When I heard that my friend Reid Mihalko was winging his way eastward from sunny California to chilly Philly last week to teach a workshop with a “wink and smile” title on an irresistible topic, I knew I had to be there.
I’ll Have What She’s Having was, of course, on the subject of the Big O.
This tempting invitation was offered by a man who has been a delightful, if mostly long distance part of my life since 2005 when I was introduced to a world wide phenom known as Cuddle Party.
Relationships and Sexuality Coach, Reid (along with Marcia Baczynski) created this workshop that focuses on communication, boundary setting and safe, nurturing, non-sexual touch, among consenting adults, dressed in pj’s. A stretch for some people, even those who have a diverse sexual repertoire and practice.
I have found that for many, it is more challenging to be naked emotionally than physically.
A few days prior to the conference, I called Reid to tell him I would be there and asked to interview him for elephant journal. He was more than happy to comply and asked if I would meet him at the airport. When the day arrived, I scooped him up and headed into town for a pre-workshop dinner. With plates of food and a tape recorder in front of us and our waitress who was garbed in a shirt that appropriately read “I wear my heart on my sleeve.” with one actually embroidered there, we were ready to roll.
I asked what he wanted the world to know about him.
He shared that he is a “sex and relationship educator and professional sex geek who is currently lecturing and teaching workshops all over the country. I am a dildo for hire.”
He defines the term sex geek as “anyone who gets excited by and has a passion for learning about any kind of sexual education dynamics, relationship dynamics and has a passion for sharing that accurate information with other people.” Seems to me that the concept is a combination of the clinical and playful; something for everyone who wants to know how to double their pleasure and fun by increasing their knowledge. “Sure,” added Reid. “If you go to Urban Dictionary and you look up sex geek, I believe I’m the one who defined it. It is kind of cool.”
Reid has a way of translating what might feel like taboo subjects for mainstream audiences, rather than just preaching to the choir.
I wondered how he reached a broader demographic. “You can do a lot with social media now. You can be funny and clever with things and have your friends share information and when they’re reposting stuff, then your stuff is getting exposed to other people. It’s like the new cold calling. There’s a certain power of credibility and social proof. The other way is through mainstream media, like Lisa Ling, Our America and CBS’ The Doctors.”
He chose the title for the workshop “I’ll Have What She’s Having” based on the “pithy, pop culture reference and for people who know that movie, When Harry Met Sally, or know that scene, using recognizable memes is another way to get people to feel comfortable.”
His intention for participants was
“talking about and getting better at sex; that doesn’t have to feel like going to the dentist. To make that kind of exploration and communicating about it, not be so scary or shame filled or at least give people the tools to continue exploring even if their shame’s coming up. That’s woven through all of my work. For this class, it is about an understanding of anatomy and the anatomy of arousal and how your brain and body work together to create pleasure, which sounds technical and geeky, and is, but I’ll make it as memorable as possible.”
That he did.
We joked about how the first time I met this “big, goofy kid,” he was wearing Snoopy jammies.
Now that he is no longer leading Cuddle Party workshops, he added “I don’t have as many (pairs of pj’s) I’ve retired a lot of them,” but that pair is still part of the rotation, “You can’t lose with Snoopy.” His personality makes him safe and approachable and makes the topic of sex easier to delve into, since for so many it is still squirm-worthy and blush inducing.
When asked about how he launched into being an authority on matters salacious and sweet, he confessed,
“I was the fat seventh grader with the Mork and Mindy suspenders and made a t-shirt with iron on letters that said ‘Captain Twinkie.’ I got no play and now, looking at the people I hang out with, that would totally get me laid.”
Family patterns of alcoholism overshadowed his childhood and his parents’ communication skills didn’t serve them well. His mom started drinking and his dad tried to solve the family problems by working harder, because he thought that’s what would solve things.
“That’s not what my mom needed and my brothers and I got to experience what happens to a marriage and a family when that dynamic is in place. Unconsciously, I set out to figure out how to love in that committed New England, stubborn way that my mom and dad loved, but not love in the way they loved and to become a better communicator.” When he became sexually active at college it “seeped into my sex life, so I could be better at that.”
All these years later, he returns to colleges and teaches students how to have successful relationships. The 40-something Reid seems to be reaching back to the youth he was and saying “Look what we’ve become.”
He adds with Keanu Reeves dramatic flair: ” If I had a time machine, I would go back to seventh grade and tell myself “It’s gonna be fine and dude, I’m from the future!'”
He acknowledged that despite appearances and presentation, “I don’t think I’m any more secure than I was then. I have just front-loaded it a lot and I’m more secure with how insecure I am and that makes all the difference.”
The concepts of saying what isn’t being said, learning to say yes to what we want, no to what we don’t want, being able and willing to change our minds are all rich content in just about everything Reid teaches.
“In all my relationship geekery, that’s the piece. Being able to identify what you’re not saying changes everything and having the courage to speak up and unsilence yourself. That’s the beginning of a very specific kind of self awareness. That is what everything I do boils down to.”
Reid finds that people are “afraid of expressing. Most adult are experiencing life like it’s a seventh grade dance on steroids. We live in a culture where we’re not allowed to talk about sex and intimacy and not given tools to work through or negotiate our upsets. We have all of that in common. Even if you meet someone who doesn’t have that in common, it’s usually because they’ve worked through it.”
With regard to making personal requests and asking for what you want, Reid observes
“Most people have trained themselves or were trained to figure out what they think other people will be comfortable with, so most people are not asking for what they want. They’re asking for what they think other people will be a yes to. That’s rampant in our culture. You mix that with the idea that you measure success in relationship by duration and so people are trying to figure out what you’ll be comfortable with so you can make the relationship last longer, which is almost like death by paper cut. You end up making yourself smaller to not be an imposition. The currency of relationships is all about attraction, so I am trying to figure out what I need to do so that you’ll be attracted to me. That takes up a lot of bandwidth. None of those qualities is how life works nowadays. None of that guarantees that your relationships will last longer. If anything, they guarantee that they will eventually end.”
Much of his work is “a lot about learning how to speak up and empower others by imagining that they can handle y0u at full blast and not trying to attract people, but trying to be self expressed and in your self expression, figure out who’s attracted to that. It’s a very different approach to relationships. The economics and sustainability in relationships has shifted. I think it’s depth, not duration any more.”
He states, that in relationships, more than anything else “People are looking to be seen and heard.”
This was the perfect transition into the workshop, since although on the surface, it may seem like it was all about the act of sex and the outcome of orgasm, it was really more about living orgasmically; being open to what shows up in our experiences with partners.
Donning his Sex Geek t-shirt, he grabbed a handful of props/toys, as well as a large notepad on which he sketched cross sectioned, anatomically correct male and female body parts. We walked up the stairs into a small room that by the time the class began, was filled with men and women eager to learn ways of stretching comfort zones, trying new things, enhancing sensation, getting to know the mechanics of the ways our bodies work (anatomy and physiology geeks, take note).
I was surprised that we were not like giggly, blushing teenagers, as sometimes happens in classes on the subject, but indeed leaning forward to take it all in. I didn’t see anyone taking written notes, but perhaps allowing physical and mental memory to kick in. One constant throughout the two hours we all spent together, was the reminder to breathe and vocalize, since often, just as we silence ourselves in communicating with significant others, so too do we do it in bed. Lots of fully clothed moaning took place in that room.
By the end of the night, I walked away, not only with a much fuller tool kit, but a heightened sense of awareness of what illuminates my pilot light, sets my skin to tingling and brings me to that exquisite state and how to offer the same to a partner, but also a deeper appreciation for my friend and the gifts he offers to the world.
I remarked that it was almost like watching your child on stage, a sense of pride welling up inside. He shared some of his vulnerabilities, which he refers to as “role modeling transparency,” that had me feeling a greater sense of intimacy with him.
Before I emerged from this den of delight, Reid gifted me with my own Sex Geek t-shirt. At first, I had a gulp moment, wondering if I would have the courage to wear it. There is still a remnant of ‘propriety police’ checking to make sure that I’m being a ‘good girl.” I was encouraged by friends not only to wear it proudly, but take a picture of myself in it.
So, I am now willingly joining the ranks of those who celebrate the science and art of sex in all of its glorious and juicy forms.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta