There has been a lot of talk about the mental health challenges that everyone is facing during this time of the global pandemic, political unrest, and financial turmoil. I feel it myself, and I witness it in the people that I work with. And I can attest that one thing that really helps is witnessing a public figure speak with real integrity and moral authority, as President Obama did at the funeral of Georgia Congressman and civil rights hero John Lewis. Check it out for yourself.
Journalist and author Peggy Orenstein has spent many years writing about the inner lives of girls in a series of best-selling books. In recent years, she turned her attention to young men and interviewed teenagers and college students for her new book Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity. NPR’s Terry Gross interviewed her recently for the radio show/podcast “Fresh Air,” and it’s worth checking out. What she says about how boys are socialized not to talk about their feelings and the distorted ideas about sex they get from watching porn apply equally to men of all ages. I’m looking forward to reading the book (which just the New York Times’ best-seller list), but this interview is a tantalizing preview.
On Saturday, November 9, I’ll be speaking at Sessions Live 2019, an annual clinical event hosted by Esther Perel. I invite you to join me and this year’s esteemed guests for an invigorating day of learning online.
Sessions Live is a one-day event dedicated to providing an opportunity for professionals in the field of mental health to come together to learn and challenge each other around a relevant topic in the field of modern relationships.
This year, Esther invites us to explore the topic of Eros, also known as eroticism. We’ll look at eroticism as a quality of aliveness, vibrancy and vitality that is critical to both life and the clinical relationship. It goes far beyond a repertoire of sexual techniques. It’s a sense of creativity, agency and pleasure that we often aim for in our clients but neglect within ourselves.
Together, we’ll answer the questions:
- ● What does erotic intelligence mean to us as therapists, coaches, and relationship professionals?
- ● How do we help our clients cultivate a feeling of vitality?
- ● How do we sustain energy and aliveness in our work and in our own lives?
- ● What does recovery from trauma look like when it includes re-engaging with pleasure and vibrancy?
- ● And much more.
Your livestream ticket includes:
- ● Online access to the live full-day training on November 9th
- ● All archived recordings to view on demand after the event – the content is yours to watch when and where you please
- ● CE credits available for an additional cost
Purchase your Livestream ticket today and use code bodyandsoul for a special discount.
Join us online for a day of learning that will help you expand your definition of eroticism and increase your confidence in helping your clients tackle issues of love’s challenges and love’s celebrations.
illustration by Natalia Ramos (IG @natalia_ramas)
photo by Kathryn Wirsing
I traveled to Mexico City last month to attend the World Bufo Alvarius Congress (WBAC), bufo alvarius being the name of a toad species native to the Sonora Desert that secretes a substance that when dried and smoked creates a powerful psychedelic experience. When synthesized in a laboratory, the compound is known as 5meo-n-DMT, somewhat related to dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which is produced by the human body and many plants and is the active ingredient in ayahuasca. The gathering in Mexico City July 27-29, 2018, was the first of its kind to assemble in one room a few hundred people who had all experienced this sacred medicine – “the indigenous peoples, the practitioners, the scientists, the anthropologists, and the psychonauts – the now-global toad family whose lives have been touched by this most powerful of entheogens,” as the website described the target audience. “Join us for three days of lectures, panel and group discussions, and films by the leading experts in this nascent field…to address the pressing issues of toad conservation, ethics, best practices, and sustainable alternatives, and to explore the limits of both our science and our spirituality. What’s more, it is also a much needed gathering to discuss the power and responsibility of using this unique compound, and to find ways in which we can grow as an educated and unified community.”
I attended the congress partly out of professional interest, since I’m engaged in a year-long training in psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. But I suppose I also fall in the category of psychonaut, someone with a passionate curiosity to explore these medicines for the sake of spiritual growth and self-awareness.
My report on the gathering, “Romancing the Toad,” has just been published in the online magazine Reality Sandwich. There was a lot of useful information conveyed, and not a small amount of drama. You can read the complete account here. Check it out and let me know what you think.
White Crane Institute promotes the study of the role of Gay men, queer sexualities and gender variation and orientation in the evolution, psychology, sociology, and practice of spirituality, ritual, and religion. Gay Wisdom, a project that evolved out of the quarterly White Crane Journal, broadcasts a daily dose of history and life reflection for spiritually minded queer folks. You can sign up to receive these free emails here or join the Facebook page here. Gay Wisdom recently interviewed me about my new book, The Paradox of Porn: Notes on Gay Male Sexual Culture. The first chunk of the interview appears below; you can read the interview in full online here.
A White Crane/GayWisdom Interview with author Don Shewey by Paul Wirhun
Paul Wirhun: First of all, this is a great book and an important read. Has no one else really written as extensively on this subject? I particularly loved the lack of judgment in the tone throughout, and the observation about how personal the path is for one’s use of porn. I especially loved Sgt. Shewey’s discourse at the end of the book – might it possible to excerpt that and get it into other gay publications as a stand-alone essay? It might also draw more readers?!?
Don Shewey: Thanks, Paul, for your kind words. The only other book I’m aware of that specifically tackles gay men’s experience of pornography is a scholarly volume from 1996 called Hard to Imagine by Thomas Waugh. I haven’t read it. It’s expensive, $75, and not only hard to imagine but hard to find. It’s funny you should mention the idea of circulating my list of things-to-do as a stand-alone essay: I’ve just submitted it to The Advocate, which expressed interest in publishing an excerpt. So we’ll see.
Paul: I’m curious about the impetus for writing this – a long-term idea brewing? What prompted you to finally write it?
Don: I’m someone who has always enjoyed thinking and talking about sex in an open and unembarrassed way, maybe because I came of age during an enlightened period when feminism and gay liberation had a big impact on me and taught me to value the body and to know that “the personal is the political.”
Paul: Did it come from your therapy practice and what you were hearing from clients, or from a more personal cogitation?
Don: That background has served me well as a sex therapist. I’ve talked about the impact of pornography on gay men’s sex lives with clients for so many years that I finally decided it was time to write down some of the thoughts and perceptions I’ve been repeating in therapy sessions day after day after day.
Paul: Your humor throughout is very engaging and sets a relaxing tone. I’m glad that voice is included. Why do you think are we still so skittish to discuss porn? Is porn still in the closet? What do we admit by saying we use it; and what do we say about ourselves when we deny our use in public discourse, whether with friends/lovers/sex mates?
Don: I think many people have a hard time talking about sex at all. It’s so intimate and revealing. Many people live with shame about their desires, religious guilt, fear of other people’s judgments. It’s hard even for couples in established relationships to discuss the nitty-gritty details of sex.
There’s a prevailing myth that “talking about sex spoils it.” Even psychotherapists and physicians who are theoretically trained to deal with all aspects of human life get squeamish when it comes to talking about sex. There are some realms in which sex is accepted as healthy and positive, not to mention essential for life, but pornography always carries the air of the forbidden, the sleazy, which makes it extra-difficult to talk about in public or in private.
Paul: Do you think that there is a way to break through this “air of the forbidden, the sleazy” — which your book accomplishes – or do we remain stuck in this paradigm – and have to keep these conversations more private? Why must society keep our deepest desires ‘in the closet’ and labeled sleazy?
Don: We could say that the world might be a better place if everybody viewed all aspects of sexuality as acceptable, human, healthy, whatever, including homosexuality, masturbation, pornography, etc. There will always be people who do; there will probably always be people who don’t. Jungian analyst James Hillman might point out that sexual inhibitions are archetypal – they go with the territory of being human and there may be some evolutionary purpose for those inhibitions.
Paul: Some of the discourse with your clients really brought home for me two experiences: 1. How porn personally affected that person’s life/perspective of their own sex life, causing me to investigate my use of porn more mindfully (thank you!); and, 2. How each of us creates a story about the our own disjuncts in achieving personal erotic satisfaction, and how we get trapped in that story and view of ourselves; speak to the mirroring that happens in porn and how that affects our sense of selves and these narratives we cook up about ourselves and our sex lives, if you would?
Don: This is the essential paradox of porn, right? We’re drawn to it because there’s something we recognize about the heat, the lure of sex, the pleasure of looking at bodies engaged in sexy activity, the feelings the emerge in our own bodies looking at it. So, porn (erotic imagery of any kind) is a kind of mirror.
And at the same time, it is an edited medium, a product of technology, with its own memes and formulas and codes, and when you look at enough of it you start seeing porn as the template and you start copying what you see. For instance, I don’t think many people really like having someone ejaculate on their faces, but it’s such a mainstay of porn because it’s highly visual, so now guys think it’s perfectly acceptable, if not required. It’s an ongoing question – does porn reflect our tastes or create them?
To read the complete interview, see here.
Esther Perel is a Belgian-born sex therapist who has become widely known for her speaking and teaching about sex, intimacy, and relationships. Her first book, Mating in Captivity, examined and overturned a lot of preconceptions about how to sustain emotional and sexual intimacy in a committed relationship. Her TED talk on desire (“The secret to desire in a long-term relationship”) has gotten over 11 million views online. And her new book, The State of Affairs, inspired another juicy TED talk distilling the essence of the book, “Re-thinking infidelity.”
Perel has achieved media stardom partly because she’s a strikingly attractive blonde woman with a charming European accent — I mention her photogenic personality to make the point that it combines with a sharp intellect and a gracious sense of humor to get across some very provocative and challenging ideas in a remarkably accessible way. She was recently interviewed about the material in her book on NPR’s “Fresh Air” by the ever-appealing Terry Gross. Few therapists in the public arena have impressed me so much with their sensible approach to the subject of sex and relationships.
In particular, I was struck by how Perel talked about a subject that I encounter frequently in my own practice, which is the situation where there is a big difference in libido: one partner wants sex and the other doesn’t.
Terry Gross: How do you deal with relationships where one partner desires something that the other partner isn’t willing to give? Doesn’t enjoy sex, doesn’t want it frequently, therefore they’ve become sexually incompatible. What’s your position for the partner who desires something that partner can no longer get within the marriage?
Esther Perel: If you ask about what to do with the discrepancy around desire for sex within the relationship, thinking that what people miss is the act of sex, you fail to understand what people are really asking for. Sexuality is often a pathway for connection, for intimacy, for tenderness, for sensuality. For playfulness, for power, for curiosity, for relaxation. When people are deprived of sex, it’s this whole set of feelings and experiences they are deprived of. They can have sex in various places. What they want is everything that the connection gives them. When they are deprived of that, what they experience is a depletion of energy, of vibrancy, of aliveness, of vitality. That’s what they’re yearning for. So the conversation begins not with sex but with loss. Loss on both sides. The person who is no longer interested is not so happy about that, either.
To me, this was the most interesting part of the interview:
Terry Gross: When someone no longer feels sexually aroused by your partner, is that something you feel they can get back?
Esther Perel: Arousal is one thing, desire is something else, and willingness is a third. We do not start sexually only because we are aroused and turned on. We sometimes start to be involved sexually because there is willingness. You’re not always hungry. But then there is food in front of you, and it looks beautiful, and it smells really good, and you have a little taste, and you think, “Hmm, after all, I wouldn’t mind a little bit more.” And even after you ate, you may say, “That was delicious, I wasn’t really hungry,” and you still enjoyed it. So we have multiple doors for entering into an intimate engagement with our partner. Excitement is just one of them. Sometimes you are desirous but you don’t have an arousal, you’re not turned on physiologically yet. But you have the idea, you have the wish for it, you’re in the mood. And sometimes you are excited and turned on but you’re not necessarily in the state of desire. I think we need to separate these concepts and these entry points, first of all.
Second of all, I think the more important question sometimes is: “I turn myself off…how? I shut down my desires…how?” That’s not the same as “You turn me off when…” and “What turns me off is…” That puts the responsibility only on the other person: if only the other person did amazing things it would move me. The fact is, if I’m shut down, if I’ve closed the door, you can do a lot of things but there will be nobody at the reception desk. There needs to be receptivity, an openness, a willingness, and that is the fundamental sovereignty of desire. That is something that I own. I decide if I want to open that or not. What they’re talking about is the ways they have closed themselves off from possibility of touch, of connection, of sensuality, of pleasure, of surrender, for a host of reasons that range from sexual trauma to self-criticism to lack of self-worth to negative body image to issues of self-esteem. It is those things that make us close ourselves down.
Terry Gross: Is that something you can help fix?
Esther Perel: Yes, many times. That’s the work. The work is about helping people often to reconnect with parts of themselves they’ve neglected or they’re in conflict with or that they despise. Or that they feel loathsome about or don’t feel deserving of because they gained too much weight or they haven’t performed well enough at work, because their mother left them for another man so they decided they would be all mother and they killed the woman inside of them the day they had a child. Or because their father was violent and aggressive and they don’t know how to bring together love and lust. Those are the deeper conflicts around desire and intimacy and sexuality that I work with in my practice.
I encourage you to listen to the entire half-hour interview yourself online here. Check it out and let me know what you think.
Luis Antonio Capurro is a friendly, enterprising young blogger and informal minister of culture to the gay male community in Lima, Peru. He recently interviewed me (by email) for his online magazine La Revista Diversa. Check it out here and let me know what you think.
Last fall RFD, the radical faerie quarterly reader-written journal, devoted a special issue to the topic of Substances. The magazine includes some extremely honest and searching writings looking at many different practices involving party drugs and sacred medicines. I continue to marvel and chuckle at the powerful, witty cover image created by managing editor Bambi Gauthier and art director Matt Bucy (above). I contributed a very personal essay about my own experience of using various mind-altering substances, what I’ve gained, and how closely I monitor the balance of recreational and ceremonial explorations, what’s excessive and what’s enough. The essay is titled “Pleasure, Anesthesia, and the Burden of Consciousness: Notes on Substances.”
Early on, I say:
I am at heart an epicurean. I believe that pleasure is the greatest good in life, and in my sacred intimate practice I’m a champion of healing through pleasure. I’m quite attached to the pleasures in my life: the four cups of strong black tea that fuel my day, the couple of glasses of wine or beer that are my treat at the end of the day, my robust sex life, my enjoyment of music, and the occasional toke that my stoner boyfriend has taught me to enjoy. At the same time, I’m aware that sometimes it’s hard to distinguish pleasure from anesthesia, and sometimes I wonder what pain or fear I might be medicating or numbing with the substances I routinely enjoy. I’m sure I’m a bit hypervigilant about this because my father’s alcoholism left a strong imprint on my life. But I like to believe that I remain in choice rather than compulsive about my pleasures, and I’ve noticed that when I diet to prepare for sacred medicine ceremonies, I get quite cranky about giving up tea and wine and still spend considerable energy thinking about and craving them. There are writing projects that are important to me that I’m trying to summon the energy and stamina and concentration to complete, and it’s unclear to me whether my use of substances helps or hinders that. The constant existential battle between Living a Good Life and Getting Things Done.
RFD has a fairly small readership, so after sharing the essay with a handful of friends, one of them suggested I approach Reality Sandwich, the online magazine created by Evolver Learning Lab, about republishing my piece. The editors there enthusiastically embraced the idea, so now it’s available to read in full. Check it out here and let me know what you think.
The latest issue of RFD, the radical faerie digest, is rightfully dedicated to commemorating Mark Thompson, the visionary gay writer and editor who died last August at the age of 63.
As I say in my contribution to the issue:
The radical faerie world will always be indebted to Mark Thompson for his skill and generosity in chronicling the emergence of this gay spiritual movement as a professional journalist and as an observer-participant. He attended the legendary first “Spiritual Conference for Radical Fairies” Labor Day weekend 1979 in the Arizona desert, convened by Harry Hay, Mitch Walker, and Don Kilhefner, and he wrote about it in Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning, his ground-breaking anthology of writings that linked contemporary gay liberation thought to previous generations of gay visionary writing by the likes of Walt Whitman, Edward Carpenter, and Gerald Heard. Few books ever published have had as big an impact on the gay world as Gay Spirit did. It emerged from and contributed to a hunger for deep exploration of gay people’s evolutionary purpose on the planet, and it spawned a small but important pocket of gay scholarship that manifest in essential titles such as Randy Conner’s Blossom of Bone and Walter L. Williams’ The Spirit and the Flesh.
I am pleased to have my short essay published alongside the work of many dear friends and colleagues, including Andrew Ramer, Winston Wilde, Robert Croonquist (Covelo), Keith Gemerek, Bo Young, Stephen Silha, and Leng Lim. You can find the magazine in the kind of bookstores that still carry small-press gay journals, or you find out how to order it online here.
Here is my piece (click to enlarge):
I’m as amused as anyone else by College Humor’s new video, “Donald Trump: Show Us Your Penis.” But I’d like to shift the conversation a little bit, out of compassion for my small-dick bros, who die inside a little bit every time they hear jokes about little dicks.
For the record, Trump never said, “I have a big dick.” He said, “I guarantee you, there’s no problem.” You can read that any number of ways. Perhaps he would like you to read it as, “I have a big dick.” He could also be saying, “No one’s ever made any complaints. My junk works.”
In any case, I’d like to go easy about equating “small dick” with “problem.” Mostly because “small dick” is entirely relative, and the ubiquity of porn (in which no one has a dick that is not big and hard) has oppressed legions of men into fearing that they are somehow inadequate because they don’t have a porn-star dick.
Not that Madonna speaks for all women or all connoisseurs of cock, but when I interviewed her for The Advocate in 1991 at the time of Truth or Dare, we had a playful conversation about her sex partners, in which she modeled the proper attitude for any sensible sex-positive person who has sex with men:
I’m not really interested in dildos.
How about sex toys of any kind?
No. I like the human body. I like flesh. I like things that are living and breathing. And a finger will do just fine. I’ve never owned a vibrator, if that’s what you want to know.
Tell me about your boyfriend Tony Ward. Is it true he has an ass you can serve drinks off of?
Well, I’ve never been served a drink off his ass. But he does have a great ass.
How big is his dick?
I don’t know. I haven’t measured it, but it’s big enough for me.
Does size matter to you?
Do you used a strap-on with Tony?
No. I don’t know where that story came from….
Tell me about Warren Beatty. How big is his dick?
Once again, I haven’t measured it, but it’s a perfectly wonderful size.
As for Donald Trump, I don’t care about his penis. Nobody cares about his penis. The problem with him is that he’s a racist demagogue and a pathological egomaniac who isn’t qualified to lead anything other than his own demented reality TV show. If you need concrete documentation of any of that, here’s the video you need to watch.