adventures in sex

Can You Teach ‘Sexy’? I Took a Class to Find Out

Photo: Pete Leonard/Corbis

Can you teach “sexy”? I always figured sexiness was like a sense of humor or diabetes, either you got it or you don’t. But that doesn’t stop people from trying. Manhattan pole-dancing studio Body & Pole recently introduced a workshop called “The Joy of Sexy.” The description reads, “Ever wanted someone to say to you, ‘My God, you’re sexy’? During this class, you will be introduced to intense sensual movement, while incorporating your head, hands, legs and tongue on and off the pole.” Although licking a pole seems like the worst idea of all time (we all saw The Christmas Story), I signed up anyway.

Now, I am not what you’d call sexually shy. In the name of journalism, I have taken a tantric sex class and a group masturbation workshop, both of which I loved. When it comes to Bacchanalia, I can totally hang. But there’s always room for improvement and I’m a sucker for adventure. Surely a gal who has played “genital show and tell” in a roomful of strangers could handle shaking her badonk around a pole, right? 

Wrong. The Joy of Sexy was a living nightmare.

I assumed the workshop would be like the time I took Zumba, just me and a bunch of frumpy moms with asexual haircuts trying to get their “groove back.” But when I arrived at the Body & Pole studio, I felt like I teleported to a brothel in Tokyo.

The room was dark with tiny red floor lights illuminating seven steel poles and wall-to-wall mirrors. Every woman there looked like a video-game avatar: waist-length hair, Jessica Rabbit body, and elaborate tattoos. It was the first time I ever felt embarrassed for not having a belly button ring. Was this the right class? Where were the moms? Had I taken a wrong turn and walked into an audition for a Michael Bay movie? As it turned out, my classmates were all highly skilled, semi-professional pole dancers. They were not being “introduced” to anything — I was the only beginner there. I could feel the joy leaving my body.

The only rule in The Joy of Sexy’s dress code is Don’t forget your heels!!!! Falling just a hair under six feet tall, I’m not a big heels person. The only pair I own are my “sad Bat Mitzvah clogs,” which are strictly for funerals and weird Jewish holidays. A far cry from “fuck me” pumps. As I stood there comparing myself to the scantily clad anime girls, I realized I’d forgotten my clogs.

“You can see if they have your size at the front,” said the teacher, immediately setting off pity glances and whispers. “There is a bucket of used shoes for emergencies.”felt like the poor kid at prep school. I couldn’t stomach the idea of searching through “a bucket of shoes” so I politely declined and went barefoot.

The first thing our teacher asked us to do was face the mirrors and sit on the floor for a warm-up. Within minutes we were all spread-eagled doing challenging ab reps. Everyone around me was making “duck face” in the mirror like it was normal to look horny while doing sit-ups. I, on the other hand, struggled to keep up, using every ounce of energy not to dive into child’s pose and hide.

After our floor warm-up, we got into two separate lines to learn how to “walk sexy.” It was a very slow, deliberate stride where you bang out your hips and touch your hair and boobs. It’s how I imagine Jennifer Lopez walks on a daily basis. Two girls would perform at a time so that the entire class could watch you and evaluate your sex appeal. I was feeling extremely self-conscious because I’m not sexy in a stripper way. My body looks like a lowercase L, just one long, straight line. Walking barefoot while going to second base with myself, I felt ridiculous.

After learning how to walk, we moved onto the pole. The teacher instructed us to act like the pole was “a dude you want to mess with,” which in non-stripper speak means a guy you want to seduce. When I want to “mess with” a man I default to laughing maniacally and vigorously nodding in agreement. My fellow scholars of sexiness, however, stuck the pole between their breasts, crawled on the floor and slapped their own butts. After I awkwardly skipped around the pole and attempted a hair flip, a woman who looked like Shakira asked me if this was my first class. I said yes. “Well, it’s a lot for a beginner, just keep trying,” she replied. Burn. Nothing like trying to be sexy and eliciting genuine concern.

The next two moves we learned were the “pussy flick” and a “choke out.” The pussy flick is where you lean against something (the pole in this case) while making eye contact with someone, spread your legs, give your vagina a pat, and then flick it. It was a really fun move but I can’t think of a single occasion where I could use it without immediately getting raped. The “choke out,” meanwhile, begins from a stance where your head is perpendicular to the pole. You place the pole under your chin like you’re doing a pull-up, then you press your neck on it and make a creepy face like you’re in “sexy” pain. To explain how to do this properly our teacher said, “Just choke yourself, like the way a guy does it to you during sex.” You know, the way we all have sex. Things were getting a little sleazy-town for me.

Then the teacher called out all these complicated maneuvers, like a “triple turn, jade split, leg lift, crotch surprise” and all the music video girls would scamper up the pole and do something very naughty and complicated while I entertained myself by doing the sprinkler and the tootsie roll. 

The last thing we did was “freestyle,” which is where you just danced any way you wanted facing the mirror and using the pole. I was so humiliated at this point, I just wanted to get through it. I felt like I was having a PTSD flashback to adolescence, when I was super-embarrassed of my body. Being among the stripper-bots gave me that same feeling of not being womanly enough, like something was missing. (Specifically, T&A.) By the time I left the studio, I felt like a failure. I called my friend Melissa.

“I was the worst person in the class. I felt like such a loser!” I wailed.

“Rose, snap out of it,” she said. “If you’re not good at choking yourself on a pole, that means you’re making the right life choices.”

Maybe. Clearly, you don’t have to do aerial gymnastics to a Tool song to be sexy, but no one wants to be a Kimmy Gibbler in a room full of Kelly Kapowskis. 

If I could rename the Joy of Sexy class, I would probably call it “Extremely Advanced Pole-Dancing Class for Hard-core Strippers Only, No Regular Girls Allowed.” I was hoping to get wild and have some fun, but instead I spent two hours in the throes of middle-school-level insecurity. As I get older and develop my sexuality, I’m learning that the key to feeling hot is being comfortable. If you’re in a situation where there is trust and compassion, you can do anything. Even a pussy flick.

Can You Teach ‘Sexy’? I Took a Class to Find Out