Although Western cultures are developing greater openness towards sexual exploration, we often don’t include spirituality in this quest. However, what if sex were used as a method for personal awareness and growth? Ruby May discusses the transformative potential a conscious engagement can have and how the events that unfold during a sexual encounter often represent the patterns we create in our everyday lives. With a background in burlesque and fetish costume design, sexological body work, tantric massage, and shadow healing, Ruby now leads workshops on how to get in touch with your deepest desires, let go of any shame associated with them, and evolve your consciousness through sexuality.
It’s hard to describe what I do because I often feel like I’m creating things that don’t really exist yet. Overall I can say that I use sexuality as a gateway for personal growth and transformation; however, it’s constantly evolving and changing. I work with groups of people and also give individual sessions. In recent years I’ve specialized more on the ‘shadow’ sides of sexuality: the sides that are suppressed or might have shame or taboos associated with them. I’ve discovered that those aspects have a lot of potential for growth and transformation.
A workshop with me will usually have between ten and twenty people. Although we’re strangers, we’re able to quickly build up trust and a safe feeling with everyone. That’s the whole point. We create a space where there is permission to explore sides of ourselves that we’re not in good contact with, free of the fear of being judged.
The workshops are a mixture of structured exercises, unstructured space to explore, and things that are more technique based. The pace is carefully planned. There is a very gentle introduction to support people to tap into a deeper layer of presence with themselves, and then with the other people in the group. The structured exercises are used to explore boundaries, individual desires, how to communicate them and how to receive communication from someone else. This is the foundational stuff that will create more safety later on in the workshop.
Next weekend I’m doing a three-part training combining BDSM with tantric massage with people who have explored tantric massage before and are curious how BDSM might be integrated into it. Some of that will be technique, but we might start on a foundational level, examining issues like “What happens inside you when you’re sitting there and someone is standing above you holding a whip?” We will look at reactions to the themes of power and pain and develop more consciousness about them, then go on to more technique-based stuff where we might use a flogger to move energy through the body.
People have this association that a whip is the ultimate symbol of seediness, of kinky sexuality that only weird people are into, or people on a power trip. Actually you can make love to someone with a whip by channeling your presence and love into the whip, using it more as a tool to generate different sensations and focusing on intensity rather than pain. A lot of energy can be moved through the body if the person who’s receiving the whipping really opens up, relaxes into it and breathes. Tantric massage is also about cultivating sexual energy, moving the energy, and using it for nourishment.
When I started practicing tantric massage I was open to anything unfolding in a session and exploring what would happen from there. What is the chemistry between this person and me? What wants to happen? I was on a quest to discover what was hiding behind someone, and the themes of BDSM kept coming up. There was a lot of stuff around power dynamics and the different facets of someone’s desire. Maybe the person wants to be exposed or humiliated, or to experience different intensities of sensation.
Personally I don’t feel that BDSM is a big part of my identity. There is a culture and a community around it that I have never really felt part of. I often use the words ‘Conscious Kink’ to describe what I do and a lot of people ask whether that isn’t just ‘good kink’ or ‘good BDSM’. I would say that ultimately it is ‘good’, but the emphasis should ideally just be that anyone who is playing with these edgy concepts would be aware and conscious of what they are doing.
I think my interest has another layer, which is that I’m really interested in how increasing one’s awareness of something can be a catalyst for transformation. For example, if I’m whipping someone and notice that they go into feeling like a victim. I draw attention to it and they realize that this is not just happening in a little scene between us, but also in a wider sense: perhaps in everyday life they are also in the habit of feeling like a victim when things become intense. “Why is this happening to me?” “Why is the world always cruel to me?” This awareness, which they find in our small scene, then ripples out into the rest of their lives and they can then see when they fall into victim roles outside of the bedroom. This then enables them to ask whether it is really ‘the truth’, that life is cruel and unfair. Perhaps they can choose a different perspective.
When I work with people, I pay really close attention to what happens inside me because I often feel an intuition to act in a certain way. It’s like my system responds to something in theirs and brings things to light. Sometimes I will be working with a man and have a strong impulse to hurt him. By consensually, consciously and slowly going into that, it often turns out that the person has a deep longing to be hurt by a woman. Often this is something that they are probably unconsciously attracting in their life over and over again. They get into situations where they attract women who mess them around, who have power over them, or who hurt them in other ways. By becoming aware of this pattern—that their life is a mirror of what is going on in them internally—they can move towards shifting it.
Personally I noticed that there are parts of me that long to have power and that when I was in a space where it was okay to enjoy having power over someone I got off on it. Then I saw how I manipulated people in order to have power over them in my everyday life and I realized that it’s actually because inside I felt very powerless. That really helped me to ask, “Okay, where is this feeling of powerlessness coming from and what is the truth behind it? What is true power and what’s the difference between power over someone else and authentic, personal power?”
Power is so important because it’s a major theme in the world and fundamental to us as human beings. When we are born, one of our first needs is for love, and then for power. We need to feel like we matter and that we have influence. The reason we have so much destruction in the world is because of our fucked up relationship with power and the paradigm of having ‘power over’, which relates to why we feel so separate from everything.
Perhaps our quest for power is actually a misguided desire for pleasure. The movement towards pleasure is one of the most basic needs and movements in life. Even single-celled organisms move away from something painful and towards something pleasurable. If anything comes in the way of a person’s ability to enjoy pleasure, they will look for pleasure in perverted ways, one being gaining pleasure from having power over people.
I think our collective relationship with pleasure is quite confused as well. We suppress our desires for pleasure because of religious influences where the body and the baser parts of being a human are seen as bad. A person’s love of instant gratification and taking pleasure from things that aren’t ultimately fulfilling has to do with this suppressed natural desire that then takes on a volatile quality.
I think it’s important to bring pleasure and awareness together. An example might be a person’s relationship to orgasm. For most people an orgasm is the ultimate symbol of pleasure and attainment when becoming sexually intimate with someone. When you bring more consciousness into sex and you’re really paying attention to what’s going on, maybe you start to notice that what’s actually happening is that you are not in the moment because you’re thinking about wanting to have an orgasm. There’s a lot of tension building up in your body that doesn’t feel good, or you have an orgasm and it isn’t that amazing after all. Maybe you feel a bit disconnected from the other person.
If you let go of the idea of orgasm it’s a different kind of pleasure. If you start relaxing into the sensation instead of building up all of this tension, maybe it’s more fulfilling. The practice of Tantra is all about that sort of pleasure and letting the energy flow through your entire body so you can reach different orgasmic, and even altered, states. You might even have a transcendental experience that is a consequence of bringing more consciousness to your relationship with pleasure.
Part of my workshops is also teaching people how to turn shame into excitement. Shame is something that causes a lot of suffering—it gives someone the feeling that there’s something wrong with them and they need to hide parts of themselves. People think that they can’t ever be truly intimate with someone because there are sides of them that they are not going to share. They have the constant threat of being exposed, and that causes a lot of suffering.
However, shame is also an energy in the body that quickens our heart and breath, and makes our cheeks flush. What if you became aware of this energy inside your body and instead of contracting, you say ‘yes’ to it and expand to see it as excitement? That’s a really useful skill to have in life and comes into play in lots of situations. You can even do it with emotions like fear.
I recently started holding groups to bring women together to share their experiences. It’s something I feel passionately about because it’s so endemic that women stifle their sexuality. One of the things that women find astonishing when we come together is that we always end up in conversation on the subject of rape fantasies. Many women hold a lot of shame that they have this fantasy of being overpowered and being gang-banged.
What we fantasize about are not just random things confabulated by our brains. There are reasons behind our fantasies and there are very complex puzzles our unconscious minds put together to create safety. Perhaps if a woman is overpowered, she remains ‘innocent’—it is the man who is being sexually assertive, and therefore there is less shame or guilt on her, hence it is ‘safer’. I have a longing that more women gain a deeper understanding of what their desires really are and can let go of the shame associated with them and enjoy themselves more. It’s an important part of the evolution of our planet that every woman find ease with her sexuality and really own it. Sexual energy is a form of nourishment. It nourishes our entire being and is a powerful force that’s worth getting connected to.
That’s why working with sexuality interests me so much, because it’s never just about sex. If it were just interesting interactions between someone behind closed doors that would be boring after a while. The ways you might limit yourself sexually, or things that might block you, or the challenges that might come up, aren’t just things that happen in bed with someone. They impact you in your day-to-day life. How able are you to trust and center yourself during sex. How able are you to trust and let go in life, or receive pleasure, or be assertive? It’s like a really beautiful little microcosm of what happens in the outside world.