My client is nervous. He is looking down at his hands, unable to make eye contact or form sentences. I’ve just asked him to flirt with me.

I can feel his unease in my own chest and stomach, tightening and bracing. My fight – flight – freeze response is threatening to take me away while I’m working with my own emotional history and defenses. I continue to ground myself and track what he’s feeling and how my own system is responding to him. He’s here because he said he wanted to learn how to have more confidence on dates, how to be a better lover, and last longer in bed.

As a sex and intimacy coach, I get a lot of male clients coming to me with these same desires. They feel they’re not doing their job as “men” and their identity is threatened if they experience difficulty with flirtation, seduction, and fucking someone’s brains out. They seem to believe everyone else has these skills down. In truth some element of intimacy or performance is a struggle for most – maybe even all – men.

I feel for these guys. They haven’t been given the tools to connect emotionally. What’s been reinforced is often a pick-up culture. And this is all about how to distance yourself emotionally and get validated by sex, rather than enjoying the pleasure of exploring connection. This hurts us all in the long run.

Finding Connection with A New Client

We are half-way into our first intimacy coaching session, getting to know each other and learning how to connect. Once we have a better connection, we can further navigate his sexual blocks, triggers, and desires from a place of emotional intimacy. He practices with me just like he would with a partner.

The work in the Somatica Method is a two-way authentic relationship that is built within the container of sessions. Being authentic in session for me means tracking my own reactions to my clients – and letting them know how they are impacting me in a constructive way. This feedback is integral to their growth. Both of us are bringing ourselves into the room. In the spirit of transparency, I want to share this story about what it’s really like being an intimacy coach. (And if you’re curious how an intimacy coach is different from a sexological bodyworker or a relationship coach, you can read up on it all over on SexCoaching.com)

First Steps in Intimacy Coaching

He’s different now than when he first boomed into my office. He was acting larger than life then, projecting power. He was also quick-paced, demanding, challenging, and never wanting to actually take a breath or show any sign of being less than fully in charge. I felt my defenses wake up and wanting to teach him a lesson. My chest expanded, my breathing was heavier, my pulse quickened. I felt the need to respond in a way that would impress him.

After working together for a while however, his demeanor is completely changed. He is acknowledging his nervousness and is ready to take input and listen. He was unsure of himself at first. Once I started to lead us through exercises though, grounding us in the moment, humanizing each other, and asking to look into each other’s eyes without speaking, he remained present. It’s vulnerable and there are no words to fill the space with. We are just there together, feeling each other’s presence and taking each other in.

My Own Defenses Can Also Get in The Way

Through my work on myself, I’ve learned that we’re just individuals with our own emotional histories. We each have defensive mechanisms we’ve picked up to protect ourselves. We can have deeper intimacy when we learn to navigate our own, and how to keep connected with someone else through all of their intimate challenges as well.

I have identified my defensiveness around what I project are typical “alpha” guys. If I were to describe it comically, it would look like me smearing war paint on my face, giant walls erecting around any soft and vulnerable feelings. I’d come out shooting fireballs and screaming a battle cry to show them who the real alpha is. And that I’m not some little girl that will fall for their pick-up lines and power plays.

Now I know I have used this strategy before to overcome my fear of being overpowered. And not necessarily in my practice as an intimacy coach. It’s that need to prove I’m tougher and stronger than them – which actually drives a wedge between us and connection. I don’t want to be hurt again, and neither do they. We are both attempting to prove something and protect ourselves from the other, rather than see if there’s a connection worth pursuing between us.

Something very important to note here is that, when we try to connect, we pick up on our own as well as the other person’s feelings. We feel it resonate in our own nervous systems. My client’s own need to prove himself to me and the nervousness of rejection directly hit on my need to feel safe. I felt as if I was being taken on a sales pitch that I had to say ‘yes’ to rather than being able to check in with myself.

True Intimacy and Connection is Learned

He takes a deep breath and blows it out, finally meeting eyes again with me. I signal for us to take a couple more deep breaths down and hold our eye contact. I feel an unclenching in my chest and stomach. His eyes soften and his face warms into a smile.

“Ha, I don’t know what to say or do right now. This is different,” he says. He looks skeptical but his body language starts to soften.

“I know, I’m really enjoying seeing this side of you though. The no-bullshit side. You don’t have to do anything for me right now. In fact, I’m far more comfortable with you now than when you first walked in. I don’t feel as much that I have to be a certain way for you.”

I can feel the rest of my body start to unfurl and unclench. We take a couple more breaths, and I can feel the heat turn on in my system. His system responds to mine. My eyes sharpen and narrow. His gaze heats. His chest is expanding, and he’s slowly blowing labored breaths out of his mouth. With our eyes locked, I can feel my animal start to pace beneath my skin and course through my veins. I can feel he has one too. We’re facing each other, breathing heavily, soaking each other in and feeling the erotic charge build between us.

It’s so damn satisfying. I feel seen, respected, and like we could talk about just about anything in this moment, and he wouldn’t judge me. He feels the same, I sense.

Earning Your Own Pleasure

I hold out my hand. He looks at me hesitantly, then takes it in his. Electricity shoots up from my pelvic floor and we both look at each other as if we want to devour each other. “Now I want you to enjoy touching my arm in a way that feels good to you.”

His eyes narrow and there is a small drop in connection I can feel in my chest. It’s starting to tighten again. He frowns slightly, but starts to move his fingers along my forearm. He is looking down at first, but then glances into my eyes, searching for signs that I’m enjoying it. The connection starts to feel hollow and so does my chest as I start to feel the need to tell him he’s doing a good job.

“So I can tell you’re doing this for me.” I put my hand over his and gently smile.

“Yea…” He looks confused.

“I can tell you’re not enjoying it, and now you’re trying too hard. I want to ask, “Where did you go?” If you’re not enjoying it, I’m not enjoying it. Follow what feels good to you.”

Breakthroughs in Intimacy Coaching

We breathe together again to help ground him, and reassure him that his pleasure is just as important. The more I feel his pleasure, the more I’ll feel mine. It starts to heat up again, and his fingers begin to send warm tingling sensations through my skin upon contact. His first breakthrough – he stayed in connection with me and didn’t focus on performing.

This is the connection I was hoping we would find. Vulnerability. Getting down to the juice of the connection.

We all want to be seen, accepted, and to be able to explore connection. It’s beautiful, powerful, validating. So many of us are conditioned to shut it off for fear of rejection. When we can be fully present and stay connected to our own pleasure and our partner’s, our fears melt away and real intimacy and eroticism is possible.

AshleyAshley is a sex and intimacy coach in Los Angeles. She loves working with individuals and couples to develop self-worth, sexual confidence and explore new depths of vulnerable communication.

“Um, I have to tell you something. I’m in my 50s and somewhat … curvy. Are you sure you want to have me in your boudoir photography portfolio?”

When Rose spoke to me on the phone, she was definitely pushing herself out of her comfort zone. But then, she had been doing that for a while. She described herself as a professional and a mother of 3 grown kids who had been through a divorce a couple of years ago. She was on a journey to love and accept her body, and felt she was ready to reclaim her sexuality and power by saying YES to new and challenging experiences.

I reassured Rose, “Heck yeah! You’re exactly who I want in my portfolio”. She signed up for a shoot. But as the day of the shoot approached, anxieties and fears reared up in her head:

I don’t look good in pictures usually – what if this is more of the same?

Do I have to do something I’m not comfortable with?

OMG – I don’t have anything to wear!!!

Even with all of that, she showed up for her shoot, nervous and brave, with a suitcase full of beautiful outfits. We took it from there.

 

My Adventure with Somatica

I first encountered Somatica as a client in 2014, working on my own sex and relationship challenges. Working with Celeste (one of the Somatica Founders) for over a year helped me clarify my needs, desires, and boundaries. This ultimately helped me navigate both my unconventional marriage as well as my partner’s gender transition. So, when Celeste asked me if I’d be interested in taking the Somatica Core Training in 2017, it was a no-brainer.

As part of the program, I learned how so many women are traumatized by their experiences around their bodies and their relationship with society and men; how creating a supportive space and a container of trust is critical to healing; how being in your own body can be so empowering for both men and women.

As the program ended, I felt that coaching wasn’t quite the right thing for me, but everything I had learned supported another passion of mine: photography.

I realized that the principles of Somatica – embodiment, attunement, vulnerability, boundaries – are all key components of a great boudoir photo session. This made me think: What if a photo session could also be a time of celebration, empowerment, and healing for my clients?

After that, there was no looking back. I dove into intimate and boudoir photography, and a few months later, launched my business: Shadows and Curves.

 

The Experience of a Boudoir Photo Shoot

We started Rose’s session with a quick check-in where we both talked about what we were feeling and our intentions for the day. Together, we then went through her outfits, laying out what she would be wearing and where. We talked about the story she wanted to tell about herself and her life. This was when she really started to relax. “It felt like a true collaboration, and not like someone just telling me what to do,” she said.

Throughout the session, my assistant and I stayed attuned to her, nudging her to try new things. We also made sure though she was relaxed, taking breaks whenever necessary. In her own words, “It felt like a really fun afternoon with friends, not like a photo shoot.”

The experience of a session itself can be transformative enough, but the real magic happens when a client sees her photos for the first time. In Rose’s case, her first reaction was, “I can’t believe that’s me!”

There’s a reason a picture is more powerful than a thousand words. Words get caught in our head, but an image can bypass the stories we tell ourselves and can carry a message deep into our bodies.

 

The Power of Boudoir Photography + Somatica

The tools and techniques from my Somatica training help me create a fun and supportive space where my clients feel completely in their body and comfortable enough to express their true, gorgeous selves.

I see so many of the women in my life struggle with a lack of self-worth; women who are dedicated to being professionals, partners, mothers and often don’t make enough time to take care of themselves. I’m constantly amazed by how beautiful and powerful these women are, and saddened by the fact that they’re unable to see themselves that way.

As a male photographer, I bring a special perspective and responsibility to my clients. Instead of the objectification and degradation that women often have to endure from men in daily life, my clients choose to have the experience of a man who supports their healing, true will, and self-expression. I want them to feel as deeply seen as they want to be in the world.

With women in their 40s and 50s, it’s about feeling that despite all of society treating them like they should be invisible, they’re still beautiful, sexy, and desirable.

With new moms, it’s about celebrating the changes in their bodies, reconnecting with their partners, and taking time for themselves amidst all the social pressures of being a mother.

For my transgender and non-binary clients, it’s about really, truly seeing themselves in their authentic gender identity.

For couples, it’s about exploring and (re)discovering their connection, capturing moments of true, vulnerable intimacy.

That’s the power of boudoir photography, and that is why I am a photographer. I’m incredibly grateful to Somatica for helping me find this path and this career.

 

What’s Next?

I love working with Somatica practitioners and their clients to celebrate the end of their healing journeys.

I also plan to grow my boudoir photography portfolio quite a bit in the coming months to include more women, men, couples (straight and queer), non-binary and trans people, kink, erotica and more. I’ll be putting out regular model calls for those.

Please feel free to email me any time, or just subscribe to my VIP mailing list, where you’ll be the first to hear about updates, special offers, or model calls.

Love,

Raj