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

 

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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!

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Are We Wrong about Who We Are?

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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.

Why Sex Workers are SO Scary

Some people – women especially – just hate what you do for a living.  Their distaste for  your profession is completely out of sync with any personal impact it could possibly have on their lives. If you have ruled out jealousy, competition and/or fear of the unknown – what is left to explain the almost rabid and allergic reaction to the way you pay your rent or mortgage?

Recently it dawned on me that very much like the gay rights movement, our movement – the sex worker rights movement – suffers its worst insults from closeted whores and johns (If you find those words offensive I invite you ask yourself why. Personally I am all about reclaiming the words used to oppress us). Let’s face it the men who are most adamantly opposed to decriminalization often turn out to be regular clients of sex workers. The most publicized example of this is of course former New York governor Eliot Spitzer who had built his career with a promise of “ethics” and the prosecution of prostitution rings but was later found to be a regular client of prostitutes.

And what about the women?  I have often envisioned them as insecure wives – worried that I and my sex worker colleagues were out to fuck their men – for free if necessary – just to show them up as the incompetent and unalluring losers they worry they are. But I don’t think jealousy is the big motivator we have allowed ourselves to believe it is. Instead I wonder if our most vehement opposition comes from women who have more in common with us than they would like to admit.

When I recall the cruelest and most dismissive reactions to my choice to become a sex worker, it has often been from female “friends” who were former sex workers or extremely promiscuous or at least prone to dating for money. The truly asexual or bashful female friends have usually been more curious than offended by my choice in careers.

Recently I began attending a church well-known for its tolerance of all lifestyles and beliefs including atheism and paganism. I didn’t imagine that my former identity as a working girl would hold much interest for the congregation. After all, I have been semi-retired for over five years and live modestly as an author and couples consultant.  My motivation for attending church was twofold: I hoped to find a venue for my workshops on peace and I wanted to add a little ritual to my life. For instance when my dog got cancer I found the “Blessing of the Animals” to be of great comfort.

So imagine my surprise when the witch in charge of the pagan meetings (no, I am not trying to insult this woman, she really is a witch) launched an effort to expel me from the church. Initially, I thought she was simply offended by my approach to world peace: polyamory as modeled by the bonobos.  Yeah, this is another topic and not really relevant to this blog entry but suffice to say that I believe a lot of violence results from a sex negative culture and I have a lot of research and evidence to back up that claim.

But even after I abandoned any aspirations I had to teach workshops at this church and simply attended the pagan meetings as a student in search of more knowledge of the various forms of paganism, the witch persisted in her campaign to drive me from the congregation. She called one day to suggest I attend pagan workshops at a local bookstore where their approach would be more “adult.” For the umpteenth time she told me how her workshops would be “family friendly.”  I told her this might come as a shock to her but I have a family and I am a mother to four step-children. The silence on the other end of the phone was deafening. What was she thinking? Was she shocked to think former prostitutes might have families?  Or was she offended to think I had ever been allowed to parent children?  Who knows but she certainly choked on the news.

Since I have only been to about five church services and my interactions with this woman have been brief and polite, I am quite certain that her reaction has very little to do with me personally. But I do represent something that appears to terrify her. For one of the pagan rituals she held at the church, she wore a costume which reminded me of the ancient sacred prostitutes. The skirt was constructed of sheer chiffon adorned with beads and coins. I couldn’t help but wonder if she understood what her costume signified in days of old. How could she sport coins on her person without comprehending the significance of money sewn into a garment? True, some will argue that this was “dowry” money but the fact remains that the coins were sewn into the garment as a reminder that the dancer expected to get paid for her performance while she was performing – very much like strippers are paid today.

We could now have the argument of whether belly dancers are sex workers or we could ask ourselves why it is so important to draw this arbitrary and nonsensical line in the sand between the “good girls” and the “bad girls.” And that really is the point to this blog entry. Women are insanely invested in distinguishing themselves from the “bad girl” and the more closely they skirt the “bad girl” lifestyle, the more obsessive this drive to say “I am NOT a whore” becomes.

A similar phenomena is well documented in the gay rights movement. It is now common knowledge that some of the worst hate crimes against gays are often perpetrated by closeted homosexuals who are full of self-hatred and denial. Similarly I believe our sex worker rights movement would do well to understand the self-hatred and denial which fuels hate crimes against sex workers. I think we will find that our most vocal opponents are quite literally in bed with us as clients or metaphorically as self-hating closeted sex workers.

What might we do to win these closeted clients and sex workers over to our struggle for civil rights and the dignity of choice?  I’m not entirely sure. If I find a way to assuage the terror my existence has created for the witch at church I will let you know. I DO know this though. Every effort to decriminalize or legalize prostitution has been blocked by the “good women” of the community in question. Historically both prohibition of alcohol and prostitution have been feminist endeavors as championed by many of the suffragists of the early 1900’s. So although present day feminists might think their stance against prostitution reflective of political evolution, it is instead a fairly old-fashioned and conservative take on the oldest profession.

Many political movements will dissociate from other more controversial causes for fear that their primary objective will be lost. Early feminists were afraid of accepting lesbians and the gay rights movement didn’t want to champion transgender rights. This fear of being associated with others perceived as “less deserving” of civil rights is a noxious but all too human failing. I wonder if it has its roots in basic human survival and perhaps that is the impediment we battle when we seek to assert our civil rights as sex workers. Or perhaps the broader issue here is that neither men nor women possess a sexual bill of rights and rather than fight to assert their rights alongside sex workers (who are working for the rights of all adults to have sex as they see fit) they recoil with the fear of losing what few freedoms they do have.

What do you think? What is is that fuels the disrespect and even hatred we often encounter from second wave feminists, from wives and girlfriends, from concerned parents, from law enforcement, from landlords, from child protection services, from neighbors, from family, from former friends and even from our own clients?

Gross Governor Spitzer and Degradation

A topic which deserves some clarification in light of the recent resignation of New York’s Governor Spitzer is the different working conditions in various branches of the sex industry. In reality, sex work spans a huge industry with drastic differences in pay, the services provided and working conditions. Since many people have trouble thinking clearly as soon as you mention “sex,” I like to draw parallels with food. For example, an 18 year old kid flipping burgers at McDonald’s is doing the same thing world famous chef, Wolfgang Puck, does for a living. They both prepare food for people to eat. Yet no one would argue that these two individuals experience the same working conditions or “job” satisfaction.

When it comes to sex for money though, the media, second wave feminists and voters are quick to equate street prostitution, massage parlors, brothels, incalls, outcalls, escorts and courtesans as the same thing.

I will be the first to admit they are equal “morally.” And that IS the primary reason all prostitution is lumped together – because most people are more concerned with the “moral” implications of prostitution than any other factor. The amount of money you make doesn’t change whether what you do for a living is inherently “good” or “evil.” And if that’s the discussion we want to have, then let’s bring it out in the open and stop dancing behind smokescreens like “oppression” and “sexually transmitted diseases.”

Got you with that last one, huh?

Well, in the United States, the fact is that prostitution only accounts for about 7 to 10 per cent of all sexually transmitted infections. Those numbers are very different in other countries but in our country, condoms are inexpensive and readily available. And contrary to what “abstinence only” sex education preaches, condoms DO work very well if you use them properly. I should know. I used them for over 14 years with over 1800 clients and stayed perfectly healthy the entire time.

Although prostitution was once considered the “fault” of the prostitute, it has become fashionable to cast sex workers as “victims” and label the profession of prostitution “oppressive” and “degrading.” The only way you can make this stick is either by assuming sex is inherently degrading to women unless they do it for free; or by conflating drug addiction and domestic violence with how a person makes a living.

Street prostitution does have a very high incidence of drug addiction and domestic violence. It is woven into the very fabric of this sector of the sex industry. Domestic violence in particular is an accepted part of the street culture. But treating either domestic violence or drug addiction as part of any profession is stupid and ineffective. Educating street prostitutes to the realities of domestic violence and providing domestic violence shelters for working prostitutes would work far better. Incarcerating pimps for domestic violence would also be a good first move.

However as the laws are currently enforced, street prostitutes are regularly rounded up in so-called street sweeps where they are jailed for a few hours, fined and released. They then go back to take a beating from their pimps for not making that night’s “quota” due to the arrest. And they have to “turn” even more “tricks” to pay the fine. It is a ridiculous cycle which turns your local government into a pimp and costs you tons in tax dollars to accomplish nothing (a city like San Francisco spends more than $7 million annually to put street prostitutes through a never ending cycle of arrests and fines).

Additionally, street prostitution accounts for only about 20 per cent of all prostitution in the USA. The rest of it is on the Internet and by referral. Many independent escorts are college students, college graduates and women in their 30’s and 40’s who are fed up with the “glass ceiling” and/or want to supplement their income. These are neither drug addicted nor battered individuals. Instead they are simply people who have made economic choices which fall outside of the norm.

Some say that prostitution cannot constitute a choice because of the limited economic options available to a given population. That is certainly a discussion worth having. But let’s not label it a discussion about prostitution. Economic choice affects all professions but especially dangerous or unpleasant tasks which could include field labor, garbage collection, emptying bedpans and cleaning septic tanks.

I would much rather catch a plane to a beautiful resort and sit on some bored business executive’s face than do any of those jobs. And that doesn’t mean that the average street prostitute shares my sentiments. If she is getting beaten and raped on a regular basis, any other job might look like an attractive alternative. But what if she could catch the plane to a resort and be pampered? Is it really the prostitution which is repugnant? Or isn’t it the violence and hatred which kills the soul? Decisions such as this are really best left to the individual.

One final word. Governor Spitzer was a lousy client. His whining about using condoms illustrates immaturity, selfishness and short-sightedness. His nitpicking about cheap train tickets and mini-bars points to the fact that he wasn’t ready for The Emperor’s Club. But then again, anyone who would order brunettes, blonds and redheads from an agency with such a pretentious name as if he were ordering take-out, reveals himself as a pretender to the throne.