by Alan Davidson
I sing the body electric: In a room high above SMU, serenaded by Donna Summer, I discovered a whole different way to be sexual … and to be myself.
I lift my head up to look around the room and think, “This is decidedly weird.”
I’m in an old hotel ballroom, in downtown Dallas, with 21 other men, giving and receiving Taoist Erotic genital massage. Then an intense wave of sensation undulates from my groin, obliterates my ability to think of such mundane things, and I relax once again into the massage. The ministrations of my masseur, the intense breathing techniques, and the music combine to create a sustained level of pleasure I never imagined possible. The music fades. The leader calls for the masseurs to move to the next table. New hands caress my body and the first strains of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love pound through the speakers. I smile, remembering the fun of dancing to this song in the ’70s. With a flash I gain a moment of insight. Ms. Summer is not just singing about the thrill of being gay as I had imagined, or “hot sex;” which was most of my priority during those times. Suddenly that ’70s classic is saying so much more to me; it includes the love I feel now, on this table, vibrating with pleasure. It reminds me that conscious sex includes a love that dissolves shame and fear and instills courage and pleasure. In the immortal words of the beloved teacher from Kung Fu, “Ah, So! Grasshopper.” This is what sacred sex can be.
Western religions teach us that our bodies are the source of sin. They teach us that celibacy is the only path to God and that sex outside of marriage is a one-way ticket to hell. (Well, what if all the fornicators who have ever lived are in hell? Maybe there’s a wing just for gays and lesbians. It could be a fun place to spend a couple of millennia….). Fortunately Eastern religions hold a broader concept about sex and spirituality. They teach that sex, when used properly, can be one of the most dynamic paths to God. Why wait for hell, live now!
The mystical traditions recognize that sexual energy can be a potent source of spiritual energy. The kaballists have their sex magic. The erotic rituals of a sect of Chinese Taoism cultivate transformative energies which are used for great benefits for self and community healing. The East Indians and Tibetans have Tantra. Tantra, which gave us the Kama Sutra, is the art and science of cultivating sexual energy and directing it to spiritual transformation.
Deepak Chopra says, “Tantra is the closest you can get to magic or alchemy or transmutation. Tantric rituals are basically spiritual disciplines that allow you to trap and transform power. When properly understood, Tantra is one of the most dynamic and consistent paths to enlightenment. Of course, sexuality is a component of it. Tantra acknowledges that sexual energy is the most powerful energy in the universe because it is the creative energy in the universe.”
I believe exploring the concepts and practices of erotic rituals are important for Westerners. We have a deep sexual wounding from our Judeo-Christian heritage. Our sexual natures were first denied when Adam and Eve “saw their nakedness” and were evicted from the Garden of Eden. Original sin is the philosophical and psychological wedge that denies us the pleasures and experiences of our physical bodies. Healing erotic rituals allow us to experience our bodies as sacred, to experience sexual energy as the cosmic creative gift that it is.
I am standing in a circle of men. This is my first Body Electric seminar. I am anxious about what this weekend will hold. I know soon we’ll all be naked and that at some point I’ll be giving a complete stranger a genital massage. Not that that’s never happened before. Just not in broad daylight, in a room full of other men overlooking SMU. (That’s a cosmic joke in itself which gives me great amusement). I had heard of the Body Electric School before. It’s based in California and offers sex-positive experiences for men who love men and women who love women-as well as for some especially brave straight people. They offer a variety of weekend seminars and longer retreats which facilitate sexual healing, intimacy, and exploring a variety of erotic pleasures.
With my own fears and insecurities about my body and sexual performance, I discounted the Body Electric School. Years passed while I explored other spiritual practices and slowly matured emotionally. I practiced Tai Chi, chanted the OM, discovered yoga and insight meditation. I went from being bartender at Rich’s to becoming a massage therapist and teacher. As a massage therapist I am fascinated by the subtle physical energies that animate the grosser tissues of the body. I explored reflexology, polarity therapy, and deep-tissue somatic massage, which all have a spiritual component. However; my dream of a committed, intimate, sexually potent, life-changing relationship still eluded me. I had studied Tantra, but not practiced it. I was feeling inadequate about my sexual skills. My friend David called to share his own extraordinary experience with Body Electric. He assured me I’d love it. The emotional and psychological payoff (not to mention sexual payoff) of the class was well worth the risks he’d taken. I remember David as one of the more sexually modest members of our old group. If he could do it, I knew I could too. Insecurities be damned.
As the workshop unfolds I realize something quickly. This weekend is more about intimacy than sex. I have spent years moving through spiritual communities learning about intimacy. Much to my regret I rarely found much emotional depth with other gay men. The Body Electric work emphasizes connection over technique. And there are great techniques. John, our seminar leader, explains the penis is the part of a man’s body which “gets the most amount of massage with the least amount of imagination.” There are opportunities to reveal ourselves and to share; to look deeply into the eyes of other men … or not. The thing I notice is the respect that each man is given. No matter where a man’s at physically, emotionally, sexually, mentally, or spiritually, he is honored. There is a constant celebration of the male body and we are encouraged to embrace our erotic selves. For all my insecurities over the shape of my body or the size of my genitals I have never felt more welcome in a group of gay men. That is a gift I will take to my grave.
A primary key in Tantra is the ability to be present with your partner; to focus with eye contact, to match the rhythms of the breath, or meditate together. Tantra also teaches the importance of mastering the orgasm. Women have four levels of orgasm: the clitoral orgasm, the vaginal orgasm, multiple orgasms, and the amrita, or divine nectar. Men are taught to master ejaculation. Rather than lose their sexual energy out through the penis, the orgasm is directed up the spine through the energy centers of the body (called chakras in Tantra). Thus men become capable of multiple or “full body orgasms.” As a friend recently observed, “If both partners are capable of multiple orgasms, how do you know when to stop?” What a dilemma.
Tantric rituals are most effective in committed long-term relationships. The defenses and barriers of our personality are healed in the safety, intensity, and intimacy of our primary relationships. My friend Sean Michael used to say, “Intimacy means Into-Me- See.” Keith Hennessy, a San Francisco-based performance artist and spiritual teacher, defines intimacy as, “The ability to be naked with another person and relax. Naked in all its connotations.” I explain intimacy as an undefended encounter between two or more individuals. Each of these describe the expression of a self without the armor of defenses, the vulnerability of just being with another person.
Trust is necessary to create a level of intimacy. I was having coffee at Starbuck’s with my friend Joe the other day. He jokingly asked me for my definition of trust. I didn’t readily have one. After some soul searching and contemplation, I came up with this: If I trust you, it means I’ve put my confidence in you, relying on your character, your strength, your truth. I believe trust is earned and sustained over time. There are levels of trust, as with trusting someone with my respect, my home, my dog, my money, my life, my heart. I also come back to something Keith Hennessy said about trusting in relationships. “Once I determine that the other person is not a psychopath or going to overtly abuse me, the emphasis of trust changes from them back to me. It’s not an issue of whether I can trust them, but can I trust myself enough to take care of me in the relationship.”
Once trust and intimacy are established, commitment is needed for that maximum healing. Especially with the intensity that tantric relationships generate. Commitment is needed to create the container that allows for all the personality defenses, or character armor, to present themselves (and they do!). Character armor is the defenses we habitually use to protect ourselves from being hurt. For example, when I feel vulnerable I may try to cling or grasp onto my partner for reassurance. In the brilliant way that the world works, I generally choose partners who feel smothered by that clinging and they retreat. Which usually creates a spiral of more grasping and retreating. A solid commitment and good dialogue skills can diffuse that spiral and allow real healing to begin. Dissolving those defenses does create more safety and vulnerability, which is the true measure of spiritual strength. Mastering erotic energy has two primary results. In the art of lovemaking it creates ecstatic satisfaction. It also generates intense energy for healing on all levels of body, mind, and spirit.
As a teacher and a professional body-worker, I think it wise to add: Spiritual and body-centered transformation is a personal journey The practices that involve a teacher, therapist, or facilitator are not to be used for cultivating sexual energy. Healthy, consensual sex is defined as sex between two individuals who share an equal balance of power. This excludes professional relationships such as doctor/patient (or psychotherapist/patient), lawyer/client, or teachers/student. Sex between a professional and his or her client is abusive. Erotic rituals invoke powerful energetic experiences. Utilized unconsciously they can hurt relationships and spiritual evolution.
It is the final afternoon of the weekend workshop. For the past two hours I have received erotic massage from six masseurs. I have breathed, thrashed, shuddered, moaned, and sighed. After 40 years I have experienced myself in a totally different and unique way. I am also delirious from the session. The music fades and John leads us in a minute of deep rhythmic breathing, then three deep breaths followed by a sound. We are instructed to begin the Big Draw which directs the accumulated erotic energy throughout the body. I tighten all my muscles, including my breath, and hold them as long as I can. I finally collapse onto the table. I am wrapped in the sheet from the table which gives me the sense of being shrouded. A stream of total relaxation spreads from my belly, through my legs and arms, and to my mind. I continue to breathe as the first strains of The Mission soundtrack begin. It is a most beautiful piece of music and one of my favorites. The next thing I realize is that my consciousness is floating above the massage table. I’m looking down on my body. I’m having an out-of-body experience. I am peculiarly comfortable with this event. I feel perfectly right with the world and my place in it. I am once again reminded that conscious sex, intimacy, and connectedness make something else possible: a way of being human that transcends the limitations I often place on myself. For a rare moment I feel free! Ah, So! Grasshopper. So this is sacred sex.
Started by gay sexual pioneer Joseph Kramer, Body Electric is based in Oakland. For more information and a complete calandar of workshops, their contact information is: http://www.thebodyelectricschool.com/