EVENTS: “Mission 23: Celebration of the Possible”

Easton Mountain, the gay retreat center in upstate New York, will celebrate its 23rd anniversary with a weekend centered on celebrating the work of Joseph Kramer. I’m delighted that I will get to take part in saluting the founder of the Body Electric School and one of the most influential teachers of my life. Look who else: Betty Martin! David Dunn Bauer! JoJo Bear! Join us for the festivities! For more information and to register, go here.

PSYCHEDELICS: informational session available

You might be looking for a short and quick answer to your questions “exactly what a treatment would look like, or how effective it can be against anxiety.” Those are good questions to ask, but there are no short answers. Psychedelics-assisted psychotherapy is a pretty big field with a lot to unpack. There’s a lot of information available about how treatments look and what’s known about their efficacy in treatment depression and anxiety. But I understand that if you’re just starting out, the sheer volume of information online may be overwhelming.

Let me tell you what I’m available for and what I’m not available for.

I’m not available to deliver treatment or supplies.

I am available for an informational session, which would include:

  • asking you some questions about where you’re at right now, how your anxiety manifests, how you’ve been treating it, what has helped and what hasn’t;
  • explaining to you the various plant medicines and master molecules that are currently in use for psychedelics-assisted psychotherapy (psilocybin, MDMA, LSD, ketamine, etc.);
  • answering any questions you have about them;
  • giving you a framework to think about preparing for doing some medicine work (for instance, meditation and breathwork practices);
  • and brainstorming with you how to locate resources local to where you live.

If you’d like to schedule that kind of session with me, let me know.

EVENTS: “The 30-Day Porn Cleanse: The Pause That Refreshes”

In my experience and observation, many if not most guys look at some version of porn on a regular basis, whether viewing XTube sites, pic-swapping on hookup apps, or scrolling through Twitter/Tumblr/Reddit feeds. But we hardly ever talk about it or compare notes with others.

Last year Craig Cullinane and I conducted a five-week Zoom class called “The 30-Day Porn Cleanse,” inviting men to undertake an inquiry into their consumption of pornogaphy. It turned out to be a rich and productive experience, so we’re bringing it back this year for five weeks, March 5- April 2.

What would it be like to take a break to evaluate and refine your porn practice?

“The 30-Day Porn Cleanse” is an opportunity to consider the Marie Kondo principles: how does porn bring me joy, and how does it not? How does it expand my erotic imagination, and how does it constrict it?

Using my book “The Paradox Of Porn: Notes on Gay Male Sexual Culture” as a jumping-off point, Craig and I invite you to examine your relationship with pornography in a non-judgmental and supportive environment.

This is not about “treating porn addiction” – this course views erotic imagery as a portal to pleasure and self-discovery and offers “the pause that refreshes,” so you can return with mindfulness and choice to the porn-watching practice that serves you best.

For more information and/or to sign up for the class, go here.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me directly.

BOOKS: some thoughts about grief

Grief is a perennial topic in the soul work that we call psychotherapy. I’m always on the lookout for tools to help in the tender task of processing grief, starting with my own. I have found that there are no short-cuts. You have to go through all the tears, sadness, anger, and numbness, though it helps not to do it alone.

There is a whole industry devoted to workshops and books about working through grief. However well-meaning, I find most versions of what I call “designer grief” simplistic and enraging. Alan D. Wolfeit’s Complicated Grief is a perfect example of what I mean; it seems to be written by someone who has never lost anyone but knows exactly how you should manage your grief.

John W. James and Russell Friedman’s The Grief Recovery Handbook is considerably better. The authors’ Grief Recovery Institute has devised a practical step-by-step process which may indeed be helpful to people who need a highly structured approach. I resisted what felt like heavy commercial branding, and nothing in the book addresses multiple losses (war, natural disaster, AIDS, covid-19). What I found most useful were some of the book’s foundational principles, such as: “Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.” Although it primarily focuses on death and divorce, the book intends to widen the scope of grieving to include any loss, which makes sense to me.

A few other passages that leapt out at me:

When someone you love dies after suffering a long illness, you may feel a sense of relief that your loved one’s suffering is over. That is a positive feeling, even though it is associated with death. At the same time, you may realize that you can no longer see or touch that person. This may be very painful for you. These conflicting feelings, relief and pain, are totally normal in response to death [or any loss].

Loss-of-trust events are experienced by almost everyone and can have a major, lifelong negative impact. You may have experienced a loss of trust in a parent, a loss of trust in God, or a loss of trust in any other relationship. Is loss of trust a grief issue? The answer is yes. And the problem of dealing with the grief it causes remains the same. Grief is normal and natural, but we have been ill prepared to deal with it. Grief is about a broken heart, not a broken brain. All efforts to heal the heart with the head fail because the head is the wrong tool for the job. It’s like trying to pain with a hammer – it only makes a mess.

Most of the comments that grievers hear following a loss, while intellectually accurate, are emotionally barren. As a direct result of these conflicting ideas, a griever often feels confused and frustrated, feelings that lead to emotional isolation.

The subject of forgiveness carries with it many beliefs passed on from generation to generation. Some people have developed such a massive resistance to the word forgive that they cannot use it…We offer the following phrase: I acknowledge the things that you did or did not do that hurt me, and I am not going to let them hurt me anymore. A variation is: I acknowledge the things that you did or did not do that hurt me, and I’m not going to let my memory of those incidents hurt me anymore.
            The insensitive, unconscious, and sometimes evil actions of other people have hurt us. Our continued resentment and inability to forgive hurts us, not them. Imagine that the perpetrator has died. Can your continued resentment harm him or her? Clearly not! Can it harm you? Unfortunately, yes. As with all recovery components, the objective of our actions is to set us free. We forgive in order to reacquire our own sense of well-being.
Forgiveness has nothing to do with the other person.

The best book on this subject that I know of is Francis Weller’s The Wild Edge of Sorrow, whose poetic spiritual and practical exploration is reflected in its subtitle: “Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief.”

Weller insightfully identifies what he calls The Five Gates of Grief:

  • The First Gate: Everything We Love, We Will Lose
  • The Second Gate: The Places That Have Not Known Love
  • The Third Gate: The Sorrows of The World
  • The Fourth Gate: What We Expected and Did Not Receive
  • The Fifth Gate: Ancestral Grief

He says, “What is often diagnosed as depression is actually low-grade chronic grief locked into the psyche, complete with the ancillary ingredients of shame and despair.”

A key passage that gives a good sense of his nuanced overview:

Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote, “What we cannot speak about, we pass over in silence.” We have forgotten the primary language of grief. As a consequence, the terrain of sorrow has become unfamiliar and estranged, leaving us confused, frightened, and lost when grief comes near. The haunting silence that Wittgenstein speaks of lingers as a fog over our lives, placing large areas of experience outside of our reach. When our grief cannot be spoken, it falls into the shadow and re-arises in us as symptoms. So many of us are depressed, anxious, and lonely. We struggle with addictions and find ourselves moving at a breathless pace, trying to keep up with the machinery of culture…An apprenticeship with sorrow offers us the chance to build our capacity to stay present when the intense feelings of grief arise. Through meaningful rituals, a community of friends, some time in benevolent solitude, and effective practices that help us stretch into our bigger selves, we are offered the opportunity to develop a living relationship with loss.

In ritual space, something inside of us shimmers, quickens, and aligns itself with a larger, more vital element. We are released from the limiting constraints of our collective agreements, such as not showing our emotions in public, not bothering anyone with our troubles, and remaining stoic and self-contained with our pain. This release allows us to enter into a fuller expression of who we are. This is both freeing and frightening. We become vivid in ritual space, exposed and transparent. This is exactly what we need and what we fear.

MEDIA: The Body Electric School’s “Erotic Liberation Podcast”

I was pleased to be invited as a guest on the New Body Electric School’s “Erotic Liberation Podcast.” The hosts, Craig Cullinane and G. Love, conducted a lively and frank hour-long conversation about sacred intimacy, pornography, and more. Check it out on the Body Electric website or, as they say, wherever you get your podcasts.

PSYCHEDELICS: James Fadiman on Frank Ocean’s podcast

The psychedelic renaissance is in full swing. Mainstream coverage of new developments in clinical studies on treating physical and mental health issues with plant medicines and master molecules has gotten so ubiquitous that it’s impossible to keep up with all of it. For those who interested in psychedelics-assisted psychotherapy and/or those who are curious about the value of psychedelics for “the betterment of well people,” we’ve entered a whole new paradigm. Michael Pollan’s best-selling book How To Change Your Mind went a long way toward making these subjects known and speakable to a wider audience. The Netflix series based on his book dropped this summer and also provides a valuable introduction, alongside Louis Schwartzberg’s documentary Fantastic Fungi.

One of the most interesting media manifestations for me is a recent podcast by groovy queer musician Frank Ocean in conversation with guest speaker James Fadiman. Fadiman is one of the chief authorities on the subject of microdosing. He and his collaborator Sophia Korb have collected thousands of anecdotal reports from people who have experimented with microdosing, and they are doing their best to create solid data from these reports. On this podcast, Fadiman gives an excellent and succinct description not only of the purposes and effects of microdosing but also, at Ocean’s prompting, provides a wonderfully detailed explanation of what it feels like to undertake a high-dose LSD session, with valuable information on the conditions under which such an experience would best take place. The entire conversation is underscored with a groovy loop, so it sounds like a lecture taking place at Burning Man with an art car nearby cranking in the background. The podcast can be found on Apple Music. You can listen to it here. If you’re not a subscriber, you can sign up for a three-month free trial. Check it out and let me know what you think.

MEDIA: Gay Men’s Life Lab podcast

I recently had the pleasure of appearing as a guest on Gay Men’s Life Lab, a podcast that dives deep into the many issues facing gay men today. Host Buck Dodson is a board-certified life coach and licensed therapist who has been helping other gay men realize their full potential for over 15 years.

Our conversation revolved around my book “The Paradox of Porn: Notes on Gay Male Sexual Culture.” We talked about, among other things, my journey to being a pleasure activist and Sacred Intimate; the integral yet complex role pornography plays in gay men’s self-discovery; how porn both helps and hinders our views of our bodies, sexuality, and relationships; learning to distinguish sex, porn and masturbation; and the role of pleasure and desire in addressing issues with porn.

Check it out here or wherever you get your podcasts and let me know what you think.  @buckdodsoncoaching@gaymenslifelab

DID YOU SEE: New York Times Magazine’s Health Issue

The Sunday New York Times Magazine’s May 15 “Health Issue” really GOES THERE. Informative unflinching articles cover breast-reduction surgery (as a feminist issue), Brazilian butt-lifts (the women who have them and the women who take care of the women who have them), gender-affirming phalloplasty (reported by a trans-identified journalist, which makes a huge difference), and a straight cismale’s experience with the weight-reduction app Noom. These excellent articles follow on the heels of last week’s cover story by the scrupulous, ever-deep-diving journalist Susan Dominus on how war has turned Ukraine’s booming surrogacy business into a logistical and ethical nightmare for surrogate mothers, their existing families, and the families anxiously awaiting new arrivals in the midst of this unpredictable conflict. The New York Times doesn’t always live up to its reputation as the gold measure for American journalism — its recent lame portrait of late Mayor Ed Koch’s sad love life as a closeted homosexual rightfully drew the fury of observers who remember just how Koch’s destructive homophobia impacted New York City’s response to the AIDS crisis — but then sometimes, like this week’s magazine, it does.

photo by Naila Ruechel for the New York Times Magazine

BOOKS: adrienne maree brown on PLEASURE ACTIVISM

Thirty years ago, someone whom I helped uncover hidden patches of desire and playfulness christened me with the title “pleasure activist.” I’d never heard the term before. I don’t know where he heard it or if he pulled it out of thin air. But I recognized myself in it and started including it in my professional bio. In the intervening years, the phrase has entered the culture to the extent that a young queer black-bodied woman from Detroit named adrienne maree brown can publish Pleasure Activism (2019), an entire volume of stories, essays, poems, lists, and interviews celebrating the pleasures of not only sex and intimacy but also drugs, dance, fashion, organizing, and social justice advocacy. I love that, among other personal treasures she imparts, amb has a posse of friends who refer to each other as “woes” because they are Working On Excellence.

Early on in the book, amb presents in passing a kind of manifesto:

Pleasure activists seek to understand and learn from the politics and power dynamics inside of everything that makes us feel good. This includes sex and the erotic, drugs, fashion, humor, passion work, connection, reading, cooking and/or eating, music and other arts, and so much more.
Pleasure activists believe that by tapping into the potential goodness in each of us we can generate justice and liberation, growing a healing abundance where we have been socialized to believe only scarcity exists.
Pleasure activism acts from an analysis that pleasure is a natural, safe, and liberated part of life – and that we can offer each other tools and education to make sure sex, desire, drugs, connection, and other pleasures aren’t life-threatening or harming but life-enriching.
Pleasure activism includes work and life lived in the realms of satisfaction, joy, and erotic aliveness that bring about social and political change.
Ultimately, pleasure activism is us learning to make justice and liberation the most pleasurable experiences we can have on this planet…

Pleasure activism is not about generating or indulging in excess. I want to say this early and often, to myself and to you Sometimes when I bring up this work to people, I can see a bacchanalia unfold in their eyes, and it makes me feel tender. I think because most of us are so repressed, our fantasies go to extremes to counterbalance all that contained longing. Pleasure activism is about learning what it means to be satisfiable, to generate, from within and from between us, an abundance from which we can all have enough.

And she closes the book with this benediction:

Pleasure is the point. Feeling good is not frivolous, it is freedom. We can gift it to each other in a million ways: with authentic presence, abundant care, and honesty; with boundaries that keep us from overextending; with slower kisses; with foot massages in the evening; with baby hugs and elder hugs; with delicious food; with supported solitude and listening to our bodies, our shameless desire, and coordinated longing.
Find the pleasure path for your life and follow it. Let it reverberate healing back into your ancestors’ wounds. Let it open you up and remind you that you are already whole. Let it shape a future where feeling good is the normal, primary experience of all beings.

Amen, sister!

photo by Anjali Pinto

EVENTS: “The 30-Day Porn Cleanse — The Pause That Refreshes”

When I started writing my book THE PARADOX OF PORN several years ago, I was aware that almost everybody I know looks at some version of porn on a regular basis but we hardly ever talk about it. And I get that. Looking at porn – really, anything related to sex – is quite personal and intimate and individual. You don’t reveal your habits to just anyone. Nobody wants to be shamed or judged for their habits or their preferences or their pleasures. Gay men have been shamed and judged enough in their lives. At the same time, stuff that doesn’t get talked about can reinforce shame and inhibition and ignorance, so it’s a bit of a dilemma.

Personally, I love talking about sex, and in my life as a sex therapist and pleasure activist I do a lot of that. I will say that the only context in which I’m interested in talking about sex and pornography is one of complete lack of judgment, led by curiosity and pleasure and shared interest. As the saying goes, “Don’t yuk my yum.”

One of the main skills that a therapist has to cultivate is the ability to make the space safe for people to talk about intimate, personal, sometimes scary, sometimes shameful stuff. When you do that, it’s amazing what insights and self-knowledge and self-acceptance can emerge. As a sex therapist, I’m pretty much required to ask people detailed personal questions about their sexual histories, including their experience of pornography. And once it’s been established that they’re safe to talk freely about pornography, clients open up and I learn fascinating things about what they look at, what they search for, how they first encountered pornography. Guys will mention their favorite porn stars, often rattling off lists of people I’ve never heard of – and of course I Google the names afterwards. You know, professional research! Continuing education!

Writing the book and talking to people about it after it was published also gave me a chance to consider my own history with porn, what I like and don’t like, where I started and where I am now. You may or may not remember the period of time in the 1980s when there was a huge uproar about government arts funding and objections to artists whose work had “homoerotic” elements. Those culture wars haven’t completely come to an end, but it seems pretty silly, considering the more important things to worry about. But I’ll never forget seeing a show by the downtown performance artist Penny Arcade who proudly stated, “I need a little homoerotica to get me through the day.” I could relate! And I think it’s still true!

There was a time when “looking at porn” meant viewing commercial movies, videos, and magazines showing buff hot guys getting it on. With the advent of the internet and smartphones and social media, now there are nine zillion different ways to encounter and enjoy erotic imagery. When I get up in the morning and check my email, I’m likely to find an email from a guy in Hawaii who publishes the “gRUFF list,” a stash of anywhere from 5 to 60 sexy pics in a multitude of categories. In my “Promotions” folder I will undoubtedly have several emails from sex-toy emporia like Mr. S Leather or Fort Troff, announcements from the Tom of Finland Foundation, and discount offers from porn sites like Naked Sword, Himeros, and Antonio DaSilva, all of them containing tantalizing stills and short clips.

12-12 bulletin board.jpg

My husband and I have a running text exchange with two other friends we call The Pervs Thread, where the four of chat about everything, occasionally tossing in a sizzling JPEG we’ve come across online. Over my desk I have the Colt Hairy Chested calendar, and the first day of every month I send the Pervs Thread greetings from the model of the month. When I have a few moments to kill – when I’m on the toilet, or waiting for clients to arrive, or winding down at the end of the day – I will often cycle among Instagram thirst traps, gay Twitter, Scruff, and Tumblr. Homoerotic imagery is so built into my day, it’s like the air that I breathe.

Is that a problem? I don’t think so. Sometimes when I’ve gorged on a bunch of hot photos or taken time to watch a Joe Gage porn clip on Naked Sword, I may find myself in a trance and start cruising for sex when half an hour before I wasn’t horny at all. That goes with the territory. At the same time, I had a conversation this afternoon with a friend who said he doesn’t look at porn a lot but when he does it reminds him that, “Oh, I’m a sexual being, and I’ve been neglecting my pleasure body lately.”

Think about what you look at, what you like and don’t like, what it adds to your life, what it takes away. If this is a conversation that interests you, consider signing up for the Body Electric School’s five-week class “The 30-Day Porn Cleanse — The Pause That Refreshes.” Over five Sunday-evening sessions starting January 9, Body Electric’s Craig Cullinane and I will invite you to examine your relationship with pornography in a non-judgmental and supportive environment. This is not about “treating porn addiction” – this course views erotic imagery as a portal to pleasure and self-discovery and offers “the pause that refreshes,” so you can return with mindfulness and choice to the porn-watching practice that serves you best.

For more information and to sign up, see here.