I recently had the pleasure of having a chat with Anna Berankova, who has recently facilitated a series of free, women’s sexual-exploration workshops at the 519 and is preparing for the launch of her memoir due out this spring, which looks into the interconnectedness of sex to the physical, spiritual and mental realms of being.
While there are a bevy of wonderful angles that could be taken to describe her body of work, I was most interested in her activism and advocacy around sexuality, and why and how Anna came to the realization of needing to do this work.
In a radio interview with FemCon that can be easily accessed on her home page, Anna cites the words of renowned sex therapist Gina Ogden to respond to the interviewer’s question: what is sex to you?
Sex, according to Ogden, is more than just a physical and genital act. Rather, sex is a joyous and satisfying opening of vital energy that exemplifies the connection of body, mind, heart and soul. Ogden adds that sexual responses can be perceived to lead not only to a sense of wholeness with oneself, but also a sense of oneness with partners and all that is the universe.
Similar to Ogden, Anna believes that sex and intimacy can be pictured as a free-flowing self-expression. I really enjoy this statement because of how it implies that sexuality is something that has a presence in every facet of our day-to-day routines.
Sex, as it is typically imagined, is thought of as something that is relegated to a private, closed off space and carried out under strict regulations, codes of behaviour and guidelines. But when conceptualized as a free flowing self expression, I find it fascinating that you can link this chain of thinking more deeply to think about how sex and sexuality are actually so regulated in public spaces and public life by laws, norms and attitudes. Perhaps it could be that sex and sexuality are actually very present in experiences of the everyday?
A particular concept Anna brought up in one of her radio interviews was a term called “holding space.” I’ve heard about terms like “taking up space” and “occupying space,” but in my experience, both these terms had generally negative connotations and I wondered how else the word “space” could be used as a descriptor for positive concepts. Anna explains:
“Sexuality is different for each of us, at different points in our lives, and will even vary in the span of a conversation. […] Building solid communication and constant check-in for consent is often non-negotiable in more adventurous pursuits, but just as necessary in our day-to-day relationships. […]”
Now maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think there is ever a life situation where solid communication and a constant check-in for consent wouldn’t be more affirming for all parties involved!
Anna’s workshops focus on using art as a tool to reflect on how sexuality is related to the themes of spirit, nurture, safety, gender, orientation, kink and intimacy through a grassroots and bottom-up lens. And while they are only for those over the age of 18 and for all women-identified folks, the workshops operate according to the assumption that every woman is her own expert.
Anna decided to start her workshops during a period of shift in a relationship two years ago. She benefited from the guidance of mentors and through attending other workshops that inspired her to use her strengths to convey her emotional journey to other girls and women. Some of the fantastic activities that she has done in her workshops have included engaging with the issue of body image through clay-molding, printing sex-positive messages on post-cards and re-writing movie scenes through sassy feminist sock-puppets. I think it is splendid that Anna approaches her advocacy and activism through multiple fronts.
She also has her memoir, Dance with Intimacy, coming out, which focuses on her personal journey with sexuality. This memoir is about an intimacy that is sexy, yet has little to do with the act of sex itself. Rather, it is about playfulness, creativity, philosophy, values, friendships, growing pains, curiosities, mistakes and learning.
The workshops follow the same six themes as the book. They both look at sexuality as tied to: spirit, nurture, safety, gender, orientation and sensuality. Both the book and workshops are meant to create a safe, fun and accessible space for women to have meaningful introspection on their sexuality.
Anna also recently completed and performed in her own play, “Sex Actually,” in January 2012. To add to that, she also lists the names and bios of people she draws inspiration from in her own work as resources on her website for anyone curious to dig deeper.
If there is one message Anna would choose to pass on, it would be to honour our bodies, and by extension our minds, souls and intuitions. In order to honour our bodies, Anna puts emphasis on the concept of self-love as a pivotal component of her work:
“[Self-love] is only a word. We give it meaning through the experience and expression of our truest selves. Its those uninhibited moments when we’re aligned with the elements that were whole. We’re all born with layers of loneliness, vulnerability and alienation. It takes time to work to peel them away and catch glimpses of truest nature, which is love. We already are pure love and don’t have to look anywhere for it.”