2021: A year Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, sexual, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS INTIMATE: Intimacy coaches

The rules of engagement in modern relationships have changed over the years, comments Pallavi Barnwal, certified sexuality coach, and founder of GetIntimacy.com, listing out the changes, one by one. 

She observes how love is aided by technology; people find their partners or connect to them on a dating app, or through social media. The age of getting married has increased (which means the first relationship is not always the last one and people have more than one past relationship before they get married. Technology has spoilt people for choice and the days are engulfed around technology but at the same time of energy of technology (fast, quick, solution-oriented) does not match the energy of love which is (slow, gradual, mystical). People are socially distanced from extended family networks, and although they might have broad swathes of followers and social media friends, the reality is that is lonelier than ever. In this realm, their expectations and demands from their marriages and partners have drastically increased. New relationship models are emerging – single-parent families, live-in relationships, gay couples, divorce because of emotional/ sexual compatibility. People are looking towards sex not just as a form of making babies, or intimacy but also as a source of pleasure. They are looking towards sex not just as a form of making babies, or intimacy but also as a source of pleasure; they don’t mind are experimenting with sex toys, watching adult movies on Netflix, trying out kink partners in onlyfans, exploring cuckoldry, threesomes, etc. 

New Delhi-based Barnwal states how the emerging era of modern love and sex is a completely different paradigm. “To be able to deal with it and get what we want needs totally different skills. One we have not learned in our parent families, since that relationship model was based on meeting needs, setting family, and raising kids. But we are spoilt for choice and because of a rising emphasis on “self” or the “individual” we feel entitled to our wants and also have a ‘more’ mindset when it comes to Love and Sex.” 

LOVE IS INTIMACY
The article was published in The Free Press Journal on December 26, 2021.
https://www.freepressjournal.in/featured-blog/up-close-and-personal-heard-of-intimacy-coaches-heres-what-they-do-and-when-to-seek-their-help

Mr and Mrs Malhotra, a happily married couple on (role play), who deep down were broken, shattered and looking for ways to walk out on each other because their sex life was in a mess. In the nick of time, the couple went through a series of sessions. In their first session together as a couple, the intimacy coach got hold of the issue between the two. “She helped me communicate with my husband in a positive manner. Earlier I would whine and complain but wasn’t clear in my expectations. The next six sessions were with two of us individually where the coach helped us understand each other and our needs better. She empowered us to learn ways of positive and non-violent communication and helped us to understand what the other partner was going through and what are the challenges both of us are facing with one another,” recounts Mrs Malhotra. 

The couple also received home works and assignments that they had to practice during the week before the next session. The last two sessions were together as a couple where they communicated with each other, planned on how to work together as a couple with respect and empathy. “We are now on a nurture program where we meet the counsellor once a month to go through any current challenges and find solutions to them,” says Mr Malhotra.

Role of an intimacy coach

The growing bitterness in modern relationships and the subsequent incapability to express one’s desires has led to a growing need for an intimacy coach. Malhotra couple’s intimacy coach, Niyatii N Shah worked on building their love languages, admiration, gratitude and forgiveness. Talking about her role, Mumbai-based Shah adds how she doubles up as a counsellor, psychologist or sex educator and intimacy coach to work with couples and help them build or revive intimacy in their relationship. 

A trained sex educator and sex coach, Barnwal is currently practising as a sexual wellness coach where her work involves conducting assessments (verbal, written) to understand the client issue, history taking, assisting the client with the right information around sex, and recommending activities and exercises to have a healthy sexuality. “The actual work involves a lot of nitty-gritty. My work also involves a blend of mythology and sexuality, where I share mythological stories, and Kamasutra retelling because, in essence, it is a guidebook for a healthy marriage where Kama – sexual desire is one of the significant sections of the book,” says Barnwal.

On the other hand, Bengaluru-based relationship and intimacy coach Shivanya Yogmayaa’s clientele includes people who are suffering from issues with sexual intimacy, emotional disconnect with their partner, and need help in sexual behaviour and sexual orientation issues. She uses holistic psychological and practical approaches to resolve issues between couples. “I believe in when a person heals, relationship heals. I help couples to deepen the connections between themselves and everyone else around. I also guide people to achieve more confident and satisfying lives.”

As Mr and Mrs Das recount how they had worked with a few therapists and relationship counsellors across the world in the past before they stumbled upon Shivanya. “No one has been able to bring the breakthroughs in our relationship the way Shivanya has. We have had long-standing intimacy issues over our 15-year-old relationship and were getting close to calling the marriage off when we reached out to an intimacy coach. With every session, she intuitively and carefully helped us see each other’s perspectives and gave us practical tools and guidance to begin building our intimacy in a way that feels authentic to each of us,” says the Das couple, recounting their experience with intimacy coaching sessions that empowered them to understand and articulate their needs better. 

Shah agrees that most couples experience love and attraction in their early relationship and after a few years their responsibility and social expectations rip off the bonds, and the first casualty is their intimate relationship. “Our aim is to provide support and enhance the internal resources so that the couple can make amends in their lives. We support and help the couple find new possibilities and alternative solutions while observing professional boundaries and absolute confidentiality,” she emphasises.

On the need for conversation

Barnwal adds how with the information age, and rising incomes, and a metro lifestyle, people become more familiar with sexual pleasure. “This awareness was steered by a handful of sex educators who started breaking the taboos by initiating conversations and spreading knowledge around sex. I talk about sexual communication, sex personality, kink, sexual problems, dating, and sexual pleasure. Because there had been an acute dearth of information around these subjects, the content came as a breath of fresh air,” says Barnwal, who has set up a community of over 50,000 people overall where they reach out with their problems, hopes, and queries. 

Working as an intimacy coach is not an easy task. Explaining how she does what she does, Shah says, “It takes a series of sessions to work with the couple on understanding the challenges and obstacles that the couple is facing, exploring practical solutions for their relationship issues and then deepening their connection, emotionally, mentally and physically so that they can communicate their needs and preferences lovingly with each other.” Most coaches take independent sessions or have packages as per the client’s case.

It is a niche category of coaching, and people who have warmed up to the idea include a minuscule percentage in comparison to those who actually need intimacy coaching. “Unfortunately, sex coaching or sex counselling is a non-existent field in India. Here we have sexology which is more about a clinical treatment for physiological, biological disorders around sex. But as you see a lot of these stories are not about any biological problem, it is a lifestyle, relationship, and psychological issue. The taboo around sex is so huge that many mental health professionals are either not trained on this or are reluctant to even broach this subject,” says Barnwal recounting horrors of client stories where they were advised by other professionals to “just do it” or worse even “watch porn to get in the mood” which according to her is a typical response but lacks professional oversight.

Most couples-in-trouble over intimacy issues aren’t even aware that there’s someone like an intimacy coach who can help them sail through the crisis and save their relationship. “A little awareness shared on social media is helping people to know there are ways to solve their relationship issues. Seeking professional help for intimacy is still a taboo and there’s a lot of hesitancy still,” observes Shah.  

Shivanya couldn’t agree more with Barnwal and Shah. “Intimacy coaching is yet to pick up in the Indian context. People prefer secrecy and lack the courage to open up in what they see as a private matter. But they fail to understand is that this private matter is the foundation of their marriage,” she says. Another issue that Barnwal highlights is how most people expect overnight results in coaching which is not possible. “Considering our heavy puritanical past and the sexual stigma deep-seated in our family structures, social fabric, and our psyche, creating awareness around sex education is a mammoth task,” she stresses.

It is not time or opportunity that is to determine intimacy;—it is disposition alone. Seven years would be insufficient to make some people acquainted with each other, and seven days are more than enough for others.

jane austen

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