LET’S TALK ABOUT SEX: Cruising and Choosing

Is it possible to choose what thoughts you think? I’m not sure you can choose what thoughts float through your mind any more than you can choose what you’re feeling at any given moment. If you could, we’d choose to be happy all the time, right? I do believe, though, that you can choose what thoughts you give weight to. That’s probably the biggest benefit of learning to meditate – getting quiet and still enough to notice the obsessive/brutal/anxious thoughts that occupy your monkey mind and to practice turning down the volume or replacing them with thoughts that create serenity rather than suffering.

Is it possible to choose what kind of people you find attractive? That’s the tougher question that came up today in my therapy session with Roger (not his real name). He’s a fit, perky, reasonably attractive middle-aged guy whose consulting job requires him to spend a lot of time on conference calls. The other day he met in person someone he’d only previously encountered as a disembodied voice. Matthew turns out to be an extraordinarily handsome young guy in his early thirties, and Roger’s crushing out on him already.

cruising choosing collage
We had an interesting conversation about the rules of attraction and what body types gay men are trained to idealize. Roger tends to prize men who are young and handsome, and when it comes to dating, he tends to rule out men who are older and heavier than he is. I know that many gay men of a certain age were socialized to have that specific taste in men, which I consider somewhat tragic – tragic because 1) most people aren’t young and handsome, 2) the ones who are don’t stay that way very long, and 3) if you’re only turned on by young, pretty guys, the pickings get slimmer as time goes by. Maybe I’m a bit of a pervert (“Maybe?” I can hear my friends saying) but I never bought into the classic gay stereotype of drooling over hairless skinny young twinks or muscle-bound guys with six-pack abs. A pot belly and a receding hairline have always been more likely to turn my head, and I think I’m far from alone in that predilection.

We talked about how gay culture has expanded over the years to acknowledge a wider spectrum of physical attractiveness and a richer diversity of erotic affinity groups – daddies and daddy-hunters (noting that “Daddy” no longer connotes “Sugar Daddy” who pays for everything), white guys and men of color who are drawn to each other, bears and their various sub-subcultures, the many flavors of kink. We talked about Bob Bergeron, the New York City-based psychotherapist who wrote a book about gay men aging gracefully — and then committed suicide on the eve of its publication, a victim of the toxic belief that you have to “stay young and beautiful if you want to be loved.” And by contrast we talked about the great gay poet James Broughton, the subject of the new documentary film Big Joy, who lived to be a juicy old man. We talked about how one of the roles for elders in any community is listening carefully to and bestowing blessings on younger people, and how challenging it is to give blessings when you don’t feel that you have received as many as you would have liked.

We cycled back to Roger and his thoughts about Matthew, which vacillated between “He’s so handsome – I wish I were that handsome – I’ll never be that handsome” and “He’s so handsome – I wish I had a partner that handsome – I’ll never have a partner that handsome.” Neither of these trains of thought left Roger feeling very happy. I proposed an alternative: “He’s so handsome.” Period. Bestow a silent blessing. What happens if you give weight to that thought?

Choosing what has meaning to you and choosing where you want to put your energy and awareness is also the subject of a famous commencement speech given by novelist David Foster Wallace (another suicide, for what that’s worth) to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College. Check it out and let me know what you think. What thoughts plague you, and what other choices are available to you?

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DID YOU SEE: female sexual desire can change the world

The cover story in the Sunday New York Times Magazine this week reports on “the pharmaceutical quest to give women a better sex life.” An excerpt from Daniel Bergner’s new book What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, the article made me sad and annoyed. It tells women who have been married for 15 years and aren’t interested in having sex with their husbands “There May Be a Pill for That.” That’s the refrain of the multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry, which is fervently trying to find a chemical compound that they can market to women that will become the financial bonanza Viagra became in treating erectile dysfunction for men. I’m all for anything that results in people having better sex, but in my experience focusing on mechanics rather than pleasure tends to create anxiety and frustration more than satisfaction. Clearly, keeping a sexual spark alive in any long relationship challenges everybody, and what a grotesque misunderstanding of how intimacy works to think that a magic pill can create desire where no desire exists.

Luckily, there are other smart people out there working in this field. I’ve known about Nicole Daedone and her One Taste centers for a few years. I only just now watched her 2011 TED Talk, which impressed me tremendously and moved me to tears a few times. (TED Talks do that to people, like Barbara Walters interviews and the Readers Write section of The Sun magazine.) She contests the diagnosis that is getting hyped in the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of “hypoactive female sexual desire disorder” — she prefers to call it “pleasure deficit disorder.” And she’s devised a simple 15-minute sexuality practice to treat it. She makes a case for the notion that “turned-on women (and those who dare to stroke us) will change the world.”

Pamela Madsen is a prolific blogger, teacher, and pleasure activist whose writings and retreats guide women through the journey to sexual awakening that she herself describes in her book Shameless.

And this week on the website Oh Joy Sex Toy, cartoonist Erika Moen writes a paean to Babeland, the women’s sex-toy emporium, which helped correct the horrible misinformation about sex she learned from her mother and taught her to respect and enjoy her own body.

Those are just a couple of examples of how women have been thinking about, talking about, researching and practicing simple ways of expanding female sexual pleasure. Check them out, let me know what you think, and tell me about other pioneers doing exceptional work in this arena.

MEDIA: “The Gift of Desire”

gift of desire
Last month I gave a talk at Living Soulfully, the monthly gathering the Center in New York City for friends and associates of Easton Mountain Retreat Center, where I’ve taught for many years. I adapted the talk into an article which has been published by the online gay newspaper EDGE. The gist of the article is this:

As a gay sex therapist, I spend a lot of my working hours listening to people talk about the nitty-gritty details of their sex lives. I meet a lot of smart, soulful, intelligent men frustrated at their inability to find love and connection. One of the themes that comes up again and again has to do with asking for what you want.

“Ask for what you want” is advice that’s easy to give but often strangely difficult to practice. What gets in the way of identifying our desires and sharing them with others? Growing up gay, we probably learned early on to view our deepest desires as shameful, socially unacceptable, or at the very least subject to other people’s negative judgments. No wonder we’re a little gun-shy when it comes to letting others know what we want, especially in the realm of love and erotic play.

You can read the whole article online here. Check it out and let me know what you think.

RESOURCES: Joseph Kramer’s Orgasmic Yoga

Joseph Kramer, who founded the world-changing Body Electric School in the late 1980s, currently spends his time cultivating and educating erotic explorers with his New School of Erotic Touch and an ongoing online program called the Orgasmic Yoga Institute. Kramer’s school and institute are generous with free samples. This week’s “erotic practice” video, “Stand Up To Jam,” focuses on healthy porn-watching.

“Healthier porn watching begins with a very simple but transformative practice: Stand up and move while watching porn. Don’t be a couch potato wanker,” Kramer writes. “Many people forget their own bodies while watching porn. Raising the viewing screen is a simple strategy that assists the porn lover to enliven the body. Standing while masturbating encourages movement. Stand to Jam circulates sexual energy throughout the body and enables deeper full-bodied pleasure. This simple practice of standing and moving will immediately help you change how you masturbate.”

Check out the video, and the Orgasmic Yoga Institute’s site, and let me know what you think.

stand to jam