SEX WORK AS SPIRITUAL PRACTICE -- a sacred intimate inventory

To talk about sex work as spiritual practice, I think I need to say what I mean by ďsex workĒ and ďspiritual practiceĒ and then speak very personally about how those things intersect for me. The sex work that I do professionally primarily consists of erotic massage -- that is, massage that incorporates erotic touch with the intention to awaken and integrate sexual energy as a full-body experience. And some of the things that I associate with spiritual practice are: mindfulness meditation, performing ritual, and being of service. In terms of the impact on the people I work with, itís hard to make distinctions between the physical benefits, the emotional or psychological benefits, and the spiritual benefits of erotic bodywork. But I know that I consciously bring many elements and values from spiritual practice into my erotic bodywork practice. Those things fall into two general categories: ritual preparation and touch as prayer.

Maybe because I grew up Catholic and my first experience of community service was serving Mass as an altar boy, I consciously conduct each session as a ritual. And anyone who does ritual knows that 90% of the experience is preparation. The first step is the invitation I put out to clients. In my advertising I use language that you donít usually see in the sexually-charged arena of massage ads -- words like ďTouch healsĒ or ďSacred Erotic IntimateĒ or ďErotic bodywork to nourish the soul.Ē Nowadays my only advertising is a web page that talks about tantric massage and gives some possible intentions for an erotic massage ritual: Meditate. Pray. Rest. Be Grateful. Heal. Expand. Feel. Transform. These words are crucial in creating the context for how I work.

Preparing the space is another important part of the ritual. Iíve made my living room into a temple space for bodywork thatís clean, well-lit, inviting, and quiet. There are Balinese masks and framed original photographs on the walls, a candle burning, fresh flowers if possible, and on the mantelpiece of my (non-working) fireplace Iíve painted a sentence I once heard a West African teacher named Malidoma Some say: ďDesire is a horse that wants to take you on a journey to spirit.Ē Again, words are very important to me, and a sentence that begins with desire and ends with spirit really sets the tone for what I do.

Near my massage table is an active altar. An altar is a very important part of ritual space -- it is a focus for reverence. My altar has a typical assortment of items: stones with various properties, a picture of my spiritual teacher, a picture of a loved one whoís in the other world now, a picture of Krishna, the Hindu god of joy, objects representing both male and female sexuality, and objects representing the four elements (earth, air, fire, and water). Possibly the most important item on my altar these days is an icon of Marilyn Monroe with her skirt blowing up, which a friend gave me as a reminder not to take myself too seriously.

In addition to clearing the space, I prepare myself for each session. One of the things I love about doing bodywork is the invitation to take good care of myself as well. I have a daily meditation practice, I pay attention to what I eat and how I sleep. And it goes without saying that I had excellent training in massage and bring the value of skillfulness to the work I do.

When a client arrives, I always have him (or her, but itís usually him) sit and talk for a minute, however briefly. The first time I see someone, I ask a few pertinent questions about any injuries or medical conditions I should know about, and assure him that heís here to be taken care of, #1, and his feedback is welcome throughout the session. I go over the rough outline of the session, that itís a full-body massage that includes erotic touch. I tell him he can relax and soak it up as a pleasurable experience or he can make it a kind of meditation for himself. Again, just planting the seeds, so that by the time he gets on the table, the spell has been cast.

Every ritual has a beginning, a middle, and an end. I begin and end each session with a silent prayer, and the middle part is the massage, but thereís a certain way that Iím praying continuously throughout the session. I start the session with a simple laying on of hands and asking my spirit guides and my clientís to be with us and let this session be good for both of us. (Thatís a prayer I learned from a character in Alice Walkerís novel, The Temple of My Familiar.) And then I set about touching every part of the personís body, blessing each part, waking it up with skillful loving touch.

To me one of the things that makes erotic massage a transcendent experience is waking up the entire body with touch and breath from head to toe before zeroing in on the genitals. After Iíve done a thorough back massage, Iíll turn the client over and do some light touching and hair-stroking on the front of his body, which usually raises some erotic energy. Then kneeling at his head stroking his nipples and speaking into his ear, I guide him through a visualization that might go something like this: ďTake some easy big breaths from the base of your spine up to the top of your chest. And with every breath, let yourself open and expand. Let your ribcage expand, let your heart open, and surrender to all the pleasure and freedom and joy and love thatís possible for you in your life. Feel it in your body right here, right now, as youíre breathing in a direct line from the base of your spine, up through your heart, all the way to the top of your head.Ē

By this time Iíve been touching the person continuously for around 45 minutes, and only now do I begin to incorporate genital touch, using a variety of Taoist erotic massage strokes that I learned from Joseph Kramer, designed to raise and circulate erotic energy around the body without the goal of ejaculating. Whether the guyís cock is hard or soft, big, small or medium, whether heís prone to rapid ejaculation or has a hard time squirting at all, these strokes can be executed in such a way that builds energy that can be distributed around the body. Iím constantly coaching his breathing, moving energy up to his heart, down his legs, around his body, tending the flame of kundalini, letting life force penetrate every cell of his being, floating on the vehicle of breath and sensual erotic pleasure. Eventually I will talk him through a Big Draw, focusing on some faster conscious breathing and then a big held breath while simultaneously squeezing his butt and belly and pulling energy up his spine through his heart to the top of his head, and then exhaling.

What happens then is different for each person. Some kind of alchemical reaction occurs, and there is an opportunity for the person to have an internal experience of connecting the dots between the physical body, the emotional body, the erotic body, and the spiritual body. I canít direct what happens at this point -- itís a free-floating, often very peaceful moment around which the mind, body, and soul reorganize themselves.

Some people are content to contain this energy. Others are inclined to want to squirt, in which case Iím happy to assist, massaging and breathing and building erotic energy to a peak. Sometimes as that happens, the person will go into spontaneous prayer himself that goes something like this: ďOh God, ohhh God, oh God, oh God oh God oh God OHHHHH!Ē

In traditional tantric practice, retaining ejaculate is the preferred mode of healing, since ejaculating is seen as discharging precious energy. Another way of looking at it is that completely letting go and surrender of any control paves the way for a profoundly meditative state of ďutmost relaxation, silence and stillness, a state of choiceless awareness and non-judgmental acceptance.Ē (Cf. Gunther Nitschke, The Silent Orgasm.)

For that reason, I always make it clear that orgasm is not the end of the session. Like the meditation at the end of a yoga class, I always do a series of finishing touches to end the ritual. That includes a centering and balancing sequence in which I touch chakra points and offer prayers, sometimes aloud but usually silent. Touching the crown of the head and the third eye: May your vision of yourself be large and wonderful. Touching the crown and the heart: May your heart be open to the love that is possible for you in your life. Touching the heart and the solar plexus: May your power in the world always be connected to the things you love. And as Iím holding the bottoms of the personís feet, my prayer is: May the love you have inside you help to heal you and all beings on the planet.

I would feel slightly awkward saying these prayers aloud. I usually donít share them with my clients, for fear that they sound corny or generic somehow. And yet most of the time when Iíve experienced praying in public, itís very powerful. In any case, whether I say them out loud or not, I know that these prayers have an impact on the person on my table.

One last item in this inventory has to do with payment. You might think that money changing hands would be outside the realm of spiritual practice. But in virtually every spiritual tradition there is some form of altar offering. Christians call it tithing or passing the collection plate. Buddhists call it dana. Hindus call it darshana. I remember attending a ceremony at a Thai temple in North Hollywood where in addition to paper money pinned onto a clothesline someone had contributed a six-pack of Pepsi. If all things are indeed sacred, then the body, erotic pleasure, and money all present opportunities to experience mindfulness, respect, love, and joy.

First given as a talk at the Boulder Gay Menís Health Summit in 2000, published in RFD magazine, Winter 2001

To find out more about my bodywork practice, you can visit my webpage here.

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