The Making of a Maverick: The Birth of a Sex Mentor
By Chrissie Rowell
Human sexuality is not as black and white as many people think. We are not destined to love a certain way or be attracted to certain people, rather we’re slaves to our human physiology and intricately shaped by a series of events, some small and seemingly insignificant; others life-changing and monumental. As someone who used to enjoy believing in fate, it’s interesting to consider and perhaps even realise – we’re only products of the life we’ve lived and continue to live; and how we respond to our desires.
To research this article about the fascinating life and career of Colin Richards, Sex and Relationship Mentor and Psycho-Sensual Masseur; I spoke to him about his early life and professional development, which ultimately led him to experiment with his sexuality. Quite simply, his journey is one of enlightenment. Born in Beckenham, Kent, with (in his own words) a silver spoon in his mouth; like many people, he felt carried through life on a current of expectation. The youngest of four children and born to well meaning yet extremely busy parents, things could have been very different – he was destined to be the third generation head of a successful butchers chain with 148 shops in home counties. However shortly after Colin’s birth, his mother and father aged 38 and 43 respectively, decided to move to South Devon and buy the remote Gara Rock Hotel in Salcombe; which left Colin as the only boy, heir to the business.
Born in a Sleepy Seaside Town
He was born at the hotel and left to entertain himself a lot of the time, describing coastal hideaways as a ‘secret seven paradise’, where he would while away the days playing with the children of hotel guests. At the age of 8, he recalls an experience which led him to understand that for whatever reason, he felt physically and emotionally isolated. Below the cliffs on a sandy beach, he was mesmerised by the innocent but tender sight of a man rubbing sun lotion on a woman. “I remember being absolutely rooted to the spot and mesmerised by what I was watching. As an eight year old, there was something so meaningful and beautiful about it. It indicated that already, at that early age, I wasn’t getting the nurturing that I wanted or needed.”
At the age of eight, Colin was sent to boarding school, four hours away from home and cites this as being a prominent factor in the shutting down of his ability to communicate emotions – both verbally and physically. “I went into a traditional mode of ‘just getting on with it’, as guys do.”. Although Colin was attracted to girls throughout his adolescence (his first sexual experience being at the age of 16, with an attractive 21-year-old bar maid at the hotel); his relationships and indeed life in general, left him feeling unfulfilled despite never having known any different. He describes himself as being ‘shoehorned’ into a life other people thought he should live and a testament to this, after graduating from catering school (“what else could I do?”) he found himself running the 130 bedroom Gara Rock Hotel by the age of 21.
Colin’s memories of this time are relived in photographic detail and despite it being an enjoyable upbringing in many ways, it’s easy to feel sympathy for someone who didn’t have the opportunity to find their own way in life. But as is so often the way with children that are, despite doting parents’ best intentions – moulded into something they’re not comfortable being; rebellion, albeit later in life, was on the horizon. Though the person in question rarely sees it as rebellion – rather a long awaited opportunity to carve their own path, sometimes viewed negatively because of its stark difference to the one they’ve travelled obediently; for so long.
The Magic of Human Touch
It took Colin several more years and a marriage devoid of sexual intimacy, to make some moves that would set him on his new path and change his view on sexuality forever. Firstly a massage course, Swedish Therapeutic Massage, to be precise. Perhaps an attempt to discover a tactile and nurturing side that up to now he hadn’t known, he enrolled into a class where he was the only male among fifteen women and two female teachers. I asked Colin why he thought he was the only male in the class. Is there a stigma attached to massage, I suggested, whereby men view it as a feminine practise? It turns out it was even more narrow-minded than that. “There was a stereotypical sexual judgement,” Colin told me, “The reaction from men and women towards any male who is interested in massage, is the assumption they just want to get their hands on a body.”
It took his classmates some time to get used to his presence as well. Colin laughed as he remembered how he battled to settle in. “I’m pretty sure when I first walked in, they thought I was the plumber or someone there to do some other kind of job!” The implications of a male masseur in a room full of women were obvious yet unspoken, on some level they must have felt sexually threatened. Colin describes the awkward silence when it occurred to everyone that during practical learning sessions, he would have to be paired with a female. “It was announced we’d be practising on each other and everyone looked around the room thinking ‘Who the fuck’s going to go with the guy?’ And I was thinking, ‘Who the fuck’s going to go with me?!’ There was a real sense of trepidation for a while.”
This is both ludicrous and understandable at the same time. Massage is, after all, a tantalisingly intimate experience that, like it or not, can evoke unexpected feelings of arousal in even the most steely participant. Being awkwardly aware of this fact, Colin dared to bring it up one day.
“I was being massaged whilst lying on my front, my underwear had been pulled down so they could bash my bum about, and suddenly I though ‘Oh Christ, what happens if I get a hard-on?’ So later I put my hand up and I asked – what happens if a client gets aroused? How do you approach it, whether it’s a man or a woman?” His bold yet honest question was met with irritation and shock. “It was inferred that if a client gets aroused, then you’re doing something wrong as a therapist. The whole thing of arousal wasn’t brought up and when I asked it was simply side-lined.”
Proof of this came during a visit to a polarity therapist for a type of acupressure massage, at a centre in Totnes; where Colin was left feeling humiliated and angry. “I still had my underwear on, she was massaging the inside of my leg and I started to feel something, simply a physiological reaction. Then, her fingers went right up my thighs and she pressed me strongly, several times, right on the perineum! Sure enough, I’m lying there going ‘Oh my God…’ and I’ve only got my underwear on so it’s obvious what’s happening. You of all people should know that if you press a guy there, he’s going to get an erection, whether he likes it or not!”
It seems ludicrous to me that a therapist wouldn’t be expecting this. Her reaction? “After I leapt off the table and apologised profusely, she told me that had never happened to her before and proceeded to leave the room so I could, in her words – ‘calm down’. I felt self conscious, awkward and embarrassed. It wasn’t fair, there was no warning that this might happen and I never went back there again. Why on earth wasn’t she trained to deal with a situation like that properly?”
Why indeed? In fact, why does massage and moreover why do most of its practitioners; overlook the fact that it’s innately intimate, creating an instantly soothing and often erogenous connection with another pair of human hands, that more often than not, leads to arousal? It happens to me almost every time I have a therapeutic massage and I have never been attracted to the therapist, male or female! It’s just a pair of hands in the right place, at the right time.
It was 1995 when Colin qualified in massage and though still running the hotel, he became a part time masseur at a chiropractic clinic in Newton Abbott. Despite it being his first experience massaging members of the public, he described how he quickly became aware of clients that had a ‘broader need’. Women moaning orgasmically, men with semi-erections – it was clear people were experiencing arousal during massages; but it was some time before Colin would start to give massages that embrace arousal instead of denying it.
First Experimentations with Sexuality
By 1999, with five children and a lack lustre sex life where making love was only on the cards when a baby was planned; Colin was turning to porn to satisfy normal sexual desires that weren’t being met. It soon became apparent that he could be turned on by bisexual and gay porn, as well as straight. “Prior to that, my perception of homosexuality started to shift when I employed two gay guys to work in the hotel. It was the first time I had ever formed any social relationship or friendship with gay men. But before that, my perception was non-existent – I lived in a hotel in South Devon and was surrounded by families on holiday!”
Open conversations with these employees about themselves and their lifestyles reduced any fear and anxiety Colin had about homosexuality and he quickly realised that not all gay men are camp and effeminate – a stereotype still perpetuated in many circles. “I realised you could be a normal guy and still be attracted to men. I was talking to people in chat rooms online, who were experiencing the same feelings as me. And then I met someone called Alberto.”
Alberto, I soon learned, was to be Colin’s inaugural taste of sensuality with another man. In a central London hotel, after several hours of talking, Colin found himself giving a massage to an ‘Italian Adonis’. “Within minutes, this tent pole came up and I agonised for a few seconds about what to do, then I just thought ‘fuck it!’” It turns out this wasn’t literal, as there was no anal sex, just lots of mutual intimate massage and a feeling of physical connection that he had previously failed to find. Never truly identifying as homosexual, he did have further liaisons, some of which were quite disastrous. “I met one guy who turned out to be really camp, he wasn’t my type at all – I had to feign a headache all night!”
It wasn’t long before Colin came to terms with the fact that his marriage was over and he told his wife (who suspected him of having an affair with a woman) that he’d been seeing men. Not something that must be easy to admit to your wife. A turning point indeed, but still not one that would see him identifying as gay. “It was the first time we’d ever spoken about sex. We just didn’t understand each other’s needs and sexual dynamics. At the time, I did try to convince myself that I was gay and in denial; but it was never emotional, only physical. I was just having fun!” In fact, Colin’s bi-sensuality has since given way to another heterosexual relationship but currently, he is happily single.
A Life Changing Career Move
His experimentations have taught him that sensuality is something that can’t be defined by gender or sexuality; and when people perceive it in this way, it’s not uncommon for them to feel confused, dissatisfied or awkward about their desires in general. His five children were growing up at his time of sexual self-discovery and although the youngest two were blissfully unaware, Colin explained the situation to the eldest three, all in their teens; and believes they owe their rounded outlook and open-mindedness to their awareness of what was going on. “I always believed I had to be absolutely honest with my children. I didn’t want to shove it in their face, but there were no secrets. I took the long term view that my relationship with them would be stronger, by me being who I really was.
At that time, although feeling emotionally liberated, financially things were very different; he explained the Lloyds Insurance Crash that left him bankrupt. “I was taken in as a ‘name’ at Lloyds in 1988, again to follow in family tradition with the hotel held as my security to join. I accepted unlimited liability, of course, they say it will never happen…. but it did. By 1994 I was £1.3 million in debt – money I never had.” Ten years later, divorced and having given his wife everything to secure her and their children, he recalled having only £5 to his name and was forced to take a new job.
Cue the real turning point. They say a person has to hit rock bottom before things start to look up and although no longer destitute, he was left wondering what direction he should take his life in. A chance conversation with a colleague about the ‘tantric cock massage’ she’d given her boyfriend on their holiday aboard a yacht, was to hold the answer. “You should do that,” she said, innocently. “You don’t like your work, you need the money – why don’t you offer professional, sensual massage to gay men?” Colin was understandably dubious and dismissive. Albeit it newly divorced and now ‘out of the closet’ as far as his friends and acquaintances were concerned, he was still a respected and professional member of the local community – working as a broker for a hotel bartering company. It could have been a throwaway comment but it turned out to be the one that pushed him another step closer to a life that was as far removed from what he knew, as he or anyone else could imagine.
Initially, Colin equated the idea to being an escort, but after further thought, he realised that there was a lot to gain from such a venture if it was executed properly and respectably. After some consideration (but within a matter of weeks), Colin was offering sensual massages to men and women, from his own flat. Thanks to his hand-on experience, Colin has an understanding of sexual arousal that could rival that of most other experts. Learning and teaching through touch and by putting his advice into real practise, Colin Richards has acquired an in depth knowledge of the human sexual response and his later study in psycho-sexual and relationship counselling; hypnotherapy; cognitive behavioural therapy and neuro-linguistic programming; means he is more than qualified to give perfectly rounded and exceptionally well-informed advice on all aspects of sexual dynamics between gay, bisexual and heterosexual couples, as well as individually. He now runs his successful business, Intimacy Matters, from an office in central London.
Rebirth as a Mentor
Given his varied experiences of hetero and homosexuality, I really wanted to know how Colin now categorised his own sexuality, although if I’ve learned anything form speaking to him, it’s that sexuality can rarely be categorised. He is certainly in no denial about his past or his enjoyment of it and enlightenment as a result; but he puts it all down to experience – an experience which sees him in a unique position to understand the mental and physical aspects of arousal process, especially for men. In line with his belief that human sexuality is in a constant state of flux due to emotional and social changes, his description of his own sexuality at present is bisexual or to use his preferred term: hetero-bi-sensual. It seems a catch-all description, covering all bases so to speak, but perhaps that’s the lesson here – a simple word is never enough to describe something that is subject to curiosities, doubts, experimentations and sudden desires. To clarify his current position, he explains that he is predominantly attracted to women sexually and prefers relationships with them, but is also comfortable with male-to-male sensual touch and foreplay.
It’s been almost 10 years since Colin Richards stepped off the bus in London’s Soho with a massage table in one hand a backpack in the other, and less than £50 to his name. July 2014 will see him moving into a glorious Thames side apartment overlooking Battersea Power station and the bustling, cosmopolitan site of the new US Embassy. He’s emerged from his chrysalis as a stronger, more confident and self-assured person with a lifestyle that I can only be envious of. And like a caterpillar emerges from its chrysalis as a bright butterfly and spreads its wings, the same can be said of the world we live in. “Sometimes, when I gaze from my window watching the remnants of old conservative London, change into the bright, secular society of tomorrow; it gives me hope. Hope that attitudes to sexuality and an individual’s sexual lifestyle will become less polarised and judged – and that each of us will be given the freedom and space to be who we were born to be, not whom society moulds us to become.”
Today, Colin’s clients come from all over the UK to learn from his expertise and many even come from abroad, due to a simple lack of support in their own country. He imparts his knowledge through teaching, lecturing, workshops and private events. He talks, almost with surprise, about the sheer diversity of his client base – they are male, female, singles and couples of all sexualities, cultures and creeds – all seeking help to either better understand their sexuality, improve sexual performance or learn how to become a better and more confident lover.
What’s important to this man, is that his work makes a real difference to people. Not just to himself, or even the people who pay him; but to people in general and the way in which they are perceived and treated because of their desires and sexuality. “If in 10 years from now,” he says, “my job title no longer raises eyebrows, then I’ll know that my challenging journey has been worthwhile. I’m happy with my world as it stands now, because by following my heart and my passion for helping others, I feel I’m challenging society to help itself.”
Personally, I haven’t met anyone whose life experiences combined with a formidable academic grounding in sexual psychology, give me more confidence in their ability as a sex mentor. Having listened not only to Colin Richards’ life story but also to his research and theory into many of the most complex aspects of human sexuality; I found it difficult not to put questions to him about my own relationship. Because if there’s one thing that I’ve learned since getting to know him, it’s that we’re all deeply shaped by our experiences and nowhere do these differences (and often, problems) manifest themselves more strongly and frustratingly than in the bedroom.