Andrea Zanin laughs when I ask her if she grew up wanting to talk about sex for a living.
“No,” she says. “But I was always different. If you knew me when I was a kid you wouldn’t be that surprised!”
Avoiding the clinical ‘sex educator’ title, Zanin chooses to go by “sex geek,” a term that accurately describes her practical yet spicy approach to the subject.
“I’ve always been fascinated by sex. As a kid I was aware of safe sex and HIV long before everyone else. My ears were just always attuned to that.”
Zanin’s upcoming workshops at Venus Envy include an old favourite — 10 Rules for Happy Non-Monogamy — and a spicy newbie — Take Five: The Pleasures of Fisting.
“Non-monogamy is always a popular workshop. There’s nothing out there on this. I found I kept running into people who were having problems with their own non-monogamous relationships.”
Having chosen non-monogamous relationships in the past, Zanin took a studied approach to the subject until she felt she understood the issues couples encounter, developing tips for ensuring harmonious non-monogamy.
She takes a deep breath. It’s a thoughtful pause before she starts explaining.
“My experience is interesting right now,” she says. “I moved in with my partner in Toronto, but at Unholy Harvest I hooked up with somebody else. That has become a rather serious relationship as well. Then just recently my two partners become lovers. Now we’re a triad; it’s beautiful and rewarding and — wow. It’s taking lots of communication because it’s challenging in how to manage it. But that communication is deepening the relationships.”
Zanin is comfortable talking about her own relationships when she leads workshops. She seems comfortable, in fact, to talk about just about anything, which helps encourage an open dialogue, particularly in workshops like Take Five.
“Oh, vaginal fisting,” Zanin says cheerfully. “That can be a really neat thing to discuss. It sounds violent and scary but it’s actually gentle and slow and incredibly intimate. Despite the fact that tons of dykes do this, there’s only one book out there that actually discusses it. So you can learn it by trial and error — ouch! — or by talking to someone who actually knows how.”
During the workshop Zanin focusses on the mechanics of fisting, discusses pain and pleasure and leads a troubleshooting session. She makes the whole kinky adventure sound like a walk in the park.
“Women’s bodies can birth babies! They can do this and it can be a beautiful experience. Its all about elasticity and relaxation.”
Zanin tours Canada and the United States, leading workshops mostly beyond the technicalities of safe sex and HIV. Her talks tend to focus on those delicate (and not so delicate) topics you always wished you could take a workshop on, but never imagined you could. They run the gamut of sexual topics from bisexuality to BDSM to all things in-between.
Zanin grew up in Montreal, part of a classic family — one mom, one dad and three older brothers. She can’t pinpoint the beginning of her fascination but her young adult years in Montreal together with a serious interest in bedroom activities meant Zanin enjoyed a variety of diverse sexual and relationship adventures.
It was Zanin’s personal experiences, coupled with what she calls her complete “lack of shame,” that grew into a thorough understanding of the complexities of sex, particularly lesbian intimacy. Still, Zanin never intended to take this career path, touring and speaking on all things kinky.
“Technically I’m a freelance writer, editor and translator. I kind of fell into this. I was volunteering with the Montreal Gayline, an activism organisation. In their training I found there was no material on addressing bisexuality. As a bisexual myself, I was able to share my perspectives and knowledge. And by the end of the session I’d been invited to teach in the upcoming training sessions. It just kind of spiralled out of control from there. That led to other workshops. And two to three times a year turned into two to three times a month.”
Hearing Zanin speak so easily about the joys of pushing sexual boundaries is a breath of fresh air for stodgy Ottawa.
“This is actually something that I like to do a lot.” Zanin laughs, “You know how it goes — you teach what you know.”
Venus Envy Workshops.
Take Five: The Pleasures of Fisting.
May 21, 7:30pm.
10 Rules for Happy Non-Monogamy.
May 22, 7:30pm.
A sneak peek at tips for the potentially poly
Know yourself, love yourself, and be happy alone
The only person who can make you happy is you, no matter how many partners you have. Start from there and your choices will be authentic rather than based in loneliness or desperation. Get therapy if you need it; poly will not fix you.
Communicate more, and more honestly
It takes more communication than you ever thought possible. And then some more. Improve your skills at every opportunity.
Go for content, not form
Don’t get stuck in a specific idea of what you want. Non-monogamy is about being open to the relationships that come to us, not forcing a certain configuration to happen.
Have safer sex
Safer sex does not mean “wear a condom.” It means learn about sex, talk about sex with your partners, and make informed choices that consider all the many factors that are important to you.
— adapted from Andrea Zanin’s 10 Realistic Rules for Good Non-Monogamous Relationships.