Can we have queer intimacy online? Yes!
I’ve had two requests for information on this topic recently; one about Erotic Peership, and the other about how we can practice intimacy via online video.
Practising queer intimacy online might be necessary for any number of reasons. For example, for two people who are separated by geographical distance, or because of the need for social distancing.
Queer Intimacy Online
To further answer this question, I’ve decided to focus on how we might practice somatic and embodied work, intimacy, consent and communication on an online video call (and this absolutely could be with an erotic peer – see definition at the bottom of this post).
The pandemic gave many of us somatic sex educators the push to move our work online, develop the necessary skills, and experiment with what is possible.
Some people actively find this work easier and more accessible online. This might be due to feeling safer online, trauma, sensory issues, not feeling ready for the vulnerability of face-to-face spaces, privacy, control, etc. So, rather than see it as ‘second best’, we can see it as an option on the buffet table, and acknowledge that it opens up some things and closes down others.
This short list comprises what I’ve realised it’s possible to do online. These are all things you could do with a friend, partner or erotic peer…
1) Eye Contact with Intention
Eye contact is known to be an important and powerful aspect of human connection, and it’s something that is disrupted and different during a video call.
The way our devices and webcams are positioned creates a rather confusing experience where if we look into the person’s eyes on the screen, we’re looking away from the camera. So from their perspective, we aren’t looking at them (there are other variations of this problem, I’m sure).
One answer to this is to work with intention. We can spend some time gazing at the other person with the intention of looking into their eyes. It’s still possible to be aware of what your gaze is like and what messages and feelings you’re transmitting (gentle welcome, seductive desire, soft acceptance, interested curiosity). You can experiment with how it feels to do nothing else besides focusing on the intention to connect with this person through their eyes.
People who have been to Quintimacy may remember the Hello/Goodbye game. Once you have established a connection, you can play this game. Start with your eyes closed, and when you feel like it, open your eyes and say hello. You can close your eyes and say goodbye at any time. Both people can do this independently of each other and enjoy playing with this for a few minutes.
After the game, each person can spend a few minutes sharing what they noticed, including what might be different about doing this online vs. in person.
2) Sync Your Movements
At an in-person event, we often have music and movement. We might dance together as a group; moving our bodies in a space with other bodies is such a primal, ancient phenomenon. While moving together we can play with different dynamics of mirroring (syncing and doing the same movement), leading and following, and contrasting.
We can feel our bums on the seats and the surface underneath us at the same moment. Even breathing is moving, so we can breathe together.
Put music on and move with your full bodies in view on the screen. Do what your body needs and be curious about and inspired by what the other person needs. Maybe agree that one person leads the movement and the other follows (mirroring each other), and then swap. Then, move together but with no leader. See what that’s like.
Simply sitting so your head and shoulders and upper body are showing on screen and both gently swaying side to side in sync with your breath (breathing in, sway gently to the left, breathing out, sway gently to the right) can be calming. This can bring you into connection with yourself and with your partner. In a group, this is like a field of grass moving in the wind.
3) Consent Games
The cornerstone of many of the mini consent games and exercises that are based on Betty Martin’s Wheel of Consent is the ability to reach out and touch the person, as well as to practice the giving and receiving of actual physical touch. Online, we can still harness the power and benefits of many of the lessons and learnings of the wheel.
You can have interactions that involve asking for what you want (“can I stroke your hair?”) and the other person can experience being asked, feeling into their own yes or no and expressing it.
Betty Martin says the choosing is more important than the doing. Being online requires us to focus on the asking, feeling and choosing without rushing to the touching — because we can’t!
You can practise saying ‘no’ to everything and reflect and share what came out of it for you. These exercises can be used to share your deepest desires with your partner of what you would like to do to them, or have done to you. This can be a form of foreplay and build anticipation for a date. Or, a trusted person can be a witness to you expressing your desires. You can get precious practice from that hard experience of hearing a ‘no’ and saying ‘thank you’, as well as enjoying what it’s like to get a ‘yes’.
We are working a lot with the ‘psychogenic arousal’ of noticing what our body answers when something is suggested to it. This can certainly work online.
4) Focus on Consensual Showing/Witnessing
Building on from consent exercises, we could play with “Can I watch you dance/touch your chest/stroke your own hair for three minutes?” or “Will you watch me while I kiss and nuzzle my own arm/slap and tickle my own bum/do yoga?”.
‘Show and Tell’, is often focussed on a particular body part, such as the chest or genitals, or showing a detachable or energy genitals, and this can be done online. This is the case for the person showing and the person being shown.
To give this a try, set a timer, agree that this is what you’re going to do and who it’s for.
For example, ”I’m going to show you my genitals, including my energy genitals, for ten minutes, directly on the screen, and use my hand to move bits around and show you. I would like you to watch and be curious, and ask questions at the end. I would like the intention to be curious and interested. I want you to see me as no particular gender, use the word [insert word for genitals], and stay present/minimise distractions. Is that something you’re happy to offer?”
The Genital Interview practice (or for any other body part) can be done online easily and this can include having your genitals addressed and seen directly.
All of this involves taking turns – being the witness and being witnessed, or showing and being showed. We can play with consensual mutual sharing too. There’s the option of both self-pleasuring/self-massaging/anything else onscreen and negotiating the parameters of both what you’re doing and how you’re watching each other. This might be with permission for erotic intention or taking with the eyes for your pleasure!
5) Listening Pairs
Bringing it back to the basics of talking and listening is the norm when we’re on Zoom, like a head on a stick! However, putting a timer on to create a container and really setting the intention of active listening is what makes the difference here.
Practice giving and offering feedback in a consensual way using something like the ‘Triforce of Communication’. For example, I like the model of having ten minutes to talk with seven minutes for sharing and three minutes for getting feedback (such as empathy, reflection, or advice).
Adding eye contact exercises and simply moving together first might enhance this experience and help you to be more present with each other (as mentioned in point one).
6) A Self-pleasure Parallel Pomodoro
A Pomodoro is an accountability and productivity technique, and that doesn’t seem to apply well to wanking and self pleasure, right?
Well, many people want to bring more mindful erotic practice into their lives and have all the best intentions. But it can be SO difficult to keep up a practice and form new intentions outside of our regular habits.
So, similar to getting a gym buddy or a co-worker, why not get a self-pleasure buddy? You never need to actually see or hear each other masturbating!
You can simply get together on Zoom, have a little share about how you’re feeling, what your intentions are today and what you want to do. You can then put the 25-minute timer on, mute yourself/switch off video (or go off screen), and completely focus on yourself and your pleasure for these 25 minutes.
When the timer goes off, return to the screen (glowing, frustrated, emotional?), and share for five minutes what that was like. Then, either do another 25 minutes or say goodbye.
7) The Best Settings
The technical stuff — how do we make the tech work best for us?
On Zoom, you might prefer to go full screen or perhaps to hide your self-view. Hiding your own image can help to naturalise the experience — when in human history have we consciously watched ourselves on a screen when we’re connecting with others? If in a group, it can be a good idea to choose speaker view so you get the biggest possible image of the person communicating.
I recently got a sit/stand desk that enables me to be flexible during a session and change positions. Changing our body’s position and posture is also a tool for changing our mood and regulating the nervous system, and this can influence how we feel in relation to other people.
To keep your concentration, it’s helpful to switch off the rest of your notifications. However, have your music app ready in case you want to move or do practices to music.
Also, ethernet cables (and similar accessories) really support the online connection experience. I don’t know how I did without one for so many years!
8) Mindfulness Around Security and Privacy
Bear in mind the inherent security risks with any online platform, especially if you’re exposing private information or intimate body parts. Perhaps consider fully encrypted platforms like Signal, which now has video calling.
It is theoretically possible for your video partner or someone in a group to record without your knowledge or consent. The benefits can hugely outweigh the small risk of this but it’s a reality that we all need to be aware of and to make our own decisions.
Track and listen to your own gut feeling on this. Resist the tendency to judge yourself for being a prude or being uptight because of your bodily and emotional reaction to the technology. This is one classic way that we can override our own consent, which defeats the object of the whole thing!
Joseph Kramer, the founder of Sexological Bodywork, makes most intimate activity off-screen in his workshops. Give yourself and your erotic peers permission to do the same if this feels right for you. Centrally, have the conversation.
Eek, where do I start?
It can be hard to understand what these exercises and activities are without seeing a demo or doing them in person.
You and your partner could book an online session with me so I can deliver a personalised workshop — then you’ll know what to go away and practice! Or, attend Quintimacy events. These events are a great place to meet practice partners and erotic peers, as well as to get ideas about what kinds of activities and practices would be useful for you.
I’m looking forward to thinking and writing more about Erotic Peership. It’s an idea I heard a long time ago on Facebook, but there’s not a great deal written on the topic! I am keen to develop this idea of Queer Erotic Peership, so you’ll definitely hear more about it soon.
Erotic Peer; A Working Definition
Erotic Peership is based on intentional communication, commitment to consent and a growth and healing mindset towards sex and pleasure. This is a relationship that embraces the aim of mutual support in our erotic, somatic, sensual and embodied existence.
Erotic Peers may create space for engaging in erotic or intimate practices, and/or may offer space for learning and processing through talking and sharing.
The Erotic Peer relationship may exist alongside other aspects of a relatiojnship with a friend, colleague, partner, lover, or be the main way in which we relate to a person.
A further thought;
An Erotic Peer can be…
…someone we deliberately seek out with the aim of establishing this kind of relationship…
…one dimension of a relationship that has other qualities and characteristics, such as a friendship, a colleague or a romantic/sexual partner.
My thoughts are that equality, shared bandwidth and ability to communicate are important factors in an erotic peership. What are your thoughts?
Rather than any prescriptive definition, I offer it as more of an invitation to give our erotic lives the importance they deserve, orientate towards an erotic growth mindset, and to honour those people who are, and will be, our erotic peers in the future.
Have you had someone who was or is an erotic peer to you?
Is there anyone in your life now who you could have a conversation with about recognising that you already offer each other this, and perhaps enhance and build upon what is already there?
I wonder what it could open up that traditional dating and platonic friendship often does not?
Are Quintimacy events gatherings of Queer Erotic Peers?!