What is a Sexual Attitudes Reassessment workshop?

I met Colleen Dunning through an online business program, and we immediately connected. Colleen is stunning in her pursuit of sexuality and self-discovery. She has not only been studying sex and sexuality for a number of years, but she has been through an incredible transformation within her personal relationships. We are excited to have her sharing her experience about attending a Sexual Attitudes Reassessment workshop.

My Sexual Attitudes Reassessment weekend

Sexual Attitudes Reassessment (SAR) workshops are intended to uncover any sexual biases one might have when it comes to human sexuality. It is important for coaches and counselors working in this particular field to know how they feel about all types of sexual expression and how these feelings affect them professionally, so that they can approach the client in the most unbiased way possible. More importantly, they’ll be able to refer potential clients to other providers when a known bias exists.

I attended a 2-day workshop (most are 3-5 days), and went in feeling very open, believing that the likelihood of seeing something that I had issue with was very slim. As most of you know, I believe that sex between consenting adults in all forms is absolutely okay. The only exception being if there is a power dynamic between individuals that could affect a person’s giving of their consent by way of explicit or implicit coercion. For example, a boss threatening to fire someone if the person does not consent to have sex with her/him.

During the SAR, participants are shown a variety of explicit material, most of it made for instructional purposes. Some of the material is recent, while some of it was made in the 1970s and 80s. The material starts out tame, but escalates over the two days to the “Delightful, Deviant, and Dangerous Sexual Variations” section, which includes extreme and hardcore porn.

After watching each clip, the group engages in an open discussion about our reactions to what we just saw. The two facilitators, one male and one female, help lead the discussion and make sure that everyone feels safe to express themselves.

We began the workshop by defining sexuality, talking about the different kinds of language we use around sex, looking at gender roles and stereotypes, the sexualization of society, and sexual intimacy and sexual expression.

Following the opening discussion, we moved on to an exercise about fantasy. We were split into pairs and told to share one of our fantasies with our new partner. I was immediately terrified, but I gave myself over to the process, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. We then came back to the bigger group and were told we could share with the larger group, if we wanted. I wasn’t going to share mine, but someone else shared something embarrassing and then no one said anything. I felt I couldn’t leave the guy out there all by himself when he had been so vulnerable, so I shared too. Again, the actual sharing was much easier than the idea of sharing.

Then, we started digging into the material, which began with heterosexual sex. We watched clips of multiple couples having sex in a variety of ways: some intercourse, some oral, some manual. Most of us have seen this kind of stuff. The only surprising things I found within these sections were the amount of body hair in the clips from the 70s (so so so much hair!), and the fact that in all the clips, wedding rings were very prominent. Each 5-10 minute clip featured at least two or three shots of the wedding ring. This was true in both the older films and the newer ones.

Surprisingly, this pissed me off. I felt as if the filmmakers were implying that sex between people is only acceptable if legitimized by marriage. When I brought this up during the group discussion, the facilitator told me that for some individuals, this is true. Some people have a difficult time getting past this belief, and as a result are unable to consider the film’s underlying purpose, which is to show the different ways people have sex and how our bodies respond to sexual stimuli. He also told us that many times the rings are just props. I understand that explanation, and I’m all for reaching as many people as possible with comprehensive sex education, but it still pissed me off because the presence of wedding rings in every single clip can also serve to vilify casual sex and don’t we get enough of this already?

That was my first strong reaction of the workshop, and it surprised me.

Next, we looked at forms of masturbation, both male and female. Nothing surprised me here or presented any discomfort or issues.

We then went on to a section on sex over our lifespan and watched a clip of a couple in their 80s having sex. That’s not something most of us have ever seen, but it was really beautiful. In this clip, there was a voiceover of each of the models talking about their experience and how it differs from when they were younger. I loved seeing how connected to each other they were after all these years. It was pretty fantastic.

Up next – gay, lesbian and bisexual sexuality. We watched clips of the different ways in which people of the same gender have sex. Nothing surprising here, except that during our discussion afterward, I was made aware of how pervasive the idea is that gay men ALWAYS have penetrative sex. Over half of the participants believed this, and it just isn’t true. I love seeing others have educational moments like this, as well as experiencing them myself. The more we can debunk these myths, the more sexually healthy we will be as a society.

Transgender sexuality followed, and I think they dropped the ball in this section. The video was a presentation given by a transgender person at the University of Calgary. She was talking about her experience and her journey in transitioning from male to female. She was a fantastic presenter and very compelling. I wanted to listen to her entire talk, but due to time constraints, we only got to see about 10 minutes of it. We never saw a clip of any transgender sex. From an educational standpoint, I think this was a mistake. It is true that transgender sex can encompass a wide variety of sexual practices, but so can any type of sex and yet they managed to choose examples from the other categories. This was a glaring omission.

Then, we jumped into sexuality and disability. This section held another surprise for me. The clip we saw was of an able-bodied woman having sex with a man in a wheelchair. Not really a big deal. It’s important to remind people that people who have disabilities are also sexual beings. So often in our society we don’t see them that way. It’s also important to remember that people with disabilities need comprehensive sex education just like the rest of us do. Society often portrays the disabled as asexual or, at the other end of the spectrum, unable to control their sexual behaviors, and as a result their sex education is either so medically based that it lacks practical application, or it’s omitted completely.

If you’re squeamish about medical stuff, skip the paragraph following this one, because I was in for a surprise. It’s difficult coming face to face with my own biases, especially because I think of myself as a very open-minded person when it comes to sex. However, I’m going to be vulnerable and speak my truth, even when it’s difficult, because every time we do this it makes it easier for others to speak their truth.

The man in the wheelchair had a bedsore on his backside. This is apparently very common for people in wheelchairs. I have never seen a bedsore, so seeing one for the first time was shocking on its own. However, the thing that made me really squeamish was that the couple incorporated it into their lovemaking. We had 3 or 4 nurses in our group and this didn’t bother them at all, but for me, it was challenging to watch. It’s one of those things that I wish I had not seen because I can’t unsee it. The woman in the film was very loving toward the man and caressed his sore in a way that I’m sure felt very healing to both of them, but I couldn’t handle it.

The final section, titled Delightful, Deviant and Dangerous, had no instructional material. The facilitators said that they have not been able to find anything instructional that they could agree would be a good fit for the program. The clip we saw for this was hardcore gay male porn. They explained that statistically speaking, it is always likely that there will be at least one or two females in every group that have been sexually assaulted and that choosing heterosexual porn with such extreme themes could trigger a reaction in these individuals. They’ve found that using gay male porn minimizes the chances of this happening.

The scene included three men, two in various states of leather dress and giant hoop-like piercings on the end of their dicks. One had a full leather gas mask. The third seemed to be servicing the other two for the most part. It took place in a large shower room. Without resorting to a play by play, I will tell you that the clip included anal fisting, multiple versions of the ‘man train’ (where in one man penetrates another who is penetrating a third), simulated forced oral sex (the ‘forced’ part was simulated not the actual oral part), and piss play which included being urinated on and urinating in each other, including their mouths.

I had two moments of queasiness during this scene. The first happened when the facilitator pressed ‘Play’. He had not given much of a lead up because he wanted us to pay attention to our reactions and not have any preparation time to decide how we feel before we had even see it. He did say that it might be difficult to watch and that some of us might feel like we have to look away for a moment or two. The scene started with oral sex that was meant to look forced. I closed my eyes at that moment. I am generally okay with every kind of sex I can think of between consenting adults, but when that consent seems to be missing, I immediately shut down. I don’t want to see anything non-consensual…ever.

I took a deep breath, reminded myself that this was indeed consensual, and then I was able to watch the remainder of the clip. How many times in my life would I have an opportunity to see such things without seeking them out?

As an aside, I know I’m unusual when I say that I have never watched porn on my computer. Yes, my browsing history includes things like “what is it called when gay men penetrate each other in a line” because I needed to know what that was called, but no actual porn. When my partner and I do watch porn it’s on DVD (yeah I know, we’re old school), and there isn’t a lot of variety in what we own. As such, this was a unique opportunity for me to explore something in a safe environment that I wouldn’t normally see.

My second moment of nausea happened when the men were having sex on, or against, a hospital-type trolley in the shower room. It had long railings on either side, like a hospital bed. At one point, one of the men came all over one of these railings. He then bent down and licked it up.

I do not have a problem with someone tasting their own ejaculate, but the germs on that railing. I almost gagged. I couldn’t help it. I have never considered myself a germaphobe, but that really got to me. After the other participants were finished talking about how they didn’t understand the pee thing and their shock at the size of the piercings and how fisting should never be done without a glove on, I mentioned how grossed out I was by the germs on the railing. They all just looked at me. Apparently that wasn’t as shocking to the others as it was to me.

The weekend was intense, and I learned that I struggle with wounds and the potential for massive germs. It was an incredible experience, and one I would recommend for anyone considering sex coaching or couples’ therapy work. Overcoming our own biases is so important considering the depth and complexity of human sexuality.

If you would like to find a SAR near you, there are many different programs available, but I would recommend starting here: http://www.theissr.com/SAR_trainings.html

[note title=”Want to know more about our guest author?” align=”left”]Colleen Dunning is a sex coach at www.rockyourwild.com. She helps couples communicate more effectively to get the sex they really want. Colleen believes that integrating our true sexual selves with the rest of who we are is essential to our well-being, and creates a sex-positive, non-judgemental space to give your wild sexual self a voice. Authenticity, great communication, and an open mind are the keys to the universe, baby! What do you really want?[/note]

  • Dawn
  • May 27, 2014