Ahead of the eco-conscious Green Is The New Black x SPARK festival this weekend, we talk to sex therapist Erin Chen on how to empower yourself and of course, have great sex
Consciousness. It's not just a safe word you throw out when it's getting too hot to handle, nor is it just a buzzword for promoting your new health juice. You see it attached to marketing materials and millennial pink-coloured notebooks, but what does "conscious living" actually mean?
For sex therapist Erin Chen, it's about being present. While most definitions allude to attaining a level of awareness of one's existence, thoughts and surroundings, Chen also applies it to the impact of her actions and choices on her community and the world. As the founder of Lila Sutra, a sexual wellness store for women and couples, she hopes to encourage both women and men from all communities to live and love more consciously by creating a space that allows people to discover themselves freely.
Chen shares that it starts with being present to the kind of judgments and behaviours that we've been exposed to about sex, and consciously choosing or putting them aside. While she used to be a consultant on management matters, it wasn't until she almost reached her thirties that she decided to make a change and started running Lila Sutra workshops. As a sex therapist, she helps work through and find resolutions to challenges related to sex and sexuality. While most of her clients — a mix of local and expats from their mid-20s to early-40s — are heterosexual, she's also ran private workshops that have included members of the LBGTQI community.
Chen is joining forces with Green Is The New Black, the eco-conscious festival that's returning this year. In addition to their lineup of living a conscious and sustainable life, Chen's effort — aptly titled "SPARK" — celebrates relationships and sexual wellness with conversations around intimacy and connection. Over 40 local and international speakers will be present, including the likes of television host Anita Kapoor as well as Lynda Carlyle, a sex and couples therapist. Talks include subjects on "Self-Love, "Building a Sustainable Future for Fashion" and "Shaping the Future of Intimacy". The "Mindful Marketplace" features a whopping total of 70 businesses, while the "Love+Play Marketplace" will see an array of 30 intimate brands.
Want to live your best life yet? Ask a sex therapist, like we did.
Were conversations around sex encouraged at the time when you first became sexually aware? I was definitely curious and often wondered what it would feel like to experience the things I read about in Cosmopolitan articles. I wasn't ashamed, but I knew that it was a topic people don't talk about. That made me want to talk about it even more and lead the path for my friends.
I had a teacher in grade seven who taught us sex education. She talked to us about the anatomy, reproductive health and answered our random questions like she was teaching any other school subject. The fact that she was so normal about it really empowered me. It was a subtle yet powerful demonstration that it is possible to not be weird about sex.
What was your education journey like to become a sex therapist? I decided to get a Masters in sexual health counseling. This was a formal postgraduate training in sexual health counseling at the University of Sydney to build a foundation in both sexology and counseling. Then I complemented this with couples therapy training from the Gottman Institute.
What are some misconceptions you've encountered when you tell people you're a sex therapist? Some people think that touching is involved. As a sex therapist, touching a client would be considered unethical. Some people find the idea of therapy scary and are afraid that it'll be dark and heavy. I look at it as part of a wellness routine, just like how we do yoga or exercise regularly.
How can a woman feel empowered about her sexuality? First, I want to clarify that sex isn't just penetrative sex or masturbation. Sex can be many things. The most empowering thing for a woman and a man is to be fully connected to their unique sense of sexuality. To start, take out a mirror and take a good look at yourself down there. Explore your body. Get connected. Something as simple as that can be empowering!
What change do you wish to see in Singapore society when it comes to sex? I wish people knew how much they have in common when it comes to desires, questions and curiosity about sex. Fundamentally, most people are actually okay and pretty open about sex and intimacy. If we can get past that fear of being judged, there would be such relief and freedom from shame. This can really make a difference in providing a different model of healthy relationships for the next generation as well.
I also wish more people who are passionate about sexual wellness join the professional space so that we can keep growing this conversation!
Now on to the serious stuff. What are your own tips for better sex? 1. Mindful masturbation! Practice getting really present. 2. Talk about sex! One of the main ways to get over the awkwardness of talking and communicating about sex is to practice. Learning to communicate your desires, discuss what you like, listen and receive the same from another will add so much more depth to your sexual experience. 3. Have fun! Remember that it's trial and error. If something didn't work out as you had planned — laugh it off and either try again or toss it out the window. You don't usually beat yourself up if you fall off the surfboard on your first lesson. So why beat yourself up and get all embarrassed because your vagina farted.
What are some tips you've picked up from the people you've met as a sex therapist? 1. Do your kegels! 2. Lubricants are your best friend. Use organic, paraben and glycerin free products. 3. Watch our gendered expectations of men. I hear women say things like, "But he's a man — doesn't he just want it all the time?" or "He can't get it up — what's wrong with him?" These expectations and stereotypes are unrealistic and will eventually negatively impact relationships.
What are the best songs to get you in the mood? 'Hands to Myself' by Selena Gomez, 'Skin' by Rihanna, 'Classic (feat. POWERS)' by The Knocks, and 'Despacito (feat. Daddy Yankee)' by Luis Fonsi.