I’m a sex coach, and there’s nothing embarrassing about what I do
By Clara How, Aug 15, 2019
Andrea is a full-time sex, love and relationship coach, and while it sounds like a story that’s dramatic and possibly salacious, it really isn’t.
The founder of her fledgling business Athena Rising, Andrea wants to send a strong message: that talking about sexuality and intimacy shouldn’t be something you do in the shadows, or turn to Google because you just don’t know where else to get answers from. What she wants to do is to change the conversation that we have about sex, pleasure, self-love and relationships.
She shares about her divorce, what being a sex, love and relationship coach entails, and her personal journey of transforming her life and those of others.
Four years ago, I was in Croatia as part of a self-development course. I was looking out into the sea, and it was beautiful. Nature has this power where you can’t help but stand in awe and think, wow. But as fantastic as the view was, I realised that I had no one to share it with. I was married, but I didn’t feel like I was truly in a relationship.
Facing the sea, that reality hit me. I had a vision where I saw myself, but as a shell. What was inside me was shrivelling. I realised then that I was very unhappy, and it was a scary thought. I remember thinking that I wanted to live longer and be happier, so I can take care of my kids.
Once I got home, I had a conversation with my husband, and we made the decision to divorce. It was all led by instinct, and that’s something you can’t run away from.
But the end of my marriage did not come out of the blue.
We had been married for nine years, but we were two people who never really worked on our relationship. We tried, but we didn’t have the tools to communicate.
We knew that the marriage wasn’t working, and that we had drifted so far apart that the love had died out. We ended up staying together as friends just for our two children, thinking that having a typical family structure would be good for them. But it increasingly bothered me that their closest vision of what a marriage looked like wasn’t one of a deep, loving, connected partnership.
At this time I had also been taking a lot of self-development courses, like leadership, coaching, that sort of thing. I saw online that a United States-based coach called Layla Martin was doing a course called Obliss (an orgasmic masterclass for women), and realised that I had forgotten how to understand emotional development.
In the corporate world, I was successful. I worked in digital payments, and was handling a large portfolio that covered product marketing for Asia Pacific. It was easy for me to learn to detach, compartmentalise – to do what you have to do for the job at hand.
So when I saw the course, I thought, no one among my friends talks much about emotions and sexuality. They’re not things that I necessarily shy away from, but growing up as a Catholic Chinese girl, the sex and relationship education that I received wasn’t strong.
I went ahead and took the course, and I really liked Layla’s energy. She had videos, explanations and practices that we could do to get in touch with our body and our space. Some of the exercises included breathing, meditation and vocalisations.
I did the online course lessons here and there whenever I was free, and gradually I realised that I was becoming more present. When everything is a mess and you’re trying to avoid the situation, you just detach yourself emotionally. Being present was a big difference - it just felt like you were there. It was so different from the other leadership courses that I had been doing, which were very goal-driven and left me feeling drained.
Two years after doing this course, I received an email saying that Layla had opened a one of a kind coaching certification course that integrated love, sex and relationships. It had a robust syllabus that also covered psychology, mind-body principles and meditation. It was an intense 600-hour course, and included peer coaching online as well as face-to-face retreats.
The course was extremely in-depth because love, sex and relationships have an interdependent nature. To understand one fully, we need to understand the others. Some examples of a much longer list of topics of the course included: changing the love dynamic of a couple, self-love in the cycles of life, using sex for personal development and changing a relationship blueprint to attract a different partner. Ultimately, the purpose of the course was to understand how to hold space for intimate and vulnerable topics.
I felt something click inside me when I first saw the email, but I asked myself, I have to pay for this and go for an interview before I can land the course – do I really want it? It was scary: I thought, "I've just divorced; I have to be financially stable, make sure my kids are transitioning well, and still manage my portfolio at work." I wanted to be clear that this was what I wanted to do.
But it was like all the cogs in the wheel came together in my head. You just know. And no matter how scared I was, you can’t ignore that kind of clarity. While the timing was close to my divorce, the decision to take the course wasn’t because of it. I didn’t know what I would do with the course after it was over. I just wanted to learn more about relationships and intimacy, because I felt it would benefit both my personal and professional lives.
My application was successful, but the only thing I didn’t realise was how much work it really was, especially since I was still working full-time. It wasn’t just textbook learning – you had to live and breathe what you learned and deal with your own anxiety and fear.
Most of us have some kind of self-worth issues, and through doing these practices, your personal shit inevitably comes up. And it’s necessary to process it, because when you work with clients and your personal issues come up, you need to know how to deal with it and focus on the client.
A lot of it was breathwork, where you learn to move your breath in certain ways. Sometimes it results in orgasmic practices, if it’s what the person needs. On one hand, it’s fun because it’s pleasure; on the other, it’s also homework and you have to observe and take notes. We also recorded our meditation.
One challenge we had to do was to record our voice praising ourselves. It had to last between five to 10 minutes, and it’s more difficult than it sounds.
While I think we all like hearing self-praise, personally it took awhile for me to feel like I deserved to hear it from myself.
I grew up being an achiever, and thinking that’s how we should go about life. Especially since in school, everything is graded. We never really stop to understand what it’s like to be praised, because we’re pushing for the next level of achievement.
So for me, it was a process of getting used to hearing my own praise and listening back to the recording. I had to fight the feeling that it was self-serving and cringey. But it’s a testimony as to how much can be transformed with little bits of daily practice.
To get something straight: there’s no nudity or hands-on element in what I learnt, and what I do now. These techniques (eg. Those covering jade yoni egg, sensual massage, breathwork, sexual energy exploration and understanding emotional resourcing) are taught and guided by us for the client in a safe and private environment. These and whatever tools that I use to coach, my clients should then be empowered to go home and practice them. Integrity is hugely important.
I completed the course two years ago, but I only decided to go into coaching full-time a year later. In that one year, I was juggling my job and coaching on the side. Because of the topic, it was still very much underground, but I never thought that it should be.
What I do is to look at issues integrated in a person’s life, and a lot of times it’s not even about sexuality. These issues could be about finding direction in life, being able to attract love, wanting to rework the patterns of past relationships or working through triggers that seem to result in anger or anxiety spirals.
There’s a common response when people hear what I do: they say better relationships and better intimacy are what they want, but when they are faced with the possibility of coaching or workshops, they say they are too busy, or they don’t want to pay. I get why they think that.
But for me, coaching is important because it’s not just about self-care (like taking time off to have a vacation), but also about self-worth.
It’s something we don’t talk about much, aside from saying things that aren’t always helpful like, oh, just power through, be strong, do the best you can. But it’s not part of our usual day-to-day practice to talk about your emotions and support them.
Plus, sexuality is a topic that’s highly charged. People want to know more, but not many will put it as a priority because it feels like an indulgence to pay for coaching. But I see how people transform and feel empowered by their body and sexuality. They get to a place where they think, "I’ll be great no matter what happens. I can create the relationship I want. I’m in a good space. I can maintain a good sex life." It’s a different kind of confidence than just holding everything together.
I try to be honest with my children about what I do. My son is still young, but I communicate in simple terms with my daughter about my job. At 12, she still thinks it’s gross, but I want to give her the impression that her mother is comfortable with it. So when the time comes for her to ask me questions, she knows that she can and I won’t be closed off about it.
As for my parents, I only told them that I am coaching, which is true. They found out exactly what I was doing through Facebook, but I’ve always been independent and they understand that. My friends are supportive, though some male friends were worried about how my name would be associated with sex and stereotypes. I understand, but the more I coach, the more I realise that this should not be hidden.
I am grounded and focused on safety and integrity in everything I communicate. On top of that, my work is essentially in education and transformation – but I don’t bring that into my personal life, which is kept separate. You don’t coach anyone till you are asked to in a professional setting.
Eventually I reached the stage where I decided to leave my job and go into coaching full-time. I just knew it was time.
It took a long time for me to not be scared of being vulnerable, which felt like the opposite of having a plan, always being in control. For me, the latter worked for the corporate world, but it generally doesn’t work for relationships and emotions. Trusting my instincts meant that I had to be open to what comes, not having expectations on other people’s reactions and to just be able to take the next step without seeing the whole staircase.
There are times when you’re not put together and you don’t know the answers. Because when you deal with emotions and anything that’s ambiguous, there are no guarantees. I wanted to know that if I came through the divorce, I would be okay. But I can’t guarantee that. No one can.
But I realised that I can have intentions. If I have to go through this and take my kids through it, I will come out better and happier. That was my vision. That it was going to be tough and scary to sort out the lawyers and talk to the kids, but if I’m happier, my kids will benefit.
Since I started coaching, my clients come mainly through word of mouth, social media, and friends of friends. I’ve been trying multiple approaches on how to get the word out. I’ve pivoted the business a few times, because I’ve been trying different ways to get the messaging out.
I learnt through trial and error that the messaging for workshops cannot be too heavy. It can’t be a broad topic like self-pleasure because that covers too many facets and extends way beyond masturbation and sex, but it needs to be focused on a topic like orgasms, or intimacy between couples.
Because I’ve tried different things, I haven’t broken even yet. But because I have some experience in managing large projects, I’m more focused on what makes sense, which is to put the necessary building blocks in place. It’s like building a house - you can’t put a first layer of bricks, and say, “Eh, this doesn’t look like a house. Forget it.” You need to keep building and paving new ground before it all comes together.
My current approach is to seek out partnerships with fellow professionals who deal with different stages of an emotional process. For example, if someone were to be coping with illness, I could partner with the treatment to provide the emotional support. Or if someone is experiencing physical pain in intimacy, to look at and release related relationship and intimacy psychological blocks that may contribute to an experience of pain. It is important to me that there is a greater normalisation of such discussions.
A big reason why I wanted to make coaching a career was because the word sexuality is still laden with so many misconceptions. Growing up in Singapore, let’s face it: actual sex education is not what you learn in school. Children are learning about sex through porn, which has a very specific, narrow view on sex, and it’s still an environment that’s associated with judgment and not space for discussion. If you try to talk about it, people shame you, so everything goes underground, or into the shadows. And when things go into the shadows, it has the potential to change and warp into a different form.
When people want information on sex, most of the time they will end up Googling. But there’s no proper guidance. They end up thinking, there must be something wrong with me, my partner, or the relationship. It doesn’t help that sex therapists tend to be sensationalised in the media, where they give soundbites on the top ten things to do in bed. But this is ignoring the fact that this is an area that’s full of emotional triggers that people haven’t learnt to undo. This can’t be encapsulated in a list of sex tips.
My end objective is to allow my clients to feel like they are aligned with their soul purpose and soul-aligned mission. It's the sense of knowing that whatever you are doing right now, you are where you need to be; and whatever comes your way, is all meant to support you to the next level version of yourself.
Part of my vision is to give resources and create content that normalises talking about sexuality. I want someone who is going through a rough time to be able to have resources.
For example, I created a video on things to take note of when you’re talking to someone about sexual misconduct. The idea was sparked by my watching the way reporters were asking questions to Monica Baey, and I saw how ill-equipped the first responders were in handling the situation. So I wanted to educate people on how they can communicate with friends who have experienced such misconduct. The video is up on my YouTube channel, AthenaRising TV.
Another video I’ve made is the usage of the word “perform” in relation to sex. Sex isn’t about turning on a switch and saying, go. That’s very much what happens in porn. But people crave the experience and not the performance. And using terms like “perform” just puts the responsibility on the other person to make sex fun.
There’s a reason why my business is called Athena Rising. My friend was the one who coined the term, but at first I was a little hesitant in including Greek mythology (Athena is a goddess of wisdom and strategic warfare). But the more I thought about it, I saw it as a name that had a magical ring to it. And there’s a lot of magic in what I do, when it comes to the potential that each individual has.
When you believe in magic, you can see possibilities. For most people, once we don’t see magic and possibilities, there’s very little that I can do to change your mind. If I can change your perspective, then things will start to happen for you - you attract different things, different people. You become a different person. The magic happens when it works through the mind, the body, and eventually the understanding. Athena Rising is about that sense of emergence, and that magic of empowerment.
You can find out more about Athena Rising on YouTube at AthenaRising TV, and on Instagram at theathenarising.
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