Have you noticed that solo-preneurs often set up their business around challenges they’ve overcome?
Alongside studying for an effective qualification, they’re in a good position to teach others the skills that they themselves have mastered through overcoming pain. But when the challenges are related to sensitive and intimate areas such as relationships and sex especially, it takes courage, determination, guts and a willingness to embrace risk to channel your knowledge, skills and experience into a business that can benefit others.
Such is the experience of my Page 1 Woman™, Stella Anna Sonnenbaum.
A former licensed pharmacist with a Masters in Public Health and now a UK based sex coach and body coach, Stella’s qualified in Somatic Sex Education and Sexological Bodywork. She enables people nationally and internationally to overcome difficulties within relationships – sexual and platonic. ‘I personally see relationships, romantic relationships, sexual relationships, as the factor in life that can make it or break it’.
Born and brought up in Germany, and now living in London via a series of international ‘stop-offs’, this Page 1 Woman with her strong sense of self is in search of a home as a spiritual quest and she’s uncertain whether she’s found it yet.
Clear on her beliefs and values, she’s defied the stereotypes of who she should be as a successful woman and has carefully constructed an unusual life pathway that’s right for her, but definitely different from society’s expectations. You might say, she’s broken the mold – in a big way.
But how did Stella get from being challenged by relationships to discovering her vocation? Read on and find out.
Describe your work?
Stella: My business ‘Stella with Love’ has been going since 2015. I help diverse couples or individuals, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identification, to have more pleasure by inhabiting their bodies fully, overcoming sexual issues and communicating better about their desires. This involves 1 to 1 sex coaching or body coaching, (face to face or via Skype), and workshops.
People often come for Sexological Bodywork with very specific issues, for example, women who’ve never experienced orgasm or men with performance issues, sometimes connected to a life change. We start with setting the intention for the session. I ask detailed questions about the issue and invite the client to choose which to use from a range of body work techniques. It often involves physical touch and they decide how much they want to be touched. It’s very important that people know the process and remain in charge throughout.
Typically, couples want to learn how to be intimate with each other again, maybe after a big change such as having a baby. So, this is more about listening to each other, and discovering each other’s touching preferences. So I may not touch them at all. If it’s about communication they may only touch each other.
My youngest client was 19, and my oldest was 94. And I tend to get more men than women clients.
It’s all about self-love, which is necessary for good relationships, sexual and platonic. We need to love ourselves before we can communicate well with other people about our preferences.
Stella has also studied Tantra since 2004. Tantra involves bringing an attitude of reverence into lovemaking and all interactions. Some people find self-caressing really difficult and it isn’t sexual. The question is, are you able to cherish and caress yourself as you’d like someone you care about to do to you?
So how did I get into this? I was in a relationship where we were sexually mismatched. I’d learned about Tantra in the 90's so, we decided to take part in a Couples Tantra weekend and work on the issue together. I learned so much from it and started my personal development journey.
What essential steps took you to where you are now?
My professional background is health related. I used to be a pharmacist in Germany. Then I trained in Reiki and Shiatsu therapy, followed by movement analysis, dance, and performance. What they have in common is body and movement expression. Adding Tantra, Sexological Bodywork and body coaching, took it into the realms of sexuality.
Tantra more than anything was the really essential step because it led me to recognise that there was so much more to life and I found a more heart-centred and orgasmic approach to life, which means experiencing life fully, with all our senses. Nowadays people don't allow themselves to have pleasure and live life fully. They avoid risks in order to avoid pain. So they don't feel in touch with their bodies. But when trying to avoid pain, you don't appreciate excitement, love or joy either.
When I discovered Tantra, my relationships improved considerably. I was teaching an unrelated subject in business at the time, and I noticed that I could be more present, my communication became much easier, and I felt closer to people, who liked me more.
What was the most significant thing that got you into your current position?
Apart from the Tantra, it was meeting Dr Joseph Kramer, a Somatic Sexologist from California. He founded the Body Electric Institute in San Francisco in the 90's. I met him at a talk in London in 2011, and found him incredibly kind-hearted, relaxed, really inspiring and absolutely shameless, in other words he can talk about incredibly intimate sexual matters without clinical detachment or change in his demeanor, and with warm engagement. I studied with him in 2015. And here I am now.
What was the greatest challenge you had to overcome?
Stella: I am a very strong and independent woman and I find love and relationships really complicated, despite having developed immensely within them. I’ve learned a lot about myself and how to deal with those challenges, of keeping our hearts open even in conflict. In a way, I’ve made my challenges my vocation because I'm an expert in that field. I'm now well trained to help others and I can empathise well with people facing similar issues.
What was your greatest lightbulb moment?
Stella: That came after being with a long-term partner, who fell seriously ill. I had to become the breadwinner and his carer. It was hard.
I managed to get away for a much needed weekend and a woman, a stranger, turned to me and asked for very personal advice. I expressed my surprise and she said, “You seem quite enlightened." I then realised that sometimes we can't see our own development but other people can. I started to see capability and strengths I that wasn’t aware of, that I’d developed through that crisis. For example, I was the breadwinner whilst caring for my partner, so I was able to be loving and productive at the same time. I also discovered my capacity for unconditional love, especially when my partner became very moody. I discovered that I could be positive and capable in challenging circumstances, traits that women usually discover in motherhood. But I’m not a mother.
Through that discovery I felt connected to the world. I felt safer about taking risks, enjoying myself and socialising. I stopped being scared. As I found love and relationships challenging, this was a big shift. It’s helped my business because I now have a better rapport with people and therefore with clients. I listen and understand better. So clients feel accepted at all levels and can open up to me.
What resource has been crucial to your success?
Stella: I live in a community with three beautiful people. We have weekly house meetings where everybody shares their issues, whilst the rest of us listen. It means you have to be authentic. Finding the real me and witnessing others doing the same was another huge leap. This community makes me feel safe and secure. It also, provides safe space and facility for seeing clients and running my Cuddle Parties, (where people learn to give and receive loving platonic touch in a safe setting), workshops and Meet Up groups.
What do you understand by leadership?
Stella: The word ‘leadership’ doesn't resonate with me. I think more in terms of Influencers, as people who inspire others and are role-models. I think that leadership is too connected to the old patriarchal model and its hierarchies, which society needs to let go of.
I don’t see myself as a leader. But I like to inspire people, and to step out more, to show myself as I am. And I am a proactive problem solver and take responsibility for my life rather than relying on others. So I guess I’m a self-leader, self-motivated. I’m more comfortable with that.
What difference do you think it’s made being a woman leader?
Stella: Women have internalised patriarchal structures, sometimes more than men and are often really judgemental towards each other. So, I would encourage women to get together, and honestly look at all those beliefs still within us, from our conditioning about how successful women should be – those stereotypes. For example, I've never been married, I’m childless and I don't own property, so, I don't fit the stereotype of successful women. But I can inspire women to break the mold, and dare to do what their heart sings for rather than what social conditioning say they should do.
What top tips would you give women who want to be successful?
Stella: Find your passion and ensure it’s aligned with your career otherwise you won’t be happy. You’ll lack that driving force to succeed.
Think outside the box. We tend to think linear when life isn’t like that. Surprises and inspiration may come from unexpected angles. And sometimes, the biggest steps on your life path and in your development, come from crises. So, use crises to learn and grow.
Be open-minded; listen within, and without, and get in tune with the rhythm of your body and of nature. Find your own timing too, by developing intuition, fully inhabiting your body, and deciding with your mind, guts and heart, when it’s the right time to make that application, or find the right partner, or start a project. Timing is crucial. If we start something well meaning, at the wrong time, we’ll struggle and we’ll forfeit a lot.
And don’t allow anybody to tell you what your prescribed life path is. So, it's about identifying your own genuine beliefs and values. And by stepping into your own authenticity, you can find the path that’s right for you.
And take many risks or you’ll remain static in your comfort zone. Self-development is about constantly challenging ourselves in the right way, at the right time, to manifest what we love, and that involves risk.
To find out more about ‘Stella With Love’, click here