I Talked To 1,400 Strangers About The Intimate Details Of Their Sex Lives. Here's What I Learned
When it comes to matters of the heart, I believe there are no questions and answers, only questions and ideas. With that in mind, one year ago, I started Touchpoint—a town hall about sex and partnership—as a space for people of all gender identities, cultures, and sexual persuasions to share their ideas and experiences in bed, in love, and in life.
(Editor's Note: Touchpoint has a director of vibes, responsible for dressing each space with candles, carpets, and amping up the cozy factor. We just thought that was too cool not to mention.)
On April 7, 2016, I hosted the first Touchpoint on the Lower East Side with 10 friends. The question the group voted to discuss was “How do I introduce BDSM into my relationship?”
I was wildly uncomfortable with this question. After all, I had no experience with BDSM. I barely knew what it meant. And I had never facilitated a conversation like that before.
Ultimately, we spent five hours talking. One woman shared a story about her boyfriend handcuffing her to a kitchen table and having the best sex of her life. My mind was blown. I was inspired and decided to host Touchpoint every month moving forward.
In some way or another, many of us are looking for validation—affirmation that we aren’t "weird" or broken or undeserving of love.
Over the past 12 months, I’ve hosted Touchpoint more than 20 times, including special events in Mexico City, San Francisco, Miami, and Montreal. Over 1400 people have attended and over 400 questions have been submitted.
Throughout this journey, I’ve learned a lot about what’s working for people in bed, partnership, dating, and marriage—and what's not working, too.
Below are some of the most interesting things I’ve discovered (so far). Take these lessons on the next steps of your own journey.
1. At our core, most of us are just looking for permission to be ourselves.
Over 20 percent of the hundreds of questions submitted to Touchpoint so far begin with the phrase, "Is it OK…"
- Is it OK to date someone significantly younger than me?
- Is it OK to sleep with someone I work with?
- Is it OK to tell my partner that I’m attracted to other people?
- Is it OK to wear women’s clothing under my clothing?
As I read through these questions, I was moved by the realization that nobody was asking for permission to do anything we may collectively consider to be wrong or amoral. Nobody asked, "Is it OK to have nonconsensual sex with a minor?"
All of these questions were posed by adults just looking for permission to be themselves and explore perfectly healthy feelings and ideas in their relationships.
Sex can be incredibly empowering and serve as a doorway to personal discovery.
In some way or another, many of us are looking for validation—affirmation that we aren’t "weird" or broken or undeserving of love. Keeping this in mind as we navigate our lives and relationships is paramount to truly showing up for ourselves and others.
2. Sex with a perceived finish line misses the point.
We grow up learning that sex is basically a means to an end—a way to scratch an itch, the resolution of involuntary biological needs. Discovering Tantra through the Touchpoint community was life-changing for me.
Tantra redefined sex for me as a way to get as close as possible to another human being—and myself. It’s not about where we end up but where we are. How conscious can we get in this moment, in this position, in this inhale or exhale?
Someone recommended a book that started my journey called Tantra: The Art of Conscious Loving. It covers the basics of the chakras, breath work, and intimate, new ways to explore yourself and your partner.
3. Your imagination is a sex toy.
I used to think that BDSM was a scenario in which I was naked and chained to a wall while a woman dressed in leather whipped me, called me names, and I was most definitely crying. Just weird, kinky, painful, aggressive sexual exploration. Not into it.
It turns out, I was wrong. After listening to dozens of stories shared by "mainstream" people who explored BDSM with partners, a new definition emerged for me: BDSM is, at its core, just fantasy.
It’s an exercise in tapping into your imagination to elevate your sexual experiences from the purely physical to the psychologically fantastic. And it doesn’t have to hurt.
BDSM can be something as simple as role playing or experimenting with restraints or blindfolds.
Turning sex into something playful and imaginative can bring two people closer together, cultivate trust, and whip your relationship into shape.
4. Words matter.
Promiscuity versus sexual exploration:
The word "promiscuity" makes people feel bad—especially women. It’s harsh, judgmental, and actually, incredibly sexist. For instance, there's a Wikipedia page on "promiscuity" and a separate one exclusively for "female promiscuity." The definition of promiscuity is "indiscriminately choosing sexual partners." Doing something indiscriminately is not the same as doing something a lot. For instance, Warren Buffett has many investments. I don’t think he chooses them indiscriminately.
Just because someone has many sexual partners does not mean they haven’t chosen those partners carefully and with intention.
One suggestion that got a lot of nods was replacing the word "promiscuity" with a new phrase: "sexual exploration." Hundreds of Touchpoint attendees reported that exploring themselves through sex allowed them to figure out what they want, what types of people they’re attracted to, and how to communicate needs and boundaries in life—not just sex.
Sex can be incredibly empowering and serve as a doorway to personal discovery.
Boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, and wives versus partners:
Words like boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, and wife are loaded with gender-specific expectations that feel outdated and often unjust. Touchpoint attendees tend to use gender-neutral terms like partner, which can be defined uniquely by anyone. It shifts the definition of roles within a partnership from "this is what society thinks we should be" to "this is what we think we should be."
Girls versus women:
This one’s specifically for the bros. We need to stop referring to fully grown adult females as "girls." They’re women. We need to show them the respect they deserve.
5. When we define our relationships, we tend to ask the wrong questions.
Defining the relationship (DTR) is generally a conversation centered around two questions: What are we, and where is this going?
If we want to be amazing lovers and partners, we can be. Like anything else, it takes a bit of intentional practice.
Traditionally, the answers to these questions tend to point to things such as "we’re boyfriend and girlfriend or husband and wife," and "we’re working toward a long-term commitment and possibly a family."
The problem with these questions and answers is that they don’t clearly define how we plan to serve our partnership and how we need it to serve us in return. This generates a lot of poor assumptions around commitment, communication, sex, and more.
Instead, the better questions when defining the relationship are "What can I count on you for?" and "What do you need?"
These questions can and should be revisited regularly.
Answers to these questions may range from things like monogamy to a weekly date night or the willingness to have a candid conversation when either partner feels something is wrong.
Being truthful about these things seems to be integral when working toward cultivating space and safety.
We are constantly defining and redefining our partnerships. It seems best to do it consciously, honestly, and with the intention of getting closer.
6. Masturbation is more than just a quick release.
I used to think that masturbation could be found squarely at the intersection of "I’m alone" and "I’m horny." But as we discussed the subject over and over again, I realized that masturbation is incredibly nuanced and serves a variety of purposes for people in addition to having orgasmic release.
People shared stories of masturbating to release stress, to tap into creative energy, or to distract themselves from physical pain. Some people masturbate in public because the possibility of getting caught turns them on. Some people fantasize about current lovers, while others exclusively fantasize about former flings. Some use toys; some use shower heads. One woman shared a story about masturbating to videos of herself masturbating.
In general, there's a lot of lingering shame and denial around masturbation. But when we make it safe to talk about, the way humans explore themselves can be a fascinating window into our self-esteem, creativity, and needs.
7. It's space and safety, FTW.
Whether we were talking about BDSM, dating, kissing, fighting, polyamory, or anything else, it seemed that two things needed to be cultivated in order to create and maintain a healthy, thriving relationship: space and safety.
Space is the freedom to explore myself and the world around me without the fear of judgment or abandonment.
Safety is the freedom to express what I’m thinking and feeling without the fear of judgment or abandonment.
When either space or safety is compromised, relationships can feel suffocating and stressful and don’t promote us being our best selves. It feels like this stands true for all relationships including with family, friends, and colleagues.
8. We can all learn to be great lovers and partners.
There was a time, early on in our lives, when we didn’t know how to put on our own socks. Someone had to teach us. It may have been frustrating at first, but eventually, we got the hang of it. This year, I learned that being good in bed, in partnership, and in life is similarly skill-based.
The idea that some of us are good in bed and some of us aren’t is false. The more accurate statement is that some of us have learned how to be good partners and some have not, but each of us has the capacity to grow.
There are practices, tools, and techniques that we can each acquire to become more empathetic, communicative, sensitive, and supportive—to be better in bed, in love, and in life.
These things show up in the forms of stories, books, podcasts, TED talks, products, and of course, events. If we want to be amazing lovers and partners, we can be. Like anything else, it takes a bit of intentional practice.
9. When you pursue magic, you find it.
Last July, at the fourth Touchpoint ever, Nyla met Andrew. This summer, Nyla and Andrew are getting married.
I want to thank both of them for showing up and inspiring me and everyone else involved. To everyone who has participated and to the readers of this article: I am grateful for your presence, your positivity, and your openness in exploring the possibilities. You have collectively inspired me to become a better human in all the ways.