On today’s episode, two members of The Sweet Spot Burlesque discuss why embracing one’s sensuality leads to empowerment and self-discovery. They point out that embracing our sensuality doesn’t mean having an affair or joining a swinger’s club, and they encourage us to explore our sexuality without shame and within the context of our values and relationships.

The Sweet Spot is designed to be an inclusive experience, sparking conversations around sex positivity and allowing people to engage with their sensuality in a fun and open environment. Our guests, Ainsley Burrows (founder) and Laurielle Noel (CEO), define “what sensuality and sexuality” means to them and offer easy steps toward increasing the sensuality in your life. Hosted by Gabe Howard.

“And whenever we have male dancers, the majority of men would get up and go to the bar or go to the bathroom. When I’m hosting this show, I said, okay, fellas, we’re about to have a male dancer on stage, and I know what’s happening right now because I grew up in the patriarchy and I understand it. You’re feeling some discomfort because you think that if you’re sitting in the audience watching a man dance on stage, that’s going to make you gay. And I’m like, that is not how gay works. Because they have these ideas that they’ve never questioned. And I’m like, it’s fine for you to sit in an audience and enjoy a man on stage dancing.” ~Ainsley Burrows

Ainsley Burrows

Ainsley Burrows, founder of The Sweet Spot Burlesque (2006), is a multi-disciplinary visionary artist who has redefined the world of burlesque entertainment. Producing mesmerizing shows and thought-provoking storytelling series and captivating audiences for 17 years in 30+ cities nationwide, Ainsley celebrates sensuality, empowerment, and inclusivity. As a prolific author, he invites audiences to question societal norms and embrace their unique perspectives. Ainsley’s hypnotic performances transport audiences into a realm of artistic expression that challenges social norms and ignites conversations. Through The Sweet Spot Burlesque, he continues to push artistic boundaries and inspire others to manifest their authenticity.

Laurielle Noel

Laurielle Noel is a first-generation Haitian-American, passionate art enthusiast, CEO/Accelerator, and performance artist in The Sweet Spot Burlesque show. With her vibrant leadership, Laurielle has propelled the show to become the largest Black burlesque production in the country. Her unwavering commitment to empowering artistic experiences has made her a driving force in the world of burlesque entertainment, leading The Sweet Spot troupe on an 11-year journey and captivating audiences in 30+ cities nationwide. Laurielle is dedicated to creating safe spaces for people to enjoy sex-positive “edutainment” and serves as a beacon of inspiration for those seeking to break free from societal constraints.

Gabe Howard

Our host, Gabe Howard, is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.

Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without.

To book Gabe for your next event or learn more about him, please visit gabehoward.com.

Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.

Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.

​​Gabe Howard: Hey, everybody. Thanks for listening. I’m your host, Gabe Howard. Calling in today we have Ainsley Burrows and Laurielle Noel. Ainsley is the founder of the Sweet Spot Burlesque and Laurielle is the CEO. And both are performance artists. And they’re both here today to share how owning our sexuality leads to empowerment. Thank you both for being here. And of course, welcome to the podcast.

Laurielle Noel: Thank you. Thank you for inviting us.

Ainsley Burrows: Thank you so much, Gabe. Thanks for having us.

Gabe Howard: Oh, you’re both so very, very welcome. Now, for many people, being overtly sexual means, well, frankly, they’re going to take a lot of shit. People are going to call you names. They’re going to call you a whore. They’re going to call you a gigolo. They’re going to call you a slut. They’re going to call you a tramp. They’re going to call you a man whore. If you are openly sexual, society, it really does seem, more often than not, will respond negatively, especially towards women. But your message is to own your sexual power. And I want to start off by saying that that’s not so easily done. This isn’t just something that you can do. You can’t just sit with your family and talk about your sexuality at Thanksgiving. Considering all of the negative repercussions, why is this worth doing at all?

Laurielle Noel: Um, we are sexual beings, and the fullness of a well-lived life includes your sexuality. So, to view any part of the whole of your life, to view any part of that negatively is also going to impact the rest of your life. So, we believe in sex positivity. Um, just like, you know, you believe in good mental health, good physical health. You should have also a healthy attitude towards your own sexuality and other people’s sexuality in order to really have a full, contented life.

Ainsley Burrows: I think as a community, we’re beginning to see that we have to approach all of sexuality and sex work, um, in a positive way and, and stop, um, um, yucking people’s yum or making people feel bad about, um, the choices they make for themselves and their bodies and their lives. And we, we don’t talk about it at Thanksgiving because of, of, um, of, I think personally, uh, a Judeo-Christian, um, puritanical, um, superstructure that we all, um, grow up in. And I think that’s a conversation we need, we need to have about why is it that these religions think that sex is bad, as sex is the thing that is so amazing? Why would God make it bad? And even the fact that the pope or priests are not allowed to have sex is a little weird to me. Like, that’s one of the joys of being human, of being alive of all, any whatever species they engage in sex and sexuality. So, it’s strange that that’s the one thing we isolate and choose not to engage in.

Gabe Howard: Ainsley said something don’t yuck somebody’s yum.

Laurielle Noel: Yes.

Gabe Howard: And I loved that because so often people are like, well, I enjoy this. And somebody’s like, well, that’s bad, but

Ainsley Burrows: [Laughter]

Gabe Howard: But why? Why do people think that sex is bad? Why do we do this to ourselves? As you said, sexuality is an inherent part of being human, and the vast majority of people have a sex life and they want to have a sex life. People are regularly exploring their sexuality, whether it’s alone or with a partner or even partners. And even though most everybody is having sex, it still remains this forbidden topic. How do we even begin to change that?

Ainsley Burrows: Um, I think that, um, the reason why people, um, people tend to, to, um, look down on, on certain parts of the sexual community is, is that we have been told since we were children that sex is bad. That’s a difficult thing to overcome. Like literally, since I was a child, I’ve been hearing that sex is not a good thing

Laurielle Noel: And shameful.

Ainsley Burrows: And it’s shameful and it’s something that people whisper about. So, it’s the narrative that’s been placed. It’s almost like the human brain is a is a computer. Right? And all I have to do is put enough information in there at the early stages of development, and it will be in there forever. So now I’m a I’m an adult, I’m 40 years old, and I’m still thinking sex is bad because somebody told me that sex was bad when I was seven.

Laurielle Noel: It’s constant micro education, if I could say it that way.

Ainsley Burrows: Yeah.

Laurielle Noel: Right. So, from the time that you’re, you’re young, you’re watching a movie with your parents and my father, anytime the, the romantic part would come on the screen, maybe there was kissing, maybe there was sex. As soon as that part would come on the screen, he would say, ugh, now they’re wasting time or, ugh, forward this, um. Even starting from those little things, the first reaction that you receive is shame. It’s a lot of micro points of education that happen throughout our lifetime that all add up to say this is shameful, to talk about it, to be about it, to express it is shameful and should be hidden.

Gabe Howard: But how do we move beyond that? If somebody is listening to this podcast right now and they’re like, you know what? You’ve convinced me. I want to be empowered. I want to embrace my sexuality. I want to experiment. I’m ready. I’m ready to go. What are their options? What should they do? I mean, of course, other than go see one of The Sweet Spot’s burlesque shows, what are their actual options? I mean, obviously most people aren’t going to become burlesque performers, so what is a good first step for the average listener?

Ainsley Burrows: Good step one I think the easiest, easiest, easiest. Step one go online Google dance classes in my neighborhood. Take a salsa class.

Laurielle Noel: Yeah, just start slow, start with sensuality, you don’t have to jump in some real erotica.

Ainsley Burrows: Mhm. Something as simple as any kind of body movement that gets you to start appreciating and tapping into all of the magic that’s in your body. That will be a first step towards, you know, like leaning into your sexuality.

Laurielle Noel: And I would say another one is, um, reading. Right. So, pick up an erotic novel and, you know, set up, set up your space, put on your, your candle light, get your glass of wine, make yourself feel like, you know, kind of go on a date with yourself, with you with your erotic novel and just, you know, just let it, let it flow and. Yeah.

Gabe Howard: That was not the answer that I was expecting. I mean, to take a dance class. When I hear embrace your sexuality or experiment with sexuality, it conjures up images of, of, uh, of affairs, of the red-light district of becoming a swinger, of joining a lifestyle club, becoming, becoming a burlesque dancer.

Ainsley Burrows: No.

Gabe Howard: I it really it is struck me out of complete left field when you’re like, okay, take a salsa class and move your body and learn to be comfortable with yourself.

Ainsley Burrows: Yes.

Gabe Howard: It. Is it is it really that simple?

Ainsley Burrows: It is that simple.

Gabe Howard: Are we really that repressed as a society?

Ainsley Burrows: I think you. I think you should try this when you go home. Take a poll of your friends like your ten closest friends, and ask them when was the last time they went out and just danced?

Laurielle Noel: Mm-hmm.

Ainsley Burrows: People don’t dance. People don’t move. People don’t. People don’t. I think people forget in the rush of life. Forget that they have to live. Forget that they’re human. Forget that we are sensual, sexual, tactile beings, like we need touch. I know couples who they’ll say, oh, we live in the house together, but we don’t. We just walk past each other all, all day. They don’t touch each other. They don’t have conversations. They oh, go get the kids and yeah, we’ll do dinner. And it’s like a formality, like those little breaks from the chaos of life to go have a dance or read a book in the tub, even just a half hour. Um. Treat yourself. Take yourself out to dinner. Something that simple will start the process of you starting to say there’s more beyond just the rush rush rush rush rush.

Laurielle Noel: And I think, I think very specifically like you’re saying about dance. Dance can be very connected to sensuality. So, it’s a very easy entry point. Yeah. To start telling your body your intention, you know, and having it respond. So, it’s funny that you say that that got you out of left field. But you know, we’re talking about easy entry and then you, you grow from there like oh that was fun. Let me, let me do tango. These are, um, couples dances that incorporate a good level of sensuality in the dance.

Ainsley Burrows: Yeah.

Laurielle Noel: So, start easy. You don’t have to jump into something uncomfortable just for, just to see what’s going to happen. Right?

Ainsley Burrows: [Laughter]

Laurielle Noel: I would say, this is not bash you over the head, jump into it. This is just take one step at a time.

Gabe Howard: I just it’s I hate to to dwell on this for, for a moment, but it really sounds like you touch your partner, maybe wear sexy boxers to bed or sexy lingerie to bed instead of your stained pajamas that are so comfortable.

Laurielle Noel: Yeah.

Gabe Howard: I mean, when I, when I think about getting advice on how to embrace sexuality from a burlesque dancer, I’m thinking you’re going to give me advice right out of Eyes Wide Shut or something that I saw on Skinemax. You know, the softcore porn from the 90s.

Laurielle Noel: Yeah. [Laughter]

Ainsley Burrows: [Laughter] No

Gabe Howard: But all of the things that you are describing are just so just I mean, frankly, they’re basic.

Laurielle Noel: Yes.

Gabe Howard: And listen, my pajamas are barely a step away from rags. But is this is this really the level where we’re at? Because if the goal is to take sexuality or to take sensuality and turn it into empowerment, can it really be as simple as have a bubble bath and take a tango class with your partner? It, it just it really sounds like you’re just oversimplifying it.

Ainsley Burrows: I know it sounds. But it’s, it’s simple things. It’s just a way to start engaging your body and your mind into getting out of the rut, getting out of the linear program that you’re going through to start seeing the magic and the beauty and the elegance and all the other things that the universe has to offer. Right? And once you, you, you, engage, you’re like, oh, wow, that was good. And you, you start having, you start awakening a different side of yourself that you locked away for a long time.

Laurielle Noel: It starts with intention, right? So, when you go take this dance class and you take it with the intention of, I’m here for a particular goal, for a particular evolution in my life, that’s when you start to gain the benefits of what you’re engaging in. And I promise, yes, after you’ve completed different, whether it’s a pole dance class, whether it’s a sensual touch class, anything like that, you do walk a little differently the next day. And to answer your question, it is that simple. [Laughter].

Ainsley Burrows: And that’s the thing that’s preventing a lot of people from engaging with, with their life experience or their sexuality or, or certain things that they think is difficult or they think it’s very niche. Right. You mentioned wow, I thought this conversation might be about like, you know, rated X, you know, swingers or things like that.

Laurielle Noel: And The Sweet spot, we specifically engineered The Sweet Spot to be a mainstream event because we believe that it’s it begins in the popular sphere, in the popular culture, this negativity towards sex and therefore holding in your expression, it begins just in regular everyday life. So that’s where the change needs to start happening. Yeah, it’s just in basic what seems like basic everyday life. Insert something that is unusual and that taps into your sensuality and you’re on your way.

Sponsor Break

Gabe Howard: And we’re back with Ainsley Burrows and Laurielle Noel from The Sweet Spot Burlesque.

Laurielle Noel: I guess that’s what we’ve been talking about this whole this whole conversation, right? Is why is there so much shame and negativity attached to sex? And sexuality doesn’t mean go out and have sex. [Laughter] It means being in touch with like your body’s passions connected from your body to your brain. So, you might be engaging in masturbation, and that is an extra level that maybe you haven’t engaged in before where you’re saying, oh, I want to be more connected to my sexuality. So, you know what? I’m going to try touching myself more, or I’m going to touch my partner in ways that I didn’t. You know, somebody very close to us, actually. said to me the other day, well, you know what I realized? A lot of men, in heterosexual relationships, they don’t get touched all over their bodies. Like he said, I’m in my 30s and for the first time, my partner, the partner that I have now, is touching me in ways that I haven’t been touched before. She’s touching my nipples. I didn’t even know my nipples were sensitive like that. So, it doesn’t mean. At all going out and just having sex. That’s not sexuality. Having sex is not sexuality. Engaging in pleasure is what we’re talking about. And you can go into so many avenues of exploration that have nothing to do with going outside of your relationship, and even going into areas of sexuality that might be a little too niche for you. Maybe, I don’t want to go into BDSM and kink. There’s still so much else you can explore.

Gabe Howard: In many ways, this is not the conversation that I thought that we would be having. I really thought that I understood embracing sexuality and embracing sensuality, I differently. So I, I want to just kind of do a back to basics and just ask you directly, what does embracing one sensuality mean to you?

Ainsley Burrows: Embracing one’s sensuality means that you should be open to leaning into pleasure, right? Be open to leaning into touch, to feeling good, to having great experiences. Um, to, to, um, exploring, uh, ideas around pleasure and ideas around sensuality.

Laurielle Noel: Yeah. And to piggyback on that, it’s bringing walls down with regards to conversations, um, around sex and sex and sensuality and bringing your guard down with just in interpersonal relationships. Right. Um, there’s a wall that people put up and they say all of my interpersonal relationships have to stop here at this point. Yeah, but it’s okay to be, for example, to be flirtatious with your partner. People lose that flirtation after they’ve been married for five, ten years, something like that. But to me, that is part of embracing and being connected to my sensuality. Is being flirtatious, saying things to my partner or even to friends, playing, bantering. Um, those are those are things. And it’s just conversation. Fun. But those are things that say, oh, it’s not a problem. It’s not taboo to talk about sexual conversations. We can do this, and it’s still be all, as we say, above board.

Ainsley Burrows: Yeah.

Gabe Howard: I also want to ask what does sexually empowered mean to each of you?

Laurielle Noel: Sexually empowered to me means that I feel, I feel safe. I feel like I have the ability and the, um, what’s the word? The right to express who I am as a sexual being. So, one example that I I’ll give you is, um, in my younger years, when I used to work in the corporate world, uh, particularly when you’re first coming out of school, so you’re in your 20s, you have a cohort of other employees. Let’s go to happy hour or things like that, they’re going to talk about sex. Now, my best friend who became my best friend was also a new cohort with us at this job, and he is gay. And I remember, um, some of my heterosexual friends being like. A little bit taken aback and shocked when my gay friend would talk about his sexual experiences, just as the heterosexual friends had just been talking about their own experiences. For them, it was kind of like, oh, well, those conversations, when it’s a gay person, those conversations are not out loud, or those conversations are only with other gay people, and we all learn together. No. If we’re all sitting here talking about sex, why is this sexual conversation not allowed or is seen as scary or fearful? And so that to me was an example of a person being sexually expressed and empowered. He was empowered. He felt empowered to say, oh, we talked about sex. Let’s go. Let me tell you what I did last night. Right. That’s part of sexual empowerment to me.

Ainsley Burrows: Yeah. Um, for me, I think sexual empowerment has for me personally has to do with the ability to either speak about engaging, um, uh, share, um, sexual experiences devoid of shame. Because I think the, the thing that keeps people locked in the box, is the shame that they feel about, about engaging in their sexuality. And I think once you get the confidence or the understanding to know that you have a right as a human being to engage in, to speak about, to enjoy, to find pleasure in all kinds of sexual activity, then you’re freed from the shame.

Laurielle Noel: And I think that you’ve hit on the essence, Ainsley.

Ainsley Burrows: Yeah.

Laurielle Noel: Is the opposite of sexual empowerment is shame.

Ainsley Burrows: Yeah.

Laurielle Noel: Those are two different sides of the spectrum. And sexual empowerment means moving away from shame.

Gabe Howard: I imagine a lot of my listeners would be aligned with the idea of, okay, I can buy nicer pajamas and I can, I can, I can kiss my loved ones more, right? And, and be a little more flirty in the bedroom. But moving this out into the real world, what does that look like? Is it as simple as a low-cut blouse or tighter jeans for men? I mean, what does it look like to embrace our sexuality out in public, especially for people in long term monogamous relationships? Because, again, many people hearing this are like, are you telling me to have an affair?

Laurielle Noel: [Laughter]

Gabe Howard: Is that what’s happening here? And it is a shame. It is a shame that when we say, embrace your sexuality, people assume that that means sex outside of your relationship, but that’s not what you’re saying.

Ainsley Burrows: No.

Gabe Howard: So, the very specific question that I have is how do I embrace my sexuality in my monogamous relationship?

Laurielle Noel: You know, one thing that that needs to be made very clear is that you can be a fully evolved sexual being and also have integrity. So, if you have.

Ainsley Burrows: It’s kind of weird that those two things are connected.

Laurielle Noel: Right? People think, oh, if I’m all the way miss sex, then somewhere in my life I’m lacking integrity

Ainsley Burrows: I’m going to be a whore [Laughter]

Laurielle Noel: Or I’m deceitful or I’m a liar. Those are completely two different things.

Ainsley Burrows: And those are cultural narratives that have been developed over thousands of years.

Laurielle Noel: Yes, yes. So, I would say, you know, first of all, go to places that that are appropriate for certain things. So, you’re not going to go to your job with your husband and start tonguing down in the cafeteria. You know what I mean? That’s just, it doesn’t empower you. It doesn’t move things forward. It’s more of a spectacle. Right? But if I go to a club with my partner, a dance club, or I go to a bar with my partner or a lounge, then we can take the opportunity. Um, there are so many different ways and places to express yourself, whether you’re in a monogamous relationship or not. I, I, I don’t know, I personally don’t see difficulty in finding, um, the spaces that can move your relationship forward with the flirtatiousness and the openness and the passion.

Ainsley Burrows: Yeah. I think, um, you said somebody’s in a monogamous relationship. Might think that they’re, they’re cheating or, um, they’re having an affair that seems like we’re trying to have an affair. And my thing is, yes, having an affair with yourself. Fall in love with you. Love you get the confidence, the security, all the things that it takes to walk into the world as a sexual being without shame. And the moment you have that, everybody around you will be ignited,

Laurielle Noel: Including your partner.

Ainsley Burrows: Including your partner, because your partner is going to start looking at, ooh, nice pajamas or like all the little things that you start doing once you embrace your sexuality, it’ll start getting noticed. It’ll start having an effect on the people around you, and you’ll see people change because of you, because of the change that you did to yourself. And it will only make your life better. And it has nothing to do with cheating. It has to do with anything. Could be just you and your partner. Make an agreement. We’re gonna together embrace our sexuality. We’re going to lean into sensuality, into pleasure. And, we’ve done it.

Laurielle Noel: [Laughter]

Ainsley Burrows: And it works, and it makes life so much easier and happier.

Gabe Howard: I cannot thank you both enough for being here and for what you do. Where can folks find you online to learn more?

Laurielle Noel: Thank you so much, Gabe. Um, everyone can find us online at Sweet Spot Nation. We use that moniker for all of our pages. So, our website, we’re also on TikTok, IG, and Facebook again as Sweetspot Nation.

Ainsley Burrows: And thank you so much for having us. It was a great conversation.

Gabe Howard: Oh, you are very, very welcome. And to our listeners, thank you for being here. My name is Gabe Howard, and of course, I’m an award-winning public speaker. But you already knew that. But I could be available for your next event. Hey, you probably already knew that too. I’ve been saying it for a long time. I wrote a book called Mental Illnesses and Asshole and Other Observations, which you can get anywhere. They sell books, but if you want to get it directly from an author and that means I can sign it and throw in show swag, just head over to my website, gabehoward.com. Wherever you downloaded this episode, please follow or subscribe to the show. It is absolutely free. And look, you don’t want to miss a thing and listen up. Can you do me a favor? Recommend the show because sharing the show is how we grow. You can share it on social media. You can share it in a support group. You can share it in an email. Hell, you can send somebody a text. I will see everybody next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.

Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations


Announcer: You’ve been listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast from Healthline Media. Have a topic or guest suggestion? E-mail us at show@psychcentral.com. Previous episodes can be found at psychcentral.com/show or on your favorite podcast player. Thank you for listening.