“Women’s sexuality is something that is a very touchy subject for a lot of women … I had to free my body from all of the binding, all the shutting down, and all of the censorship I had already put on it. When I did that, everything in my life changed. My relationship with my husband changed. My relationship to the world changed. My relationship to my body changed. My relationship to my female friends changed in huge ways.”
— Sheila Kelley, founder of S Factor
Sheila Kelley is giving women a way to take their sexuality back. To prepare for her starring role in the film Dancing at the Blue Iguana, Sheila learned how to strip tease and pole dance. Through the process, she discovered an incredible sensual power and confidence within her and knew she had to share her journey with other women.
Through S Factor, Sheila has created a culture for women to come and let their body be expressive and truthful, experienced and acknowledged, and seen not just in the bedroom, but experienced and expressive everywhere. What a goddess!
TB: Tell me about the name “S Factor.”
SK: The reason I named it S is because of the calm, beautiful and natural undulation of a female body when she moves completely at peace, and without threat and fear, she lets her body curve naturally. If you just watch any kind shoreline coming in and out, this S undulation is so natural and beautiful and so feminine.
TB: What inspires you on a daily basis to do your work?
SK: It’s almost as if I am kind of possessed. I am so passionate about S Factor. I love women, and I love helping women. What inspires me is everything. Everything from sitting in class and watching women writhe around and undulate and find their sexuality and bad ass sexy, to reading books on the history of the feminine, anatomy books on the female body, the history of movement, and books on sex differences. I love it. I find it so fascinating.
Women who are not given even the slightest bit of access to any kind of physical empowerment in their bodies, inspire me to try to get to them. Women who would walk through life every day thinking, “I’m not sexy. I don’t look like her. I don’t look like the magazine cover or the billboard of the movie star.” They come to class and within the first level they are saying, “I’m so hot. I’m so bad ass. I am a sexy woman.” Just watching beautiful, sexy women come alive inspires me. Women should feel sexy. All women have this in them. And every woman should define the word beauty for herself because she is beauty.
TB: What do you think women come to your classes?
SK: I feel that the reason I have been heard and the reason I think women come to S Factor, or follow my books, or want to find this particular side of themselves, is because I have been there. Because I am a normal woman — a normal mom with two kids and husband. When I had this revelation through this movement, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I couldn’t do anything but speak the truth about what happened. I think it was so incredibly novel at the time. I think women were thinking, Here is someone helping me feel wholesome about something that as a society was always taboo.
TB: You used the word wholesome. I noticed also you use the term “wholesome sexuality” in some of the S Factor literature. Can you tell me what that means to you and why you chose that term?
SK: When I first did S Factor, I was blown out of the water. What I needed to do was to learn this movement for a movie and since I didn’t have a character to base it off of, I had to go inside myself. When I did that, what I found was this sexual alter ego that we call the “erotic creature.” It was a side of myself that was set aside in some dark little crevice inside me and not allowed to come out and express herself in the world. What I found through an incredibly fun exploration of my body, and my natural body movement — a movement which by the way got my body into the best shape of my entire life — was a feeling like a veil had been lifted off of my eyes when I saw my body and my sexuality come from a kind of nebulous place. My erotic creature became very vivid and very clear and I felt more complete as a woman. I felt more whole.
I wondered to myself, “Why do I not always feel whole?”
I realized that back when I was 6 or 7 my neighbor’s mom said, “Sheila Kelley, you put your shirt on!” I was a tomboy. My best friends were all boys. We would take our tops off, walk around, squirt each other with bottled water. When she yelled at me, I thought, Oh my God. I’m not supposed to have my top off. But I didn’t have any breasts. What I realized later though is that from that moment forward whenever any girl starts to feel a shut down of her body, for example, when someone says: “Put your knees together. Stop moving your hips like that. Cover your chest. Cover those breasts.” Whenever you are told to shut part of your body down, but no one says why, you are left with nothing but shame or guilt.
How does your body know? Your body doesn’t have a thinking, cognitive brain. So immediately I thought, when this neighbor was screaming at me, Oh my God! I walked home and I was so ashamed of my chest that I don’t think I ever took my top off again in front of anybody until of course I was much older. It was a shocking thing.
I think women in our global patriarchal culture are told to shut their body down. And when we don’t know why, we start to cut our body off. You cut off your curves. You cut off your breasts. You cut off the curve of your tush. You cut off your sexuality … and it’s relegated to the bedroom.
What I noticed when I was doing S Factor is that my sexuality was coming out everywhere. Not like blatant sex, but my sexuality, my energy, my sexy energy of me as a person, as a woman, as a mother. I felt sexy in the grocery store. I was feeling sexy at the PTA meeting. And I thought, Okay, I’m a woman, and I can feel sexy. And this is good.
It infiltrated my entire life, my entire body, my entire spirit. It made me happy that I am a confident, wholesome woman.
TB: I get that.
SK: I think women don’t see themselves and their sexuality as wholesome. And yet men’s sexuality is EVERYWHERE. We experience it as a culture in stadiums, thousands of raging fans of male sexuality, screaming, “Kick the ball over the goal post. Get the ball in the hoop. Score a home run.” Male sexuality lives in that prowess of the scoring, of conquering, of getting, of that beautiful male energy of domination, aggression, and the competition.
TB: And women’s sexuality?
SK: When women own their sexuality, it makes women have a strut in their walk without shame, and with absolute wholesome joy and fun. For example, my husband is a Yankees nut and we go to Yankees games a lot. Derek Jeter was getting ready to go up to bat. I don’t think I have ever seen anything so beautiful and sexy as that guy just strutting his body. He is like a peacock, strutting his stuff. Swinging his bat. I thought, “Okay, that is S Factor for women.”
I say take it out of the dark, seedy clubs. Don’t let it be owned by men anymore. Own it yourself. When you own it yourself, then you feel complete.
TB: What is it like watching what happens to women who practice S Factor over a course of time?
SK: Watching what happens with each woman is an amazing discovery. It’s like watching a kid discover Christmas every single day. Ecstasy exudes from every pore of their body when they find out that they too have this sexy self inside.
What happens in the 7 levels will blow your mind. What you do is snap on the on switches of your body – snap on your curves, snap on your senses, snap on your sexy. Then you snap on truth in your body and sexuality. Then you snap on the emotions. Then you snap on the soulfulness of your sexuality. Then you snap on the essence. It’s such an amazing journey. It will blow your mind.
Some women come to just learn to pole dance and play on that pole. And I love that too.
TB: I think for many women, when they hear about S Factor, they think it is strictly a pole dancing class. However, after taking an S Factor class myself, I found that S Factor is so much more than pole dancing. Can you say more about this?
SK: S Factor is not pole dancing. S Factor has pole dancing in it. S Factor is about learning the feminine language of the body and finding your sexy alter ego … finding your erotic creature. S Factor is about carving a killer, beautiful body – the body you were meant to have — because you are going to learn how to move your body into her shape that already exists as opposed to trying to force your body into somebody else’s shape, or into the square shape of a man’s stature.
This whole new emerging science of sex differences is so interesting to me. We are such different creatures. Our anatomy is different. Our structure is different. Our purpose is different, and it just makes sense that you have a workout that addresses the inherent shape of the feminine body.
We want to develop a whole culture for women to come and let their body be expressive and truthful, experienced and acknowledged and seen not just in the bedroom in the dark, but let your body be experienced and expressive everywhere.
TB: That’s beautiful and so liberating. Are there some other common misperceptions of S Factor?
SK: I think the most common misperception of S Factor is that it objectifies women. But I do believe that I’ve nipped that in the bud. I think that because from the very beginning whenever I was on Oprah or any of the news shows, I was in a lot of ways educating people. I’ve really cut my teeth on being challenged. I’ve battled the best of them. I’ve battled the best of the Christian right. I’ve battled the best in feminist theory. People needed to be educated because we have created a paradigm that is a no-win situation for women – globally — of where your sexuality is relegated to and who owns it, and what you can and cannot do with it. So when you introduce into the world the tools, an art form, a language, and permission for women to come to a place to find their overt feminine movement that half of the population finds sexually provocative, that is a huge cultural shift happening. What S Factor offers to the world is something that was never offered before.
TB: What are some ways that S Factor has changed your life?
SK: I had to free my body from all of the binding, all the shutting down, and all of the censorship I had already put on it. When I did that, everything in my life changed. My relationship with my husband changed. My relationship to the world changed. My relationship to my body changed. My relationship to my female friends changed in huge ways.
TB: Can you say more about how your relationship with your female friends changed?
SK: During all my time in strip clubs researching for Dancing at The Blue Iguana, what I realized is that every single woman is beautiful. I learned a lot from watching men watch women. I said, “Okay, these men here are riveted to this girl who is 6 foot 3; that girl who is 4 foot 9; that girl who is 150 lbs; this girl who is 100 lbs.; this woman who is 65; this woman who is 18; this woman who is 30.” I saw how much men love to watch women’s bodies move.
S Factor is the true equalizer. It levels the playing field. Every woman will find her natural beauty in this class – the beauty in her body movement.
In my friends, I began to see their beauty in the arc of their neck, the curve of their ankle, and the small of their back. Then when they came to take classes with me I began to see this incredible vulnerability and this incredible beauty and bravery.
When women start to bond over their sexuality, it’s very similar to the way that men bond over their sexuality in sports. Men bond over their sexual prowess – their strength, their agility, their power. Women bond over their undulation, their curves, their sensuality — things that are innately feminine. Once you do that, there is no turning back. You become bonded in a sisterhood in a way that I had never experienced before.
TB: That sounds heavenly.
SK: It’s pretty cool. I am not threatened by women at all. I feel so confident in my own sexuality, in my own body, in my own curves, my own movement, and my own beauty that I can walk out on the street with my husband Richard and say, “Oh my God, isn’t she beautiful? Look how gorgeous her legs are. Look how gorgeous her butt is.” I find women beautiful.
One of the revelations I also had quite early on is that I do not find this movement erotic. It does not arouse me to watch a woman move in this way as it does a man. But I do find it beautiful and breathtaking, and it’s sexy.
TB: You have been a real leader in helping women reclaim their sensuality and sexuality. What lessons have you learned about feminine leadership that you could share with other women?
SK: My number one advice to women is that you can’t not speak the truth.
Although speaking the truth can be frightening, you can’t not speak the truth.
Next, I think the culture of the feminine needs to be reinvigorated and women need to build a culture that is connected all over the globe to reinforce this newfound power in the body. Women have been divided to be conquered. No one person did this. It’s been a cultural evolution. The masculine nature is very out there and vocal and very much espousing their point of view, and God bless them. The female culture needs to learn to do the same. We need to coalesce, we need to get out there and espouse our points of view and elevate and celebrate what makes us women. When we are able to do this we will have a louder voice, a bigger voice, a more powerful voice in the religious circles, in the social circles, and in the political circles.
My last advice is to find that feminine culture. Be a part of this emerging culture and don’t undermine your integrity as a woman out of fear or desperation.
For more information about Sheila and how you can get started with S Factor, visit www.sfactor.com.
Tabby Biddle, M.S. Ed., is a writer, editor, and reporter dedicated to the empowerment of women and girls. Her work has been featured by The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, NPR, and other national media. She is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post on women’s issues and reports on the inspiring work of women changemakers. She lives in Santa Monica, CA.