my vision. And then it’s only once my hand comes in front of my face, can I go, Oh, I’m conscious of that. Right. And so whether it’s climate change deniers, or whether it’s someone in a family who can’t tolerate the idea of like, I can’t imagine that my husband has molested our child. You know, like, That can’t be true. That breaks my whole perception of reality, and my whole world crumbles. I have to just assume that she’s lying. Right? You know, as one example, right?

Yeah. Yeah. Oh, my God. Right, and what I mean, those are poignant and real for some people, experiences, and I feel to offer something that might be relatable to, you know, to a different audience. It’s, it’s not different from saying, like, I can’t talk to my partner about what I really need and want, because they won’t be able to hear it, I might offend, you know, like, these are all kind of this. They arise from the same source. And this is where just like bringing it all full circle together, like this is why the work matters, that those why cultivating intimacy with ourselves and a really healthy embrace of our erotic nature. And all that that encompasses is truly a laboratory practice. Yeah, and that that is for me, the underlying what we write I’ve said earlier, have all the orgasms have the great sex please do I want to have it I want everybody to have it if that’s what they choose for themselves. But this isn’t just happening in so hedonistic, self indulgent bubble, it’s because when when we are allowing labor force to move through us when we are plugged in, tuned in deeply to the rhythms of community and culture and nature, like, this is where healing comes about or change comes about. And, I mean, if ever, we were at a critical point of needing that on so many levels, this is so so the erotic wholeness work is, is in service to that’s that’s what I’m here for. And it sounds like you are doing the same in your practice. And, and as I think I did this at the very beginning of our blog, it’s like we meet each other. We none of us does this alone. And you know, as much as our individual impact matters, like this is nurturing community and nurturing culture that is different from the community and the cultural norms that we’ve been handed. Yeah, matters.

Now, absolutely. You know, this feels like a redundant question to ask because so much of what you’re speaking, everything you’re speaking about speaks to this. But how would you define sexual freedom? And I want to make it like erotic freedom. Right?

I love this question. I want to I want to chew on that question that you’ve or that question about it. It’s a beautiful one. The word permission comes up from you really strongly in response to this. So the freedom is to me Be the permission to be as we are authentically, holy, fully Yeah. You know, like to really have that permission and to sense that permission within ourselves, you know that that is a self arising experience, I give myself permission to be me, but to also have the benefit of having cultivated relationships with others who extend the same to us. And so that means that your sex gets to look exactly how you want it to look and feel how you want it to feel. You get to love who you want to love. You get to live in right relationship with place and Land and Resource like, yeah, it’s permission, honestly, to be what I believe we are intended to be.

Hmm, I love it. I love it kind of mission as birthright and just allowing, because so much inside of that is self acceptance and acceptance of other an acceptance of what is rather than the shoulds, right, like making pap thinking that something needs to be other than it is. I’m really excited to have Darshana Avila here for our very special Valentine’s Day episode. And you know, this is a this is a holiday that a lot of people do not enjoy. Now the other people have such loaded expectations around and I wanted to give you the opportunity because you know, a lot of these things like even Mother’s Day, right? Everyday should be Mother’s Day, everyday should be a day that you celebrate arrows. Can you speak to your thoughts on how people can choose to celebrate this particular day, if they want to do something special with a partner or with themselves? Without it being such a I don’t know how to say it, but just like buying into the holiday and like it’s okay, if here’s a rosin, here’s a box of chocolates, and we got it done? How can they do it in a more present embodied pleasure field way?

Make it sacred, that that’s what comes up for me and I know that’s like one of those very vague statements. So I will elaborate, but you know, whatever way or in whatever embodiment you will not honor arose, honor, love, honor, sex, honor, intimacy, you know, whatever it is that can you create a ritual of truly honoring. And that can look like a quote unquote, altar with chocolates and flowers and candle light. Like all that’s great if you’re into it. But if that’s simply a route checklist that you’re doing mechanically without infusing it with, you know, when I say the word sacred, I want to be clear, like, what, to me, what is sacred is what we choose to best with importance and where we really place our presence. And so our ritual, when I talk about that word, like ritual is very simple. Actually, it has a clear beginning, middle and end, the beginning, we’re opening a container or the end, we’re closing a container in the middle, we’re doing something meaningful. This can take 60 seconds, or this can take six hours, braids. So it is about intention. It is about quality of presence. And so whatever way you might choose to celebrate with yourself with your beloved with a bunch of Beloved’s with your favorite tree or body of water or whoever, whatever, wherever. Make it sacred.

Beautiful. Yay. I love that. No, absolutely. And I just I want to sit and chat with you for hours. I feel like we could just go like spin I call it spinning the Lazy Susan. It’s like this direction and that direction. And let’s share a bibliography, I have no doubt that we could we might have to do that over like a cup of tea or glass of wine or literally I have a I have a garden. I have a garden of waste just waiting for you to come and hang out. Cool. So good to get to know you more.

Truly. Yeah, that was just a delightful conversation. Thanks for going over. And taking Yeah, and

I I want to give you the opportunity if there’s anything else how can people read more about you reach you? contact you. Anything else you want to add that feels burning before we say goodbye? Yeah, well, it’s a beautiful and abundant moment there are new ways to weave in with erotic wholeness that are emerging. Now as far as social media goes, I hang out on Instagram primarily and my handle is erotic wholeness, you can find me there on my website is my name darshanaavila.com. And there you’re gonna find everything from the self guided journeys that you can literally purchase the moment You want them and have me at home with you and dive into some of the deep foundational material of erotic wholeness, I offer groups that I run where we go into even more depths, and retreats are upcoming. And so there are a lot of different ways. And my website and Instagram really are the places to find me and find out. And I love hearing from people. And something that I’ll also mean is that either of those places, you can find this, I have an e book that is called pet yourself. And it’s free eBook. So you just grab the link and go get it. And it talks about ritual. And it talks about lots of different practices that are designed to support you. So if you’re looking for our with the ebook and the self guided journeys, we’ll get you started. And then you can find other ways to come and play with me. And I love hearing from people and meeting people. So it’s very warmly welcomed. Awesome. 

love that that’s so generous, and I look forward to directing my clients to your ebook, VA. Well, thank you again, thank you so much. And I look forward to connecting with you in the future. Likewise, such a pleasure turnout. Thank you. This episode is airing right around Valentine’s Day or for many people out there Palatines day, I was actually interviewed for an article recently and InStyle on the value of sending your friends handwritten cards this Valentine’s Day, you can read that article through my link tree on Instagram at laid open podcast or a longer blog on this topic at Charna caselle.com. I think we can all agree that Valentine’s Day is an overly commercialized holiday. Instead of having a single day to celebrate someone you love. Ideally this gets expressed are shown every day. But the sad reality is many parents and partners feel very taken for granted. Many coupled up people feel pressured to have a certain kind of experience. And single folks may either feel relieved to not have a lover’s expectations placed on them or sad in their loneliness. Or some may feel deeply satisfied and their choice to be single and enjoy their own company. I can say I for one do enjoy that. Wherever you are on this spectrum, here is a Palatines day exercise for you. You really don’t know how long your loved ones will be around. So why not make it a regular practice, or at least an annual one to share with them what you appreciate. And while you’re at it, stretch your comfort level with receiving and ask a handful or more friends and family. What five words describe the qualities they most admire about you? Could be your empathy, the hugs you give your hair, your strength or your tenacity. What do you love about yourself? What would you add to this list? Ask each of them to write the list down and send it to you because it’s way too easy to dismiss and minimize compliments when they’re spoken. If they’re written down, you can read them again and again and let them sink in. And if the same qualities are repeated five to 10 times by different people you might actually believe them. You can take these lists of words and handwrite them in a card of your choosing one with art that you love on it, so that you’ll keep it or maybe you even make the card. You can also either do this next part yourself or have a friend help you think Easter egg hunt without the eggs or the Easter. Print the list and cut them up and hide the slips all over your house. If a friend does it, it’s fun because you don’t know where they are. And you’ll come across love notes, reminders of who you are perhaps all year, depending on how crafty and deep your friend gets. I also want to recognize that there are people out there feeling really isolated because of COVID or life circumstances who may not have five people to ask. In this case, do the above exercise for in with yourself. Maybe you’re going through a hard time and don’t feel good about yourself. Try to recall a time when you felt more connected and could see your inherent goodness before mental illness, addiction, abuse or illness colored your view. 

You might have been five years old and you were curious and loving, creative and knew what you did and didn’t like. I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Darshana as much as I did, we covered some good territory around embodied boundaries, consent, religious shame, sexual freedom, healing and looking to our bodies to guide us how to live in alignment with our values. Thank you all for tuning in. If you learned something new from this podcast, please like, share and review it so more people can find us. Listen wherever you get your podcasts just search Laid Open Podcast. You can also send questions to laidopenpodcast@gmail.com and please follow us on Facebook and Instagram at Laid Open podcast. Thanks so much and always remember who you are.


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© 2022 By Charna Cassell, LMFT. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. MFC 51238.

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