Healing and Liberating Our Sexuality
Reflections on Women of the Light - the New Sacred Prostitute
Edited by Kenneth Ray Stubbs
Reviewed by Spring Cascade
Originally published in Loving More #25 in 2001
Society's attitudes about sex have maintained an insidious and tenacious hold on me. Even though I've consciously ignored many of the sexual mores of our society for more than 30 years, I find that I have not yet rid myself of all the negative assumptions about sex that I learned as a child. This means I find myself making judgements about whether I might want to participate in an activity (for example, swinging) rather than simply observing whether I find that activity interesting and exciting at the time the opportunity presents itself. For a long time polyamory has been a safe harbor - sex in the context of a relationship is good, just as for others sex within the confines of marriage is ok. I have felt a need to justify my actions, to show that I'm really ok.
Without the social training we receive, I think our natural tendency would be to be curious about sex and the many ways we can experience it, just as we may be curious about new foods. We would find our natural inclinations by trial and error (does this type of food taste good to me, does this type of sex feel good?), by noticing whether we're attracted to something (this food smells good or bad to me, this type of activity turns me on, or doesn't turn me on). And just as we may be interested in different types of food at different times, we would accept that our desires change over time.
After being vehemently polyamorous for several decades, I'm ready to accept that my love-style can expand beyond polyamory. I want to put aside my judgements and explore new options, while also continuing to appreciate deep loving relationships. I've tended to require "high maintenance" relationships. I'm finding I can be more flexible than that, that a brief intimate connection can be very fulfilling.
Along with workshops and sacred sexuality retreats that have stretched my mind and encouraged me to engage my curiosity rather than my judgements, I have recently read a fascinating book that has inspired me. Women of the Light - The New Sacred Prostitute is a wonderful collection of women's stories of their lives in sex and spirit. Society tends to judge sex workers harshly. We're taught that what they are doing is bad, and they would be better off finding a legitimate way to make a living. This book challenges that idea. The women who have written for it are healers, helping people integrate sexuality into their lives. They are performing a sacred function. "They are teachers of the heart. They are visionaries, stepping outside of the constrictive, traditional beliefs about women and men. Their bodies are their temple, to which they invite others. Their purpose is to support a deeper discovery of the spiritual flame that burns within us all. Sexual energy, in a broad sense, is that flame... Women of the Light is written by seekers who have discovered within themselves, often by trial and error, a sense of the ancient teachings where spirituality fully embraces sexuality, where the heart nurtures the senses." They greatly enrich our world.
I find that I require a feeling of safety in order to enjoy my sexuality. This safety may be found within a relationship, but it can also be created by the sense of a sacred context, of an environment where there is unconditional love and a desire for healing. Thus, in spite of the timidity I sometimes have, I was recently willing to be what I jokingly call a "demo model" for a yoni massage. The context was a sacred sexuality retreat, where we had all agreed that we intended good will and unconditional love to all present, and that we would support each person to be the best they could be and have the best experience possible. I felt safe, so when someone asked for a volunteer on whom she could demonstrate a yoni massage to a few men who were interested, I was willing. She was very gentle, checking with me frequently. At first we both commented on the differences between women, and I talked about what works and doesn't work for me sexually. And soon I was ecstatically into the experience. I enjoyed it very much, and my feeling of safety in spite of my exposure was reinforced by people who expressed their appreciation for my willingness to be so vulnerable.
So when I read Women of the Light, I greatly appreciated the story of Shell Freye, "group-sex hostess", who learned to create a safe environment in which people could explore their sexuality. Her early experiences with swinging and group sex parties left her cold. Some of the action she saw seemed harsh and mechanical. It was a long ways from what she fantasized. She was looking for sensuousness, for connection. And so she learned to create it. She and her husband started giving parties where she paid attention to the music, soft lighting, soft colors, and sensuous food. She decided that sex would not take place in the living room, in order to create a safe space for people who were not yet ready to jump in. She invited someone to do massage to help people relax. She continued to cultivate her own personal growth, and learned to work with energy, to consciously open her heart and her pelvis by breathing and visualization practices. She finds it very rewarding to provide a beautiful and sensuous place for people to expand their tactile, visual and sensual awareness. She believes that sharing such intimate experiences can bring a couple closer and help build a deeper relationship.
I don't remember how I learned that masturbation was not ok, but I didn't do it until after I was in college, and after I had experienced sexual intercourse. I only did it then at the recommendation of a psychologist I was seeing. I had not yet been exposed to Betty Dodson's radical ideas about masturbation and sexuality. In the late 60s, Betty Dodson came to the conclusion that "sexuality was as critical as economics in women's quest for equality... As long as women remained blinded by love and bound by an invisible sexual and financial double standard, feminism would never pose a real threat to our present authoritarian system." She discovered that her idea of liberating masturbation was too shocking for most feminists, and determined to storm the barricades waving her banner for the Equal Orgasm Amendment. And so she developed her own workshops, encouraging women to develop their selflove, and to free themselves from their own limiting expectations. As she sees it, masturbation is clearly the key to sexual growth. Having an orgasm with ourselves is a moment of getting in touch with our bodies and senses that supports us in making our individual choices rather than being controlled by our conditioned responses. She feels that her sexual evolution has been an integral part of her spiritual growth, that masturbation is a meditation on selflove. "Today I believe that sex energy is not only the life force, but also the source of all creativity. Each orgasm is a precious moment of joy... As we awaken our bodies through the senses, we awaken our minds to the knowledge that all living things are connected--on Earth and through the vast universe."
One of the themes that shows up in several of the stories is the need for loving touch and the sense that one's sexuality is accepted. Juliet Carr comments that most of her clients need nurturing more than sexual release. "The men I see want a woman who not only is comfortable with her sexuality, but celebrates it: a mature, caring woman who will uninhibitedly give and receive tender, loving touch; who will listen to, encourage, and validate their sexuality. Often I am a man's only confidante. It is well documented that men go to prostitutes mainly to be touched and listened to."
Jwala noticed that "the primal need to be held and cuddled and experience physical closeness and affection is denied for the most part to many people. Therefore the art of touch became one of my major contributions to myself, to my lovers, and to my clients." She also noticed that "When people are turned on, their joy is infectious. It is as if their cup is filling up more from the inside and in some cases spilling over. The spilling over becomes a 'give love' rather than a 'need love.' "
Carolyn Elderberry comments about her massage technique, " I want the message from my hands, my being with him, to be: 'Relax, you're loved, valued, appreciated.' I want cells, sinew, bone, muscle to receive this message. I don't fight tension in the body, I enter the tension to coax it to release itself and open to the flow of energy." She does full body massage, and explains, "By including the genitals, I'm telling the body it is whole and wholesome. Too often, the male genitals have been disparaged. The client's genitals have rarely been admired and appreciated by women." However, she doesn't focus on the genitals, "I am demonstrating to my client that it is the whole body that is sexual." She also talks about men's need to feel wanted and received.
Carol Queen talks about the need "for maternal caring, for unconditional love. Few adults have anything that feels like this in their lives; we are not even, as mature grown-ups, supposed to want it. Love is sexualized in this culture partly, I think, because sex does lead into a sea of love, if we are fortunate enough to be open to it, but also because sex is the one arena in which most adults get touched, stroked, held--all the things it hurt so much to give up as growing kids. Sex reminds us of love even when we have no love in our lives."
Sexuality as a sacred activity is a core concept in this book. In his introduction, Ray Stubbs talks about "a paradigm where sexuality resides at the heart of the sacred circle." He believes that "not only is the tree of knowledge available to each individual, but that the roots of this tree are firmly planted in the pelvis." He writes about the temples devoted to the worship of the goddess of love, where sex was a sacrament and ecstasy a divinely inspired state. "Sexuality was celebrated publicly, joyously, sacredly, with the sacred prostitute being guide, teacher, healer, transformer, catalyst." These thoughts are echoed throughout the book.
Stephanie Rainbow Lightning Elk tells us about the Quodoushka way and Fire Medicine, a Cherokee path of spiritual sexuality. "The Firebreath Orgasm was taught and practiced as a way to generate self-healing. This full-body orgasm that was produced through breathing, visualization, and pelvic movements without any genital stimulation offered a way to experience natural healing and a state of bliss. Orgasm was and is understood as a powerful healing mechanism; types and levels of orgasms were studied and practiced. Rituals were encouraged as a way to achieve harmony. Initiator and initiate could experience transcendence." She works with people who seek a way to heal from the sexual wounds of our culture.
Carol Queen asks, "In antiquity the temple whores let worshippers experience, on a body level, the compassionate, passionate Goddess; was that not what I was doing?" She believes sex is sacred and healing. "To guide another person to orgasm, to hold and caress, to provide companionship and initiation to new forms of sex, to embody the Divine and embrace the seeker - these are healing and holy acts."
I'm impressed by the courage of these women in defying convention and laws to follow their calling. In recognizing that, as Barbara Roberts says, "what in reality is sinful is not talking about sex, not respecting and honoring our natural sexual feelings", they open the path of healing the split between our bodies and our souls, between sex and spirit.
They give me hope that I can let go of the rest of the judgements I have about sex, that I can become more childlike and learn to explore my own sexuality with even more joy and wonder. I would like to live in a world of unconditional love, and these women are making that more possible.
© 2000 by Elaine Cook
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