Thoughts On Sexuality in Pole Dancing

While reading the articles and pole dancing class descriptions, it may sound like this is something similar to what happens in strip clubs, but actually there are several key differences. First, there are no men in the classes. In fact, in most studios, there are no men allowed in the studio. Period. This difference means that in pole dance studios women focus on discovering their own desires and fantasies rather than trying to fulfill men’s. This type of discovery can unfold more comfortably in an environment where women do not feel pressured to be desirable for someone else and do not feel endangered for putting their sexuality on full display. Women of all different shapes, ages and sizes participate in pole dance classes. Amazingly enough, as these women learn to move in a sensual way that feels good to them, they look and feel more beautiful. Women who pole dance become more confident and comfortable with their sexuality.

Despite these benefits, pole dancing remains stigmatized, and a woman’s decision to pole dance tends to raise eyebrows… and questions. For example, how does vulnerability or embodying the feminine in the interest of exploring sexuality benefit women? Is taking pleasure in being looked at, or being the object of a gaze, perverse or empowering? How and why should we give women space to explore their subjective experience of sexual desire? Our culture gives women mixed messages about their sexuality and pole dancing can be a healthy way for them to work through these messages individually.

On the one hand women are given a great deal of visual imagery from the media on how they should dress and behave – usually for someone else. Television, print, and the Internet all tell women what their bodies should look like. Women learn that sexiness is about looking good and subscribing to a very narrow cultural definition of beautiful: thin, long-legged, and busty. However, if they take this direction to the extreme, our culture also perceives them as weak and as subservient to a patriarchal value system.

I work hard to own my sexuality and believe it is mine to share (or not share) with whomever I please. Women like me are often considered loose or whores. My lack of modesty, and the pleasure I take in being a sensual woman, gets misinterpreted as a lack of self-respect or worse yet, a lack of respect for others. Americans have given women very little space to explore and unleash their sexuality without fear of being judged. And this is quite deliberate. Female sexuality is the seat of every woman’s power. And it resides in her body.

Divinity of Sex and Astrology

Does astrology predict marriage or release of sexual energy? What is the relationship among sex, spirituality and marriage?

We generally predict marriage by judging 2-7-11 house in a horoscope and found it to be quite reliable. But “Whether the combination of 2-7-11 houses denotes marriage or sexual union”? When this question starts haunting me, I was not aware that my intuition was opening a tin of worms, which will not let me sleep for nights. I start finding the answers from my astrological knowledge, but I soon understood that without my understanding of various healings techniques, Vedic and spiritual knowledge, past life regression therapy, it would be impossible for me to reach the desired answer.

From the question of misinterpretation of various Vedic sutra or points regarding marriage, to various rituals and tradition connected to marriage in different cultures through out the world, gay and lesbian relationships finding their popularity and acceptance in the modern time all over the planet, increasing quantum of illicit affairs, issues of polygamy, living relationships, loose sex lives finding their way in the society, exchange of sex partners, rise in prostitution and sexual incompetence, suddenly start creeping in my mind and there I decide to understand this concept by taking the help of consciousness. The ceremony called marriage is connected with various angles like physiology, psychology, and sociology, and sexology, social and spiritual angles. To understand all the above we will discuss the seven CHAKRA system, concept of four PURUSHARTHAS and five types of bodies i.e., PANCHKOSHA vis-à-vis the twelve houses of astrology.

But before I start with these in detail, I would like to clarify certain points. Firstly I am taking house based astrology for these evaluations. During my study of astrology, I have found that placidus system is like the law of universe and planetary system is the life in universe at certain point of time and space. I very well understand that there is nothing called time and form in space, so I will go with the timeless, formless concept of placidus system. Secondly these opinions need further research and all critical, significant views are welcome. Thirdly it is not possible to accomplish all aspects of human life connected with marriage and astrology in this article, but I will try to highlight the main points for the benefit of readers and researchers in this field. We have to lay down new norms, new significations to understand the concept of sex, marriage and spirituality through astrology. We have to drop our limited belief system and merge into vast consciousness to understand the divine purpose behind human life. We have to understand sex as life force, marriage as karmic tie up, partner as a soul, children in context of creation and family as a soul group with a common purpose. Then only we would be able to solve this puzzle of life through divine astrology.

To sum up the human life, we can classify the law of universe into two groups.

• Law of Karma
• Law of Reincarnation.

Law of Karma: Being born and bought up under the divine knowledge of various occult sciences in India, we all have some or detail knowledge about law of karma. To simplify it relates to cause and effect. That is to every action there is equal and opposite creation or so called reaction. From this we can very well understand our various relationships with our self as a subject or soul and other person in life. The institution called marriage is also abided by this law. The seventh house is nothing but denoting opposite sex, our second self, quality of physical energy, will to live, temporary or illusionary confrontations, release of sexual energy and our day to day affairs that need our physical energy. This house is tenth from tenth and hence we can understand the law of karma better from here. It is karma house for implementation of our ego, will or the outer world. That may be the reason our ancient scholars, saints might have considered it to be the house of wife, life partner and one of the house to be considered for marriage also.

To me, the occasion, opportunity, person who is just the other self of us, from whom we have to exert our physical energy, who ever is connected with the will to live is denoted by the seventh house. And from the ancient days to modern time, who is that if not the life partner, soul partner, or the business partner. So the word part or partner is more important for this house and not marriage, the reason being it is the operational house for tenth. To sum up I will only say that it is the house from which the prarabdh operates and where your physical energy is living, life issues are living.

Law of Karma operates through five levels of bodies. In the holy text of Vedas these five levels are named as PANCHKOSHA. They are

1. Annamaya Kosha = Physical body = 1, 4,7,10 houses.
2. Pranmaya Kosha = Energy body = Connected to all 12 houses.
3. Manomaya Kosha = Mental body = 2, 5,8,11 houses.
4. Vigyanmaya Kosha = Knowledge body = 3, 6,9,12 houses.
5. Ananandmaya Kosha= Bliss body = Disintegration of Individuation.

Since Law of Karma operates through various levels of body, all the karma (PRARABDHA, SANCHIT, and KRIYANMAYA) may operate individually or in combination. This is also true in case of sex or marriage. This is the main reason behind various level of sexual activities vis-à-vis our various modes, traditions, customs, hunches, partners and locations. It is very true that sex is the completion, complementary, compulsion or balancing of yin and yang. In traditional astrology this yin and yang has been expressed by the energy of Mars and Venus whereas in the western astrology it is portrayed by sun and moon. By understanding these variable energy levels we can easily find the ruling planets behind marriage, sex, love, wedlock, puberty and even celibacy state. We can easily find out whether this union is as spiritual as the union of shiva and parvati or mere at physical level. We can understand whether it is only a mental exhaustion, exchange of energy, physical act, and release of karmic issues or an act of consciousness. This may solve our various questions regarding sex, love, wedlock and marriage through astrology.

Law of Reincarnation: Law of reincarnation states that earth is like a big school. We are here to understand, experience our life lessons, and to again merge into consciousness. The ancient SUTRA of AHAM BRAHMASMI to be understood or implied afresh and final liberation or MOKSHA to be experienced as god like power of recreation. Our ancient knowledge of SHASHTRA says that we all are here to learn this by our four PURUSHARTHA or lessons. These are Artha, Kama, Dharma and Moksha.

After meditation, astrology is the first and the last attempt to understand these purusharthas. In law of karma we have discussed various kinds of bodies which play an important role in marriage or sex. Now we will try to understand our purusharta by which we can release our karma and attain Moksha. According to astrology these combination of various houses signifies our four purusharta.

1. DHARMA 1-5-9 houses.
2. ARTHA 2-6-10 houses.
3. KAMA 3-7-11 houses.
4. MOKSHA 4-8-12 houses.

KAMA 3-7-11:

Kama is expressed through the spiritual plane (Third house), Physical plane (Seventh house) and Mental Plane (Eleventh house).

We all know that seventh house is the house of wife, partner, sexual affairs and other related matters. Here in this article since we are dealing this subject from the (placidus) existence point of view, let us understand the seventh house psychologically. It is the house of quality of physical energy or our will to live in this physical plane. It is ninth from eleventh, which denotes the poorvbhagya of eleventh and eleventh is the house of gains, fulfillment of desires, associated with the person’s sense of self within the physical world. Being eleventh from ninth, seventh house also denotes the implementation of poorvbhagya of the native. Lastly it is third house from the fifth, denoting the extension of creativity. IN KALAPURUSH we have fixed the TULA rasi at seventh place denoting the balance of male or female energy or the balance of yin and yang. These few facts are enough to understand the seventh house as the energy pump for this physical life. So in love, marriage or wedlock whenever we need this physicality, we take this seventh house into consideration.

Third house is another aspect connected with Kama. Generally we see second house for family. But I think the third house which is second to second, ninth to seventh and fifth to eleventh is more appropriate to watch as it represents association, extended arms, confidence, and bondages. It is the house to take responsibility for ones needs. The newborn is brought to the breast, but must suck before nourishment is gained. This same principle holds throughout life. As the person matures, the fulfillment of his needs rests more and more upon himself. It is the house where maturity is reached and when this house functions properly, one ceases to blame others for one’s lacks in life and goes out to create what one needs and desires. Being poorvbhagya to seventh it destines our Kama equations vis-à-vis the seventh house. Who can deny that one who enters wedlock or union an association starts, maturity towards one self and other self comes and a new creation from the gains starts. In the division of KALAPURUSH, we have put MITHUN rasi at third house, which denotes nothing but union or maithun. This house is enough to understand spiritually whether it is a living relationship, marriage, sexual union, and one time affair or life time opportunity. Kama is more spiritual than physical issue. This is the only point where we misunderstood Kama and start looking the fructification through second house.

The most mysterious house among the twelve houses is the eleventh house. In context of Kama Purusharta, it is fifth from seventh and eleventh from third, denoting the creation of seventh and poorvbhagya of third. Whether this creation or assimilation will materialize or not will be judged by this house only. To me eleventh house is associated with the person’s sense of self within the society, his profession and with his peers. If a horoscope is not comfortable in this area of life, then this discomfort may very well be covered by pride to compensate for lack of self-esteem. This is the house, who will decide when, why, by which medium the desire will surface. In KALAPURUSH we have placed KUMBH rasi here which indicates pitcher or container. The eleventh house materializes at mental level which is deeply connected with our soul energy field. Whatever we choose to learn in this life is connected with this house. Who will deny that to every equation in life there is a hidden lesson behind and once this lesson is learnt the issue is over? The retrials, daily sexual union, quality and satisfaction of Kama, let them be it physically or spiritually, it is indicated by this house.

Coming back to the main issue, in the light of all above we can understand various physical, mental and spiritual issues connected with our theme. Start with understanding whether you are resolving sex, marriage, love or wedlock.

• If we are looking for the expansion of family, then we have to consider the second house with seventh and eleventh. Second is addition to first, denoting addition or capacity of addition. But if we are talking about the Kama purusharta, we should look at third, instead of second house. Marriage may happen once or more, it may not happen also, but sex predominantly happen disregard to custom called marriage. Bal vivah is also an example without expansion of family or sex.
• If we are talking about the quality of physical energy we should take seventh house into consideration and if we are talking about the quality of sexual energy then we should take eight houses into consideration. People with lots of physical energy may or may not have or use their sexual energy. It is a well known fact that sexual urge or energy may die before the physical death.
• If we are considering the exchange (receiving and giving) of mental, physical, spiritual pleasures, then we should take sixth house in consideration. Elaborate your thinking from the usual concept that sixth is the negation of seventh. Twelfth house of every house denotes exchange and not negation or denial in complete sense. Whether we will be able to exchange the energy or not will be decided by sixth house. Sixth is also eleventh to eighth.
• Eleventh is not result or gain or fulfillment of desire. Eleventh house denotes sense of self with the outer world. You may feel satisfied with and without sexual intercourse. In question of unnatural methods of sexual pleasures, this house can play an important role. In any case we are only concerned with the sense of self.
• If you are looking for the heart or feeling of love for others or openness to life look for the forth house and if want to investigate regarding pleasure be it spiritual or connected with wisdom or consciousness, take fifth house into consideration.
• For Ego, will or the outer world, look at the tenth house. The response with outer world regarding our love or openness is also judged by this house. The heart feelings of the other self may attach with the act and may not attach with this act.
• Lastly if you want to investigate the ability to carry out your ideas in practical way, judge twelfth house. It is seventh from the house of deep trance that is sixth.

Now, I think by understanding all these houses, we will be in a position to analyze accurately about the divine game called sex. Initially I wanted to investigate and authenticate this issue further with respected to kundalini, seven chakra system and interpretation of eleven houses energetically to understand in detail. Due to time and space constrain, I will take up these for the next issue.

Sexuality In Midlife and Beyond

I recently received an e-mail from a colleague of mine, sex therapist Suki Hanfling. She was announcing the publication of a new report, “Sexuality in Midlife and Beyond,” that she edited with Alan Altman, MD, Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School.

Thanks to the proliferation of ads for Viagra, Cialis and Levitra, it is hard to find an American tv viewer, including kids watching football or Red Sox games, who haven’t heard the term “erectile dysfunction,” often referred to as its acronym, “ED.”

On the one hand, these ads do put forth the message that people in midlife and beyond are still sexual beings. On the other hand, another inference is that people over 40 or 50 cannot have “normal” sexual lives without the magical impact of a little pill.

While it is true that for many people, Viagra and its siblings is indeed an answer to a prayer, for others, the ED drugs add another emotionally charged shadow to the process of intimate relating, dealing with aging bodies, and relational difficulties between partners that influence connection or lack thereof in the bedroom.

In their announcement, Hanfling and Altman lead with the message, “Viagra can create relationship problems as well as solve them.” While the pills can produce chemically-induced erections in some men, they “offer no help in untangling the emotional and relationship pressures that frequently accompany erectile dysfunction.”

A man needs to feel sexual desire for his partner for the pills to work. “If emotional issues are impinging on libido, the pills won’t help. A man struggling with ED may be so embarrassed that he is no longer willing to attempt sexual activity, and his partner may mistakenly believe he is no longer attracted to her.”

For many couples, talking about sexuality is very difficult to start with.
Few people have the language or the comfort to talk about what they need, what feels good and what needs tuning. If a partner tries to speak about their needs, including what might need to change, even a little bit, in the moment, their attempt to communicate may be received as criticism and shut down the sexual energy very quickly.

When ED is part of the terrain, talking might be even more difficult. Shame is such a player in many people’s sense of sexuality. When there are physical or emotional difficulties in being sexual, shame may cast a large shadow.

Building a sense of emotional safety and good will between two partners is essential to being able to have the often difficult yet necessary intimate conversations that lead to fullest sexual–and soul–connection. If a couple can establish a safe rapport with one another, both in and outside of the bedroom, there is more space to attempt to address something as vulnerable as ED.

And just for the record, while I have not seen statistics of libido, sexual function and emotional connection as people age, if people are physically healthy, emotionally available, and sexually connected, it is possible to have a vital sexual life well beyond middle age.

If we can heal and learn to open our hearts more fully to a beloved partner, our bodies may be capable of more feeling and desire. We can also find ways to pleasure ourselves and one another together that reinforce and express a sense of sexual-spirituality, so we can be nourished by more than just what Stan Dale of the Human Awareness Institute calls, “wiggle, wiggle, pop.”

Feeling safe and free to have desire and needs, and having a loving partner who can hear us and respect us goes a long way in deepening intimacy between two partners. This kind of connecting transcends time, space and age, and provides a very special soul-nourishing quality.

Integrating Sexuality and Spirituality

Take a look at the world around us, and it becomes readily apparent that we are living in a time of simultaneous convergence and deconstruction. As there is a resurging interest in spiritual practices in many circles, there is also a breakdown in the patriarchal, hierarchical church structures. The specter of clergy sexual abuse intermingles with a worldview promulgated by the church about the nature of relationships and sexuality that no longer has meaning for people today – men and women, young and even middle-aged. The gender roles we were raised with have broken down and blurred. The image of nuclear family as mom, dad and 2.4 children has been superseded by a far greater spectrum of family possibilities. Bisexuality, androgyny, gender fluidity and polyamory are more and more common, especially among the twenty something generation.

Erotic energy is far more than sexual energy. It is life energy. As our culture has evolved splits between mind and body, head and heart, heart and pelvis and sexuality and spirituality, we have forgotten what it means to be fully alive.

“Erotic energy is not just about having sex,” continues Suzanne Blackburn, whose participation in sexuality and spirituality work has catapulted her personal and spiritual growth. “It is about living.” As we have become disconnected from our bodies, hearts, souls, spirits, one another and the divine, we have lost touch with many of the most beautiful pleasures and experiences possible in being human. So many people today are searching for meaning and purpose, most often expressed through job dissatisfaction, addictions and broken or troubled relationships. The rise of industrialization, urbanization, the nation-state, global dislocations, war and poverty all contribute to the sex-spirit split for us both individually and collectively.

“Because our culture has repressed sexuality so much, it is repressing everything,” acknowledges Blackburn. “People who have repressed sexuality have also repressed other areas of their lives. If you are not joyful about your sexuality, it is hard to be joyful about watching a sunset or watching kittens play. Hopefully, by breathing life into one, you breathe life into all of it. It’s like giving birth. When the baby comes out of the birth canal and takes a breath, the baby pinks up. When we open up, breathe deeply, have fun, when we dance, we pink up.” This backdrop provides fertile soil for an emerging movement working to integrate sexuality and spirituality.

Living in the Midst of a Paradigm Shift

Bob Francouer, a teacher of graduate and undergraduate classes in Human Sexuality at Fairleigh Dickinson University and the editor of the Encyclopedia of Sexuality notes, “Sexuality and spirituality have always been joined and interwoven from the very beginning of the human race. It is only in the last 2000 to 3000 years of Western civilization that the two have been separated. And they have not just been separated, but have been seen as antagonistic to each other. The split between sex and spirit came out of the Greek philosophy of dualism, and a dichotomous view of humans as matter/evil/female and spirit/good/rational/male.”

Just as Western civilization went through a period of major cultural upheaval 2000 to 3000 years ago, we are undergoing a period of major cultural turnover and paradigm shift now. “The institutional churches are losing their credibility in dealing with sexuality and spirituality. They are losing their authority,” continues Francouer. Francouer is well versed in the changing paradigm worldwide. The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality is written by 300 experts in 60 countries on 6 continents. The encyclopedia includes in depth reports of all aspects of sexuality. Each country has a section on religious and ethnic influences. Having collected information from many cultures all over the world, “it becomes very clear the spiritual traditions are undergoing major revolutions in their patterns of thinking. People in many cultures worldwide are thinking now not in terms of marital and procreational values, but in terms of individual self-enrichment and fulfillment. The spiritual is a very important part of the new perspective.”

Significant leadership in the sexuality and spirituality is coming from women. Francouer acknowledges, “As women in developing nations are exposed to Western concepts and experiences of human sexuality, they are linking their religious traditions with the visions of Western sexuality. As women become more empowered in third world nations, they are gaining more control over their bodies and sexuality, turning more to their spiritual heritage.”

“When the human psyche reaches the point of convergence and breakthrough into a new level of consciousness,” reflects Francouer, “diversity is the first thing that happens. The energy spreads out and explores all kinds of possibilities. There is no one ideal paradigm nor five ideal paradigms. All the models we have had in the past have real difficulties being applied in today’s world. So people are creating their own models and patterns.” The new paradigms created need to include and consider the collective as well as the individual.

A Quiet Movement and Its Roots

The emergence of the sexuality and spirituality movement is very quiet. For one, the subjects of sexuality and spirituality are each daunting. Many people are frightened at the thought of delving more deeply into either one. Too, Ani Colt, publisher of Spirituality and Sexuality magazine and founder of the Sexuality and Spirituality Union Network (SUNetwork) points out, “One of the things that energized a lot of movements was the common experience of feeling oppressed. A sense of oppression contributed to the emergence of blacks, women and homosexuals. But the oppression of our sexuality is not even recognized because sex is always in front of us. It’s in ads, on TV, in the movies. It is much more subtle oppression. As a result, it hasn’t given us that organizing energy that has created the feminist movement, the civil rights movement and the gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans gendered community.”

Sex educator, sex coach and author Loraine Hutchins adds, “Erotophobia/sex-negativity is hard to battle because it is all pervasive and systemic. It doesn’t affect any one group at the expense of another like racism. However, erotophobia, like racism, really hurts everyone and diminishes us all. I think sex-negativity is a function of heterosexism, a system of oppression created by patriarchy, involving male supremacy and mandatory heterosexuality. This oppressive system hurts men as well as women. The parallel is in looking at how whites are made less by racism, in contrast to non-whites. The hurts are different and need different remedies.”

“Organized religion is of little help in the sexuality-spirituality field,” Shalom Mountain Retreat Center founder Gerry Jud acknowledges. “I make a big distinction between religion and spirituality. Religion is about controlling behavior. Spirituality is about development and liberation of consciousness – becoming consciousness itself. Sex permeates all of life. When people are intimate with each other, touch each other, look into each other’s eyes, dance ecstatically with each other, the sexual component is out front. You cannot take an effective spiritual journey without taking into account that we are sexual beings.”

The first nationwide survey on sexuality and spirituality was conducted by Gina Ogden, a sexuality therapist and author of Women Who Love Sex: An Inquiry into the Expanding Spirit of Women’s Erotic Experiences. She is presently writing a book based on her survey results and hopes that the data will provide a baseline for broadening definitions of human sexuality, especially for women. Oggen contends that the field of sexology itself has reinforced the split between sexuality and spirituality. While she was a visiting scholar at the Radcliffe Institute, she happened upon the earliest sex surveys – conducted by women MDs. “The first survey, a century ago, was filled with hand-written responses about sexuality and spirituality,” notes Ogden. “But since the 1930′s when male scientists took over the surveying of sexual behavior, sex research became focused on what was easy to count and measure – performance by way of intercourse, orgasms and spasms, the mechanical part.” In her 25 years of experience as a clinician and workshop leader, Ogden found these mechanical features to be only a fraction of what women said was important.

“Almost 4000 women and men answered my survey with an outpouring of stories about sexuality and spirituality, about love and empathy and meaning and sex as a direct path to the divine. What is fascinating is that these stories echo the responses from those early surveys, as if they’re filling in almost a hundred years of blanks, the mysterious black holes in the history of the sexuality and spirituality movement. Maybe the scientific arm of the present day movement begins with Celia Mosher, who conducted that first survey in 1892!”

Ogden continues, “There is brain research coming out now because with advanced technology like MRI’s and PET scans we can really look at what is going on in the human brain over a period of time, like stop action. Researchers are finding that during sexual stimulation more than one center of the brain is lighting up. This demonstrates an organic basis for arguing that sexuality and spirituality are connected, that sexual response is multi-dimensional. This is in direct disagreement with all the sex research that focuses on performance, and the medical diagnostics that say if you can’t perform to their standards, it’s called dysfunction. There may be a political and social movement going on, but it’s important to remember that the capacity for connecting sex and spirit is in us. It is in our cells and our brain structure. It is built in. It has taken us 3000 years to remember it, to rediscover it, to validate it.”

A Wide Spectrum of Trainings and Practices

Many trainings, practices and methods have evolved to help people learn to work with sexual, spiritual, and life energies in their bodies, relationships and lives. These methods have been developed by visionaries who have built a community or network of people around them. There is some cross-fertilization between these communities, but more often the right hand doesn’t even know there is a left hand yet, never mind what it is doing.

Existing practices and trainings approach integrating sexuality and spirituality from many different directions. For example, the Human Awareness Institute approaches this work from an emotional and interpersonal direction, giving people skills for deeper intimacy and connection through its Love, Intimacy and Sexuality workshops. Tantric work, on the other hand, approaches the body and its energy field from a rootedness in spiritual philosophy. Sterling community work focuses on distinguishing the differences between male and female energy.

One of the common threads amongst the many approaches is the creation of a safe, sacred community circle. Joining together in holy ritual is a basic human need. We are starving for this kind of sacred circle. Trainings and workshops such as those profiled below provide help meet this need. I have selected a handful of significant programs in the sexuality and spirituality field, all of which have evolved over the past several decades. The purpose is to illustrate a range of what is available.

The Human Awareness Institute: Restoring the Purity of Heart and Soul

Stan Dale, 73, founder of the Human Awareness Institute, that has offered Love, Intimacy and Sexuality workshops worldwide for thirty four years, found himself on a path of integrating sexuality and spirituality while stationed in Japan when he was twenty seven years old. Having had a successful career in radio prior to being drafted, Stan worked at the Armed Forces Korea Network while in the service. He was put on temporary duty in Tokyo for the Far East Network, and was invited to a cast party for a motion picture being filmed there, “Joe Butterfly.” The cast party took place at a geisha house, a stunning 22-acre facility with trees, butterflies and flowers and buildings that looked like palaces. Through a twist of fate, he ended up living there for seven months when an old man who lived there invited him to stay. The old man told everyone at the geisha house to treat Stan like his son. The head geisha, nearly 70, gave Stan a quartz stone.

“She said to me,” remembers Stan, “‘What do you see?’ I said, ‘a stone.’ She said, ‘Yes…but come back and tell me what you see later.’ This went on for three days. I knew it was a trick. I examined it, had a magnifying glass, asked others what they saw…At the end of the three days, she asked me what I saw. Like a bolt of lightning, I saw the beauty of the universe. The words came out of my mouth.”

“At an event that night, the head geisha stood up. She gave me an honorific bow and said, ‘If you can see the beauty of the universe in a stone, you are now a geisha.’ I hadn’t known what geisha meant, but I sensed it was very special. The geishas taught me to look beyond everything I look at, to listen beyond everything I listen to, to go beyond what I touch. I learned an old adage to live by. If God wanted to hide, God would hide in human beings, because that is the last place we would think to look to find God.”

Stan learned to look for and see the spark of God, the magnificence that is every human being which may be camouflaged or obscured as we take the hard knocks of life. “As we walk through life in this world, the garbage keeps getting dumped on spirit,” notes Stan. Sufficient garbage gets dumped that people don’t recognize their own heart and spirit. “When something is in the body that shouldn’t be there, when it is taken out, it heals itself,” acknowledges Stan. “The heart heals itself. The soul heals itself.”

Just as the heart, soul and spirit get obscured by the garbage of life, sexuality has been equally misunderstood. “When we get the craziness and dirtiness out of the word sex, and put it where it belongs in spirit, heal and soul, then we get purity. “My vision is for every human being to be aware that their spirituality and sexuality is who you are, not something you get. My vision is for every person on this planet to see what is available when the garbage is indeed taken out.”

Shalom Mountain Retreat Center: Sustaining Spiritual Growth and Intimacy

Gerry Jud, now 83, is one of the true pioneers in the sexuality and spirituality movement. After getting a Ph.D at Yale, he started his career as a pastor in New Haven, CT. “I became interested in the question of why, in religious groups, the level of intimacy is exquisitely limited. People who get started in the field of a religious path soon level off. The journey comes to a halt. This troubled me as a church person, and so I began to study a way in which intimacy could be found among such people who are seeking a spiritual life, and how it could be sustained.”

He did his research and development work at Kirkridge, a major Protestant retreat center in Bangor, ME. Influenced by leaders in the human potential movement, including the folks at Esalen and in humanistic psychology, Gerry reached a turning point in his work when he worked with primal therapy techniques. “My first wife drowned after seventeen years of marriage. We had three little children. As a religious person, I did the best I could with that tragedy. It wasn’t until I got into primal scream work that I was able to release my anger. That changed everything for me.”

“That led me to see that people on their spiritual journey are not stuck in their conscious minds. They are stuck in the twilight,” a deeper subconscious layer that is often inaccessible to the conscious mind. For people to move forward in their growth work, Gerry recognized they needed to work at this deeper level, which he called the “twilight zone.” He developed a system in which he created an intensely tender, loving group of fifteen people. He would work with each person, one at a time, using deep breathing to put them into an altered state of consciousness.

Gerry initially started working with clergy and their wives, but his work soon grew to include people of all different religions and cultures. He eventually left his church job and founded Shalom Mountain Retreat Center in 1975. He found his work growing to include sexuality as it became apparent that the journey to God needed to include working with sexuality. Gerry’s pioneering work helped give birth to yet another body of work, the Body Sacred.

Suzanne Blackburn describes the Shalom experience as “a beautiful blend of all that we know in modern psychology and all that we know about love. It’s community at its best – a community that holds people to their truths and never withdraws love regardless of that truth.”

Body Electric School: Learning About Erotic Energies

The Body Electric School for Erotic Massage was founded by Joseph Kramer in the early 1980′s. Suzanne Blackburn speaks to the essential contribution of this work. “Kramer realized that men were compartmentalizing orgasm. For most people, initially men, if they were orgasmic, their experience happens within a five inch radius around the genitals. Kramer was interested in developing a body of knowledge to make orgasm a lot more – a full body, full person, full spiritual experience. He went on a quest to find out how to do this and created an experiential school for teaching about erotic energies.”

As we live with breakdown and deconstruction at so many levels of life, one thread that emerges is a hunger and longing, both spiritual and erotic. Suzanne Blackburn, reflects, “We are in a culture of dis-remembering in a lot of ways including the natural flow of erotic energies through and around us. Alex Jade of the Body Electric School uses the term ‘erotic amnesia.’ A lot of work is now available to help us re-member.”

Kramer drew upon ancient traditions and modern wisdom, and blended this knowledge in a new way that is accessible to men and women today. Body Electric work teaches people to wake up to their own bodies through breath, movement and touch, including Taoist erotic massage.

“Body Electric work translates ancient wisdom into practical exercises people can do in the here and now. We carry these ancient teachings in our bodies. It doesn’t take a whole lot of teaching for our bodies to wake up and remember. Our bodies hold the wisdom,” comments Blackburn. “In our culture it is generally not okay to take your clothes off with strangers, to talk about your genitals and erotic experience. The facilitators of Body Electric workshops are able to create a very safe space that allows people looking to be more alive in their bodies, to heal shame, open to more intimacy, celebrate living, and most importantly, to reconnect genitals and heart.”

Growing out of the AIDS devastation, the sudden linking of sex with death and attempting to recover from this, the school was exclusively for men until twelve years ago. “In response to women’s interests in this work, Joseph sought out women teachers,” chronicles Blackburn. The school currently offers a women’s program and a small mixed gender curriculum.

Sterling Men’s and Women’s Weekends: Distinguishing Between Masculine and Feminine Energy

An outgrowth of the human potential movement that offered us an opportunity to explore what it means to be human, Sterling men’s and women’s weekends provided a forum to explore what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman.

Joe Boyer, who is involved in leadership in the Northeast region for this work, speaks to the evolution of the men’s and women’s weekends. “Throughout the history of the world, masculine and feminine roles were established that worked for many years. In more recent years of civilization, these roles have unraveled with politics, the industrial age, wars and all the conditions that called for the women’s movement. The women’s movement pushed us towards equality, but this posed new problems. The divorce rate went up. As a society, and as men and women, we had lost touch with the essence of the male and female roles that had worked for millions of years.”

Sterling work explores the essence of what it means to be male and what it means to be female, and what each gender’s roles and responsibilities can be. The goal is for men and women to be able to come together and have relationships that work. What is being distinguished here is energy – what is true masculine energy and what is true feminine energy. “The more unisexed a couple gets,” reflects Boyer, “the more it loses its vitality.” Rather than becoming androgynous, which implies a melding of gender energies, we need to become more clearly rooted in our masculine and female energies. “We need the distinction of masculine and feminine energies to understand who we are and what our inner selves are trying to tell us. This is not to say a man should shun his feminine energy. The key is learning to distinguish it.”

An example of the difference between male and female energy is the way each gender feels a sense of essential expression. Men feel a sense of essential expression when they provide and act. Through acting, men connect with the resources of the world, helping do what needs to be done to move things forward. Women feel a sense of essential expression when they nurture and foster connections. To nurture, you have to fully connect with another human being, to be able to plug into another, experience what they are feeling and empathize with them. In this way, women keep the relational fabric of society together.

When we look at the symbols for male and female, the male symbol is like an arrow, pointing or directing, and the female symbol includes a circle, bringing together and including. Men may take women’s nurturing efforts for granted. Unfortunately, women may not recognize the expression of emotional energy by men. When women nurture and when men work, each gender comes from their heart. This expresses an intention to emotionally be there for another. It is their way of trying to emotionally connect. For men and women to relate and get along, being able to recognize and appreciate these essential energies and their expression is fundamental.

A big piece of Sterling work is empowering people to become the men and women they always wanted to be. Our culture delivers lots of messages about what a man or women is supposed to be, but these messages may not ring true within an individual man or woman. “The Sterling Men’s Weekend is promoted as a modern initiation into manhood. This culture lacks this kind of initiation. The closest thing we have is the military. The military, however, makes you into the man they or we want you to be. The Sterling weekend is about making you into the man you always wanted to be.”

In order to serve the world at large, we need to have a clear strong sense of self, including a clear sense of gender identity. In this light, Sterling work helps men and women get rooted in that sense of self, so they can then come together to help shape a better world.

Conscious Relating: The New Paradigm for Love

While we have made progress in accepting same sex relationships between men and men and women and women, the culture as whole still offers a pretty narrow view of what constitutes an acceptable loving relationship. Our high divorce rate illustrates that even straight heterosexual men and women struggle in the most accepted form of relationship called marriage. Sexuality, intimacy and emotional needs are often difficult to talk about in relationships, and as a result it is hard for many people to be truthful in their expression of their sexuality.

Deborah Taj Anapol, a pioneer in the field of exploring conscious relating and integrating sexuality and spirituality, speaks of the new paradigm for love. “Right now what is occurring in consciousness is a marriage or blending between the masculine and feminine. With this shift comes an understanding of love as consciousness, rather than feelings for an object or love as something finite. The new paradigm for love is one of partnership, rather than a dominance/submissive form of relating.”

Relationships are based on honesty when they come from a climate of mutual respect and emotional safety. In the old paradigm, when relationships fail, partners often distance from themselves and each other with lies of omission and commission. When intimate relationships are formed from a utilitarian base, responding to social expectations, economic necessity, or gender role expectations, it is hard for men and women alike to find an authentic way of relating. When relationships are formed from a more spiritually integrated place, one comes to a partner freely, from a place of unconditional love and choice.

When people are ashamed or afraid to admit their needs to themselves, never mind their partners, it is hard to have a paradigm for love. Learning to know ones emotional, sexual and intimate needs becomes a spiritual journey. For many people, alternative lifestyle options are needed for authentic and vital relating and expression. As we move through a paradigm shift, forms of relationship may need to adjust to accommodate our individual and collective growth and change. Committed relationships may range from marriage to God with a celibate lifestyle to polyamorous relationships where people are both emotionally committed and sexual with more than one partner. Some people commit emotionally to a primary relationship with a person of one gender, yet engage sexually with another person or other persons of the other gender. Some individuals and couples choose to study and practice sacred sexuality to increase both their sense of connection and pleasure.

Bob Francouer comments about the shifting paradigm, “I think the outcome is going to be a much greater, more open, tolerant diversity. Once premarital sex was taboo. Today, in many circles, including mainstream circles and even churches, premarital sexual relationships are taken for granted. We will see different lifestyles that are socially responsible and fulfilling for the individuals. As we live into our seventies, eighties, nineties and beyond, some people will change their pattern of relationships.”

Where we will evolve to will be an interesting question. Women are taking a leading role in bringing an sex-spirit integration into the culture. More and more men are realizing they need to heal their wounded hearts to bring themselves more fully into their own lives and relationships. I am excited about the healing potential this emerging movement has for life on Earth. Perhaps, as we reconnect with our bodies, our hearts, our souls and one another we will indeed create a world that can live in greater harmony and peace.

The Boston Area Sexuality And Spirituality Network

In response to a groundswell of interest, the Boston Area Sexuality and Spirituality Network was founded in May 2002. The group exists to create a forum for people interested in integrating sexuality and spirituality to meet, dialogue and exchange resources. At the first meeting of BASSN, one of the themes was the need for an umbrella organization that embraced ALL forms of sexual, spiritual and gender expression. One member stated, “I can find a group of bisexual women pagans, but that group may not dialogue with transgendered Christians or hard-wired straight monogamous people.” BASSN offers an umbrella, welcoming people who identify with the many dimensions of gender identity, orientation, sexual expression and spiritual identity.

What BASSN members have in common is the desire to create a community or tribe where INTEGRATION is possible, creating a safe space where people can explore and learn from both differences and common threads. The group sponsors monthly meetings, which are like mini-workshops. Topics the group has addressed so far include: integrating sexuality and spirituality: what does it mean?, the essence of gender, safe touch, ways of loving: forms of relationship, and sexual energy.

The group will be organizing a Sexuality and Spirituality Leadership Forum, gathering together pioneers in the S and S field to share their visions and work, and to see how everyone can work together to support one another and this emerging field.

Connecting Sexuality and Spirituality

Great sex with your beloved is a private indulgence, a sensual experience and the ultimate luxury. It is difficult to have good sex on an empty heart. Sex is a wonderful part of life. For starters, without it we would not be here! Sex is made up of touch, feeling, aroma, emotion, sound, sight, color, ritual, imagination and celebration.

Sensuality and pleasure flows from within. As Kim Cattrall wrote in her book Sexual Intelligence “When we eat without paying attention to what we’re eating or how it’s been prepared, we rob ourselves of pleasure.” Sexual pleasure works in the same way. Eroticism, another ingredient in great sex, is subtle magic. Just as knowing how ingredients work together leads to more creative cooking, so an awareness of desire’s many nuances makes sex more creative and satisfying. It often even summons a sense of the divine. Through love, the body experiences itself as a doorway to the divine.

Sex is one of the universal pathways to feeling good. As always there is a shadow side. When used in a destructive and angry manner deep wounds are created. There are many who struggle with sexual issues due to these woundings. Often we see in the media a tendency to become fascinated and focused on the abusive side of sex. It appears in a multitude of ways, and under many guises in our every day life, sometimes being used to sell everything from cars to food, it can be everything and it can be nothing.

For the young in each generation, sex often begins with looking for love, approval, and validation. This can become a game, a game that provides the fleeting feelings of ‘loving’ and ‘being loved’. Especially if one is driven by the desire to be noticed, desired, sexually attractive and great in bed. The question of morality often left behind in the seeking of these seemingly more potent experiences. Peer pressure and the strong need to be accepted opens the doorway to experimentation, for better or for worse. Love is not on the agenda here, it can be more valuable to experiment, to shed innocence and naiveté.

Speaking to a young woman recently, who, after many years of sexual emptiness, has now set out upon a path of self discovery. She had this to say, “Each time I chat with someone, meet someone, have sex with someone – or not – I uncover more about who I am and what I am looking for. It’s a great way to discover things that you didn’t even know turn you off, turn you on or turn you upside down.”

My own experience was not very different. My sexual experiences were how I defined myself, believed I fitted in and was good enough in the eyes of my peers. Intimate connections came and went as I set about finding and experiencing the sexual comfort I craved. My lust for life’s experiences led me to understand that there are many ways to be sexual and I would be simplistic to suggest that sex is only meaningful where there is love. Maturing along my journey, I understood and came to experience sex as the nearest way to receiving or experiencing bliss. Sex certainly provides some profound moments when I am able to go beyond past inhibitions, connecting and opening up to heightened pleasures. It is true that in that space I teeter on a precipice outside ordinary experience.

Thomas Moore in his book The Soul of Sex states “In sex the soul has an unusually powerful opportunity to join body and spirit. Sex focuses our attention, as perhaps nothing else can, on our sensuous presence in this world and on another person, while at the same time it fulfils our desire for emotional and spiritual union with another, for transcendence of our self-consciousness, and for meaningful experience. If our sexuality has soul, the whole range of human experience is contained there. Sex can put us in touch with the sublime. While making love, or afterward, we may feel utterly fulfilled, and the whole of life may be renewed by the experience”

Even as we enter mid life and the latter years, sex continues to renew and find a way to express itself. It becomes more than the act itself. Maybe it is when the body begins to change that our attitudes towards sex do as well. This does not mean we lose interest, rather it is that the biological urge is not so pressing. It is pleasing to report that there are many women, who finding themselves alone or widowed, who are able to take advantage of the ever changing face of options available to them in this modern day. More and more women of all ages are discovering self-pleasuring and enjoying their sexuality through the amazing range of vibrators available these days. What was once taboo is becoming, for some, normal (even if not universally accepted) as intimate products ensure physical sensations continue to be as splendid as ever.

There are changing attitudes towards sex whether between partners or alone. The tendency to live the single life is fast becoming more chic along with the desire to be more inter-dependent in relationships, rather than co-dependent.

Women are no longer expected to take a passive role in sexual intercourse. Sexual freedom and enjoyment has become more acceptable. Sexual pleasure and orgasm continues to be of great consequence in people’s lives, with both women and men understanding more and more what the other needs and requires from sex.