Lacey Haynes is a women’s “intuitive healer”, and guides couples in yoga-informed “elevated sex”. When she opens her front door, the first thing I notice about the Canadian podcaster is her fashionable faux fur slippers and chic blunt fringe. Where is the western wellness guru uniform of linen tunic, elephant-print trousers and culturally inappropriate head jewellery, I wonder?
Inside the living room, I spot the hot-pink sofa that Haynes’ Australian husband, Flynn Talbot, a men’s life coach and fellow elevated sex practitioner, calls “love island”. Fans of their podcast – Lacey and Flynn Have Sex – will know it as one of many locations around their house where they take the title literally, recording themselves having sex in the bedroom, on the kitchen barstool, and beyond.
But it’s not the sex that’s the main event – it’s the talk. In each episode Haynes, 37, and Talbot, 40, discuss techniques and topics around sex and relationships, covering everything from overcoming rejection to the joys of cunnilingus; from rethinking orgasm as the ultimate goal to navigating intimacy with common conditions such as UTIs and premature ejaculation.
Their mission is to help coupled-up listeners have more fulfilling sex – and to transform nonexistent or perfunctory sexual experiences into something physically pleasurable, emotionally empowering and spiritually uplifting. From there, they believe, the sky is the limit: “elevated” sex can lead to better mental and physical health, and even a better career.
After all, it’s what happened to them. As they tell their listeners, their relationship started out “hot and heavy”, before “the sex died”, says Haynes. But rather than “living out the rest of our days like that”, they decided to invest in their sex life. It became a project that they worked on together, drawing influences from yoga and books on everything from diet and anatomy to politics and memoir.
The project eventually transformed their relationship and led them to start their own business, which offers private coaching, online courses and even retreats. Haynes focuses on women – and extends their relationship work to include pregnancy – while Talbot takes care of the men. They do it all from their idyllic home in Sussex, while juggling the parenting of their two home-schooled children.
Their work couldn’t have come at a better time. Despite living in an age of hypersexualisation, with more Britons tuning in to Pornhub than BBC News, people across all demographics are having less sex than 10 years earlier, according to a 2019 survey published in the British Medical Journal, which also found that couples and over-25s are seeing the biggest decline. According to Relate, 29% of couples regard their relationships as “sexless” – and half of women and nearly two-thirds of men in the BMJ survey said they wanted to have more. Throw into that a pandemic in which 78% of cohabiting couples saw a change in their sexual activity (and not for the better), and it’s perhaps no wonder that Haynes and Talbot have found a listenership. But with devotees come detractors, and, as I’ll find out, some of the pair’s more controversial views have attracted criticism.
Over tea in the kitchen, I listen to them lovingly bicker over how to heat pastries and I enjoy Haynes’ impressions of her kids pleading to stay up late. There is nothing about this conversation that suggests sex, but I don’t doubt it could go that way. That is, after all, one of their key messages: that too many couples wait for the vague and mysterious “mood” to show up, when it is always within their power to have sex, be it before work, once the kids are in bed, or just after a mid-morning croissant on an unseasonably warm autumn Thursday.
Haynes and Talbot didn’t mean to record themselves having sex; it just sort of happened. “We intended to have sex off the podcast, and then come and talk about it,” says Talbot. But that first recording in April 2021 – dreamed up just a few months earlier – “developed its own momentum”, says Haynes, as the talk about sex turned easily to foreplay and then the act itself. Their approach to the podcast’s sex segments is to talk through what they’re doing and how it feels in unflinching detail. Their choice of words ranges from the ethereal (“I see your light shining,” one of them might say as they revel in each other’s “energy” and “aura”), to terms ordinarily censored: “Lacey is tugging on my cock,” Talbot might say; or from Haynes: “He’s licking my side pussy.” It is not a podcast to be listened to in public. The listener hears them pant, moan and direct each other to orgasm.
In many ways we are living in the age of the overshare, where giving too much information turns ordinary people into viral stars. Indeed, a quick look at the podcast charts makes clear that subjects that were once highly personal (psychotherapy, pregnancy and sex) are driving serious engagement. But even by today’s standard, Lacey and Flynn Have Sex shocks.
Not every episode ends in ecstasy, however. The listener also hears Haynes in distress when sex triggers difficult memories; flashes of annoyance if one does something the other doesn’t like; and the sound of shuffling around when there’s physical discomfort. All of it is discussed in detail: a real-life, authentic example of how to talk about (and throughout) sex.
The couple met in Berlin more than 10 years ago, when Talbot, then working as a light artist, kept failing to show up for classes at Haynes’ yoga studio. “Then she had a Christmas party and I went to that,” recalls Talbot. Was it love at first sight? “No. My first thought was, ‘Wow, she is super Canadian. And loud. Imagine living with her,’” he laughs.
Nonetheless, there was an instant connection. “I was actually in a relationship,” says Haynes. “And I could have kept going in it and just ignored the 15% of the relationship I wasn’t happy in, like so many people do. But then I met Flynn. I was just so fascinated by him. He recognised my entrepreneurial spirit and I his. And he was tall. As Melissa McCarthy says in Bridesmaids, I wanted to climb him like a tree.”
For the next few years, they were sexually insatiable and madly in love, maintaining the passion through moves from Berlin to Australia via South Africa, before marrying in Nova Scotia and settling in the UK in 2014. It was around this time that their sex life slowed down, worsening after they had their first child in 2017. The issue? Talbot wanted more sex than Haynes.
One person wanting more sex than the other is a common problem for couples in long-term relationships. “I was just like, everything I want is with Lacey,” says Talbot, recalling his frustration. “So why can’t we cultivate that?”
“I felt resentment,” says Haynes. “I’d satisfy him and be like, ‘Phew, I’m off the hook for two weeks.’ It put Flynn in something we call the rejection loop, where he’d come near me and get rejected.”
The transformation was not an easy process. “Lacey was full-on crying, having emotional meltdowns,” recalls Talbot. But every Sunday they made an appointment for sex and pancakes. This was the first step. “Credit to Lacey, she showed up,” he says.
The pair say they have learned that sex is not just a pleasurable experience, but a place to work through emotions and traumas. In an episode on “rage fucking”, they talk about the opportunity to release feelings of anger through sex and masturbation. They even talk about sex as a place where they have some of their brightest business ideas. (Haynes even used to offer “pussy-powered” business coaching, which used their practice to help women unlock career goals.)
Listeners will note their vernacular: an amalgam of new-age language, pop culture references and most of all the sort of “therapy speak” that dominates online self-care content. Did they try therapy? Would they have considered marriage counselling? “Honestly, no,” says Haynes. “I didn’t think someone would have had the depth of understanding that I wanted, to take me on an intuitive journey that would fulfil my healing. That was something I needed to do myself, and with Flynn.”
Talbot says that a key job for men in sexual relationships is providing emotional safety. “I didn’t have an emotional barrier that was stopping me from performing and enjoying sex, though I have learned I have other areas I can work on,” he says. “But I wanted to make Lacey feel safe to explore, because I’m a leader – I’m an all-or-nothing guy. I’m married and I want to have amazing sex with Lacey. I was willing to do whatever it took.”
Did they ever worry that the other one would leave if it got too much? No, they reply confidently. “We know some couples don’t have that level of security,” says Haynes. “And we never advise people to do what we did if they’re not in a safe situation.”
In the end, it paid off. While they were trying to get back to that great sex, they discovered something even better. Haynes says that when she looks back on their early sex life, she sees that pain during intercourse was normalised. But now, she says, having learned to fully de-stress and release any tension in the mind, body and spirit, penetrative sex is pain-free.
In her “pussy-gazing” class, which is currently offered as an online workshop, Haynes teaches women to put a mirror between their legs and work through any feelings of shame over their vulva. The class originally took her to festivals around the UK, as the pair became tuned into the unmet demand for coaching in intimate subjects. “We were like: if we were brave, what would really help people?” says Talbot. The podcast was born. Since then, their listenership has been steadily growing, finding listeners in 50 countries to the tune of 40,000 downloads.
While they haven’t told their pensioner neighbour what they’re up to at home (“I think he’d have a heart attack,” says Talbot), their friends and family have been resoundingly supportive, even in their small, close-knit village. And both Haynes and Talbot say working on their business has strengthened their relationship. “We have conversations that we might not ordinarily have space for through this podcast,” says Haynes.
“Love island” is just one of several locations in which Haynes and Talbot record themselves. In the recording studio that occupies their spare room, I wonder if the single mattress on the floor with the cheeky boob print duvet cover is another. It turns out that’s where Talbot sleeps when he works late or if Haynes is in the main bed with their children. For the recording today, the kids are with their nanny, and the plan is to make a talk-only episode.
Haynes and Talbot take their seats opposite each other, almost knee to knee. I can tell that my presence, typing notes while they talk, is slightly disruptive (they say so on their podcast, kindly referring to me by my chosen fake name, Esmeralda), but they shake it off, and within minutes their eyes are only for each other. Watching them give each other edits, it’s clear not only how seriously they take their work but also how energised they are by one another. Is there something sexy about recording? “No, we don’t have a weird fetish where we want to expose ourselves, but only via sound,” laughs Talbot.
They seem at ease, much more so than the nervous yet excited presenters I heard in episode one. But even back then they were wary of performing for the audience. (“It felt authentic and true, and now it feels performative,” says Talbot in the middle of the first episode’s sex, before getting the session back on track.)
Haynes says that the performance of sex is something she’s been “unpicking” for a while. “There is playing into voyeurism – wanting to be seen and wearing a mask, often to satisfy another’s gaze. And that’s different from just being witnessed in your vulnerability and truth. I never want to be masked in my relationship, in my life or in this podcast,” says Haynes.
This is my biggest takeaway from listening to their podcast: how much work and self-awareness is required to push performance away from sexual encounters, even between partners, even in private. It gives rise to the questions: what roles are we performing and where did we learn them?
I’m reminded of a conversation I had with feminist scholar Gail Dines some years ago. She argued that sex is like eating, in that we have a biological urge for it. But how we eat – whether it’s with chopsticks or cutlery, sitting on the floor or at a table – is down to cultural influences. So what has culture shown us about how to have sex? Have we learned from Hollywood movies? The unrealistic and often degrading world of online porn? Clinical sex education classes focused on avoiding pregnancy? Tall tales from high school boys or the mumbled bumps heard through a university bedroom wall? Lacey and Flynn Have Sex may not be for everyone, but at the very least its offer of a different source is helpful.
Undoubtedly, some will be put off by their grandiose terms – they refer to themselves as visionaries – or uncensored language. Their response on the podcast has been to ask listeners not to overlook their whole message because of a few disagreeable words. Personally, I’d say the same logic applies to other parts of their work, where it gets too new age, or simply too much. For example, I can appreciate the anatomical similarities between the vocal cords and the vagina. But when they mention this on the podcast in relation to women being vocally expressive during sex, my alarm bells ring.
I ask Haynes and Talbot why they talk about the masculine and the feminine as archetypes. “I’m really talking about energies,” says Haynes, moving her index and middle finger against each other, to convey connected yet different halves. “So like day and night, sun and moon. If you relate more to the feminine or masculine, you have different styles of communication, and problem-solving.” But, she explains, that doesn’t mean you need to look a certain way to relate to that energy, or even be biologically ascribed to it.
As for inclusivity, the pair say they have resigned themselves to not being able to fully deliver on that, and are coming to terms with their work being limited to – or at least most suitable for – heterosexual couples. They recall a non-binary person attending one of their in-person workshops, and as the group separated into masculine and feminine spaces to work with Haynes and Talbot separately, this person wasn’t sure where to go. “I spoke to the person after they said they didn’t always feel safe at the course,” says Haynes. “It really helped us understand that there’s a limit to how inclusive we can be,” Talbot says.
“I get messages from people who tell me I’m a Terf [trans-exclusionary radical feminist] because I talk about ‘power’ and ‘feminine’, and then I’ll get a message from a trans woman saying my pussy-gazing workshop completely helped her connect after getting her new vagina,” says Haynes, sounding exasperated. “I want to live in a world where I can say, ‘This class will help these sorts of people, and if that’s not you, we love you, but this class won’t help.’ It doesn’t mean I’m trying to take away from other people and that I love them any less. I don’t think that their experience and who they are is any less valid.”
Of the two, it’s clear that Haynes has borne the brunt of criticism. She certainly has unconventional views: after she gave an interview to the Guardian about free birthing, commenters argued that it was dangerous, irresponsible and smacked of middle-class privilege to refuse the help that women around the world are desperate for.
More recently, Haynes announced on social media that she hasn’t had a Covid vaccination. I didn’t know this when we met, but when I follow up with the pair to discuss it over video chat, they’re uneasy, concerned that all their work will be reduced to this one position. Later they send me an email: “The same characteristic that makes us able to have sex on a podcast and freebirth both our children is the one that has us challenging the status quo in other realms. This might make our decisions unpopular or challenging for others to understand, but ultimately, we’re most concerned with being true to ourselves and what we feel is right. Our podcast is about governing your own body and living your own life. And we take that stance across every facet of life.”
I want to ask the pair about money. I have, for many years, been concerned about the self-help and wellness space, and whether it is morally right to suggest individuals can transform their lives if they just do this, eat that, or think such and such. Isn’t it charging people for a false promise? And doesn’t it imply that the problems and traumas people experience – which are so frequently related to societal unfairness and injustice – are somehow the individual’s fault for not making the right choices, leaning in enough or harnessing their “power”? Wouldn’t it be more honest to say: self-help is a sticking plaster that may help you cope with a messed-up world, but it cannot cure the sickness?
I expect defensiveness, but instead they listen thoughtfully before Talbot muses aloud: “In that regard maybe our work is a sticking plaster … ”
“No,” Haynes interjects. “We’re a chisel. We’re giving you a little hammer and a nail to start picking it all apart. I don’t want people to cover it up. I want them to dig deeper.”
I’m curious about the troubles straight men face with sex. “The majority of men are lost in the bedroom. They know how to penetrate but they don’t know how to connect,” says Talbot. “Men have, for generations, been conditioned to suppress their emotions. And yet truly expressed emotions and vulnerability are the route to a deep connection with women.
“Not knowing how to harness the power of expression puts men at a great disadvantage, in and out of the bedroom. It’s why many men live with deep frustration and anger that’s close to the surface every day.”
What about pornography? Surely that is a factor? In a recent episode, Talbot describes having been free of his semi-regular cam girl habit for six months. Is giving up porn something he’d recommend to others? “Yes, because it’s just perpetuating the cycle of needing visual stimulation when you should be creating a deeper understanding of your own pleasure. And then when you come to have pleasure with someone else, it’s going to be much greater.”
As we wrap up, Talbot tells me a story about one of his clients. “I often give people homework to explore themselves – not just masturbating, but feeling yourself, rubbing your body, learning your own pleasure.” As part of this work, the client learned techniques on how not to climax, but hover near. He was enjoying having his control and the sensation. “And two weeks ago he told me he had an orgasm, and it was the greatest one of his life. Ever since, he’d cut off porn.”
Without thinking, I let out a high-pitched “Yay!” “Good for him!” I cry, clapping. It is odd to feel so genuinely happy for the sex life of a man I have never met.
“Isn’t it nice to change the narrative about men enjoying themselves?” asks Haynes.
On the drive home, I feel strangely light. I don’t agree with everything Haynes and Talbot have to say, but it is hard to deny their bravery in putting themselves out there week after week, and the value of offering up a different model of fulfilling sex. And it’s a model that is, at its heart, fighting for something quite traditional: committed monogamy, happy families, love. “How very normie,” I think, surprised by just how sexy being a normie can be.
Tips for great sex
1. Communication is key
Before achieving soulful and carefree sex that involves communicating with nonverbal cues, you need to get comfortable with saying if something is a turn-on, a turn-off, triggering or painful.
2. Don’t take it personally …
… if you’re playing with your partner and they don’t enjoy it, say, “Sorry, someone else found that enjoyable. What do you find enjoyable?” Haynes says. Talbot says men need to know that “talking about sex doesn’t make you a bad lover”.
3. Discuss your sexual past
Often, current sexual issues are a result of past experiences, traumas or narratives.
4. Use more of your body
Rather than just jackhammering away, with all movement coming from the hips, Talbot suggests connecting torsos and hearts. “Be like two serpents writhing together.” Use controlled breathing to slow the rushes of feeling and prolong the experience, moving focus to other parts of your body.
5. Rewrite your power script
Haynes says that the narrative where the man holds all the power may contribute to women’s dissatisfaction with penetrative sex. But there is power in letting go and allowing someone in, emotionally and physically. That’s what soulful sex is all about.