Anne O Nomis, dominatrix, author, archaeologist and sex educator at Passionfruit, has just arrived back from her European travels, and she has a new spring in her step, and a new course offering what we think will be of great interest to many of our readers. Anne's new work, curiously, is on libido.
Now some may see this as a bit of a move away from her former work. Anne is after all known for her work on the Dominatrix. (She authored the major book which is known worldwide, 'The History & Arts of the Dominatrix', and teaches Dominatrix Seven Realm Arts and Art of FemDom Relationship courses here at Passionfruit, and Villa Domme in Tuscany).
Lady Mephista and Anne at Villa Domme in Tuscany
However this shift in focus to libido all makes sense when you consider that Anne's background is driven by a life-long curiosity to explore the topic of sexuality, including female sexuality, publications and artworks which have been hidden away and regarded as taboo.
So we were obviously keen to speak with Anne about her new research and course offering, which begins in September 2019 at Passionfruit. (And warning: Anne's courses frequently sell-out in advance. So if you're keen to come, we recommend you book your spot promptly, to avoid disappointment.)
So Anne, you've just got returned from your travels in Europe. Did you have a great time? We're of course very jealous.
Haha. Yes I went to London where I gave a talk at the Freud Museum in Maresfield Gardens, and then on to Tuscany to teach Villa Domme - which is taught in a 19th Century castle, built for a Countess, with big grounds full of lush trees. It was attended by famous Dominatrices from the USA and Europe, as well as lifestyle Mistresses - and their submissives or slaves. And afterwards I went to the Greek Islands to visit the island of Delos, which was the mythical birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, and I wanted to see the archaeology and artwork on the island.
At the temple of Aphrodite on Delos
And you're offering a completely new course that you've been working away on. Tell us about that.
Yes the new course is called "Seeking Inanna: Activating Libido and Sexual Desire". And there have been a couple of things that have come together to create the topic. And to be open and honest, I'll have to get a bit personal if that's ok?
Absolutely - go ahead.
So some years ago, I had a boyfriend, who some five or six months into our relationship completely went off sex. I struggled to understand it. I tried different things. I wanted to see a counseller with him - he wasn't keen. He told me he had the same thing happen in previously relationships. I thought "I'm sexually open-minded, I'm reasonably intelligent, I should be able to work this out." But after it went on and on for some months, I felt increasingly rejected, unattractive, undesirable. And helpless. I didn't know what to do. I loved him, but the issue was causing real problems in our relationship.
He did eventually go to counselling, but we broke up and that was one of the biggest issues we were having, and it was a very sad time. I didn't understand how someone could just go off sex like that, and not be committed to working through it or putting in some effort. And then, almost prophetically, years later, I fell pregnant and gave birth to my daughter, and found my own libido not quite disappear but certainly feel like it was wilting. For the first time in my life, I couldn't understand where my libido had gone.
Childbirth and the demands of an infant is a common thing to affect libido, sleep deprivation and all.
Yes absolutely. Body changes. The physical impact of giving birth, for some even trauma. There's bleeding, for some caesarian section which is not a small operation. The weight you've gained, which for many doesn't drop off magically like it appears to do for celebrities in the magazines. Although I'm sure there's a lot of personal training and dieticians that are behind-the-scenes in those transformations. Then there's the sleep deprivation. The being surrounded by nappies. Breasts leaking milk, blocked milk ducts, for those breastfeeding. But I'm talking even after that immediate post-giving-birth aftermath period, my libido still wasn't bouncing back. I felt then that I had a real problem on my hands. And I set to researching everything I could about libido.
Of course you did! And so what did you find in all that research on libido?
I found very interesting data from the latest sex research, on things that affect libido. And yes it confirmed that childbirth and having children under 5 most commonly can affect women's self-reported libido level. There's various reasons behind that, which I go into in my course. But there are many other factors that can affect libido also; from depression, to fatigue and sleep deprivation, to diabetes, to medication, to menopause for women.
And men don't escape either - it's common that men report increasing erectile dysfunction and concerns about lower libido reported by some with ageing, hormones have a role and free testosterone, people with very conservative religious backgrounds and shame around sex can impact their self-reported libido and sexual desire. There are many factors, basically.
Another less spoken about but which crosses over my Dominatrix background is people with fetishes and kinks which are so strong that they don't desire sex unless it includes their fetish.
Relationship dynamics can also affect libido, particularly resentment, often around household chores and one person pulling much more of the weight around the house. And there's things that can work as brakes on desire; such as feeling they or their partner is smelly, or the house is messy and dishes need to be done, and things that for them need to be "just right" before they feel free to have sex and to enjoy sex. And often those factors their partner doesn't really understand, because they're not factors for the partner. So that can lead to a lot of frustration and misunderstanding, particularly if there seems to be a real mis-match of libidos of the parties within a relationship.
Also some people experience what is referred to as spontaneous desire that hits them like a thunderbolt, and for some it's responsive desire that is turned on by a kind of dance between themselves and their partner. That might be, for example, by being complimented, appreciated, admired, by being touched in a nice way, by flirtation and teasing, by eye contact and desire starting to warm up within them, leading to physical foreplay and sex.
But actually that foreplay in the dynamic started before the physical foreplay. So there's a lot that can be done, positively, to activate libido and sexual desire, and that was what was really interesting to me. That it wasn't all problems and negatives. That there were some positive effective things that could be done. And once I understood what was going on, what was very interesting is that so much of it also overlapped my research on ancient sex Goddess rituals which I had ironically been researching for nearly seven years, and had fallen pregnant with my daughter while researching. In fact some of my friends joked it was the sex ritual research that caused me to fall pregnant.
Without giving everything away, can you tell us about how the sex Goddess research overlapped with your libido research?
Yes of course. From the third millennia BCE in Mesopotamia, and it likely goes back even earlier, there was the major festival of the year honouring the sex Goddess, Inanna. Now the whole point of the ritual was to please the Goddess, who was responsible for libido and sexuality on earth.
Archaeologists and ancient world historians know about this ritual from a body of literature which are known as Sumerian love songs, as well as historical documents we have from different periods, and reference to the ritual. It's usually named from the much later Greek term of 'hieros gamos' or sacred marriage, but actually the ritual was called 'qursu' - which translates as sex ritual, or fucking ritual, literally translated. And what greatly interests me in relation to libido, is that everything about the ritual was designed to activate sexual desire.
There was self-praise of the vulva and breasts as being beautiful, by the woman herself in the songs. There was the setting up of a perfumed chamber with an ornate bed with linens and flowers. The Goddess - who was likely played by a priestess bathed and washed with special soap, was anointed with a special perfume oil with myrrh. She was beautified with cosmetic make-up and kohl eye-liner mascara, and dressed in a garment described as heavenly.
The man playing her consort, the God Dumuzi, arrives bearing gifts, and lavishing attention, compliments and admiration onto Inanna. And she reciprocates, admiring and taking in his beauty and attributes, and there are beautiful lines back-and-forth between them in the BALBALE sex songs. And she desires the bed and for her vulva to be filled. And her pleasure is the focus.
She must be pleasured or all libido, sexuality and fertility on earth will be affected, and in later periods the ritual was somewhat hijacked by the various Assyrian Kings ruling, but they continued the ritual practice and sought to please the Goddess and receive her blessing for a prosperous reign and abundance. And the ritual sex was followed by a procession with feasting and revelry of people joining in the festivities. Often a garden is the setting, and there is lots of music and wine, dancing and revelry, and everyone having a grand time by all accounts.
There is an amazing bowl from Cyprus in the British Museum, excavated from Paphos which was the location of Aphrodite's Sanctuary, which features a couple having sex "a tergo", with the woman bent over being fucked from behind, and a couple perhaps meant to represent the same couple lying side-by-side with their limbs entwined, with ritually dressed women and large plants.
But in any case what I find so fascinating is the ritual components which were to activate libido and please the Goddess, and how closely these overlap with the modern-day idea of responsive desire.
And indeed, speak to any male sex worker offering services for women, and he'll talk about how his experience of being a sex worker has changed his entire understanding of what women want.
Ritual sex bowl
Oh interesting. And so what does he say women want?
He says they typically want to go out for dinner, to be wined and dined, talk and be heard. They want the opportunity to dress up, to be admired, appreciated, complimented and to be desired. They might have a particular fantasy in mind, and sexual submission to a handsome man who desires them is probably the most common but there are many, a particular setting, a roleplay or quite vanilla sex.
I hear this kind of flavour of amazement and revelation often when I speak to a male sex worker. And I get some opportunities in my job, consulting and teaching Domination courses. That they didn't previously realise how much women desired these things; to be appreciated, complimented, listened to, to be desired, to be flirted with, teased and touched in a pleasurable way, to elicit desire.
And the preparation of bathing and getting dolled up, and the ritual of that, putting on perfume and strapping on some shoes and an outfit they feel good in, and feeling beautiful and feeling desired is so often part of creating the mood of a special night. Of course sex can be within a completely different context and needn't always be with an elaborate night, but nonetheless I find it very interesting in reading about the idea of responsive desire.
The other things that's always interesting to hear about is people's fantasies, fetishes and kinks, or desire for a particular setting or novelty, or roleplay, as they're almost always great for sparking sexual desire.
And with your background in Dominatrix arts, you must have heard and know a fair amount about that?
Yes absolutely. I've heard so much that would get an excited eyebrow lift and smile on my face. But also I hear a lot of people expressing shame around their sexual desires and kinks, due to stigma around sexuality and what is found to be socially acceptable or not.
I receive a lot of individuals and couples for consults, where one partner has desires which the other person doesn't understand, and I hope from my work with them that they come to understand them better. I think some of the most important ingredients around all of this - is empathy, really listening and being empathetic to the other person who's being honest and vulnerable, and to stay curious. For the partner not to go into a state of judgment; that's the worst thing someone can do. To ask "tell me more, because I'm curious to know what it is about that which you find so thrilling. I want to listen to what you've got to say, and to better understand." And to hold an open mind and a large heart. And that, funnily enough, was the title of a song to the sex Goddess Inanna, was 'Lady of the Largest Heart'.
And for some time in ancient Mesopotamia the heart was thought to hold what we think of today of the mind. So 'Lady of the Largest Heart' could equally be said to be 'Lady of the Largest Mind', in reference to Inanna. And indeed she had people of different sex and gender identity and role serving her, all having a place within her religion. So in 2019, I see the relevance of this philosophy as so helpful to attending to issues of sexuality and libido - of having mercy, compassion, and seeking to be of largest heart - and mind.
Anne, thank you. We'll leave it there. And for those interested in Anne's course, 'Seeking Inanna: Activating Libido and Sexual Desire: Modern Science to Ancient Ritual", it begins on Thursday 5th September from 7 - 9 pm, and runs weekly for 7 weeks until the 17th October. You can book here.
And people are welcome to come as single, or as a couple. And naturally in the spirit of Inanna, we welcome people of all sex, gender and role identities.
Sign up to our newsletter to stay on top of blog posts, cat gifs and events! (mostly cats)