What Might Life Feel Like if We Were Free of Sexual Shame?

 

5881396_orig

I am sure we all have different answers to that question. In part it depends upon whom we are attracted to and of course what type of sex we enjoy. I just put together this short video which captures what I think a world free of shame could be like and how it might feel. I would love to know if my vision resonates with you.  Maybe you have some great ideas for a more inclusive vision? I welcome all your thoughts, feelings and creative ideas!  Please post below!

Click here to watch the short video about Breaking Free of sexual shame!

Veronica Monet: In Her Own Words

VM full shot

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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

sexwarsstencil

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.

Family Friendly Prostitution?

Image

A brand new television show is airing on the Lifetime Channel. That is not a particularly earth shaking announcement unless you examine the program’s premise: a like-able wife and mother resorts to providing “happy endings” to her massage clients in order to support her family and avoid foreclosure on their mortgage.

Unlike Showtime’s Secret Diary of a Call Girl which is based upon research scientist, Dr. Brooke Magnanti’s life as an escort while completing her doctoral studies, Lifetime’s The Client List starring Jennifer Love Hewitt is apparently fictional. While Secret Diary of a Call Girl is produced in the UK, The Client List originates in the USA and targets a predominantly female viewership.

But what is perhaps most surprising, is that this latest entry in sex work as television entertainment portrays both the reluctant prostitute and her clients as average, one might even say normal, human beings. Gone are the stereotypes of drug addicted, incest surviving, man hating women servicing hateful and domineering men who have lost all respect for women. These stereotypes are so common they go unchallenged in the culture and continue to wreak havoc in the lives of the very real people who work for pay and pay for play in the sex industry.

Instead, we are treated to characterizations which reveal affection and meaningful connection between Jennifer Love Hewitt’s character and her mostly male clients.  The premiere episode even features a tearful exchange between Riley Parks (Jennifer Love Hewitt) and the wife of a male client. While the distraught wife warns Riley to stay away from her husband, Riley reaches out with that heart of gold assuring the jealous woman that her husband is still in love with her.

Is it by accident or design that the show’s producers created a scenario where our heroine prostitute lends her wisdom and compassion to help mend a marriage?  For those of us who have worked in the sex industry, we know this happens more often than outsiders would ever suspect. Public perception casts prostitutes as a corrosive influence on love, romance, marriage and family. But what if professional sex functions to support marriage and the family? Can we imagine sex work which heals and empowers?

What if the people getting paid for sexual services are truly service oriented?  What if they are gifted with an unusual capacity to nurture and attend to the emotional and sensual needs of others?

This normalization of prostitution is bound to outrage some viewers.  In fact, just today Massage Therapists Against The Client List, petitioned the show’s producers to stop production of the program.  the group’s premise is that The Client List perpetuates popular stereotypes of massage therapists engaging in “inappropriate sexual contact.”

While I understand the massage industry’s interest in preserving the reputation and good standing of their profession, it is a sad commentary on our cultural norms that almost everyone wants desperately to disassociate themselves from sex workers. Sex workers are simply people who get paid to provide a service which is more personal than most and far more palatable than many nursing jobs.

After schoolteacher Shannon Williams’ arrest for prostitution in 2003, I was invited onto FOX’s From the Heartland to debate a most unusual topic.  The question posed was a disingenuous “should prostitutes be allowed to be schoolteachers?” Former Congressman John Kasich (now Governor of Ohio) was of course adamantly opposed to the idea. Even to a veteran sex worker rights activist like myself, the juxtaposition of schoolteacher and prostitute felt blatantly contradictory.

But is it possible that logic and reason have taken a vacation on this topic? Is it fair to ask ourselves to suspend convention and entertain the idea that once reflexive shame is removed from the equation there isn’t much to dissuade us from accepting that any profession which practices compassion and sensual healing is just what the planet needs more than ever?

Powerful Women

I have found it to be quite true, that men of a certain type of power and success, can be easily intimidated by female power. For instance, they often marry vapid women who are more interested in their money than them. So many of my clients expressed a sense of entitlement regarding their wives – they were providing for them so they didn’t feel incongruent about “cheating” on them. I often asked individual men if they thought their wife was also stepping outside the marriage. The very idea would often elicit a scoff as almost every man had convinced himself that only he would engage in such behavior.

What I found particularly intriguing was how many of these same men hungered for a sexual companion who was anything but malleable. It led me to begin referring to this phenomena in this way:

Our culture prefers that Wives are Dumb and Docile but that does nothing for the Libido. Men may want wives and girlfriends who are easily controlled but in bed they prefer a companion who is powerful and challenging. It is the electricity of some level of intellectual and emotional challenge which drives desire. This is why the Patriarchy requires the Whore/Madonna Complex: a splitting of femininity into two camps so that women feel compelled to pick a side and thereby deny half of their reality as a whole human.

There is a beautiful movie entitled Dangerous Beauty. It is about the life of a Renaissance courtesan from Venice, named Veronica Franco. The movie illustrates perfectly the choice women faced of that time between being accepted as a person worthy of marriage (wives were not allowed to read, write or pursue an education) and being a free woman fully empowered to delve into domains normally reserved for men. Veronica Franco was simply too independent and intelligent to be a wife and her mother despaired for her future, so she instructed her in the ways of a courtesan. As a courtesan, Veronica Franco, learned to read and debate men in conversation. She took up fencing and she wrote her memoirs. This was a life of power reserved for courtesans. The price for admission was living outside the protection and approval of society.

Today, we speak of prostitutes as if they all live and work in the squalor of the streets. The fact is that the majority of modern prostitutes operate from their homes discreetly supplementing their incomes and/or financing their dreams, whether that is an education, a sole proprietorship or perhaps their art. They too, are women who are not satisfied with the “good girl” role. They probably feel stifled and silenced and confined by popular feminine behavior. And breaking free of that provides a sense of power they have rarely experienced in other contexts.

It isn’t all sunshine and roses. There are possible arrests and evictions and serial rapists who love to prey upon sex workers because the law affords almost no protection for a “fallen woman.” But for some, the risks are worth it. Anyone who thinks it is just about sex doesn’t understand this fatal split in the feminine. Anyone who thinks is it just about money, doesn’t understand how deeply many humans crave freedom of expression. Sex work is about sex and it is about work, but more importantly it is about breaking free of the rules which dictate women are either “good” or “bad” – either worthy of protection or worthy of persecution.

Few sex workers relate to this on a conscious level, unless they are sex worker rights activists or sacred prostitutes. But I have seen the light in the eyes of women just contemplating sex for money and they look positively excited and energized with the anticipation of what that might feel like and look like for them. I always caution them about the down side – the risk and the illegality and the very real prices I have paid for my choice. I don’t choose to encourage anyone to do something with such a high price tag. But once a woman has crossed that line and experienced her power to reject the shame bestowed upon the “whore” she will likely never be able to return to ways of being in this world which require her to repress her true feelings.

That doesn’t mean she won’t move on to another profession at some point. It does mean that she will be very unlikely to work for an employer once she has tasted her independence. It can also translate to putting up with less domination or abuse from men in general. The woman who has been paid for her companionship is much less likely to put up with anything she doesn’t enjoy or appreciate in a personal relationship. Of course this generalization does not apply to street prostitutes who enter the business under the tutelage of an abusive pimp. Nor does it necessarily apply to prostitutes who work in legal brothels because by definition they have abusive employers. But for your average middle-class, college educated escort, independence of thought and action becomes a privilege few are willing to sacrifice for the approving nods of the masses.