MEDIA: “Sessions Live” with Esther Perel November 9

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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.

Click here to purchase your Livestream ticket for $99

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.

esther perel

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.

Learn more about Sessions Live 2019: Finding Eros Livestream

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

THE PARADOX OF PORN: interview on the Sacred Erotic Podcast

Adam Nicholson is an energy worker and spiritual seeker who hosts a podcast called The Sacred Erotic Podcast. I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by him about my book The Paradox of Porn. The interview is in two parts, and you can find it online by clicking here. Check it out and let me know what you think.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: EROTIC

“How To Turn Off The Erotic In Five Easy Steps”
1. Hurry, Feel Rushed or Pressured. Your sexual soul wants nothing to do with feeling hurried or pressured around pleasure.
2. Make sex into work.
3. Make orgasm the point. Orgasm is pleasure that last for a few seconds to minutes. The erotic pleasure can last a whole lot longer.
4. Worry about “doing it right”. Sex is not a performance art, it is a feeling experience.
5. Worry about how you look, taste and smell.

Bully the erotic and you may find that it will walk out on you.

–Pamela Madsen (author of Shameless)

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THE PARADOX OF PORN: Update

I’m pleased to note that, a year after its publication, my book The Paradox of Porn: Notes on Gay Male Sexual Culture, continues to have an impact on the population for whom it was intended.

In mid-June, I gave a presentation on the subject matter of the book at the annual conference of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) in Philadelphia, whose theme this year — Let the Body Rejoice!” — was right up my alley.

At the end of July, I gave a reading from the book at Easton Mountain Retreat in upstate New York as part of the annual Gay Spirit Camp, and I also conducted a workshop called “Writing from the Erotic Body.”

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I recently received this five-star review on Amazon.com:

If you’re a gay man who wants a more exciting, pleasurable, meaningful, and fulfilling sex life;
if you struggle with sexual shame;
if you’ve found porn both liberatory & oppressive;
if you believe in sexual freedom & liberation but feel ambivalent, dissatisfied, or downright depressed about how those ideals play out in most gay male sexual culture;
if you can’t help comparing yourself to the men depicted in gay porn and feeling you don’t measure up in stamina, technique, repertoire, attitude, muscle size, dick size, body type, facial features, ejaculatory ability, or age;
if the simultaneously sex-obsessed and erotophobic society in which we live has negatively impacted your sexuality;
or if you simply enjoy reading smart, entertaining, skillful writing on sex and culture,
then this book is for you!

In the category of You Learn Something New Every Day, I recently encountered a definition of pornography I had never heard before. Philosopher Michael Rea theorizes that an image is sexual pornography when we use it for immediate gratification, while avoiding the complexities of actual sexual relationships like physical intimacy, emotional connection and romantic interaction. Sounds reasonable to me — what do you think?

 

 

 

 

LET’S TALK ABOUT SEX: Joseph Kramer – Portrait of a Sexual Healer

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In the spring of 1992, I interviewed Joseph Kramer, the founder of the Body Electric School, for an article that was published in the April 21 edition of the Village Voice (“Sexual Healing: Joseph Kramer Sings the Body Electric”). I used only a few brief excerpts from the interview in the published article. But the conversation with Kramer covered a lot of territory above and beyond the “Celebrating the Body Erotic” workshop. He spoke in much greater detail about his own background, the evolution of the workshops he taught, his vision of the vocation he named “sacred intimate,” Andrew Ramer’s notion of the “consciousness scout,” and his own understanding of the erotic consciousness scout and its function in society, among other topics.

I’ve come to view this interview as a historical document, so I’m publishing the complete transcript here for the first time, edited only in order to be comprehensible.

MEDIA: “Pleasure, Anesthesia, and the Burden of Consciousness”

RFD fall 2016 cover

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.

Quote of the day: Lucretius on sexual pleasure

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In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Swerve, Stephen Greenblatt offers a detailed summary of Lucretius’s provocative, far-reaching, influential epic poem from the first century B.C., De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things), which is itself a digest for Roman audiences of the teachings of Epicurus, the ancient Greek philosopher. Epicurus certainly looms large in my own personal pantheon — his philosophy proclaims that the highest good in life is pleasure. Here’s a passage from The Swerve that speaks to the concerns of this blog…

The greatest obstacle to pleasure is not pain; it is delusion. The principal enemies of human happiness are inordinate desire –the fantasy of attaining something that exceeds what the finite mortal world allows – and gnawing fear. Even the dread plague, in Lucretius- account – and his work ends with a graphic account of a catastrophic plague epidemic in Athens – is most horrible not only for the suffering and death that it brings but also and still more for the “perturbation and panic” that it triggers.

It is perfectly reasonable to seek to avoid pain such avoidance is one of the pillars of his whole ethical system. But how is it possible to keep this natural aversion from turning into panic, panic that only leads to the triumph of suffering? And, more generally, why are humans so unhappy?

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The answer, Lucretius (above) thought, had to do with the power of the imagination. Though they are finite and mortal, humans are gripped by illusions of the infinite – infinite pleasure and infinite pain. The fantasy of infinite pain helps to account for their proneness to religion: in the misguided belief that their souls are immortal and hence potentially subject to an eternity of suffering, humans imagine that they can somehow negotiate with the gods for a better outcome, an eternity of pleasure in paradise. The fantasy of infinite pleasure helps to account for their proneness to romantic love: in the misguided belief that their happiness depends upon the absolute possession of some single object of limitless desire, humans are seized by a feverish, unappeasable hunger and thirst that can only bring anguish instead of happiness.

Once again it is perfectly reasonable to seek sexual pleasure: that is, after all, one of the body’s natural joys. The mistake, Lucretius thought, was to confound this joy with a delusion, the frenzied craving to possess – at once to penetrate and to consume – what is in reality a dream. Of course, the absent lover is always only a mental image and in this sense akin to a dream. But Lucretius observed in passages of remarkable frankness that in the very act of sexual consummation lovers remain in the grip of confused longings that they cannot fulfill:

Even in the hour of possession the passion of the lovers fluctuates and wanders in uncertainty: they cannot decide what to enjoy first with their eyes and hands. They tightly squeeze the object of their desire and cause bodily pain, often driving their teeth into one another’s lips and crushing mouth against mouth.

The point of this passage – part of what W. B. Yeats called “the finest description of sexual intercourse ever written” – is not to urge a more decorous, tepid form of lovemaking. It is to take note of the element of unsated appetite that haunts even the fulfillment of desire. The insatiability of sexual appetite is, in Lucretius’ view, one of Venus’ cunning strategies; it helps to account for the fact that, after brief interludes, the same acts of love are performed again and again. And he understood too that these repeated acts are deeply pleasurable. But he remained troubled by the ruse, by the emotional suffering that comes in its wake, by the arousal of aggressive impulses, and, above all, by the sense that even the moment of ecstasy leaves something to be desired. In 1685, the great poet John Dryden brilliantly captured Lucretius’ remarkable vision:

…when the youthful pair more closely join,
When hands in hands they lock, and thighs in thighs they twine;
Just in the raging foam of full desire,
When both press on, both murmur, both expire,
They grip, they squeeze, their humid tongues they dart,
As each would force their way to th’others heart.
In vain; they only cruise about the coast.
For bodies cannot pierce, nor be in bodies lost,
As sure as they strive to be, when both engage
In that tumultuous momentary rage.
So tangled in the nets of love they lie,
Till man dissolves in that excess of joy.

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DID YOU SEE: Washington Post column on what to do when marital sex wanes

Scrolling through the Washington Post website, I couldn’t help noticing a headline that reflected a sentiment I’ve heard from many a client: “Husband who hasn’t had sex in years wonders, ‘Is this normal?'”

I was impressed with columnist Carolyn Hax‘s answer, the gist of which was this:

What’s “normal” in a marriage is less important than what’s mutual.

If you’re worried, then, yes, you should be; if you’re not worried, then you shouldn’t be.

By that measure, the cause for concern at home is that you and your wife aren’t talking or touching.

Talking and sex are a fickle combination, though, with couples just as often cooled off by it as warmed up. If you tend to the former, then try this, first: Introduce more fun, physical but nonsexual activity to your lives together. As it stands now, you’re not touching, you’re not passionate, you’re putting on weight — this is about more than sex, no? It’s about losing your connection to your own bodies. When was the last time you and your wife hiked, biked, paddled, danced?

Using your body is the best way to wake it up — and not coincidentally, movement is a known emotional conductor. Get yourselves going, together, in a way that you both enjoy, and you stand to improve your connection (1) and communication (2) as much as you do your blood flow (3), all while adding an (I’m guessing) urgently needed shot of novelty (4) to your marriage — thereby accounting for the four cornerstones of passion. So. Take her hand, and go.

She has a few other things to say that make sense as well. Check out the whole column here and let me know what you think.

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EVENT: summer retreat in Tuscany for gay men

Have you ever been to Italy? If not, maybe it’s time. If so, do you miss it? I do. That’s why I’m going back this summer with my friend and colleague John Ballew to host

COME BACK TO YOUR SENSES – Cultivating Sensuality in Tuscany
A workshop for gay men
June 11-18, 2016

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About the Program:

In today’s fast-paced world, hard-working people spend their days harnessed to computers and electronic devices. We believe it’s spiritually rewarding to take time to nourish yourself, to explore and refine simple pleasures. We invite you to come back to your senses.

Presented under the auspices of our friends at Il Chiostro, this retreat offers more than simply the opportunity to get away from ordinary life. We are inspired by the ancient philosophy of Epicureanism. Dating from the 4th century BC, Epicureanism taught that the pleasures of the senses offer a verifiable standard of truth and therefore can serve to cultivate wisdom, justice, and happiness.

During the week-long retreat, we will spend time cultivating all of the senses. You will be invited to really see what you see, taste what you taste, smell what you smell, hear what you hear, and touch what you touch – really slow down, savor your sensory impressions and replenish your skills of discernment.

In a setting that is both safe and inviting to gay men, we will help you remember the joy of life in a body!

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“Come Back to Your Senses” is a rich but gently structured adventure. Our days together will alternate between two different kinds of activity:

1) interactive group exercises designed to help us slow down, engage our sensual mechanisms, recalibrate our awareness of what’s important in our lives, activate our creativity, and cultivate deeper intimacy with ourselves and others; and

2) expeditions to nearby towns such as Montalcino and Pienza or destinations such as the Abbey at Sant’Antimo or the spa Bagno Vignoni.

There will be time to relax and enjoy the beautiful Tuscan setting, and every evening we will sit down for a leisurely delicious multi-course dinner prepared just for us. There’s something really special about sharing these activities in Italy with a soulful group of open-hearted gay men. The size of the group is limited to 10 participants.

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Accommodations: The program will take place at Il Chiostro’s favorite new location, San Giovanni d’Asso in Tuscany, 40 km southeast of Siena. We will stay in an ancient farmhouse called “Il Tribbio,” which was completely refurbished in 2005. This large house has five double bedrooms, each of which has a private bathroom and air-conditioning. Outside there is a loggia with panoramic views of the surrounding area known as the Val d’Orcia. a swimming pool, and large outdoor spaces for gathering or relaxing. In front of the house there is a large, beautiful garden with olive and pomegranate trees and a wide grassland, from which you can enjoy a wonderful view of the rolling Sienese hills.

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Il Tribbio is located in a peaceful countryside 10 minutes by foot (1 km) from the romantic village of San Giovanni d’Asso, which has a beautiful 14th century castle, a charming tiny 11th century Romanesque church, a crazy botanical garden called Il Bosco della Ragnaia (curated and owned by an American painter), and a truffle museum (most of the truffles that come from Italy originate here).

Price: $2,595 p/p

Includes:

  • Double room with ensuite bathroom and shower
  • Daily breakfast and dinner, including wine
  • Workshop tuition, daily experiences facilitated by the instructors
  • Selected excursions with the group

Price does not include:

  • Airfare
  • Lunch
  • Independent meals and sight-seeing

To register:  A non-refundable deposit of $500 is required to secure your spot in the workshop.  Payment can be made online here with a credit card, or you can follow the instructions to send in your registration and payment by mail.  Once we receive your deposit we will send you a formal Registration Confirmation with further information about the program.  You will receive 2-3 other correspondences by email prior to the workshop with information about Italy, a supplies list and an electronic invoice for the balance.  Final Balance is due by May 1st.

Contact us for more information:  info@ilchiostro.com or speak to the registration staff live at 800-990-3506. If you have any questions, feel free to contact either me or John Ballew directly.

 

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Jon Kabat-Zinn on Mindfulness

MINDFULNESS

Back in 1979, when I started Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, I came up with an operational definition of mindfulness that still serves as well as anything else: mindfulness is the awareness that arises from paying attention on purpose in the present moment nonjudgmentally. That doesn’t mean you won’t have any judgments. In fact, when we start paying attention, we realize that we almost have nothing but judgments going through our heads. Just about every thought has reactive emotions associated with it: liking, disliking, wanting, rejecting, greed, aversion, and with plenty of delusion thrown in to leaven the pot. So mindfulness is about getting access to our own awareness with equanimity and without falling into a stream of conceptual thinking that goes on and on and on.

You could say that mindfulness is about cultivating a relationship of intimacy with oneself. But what does that mean? The body is really a big part of this because most of the time, except under very specialized circumstances, we tend to tune out the body completely. We’re in our heads most of the time because it’s challenging to stay in touch with the body. So a good place to start as a focus of attention is the breath. After all, as they used to say, you can’t leave home without it. And we’re always one breath away from not being alive.

The challenge is actually just experiencing one breath in and one breath out. And that means not thinking about the breath or patting ourselves on the back for how wonderfully we breathe or anything like that. It’s just the direct knowing of breathing. But breathing is just the object of attention. Mindfulness isn’t about the object: what it’s really about is the attending itself.

The message of mindfulness is an invitation to everybody to wake up to the true dimensionality of who we all are, and to move in a direction of maximizing the good that comes from our activities and minimizing the harm both to ourselves and others. And that could be done on a corporate level, on a national level, on an international level.

I think the reason we’re seeing so much interest now in mindfulness is that, as a species, we’re starving for authentic experience. But the impulse is to make mindfulness into a kind of catechism, in which some inner circle understands what mindfulness really is and everybody else is deluded. Instead, I think of mindfulness as a big umbrella. The difference between various traditions are unimportant as long as the focus is on creating greater well-being and minimizing harm.

–Jon Kabat-Zinn, “The Reluctant Guru,” Psychotherapy Networker

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