Vivid vulvas and colossal carrots: what I learned from my night at a sex workshop


Plasticine, root vegetables and a side serve of humour provide the perfect tools for learning about sexual pleasure with a group of total strangers

Its a Saturday night and Im sitting on a plastic chair in Sydneys Bondi Pavilion surrounded by total strangers, fashioning a vulva out of blue and yellow plasticine.

This is not how Id normally spend my Saturday night, but if Im good at anything, its throwing myself outside my comfort zone even if that means channelling my inner teenage boy and making genitals out of Play-Doh.

There is a very adult point to this apparently adolescent behaviour: this is Pussy Play, a workshop that focuses on female sexual pleasure, using plasticine models as a teaching tool. Its the first of two masterclasses in manual stimulation or interactive genital techniques that I will attend over the evening; the second is Wank Bank, which eschews plasticine in favour of carrots and cucumbers to teach the finer points of well, you get the idea.

I havent come here by accident. Ive known the man behind Wank Bank, Adam Rural Ranga Seymour, for over a decade. In our uni days in Melbourne he was known for his wild parties, and when we ran into each other again in New York in 2014, he had just started a side job giving happy-ending massages to male executives to help pay the exorbitant Manhattan rent.

When he returned to Melbourne later that year, Adam started giving masterclasses based on his learnings and Wank Bank was born. It was immediately popular, resulting in sold-out shows at comedy and fringe festivals, and featuring on ABC TVs Luke Warm Sex (and subsequently Tens Gogglebox).

Off the back of its success, he worked with his cousin, Miss Burlesque Australia a fellow redhead and one-time Mormon, who goes by the name Strawberry Siren to formulate Pussy Play. When Adam got in touch to tell me they were bringing Wank Bank and Pussy Play to Sydney, I was determined to finally go.

Finding a date was harder than I expected. Is this a person Im comfortable sitting next to for two hours while pleasuring inanimate objects? is not a question I ever thought Id need to ask myself. My partner, the obvious choice, was interstate. Colleagues, I decided, were absolutely out of the question. Asking friends with whom Id had past romantic interactions was to risk crossing an unseen line, but even firmly platonic friends declined point blank.

Strawberry Siren demonstrates stimulation techniques on a plasticine vulva. Photograph: Tony Virgo

I ended up trekking over to Bondi alone whod have thought finding a date to a sex workshop would be so fraught?

So there I am, amid a crowd of mostly under-40s buoyed up by booze, sitting next to a group of rowdy young men, when I recognise one of my colleagues settling into a chair in the row behind me. I nearly have a heart attack, and snap my head back to the front. What do I do? Do I say hi? Do I pretend I havent seen her? Will we ever be able to look each other in the eye at the office microwave again?!

I try to focus on the task at hand instead: placing a chickpea on my plasticine vulva to represent the clitoris or, to be more correct, the tip of it. Pussy Play is heavy on euphemisms but also on the anatomy side of things: slides show female erogenous zones and correct identification of various parts is encouraged This thing that youve probably been calling a vagina for years? This is actually the vulva. At one point, Strawberry holds up a sparkly sequinned puppet (it reminds me of Alli Sebastian Wolfs Glitoris) to better explain just how important the clitoris actually is.

Strawberry begins the practical part of the class by giving some tips on foreplay, getting a (male) volunteer to hold a pair of raspberry jam fancies to his chest while she demonstrates one way to caress a nipple. (He starts eating one before she has finished.) The thrust of the event is the 20 or so hands-on techniques with names like Escargot, Princess and the Pea, and Jazz Hands that we are to practice on our Play-Doh creations. Lubrication is encouraged and spray bottles are passed around. At some point, I catch my colleagues eye. Its something of a relief when her expression of surprise turns into a grin and a wave.

Strawberry asks us to swap our plasticine vulvas with the person sitting next to us. I pass mine to the total stranger beside me. It is a weirdly intimate moment. He inspects my creation, then nods approvingly: Hey, thats pretty good! It oughta be, I think, Ive had one for 32 years. His, on the other hand, looks like a squashed ice cream. I am somewhat perturbed.

Adam Rural Ranga Seymour wields a cucumber. Photograph: Tony Virgo

Back in the hall after the break, for the second act Wank Bank Adam has set up a massage table and dispersed showbags, each containing a worksheet (laminated) and a very large carrot. He tells us a bit about himself and his massage work, and then asks for volunteers nobody will need to get naked or do anything out of their comfort zone, he assures.

An older man, who for some reason is drinking yoghurt out of a tub in the front row, instantly puts up his hand. Adam invites him on to the massage table and places an enormous cucumber between his legs, alongside a pair of deflated orange balloons with ping-pong balls inside.

Adam is a natural performer, and the class is riveted (though Adam tells me later the crowds are always rowdier for Strawberrys class). He tells stories about his anonymous New York clientele, while demonstrating various moves the Patty Cake, Rock Around the Cock, the Corkscrew. One very gentle move, a kind of cradling, often made his clients cry, he says. Its an unexpectedly poignant moment a flash of insight into the emotional impacts of physical intimacy, even in the most mercantile of exchanges.

The show ends with a lot of loud music and a lot of mutual carrot fondling, but it is that tiny anecdote that I find myself thinking about on the bus home that flash of insight hidden among all the jokes.

Perhaps sex is just inherently absurd, or perhaps there is still so much tension between personal intimacy and public conversation that sometimes the easiest way to talk about it is to highlight the humour in it. Nobody thinks of sex education as sexy, but perhaps campy, playful and completely clothed is a good place to start. At the very least, it makes for a good story.

Wank Bank and Pussy Play are showing at Edinburgh Fringe festival from 4 August

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