by Onika Henry, World Association of Sex Coaches Certified Sex Coach
People are often surprised – and confused – when I say that I’ve used theatre arts to teach science or math. The prevailing notion is that artistic activities in education are only for ice-breakers, bonding, and for fun. They are not thought of as intellectual or healing activities in and of themselves. Studies show that attention follows emotion, and the arts often stimulate emotions, creating natural conduits for remembering and connecting information.
Sexuality certainly stimulates many emotional responses, so the arts fit nicely in this domain. So, can you image what arts-based sexuality learning and healing looks like? Tons of fun and play, lots of catharsis, and maybe even the discovering of unknown skills in dance and visual art. It’s not necessarily erotic, but then that’s quite acceptable too *insert wide grin here*.
When I use the term “expressive and creative modalities” to describe art, I do so in the broadest sense. This includes all forms and elements of the arts: movement/dance, drama/theatre, drawing/painting, sound/music, expressive writing, storytelling, ritual and other related forms and activities. Each of these, in their own way, provides opportunities to practice skills and behaviours, as well as to explore attitudes and feelings. Creativity, when used in the context of education and healing, is the practice and ability to reframe, re-work, re-present views, problems and perspectives in novel and innovative ways.
So, while artistic endeavours are involved, it is simply a form used to facilitate creativity in thought and action. It’s not synonymous with creating works of art or beauty. However, that may be an unavoidable, and indirect or secondary result of the process. In fact, many skilled visual artists who are involved in arts for education or healing, are asked to draw or paint with their non-dominant hand, so that the focus is on the intent to educate or heal and not on the aesthetics of the works produced.
Some techniques involve taking on various roles and replaying previous roles with a partner, or in a group setting. These roles can be characters, concepts (e.g. supportive, emotional cheating), objects (e.g. sex toys) or social and scientific principles (non-monogamy, masculinity, gender, etc.). Using theatrical, drama or even psychodrama forms like role play, double technique, mirror technique and reversal technique, provides an opportunity to pace your learning. In this way, you take responsibility for and an active role in your growth, empathise with ‘the other’ and keep your focus on the issue for much longer than conventional talk-only methods.
It allows you to see practical and emotional issues, and helps you to imagine what will happen to you. It also allows you to imagine and practice how you might change an outcome in a situation. This is a wonderful way to deal with sexual decision-making, and couples’ communication and negotiation – it is where social and behaviour change begins.
I have a clear bias towards theatre and drama, because they can and do incorporate the other arts – visual arts, dance and movement, music. Each specific type of artistic activity facilitates learning and personal development. In fact, for those who have experienced sexual violence or trauma, the arts, particularly visual journaling, creating mandalas, creative writing and movement or dance, can be indirect, non-invasive and non-confrontational ways of helping to:
A – Access emotions
R – Release them through imagery
T – Transform stress and pain to assist the body in its own ability to promote wellness
This acronym, developed by art therapist Barbara Ganim, is used as a guide to create art-based learning and self-awareness programmes and activities. These incorporate visual art along with movement/dance, creative writing and story-telling, drama and music. The first stage involves accessing emotions through body-centred awareness and guided visualisation. For example, these can include the unresolved issues from sexual trauma, body dysphoria, a cheating partner, infertility etc.
The next stage or step involves releasing these emotions through an artistic medium, such as drawing, painting, sculpture, mask-making, writing, dance/movement or sound and music. The third stage involves transforming the image or artistic work in stage two into a new one that expresses the way you would like to feel or react. This is a way of managing or dealing with stress, pain, or ill health. This final stage is not meant to solve the issue, but rather, it is a way to reframe and adopt a new perspective that is encouraging and empowering. This is a great home assignment for sex coaching clients as well as a good ‘in office’ activity, and one that produces tangle forms that you can see and touch, which chronicles your healing and empowerment.
When the expressive and creative modalities – visual and performing arts – are applied in educational and therapeutic contexts, it is not meant merely to be watched. It is not passive art created for aesthetics or to be admired and enjoyed as entertainment. It is healing art and empowering art. This art, is meant to and expected to change how we engage with the real world; it is expected to change your reality or at least your perception of it. When used wisely, it can enrich your learning and healing experiences in profound ways.