Interview with Mal Harrison
In today’s world, we often reduce human sexuality to a mere act rather than an evolving, living, breathing part of who we are. We are human. We feel, we imagine, we create, we emote, and we express ourselves in everything we do. We seek out pleasure and we crave connection. Erotic intelligence is much more than mere reproductive health and function. It’s our personality, our creativity, imagination, and personal expression. It’s the way we perceive, connect, and engage with the world around us. Center for Erotic Intelligence
is a global collective of doctors, researchers, therapists, sexologists, educators, and activists.
How have your talks evolved in the past years since you initially started speaking at conferences?
My talks have definitely evolved over the years. Initially, they were mostly about sexual and reproductive health, the internal clitoris, closing the orgasm gap, female sexual function and pleasure. And now they've really gone into human desire, how we consume things, eroticism, why we're drawn to one person or one piece of art vs. another and sort of the unique individual eroticism that exists within all of us. So they've definitely gone more toward the human connection neuroscience route in terms of understanding human eroticism beyond mere sexuality.
Could you please tell us a bit more about what happens at sextech conferences?
You will get turned upside down at sex tech conferences. It's the greatest thing about the sex conferences is that people have an open space to talk about a thing that they've been taught they're never supposed to talk about. So this is a really liberating wonderful experience for everyone involved. I think we talk a lot about how dating apps are affecting human relationships. We talk about what gets in the way of us letting go and getting to a place of pleasure. We talk about how porn has really impacted human sexuality in terms of putting pressure on us to perform a certain way versus just exploring our bodies and enjoying ourselves. So we get to really explore what does sex mean and what do relationships mean to you as an individual. And that's really cool because there are a lot of different answers. It's not all about vibrators and toys although that's a fun part of it. It is about sort of the future of human connection, the future of human relationships and this sex tech hackathon are really cool because they work to make sexual pleasure more equitable in society for all people. So, for example, the winning team at the sex tech hackathon in Sydney, Australia back in March they created a device for disabled people in wheelchairs so that they could have a toy that is hands-free and they could operate it with their voice, so it was a voice-controlled toy. So lots of fun juicy discussion topics at this exact conference but a lot of it has to do with human connection in human relationships.
You also work as a Mezzo Soprano opera singer! How has your work with the Center for Erotic Intelligence influenced your singing career, and vice versa?
OK. So opera was definitely a huge driving force for me. I was studying all of these incredible inspirational stories about tragedy, death, betrayal, love all of the greatest operas are basically some form of love story. And so I really wanted to get to the root of like what is this thing is that drives people to like kill for it and die for it. What is love and what's the neuroscience behind it? And it's got to be more than just, you know, evolutionary biology. And so that kind of led me into studying eroticism and eroticism definitely expands far beyond sexuality, into food, and to music, and into art literature. So eroticism, opera is definitely erotic and all the body sort of coordination that you have to do singing opera I think is very parallel to being a great lover and I could say that the Vice Versa part would be all those years of training to open your throat help you do other things. And I'll leave that up to your imagination.
What do you think is the biggest misconception individuals have about their erotic self and erotic life?
I think the biggest misconception about the erotic self is that it's reserved for the bedroom and it's separate from every other aspect of your life and sex is this little thing you do when you go to the bedroom in private and it's disconnected from you otherwise. And that's just not the case. People think of eroticism like porn, or obscenity and it's really not. It's every experience and emotion that's ever happened to you throughout your life that shapes who you are drawn to and why you're drawn to them. And so your eroticism is really an expression of all of those experiences and emotions coming out in your body, your voice, in your eyes, the way you look at somebody. So it's a lot more than just you know dirty little sex. It's it's everything, it's the music we listen to, all of the choices we make about what tastes we have and what we like, that's our erotic self.
What are some examples of issues/concerns your sexual/relationship coaching clients will come to you with?
So some of the examples and concerns I see a lot of times its people asking if they're normal. Am I normal? How many times a week am I supposed to be having sex with my partner for us to be normal? There's no such thing as normal. In fact, the only normal thing about human sexuality is variation. So the other thing I would say I see a lot of I deal with a lot of people suffering from medical issues and it's impacting their sexual function. So there's a lot of that a lot of erectile dysfunction after prostate cancer or colon cancer. And then I would say the third biggest thing I see in everyday people is just this real struggle with self-worth. I think digital and social media consumption has really caused a lot of us to get caught up in a comparison loop and then so people really start to take a ride with their negative self-talk and ideas of self-worth and self-doubt. And it's not good on their spirit and it manifests in their bodies and they don't function properly. For example, I had a gay client recently who could not get an erection when he was with somebody he liked and wanted to date. And this was even when he was taking Viagra or Cialis but he had no problem when he would go hook up with some guy who would never see again at a hotel. And he really struggled with his self-worth his identity. He judged himself fairly harshly. So we worked through that and now he's doing great. No medication needed. So I think self-worth is a big win that we don't realize really impacts our sexuality in the way we express ourselves and our bodies.
Could you please tell us a bit more about the Center for Erotic Intelligence and what led to your founding the center?
Hi. So this center is predominantly focused on offering educational programming to colleges and universities. So what we do that's different is we teach pleasure education, consent education, relationship education which includes a lot of social and emotional intelligence development. And then we also teach sexual and reproductive health which is what most people think of as sex ed. I had started off as a sex therapist, got cancer. Realized there is a huge gap between medicine and therapy and found that becoming a sexologist I could close that gap. And so I was at the Museum of Sex and had my own internal clitoris on a graft once I found out about the research and that the clitoris is much more than just the nubbin up under the hood. So when I published it for the Museum of Sex I instantaneously started getting literally thousands of emails asking all sorts of questions and I too that stuck out to me most when one was from a girl drinking bleach because she thought it would prevent pregnancy and one was from a boy putting insecticide on his genitals. And I decided wow something has to be done. Sex Ed in America is horrible. And so I started this centre really to address some of those issues out there.
What's next for your work with the Center for Erotic Intelligence? Any big projects or events coming up? How can users find out more information about the center?
So what's next for the centre? Currently, we're in the process of sonographing a hundred internal erect clitorises. I wanted to do a thousand. But we can only get funding and approval for one hundred because we only sort of picture we have is the digital reconstruction of this on a graph of mine. So we'd like to show the variation between tissues and different humans. We've been in eight colleges and universities this past year and we're hoping to expand that number by the time school starts in September we've already signed on a few others and we're working on creating a digital platform where anybody can buy our program that's based on the program we offer in colleges and universities. We're doing some retreats this summer in the Hamptons for couples. And if you want to follow this centre you can follow us on Twitter at @eroticintel or Instagram at @eroticintelligence and we might be at the Tech Festival in Copenhagen at the beginning of September. Fingers crossed and hopefully I'll get to meet some of you guys and see you there.