This was the cover article for the January/February edition of Coastal Woman Magazine.



Santa Barbara's own sexpert,
Pamela Madison, shares her
secrets to:

Great Sex

Photography by JAY SIGAL

Reprinted with permission from Coastal Woman Magazine

It seems ironic that I would be asked to write about women’s sexuality, as I have been married and monogamous for more than twenty years. Looking back, my youthful sexual escapades seem downright tame, cute somehow. I don’t own a vibrator and until I began researching this story, I had been in an adult bookstore only once, on a drunken night out with the girls. Though my discussions with girlfriends have spiced up in recent Sex and the City days, there isn’t a lot of talk about sex in my world.

How am I, or any woman, to learn about sex beyond just the ins and outs, pun intended? I try to blame my mother, but to be fair, she was probably less informed than I was. She could teach me how to select a good melon, but not how to have an orgasm. What about my gal pals? Why don’t we talk about what makes for killer fellatio? To admit not knowing about blow jobs is just not cool.

There’s been little actual technical training about women’s sexuality. Studies yes, but training no. But this is changing. To listen to Pamela Madison of the Santa Barbara Women’s Sexuality Center, there are now more resources about women’s sexuality than ever before, including women-oriented adult bookstores, all-girl sex courses, websites offering creatively designed toys, and books by the dozen.

Sacred Sex

"Sex isn’t something you do," Pamela says, "it is a way of being." She’s a practitioner and teacher of the Hindu Tantric traditions, sex educator and healer, acupuncturist, and a pioneer in the field of female sexuality. A native of Santa Barbara who is raising her fourteen-year-old son here, she founded the Women’s Sexuality Center in 1994. Raised a devout Mormon, as an adult she found fear and shame kept her from enjoying sex.

Pamela Madison

Energetic and exuberant with a waterfall of dark hair, Pamela embraced the quest for sexual confidence and satisfaction as whole-heartedly as she had embraced religious life. She bought every sex book she could find, but a book on Tantric sex she found in the now-closed Earthling Bookstore clicked for her.

"Many of us have had a sexual experience unlike any other, one that took us to the heights of passion and the depths of our core," she says. "We may have felt more love and ecstasy than ever before and a timeless, sacred union with our partner. Ancient cultures understood this ecstatic sacred union between was one of their paths to God. This all clicked for me. I didn’t want to be sexual until sex was part of my spirituality."

Masters and Johnson weren’t the first to detail women’s sexuality, response triggers, and cycles. The tantricas knew about the G-spot, which they called the Satsunyata or Goddess Spot, centuries before Dr. Grafenberg "discovered" it. Same with female ejaculation, which tantricas called Amrita, Water of Life or Nectar of the Goddess. But experts both modern and ancient agree: women are powerful sexual beings, capable of mind-blowing, even transformative, sexual expression.

Pamela has made it her life work to teach others how to make extended pleasure and ecstasy a part of everyday life. Her workshops on sexual empowerment and the sacredness of sex resonate with women of all ages and backgrounds. Going to the G-spot and beyond, she helps women experience their own sexuality in seminars containing no nudity or sexually explicit activity. But there is homework—homework unlike any I’d ever had.

The All Important Orgasm

Today’s society is goal oriented, and it is no surprise women have been seduced into believing orgasm is everything—how many times, vaginally or clitorally, at the same time as your partner, loudly or softly. The pressure is sure on. If you don’t come or fake it, you’re a failure at sex. Orgasm is the goal, right?

"In Tantra, there is no goal of orgasm," Pamela says during a class session. "Instead, the focus is in on connection and the building and exchanging of energy." Her dark eyes sparkle in the candlelight. She is leading an evening class in the Mission Street Center. It is decorated more like a yoga classroom or an ashram, with low lighting, a wafting scent of incense, and lovely Eastern-influenced artwork featuring depictions of goddesses.

A dozen women participants are in a circle, resting comfortably on the floor, notebooks and pens scattered about. Pamela is teaching us how to move our kundalini, or sexual energy, through the chakras, the seven psychic energy centers running up the spine. By using sounds, breathing and visualization, we practice with our eyes closed. And an amazing thing happens. Energy is moving, swirling upwards, blasting through the top of my head, whipping around to re-enter at the base of my spine. I hear a buzzing over the chanting and see colored lights sparkle.

When we stop, eyes pop open and we smile at each other like giddy children. "Did you feel that?" asks Pamela. We nod, still buzzing. "Imagine being touched in that state." We nod and grin. "Tantra is about the ecstatic state, extended pleasure...." she says, and then pauses before continuing. "Though the goal is not orgasm, these practices do help women have more powerful orgasms, and the greater likelihood of multiple and extended orgasms."

The homework? Practice, of course. My husband was thrilled. At the next meeting, those of us in relationships reported on our assignment in glowing terms. At the break, there was a crush in the center’s little boutique as we lined up for "extra credit"—buying vibrators, G-spotters, scented lubricants and erotic literature.

Exercising Those Muscles

Following childbirth, a friend advised me to "pay as much attention to your vaginal muscles as you do to your thighs" to get back in shape. Urologist Dr. Kegel treated women with urinary incontinence by having them regularly squeeze the vaginal muscles. The women who did returned with good news; not only did they stop dribbling, they were having better orgasms.

A basic discussion of female anatomy, complete with diagrams and arrows, is needed for many women to find their G-spot, named for Dr. Grafenberg, who brought it to prominence in modern times. This magic spot is located just an inch or so inside the vagina, on the part that feels "ridgey," much like the roof of your mouth. This is the urethral sponge, which becomes engorged when a woman becomes aroused.

Here’s the surprise: by stimulating the G-spot, women ejaculate. In fact, the stronger their vaginal muscles, the better able they are to ejaculate with orgasm. "I thought I was peeing during orgasm," confessed one woman in the G-spot seminar. But this ejaculate is actually released through two tiny glands on either side of the urethra.


Don’t Talk About It

Perhaps the most difficult subject to broach among straight folks is anal sex. Though other cultures routinely include this in their sexual repertoires, we up-tight repressive Americans often can’t go there. "There is a huge amount of shame, fear and prejudice surrounding anal sex in our culture," notes Pamela. But biologically, the fact is irrefutable: there are thousands of nerve endings in this area. Gay men know it, as did the tantricas.

"[The anus] is the base chakra, the seat of power" says Pamela, who dedicates an evening class to this subject. "Anal sex can offer intense pleasure for women. Some women prefer their sacred spot stimulated through anal contact, and it can be a wonderful source of pleasure for women who find vaginal stimulation uncomfortable or painful." An understanding, patient partner and plenty of lubrication are key. Pamela suggests using a baby bottle warmer to keep the bottles of "lubes" nice and warm. The mothers in the room laugh uproariously, one exclaiming, "Had I only known!"

Women also don’t talk much about masturbation, or self-pleasuring, as Pamela prefers. She suggests exploring the base chakra alone first, if need be, and displays a number of anal stimulators, humorously referred to as "butt plugs." Her light-hearted but matter-of-fact demeanor immediately sets us all at ease, even when she unveils a basket brimming over with sex toys for solo play. Again, there is homework, and the line at the boutique.

Not This Year, Dear

Decreased sex drive can affect women at any point in their lives, but a low libido can be dealt with. It’s just that many women are too ashamed to seek help.

A big part of Pamela’s private practice is helping women heal from bad sexual experiences, trauma, or an inconsiderate partner. "I bridge between modern psychotherapy and true body healing," Pamela explains.

But running outta gas is another issue altogether. "Your libido can’t get lost, but it can go to sleep," Pamela notes. "What I do is try to find a way to wake it up."

Pamela has identified seven keys for women to increase orgasmic energy, a godsend for those with low libido. She is writing a book, which includes these practices and exercises culled from her twenty years of work.

Where to start? In the bedroom, of course. Transform it into a romantic space by removing or hiding computers and TVs, and replacing them with fresh flowers, luscious plants, scented candles and other mood-makers. "Create an altar with your partner to remind you that this is a space for sacred play, sexual union, and even healing," suggests Pamela.


Back in class the following week, Pamela gets passionate. "The power of a woman’s sexuality is a birthright," she says emphatically. "We’ve had no good role models, but we are the generation that is going to break through and reach for more potential."

Though men have more physical strength and energy, women actually take the lead in sexual energy, she notes. "Women can go higher energetically, and take their partners higher than they could have otherwise. Whether or not we have a partner, by remaining in this ecstatic state, we experience who we really are: not in the psychological way, but spiritually. We then come out of sex not feeling exhausted, but restored.

"We can discover that where we would usually stop after an orgasm, is really just the gate to a higher, more ethereal realm. It is just the beginning."

The Women’s Sexuality Center is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday at 30 West Mission Street, Suite 8. Call 805.729.2590 or visit

Courtney DuVal says she has never enjoyed her research more than for this article, and her husband is encouraging her to continue her studies in this area. She reports he has stopped complaining about her shopping sprees.

Toys for Grownup Girls

The Women’s Sexuality Center has a small yet tasteful boutique and offers items not easily found, such as vaginal-strengthening eggs and weight systems. It is a very pleasant place to shop, especially for the retail sex neophyte.

Locally, the Riviera on upper State lives up to its "superstore" moniker. The width, breadth and length of the vibrators alone make my knees weak. Though the majority of the store is dedicated to films, the toy area is crammed full of items for every taste, in every price range. The sales staff has a great sense of humor and is quite helpful. The Riviera is open 10 a.m. to midnight every day.

There are several women-friendly online resources. My favorite is, started by two suburban soccer moms. The site has the usual toys, but also features lingerie, erotica (to both read and write), current women’s health issues, and ideas for romantic evenings. Definitely for women, by women, easy to use and very private! Another,, is a worker-owned, women-owned cooperative and is the online extension of its three retail stores located in San Francisco and Berkeley, which you absolutely must visit when you are in the area.

—Courtney DuVal