Five Ways to Take Your Sex Life to the Next Level

August 7, 2014

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Does your sex life fulfill ALL of your fantasies? Are you enjoying the best sex of your life? Or is there something more you dream of and wish for?

No matter how awesome the sex you are currently having, there is the possibility for more. But more what?

As a sexologist and sex educator, a lot of people want me to help them improve their sex lives. Many of those people imagine that I will tell them about a new pill, potion or position. It seems everyone wants a quick fix – something which will magically transform boredom and routine into a thrilling joy ride of coital bliss. And sometimes those pills, potions and positions can accomplish just that – for the short term.

But eventually, even new thrills can become empty and boring.  And predictably, the search usually resumes for something new and exciting to fulfill our fantasies of what sex should be like.

Does this mean we are doomed to a life of uninspired sexual routine or, conversely, the endless pursuit of one momentary sexual high after another?

No. It all depends upon the erotic path you choose.

If you are willing to invest as much time and effort in your sex life as you do in your favorite sport or hobby, sex can be catapulted into a high art form which has the potential to exceed your wildest dreams.

But be forewarned that the price of admission into this rarified sexual reality can be more than some are willing to pay.

Do I have your attention?  Then by all means, read on . . .

Sex, like much of the rest of life, is shaped by our intentions as well as our technique. If your approach toward sex is oriented to simply having fun, then your sexual experiences will tend to be more superficial than heart centered.

But if you combine your sexuality with your spirituality, you can open erotic doors which transcend the mundane and literally launch you into a world defined by other dimensions.

Although an erotic journey of this nature can involve a variety of teachings and practices, I have outlined five of the most basic elements designed to take your sex to the next level:

1. Perfect Your Touch

You can touch something or you can touch your own desire. When you allow your hands and your finger tips to find their pleasure, your touch will naturally create pleasure in the person you are touching. Shift your focus from how you are touching and how you imagine your lover feels and allow the pure joy of touching to excite your senses.

The energy in your body radiates past the confines of your skin. Learn to sense this energy by holding the palms of your hands about a half inch to an inch apart and gently push at the space in between your hands. Notice how it feels when your hands come close to each other and how it feels as they move away. Can you feel the energy generated by the palms of your hands?  This is what you want to touch your lover with. You want to learn to direct that energy so that your touch extends past your fingertips.

2. Master Your Breath

Everyone breathes deeper and more frequently when they are sexually aroused. But unfortunately, many of us have learned to hold our breath when we orgasm. For some, holding the breath seemed like a wise way to avoid making noise and getting “caught” masturbating or having sex when we were younger. It can take some practice to unlearn this habit. But it is important that you allow yourself to breathe while you orgasm if you want to take your sexual pleasure to the next level. If you learn to breathe during your arousal and through your orgasms, you may be surprised how receptive your body is to continued arousal and multiple orgasms.

Conscious breathing exercises including some yoga practices and meditation techniques are an excellent way to master the art of breathing yourself to an ecstatic state of being. When you know how to raise your sexual excitement with your breath, your ability to experience pleasure is enlarged. Plus another benefit is an increased ability to connect with another person intimately. The breath unleashes emotions and when we breathe deeply, we feel our emotions more intensely. Allowing these emotions to surface during sex creates a more intense sexual and emotional sharing.

3. Expand Your Consciousness

Not only do meditation and yoga provide conscious breathing techniques which can enhance the enjoyment of sex, meditation and yoga can also expand your ability to sustain your awareness and focus. The ability to stay present with yourself, your lover and your pleasure is a crucial feature of heightened states of sexual arousal. Sex which is deprived of these deeper abilities is not nearly as satisfying as sex which occurs in a state of expanded awareness.

It may seem counterintuitive, but more awareness and more pleasure can be very confronting and even frightening  until you become familiar with the emotional terrain. A torrent of buried emotions can surface creating confusion and fear. That is why step four, which follows, is so important!

4. Delve Deeper

The best sex is connected to our hearts and therefore our emotions. As you become more aware and emotionally connected to yourself and your lover, you will no doubt become more attuned to irritations, frustrations and fears as well. This is the part which can be frightening to many people. This is where many will turn away from this immensely satisfying erotic journey in preference of something “safer” and necessarily more superficial. But there is nothing to fear. The truth is that you were carrying these emotions inside of yourself before you became aware of them. Now that you sense your true feelings, you simply need to learn healthy ways to deal with them.

There are many resources you can draw from to learn to navigate newly discovered emotions. The tools which can help you express yourself honestly and compassionately with another human being include non-violent communication techniques and active listening skills. These are best learned with the help of a trained professional such as a therapist or relationship coach. Investing in your communication and intimacy is one of the most powerful ways to take your sex life to the next level.

5. Create Sacred Space

Taking sex to the next level requires the space for that sex to occur. A special place and setting can be achieved in a variety of ways which appeal to the five senses. Experiment with incense, sensual music, candlelight and perhaps an altar. But don’t stop there. Create sacred space for your erotic journey by allowing ample time.

Most people allow about 30 minutes for sex including foreplay. The average length of intercourse is just 3 to 7 minutes. How sad. Sex shouldn’t be a race or a fast food drive-through. Sex needs time to develop into the mind-blowing experience we all crave. Begin by setting aside a minimum of one hour for lovemaking. As you increase your capacities for intimacy and pleasure, you may find your sexual encounters lasting for hours!

Rest assured, I have personal experience with all five of these steps. And I know it is common to have some resistance to change, even when that change can usher in the fulfillment of our hopes and dreams.

I thought I had seen it all, done it all and, I might add, very, very well. But fortunately there is no limit to the heights which can be attained on an erotic path married to a spiritual journey. When I found the courage to diverge from genitally focused sex and allow my pleasure to merge with my heart, my spirit learned to soar in ways I never dreamt possible.

The Doorway to the Divine referred to by the ancients opened for me and I will never be the same. What words can describe what I have experienced on this new sexual road? There is no language for this new sexuality and that’s no doubt best because if I could describe it, it would be limited by the words I would use. Instead, my breath expands into this new dimension and takes my soul on an ever expanding journey into the unknown.

Where pleasure meets the deepest longings of my heart is where I find my identity merging with my Beloved’s, and a third entity I can only refer to as God. An ache which has been my constant companion since my earliest memories, finds satiation for once. But that is a small part of what is happening.

My sense of self is shifting. I no longer feel defined by the limits of this body. And I know what it means to inhabit a place which is ecstatic and timeless. I want to report where I have been and what I have felt but words feel silly in the face of so much splendor.

Making love has been transformed into a prayer as my Beloved merges with me in the most delicious way imaginable. My fingers trace his body and his orgasm enters my soul with the beauty of a thousand shooting stars speeding through space.

There is only love and love is all that is.    

Sober Escort?

June 16, 2014

ROMANTIC DREAM

The first sober escort I ever met was Maria. She was a spunky, sexy brunette who attended my home group. She worked a good program and still had a hard time staying sober for more than a few months at a time. Maria felt prostitution was an impediment to her sobriety and it was her wish to quit the business someday soon. I eventually lost track of her so I have no idea if she ever did quit prostitution nor do I know if she was able to sustain any long-term sobriety.

But I certainly recall the resistance I felt inside myself when some members of twelve step recovery assumed that certain professions or sexual orientations are inconsistent with a life of sobriety.

 

Read the rest on The Fix

Veronica Monet: In Her Own Words

April 3, 2014

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Nearly three decades ago, I entered a life of sobriety, which catapulted me onto a path of spiritual growth and service. There have been many steps along this journey. First I hosted a local cable TV show on which I interviewed hundreds of guests about a variety of topics which called to me over the course of five years. Eventually I found my own voice as an activist for women’s empowerment and sexual rights.

 

I became a popular spokesperson for these causes. At first I was on discussion panels and then in front of classrooms. But before long, I was sought after for major newspaper, magazine, radio and television interviews. I spoke from personal experience about my own healing journey as an incest/rape survivor and a recovered alcoholic/addict. I was angry and outspoken, but the media loved me. And over time, I learned to  deliver a more sophisticated message which even incorporated a sense of humor.

 

Giving keynote presentations in University and college settings, I discovered not only that I had an activist message to convey, but also that I carried in my heart a great love for my audiences. This changed everything and I became less angry and more empathic. People often came up after my talks with tears in their eyes requesting a hug and expressing confusion as to what was happening to them. I knew I was touching them in deeply personal places. And I knew that the larger topic, the one we were not speaking about directly, was something central to the human condition.

 

Eventually it became apparent to me that my audiences were deeply moved by the fact that I created a safe place for them to explore their shame without feeling judged. Shame had been a feature of my early life growing up in a religious cult, and as an adult I was committed to moving past that crippling emotion and realizing my full potential as a joyful being. I invited my audiences to share in that with me and many of them found this to be a powerful gift.

 

As part of my refusal to allow shame to dictate the course of my life, I had entered into a very controversial profession after graduating from college and after getting sober. My path would shock many while simultaneously empowering me to deepen my healing and spiritual development in ways I might never have anticipated.

 

I didn’t enter into becoming a high-end escort lightly. As a college graduate who spent seven years working in corporate settings, and as someone who had been clean and sober for a number of years, I questioned whether this was in integrity with my spiritual path. Rather than refer to conventional thinking on the matter, I turned to my innermost knowing and quite frankly prayed my ass off.

 

As well, a great deal of research and training went into my decision and because of this deliberate planning I enjoyed a very successful fourteen years in the profession. As part of my unique interpretation of what it meant to me to be an escort, I incorporated my spiritual journey into my professional pursuits, learning ways to heal and love my clients. This involved helping them to release repressed emotions and express their truth in a shame free setting.

 

I cared for my clients and I found great fulfillment in my work as a high-end escort. So why did I leave the profession in 2004, at a time when I was regularly making $15,000 a date?

 

For three reasons.

 

First, I was tired of dealing with law enforcement. The last few years of an otherwise glamorous career as an escort were marred by an arrest for prostitution. This was followed quickly by an audit by the IRS which I passed with flying colors since I had always paid my taxes. As a prominent voice for the sex worker rights movement, I could look forward to continued harassment by law enforcement.

 

Second, I decided to stop escorting because I had grown bored of working with my clothes off. I enjoyed helping my clients feel and explore their emotions. It had created a lot of healing for me and my clients to be sure. But it had outlived its usefulness and I was ready to touch my clients’ hearts without touching their genitals.

 

Finally, I never intended for escorting to be a lifelong pursuit. Contrary to popular stereotype, there are many sexy and successful women over 50 working as high end escorts. But that wasn’t and isn’t my calling. From an early age, I entertained fantasies of writing professionally, and had somehow come to know that I was meant to be a published author by the age of 45. And so I quit my very lucrative escorting job at age 44, and moved into a little mountain cabin to write a book. I had no book deal. I just felt in my bones that it was meant to be.

 

True to my intuitions, I did get a publishing contract and I authored my first book at age 45.In 2005 my first book, Sex Secrets of Escorts, was published by a major East Coast publishing house (Alpha Books, division of Penguin Books). Rather than write a tell-all to titillate my readers, I wrote a sex manual with plenty of commentary about healthy boundaries, communication and reversing gender roles in the bedroom.

 

But while the book deal came easily to me, the transition from high-end escort to couples’ coach was at first more challenging. The stigmas attached to my former profession are great. I could have changed my name in order to reinvent myself, but I wanted to unashamedly share the special insights and wisdoms which have come to me through this uncommon path.

 

I am fortunate to now have a thriving clientele who seek my coaching acumen for the emotional, spiritual and sexual issues which complicate their lives.

 

As a sex and relationship coach, I reveal challenging things about myself and thereby model a lack of shame.  This opens the way for my clients to be candid and share things with me that they often have never said aloud nor told another living person. My clients feel safe to share their past and their truth., because they are assured that I will be accepting and non-judgmental. I also maintain a sense of humor about things that many people take far too seriously. This frees my clients to laugh about things they might have spent years feeling ashamed of.

 

I also have a gift for understanding both the male and female perspective. That is probably due to the fact that as a woman I am quite comfortable with masculine as well as feminine energies. But whatever the reasons, my clients are often surprised how well I understand their experience regardless of their gender. For me, bridging the so-called gender gap comes second nature. And that makes it possible for me to facilitate very powerful role plays for heterosexual couples.

 

Both men and women have suffered greatly because of popular myths which teach us that we cannot understand the “opposite sex.” Instead of studying our partners as if they are aliens from another planet, it is imperative that we learn how to build bridges which can span the current gender divide.

 

Rigid beliefs about how males and females are supposed to feel and behave breed shame in all of us. This shame not only burdens us with feelings of low self-worth. Shame also bends our personalities into unnatural and reactive perversions of our true selves, so that we are no longer able to access the full measure of our creativity and optimism. Weighed down by shame, we are more likely to exhibit cynicism and anti-social behaviors. In this way, shame creates a social fabric which is emotionally shut down and violent.

 

Whether we experience shame about our gender, our race, our sexual orientation, our sexual behavior and/or fantasies, our socio-economic status, our educational level, our monetary success or lack thereof, the results are the same.  Shame lowers our self-esteem and infects our relationships with secrecy and distrust.

 

Sexual shame is perhaps the most entrenched and the most often defended. But all forms of shame create a society which is fear based instead of sourced in joy. Because I am passionate about creating a world where each of us is afforded the opportunity to fully express our unique gifts, I am passionate about eliminating shame.

 

I invite you to explore The Shame Free Zone. Here, you will find tools and resources to free yourself from the tyranny of shame and move toward a fuller expression of your truth and your gifts. Please explore the many free resources including an online community forum where you can connect with others. And feel free to contact me directly (Veronica@TheShameFreeZone.com), especially if you wish to take advantage of my skill sets and insights over the phone or in person.

 

 

 

 

 

Slut Shaming and Whore Bashing

January 15, 2014

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The threat of slut shaming and whore bashing hangs over the head of every woman alive, shaping her interactions with others into a reaction instead of a true response, perverting authentic sexual desire into a defensive stance against being seen as a “slut,” or a “whore.”

As a sex-positive feminist I ache to merge the concepts of the Whore and the Madonna so women everywhere can heal from this dangerous and preposterous split. As whole beings, women have the right to claim their intellectual power and their bold expression of sexuality without apology, without feeling somehow torn between these equally important aspects of themselves. I am out to prove that women can simultaneously be intelligent, sexy, dignified and powerful without adopting patriarchal dogma or sacrificing our connection to our nurturing and intuitive side.

Such a cultural shift would mean that the next time a woman runs for president, we would spend more time analyzing her political platform than her fashion sense. It would mean that Hilary Clinton could express herself as a mildly sexual being without being mercilessly condemned in the press for wearing a blouse with a low neckline.

Moving past our collective fear of the “whore” would free untold psychic, emotional and creative energies in at least half the world’s population. Imagine all those women fully empowered to further much needed solutions to the world’s problems. Yet, it is only sexually empowered individuals who possess all their power.

Being sexually empowered does not mean taking up pole dancing or wearing lipstick, although if that adds a sense of empowerment to your life, go for it. It does mean redirecting much needed energy away from defending one’s sexual purity or honor. It does mean celebrating the sexual fire in one’s soul without fear of being perceived as being “too” sexy, or flirtatious or alluring or “loose.”

Some seemingly disparate things are actually part of one oppressive whole.  Those things include persecuting prostitutes, blaming rape victims, curtailing reproductive freedom, labeling women sluts and whores, sorting the “good” girls from the “bad” girls, arresting midwives and burning witches. In my view, these are each aspects of the patriarchy’s relentless efforts to eliminate the feminine. 

These perpetrations also extend to men in the form of bullying, gay bashing, circumcision and the raping of men’s spirits so that many men cannot feel anything but sexual desire and anger.  On both counts, it is the feminine aspect as well as pleasure and joy which are being mercilessly mutilated.

In about two weeks I will be launching a brand new version of my website, The Shame Free Zone, where among other resources you will discover tools for healing shame and an online community forum where you can connect with others who want to heal shame. Please stay tuned!

2013 in review

January 2, 2014

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,800 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Shame and the Modern Woman: How Slut-Shaming Hurts You!

September 6, 2013

Shame and the Modern Woman: How Slut-Shaming Hurts You!

From left to right: Shara Ogin, Jennifer Rode, Veronica Monet, Vigie Tovar and Jessica Hadari.

Read my new article on Your Tango

http://www.yourtango.com/experts/veronica-monet/shame-and-modern-woman-how-slut-shaming-hurts-you

and watch my new video on You Tube

China’s Hooligan Sparrow, the Persecution of Sex and How It Affects You

July 1, 2013

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Meet Hooligan Sparrow. Her real name is Ye Haiyan and she has been raising hell in China. Known mostly as a blogger and feminist activist, Ye has created quite a stir in her country of origin because of her outspoken and controversial grassroots tactics. Last year, she worked in a brothel where sexual intercourse costs under $3 US dollars, but Ye chose to do it for free. Why? In her own words:

“Beginning now, I am providing free sexual services for rural migrant workers. First of all, this is to prevent them from being caught and legally robbed by police. Secondly, this is to serve the sexual needs of the grassroots and help relieve social pressure. Thirdly, I want to create a sharp contrast between my love for the grassroots and the cruelty of the government. I hope that they will be touched by my action, which will end tomorrow.”

Ye Haiyan’s activism includes sex worker rights but it is much broader than that. In addition to working to increase HIV/AIDS awareness, she also works to protect girls and women from sexual abuse. Her most recent activism involved protesting an elementary school in Wanning City which is located in the Hainan Province of China, where six girls were raped by the school principal and one other government employee.

Ms. Ye’s protests have led to her arrest more than once but she seems committed to defending sexual freedom as well as freedom from sexual abuse, regardless of the price. In her blog, she states ” this fight is against the persecution of sex!” I find her words quite compelling because I believe laws which outlaw adult, consensual sex, create a culture of sexual shame and which can lead to many forms of sexual abuse.

However, the prevailing conversation about sex seems split between protection from sex or its unfettered expression. Those who see sexual freedom as a slippery slope leading to a lack of protections for the vulnerable lobby for more laws in defense of the innocent. They tend to dominate discourse in the US. On the other side of the argument are a few rebellious souls striving to secure sex as a right which the state cannot infringe upon.

But must we envision the sexual landscape so polarized and divided? Isn’t it possible that freedom from sexual abuse and a sexual bill of rights might not only co-exist but inform and enhance each other?

In fact, I don’t think we can have one without the other. As long as these two agendas militate against each other, neither objective is achieved. Instead, we need to find our balance between sexual freedoms and protections just as we do with any other topic pertaining to rights and responsibilities. It would seem a sensible approach might be defined as permitting anything which is adult, consensual behavior.

This month has seen several major wins for sexual freedom and protections. I invite you to celebrate these with me as each one applies to you personally even if it seems unlikely to impact your personal life at first blush. The fact is that sexual freedoms and protections impact all of us in ways which may not be readily apparent.

For instance, June marks the ten year anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court Ruling, Lawrence versus Texas which, in the words of Lambda Legal’s Jon W. Davidson, ” declared laws criminalizing oral and anal sex between consenting adults to be unconstitutional and flung open the doors to equality for LGBT people around the nation.” Lawrence versus Texas has been cited approximately 700 times by our nation’s courts and it was a critical factor in repealing the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy as well as reversing DOMA, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.

In addition to striking down DOMA, on June 26th the Supreme Court also refused to rule on a case pertaining to California’s Proposition 8 which effectively made same-sex marriage legal in that state. California’s Governor Jerry Brown has ordered all counties to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples immediately. This weekend, cities like San Francisco are not only celebrating Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Pride, they are celebrating legal recognition of their love and their lives.

Most likely, even if you are straight, someone you know is gay or lesbian. Perhaps it is a neighbor, co-worker, friend, relative or loved one? Maybe they have no desire to become legally married, but laws which permit same-sex marriage still affect their life in a positive way by paving the way for equal treatment in other sectors of society. Just as Lawrence versus Texas, a ruling which only pertained to oral and anal sex, has played a vital role in changing laws about gays in the military as well as same-sex marriage, so too will this month’s Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage lead to other important gains for people who happen to love differently than the majority does.

The Supreme Court made another critical ruling about sex this month, when it decided that PEPFAR’s (the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) requirement that private groups receiving federal funds adopt policies opposing prostitution, is unconstitutional and violates First Amendment Rights. The Obama administration argued that both prostitution and trafficking spread AIDS so the anti-prostitution pledge was reasonable, but as the Brazilian government so aptly illustrated when it declined $40 million in U.S. funds, working to stop the spread of AIDS without the cooperation of prostitutes doesn’t make sense. Brazil’s AIDS commissioner Pedro Chequer stated the obvious: “Sex workers are part of implementing our AIDS policy and deciding how to promote it. They are our partners. How could we ask prostitutes to take a position against themselves?”

Similarly, another illogical and counter-productive practice on the part of law enforcement is being challenged in New York’s state legislature. Known as the “No Condoms as Evidence” bill, A2736 passed the state Assembly and is on its way to the state Senate. Currently, New York police confiscate condoms during the equally controversial “stop and frisk” procedure where anyone a police officer suspects of a crime can be stopped and searched. Not only are condoms confiscated, thereby preventing the person carrying the condom to use it to prevent the spread of disease, but the condoms are being used as evidence of the intent to commit an act of prostitution. Of course plenty of people carry condoms who are not prostitutes, but it seems the health benefits of condoms are being ignored in the rush to effect convictions.

Unfortunately, New York is not the only state using condoms as evidence in prostitution cases. But activists in a variety of fields including AIDS prevention, LGBT outreach and sex worker rights organizations are celebrating this small victory in New York with hopes that the health implications will become more apparent to both politicians and the voting public throughout the nation.

The repercussions of creating barriers of any kind to the use of condoms should be obvious. Sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies effect society as a whole and negatively impact our individual lives by driving up health care and public assistance costs.

But the long-term negative effects of legislated “morality” elude some otherwise intelligent people. For instance, Texas is doing its darnedest to outlaw abortion. Despite the fact that the current government in that state will no doubt succeed in that endeavor, one brave soul waged a one-woman war against the forces of repression when Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis held her 13-hour filibuster derailing anti-choice legislation which was otherwise slated to pass the Texas Senate. In some respects, this may be a temporary victory, but given the level of acclaim and support her efforts have met with, it would seem that the reason and compassion contained in honoring a woman’s right to choose will eventually win out even in the state of Texas.

Which brings us to Ireland. I know that may seem like an unlikely segue. But June was also the month when $45 million was awarded to the approximately 770 survivors of the Magdalene Laundries. You might wonder what slave labor in a Catholic nunnery has to do with sexual freedoms and responsibilities. And I admit it will take a little explaining on my part. You see, the girls and women who found themselves confined within the walls of the Magdalene Laundries as slaves, were labeled “fallen women” for a variety of reasons including flirting with boys, losing their virginity, getting pregnant out of wedlock and sometimes, for working as prostitutes.

You might think such barbaric treatment would have been outlawed a long, long time ago. But the last Magdalene Laundry in Ireland was closed as recently as 1996. Ireland’s Justice Minister Alan Shatter made a formal and public apology to the women who survived forced silence, slave labor and physical and sexual abuse at the hands of these monstrous Catholic-run institutions. And he affirmed Ireland’s “commitment to respecting [their] dignity and human rights as full, equal members of our nation.”

That of course will do nothing to bring back the one in ten girls and women who died while incarcerated in a Magdalene Laundry. In fact, the reason this travesty came to light a couple of decades ago, was that a construction crew which was rebuilding on the former site of a laundry, uncovered a mass grave where “fallen girls and women” were buried like so much unclaimed garbage. The youngest girl to die in a laundry was just fifteen.

In the absence of any sexual bill of rights and steeped in sexual shame, human history is littered with the broken bodies and spirits of those who have failed to conform to a heterosexual, married, monogamous ideal. Often, even a hint of impropriety has justified the most egregious insults to dignity and decency. In the name of curtailing “sexual perversions,” all manner of ethical and moral perversions have been perpetrated against those whose only crime was what should have been considered the province of adult, consensual activities.

In the end, it really does not matter what your personal values pertaining to sex might be and how they might differ from those around you. What is key is that we find a way to live together respectfully. Whether you are gay or straight, conservative or liberal, monogamous or polyamorous, kinky or vanilla or somewhere in between these polar opposites, the rights we hold dear as members of the human community must apply equally to each and every one of us. If they don’t, we all lose.

Are We Wrong about Who We Are?

June 1, 2013

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When Barbara Garcia’s home was flattened by this month’s tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, she was left homeless.  She didn’t have homeowner’s insurance, her daughter’s house likewise had been destroyed, and the entire contents of her home had been devastated.

But Barbara Garcia was not so concerned about all her worldly possessions. Instead she just wanted to find the body of her best friend, Bowser. Waiting for the tornado’s approach, Barbara had been sitting on the toilet in her bathroom holding her dog, Bowser, in her lap. But the force of the tornado not only ripped the toilet out of the floor heaving Barbara into the air, it also ripped Bowser from her embrace separating the two and burying Barbara under a pile of rubble. Scratched and shaken, Barbara managed to crawl out from under the rubble just as a camera crew arrived on the scene. While the cameras were rolling, Barbara recounted the story of how she was separated from her little dog. As if on cue, Bowser’s little nose peeked from under the remains of their home and as Barbara bent down to retrieve her best friend, she paused to say “Thank you God.”

As remarkable and heart-warming as this story is, that is not where it ends. Erin DeRuggiero, a total stranger living in another state, was so moved by Barbara and Bowser’s story that she launched a Go Fund Me page to raise money for their new home. DeRuggiero explains: “Barbara could have been my mother, my grandmother, my neighbor or my friend. I was shattered upon seeing her home destroyed, her recounting her experience and her joy upon seeing that her dog had survived it all. My goal is to ease her recovery, raise enough money to help her start to rebuild or relocate her life, and above all else, to show her that ‘life in the big city’ also means helping one another, even from 1500 miles away.”

You might think this is the end of this touching tale, but there is more. Not only did DeRuggiero exhibit empathy and generosity, but the many people donating money for Barbara and Bowser are illustrating that at least some strangers are motivated to help other strangers in need. In just nine days 1,292 people have donated over $53,000!

Many of us have been told that it is a “dog eat dog” world based upon “natural selection” and “survival of the fittest.” But is it possible that this view does not accurately reflect the diversity of human behavior?  Is it even an accurate assessment of dog behavior?  Rare is the dog, after all, that would ever eat another dog.

The originator of the term “natural selection,” Charles Darwin, allowed for cooperation and generosity as one form of natural selection, as this quote from his paradigm-shifting The Descent of Man illustrates:  “There can be no doubt that the tribe including many members who are always ready to give aid to each other, and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over other tribes. And this would be natural selection.”

What if mammals, including humans, are more cooperative than competitive, at least under certain circumstances? And if that is possible, then under what circumstances might that be true?

Paul Zak, author of The Moral Molecule, has researched generosity, trust, empathy, altruism and morality between unacquainted humans and concludes that the neuropeptide oxytocin plays a major role. Oxytocin is often referred to as the “love hormone” and is released in mammals during touch, birth, the nursing of infants and sex.

Zak’s research has found that when oxytocin levels are high, people’s generosity to strangers increases up to 80 percent.  “Oxytocin,” he says, “connects us to other people, and makes us feel what other people feel.”  He has observed spikes in oxytocin levels during a variety of social interactions in humans, including with online social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

It can be encouraging and hopeful  to see that as our ability to connect with each other increases, so does our impulse to help one another. But we also continue to be plagued by large-scale violence such as war, and the more personal atrocities of rape, assault and murder.

So what are we to think? Are these insults to our trust and generosity inevitable? Or might there be an alternative to human violence which is just as natural to our genetic make-up as competition and aggression? Might we be, under certain circumstances, far more capable of generosity and empathy than we normally assume?  Might we be wrong about who we are?

There is some evidence that the calming and bonding effects of oxytocin can switch off impulses for violence and transform us into a more loving and cooperative creature. In those rare present-day cultures (such as the Mosuo in China) where sexual activity is not shame-based, peaceful cooperation becomes much more prevalent.

Perhaps the most convincing example of this phenomenon is found in the bonobo. While Microsoft’s spellchecker still insists that “bonobo” is not a word, this ape has succeeded in creating a level of non-violence we remain unable to achieve.  Bonobos are eerily similar to us, more so than any other primate.  They walk upright much of the time. Their sexual interactions include behaviors we had once thought unique to humans, including deep kissing, fellatio and face to face sexual intercourse. Not only that, bonobos engage in sex to reduce tension, redirect anger and just for the fun of it! Procreation is actually a very small part of the bonobo sexual agenda which makes them exceptionally unique when compared to most animals and much more like their human cousins.

However, the bonobo has one distinct advantage over humans when it comes to maximizing the peace-making potential of oxytocin. Unlike us, bonobos are not subject to sexual shame. While most human cultures enforce various versions of sexual prohibitions and taboos, the bonobo is free to explore and express sex in ways which make their human observers blush.

For instance, bonobos have sex with same sex partners, not occasionally, but as frequently as they couple with the opposite gender. In fact, it may be that female bonobos have sex with each other more frequently than they have sex with males. Sex between female bonobos creates powerful bonds of loyalty, resulting in their unique propensity for supporting each other when facing male aggression. The result is a culture of checks and balances between the genders despite the superior size and strength of males. Female bonobos are sometimes seen as the dominant gender in bonobo culture.  But perhaps the fact that they do not allow the males to dominate them is such a shocking departure from typical gender relations in other species of mammals including humans, that some scientists interpret the resulting female empowerment as dominance.

When it comes to sexual empowerment, the bonobo has definitely left their human cousins in their proverbial dust. As Jack Hitt, contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, asserts in his article (Our Orgastic Future) for Lapham’s Quarterly:

“Human society is replete with displays of near intimacy and suggestive touching. We have developed customs of opposite-sex and same-sex hugging and kissing, handshaking, and back patting. And all of them serve as tokens of affection, perhaps with some subtle intimation that the encounter might develop into something else. Bonobos essentially went there and then kept going. On the long arc of sexual development as primate culture, maybe we’re the missing link on the way to bonobos.”

The prospects of a sexual evolution for humans which could lead to increased empowerment and decreased violence actually frightens many people. Strong cultural and religious taboos prevent us from seriously considering alternatives to our current relationship to sex.  But what might our world look like if we were to allow ourselves to boost our oxytocin levels by “making love instead of war?”  As cliché’ as that phrase has become, could there be some truth to the choice it points to? Would humans be nearly as violent as they currently are if our world cultures were not so sex negative?

Of course none of us need wait for the world’s population to shift to a more sex positive agenda. As individuals, we each can choose how accepting we want to be of other’s sexuality and how embracing we are of own sexual desires. We will always need and want healthy boundaries in sex no less than other aspects of our daily lives, but are there areas where we could be less reactive and judgmental about others?  About ourselves? Might we benefit from creating our own “Shame Free Zone?”

You might try an experiment toward that end. The next time you find yourself feeling uncomfortable about adult, consensual sex you don’t feel attracted to personally, try envisioning it as a measure taken to reduce violence in the world. If we begin to see sex as our “Antidote to a Mean World” maybe we can all live together with more harmony, love and acceptance. After all, we contain the roots of peace in our DNA. We have only to allow it to surface.

One Billion Rising

February 18, 2013

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When I first marched for the right to be safe from harm back in the early 80’s I recall the contentious divisions between men and women on the topic of women’s empowerment. But today, this is a topic which calls to most hearts equally.

I began my life as the daughter of a mentally ill and cruel man who began abusing me when I was only five years old. My father tormented me until I was able to leave home at age eighteen and unfortunately, those years of being victimized set me up for further abuse at the hands of the men I would eventually date. It would be years before I obtained the help I needed to heal. But when I eventually found that help, it was very much like being reborn.

Many of us have been abused as children and as adults. And each of us faces a choice. That choice is to either ignore our wounds or take the steps necessary to heal. When we choose to heal, we show enormous courage because the very act of healing requires that we relive our abuse. That is a pain some cannot bear. But we need not bear that pain alone. There is so much help available to us today. And if we get the help we need, we can live productive and joyful lives.

Still the threat of abuse continues to hang over the heads of every woman of every age and that threat can wear down our resolve. And it is the weight of that threat to our safety and our well-being which brings us together today. For what may be too much to bear alone is something we have the power to face and to conquer together.

We are rising up not only for the abuses which have touched our individual lives but for the abuse of women and girls which afflicts this entire globe. Our hearts still grieve the recent rape, mutilation and murders of two young women in South Africa and India. And as we learn more about the random and sadistic nature of the crimes committed against them, we come to understand that the abuse inflicted upon women on a global level is not just violence, it is in fact hate crime.

These young women were attacked and killed simply because they were women. We have long known that rape is an act of domination and we have long known that any woman can be raped for no reason at all. Yet, the fact that a young woman lost her life simply because she rode on a bus with her boyfriend, as happened in India, makes it abundantly clear to the world that rape is a hate crime against women.

If these young women and so many like them are not to die in vain, we must rise up to demonstrate our solidarity with all women who are abused in any manner. Together we must refuse to participate in the status quo until there is no longer a rape culture. Together we must rise up in the name of all that is right and holy. Together we must shift this patriarchal world culture toward equality and empowerment for women and girls.

Jean-Paul Sartre is quoted as saying “Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.” No matter what has been done to us, we have the power to rise above it and to claim our birthright to freedom!

We use to refer to ourselves as victims and eventually we learned to see ourselves as survivors. But are we willing just to survive? No, now is the time for us to rise up as Change Agents because it is no longer enough that we become angry or outraged. It is no longer enough that we just heal our personal hurts. It is time for us to rise up together and create real, lasting change so that little girls who are alive today can count on being safe now as well as when they grow up. It is time for us to create change which will make all women safe – which will empower all women to the dignity and freedom which is their birthright.

True change agents see a future no one else does, and that vision won’t let them rest. Change agents have something about them that galvanizes and motivates other people. Let each of us take personal responsibility to become the change agents this world so desperately needs.

Whether you decide to work online, locally or abroad, find that one thing which you can commit to in service of making this world safer and more free for all women and girls. And do it with someone else so that we are in fact one billion rising!
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Secret Lives: The “Shameful” Truth About an Athlete, a Scientist, a Schoolteacher and a Police Officer

January 14, 2013

Suzy Favor Hamilton

The Two Lives of an Olympic Runner

“Bizarre, salacious and inexplicably careless” – these are just a few of the judgment-laden phrases that presently swirl around Suzy Favor Hamilton, a woman some have called the greatest athlete in University of Wisconsin history.

What has changed public perception of this Olympic runner and winner of nine NCAA championships for the UW-Madison?  What has suddenly changed her from an admired icon to a target of ridicule and vilification?

A disgruntled client exposed Favor Hamilton’s secret life as an escort and public reaction to the shocking news has reduced her to a fate familiar to sex workers the world over – she is being ostracized, stripped of her worth and dignity.

Most are surprised that a successful athlete, wife and mother chose to have sex with strangers for money. It can be difficult to understand how any woman would choose prostitution, especially when she has so many amazing accomplishments and resources at her beck and call. It does not appear that her financial life was in peril. Why in the world would any sane person risk so much to engage in something which seems so degrading?

And yet, though Suzy Favor Hamilton’s choices may appear to be incomprehensible, she is far from alone.  It is an inescapable fact that many otherwise “normal” women with a multitude of options at their disposal are in fact choosing to become prostitutes. For instance, research scientist Brooke Magnanti, supplemented her income while completing her doctoral studies by working as a London call girl. She wrote of her escapades in a book which became the Showtime cable series, Secret Diary of a Call Girl. Victoria Thorne held two professional positions, that of police officer and prostitute, until her conviction for prostitution in 2009. Like Suzy Favor Hamilton, both of these women were capable, accomplished and upwardly mobile. Why would they resort to prostitution?

Sports columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal, Andy Baggot, expressed conventional wisdom when he wrote “Favor Hamilton, a wife and mother, indulged in a lifestyle that can’t be excused any more than it can be explained in a rational manner.”

But is he correct? Are the choices of these women and thousands of others whose names never make it to the headlines, truly insane? Or is it possible that their behavior can be explained rationally?

Most would agree that being a prostitute is an all together negative proposition.  Who in their right mind would wish such a fate on any female person they care about?

Yet, perhaps it is this assumption which leads us away from the truth.

What if we were to investigate the perspective of those women who have chosen to engage in prostitution?  While many if not most people might hate working as a prostitute, is it possible that the profession could be enjoyable for some people? Could there be something about prostitution that some prostitutes find attractive? Could there be something about the profession that is pleasing, alluring or otherwise positive for them?

While all prostitutes share the act of selling sex for money as a defining element of their profession, the actual circumstances and nature of their work vary considerably. Today’s prostitutes are far from a homogenous group. Some obtain clients from the stereotypical street corner, while others work in five star hotels and luxurious penthouse suites.  Some offer primarily “vanilla” sex, some provide BDSM services, and some are experts in sacred and tantric sexual practices.

Given the huge discrepancy in working conditions, it seems only reasonable to acknowledge there are vastly differing experiences as well as explanations for the decision to engage in prostitution.

The athlete, the scientist, and the police officer mentioned above all share the luxury of having a choice in the first place. None of them is destitute or disadvantaged or otherwise limited in their capacity to choose. In fact, Suzy Favor Hamilton, Brooke Magnanti and Victoria Thorne seem to have invested considerably in their respective career choices, carefully crafting professional paths designed to optimize their level of satisfaction and fulfillment. Given the nature of these women’s other life choices, it seems logical to assume their decision to become a prostitute more likely involved logical and practical considerations as well.

Most of us have been told that prostitutes suffer from low self-esteem. But the facts seem to point away from such popular stereotypes. Dr. Suzanne Jenkins’  Keele University thesis, “Beyond Gender: An Examination of Exploitation in Sex Work” reports that 72% of escorts feel their self-esteem is higher because of their work.  Jenkins’ study also shows that 72% of escorts like their work for the independence, 67% for meeting people and 93% for the money.

Other prostitutes who have spoken candidly about their choice to engage in the trade, have listed empowerment as a number one benefit. Some point to the added economic power. Others speak almost glowingly about the positive treatment accorded them by their clients. Freedom and a sense of adventure also seem to rank high, as does the opportunity to take more control over their interactions with men in general.

To be sure, these are not the sort of fringe benefits usually associated with prostitution. In fact, it flies completely in the face of what most of us “know,” or think we “know,” about prostitution.

While society certainly heaps denigration on prostitutes, is it possible that the actual act of exchanging sex for money isn’t degrading for some prostitutes?  Could it be that adults have the mental and emotional capacity to decide what type of sex they want to engage in, with whom and for what purpose?  Might we also honor the right of adults to arrange for the exchange of goods or services or cash in exchange for sex?  And if not, what is the rationale which drives our reluctance to do so?

Will society suffer if sex is allowed to become the province of individual preferences? Certainly we must enforce safeguards for minors, but when it comes to what happens between consenting adults, is it anyone else’s business?

We fear what we don’t understand and certainly as long as prostitution is framed by stereotypes and taboo, it invites some of our deepest fears. What if our daughters, our wives, or our mothers resort to prostitution? What if schoolteachers also worked as prostitutes? Wouldn’t that erode the very fabric of society?

In fact, a school teacher was arrested for prostitution in 2003. Shannon Williams, a Berkeley high school teacher, was a media sensation after news of her arrest spread, spawning many philosophical discussions about the implications of a prostitute being allowed access to children. Melissa Petro  was fired from her schoolteaching job because she admitted to being a call girl years before becoming a schoolteacher.  The consensus seems to be that even former prostitutes pose some sort of threat to the safety and well-being of children. But are women who get paid for sex more dangerous than women who have sex for free?

Despite the abundance of sexual images (and perhaps even because of them) sexual shame drives our economy and infects our lives. It distorts our relationships and cripples our ability to experience ourselves as whole. Women, especially, are penalized by what is often referred to as the Whore/Madonna Complex – a syndrome that creates desire for a sexual partner who has been degraded (the whore) while making desire for the respected partner (the Madonna), taboo. Although the Whore/Madonna Complex may seem outdated, clinical psychologist, Uwe Hartmann, stated in 2009 that it “is still highly prevalent in today’s patients”.

Can we comprehend the price we pay when sexual shame predominates? Any culture or society which enforces a sexual double standard and refuses to accord half the population their sexual birthright, is a culture that cheats all of us.

Many anthropological studies have established that societies with a more permissive attitude toward female sexual behavior are in fact more peaceful societies. This is true for the Mosuo in China, and the Zapotec of La Paz, Mexico. It is also true of our closest non-human relative, the bonobo. Yet the sexual double standard persists in the dominant world culture.

Over the years, many women with impressive professional careers have confessed to me their secret fantasies about working as a high priced escort. And in their eyes I have seen an all too familiar sadness that seems to communicate a desire so taboo and potentially dangerous it must never be spoken or acknowledged. Instead, it lives hidden deep in the hearts and psyches of women like a relic from our ancient past – a time long ago when women experienced their sexual power without apology.

The suppression of our sexual wholeness leads to all sorts of dysfunction including depression, anxiety and rage. It fuels the war between the sexes and the resulting animosity and mistrust feed into our violent responses to life’s frustrations and challenges. Ultimately, a negative and controlling approach to sexuality in general and women’s sexual autonomy in particular, contributes to the desecration of our planet and our ability to survive through the raping of the environment and the many wars which have plagued the human species for millennia.

If each of us examines our fears and assumptions, we may find what we truly fear is not sex workers, but our own sexual secrets and frustrations. It is so human to project onto others what we are afraid of in ourselves, and prostitutes make a convenient target for scapegoating. Fortunately, some individuals are coming forward to express perspectives which embrace a more accepting attitude toward prostitutes.

For instance, Stanley Siegel, psychotherapist and former Director of Education and Senior Faculty member of New York’s renowned Ackerman Institute for Family Therapy recently wrote in an article for Psychology Tomorrow Magazine:”The sex workers I spoke with, as well as some I have been with, share many of the same positive values and ethics as therapists. Both psychotherapists and sex workers have guided me, at different times in my life, to a deeper understanding of my true desires, partly by challenging me to confront shame.”

Even Fox News’ controversial psychiatrist and social commentator, Keith Ablow, asserts”. . . it is time to legalize prostitution, put in place safeguards to help protect those who participate in it, and, of course, tax it.” While I don’t entirely agree with his decree (I am after all in favor of decriminalization instead of legalization in the USA) I do appreciate his more practical approach to prostitution.

Despite the torrent of headlines surrounding Suzy Favor Hamilton, the fact that some professional women work on the side as prostitutes is not really news. What is getting our attention and upsetting the status quo, is how “normal” this new type of sex worker is. Blending into society with ease, many of today’s prostitutes are adventurous entrepreneurs with their own unique view of human sexuality. For some women, prostitution may represent nothing more than supplemental income. For others it may feel like a sacred calling to provide sexual healing.

In the 2012 award winning movie, The Sessions, actress Helen Hunt gives us a window into the level of compassion and service expressed in sex surrogacy. Yet that commitment to service can be found in prostitution too. Another recent film, The Scarlet Road, is a moving documentary featuring sex worker and activist, Rachel Wotton. It reveals an entirely different attitude toward prostitution in countries such as Australia, which have legal or decriminalized prostitution. There, sex workers have organized Touching Base; a non-profit group that provides sex workers training, resources and information about disability while enabling people with disabilities to connect with trained sex workers.

I am not suggesting that all prostitutes are interested in being of service to their clients.  There are all kinds of prostitutes, just as there are all kinds of people who become athletes, scientists, teachers, and police officers. But being of service certainly is a guiding principle for some people in some professions – even prostitutes. And given the wide variety of logical and even altruistic reasons for engaging in prostitution, it may be time to stop attributing all sorts of evil to the women who choose to work in prostitution.

Maybe prostitutes are, after all, people too.


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