Goddess Amina and the Politics of Pleasure

Category: POV Podcast

Author: Aria Vega

Goddess Amina is a sex doula, intimacy coach, and somatic bodyworker based in Alajuela, Costa Rica. Her gifts as a healer have reached an ever-growing audience, from her founding of the Atlanta Institute of Tantra, to her recent appearance on Netflix’s “Sex, Love & Goop.”

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Podcast Transcript:

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Aria Vega [00:00:00] [Voiceover] This podcast contains explicit content. Listener's discretion is advised. POV by Lustery explores culture, politics and creativity in the sex industry, one point of view at a time. I'm your host, Aria Vega.

Aria Vega [00:00:17] Goddess Amina is a body worker, tantra expert, intimacy coach, and more. These days, she's based in Costa Rica in what sounds like the middle of the rainforest. As we were talking, the natural world added this dramatic score to her storytelling, which, trust me, you're going to love. I first met Amina after I moved to Atlanta in late 2017. As I was sizing up my new city and seeking out its like minded inhabitants, I found her pretty quickly, as she had established the Atlanta Institute of Tantra earlier the same year. In the short time between my arrival in the city and the onset of the pandemic, I attended her events known as Tantra Tuesdays, a vibrant weekly gathering of her followers to commune on expanding our access to pleasure. For Amina, pleasure is deeply interwoven with politics. She names this really succinctly in her Twitter bio, where she describes herself as "erotically political" and as a "pro-Black and pro-heaux revolutionary."

Goddess Amina [00:01:19] [Interview] This is really near and dear to my heart. I think that whether we know it or not, whether we admit it or not, that the body has been held hostage by politics in all its ways. Not just in pleasure, but also in pain, and also in every way that emotions show up. And I do not swallow that, and do not consume that as food. My body will show up emotional as it is supposed to, as it is my human right. It will show up sexual as it is supposed to. This is my birthright, and pleasure and sex is in there because that's heavily regulated in ways that we can't even begin to understand. We were hiking the other day and I was amazed, we were all amazed at the abundance of water moving through the mountains. I'm not sure if you saw my Reel, but we went and there are so many waterfalls where we were at, and it was just beautiful and the rocks were wet and water was streaming from the rocks, like water was everywhere... And I looked and I was sitting there just contemplating and thinking, someone walked through a space like this and said, "I'm going to sell that." And that's legal! That is legal to take a natural resource from the land, and then to sell it — a natural resource that we all need to exist, but that the land gives us abundantly — and to sell it, that that's legal. That is a legal activity. But for me to look at my own pussy and decide that I want to sell it, or sell an hour of time with it, that that is illegal. And that is what politics looks like.

Aria Vega [00:03:12] [Voiceover] This human culture of profiting from each other's needs is regarded by many as the default way to organize society. But we can always choose to center those needs in our culture instead. That's what Amina's work as a healer, educator, and body worker seeks to orient the collective toward, by shifting the focus from accruing capital to pleasure, sexuality and the body. Amina calls herself a "sex doula," borrowing a term from the realm of birth work, which she has also done.

Goddess Amina [00:03:43] [Interview] It looks like guiding someone in the same way that I did with childbirth, and preparing them for a sexual experience, first and foremost, just like the birth doula does. The birth doula sits with you, talks about your birth, you know, you may create a birth plan. I do the same thing, especially working with someone who's experienced trauma in sex where I'm like, OK, well, what do you do if this happens? What do we need to have in your sexual space so that if this happens, further harm isn't done. Identifying needs and desires, what do you want? And so we do that, which is doula work, right? And then you go have sex. You go have the baby. Doula work! And we may be there. We may be there to help you guide you through, even if not in real life, in your mind. That you have this coach that's been there with you, getting you ready to reintegrate yourself into sexual relationships with others, or to shift the way that you have sexual relationships, for a variety of people. For folks who are trans and have new bodies that they're allowing themselves to feel whole in. What does that look like, now that we're here? And then on the other side is, there's postpartum work, post-coitus work, where I'm on the other side now after you've done it, helping to reintegrate, helping to regulate, making sense of things if there's some things that didn't make sense. Having someone to talk to so that you don't get stuck in a cycle of shame and guilt. And it's really powerful, necessary work and is really heavily censored by social media giants.

Aria Vega [00:05:31] And the state! You know, there are so many laws that, even if there is no sexual contact involved in the work, there are still laws that prevent it from being done, which is such a shame. And honestly, the same goes for childbirth, too. It's not even just the adjacency to sex work, it's truly just that... It's almost like the state is offended by this notion of people getting to know their own bodies too well, and using peer guidance to move us across these... thresholds. I've heard that term used before to characterize the role of doula across their various fields, because there are death doulas and abortion doulas, there's all kinds of doulas. But what all their work has in common is that they are assisting their client in crossing a threshold, moving from one phase of life into another. And I just thought that was a very interesting characterization.

Goddess Amina [00:06:26] No, it is true.There is the holding of hands, and the learning and unlearning and relearning, right? So we can see the threshold differently, so that we can approach it with ease, hopefully, and move across it with ease in all the ways that do show up. Absolutely.

Aria Vega [00:06:43] So, you know, speaking of being guided through journeys, I'd love to learn a little bit more about your life journey. Tell me how you would characterize your upbringing.

Goddess Amina [00:06:53] Restricted and free.

Aria Vega [00:06:55] Restricted and free?

Goddess Amina [00:06:57] Yes. My mother wanted to raise free Black children, but she — and she did the best that she could do with the tools that she had, but she was the daughter of a Mississippi sharecroppers. And so although she was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, her toolbag was not very deep as far as how to offer liberation, so there was a lot of restriction. She had four girls, four beautiful girls. Her idea of what it would be like to be a girl growing up, a Black girl near a major city, just on the edge of Chicago. And what that looks like for her, Mama Bear, had a lot of restriction. But in that same space, there was a lot of freedom, and so it was confusing at times. We were not raised in the church at all. But there were certain rules and expectations that now, as I'm older, I know came from her upbringing, which was rooted in the church. And so even though she was breaking away because those things had been seen as how Black people raise their children, not necessarily how a Christian raises their children, but we saw that as super restrictive. What she did on the other side, though, was let us have immense freedom and no obligation to uphold most of the rest of the things that that come from church. We weren't allowed to eat sugar, because it was not the best thing for us, and probably not for her either to have four daughters bouncing around on sugar all very close in age. But she also taught us about why —my mother was a Black Revolutionary— so she taught us about food and the importance of it, and how we are what we eat. And just, you know, we had our own understanding of Africa and African culture, so free mentally. She let us play and laugh and not be held hostage by what society thought we were supposed to do. And so it created space for who I am now. It created a lot of space for who I am now.

Aria Vega [00:09:06] [Voiceover] There was structure and stability in the home, but plenty of turbulence, too. Enough for Amina to run away at age 14. Her father had died a few years prior, and she kept herself afloat with his death annuity, plus some other benefits. Eventually, she enrolled in college for a year but struggled to support herself through school, so she left when she was 19 for the Army Reserves. She definitely wasn't expecting a cakewalk, but she wasn't quite prepared for what she experienced, either.

Goddess Amina [00:09:38] [Interview] The US military is probably the worst place in the world that a Black woman can show up. It is violent in ways.... The microaggressions are not "micro," they are Godzilla-sized, and they are every day, every second, in every hour. I didn't know what an Alabama porch monkey was until I got to the military. That's not a microaggression, that's a macroagression. I have seen and heard Black folks be called every name in the book. I have been called n*gger while in uniform, had things thrown at me while walking down the street. The military, the US military is a disgusting place for Black people to exist, and if you whine too much, it's just expected that you're just weak and this is going to happen, "it's shitty that it happened, but suck it up and move on, soldier" is the attitude, and I wanted nothing to do with that at all. But I didn't know until I got there. It's disgusting. It's gross and it is our biggest institution.

Aria Vega [00:10:37] I hate to hear this, but unfortunately I do find some logic in the idea that this particular institution seems to exemplify, to the nth degree, almost every social problem that's experienced in the United States, particularly in terms of how marginalized people are treated, it seems especially acute within the military. This institution, which we use to export our everything, our culture and our society around the world. You know, I find this part of your story really fascinating because I think of military service, in terms of how it impacts the individual, as this intensely physical undertaking, which involves pushing the body past its known limits. And I'm curious about how your service informed your relationship with your corporeal self at the time.

Goddess Amina [00:11:36] I was a push past/through person. That was the identity that I had taken on. So I didn't have a lot of body awareness in that way. I would feel pain and I would charge on. I was a sprinter, I was a power lifter, I was powerful. And so to me, there was some pleasure, some joy that I experienced in being stronger than most of the men, being faster than most of the men. That was rewarding to me, and especially to my ego, that was really rewarding. And I wasn't spending a lot of time really in my body. In fact, I can point to, you know, on the map on the timeline of life, certain moments where my body wouldn't allow me to ignore anymore, and the way that anxiety showed up because of it. For me, in my experience and the experience that I teach to now, is that anxiety is oftentimes there as a byproduct of avoiding the body. But you can't avoid it forever. And so when those sensations show up and you thought you had no control, the next thing that will manifest is anxiety, and that's what was happening for me. And so I was deeply anxious. I had a hard time sitting still. As a human— this is a human reality, is that we like we don't like the foriegn. We like what we know. We like to go where it's comfortable and familiar. My body was unfamiliar to me.

Aria Vega [00:13:23] And at what point after your military service did that start to shift for you?

Goddess Amina [00:13:30] I started shifting during.

Aria Vega [00:13:32] Oh, during.

Goddess Amina [00:13:35] I took a job one year into the military as a sex surrogate.

Aria Vega [00:13:39] Wow, while you were there.

Goddess Amina [00:13:41] Because I was a reservist.

Aria Vega [00:13:43] And can you explain what that means?

Goddess Amina [00:13:45] Yeah! For people that don't know, reservist is not a full time soldier. We're the weekend warriors. We're the first to go to war, but you're not full time military. So and the rest of the time I worked at a full time job, I was in college still, I went back to school soon as I got back out. My only break in college was my basic training, and my advanced training in the military. So now I'm in college, I'm young, I'm cute, I want a party because I'm, you know, you're at this age, I'm like 20! At this point, I was at the University of Illinois Chicago, and life was amazing. But I still, root chakra, I needed more money. I wanted... saving money, having money, spending money. This is a part of like what made me feel good at the time. And and so even though I had a really good, actually, job that was... I was in management at the mall at the time, and I had my military stuff. I saw an ad in the Chicago Reader that said I could make three hundred dollars an hour, 350 an hour, working as a sex surrogate. I didn't know what that meant, but I knew I liked sex!

Aria Vega [00:14:48] Wow, you read that in a periodical, a public periodical.

Goddess Amina [00:14:52] Yeah, this is, to date myself, before we had the interwebs.

[00:14:57] The good old days!

[00:14:59] Right! We had the internet, we were not using it like this. And I answered the ad and I went in and met with Dr. Dauw and started working at his psychiatry practice, and he was a sexologist, is a sexologist (he's still alive). He's a psychologist and had the first — and for a long time, the only— psychology practice in the city of Chicago. And so I worked with him, and that is really what started introducing me to the concept of the body, which made me really realize that I hated the military.

Aria Vega [00:15:35] Because it was so awful to your body, and you had language for that now.

Goddess Amina [00:15:41] Right, and most of the clients that were coming in were coming in from war. Most of the men that I was working with.

Aria Vega [00:15:46] So you really could not ignore that connection, if you tried.

Goddess Amina [00:15:50] Yeah, there was no way. So here I have these men who were coming back from what was the first Gulf War, who had come back and their marriages had fallen apart, or they're they're separated from their their partner because of because they couldn't sleep through the night and they were they were going to harm someone. It was like real, real stuff that I never thought.... I mean, I had an uncle that served in Vietnam. My dad served in Korea. I knew what war did to men, kind of. But this this changed my perspective.

Aria Vega [00:16:28] [Voiceover] Amina says that this new enlightenment about the connection between emotions and the body was overwhelming at times, especially when she applied it to her own experiences. Suddenly, the job started feeling scary. The new somatic awareness, the sex work, all of it. So she quit, and moved in a very different direction.

Goddess Amina [00:16:50] [Interview] At that point, I had grown up in and around a lot of Muslims, and had spent enough time at the mosque with both chosen and blood family. And I decided, Maybe you just need to pray. And so I started praying five times a day, and stopped working as a sex worker, and started wearing hijab and covering my whole body from head to foot. I think I just want to disappear. And talk about spiritual bypassing, I had a master's degree in it. I focused all my effort and energy on prayer and the community and everybody outside of myself, and ooh my body hated it. It suffered immensely. I had, by twenty-three years old, I had so many ovarian issues and uterus issues because I had just shut everything about my erotic self, my sensual self and my womanhood, my femininity down over the years and had no place to express it, none at all whatsoever.

Aria Vega [00:17:53] [Voiceover] Although Amina continued to struggle with her health during her 20s, she did settle down and get married at one point. Then, at 27, she tried a new venture, opening a restaurant on the South Side of Chicago. That's when everything changed in a way she did not see coming.

Goddess Amina [00:18:09] [Interview] So I had parted out a day, I closed my cafe for the day and invited my girlfriends over, and said we were going to turn it into a spa for the day. Because I didn't have time to go to the spa or anything like that anymore, because once you start trying to run a restaurant, forget your life! And one of the women that I hired us off of Craigslist was a massage therapist, and she came in and set up everything. She changed my life that day, in that hour and I got on the massage table and she started working on my body, and I felt seen and whole. I was remembering that I was a whole person for an hour, for the first time in years. It was through that touch, and it's been in touch ever since, that I had my first divination. And when I got off that table, I realized I had to close my café, I had to get divorced, and I had to go become a healer. And that's what I did in the next week. I told my husband "I want to divorce" that night, I decided I was going to close the café the next week, and I enrolled in the new school for Massage and Body Work in Chicago at the end of the month, and was on my way.

Aria Vega [00:19:22] What an awakening.

Goddess Amina [00:19:24] Massage therapy, it reminded me of things Dr. Dauw had taught me in sex surrogacy, which had been, at this point, six years had passed. And so I'm seeing the tie, I'm seeing the connection. When I finished massage school, I was offering massage at home, part-time on the side as I was finishing massage school. And when I completed it and started working more publicly, I started dabbling back in erotic massage and sensual massage. And this was in 2004, I completed a massage school. 2005 I moved to Hawaii. And when I got to Hawaii, all the sensual and erotic massage was called "tantra." I had never really heard much about tantra, it was a word that I had not been made familiar with. And so I started looking into it. I started checking out library books and looking for courses, and I started realizing that there was something more to it. But I nerded out on it, and I just started reading and learning like, How do I do this tantra stuff to get more clients? And then what happened was, what I was met with was here's Buddhism, here's spirituality. Here's something more and something bigger, and then also his neo-tantra, where there's sex and sexuality. And then what about this? Here's some embodiment stuff, and here's somatics. So it's just been, I've been Alice falling down this rabbit hole ever since.

Aria Vega [00:20:58] [Voiceover] The Institute, as Amina calls it, has always centered Black folks and its teachings. As she was educating herself about tantra and developing her craft, Aminas consciousness around race was developing, too, especially as she navigated this new world.

Goddess Amina [00:21:14] [Interview] When I started this work, I wanted to have a space that I could go to that felt good, because I went to a tantra event one day when I was young and learning about tantra, and I looked at the room and I was the only Black person in the room, and I was the youngest person in the room by far by fifteen, twenty years, and I had natural hair but it was straight. And there was a water ceremony, a ceremony where they were playing in water...

Aria Vega [00:21:42] Oh no...

Goddess Amina [00:21:43] Right! I feel like every Black girl that's listening to this now is like [mutters disapprovingly] I sat over in the corner and I was not getting ready to get nowhere involved. I was I was armored there, at that moment I was armored. No, leave me alone. I'm not going over over there, I don't want nobody splashing that water on me, none of this. My hair is cute, I am cute, I'm going out after this, do not get me over there. And see, I can laugh about it now. But the reality is that if any of the leaders had Black friends, if they had a they had a culture of Black people coming to their events, if they had been reaching out to do any interaction interactive work within the Black community, they might have had a bonnet laying around.

Aria Vega [00:22:34] It was obvious to you the extent to which your experience was just not considered.

Goddess Amina [00:22:39] Yeah, I wasn't supposed to be there. That's what that told me that day, it said, This is not for you. This is for someone who can get their hair wet and go to work afterwards. And my mother, raised a free Black girl revolutionary. Now I got a Black girl attitude about the whole situation. So when I decided what the Tantra Institute would be, I decided that it would be in a way that held us specifically, that it had to center our experience. And so I center Black women first, Black women and femme, and then from there we'll center the whole world. I mean, from then the whole world gets in, they don't get centered. So by centering us and our experiences, everyone else will be safe if we make sure it's safe for the Black woman to attend. If we make sure it's safe for the Black non-binary femme to attend, then everyone else by default will be safe. And if you can't agree with that, then you can't play with us and our toys. I don't care, simple. The world is your oyster, don't come over here.

Aria Vega [00:23:51] [Voiceover]The Atlanta Institute of Tantra may only be about five years old, but word has traveled fast. In mid-2020, Netflix producers contacted Amina about appearing in an episode of Sex, Love & Goop, the show spawned by Gwyneth Paltrow's woo-woo wellness brand. The show features couples on a sex retreat exploring novel paths to intimacy with various healers, including Amina, who's featured in the third episode. The experience was full of pleasant surprises for her.

Goddess Amina [00:24:22] [Interview] It was the most powerful experience, and I say this— I hope this doesn't get anybody in trouble, but this is like my thing, is that in this space where we're having this deeply vulnerable conversations about sex and sexuality and pleasure and taboo and the whole set was women. There was not a man working the set, and it just felt incredibly safe and curated in a way that I did not expect [in] Hollywood. I mean, she thought of everything. I showed up with a bag full of makeup because I was like, I'm not about to play with these white people on this television show. Let me show you all my colors that I need. And I walked into the most beautiful, divine, delicious Black goddess makeup artist who is actually a consultant in Hollywood, and teaches people in Hollywood how to make sure you have properly trained makeup artists for Black skin and she, I mean, you saw the work. She knew what she was doing, and she slayed my face, "beat the face" as the kids say, and it was just this whole... Like it was so incredibly thoughtful and thought out.

Aria Vega [00:25:33] The couple that that you were working with on the show was a a sixty-something married straight couple who were dealing with mismatched levels of desire. The husband had a lot of sexual energy that he was looking to expend, and the wife was struggling with feeling a little bit stuck in her head, too stuck in her head to enjoy how her body was feeling during sex. And the first thing that you did to try to help them was the animal crawl, which was a little exercise designed to help them channel their more primal side. And I'm curious how you came up with that because it really seemed effective at breaking down that initial barrier.

Goddess Amina [00:26:12] Yeah, I imagined that exercise a couple of years ago as I created the Atlanta Tantra Festival. So what if we all were just like, let go of this upright human behavior that allows you to kind of lift your head up and say, Well, I'm up here. It brings us down to a space where we are all seeing each other, nobody tall or short. There's nobody more articulate than the other. We're just showing up as we exist. And it's been a very helpful tool for me to work as an icebreaker and sometimes as an icebreaker for people who don't know that they're stuck in ice. People that have been in relationships for a long time. And Joy and Mike were not married, they're dating.

Aria Vega [00:26:58] They're not married, oh! I assumed.

Goddess Amina [00:27:02] Right, right. Because that is what we would assume, to an elder couple. But they started dating, they're both divorced and they started dating as seniors, and have been together for a very long time as seniors. They do things together. They experience their life together, but they really got a chance to be playful and to hear each other in that playfulness, which is such a beautiful part of communication.

Aria Vega [00:27:32] That's Goddess Amina: sex doula and tantra extraordinaire. You can find the Atlanta Institute of Tantra at atltantra.org, and Amina is on Twitter and Instagram @atltantra. For more of Amina's wise words and soothing voice, she's got a podcast too, called Fix Your Sex Podcast. You can find it wherever you're listening now. I'd love to hear from more military veterans whose service has impacted their relationship with their body, sex, or both. If you'd like to be featured, send an email or a voice memo to askaria@lustery.com, or you can find me on Twitter @vegadreamcast. You can always remain anonymous. By the way, listener, happy Women's History Month! Today, POV is launching our first mini-documentary in honor of International Women's Day. It's called PornograHERs, where we take you through an abbreviated history of women who peddle smut. You'll probably recognize the narrator. Before you leave the site, be sure to enjoy 50 percent off your new Lustery subscription. Promo ends March 13th. If you're into the show, please leave us a five-star rating and a review. POV is brought to you by Lustery, and this episode was hosted by me, Aria Vega. It was edited and produced by Kathryn Fischer and Adrienne Teicher, and our showrunner is Paulita. Pappel. Lustery is the home of real-life partners filming their sex lives behind closed doors. If you're 18 or older, you can find us at Lustery.com, and we're on Twitter and Instagram @lusterypov. Peace out, lovers!