Caroline D’Arcy is a “somatic sexologist”, or masturbation coach, if you prefer.
She left her corporate career to teach women how to get off – because for generations, nobody else has. “Our minds have a negative bias, because if we’re not taught about something in a positive, exciting way, we’ll fill in the gaps and think it’s something shameful or dirty,” she tells HuffPost UK.
“It’s about understanding that we can have so much more influence over our arousal and our libido than we ever thought possible.”
The 38-year-old, originally from the Wirral but now living and working in London, didn’t imagine herself as a sexologist – it wasn’t mentioned as an option during career talks at her Catholic convent school, funnily enough.
But in her late twenties, she left an emotionally abusive relationship and began exploring BDSM, initially as a way to regain a sense of control.
She was still frightened of letting anyone in emotionally, though, through fear of falling into another abusive relationship. But in time, she felt her walls come down as she learned more about sex, and leaned into the worlds of tantra and sex parties.
“The exploration into my own sexuality – the power of being confident and turned on and in control – it took that fear away of getting myself in that situation again, because I knew myself and I understood boundaries,” she says.
“If you understand boundaries and you know how they feel in your body, those red flags that were always there, you can’t ignore them any more.”
After discovering sexologists via various podcasts, D’Arcy quit her job of 10 years in corporate health and safety and retrained in somatic sexology.
Somatic literally means “of the body”. Those working in the field use a range of techniques to bridge the mind-body divide, helping us connect with our bodies better and have more fulfilling sex lives.
“Long story short, that means you touch yourself a lot,” says D’Arcy.
She now specialises as a masturbation coach and works with EKHO Wellbeing, a platform designed to help women find fulfilling sex lives. She wants to help women reconnect with themselves through self-love and pleasure and has designed a nine-week programme called ‘Touch’ to do just that.
The first part of the course is a return to sex ed, or rather, an introduction to proper sex ed, says D’Arcy, because generations of women were not told about masturbation, pleasure, libido or the clitoris - “a whole organ!” – in schools.
D’Arcy also works with women to shake off the patriarchal shame we’ve internalised about sex. “We’re taught that if you enjoy sex you’re a slut, you’re not loveable and you’re only good for one thing. But if you don’t like it, you’re a prude,” she says. “I spent the first year [after training] in absolute rage about the misunderstanding of women’s bodies and the thousands of years of shame and secrecy about what it is to be a sexual woman.”
Once you’ve got into the right headspace, it’s time to get physical.
D’Arcy says there’s no one-size-fits-all way technique to masturbation – “our sexuality is as individual as our preference to food” – and our needs also change throughout our hormonal cycle. “When I’m ovulating, I’m happy to have sex with lots of different people. It’s amazing and it really turns me on,” she says. “When I’m on my period, I want to be cosied up and I’m much more sensitive, so I don’t really want to be having lots of intense sensations.”
She encourages women to try touching different parts of their body in lots of different ways, experimenting with their breathing, too, to find what feels good. This, she says, is a better method than diving towards your clit with a sex toy. “There’s nothing bad about that, but it’s limiting,” she adds. “It’s a bit like eating the same food over and over again, you’re going to get bored of it eventually and it’s not going to be effective.”
Having one go-to masturbation method can also be a problem if and when you interact with a partner, she says, because if they’re not emulating what your body has got used to, it’s not going to work.
Learning to enjoy sex and masturbation without shame was life-changing for D’Arcy. Not only did it lead to a career change, it taught her she’s worthy of love and silenced the inner critic that had followed her for decades.
“I spent my entire life having a difficult time with my body, having real issues with my weight and being absolutely disgusted by my body at certain times,” she says. “When I went down this practice, because I was seeing the capacity of my body and how good it could feel and how amazing it was, it completely changed that relationship.”
Now, she wants other women to experience the same. Here are her tips for getting started.
5 tips for better masturbation
1. Set the scene.
Your environment has a big impact on how you feel, so do some tidying first. “Look at your room and think about one or two things you could immediately do to make it feel like a sexy adult space,” says D’Arcy. “For me, that means making the bed, clearing any washing, making sure there’s no work about, setting a candle. Just ask: ‘Is this an environment that turns me on?’”
2. Take the goal away
“As soon as you have a goal like an orgasm, it gives you a pass/fail, you’ve either passed and had an orgasm, or you’ve failed,” says D’Arcy. “When we put a goal there, we’re putting our body into its stress response – our body’s fight/flight mode – and that blocks our brain’s ability to pick up the sex hormones that are created when we get turned on.”
3. Set an intention instead
“An intention is a moveable direction, it’s not a pass/fail,” she says. “It’s something like: ‘I’m going to intend to experience as much pleasure using my body today as possible. If that ends in an orgasm, great. But if it doesn’t and it goes somewhere else, that’s great as well.’”
4. Dial down the stress
We can’t always get rid of the stressors in our life – a global pandemic or bills, for example – but we can adopt ways to dial down the stress we experience in relation to them. “Something that’s really good is going for a run or doing a physical exercise, like skipping, or punching pillows. Anything that replicates a fight flight response,” she says. “Other ways might be journalling or meditation.” Again, stress will block your ability to experience pleasure, so she recommends making this a priority
5. Touch yourself all over
“The starting point is using different types of touch, all over your body, then moving up to your clit and just getting curious about what feels good and building from there.”