Italy – the country of amore and dolce vita. Sensuality and beauty have always been celebrated here, be it in the form of fine wine, delicious food, or, well, passion and lust. Still, there are some things about sensuality the Italians have yet to learn, as Bettina Zagnoli tells us. The designer and author hosts workshops about all things sensual, an activity she describes as sensuality coaching. We were curious to learn more about it, and Bettina answered all of our questions in this interview.
You describe yourself as a sensuality coach. What exactly is a sensuality coach and what are the its tasks? Bettina Zagnoli: Actually, this is a new professional term. I coined it by defining the needs of the Italian market – needs that could be answered by a person like me. A standard had never existed, so I’m sort of a pioneer. With this discipline, you need to have innate talents, read a lot in order to stay up to date, be curious, and travel abroad to fairs in the sector.
I have a fun personality and like to encourage people while I explain things in a nice, polite, and ironic way. Originally, I was a “Sensual toys coach” with lots of experience organising home parties for women (dildo parties) before that was even a thing in Italy. Sensuality coaching is more musical and includes the teaching of everything that is based on desire and seduction, far from vulgarity.
I’m 51 with a career in advertising and many years in the world of art. In addition, I have a passion for erotic photography – I was lucky to have met with the great Helmut Newtown. Fashion, psychology these things are the ingredients that helped me create my own unique physique du rôle.
How did you come up with the idea of becoming a sensuality coach?
Ten years ago, I decided to open an erotic-chic boutique in Bologna, the city where I live. It was very innovative: offering luxury lingerie, designer sex toys, and sensual accessories that I designed myself. During that period, I realised that with the advent of the Internet, people had (and still have) more and more human relationships.
My clients ranged from women who wanted advice on lingerie to men who wanted to give an original, classy gift to their lover. These people came to my store because they trusted my instinct and may sensibilities, and because they liked my reliability and reserved style.
Can you tell us a bit about your clients? Who do you want to reach with your services?
In Italy, everything that involves sex is still taboo. A feeling of embarrassment still persists, but at the same time, there is curiosity and the need for reassurance. Initially, my message was geared towards women who wanted to try pleasure objects or simply feel more attractive with silk garter belts. Then, over time, I began to also be appreciated by men who asked me advice for themselves or for their partner.
Other types of clients are also interested: from cartoonists who want scenery for erotic stories to concept stores that want to gradually introduce erotic accessories to their customers, or online sex shops that need consulting to improve or diversify their website.
Why do people need a coach for that? Isn’t intimacy and sexuality something that should come naturally?
Today, everything is too explicit. On the contrary, many people like privacy and look for a confidant. As I touched on earlier, the Italian reality is very delicate. It’s true that sex is natural, but here, it is still seen as “dirty” and hypocritical. Women are embarrassed to go inside sex shops and men have difficulty acknowledging the playful use of a silicone vagina or a prostate massager.
“In Italy, everything that involves sex is still taboo. A feeling of embarrassment still persists, but at the same time, there is curiosity and the need for reassurance.”
What happens during your workshops? What’s the setting, and which topics are presented?
I am always full of surprises! I like to joke around. I make references to history because it’s important to help people understand that sex has been around since the beginning of time, and pleasure objects have existed since Prehistory.
In addition, it’s not like my world consists only of vibrators; there are also other objects like erotic butters, ticklers, fur caressers, everything that excites the senses. Generally speaking, my workshops are focused on sensuality, the importance of playfulness, of being in harmony with ourselves and consequently with those we love and who love us. Therefore, it’s centred on self-confidence.
Are you offering different kinds of workshops or do they all follow the same formula?
They are small shows. I do have an outline I follow, but at the same time, I like to improvise because it’s great to spontaneously interact with the person I have in front of me. It’s important to create a harmonious atmosphere in a polite manner so the client can go home feeling happy and hopefully ready to try some of my suggestions with their partner.
How did your friends and family react, when you told them that you want to work in this field?
I’ve always tried to stay away from vulgarity, and you just need to look at my website, the project that I’ve participated in, and my background to understand my standard. Surely, I always have to be careful making choices that maintain certain professional and prestigious boundaries. And if anyone interprets my profession incorrectly and thinks it’s strange, then that’s not my problem.
You have appeared in the Italian media several times. What topics are usually covered when you are asked to appear on TV or in a radio show, and how important is such media coverage for your job?
It’s an honour to be invited by major Italian national TV stations and the most popular radio shows, also because it’s always them who approach me. As I explained earlier, I have a lot of expertise in this sector, and my business woman’s approach is one of class and irony. These ingredients are very captivating and tend to draw attention. In addition, I’ve been told that I behave very naturally in front of a camera or microphone.
Therefore, it’s a great experience discovering new aspects of one’s personality. I would have never imagined being on television or the radio. Today, we work a lot on social networks, managing followers, and interacting with them is pivotal. However, it is really important that you really have something to say: In Italy, there are young women who explain sex toys, bloggers who lend suggestions about sex, but – and I don’t mean to sound presumptuous, it’s simply a fact – I’m the only one who can boast this degree of media presence.
I also write for the Il Fatto Quotidiano.it, one of the most important Italian daily newspapers. And I’d like to thank you because some of my ideas come from reading your magazine.
Apart from your work as a coach, you also released a couple of books about eroticism and sexuality. Could you tell us more about that? What exactly did you write about?
Of course! And I’m very proud of them. In 2014, I wrote “Praise to the dildo” (only in the Italian language and in paperback) edited by Tullio Pironti, a fantastic Neapolitan editor who discovered my “talent” as a writer.
He introduced many foreign authors to the Italian market who went on to become very famous, like Don DeLillo, Bret Easton Ellis, Raymond Carver, Egyptian Nobel Prize winner Naghib Mahfuz. Therefore, it was a great honour to compile a book that explained in a fun and light way the most antique sex toys of the world.
Furthermore, I wrote “Erotic tips for happy lovers”, available on Amazon, a collection of erotic suggestions to revitalise a couple’s sex life along with tips for when sexual fantasy is languishing.
You also offer a “Love Kit“. Where can this kit be bought and what is in it?
I define it as a KIT D’AMORE, with an Italian touch because the word AMORE is universal. My love kits are small cloth pocket books. They are exclusive, like a high fashion collection, realised by Italian tailors, with contents that can be adapted to requests. They are dedicated primarily to luxury and designer hotels, but can also be a nice idea as a wedding party favour.
There are no rules for the contents other than they are selected by me; usually, they include mini sex toys, condoms, and silky oil for intimate massages. If you wanted, you could also have them personalised, but they always remain in line with my taste. For more information about the love kits and where to buy them, you can go to my website, www.sensualcoach.it, and write us.
Are there any future projects you could tell us about? Maybe a new book in the making or new products in the offing?
I was born a few kilometres from the home city of the great director Federico Fellini; our region has fantastic gastronomy and is full of art and beautiful women, so I have creativity in my blood; I think it’s great to be open and receptive of the opportunities that life gives you.
I love to travel and I’d like to organise – if I find a sponsor – small exclusive tours to see sensual places, love boutiques, erotic museums, photography shows, and stories. In addition, I’d like to also make my professional knowledge available abroad: to become a type of “personal shopper” who – using my good Italian taste – helps people purchase sex toys they might not know or have no time to buy.
Like Fellini said, “Life is a combination of magic and pasta”. I’d like to also add “of eroticism and good wine”