At a South Street sex workshop, going beyond ‘no means no’

Dvora and Paul teach consent as part of their classes on sexual pleasure.

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Danya Henninger / Billy Penn
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Meet Dvora and Paul. They’ve been together more than 30 years. In their Ambler, Pa., home they’ve raised two children and sent them both off to college. They now delight in the simple pleasures of empty-nesting, like reading and attending concerts.

And about once a month, Dvora and Paul teach people how to have better sex.

The couple hosts a series of workshops, some in Mount Airy and some at the Sexploratorium sex shop on South Street, that focus on having consensual, pleasurable experiences. They teach via the lens of tantra — think yoga, but less independent and more about connections with others.

Dvora and Paul don’t consider themselves sex educators, per say, but they do teach consent. With increasing instances of sexual misconduct and assault coming to light — and the related the #MeToo and #TimesUp social media movements — there has been increasing buzz about the topic.

The couple approaches it a little differently than others.

Workshops are sometimes held at this South Street shop

Workshops are sometimes held at this South Street shop

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

The ‘ideal yes’

While most people are focused on the traditional “no means no” narrative, Dvora and Paul focus on the positive side of consent.

“No means no” is very important for people to understand, Dvora told a group of four couples last Saturday. But that isn’t her and her partner’s focus. Instead, they like to concentrate on “yes means yes” — figuring out what “yes” means, personally, and how to communicate it.

“That’s a ripe space for us,” Paul said. “Consent becomes an affirmative. It becomes an opportunity to make a deeper connection.”

Paul and Dvora teach what they call the “ideal yes.” In a perfect world, what kind of sexual experience would you have?

It’s a challenging question to answer, they warned. “There’s so little good sexual education anywhere,” Paul lamented. “The idea that we would know what we like is unlikely.”

So they start from the beginning. Using tantric exercises, they try to teach people how to learn what they want — and then, how to ask for it.

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Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Flexible interpretation of tantra

Last week’s workshop — titled Connection, Consent & Un-Comfortability: A Tantric Approach — was open to couples and single folks. For the four couples who turned out, Paul and Dvora started with a lesson about tantra. They discussed the seven chakras and taught about Shiva and Shakti, a divine couple in tantric thought.

“They really did get good at sex,” Paul said, describing how the spiritual couple provided inspiration. “We wanted to get good at sex too.”

However, Dvora and Paul don’t follow all the traditional tantric principles. For one, they reject the ideals of divine masculinity and femininity, calling them heteronormative.

The couples at Sexploratorium ran the gamut in experience. Some had been to countless sex workshops before and were very familiar with tantra. Others bought tickets on a whim — ostensibly because they just wanted to have better sex.

And you could pretty much tell who was who. The first-timers giggled nervously. The regulars were so comfortable they offered to rotate partners with the rest of the class.

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Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Getting good at sex

Dvora and Paul lead the class in a quick meditation session to get everyone relaxed. After a verbal consent workshop, complete with the Planned Parenthood “FRIES” model of consent — Freely given, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic, Specific — they started the couples on some intimate exercises.

The exercises were all about building trust and connection. The couples started by looking into each others eyes for a few minutes, which isn’t easy. “Harder than you’d think,” Paul and Dvora warned their students. Then the partner pairs were instructed to hold their hands close together, never actually touching (apparently that helps you feel each other’s energies).

Next, actual touching. No erogenous zones allowed, Dvora said. Couples were instructed to touch hands, shoulders, ears, whatever they wanted,  all in an effort to experiment with what feels good — without the end goal of orgasm.

And that was it. In the end, even from the more uncomfortable couples said these exercises actually kind of helped.

“You’re letting someone learn to please you in a way where they have a clear mind,” one student said. Another noted the class helped them understand “a different kind of intimacy” and a “more deliberate” way to experience pleasure.

“Those are the great ones,” Paul said. “When you go from, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here, and I’m not getting any of this,’ but then you start into the exercise, and the exercise does itself.”

A step toward consent

That’s exactly the goal, Dvora and Paul said. There are a lot of barriers people have to break down when they’re presented with lessons on sex and consent: past trauma, discomfort and what they call “mind chatter” — when you can’t stop thinking about all the other crap in your life, even when you’re trying to feel pleasure.

But sometimes — even for the brand new students — the barriers can actually break down.

“By the end, they were just like melted into each other,” Dvora said.

Disclaimer: Dvora and Paul insist they don’t have any quick formula for great sex. The couple wants to help students better understand themselves and their partners. And if the students keep up with tantra, they said, they might eventually understand deep, spiritual sexual pleasure (apparently energy orgasms are a thing). But they see their workshops as just the first step.

“That’s a process that takes time,” said Paul. “I can show you that it’s possible.”