You deserve to lust yourself.
That’s how planning the Self-Lust Retreat started. Annika (the photographer behind Ma Chérie Studios) and I were introduced through a mutual friend and we met up for brunch. We were telling each other about our businesses, and what we had to say boiled down to one very simple idea: All people are worthy of pleasure, confidence, and feeling good in their bodies.
As we got to know each other, it became clear that to each of us, our work was about more than self-love (which, to be honest, can feel really tough for a lot of us). It was about celebrating who we are as we already are. It’s also about taking a shame-free approach to topics that make most people blush: sex, confidence, and our bodies.
Even though our fundamental missions are so similar, our actual work is really different! I spent most of my days designing workshop slides and curricula, while Annika spends most of her days taking and editing photos and designing albums. Still, we each spend a lot of our time helping people feel at home in their bodies.
Pleasure-positive sex ed and boudoir are complementary, but only when they’re both based in empathy and the unequivocal belief that everyone is worthy. That shared belief system is what led Annika and I to move forward (with excitement and anxiety) in planning Self-Lust: The Retreat.
You can find out all the basics about the retreat here, but if you want to know a bit more about what to expect, read on.
What to Expect from
Self-Lust: The Retreat
1. A Comfortable, Cozy Space
When Annika and I began planning the retreat, the first thing we did was start looking for venues. We wanted someplace really nice, on the beach, that would feel perfectly tucked away from everything.
Originally, we looked at spaces in Florida — we both live here and hey, it’s a vacation destination. Annika and I both live in cities that boast the #1 and #2 beaches in the country (they routinely swap back and forth year over year) so it seemed like a no-brainer. But honestly, there weren’t any spaces in our part of Florida that ticked all of the boxes on our checklist:
- A mix of private rooms (with only one bed) and shared rooms
- Big, open common spaces
- Plenty of bathrooms (ideally at least one per bedroom)
- Beautiful outdoor spaces
- On, or very close to, the beach
So we expanded our search. We had all but settled on one house — which, to be honest, was gorgeous — when we decided to see what happened when we expanded our search outside of Florida. That’s how we found our venue in Hilton Head.
It not only fulfilled the “need-to-have” items on our list, it filled in things that were on our “nice-to-have” list. Here’s what our 2022 venue features:
- Large bedrooms — both the shared and private suites and really well-sized, so folks will have plenty of space to spread out. The shared suites in this venue were really the tie-breaker. They slept fewer people per room and had more space in them.
- Outdoor space — our venue has its own private infinity pool, plus a balcony off of each of the four floors of the house, plus a beautiful pool deck that overlooks the salt marshes and the beach. It’s also just a quick walk to the beach and has lots of greenery around it.
- Off the beaten path — our venue does have neighbors to either side of it, but other than that, it’s not on the main tourist stretch of Hilton Head. That means quieter beaches and more privacy!
- Two gigantic common areas — the venue we chose has two absolutely massive kitchens, but it also has two living rooms and dining rooms. That means that we won’t all be packed in tightly throughout the weekend. During your downtime, you can retreat to whatever cozy corner you like to rest up (or hang out by the pool). All of the common areas have cozy seating options.
- Private bathrooms for each room — every single room has its own bathroom. The king suites are all en-suite, and the shared rooms also have their own bathroom. There are 11 full bathrooms and one half bath, so there won’t be any fighting over showers or struggling to get ready.
We put a lot of thought into the venue because we knew it would be setting the tone for the rest of the retreat. We know that talking about sexuality, pleasure, and body confidence can be high-stress conversations, so we want the space to be as comfortable and cozy as possible!
2. Shame-Free Sex Ed Workshops
I know that for many of you, “shame-free” and “sex ed” don’t exist in the same universe, let alone the same sentence. If you’re having a “yeah, right” reaction — I totally understand. For most of us, sex ed was deeply tied up with shame and embarrassment.
That’s why I became a sex educator. Because the sex ed I got in middle and high school was also deeply problematic and unhelpful. It’s also why I work exclusively with adults; because if we didn’t get accurate, empathetic information when we were younger, we still need it now.
We haven’t set the workshop topics for the retreat yet. I have a list of several that we might do, but I’m going to let the attendees decide what content they most want to learn about. It could be about boosting your sexual confidence, or an overview of sex toys, or anatomy, or cultivating sexual playfulness — or something else entirely.
Ultimately, if you attend the retreat, you’ll have a say in the workshops that we do.
We also won’t be in a stuffy classroom. The workshops will happen in our common spaces — you can cozy up on the couch or sit on the floor, move around the room, and fidget as much as you’d like. You can be in your pajamas if you want! You’ll also be able to ask questions anonymously or out loud in the group. It’s up to you! We’ll keep things lightly interactive, too. Introverts and quiet learners won’t be called on, but you’ll have the opportunity to contribute, too.
I’ve attended two of Cassandra’s workshops thus far and loved each one. A far cry from my experience of public high school sex ed, her workshops are funny, attention-grabbing, engaging, genuinely fun, and body/sex-positive, which makes students feel comfortable discussing something that can be really difficult to talk about!— student feedback, Bryn Mawr College
No matter the topic, you can expect a candid conversation about sex, sexual difficulties, and sexual pleasure, plus a group of people who are all here to work through some of the same issues you are.
3. Stress-Free Boudoir
I recently was talking with someone about the retreat and they said, “I’ve actually done a boudoir shoot before. It was pretty stressful; picking the lingerie and everything. Like, I’m not a model. I don’t know what to do.”
I felt pretty stressed before my boudoir shoot, too. The big difference? Afterwards and during, I felt amazing and relaxed.
Boudoir is inherently an intimate and vulnerable experience, but with the right photographer, it can also be fun, playful, confidence-boosting, and stress-relieving. I actually have done a boudoir shoot with Annika before and I can attest to just how good she is at her job.
I had decided to this for myself – to help me feel more confident and comfortable with my own body. Annika truly embraced this and helped me at ease with every step of the journey. 100% would not only recommend this to all my friends, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat.— Ms. B, Review of Ma Chérie Studios on The Knot
You don’t have to be or look like a model to have an amazing boudoir shoot. The way we see it, everybody is worthy of sexual pleasure and celebrating their body. Yes, even you! Especially you.
Annika is really talented at helping people relax, working with your body, and just being there to support you throughout the process! We also specifically decided to do a white sheet-style shoot because it takes away some of the big stressors: hair, makeup, and lingerie.
While you absolutely can style yourself if you want to, you won’t be expected to. Just show up however you are that day! I promise — you already look amazing.
I can’t begin to explain how talented Annika is at what she does. I was so nervous about making this investment and doing it but so glad I did because it truly made me happy to be in my own skin. From my first meeting with her, I knew I made the right choice. […] I have always been the type to be self-conscious but this has helped me so much with my self-confidence. This originally was a gift for my fiancé but after seeing the first photo and the way it made me feel it become more of a gift for myself.– Ms. L, Review of Ma Chérie Studios on Yelp
We’ve planned the boudoir day to be pretty relaxed, too. Other than your boudoir shoot, you won’t have anything structured on your schedule. That means you can hang by the pool, walk along the beach, read in bed, or do whatever you want to relax and take care of yourself. We’ll also have a private yoga class that morning so that you can stretch it all out (if you want to).
4. A Sex-Positive Community
I’m a big believer in the power of community when it comes to your ability to live out your values and cultivate a sense of self-worth.
So often we’re taught that it’s exclusively on us to manage those parts of our lives — but it’s not. Sure, we have a hand in it! But our community has an outsized effect on us. If the people in our lives aren’t comfortable talking about sexuality, or are constantly shaming people’s bodies, or are stuck in the trap of toxic positivity, we can end up feeling lost and disconnected.
I think the community that we’ll create at Self-Lust will be the most impactful takeaway for you. It’s a space where everyone who is there has shown up because they want to talk openly about sex, desire, confidence in their body, and their sexual relationships with themselves. That alone is incredibly powerful.
Even if you’re an introvert and prefer to spend your downtime on your own, you’ll leave the retreat knowing that there are other people who genuinely want to build shameless relationships with their bodies, sexuality, and selves. But I’d bet you leave with at least a few new friends, too.
5. A Kick-Ass Welcome Bag
When planning the retreat, Annika and I wanted to make sure that there was something tangible you could take home so that you could keep working on your self-lust and body appreciation. I don’t want to share the specifics of what’s in your gift bag yet, but I’ll leave you with a few hints:
- It’ll include some things that you might want to use right away and some things that you can use every day (and some that elicit both feelings)
- It’ll be customized to you and to the retreat
- It’ll be easy to travel with
- It’ll have some items to save for a #TreatYourself day
Seriously, this gift bag is awesome and is valued at over $400!
6. A Breathable Itinerary
Have you ever been on one of those trips where every second of every day is planned out? Sure, you get to see and do a ton, but you leave your vacation more tired than when you started.
That is definitely not how we planned Self-Lust.
Every day has a chunk of downtime so that you can relax however you want. In fact, on Saturday, you’ll spend most of your day relaxing! Annika and I are both introverts, so we know how important it is to be able to recharge your brain.
We know that many of you are coming to Self-Lust so that you can get back in touch with your sexuality after you’ve had kids, or gone through a really stressful season at work, or just because you’re fried after two years in relative isolation.
No matter what your reason, we want you to leave the weekend feeling refreshed and engaged — not like you need a second vacation to rest up from your first vacation.
Once you sign up for the retreat, you won’t be left just hanging around and waiting for September. We’ll make sure you’re able to mentally prepare for everything from getting to the retreat to what to pack.
From the time that I’m writing this, half of the spots are already filled! If you’re thinking about joining us but have some questions, feel free to reach out. And if you’re ready to register, you can do that here. Registration is open through November 2021!