In this day and age, relationship issues outnumber people. Yet, there is still stigma attached to addressing these issues. Fortunately, things seem set to change under the guidance of new-age relationship experts like Mumbai-based Aili Seghetti, who is an intimacy coach and founder of The Intimacy Curator, an organization that promotes self-discovery through emotional and sexual wellbeing. In this chat with Sunday Guardian, she explains what she does and how she helps her clients. Excerpts from an edited interview:
Q. Why did you choose to enter this field?
A. I have been living in India for 15 years and have worked in the field of design thinking driven consumer research for a decade with clients like Tinder, Bumble, Facebook, Google, and Pinterest. The skills and frameworks used in my research are directly related to psychology and psychotherapy although the goals are different. In consumer research, one works with advertisers (agencies and brands) with the aim of selling goods and services, while in psychotherapy the same frameworks are used to help people process experiences and emotions. I wanted to offer a more directional service that included co-created solutions for people facing intimacy challenges and so I used my design thinking skills when I planned this business.
I hold a degree in Hindi and Cultural Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) London and a certificate in Orientation to Psychotherapy and Facilitation from Spring Counselling and Psychotherapy Centre. I then attended a Sex and Intimacy Coaching course at The Somatica Institute in LA, a course in Neurodynamic Breathwork and one in Compassionate Inquiry designed in collaboration with Dr Gabor Maté, expert in trauma, addiction, stress and childhood development.
All this equipped me to begin counselling in 2019. I launched The Intimacy Curator after I realised that I needed a team to address these unique spaces in the sphere of intimacy. My goal was to create a space for people to explore themselves through emotional and physical intimacy by normalising their experiences.
Q. How do clients reach out to you?
A. I’m based in Mumbai but travel to different cities across the year. My clients come from different places in India and abroad including Indore, Madurai, Kolkata, Gurugram, and Bengaluru. I also have international clients from Mauritius, UK, USA, Dubai, Singapore, and Australia.
I mainly cater to a South Asian clientele as I have been exposed to both South Asian and global culture and understand specific cultural scenarios such as joint families and arranged marriages. I speak Hindi so that also helps with clients who are not fluent in English.
Q. What sets you apart from others in this field?
A. The Somatica Method I use is unique to India. It is an experiential method suitable for people who are interested in exploring intimacy hands on. It’s a great tool for clients with low sex drive and fear of physical intimacy, as well as those who have more debilitating issues such as sexual abuse trauma, erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation.
Most sex therapists offer talk therapy and therefore do not fill the gap between theory and actual physical practice. During sessions the experiential learning is done through touch, cuddling and intimacy role play – something still taboo in the country.
This method is different from sex surrogacy, or sexological bodywork, as clothes are kept on and genitals are not touched. The sessions are the closest one can get to physical intimacy within legal boundaries and are extremely useful for people who are afraid of reaching out to partners, for any reason.
Abroad, what sets me apart from other Somatica coaches is my awareness of South Asian culture. I have very close emic and etic viewpoints of how intimacy is addressed in the South Asian context.
Q. What have been the biggest challenges of setting up your business?
A. It has been tough to find spaces to conduct sessions, and I’ve also had to deal with the challenges of not being able to advertise like most other brands. People are reluctant to share details of their private lives, so word of mouth doesn’t work either. Essentially, this is a new category/industry. People still don’t see the value of talking to a professional about intimacy – they see it as something that should be done for free. People want fast solutions. They also prefer buying products such as sex toys or use medication to solve issues of a sexual nature. But the problem is that intimacy is built in the mind and no product or pill can solve that.
Q. What are young men and women looking for in successful relationships/ marriages these days?
A. They are looking for ‘everything’ in their relationships and that’s the main cause of distress and fear. They expect their partners to be their best friends, best sexual partners, confidants, travel buddies, spiritual companions, bonded with all their family members…It’s an extensive list and we forget that it never used to be like that. They (or their parents) then compare modern relationships with those of the previous generation and feel that youngsters are failing. The context is different and today we have more expectations in general, so it should be about prioritising one’s needs and finding out about oneself rather than finding the right match.
Q. Please talk about your proprietary methods unique to you?
A. Using design thinking we have developed frameworks to:
Understand one’s unique sexual dimension – what would make physical intimacy meaningful to you, what actions, moods and feelings can be used to do that
Minimise ruptures and risks in long term relationships
Orient people to consensual non-monogamy and kink
Q. Which is your most popular service and why do you think it’s most popular?
A. Infidelity Navigation and Alternative Lifestyle are popular services although they are related to other services like Mismatched Desires, or people not connecting on a physical level. Broadly, issues such as porn addiction, erectile dysfunction, inability to orgasm, premature ejaculation, communication and boundaries issues etc., are part of the reasons people opt for those services. People get married thinking they will make it work but they don’t have the tools to do that. They are uncomfortable talking about physical and emotional intimacy so they hardly know what they want themselves. Physical attraction also naturally decreases as time goes by and people don’t want to give up on their partners.
Dating Surrogacy and Matchmaking 2.0 are other services we offer which have become more popular in the past month because they are new concepts and people are curious about how they work.
We are looking to expand towards more collective experiences through organising events, workshops, exhibitions and creating physical spaces to learn about intimacy in a broader way.
This is to help people create deeper and more fulfilling relationships with one another, and not necessarily in a romantic context. It could be between siblings, parents and kids, co-workers, friends, etc.
Noor Anand Chawla pens lifestyle articles for various publications and her blog www.nooranandchawla.com. She can be reached on [email protected]