Would you eat sushi off of a naked woman? How about cake and fruit? Depending on your perspective, this experience might be: sexual or just sensual; demeaning or liberating; uncomfortable or light-hearted fun. There are times when my feminist philosophy is in direct opposition with my sex-positive beliefs. These are confusing and uncomfortable moments, but moments when I see clearly that no belief system covers the full range and complexity of female sexuality.
Nyotaimori, which means body sushi in Japanese, is not new, but I recently experienced it for the first time at a small birthday party. A very clean, naked woman, who was face-up and blindfolded, lay on blankets on the living room floor. Six of us gathered on cushion around her, placing sushi roles around her body. Using the woman’s body as a table, and even referring to her as “table” was initially shocking. When I’d heard about nyotaimori before, it seemed demeaning to the woman, and objectifying. However, I was in a household where alternative sexualities were embraced, and BDSM and fetishes freely explored among consenting adults. The blindfolded naked woman on the floor had clearly consented to be our table for the party. Was it right for me to judge that her blindfold and silence seemed so submissive? I wondered within what paradigm of female sexuality she consented? A submissive woman, from a feminism perspective, is oppressed and disempowered. A submissive woman within the BDSM/fetish/kink world is potentially pleasuring herself and experiencing liberation or healing. Can both be correct? I’m not saying I am a slave (pun intended) to either of these belief systems, but that I like to think critically about both, as they inform my world view.
So the six of us decorated the blindfolded nude woman with sushi. Gratefully my vegetarian philosophies were not ALSO challenged here, as there was veggie sushi! Then we ate the sushi from her, with hands, chopsticks, or our mouths. I felt very conscious of wanting to be respectful of her body and feeling of touch, yet I wasn’t sure what motivated her to be our table. The dinner conversation was of the normal variety, albeit with more themes of body image, nakedness, and sexual beliefs in America. At the conclusion of dinner, the hosts cleaned the woman with warm washcloths. On to dessert!
For dessert we gingerly placed a full sheet cake (I kid you not) on her torso, and covered the rest of her with vanilla frosting, sprinkles, fruit…and little plastic animals and toy soldiers (once again, I kid you not). I would not have imagined that plastic figures would be appropriate, but I actually loved that part. We created a path of evolution (from foot to breast) of dinosaurs, to barnyard animals, to the mingling of both on the cake top. The “table” giggled at times, such as when a blackberry was placed between her toes, or when we made amusing comments while decorating. Once our masterpiece was complete, we ate from her body with our hands. The cake was quite tasty, with a creamy pudding filling. Later two of us smeared the rest of the cake and frosting over her body, in a thick mélange of color and sweetness. Our “table” eventually showered to clean up and warm up.
Did I enjoy myself? I actually did, quite a bit. One, for the simple reason that I like sushi and cake. Second, I appreciate opportunities to practice what I preach and step outside my comfort zone regarding sex and bodies. Third, I loved the creative aspect, feeling like a child with food and toys and a new terrain. We laughed a lot, within a sensual, appreciative, and respectful context.
And now that I’ve experienced that, it feels like not such a big deal.
P.S. I’ve received some questions regarding sushi and soy sauce. No, we did not use her belly button for dipping :)
~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus -- Sex Therapy, Marriage Counseling, & University Sexuality Speaker, in San Diego, CA