Style Sex & Relationships

Tuesday 30 September 2014

The women willing to invest in their sexual satisfaction

The best gift you can give yourself is an 
orgasm, says the new breed of sexually
 empowered women, ahead of this weekend's Bliss Festival in Galway.

Chrissie Russell

Published 11/07/2014 | 02:30

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Toying with the idea: Pop star Beyonce has spent a fortune on sex toys
Rihanna has also splashed out on sex toys.
Paige Keating

This weekend will see hundreds of pleasure seekers head west, not in pursuit of sun, the rugged coastline or seafood but in the hopes of erotic ecstasy at Ireland's biggest sex festival.

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Many of the 300 attending are women, hoping to avail of the tantric workshops, sensual classes and sexually empowering talks on offer at the Bliss Summer Festival in Co Galway.

The event's popularity is just another sign that a sexual revolution is taking place in Ireland with women increasingly keen to invest in their desires and embrace their interest in good sex.

"Irish women, and men, are allowing generations of shame to fall away from their personal lives and actively seeking out places, like Bliss events, to explore themselves sexually in a respectful, loving and shame-free way," says Beth Wallace, CEO of Bliss (blissfestival.org) who anticipates that this year's summer festival will follow last year's example and be a sell-out event.

"Cultural changes have made a big difference," she adds. "The churches have lost their grip on the moral and sexual behaviour of the majority and many younger women have lived and worked abroad, bringing home more free, open and healthy attitudes and behaviours towards sex, sexuality and relationships.

"The Ireland of yesteryear, where no-one discussed sex and women 'lay back and thought of Ireland' is on its last legs…people are finally claiming what's rightfully theirs, their right to pleasure."

For some ladies investing in their sex life means just that - handing over the credit card in the hope that there'll be an orgasm at the end of it.

Tickets for Bliss's three-day event run at €120 per person, with many other sensual workshops, some costing over €400, are well attended throughout the year.

The boom in the 
multimillion-euro erotic literature market (in 2012 the genre outsold crime) has been fuelled by female readers keen to get their kicks by reading about Christian Grey characters.

The global market in vibrators is now worth more than €6.9bn annually, with female interest in erotic toys becoming increasingly mainstream thanks to celebs happy to admit their love of battery-operated bedroom pals. Eva Longoria is open about how she loves to give friends rabbit vibrators as presents saying "the best gift I can give them is an orgasm", while singers Beyonce and Rihanna were both recently reported to have shelled out thousands on sex toy shopping sprees.

Figures for the number of women willing to pay for more 'hands on' pleasure are less easy to come by, but in London the introduction of a new erotic massage service for female clientele, Massage Her (massage-her.co.uk), has seen huge interest.

"When we came up with the idea of providing this type of service for women, we all thought it would take quite some doing for women to accept this as a legitimate and safe way for them to seek excitement, pleasure and relaxation in their lives," says bookings manager Katie Travis. "Well, we were wrong! Within days we were amazed at the number of enquiries we were receiving. There are a great number of women that have been waiting for this.

"Women now feel empowered to seek erotic pleasure if that's what they feel like and why not? Men have been doing it since the beginning of time."

There are now plans to branch out the service to Ireland towards the end of this year. It all presents a marked deviation from traditional attitudes towards women and sex that cast women in the passive role - only interested in sex for procreation.

Sexologist Dr Siobhan O'Higgins says this perspective, where only men are permitted to enjoy a healthy sexual appetite, has its roots in the prehistoric world. "When we lived in the caves it was advantageous for the propagation of our species if men went out and had many women - spreading their seed - while women going out and having lots of different male partners could only produce a baby every nine to 12 months," she explains. "Then, once human-kind settled down to farm and had goods and chattels that they wanted their children to inherit, it became important for men that the baby growing in their woman's womb was theirs and so controlling women's sexuality became paramount.

"Men didn't want women to be expecting sexual pleasure as they were often older and slower and basically lazy and could get their jollies off in under 10 minutes with a minimum of fuss so they needed to control and limit the female desire for sex. This has been achieved extremely successfully by socialisation of both genders to believe it is men who desire sexual pleasure while women passively desire love and commitment."

Yet a growing body of research is decimating this assumption. A new book, What Do Women Want? by Daniel Bergner cites a number of studies that throw water on the notion that women have less active libidos than men or need intimacy to enjoy sex.

He writes: "One of our most comforting assumptions - soothing perhaps above all to men, but clung to by both sexes - that female eros is much better made for monogamy than the male libido, is scarcely more than a fairytale."

And yet still a gender divide persists when it comes to women who openly enjoy sex. "I have male friends who have admitted that they wouldn't respect a woman if she slept with them on the first night," says Ailish Farragher who runs the Dublin Tantra Salon, a discussion group on sexuality and tantra. "They know it's a double standard yet that is how they have been brought up to think - that a woman who seeks pleasure for the sake of pleasure is somehow not marriage material."

Ailish, who is hosting a workshop at the Bliss festival this weekend, has been running the Tantra Salon since 2011, offering courses to help women relax and enjoy sex. "There's huge interest from women, and men, from their late 20s to their 60s," she says. "But we're still battling against millennia of cultural, social and religious programming to tell women they should not enjoy their bodies, that pleasure in and of itself is frivolous or sinful."

But rather than fear female sexuality, she reckons it's in men's best interests to hear women say what they want in bed. "The easy condemnation of any woman who takes responsibility for her pleasure is rampant. Yet do men want any of that responsibility? To magically know and understand 
exactly what she wants at 
any given moment in bed - that's a big ask!"

The Bliss Summer Festival runs from today to Sunday at Parvani Hall near Claregalway, Co Galway. www.blissfestival.org.

'I am not afraid to say that I like sex'

Executive legal assistant Paige Keating (32) lives in Dublin and will be attending the Bliss summer festival. She believes it's important to invest in a satisfying sex life. She explains:

"For years it's been taboo for a woman to say 'I like sex' because being a sexual being is seen as hard to reconcile with the mothers and nurturers women are supposed to be. But why should sex be shameful? We don't feel like we should be punished for our other basic desires like hunger or needing sleep - why should sexual desire be any different? I'm not afraid to say that I like sex, For me, a healthy sex life has an effect on how I feel emotionally.

"I was raised Methodist and taught it was important to stay pure and chaste but it was only after I learned to get in touch with my sexuality, and experienced my first orgasm, that I felt like a whole woman.

"Now I spend a couple of hundred euro on my sex life, going to workshops and buying toys. I see it as an investment in myself and my partner. It's an indulgence in myself. If I had the financial freedom, I'd have a lot more toys and a tantric massage on a weekly basis!"

Irish Independent

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