Quintimacy: An Interview with Beck Thom


Britain’s Quintimacy is a space that intends to cultivate queer intimacy through trauma-informed and embodied connection.

It’s run by Beck Thom, a sex coach, somatic sex educator and sexological bodyworker based in the Midlands, United Kingdom. They were a finalist in the UK’s 27th Sexual Freedom Awards for Somatic Sexologist of the Year.

In an exclusive interview with Scarleteen, Thom talks about their working frameworks, sex ed in the UK, what they do at Quintimacy and the need to better educate people, including children and teenagers, about trauma and consent.

Scarleteen (ST): Tell us about Quintimacy: what is it?

Beck Thom (BT): Quintimacy is ‘Queer Intimacy,’ spaces and services offered by me, Beck Thom (a certified sexological bodyworker and sex educator). It’s all about making space and cultivating queer intimacy in all different forms. This can range from conscious sharing, talking and listening, physical touch, cuddles, through to massage and erotic touch. It is about experiencing Intimacy and learning about Intimacy, with ourselves (solo), with a partner or partners, or even with the whole group.

Quintimacy is fundamentally about consent, specifically embodied consent, which I’ll talk more about later.

Workshops are offered online or in person for adults over the age of 18, but the learnings and practices and ideas (sex ed as a whole) are absolutely relevant to all young people.

Quintimacy spaces offer LGBTQ+ people a space to explore, with a strong focus on celebrating diversity in a unique way; so trans, intersex and queer experiences of sex, pleasure and our bodies are what it’s all about.

ST: We hear the term “somatic” more and more in sexuality work and spaces. Can you explain what that term means for our readers, and talk about what somatic approaches and work can offer?

BT: One approach I use is Somatic Sex Education. The Sex Education you might receive in school (if you get any!) isn’t somatic. It’s likely to be about intellectual knowledge, like what anatomy you have, diagrams and descriptions of what the different parts are for. It is teaching you about ‘the body’ as a general idea, and probably shies away from focusing on your own body too much or encouraging you to [focus on it]. You might get good advice, like “Do not have sex until you are ready to,” or “Listen to your instincts and leave a date if you do not feel safe,” or ‘“It’s normal to feel very horny and think about sex all the time when you go through puberty.”

But you wouldn’t probably get any help learning how ‘ready’, ‘unsafe’ or ‘horny’ actually feel in your body, or how to tune into such feelings and relate from them when they’re present.

What Quintimacy does is bring our bodies into the enquiry. There is still thinking, there is still talking, but we include the body by paying attention to it and being curious about it. A question we ask a lot is “What am I noticing in my body right now?”

Because it can be really hard to quiet the thinking brain enough to listen to the body, at Quintimacy events we do a whole load of exercises and practices designed to focus on what is happening in our bodies: sensations, feelings, awareness of the shape of us, needs we perhaps had not registered.

That is how it is somatic — of the body — and how we acknowledge that really the mind and body are not separate.

[Especially] with marginalized people, I believe somatic work has to be done in a trauma-informed and careful way with lots of permission to find ways in and to not do something if it doesn’t feel good. The more marginalized we are, the more likely we are to have a nervous system that gets ‘dysregulated,’ feeling out of sorts, going into flight (anxiety, feeling vigilant or tense), or maybe freezing (going still, feeling passive or unable to move, becoming less responsive) or flopping (going floppy, with loose muscles, sleepy or hypo-aroused).

Remember the cup of tea video? A great message about not making someone drink tea if they don’t want tea. But what if someone doesn’t know if they want tea? Some of us are so used to ‘drinking the tea’ or having the sex because it’s what other people want, that we have never learnt – or have forgotten how to know – what we want and desire. A lot of the practices we do at Quintimacy aim to help people notice the state of their nervous system, interpret their needs and take action to get those needs met. These skills help us to move through life and relationships as well as to have the best intimacy we can.

ST: Why do you think it’s important to have spaces like Quintimacy?

BT: I am 47 now. When I was a queer teenager, and through my twenties, I used to see images or scenes in films with rooms full of people doing tantra, working in pairs, touching, eye gazing and doing sacred practices. I looked at it and felt so intrigued and drawn to it. I knew it was showing me something very different from the sex I was having at the time, and I wanted some of it!

I came out at 18 and it was a few years before I came across tantra or other sexuality workshops in real life. I realized that I didn’t see myself reflected in any of them:  they were all for heterosexual couples who were assumed to have certain combinations of genitals, and only two identities and even ‘energies’ (masculine and feminine).

Through the next couple of decades, I rarely found spaces that were doing conscious sexuality exploration without the basis of a gender binary, until I stumbled upon UK’s Quintasensual festival (queer sex and tantra festival) in 2015, which sadly is no longer running.

When I set up Quintimacy and started doing events, I thought it was so important that people had something like this to tap into which would happen more than once a year. And since the lockdowns I offer both one-to-one work and workshops online, so it makes it more accessible to more people.

In my twenties, I also read kink and BDSM fiction. I was drawn to the depictions and stories of queer kink, power exchange and especially kink that created amazing connections between the players, powerful altered states of mind and transcendence. The latest Further/Deeper Quintimacy (level 2) events I am holding seem to be a natural progression, where we explore kink, power play and stronger sensations through the lens of embodied consent and curiosity about the queer erotic mind.

ST: Your work is trauma informed. Can you tell us a little about that, especially when it comes to doing work that involves touch?  What can you share about how to make physical and sexual touch more accessible to those of us who have experienced trauma?

BT: The very first idea I propose when it comes to trauma and touch is permission to not do any! So many of us have grown up learning and expecting that touch will simply ‘happen’ to us. We are unaccustomed to people asking before they touch us, and even if this is familiar, do we really feel able to know what we want and say exactly our truth?

Intimacy Coach and Sexological Bodyworker Betty Martin has this great practice called the ‘Bossy Massage’, where nothing happens unless you ask for it. And, as the name suggests, you get to be bossy! Or at least to directly ask for what you want. It helps people to take their time to notice in their bodies what they actually want.

This permission for ‘no touch to happen’ applies to all Quintimacy sessions and workshops. We emphasize over and over that ‘everything is an invitation’. There are always a range of options so that everyone in the room is included and takes part even if touch or certain activities are not right for them. This includes the sensory tent, the den, the ‘sanctuary’ area, the coloring books, blankets and fiddle toys we provide. People can have choice in how they participate and can enjoy (emotionally intimate) listening pairs and clothed cuddles, or non-moving, non-sexual touch. People are encouraged to have breaks or simply witness the room if they want to.

Slowing down is a huge part of our practices and we actively encourage taking breaths, pauses, and titration (this means doing things one drop at a time, so as not to overwhelm ourselves). Saying ‘give me a few hours or days to get back to you on that’ when someone asks a favor of you, or asks for something intimate, is an excellent habit to get into. A few minutes to a few weeks. Sometimes, we get valuable information from the body.

What I find is that an individual can learn this stuff, but then enters a relationship with someone who has not done any of this work, and that can be very difficult. So, it helps that more members of our communities are doing this work around embodied consent and communication. Two people who have attended a Quintimacy workshop, for example, have a great foundation of practices and ideas for how to talk about ‘what I want’ and ‘what you want’ and where the overlap is.

But honestly, we need to change the whole culture around us, not just the bubble of the Quintimacy events. There needs to be a culture of trauma-informed consensual practices around everything to do with how we treat each other, including in sex and intimacy. A step in the right direction would be that people felt more able to take a pause (even with something such as responding to a message on their phone). Sometimes we are ‘not ready’ or ‘we don’t know yet’ whether it’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ and we need time to work it out for ourselves, not feel rushed and pressured because other people don’t honor this need.

ST: You do extensive LGBTQIA+ youth work and therapeutic work background with children and young people. Can you talk to us about that?

BT: I spent many decades of my life qualifying for, and working within, fields for children, young people and families, so for a long time my work focused on under 18’s.

I have been a youth worker with LGBTQ young people and specialized in mental health and self-harm. I have also facilitated exclusively trans youth groups. I was a frontline children’s social worker and then moved into therapeutic Social Work, where I was in a team that specialized in working with children aged three to 18 years-old who did inappropriate or ‘sexualized’ things. My work was to build a relationship with the child to help them get on track and to stop doing the risky behavior. We believed that things that would be helpful were reducing shame, helping a child understand their emotions and their body sensations, giving age-appropriate sex education, talking about where they might have learnt ‘wrong’ things about sex and consent, and supporting them with abusive things that had happened to them.

I did a lot of sex and body related education in that role, including somatic work, such as helping them notice what sensations they had before they did sexual things, like tingly feelings. Building self-esteem and improving their connections to others was really important to having a healthy relationship with sexuality and touch. I did all this work through games, quizzes, playing in sand trays, writing stories, art and crafts, and sometimes working with parents.

What I took from this experience was the role of shame in continuing unwanted or problematic behavior, and how important it is to be able to speak candidly about sex and the body. In Protective Behaviors, ‘there is nothing so awful you can’t talk to someone about it’ was a key principle. I am particularly good at talking about sex and bodies openly, so this worked for me.

There is an irony now that my services and workshops have to be aimed at adults over 18 only! I wish that more people were offering embodied consent education to children and young people – I am aware of some early years and youth workers who are integrating it.

Youth workers and social workers and other professionals could access Wheel of Consent trainings or attend events like Quintimacy for themselves. It is experiential work where the learning goes into your body rather than reading PowerPoints or looking at diagrams.

Young people can learn the basic principles and practices of taking turns, asking, breaking down consent and the giving and receiving of touch into small pieces and playing with it with willing peers or friends. Normalizing platonic, non-sexual, touch and affection between friends is something we see a lot in Quintimacy spaces; we do this ‘canoe hold’ where we synchronize breathing with the person we are holding. This is all about regulating the nervous system and getting to a feeling safe place with another person; what we are wired for, we do not always have to do this alone!

ST: What do you think is unique for British young folks in how they’re experiencing intimacy, sex and pleasure? What do you find seems fairly universal with young people in other parts of the world?

BT: Quintimacy attendees tend to be mid-twenties and upwards. I suspect there is quite a lot that hasn’t changed in the state of sex education since they were young. Many people when they start exploring embodied consent experience a sense of shock and grief when they realize that so much of the sex and intimacy they had when they were younger was not consensual or wanted.

A lot of LGBTQ people will reflect on the sex and intimacy they experienced before they ‘came out’ and the strong cis heteronormative ‘script’ we were all caught up in acting out. Trans folk, in particular, often had a rough time with unwanted sexual experiences, and not being able to voice needs and desires in a cis framework of sex and pleasure. People talk a lot about trying to fit in with what they ‘should’ be doing sexually.

A lot has been said in the past few years about online porn and the effect it is having on young people’s brains and behavior. The emphasis in the UK is all about trying to prevent children and young people being exposed to porn at all, which, with the relationship we have with technology and digital platforms, is a losing battle. At the same time, there are moves to reduce sex education, especially the kind of sex education that would address porn in an open way to increase ‘porn literacy’ and would address diverse sexualities and genders.

As a former youth worker, I think that given the capitalist and digital marketplace, which isn’t going anywhere, children and young people need the adults in their lives and the policymakers and services to offer relevant social education and to support learning to navigate this complicated world. I believe strongly in harm reduction and young people getting accurate information about sex, porn, health and relationships etc. This includes challenging areas like OnlyFans, sex work, kink and rough/risky sex.

Several years ago, I delivered six-hour long workshops to some large groups of 16 and 17 through the National Citizenship Scheme, about embodied consent and ‘feeling the yes and no in your body’. It was a hugely radical thing to do with a group of excitable, socially awkward young people and there were many comments about it, and me, being ‘awks and weird’. However, I strongly believe that the consent culture we cultivate in Quintimacy spaces could absolutely be replicated in schools, colleges, and in youth culture in general. If children learnt these concepts from an early age in their families and school assemblies, instead of being told ‘Give you grandad a kiss, don’t be rude’ children would grow up able to hold their own bodily autonomy and boundaries a lot better, and it would be easier to spot when someone was having pressure exerted on them and non-consensual behavior.

ST: What do you think about the current state of sex education in Great Britain? What’s there? What’s missing? Who is and isn’t being served well?

BT: While it differs from place to place, it certainly seems that mainstream sex education curriculums are more likely to advocate a transactional, ‘permission’ based approach to consent. They may be based on preventing a young person from getting accused of something or breaking the law, as opposed to deepening connection, respect and centering everyone’s pleasure and wellbeing.

Young people will not be served well by a curriculum that might just prefer that young people are not sexual at all, and choose to abstain, or one where the educators hold unconscious or conscious biases such as ‘boys will be boys’ etc. There may be young people (white, male, middle class) that are often favored in situations where consent goes wrong.

The majority of Post-16 Education providers (colleges, etc.) offer zero sex education, which seems ironic given that so many young people become sexually active around this age. From sixteen years old and upwards, sexual health info tends to be given when something has already “gone wrong” (someone has contracted an STI, someone has an injury from ‘risky’ sexual activity, etc.) meaning that there is no ongoing education undertaken proactively. Young people are required to recall what they were taught when much younger, when they likely had less of an understanding of their bodies and less capacity to engage with relevant concepts!

There’s an education gap which needs to be filled.

I would also add that I don’t think the lack of somatic content is limited to young people’s sex education, but also from some NHS funded sexual health services. I have worked with gay, bisexual men and MSM (men who have sex with men) who could really have benefited a lot sooner from experiential and bodymind connected work around anal pleasure: how we can use body awareness, breathing, and anal massage (assage!) to create opening and pleasure. People have the realization that anal sex does not have to involve force or a ‘pain barrier’. I have delivered online workshops during COVID lockdown where we all practiced anal massage techniques on the top of a satsuma tangerine! Lube and all!

ST: One of the central aims of the work you do with Quintimacy is to: “Hold a trauma-informed, facilitated space for queer and trans folk to explore and learn about sex, pleasure and bodies from a queer, gender affirming perspective.” Can you talk a little about the unique needs of queer and transgender people in this space as compared to their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts?

BT: I want to be clear that I think anyone of any gender or sexual orientation can benefit from the Wheel of Consent and from exploring their own relationship to sex, communication and desires. At the very least, on a basic level, it can improve people’s sex lives!

When clients have the aim of increasing pleasure, connecting better with a partner or being able to experience orgasm, somatic sex education has the building blocks.

My approach to holding spaces for queer and trans people includes deep acknowledgement of lived experience and how it has affected intimacy, sex and the relationship with the body. This includes the important concept of power and where personal and political power has been in our lives and identities (e.g. people identifying in certain ways, or having certain kinds of sex to fit powerful cultural norms, or please partners in more powerful positions). It also takes a ‘gender freeing and gender affirming approach’ to the body and genitals. This means taking a beginner’s mind and trying to rewind assumptions and binary thinking. The ‘Genital Interview’ practice invites everyone to approach genitals ‘as if for the first time’ and it is amazing what fascinating information can come from this, what stories the genitals have to tell, and what useful information we can find out.

I believe that everyone, including cishet people, can benefit from this approach. We are all negatively affected and traumatized by our social and cultural environment when it comes to sex and our bodies. It is the idea of queering sex education. I believe the same about how nondisabled people (or more accurately, people in a suspended state of disability) can learn from how disabled folk negotiate and navigate seeking sex and pleasure in creative and flexible ways.

I choose to deliver these services specifically to queer and trans folk because I do not want to dilute the work. Spaces that are queer/cis het mixed can have huge benefits, but might mean that the voices and needs of LGBTQ folk are not heard as clearly and, as often happens in mixed spaces, the more marginalized people end up educating others and doing emotional labor.

To me, these are precious spaces where there are no distractions from the delicate process of, for example, connecting with your own energy genitals! You will not learn about those in high school sex education, but many of us have them.

For more related information for Scarleteen readers, Beck suggests:


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