The sexual wellness space is riddled with taboos and negative connotations. In our Destigmatising Desire series, three women tell us how they’re paving the way for more open and informed discussions about sex.
Andrea is the founder of Athena Rising, a sex and relationships coaching and consulting practice. Despite a long-standing interest in self-development in terms of coaching, she had never felt drawn to being a certified coach, until six years ago.
Athena Rising is her safe haven, where clients can openly address intimate concerns, from enhancing their sexual experiences to improving communication and relationships. As a sex coach, Andrea helps clients navigate the complex world of intimacy, promoting open and honest discussions and empowering personal and sexual growth.
Andrea’s unique approach includes leveraging social media platforms like Instagram to break down barriers around sex and relationships. Her content educates, informs, and sparks dialogue, challenging taboos and fostering understanding.
Despite the challenges posed by societal stigmas, Andrea finds immense rewards in helping clients lead healthier, more fulfilling lives. Her work extends to the broader community, creating awareness and open conversations.
Here, she tells us about how she aims to play a pivotal role in shaping the future of sexual wellness and relationship coaching.
Q: How did your journey as a certified sex, love and relationship coach come about?
Andrea Tan (AT): Six years ago, my perspective shifted when I chanced upon [sexuality and tantra expert] Layla Martin’s online courses on pleasure and emotions in the realm of sex and relationships. I joined her pioneering coaching cohort, even though it seemed unconventional at the time – who in Singapore or Asia was teaching and coaching on such topics that were seldom openly discussed? I navigated the rigorous curriculum and practical coaching components over a period of two years, all the while juggling my full-time tech job and post-divorce family commitments. Tiring as it was, I sensed a mental “click” then, that this was really what I wanted to do.
This prompted me to establish Athena Rising – a coaching and consulting practice that combines my past experience in performance coaching, tech, management, and holistic healing. Suggested by a dear friend, the name Athena, means a creative warrior mystical being, and Rising gave the sense of an emergence or discovery. It reflects how love and intimacy coaching draws out our authentic selves by addressing areas concerning sex, relationships, and love. I personally just felt it was a magical name and that’s part of what underlies my work – when we have an enhanced capacity for pleasure, magic somehow happens in our lives; when we have enriched relationships and the capacity for love, we become fully alive ready to work for our dreams because we know someone’s got our back.
Q: The field of sexual wellness can face societal stigmatisation. What are some challenges you’ve faced?
AT: While sexual wellness is something that requires more awareness, it is not always easy to convince businesses to back initiatives related to the topic. By association, sexual wellness or education often gets misunderstood as (or lumped together with) sexual solicitation or promoting promiscuity. In fact, I am often asked to provide only an overview of sexual wellness when I give talks or conduct workshops, because the organisers believe that if I get into details, participants would feel uncomfortable.
I see the challenges as opportunities to add an educational element to my content. [This allows me] to demystify the work and provide clarity on the spectrum of sexual wellness. Change in societal stigmatisation doesn’t happen overnight, but it doesn’t mean that I stop the work because such challenges exist.
Q: What are your thoughts on Big Tech’s censorship of sexual wellness brands, and how does it impact the broader conversation on sexual health and education?
AT: Instagram recently conducted a sweep of sex-positive accounts, and my account was suspended twice in one month. It took me another month to appeal to reinstate my account. My simple “vanilla quotes” have also been flagged. It’s very frustrating and demoralising for anyone producing sexual wellness content. I now heavily curate my account because of continued issues around flagging or shadow banning.
The danger is that over time, it might result in those who do genuine work in sexual wellness to tap out of the business, further restricting the conversation that is needed. I hope that we’ll soon have a better way to protect coaches who genuinely want to do good work around sexual wellness on public platforms.
Q: As an “influencer” of sorts in the sexual wellness space, you have a significant platform for promoting positive attitudes towards sexuality. How do you leverage your influence to challenge stigmas and encourage open dialogues?
AT: I work in three areas. First, I actively share my thought process behind workshops, coaching, pleasure topics or products, so it can be more widely accepted as a way to navigate their own internal or partner conversations.
Secondly, I seek to provide accuracy or a range of views. I find some content very black and white – do this, never do this. It can be confusing for those navigating love or intimacy, because these areas aren’t always cookie cutter and everyone has different needs or desires. Where there are inaccuracies in “education-type” content on social media, I post alternative views to expand or adjust perspectives.
And last but not least, rather than promote one brand, I try to show a variety of brands or products, so people can decide for themselves what suits them better. My personality isn’t very loud or larger-than-life, and don’t attempt to pretend it to be so. That way, I hope to give permission to those who are looking for their own version of expression around pleasure and sexual journey. That they can be themselves as well through the process.
Q: How do you navigate the challenges of operating in a society where discussions around sex and relationships can often be met with stigma or discomfort?
AT: The discomfort is not to be ignored, but to be understood. Some of the discomfort can be a great entry point, it gives insights as to what to address to help bridge understanding. It’s also important to navigate the conversations with great care, compassion and patience.
The underlying truth is that everyone wants to be able to look at their lives and feel like it has meaning or purpose. It’s not about just talking about sex, it’s about allowing us to enhance our capacity for richer love and intimate lives.
Q: For those considering a similar career, what advice would you give them?
AT: Find your community. I couldn’t have done it alone without encouragement, witnessing, friendship and partnership from others in the sexual wellness space.
Keep learning. This is a growing space, more research and studies are being looked into as we realise that our sexual health is an important part of all other parts of our physical, mental and emotional health.
Stay courageous, and keep showing up. There are more challenges with prejudices and hoops to jump through than other tried-and-tested paths. It’s not for faint-hearted so don’t be discouraged when you hit your first roadblock. Use your purpose, mission or vision to guide you.