On the first Tuesday of every month a group of 50 to 100 people gather in New York City.
They sit in a circle and share personal stories based on themes chosen collectively by the group. The only parameter: the topic must be related to sex, dating or relationships.
Sometimes they talk about cheating on a significant other. Other sessions focus on being friends with benefits. Last month they talked about the value of open relationships.
The concept is basic: Real people. Sitting together. Talking sex.
Basic, but also novel in a culture where much of our communicating—whether you’re meeting new people, dating or in a relationship—is done through an illuminated screen. When’s the last time you sat face to face with someone and talked at length on any topic, let alone sex?
The town hall—called Touchpoint—offers a safe space to cultivate those in-person connections, giving people the chance to talk about dating, navigating relationships and having sex in the modern world. Which, we can all agree, is far from easy.
It was in response to his observation that modern love is really tricky that Jared Mathew Weiss founded Touchpoint. “We’re meeting more people, going to more places, learning more about ourselves and the world, and so who we are and what we want is evolving more rapidly than ever before,” he said. “Traditional concepts around what makes a relationship work in the modern world are being challenged, every day. Everything—from our jobs to our leases, our technologies to our trends—are more immersive, intense and short-lived. How do things like monogamy, marriage, sexuality and personal evolution fit together in a world that continues to surprise us with new ideas, opportunities and freedoms?”
There are so many rules and expectations surrounding dating and sex, and these things fuel insecurities around our feelings and bodies, which complicate the situation even further.
Weiss’ solution? Provide people with a safe space to ask questions and talk openly about these issues, with a mission to make it easier to love and be loved.
“Each one of us has had unique experiences, expectations and epiphanies,” he said. “We need a place to share them, aggregate them, and learn from them—together.”
And it seems to be working.
“I loved the concept as soon as I heard about it,” said Anna*, who has attended Touchpoint six times. “I love learning from people with a wide spectrum of experience and perspectives. I specifically wanted to explore broader definitions of what a relationship is and could be.”
“I was a little nervous going into my first meeting, but the minute I met Jared his altruistic energy put my mind at ease,” said Corey Rae, who has attended four Touchpoint events, one at which she shared her very personal story of losing her virginity as a transgender woman. “As I took my shoes off at the entrance of the space (it’s a must for anyone attending) I instantly felt a sense of community.”
Others attend with more specific personal goal in mind: “I was initially motivated to attend Touchpoint by the desire to hear people’s stories. I wanted to know if people were having similar experiences to me, or if there was something out there that I was really missing when it came to partnerships, sex and love,” said Chelsea Glincman. “I was hoping that by listening to other people, I would figure out why I was fearful of commitment, or if intimacy means something different to me than it does to other people. I was also looking forward to meeting a community of people who agreed that we just don’t talk about sex and love enough with strangers. I was relieved to finally find a group of people actively working to dispel the taboo of talking about sex and love.”
Does any of this resonate with you?
Yes, But How Does It Work Exactly?
Prior to the event, the questions and topics are crowd-sourced online by the community. When you buy a ticket you’re prompted to submit a question anonymously—anything from How do I know if I’m good in bed? to How do I help my partner feel like they can tell me anything? to How do I talk dirty without feeling silly? The night begins by voting on the submitted questions, with the top three becoming the topics of conversation for the night.
“Immediately people start to introduce themselves and strike up conversations with strangers. After everyone finds seats in the circle, Jared stands in the middle and starts off by explaining the four crucial rules of Touchpoint. He makes everyone laugh, and we begin by playing an ice breaker game,” Rae explained. “When the topic is announced everyone immediately starts to focus on the conversation. The most important aspect of participating in a Touchpoint meeting is keeping an open mind, and leaving with at least one thing to think about. Without fail everyone has always been able to accomplish this by the end of the night.”
Many of us cling to the security blanket that is the “plus 1″—whether you’re heading to a new workout class or a networking event. By all means, bring along a friend or a significant other (creative date night idea?) for moral support, although you will feel perfectly content attending stag.
Do You Have to Share?
If you’re already breaking out in hives thinking of all eyes on you while you talk about your last sexual encounter, calm down. There’s no pressure to speak if you don’t want to. Actually, the power of listening to other’s stories is just as beneficial—if not more so.
“I do a lot more listening. There is so much I don’t know, and I love hearing about the stories that brought people to where they are now,” said Glincman.
“I wasn’t nervous, but I didn’t know how much I’d participate,” said Anna. “I found myself pulled in to offer my own distinct perspective as a person who married and then divorced at a young age. My experience was just another one adding to the texture of the evening. I have been several times and limit myself to one or two comments max per session. I learn more by listening than speaking. I share only when I believe it’s in service of others.”
“I have attended multiple events and I have shared at almost all of them,” said Rae. “Sometimes, it is more impactful to listen and other times I feel compelled to share myself with the group when I believe everyone can positively take away from what I have to say.”
The Benefits of Group Therapy
Those who have attended confirm that Touchpoint successfully creates a sense of community. Many are probably more familiar with therapy on a one-on-one basis, but there lies a unique power in leaning on others in a group setting. Much of Touchpoint’s success comes from it’s ability to serve as a safety net of support.
“Groups allow you to develop different skills than individual talk therapy provides,” said Julienne Derichs, LCPC, a licensed clinical professional counselor in private practice for 22 years. “People often feel as if they are alone and they are the only person that is going through what they are going through at the moment. Groups allow you to share your story with others and get a variety of responses and insights. Talking in a group also helps with developing courage and trust. When you hear other people opening up and talking about their problems and concerns it can often make it easier for you to open up yourself.”
And that’s exactly what turns first timers into regulars, and keeps people coming back to Touchpoint month after month.
“Each month, a new group gathers to discuss new topics. It’s a roll of the dice who might be there and what I might learn. Jared consistently manages the discussion so it stays focused on the topic but open to spicy detours,” said Anna. “It expanded my horizons sexually. Specifically, I overcame my discomfort approaching sexting and ‘dirty talk’ in bed after realizing there is no right or wrong way to communicate in these situations.”
“I keep coming back to Touchpoint for the community, for the knowledge, and for how it significantly changes me each and every time,” said Rae. “Touchpoint has made a pivotal impact on my life in multiple ways. I learned that I could share myself with a diverse group of people, and not feel judged by any of them. I gained knowledge on sexual perspectives I wouldn’t have learned anywhere else. Touchpoint has had a major role in the way I now approach love, sex and dating. I have become even more at peace with who I am through going to these meetings. Since my first event in October and over the past few months, I have curbed my need to have constant straight male attention to feel validated as a woman, and I owe Touchpoint as a major part for that.”
“I come back to Touchpoint for the people. Jared is a force, and yet he is the most approachable and sincere person I’ve met in New York. He and everyone else that attends town halls just make the experience so worth it,” said Glincman. “I learn something new every single time I attend a Touchpoint event and that unique education will keep me coming back town hall after town hall.”
While it can be uncomfortable initially to share personal stories (especially about our relationships and sexual experiences) the group setting may actually create the safety you need to explore topics you never thought possible. Being a part of a community comes with a sense of belonging, which Derichs said is helpful in working through issues and feeling supported while you do so.
“In general, people like to help and give support when they see that another person is struggling. Groups can be an essential part of someone’s support system,” Derichs explained. “Maybe you have a harder time talking about your concerns with close friends. You may just find the structure of a group feel safer. You can also learn a great deal from how others in the group respond to others.”
The Emotional Impact: What It’s Like to Open Up
So when you take the plunge, raise your hand and decide to share a little something of your own … what is the experience like?
“At the last meeting, after a nudge from [a friend], I shared a sexual fantasy. I was SO nervous,” said Glincman. “After the meeting, I had two people come up to me and tell me they share the same exact fantasy. The conversation we had about never felt weird or sexual–it was purely a group of people who wanted to learn about what other people want and why they want it. That moment was unimaginably eye-opening for me.”
Rae had the same eye-opening experience when she shared an intensely personal story of her own: “In my first meeting, we were discussing promiscuity and if it was ‘okay.’ After an older guy stated that it is better to wait to have sex with someone, I chimed in. I said ‘As someone who is transgender, I chose to not have sex until after surgery. I then found a major part of myself through having sex with many different types of people.’ I went on to explain further and everyone’s attention was respectfully on me. When the meeting wrapped up many people came up to me and thanked me for sharing. It was then that I realized there was a place in New York where anyone could feel safe to be their most authentic selves, at Touchpoint.”
Glincman arrived at her first meeting with no intention of speaking up at all, but was shocked by her urge to share: “We were talking about finding the right partner in life and in bed … I’m 24 and have never been in love, so the ‘life partner’ part of things hasn’t really clicked. I spoke about finding my perfect sexual partner and how I desperately wanted the same person to be a life partner. It was the first time I really spoke about him and surprisingly enough, I didn’t feel at all nervous or uncomfortable. I looked around the room and people were nodding their heads, empathizing and understanding my experience. I came to the town hall seeking answers but my takeaway was much more valuable. I don’t need those answers. Just opening up the discussion and putting those ideas out there was enough. I learned that the world doesn’t implode if I open up about my love life, and that people are out there having the same exact emotional experiences that I am.”
Is Touchpoint For You?
“There is something for everyone!” said Anna. “I would personally love to see more parents and older couples attend. I think there’s a generational perspective on relationships that I haven’t yet heard at Touchpoint. Maybe I’ll invite my mom … or maybe not!”
“Virgins, people in open relationships, married couples … everyone should go,” said Glincman. “Touchpoint is this extraordinary collective intelligence–there is always something to be learned from listening to people share their stories and experience, and by adding stories it only adds to the community’s understanding and knowledge. Since going to Touchpoint I notice a very real change in the way I approach partnerships. I’ve stopped seeking permission in my love life and I’ve become more selfless. Touchpoint helped me realize that everyone has a story and I need to help create an environment in relationships that feels safe to share those stories. I approach even my friendships with more compassion. It has given me the confidence to share what I’m feeling–something that up until recently has been worse than getting teeth pulled.”
Experts agree that the group may prove to be a positive experience for a people with diverse goals and experiences, in fact, that is vital to it’s success.
“I would recommend this type of event. These types of groups could benefit someone who is going through a rough transition in their life such as a break-up, separation, or divorce,” said Derichs. “This type of group could also benefit someone who is trying to develop a system of support. Maybe they haven’t had one, or parts of their lives have changed and they are looking for a place to feel a sense of connection and community.”
If you’re interested in finding out for yourself, you’re in luck: the next town hall is coming up next week. Snag a spot in the circle and see where the conversation takes you. You may be pleasantly surprised.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy
Touchpoint is a monthly town hall in New York City about how to date, partner, and have sex in the modern world. Learn more about Touchpoint and get your tickets for the next event (on February 7!) here.
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