I Went to a Sex and Love Festival and It Got Very Sweaty
At Togetherness Festival I was taught everything I could ever need to know about orgasms.
It's like a human petting zoo. There are people of all ages, sizes, colours and shapes standing silently in a circle, their eyes screwed tightly shut, waiting to be touched. I stand opposite a hippy old enough to be my grandfather and stroke his bushy grey eyebrows, then tug gently on his goatee. I press my cheek against a body-builder's surprisingly soft stubble. I wrap my arms around a dumpling-like woman. There are whispers of an orgy later. This is just hello.
Togetherness Festival is meant to be about more than just sex. It's a joyous jamboree of emotional and physical connection, a rainbow dance of human experience, a weekend of wonder and sacred self-love. There are workshops with titles like "The Soulmate Delusion", "Mindfulness for Better Sex" and "Clowning and Intimacy". There will be naked yoga, a "Bliss Awakening Cacao Dance Party" and something called the "Love Lounge Experience". There are an awful lot of white people with dreadlocks and chakra tattoos.
It's the sort of thing that would normally make me long for the sweet embrace of death. But I'm also curious. What more have we, as adults, got to learn about sex and intimacy? And will there really be an orgy at the end?
The only formal sex education I ever had took place at school on Wednesday afternoons. Our weasel-faced geography teacher would terrify us with pictures of gonorrhoea gone wild and show us how to slide condoms over unripe bananas. "The most effective protection of all," she told a room full of horny teenagers, "is abstinence." We had to fumble around in the dark for the really useful stuff. Relationships, too, involved painful trial-and-error.
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According to organiser Adam Wilder – a moustachioed man in his late thirties – the silence that surrounds these subjects has divorced us from our true desires. "A lot of people don't realise just how much their decisions are based on their conditioning," says Wilder. "It's time for us to look at what's right and wrong for ourselves as individuals. If we know more we can make decisions based on what we really believe in. Then we'll be happier, more empowered and we'll have better sex lives."
Who doesn't want that? It's clear from Wilder's words that if I'm to gain sexual empowerment, I need to forget everything I think I know. I need to go right back to the start.
There's meant to be total silence in the cuddle workshop. "It's about non-verbal communication," says Wilrieke Sophia, the Dutch expert facilitating the class. A multiple orgasm workshop, or something very much like it, is happening next door. Orgiastic screams penetrate the thin wall.
I find myself staring into the eyes of a much older man. There's no talking allowed so all I have to go on is my inner monologue. It's mean and judgmental. With his grey hair, greasy pockmarked skin and scuffed corduroys my partner looks like a divorcee whose kids have forced him here in the hope he'll finally meet someone and get off their backs. He's not someone I would usually want to touch.
I reluctantly snuggle up, close my eyes – and everything changes. The old man strokes my brow and I am sent back in time: a childhood memory of one of my own parents floods in and I think of all the love and care this stranger has given to others over the years. The unkind thoughts about his masturbation habits cease. I break away and look at him in wonder: he returns a timid little smile.
"We don't hug and cuddle enough," says Wilrieke Sophia. "With kids it's normal to hug and touch them. It's a very healthy thing. Research shows if you don't hug or touch a child it gets sick and it dies. As we grow up we forget that. It's not so socially accepted to touch and to cuddle. When we do, things come up. Sometimes you discover unexpected emotions."
Try as I might, I can't find the research that shows a child will die if you're not affectionate towards it. But Sophia makes valid points otherwise.
So what have I learned? That everyone has something to give? Or just that I have unresolved daddy issues? It's time for some more practical skills.
The yoni massage workshop, led by Froukje Van Der Velde of the Love Academy, should be run in schools. Imagine if you'd been taught as a teen exactly how the clitoris works, where to find the G-spot ("two knuckles deep, towards the belly, with a walnut-like texture"), or how, simply by breathing and tensing, a woman can suck a pair of fingers slowly into her vagina.
We make our own yonis from brightly coloured clay and, for the next hour, Van Der Velde talks us through the tantric tricks that have been delivering shuddering orgasms for eons. I learn a thing or two.
As daylight fades, people start to double, triple and even quadruple off. That orgy is looking increasingly likely. Unfortunately, there's an ecstatic dance party to get through first.
Have you ever tried dancing to Taylor Swift while stone cold sober in a converted office space full of sweaty hippies? It's hard. I need something to see me through. Drink and drugs are strictly forbidden, but luckily Aradhana of the Beautiful Heart Raw Kitchen is on hand with her high vibration raw chocolate bars.
"All of my chocolate is made with love and mantras," she says. "There's a particular sacred song that's part of the recipe. It's by Mirabai Ceiba. 'In the temple of the heart I switch on the light of healing love.' Then it goes into a chant to Guru Ram Das, the fourth Sikh Guru, which adds humility, compassion and miracles. All of that energy is in the chocolate bar."
I double drop. And you know what? It works. Back in the dancehall, things have stepped up a gear. Men and women have become naked from the waist up. A young man embraces me and somehow my shirt comes off too. I feed him chocolate and he tells me all about heteroflexibility. It's time for the Love Lounge Experience.
One enormously fat man lies half naked on the floor. Two beautiful women rub their breasts gently over his body. The grandfatherly hippy whose eyebrows I stroked earlier is giving erotic massages. People are kissing, fondling and rolling around on soft mats.
I feel slightly sick. It could be any number of things: the overpoweringly sour scent of human body odour; the romantic panpipes playing in the background; the fact that the safe word is "jelly fish"; or the growing circle of heavy-breathing old men looking on. I get out as fast as I can and don't look back.
There's a lot to take away from Togetherness. On a personal level I've discovered that I'm definitely only into very carefully curated orgies. And adults clearly still have a lot to learn: about sex, connection and, it seems, basic hygiene. It's little wonder. In Britain, sex is kept under the covers. As kids, we're only really taught about biology and disease. There are vast pools of knowledge that we should be drawing from, from the ancient Tantra to the modern pedagogical practices of the Netherlands. For everyone's sake, it's time to put pleasure on the syllabus.
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