December 29, 2011

Is it Prostitution or Sacred Intimacy?

by Tinamarie Bernard

We may abhor the streetwalker, glorify the escort, covet the centerfold, and vie for the attention of the sacred priestess, but the differences in the transactions seem like minutia lost in the facts; money is exchanged, sexual favors are granted.

Sexual Healing

Here’s what I know. That we live in a traumatized culture in which sexuality is carved out of our soul is an unfortunate given for many in our world, and not just in far flung places where good, satisfying sex is unheard of, a non-given in the face of survival pressures. Where we live, where resources are plentiful and contemplating pleasure is a luxury we indulge in, harm exists in large measure. From birth traumas to painful intercourse to self-doubt and denial, to molestation and coercive sex, our collective need for nurturing and emerging willingness to examine our secret sexual histories has led, among other things, to the development of sacred sexuality schools, temples, practices (and, unfortunately in some cases, spiritual sexual charlatans). I’m going to make a huge assumption here: let’s focus only on those who choose this work from the deepest, most mindful intentions. In this paradigm, the idea of using our bodies to touch, heal and nurture others in a sensual way, or to encourage them to find peace through guided work can be the ultimate gift of love. ]]

Tantrica Maya provides healing work using what she calls the “archetypal Goddess energy as the force that propels her sessions.” Over the years, her approach has shifted from one in which she offered more hands on touching and nudity to her current interpretation. She considers the work she does as deeply “sacred and primordial,” and integral to “removing obstacles to emotional, physical, mental and spiritual” wellbeing.

“It can be very powerful when [my clients] surrender to this process,” Maya writes, which as she describes involves sexual energy, something distinct from sex.

That is an essential difference, something I learned about from another Tantra educator, Tanja Diamond who put it like this:

“I would still love to see sexual energy de-tangled from sex, because the sexual energy used as life force energy fuels everything, including sex. However if we solely view it as sexual we won't make the leap.” It is not that sex should be separated from the energy, just that the thought that “arousal means horny instead of vital and inspired,” she writes.

By working with the chakras in a very intimate way, Maya helps her clients tap into their sexual vitality, but now she does it sans nudity.

“Most practitioners are engaging in some form of sexual activity, and that is how I originally approached my sessions,” she explains. “Most of the training for this type of energy work includes attention to the genitals, thus you have Lingum Massages, Yoni Massages, and Sacred Spot Massages.” The problem is, as she asserts, that confusion arises along the lines of my own discomforts described above.

“If you are opting to have one of these sexual sessions it should be made clear that it is not indicative of Tantra.” Indeed, she points out that anyone can learn one of these massages with an instructional video. Only when the acts are infused with sacred teachings are they Tantric in nature. Addressing sexuality in an emotionally healthy way between a practitioner and client requires a delicate, conscious balance, and Maya, as her practice and understanding have shifted, has found herself at a crossroad.

“I have grown weary of the many men who have visited me because of the erotic emphasis which I have placed, up until now, on my ‘Tantric Journeys.’” She is phasing out the word Tantra and replacing it with the term “Goddess Healing” as a better way to “convey a ritual which draws upon the feminine divine as a healing source.”

Intimacy is still involved in her work, she says, but the expectations are clearer and her sessions put her “in touch with a person on a very high level — a spiritual one.” “That is intimacy at its highest form,” Maya explains. “It does not need to be reduced to any type of sex act as that would, in fact, decrease the sacred connection.”

Touchy Conundrum

Is that always the case? Does introducing sexual touch always diminish the sanctity of the experience when the people involved are not in some sort of real and agreed upon (I mean that loosely and trust that each reader generates their own idea of what that means) relationship? After communicating with Maya, I found myself intrigued to learn more, specifically about the work of Sacred Intimates.

‘Sacred Intimates’ is a term coined by Joseph Kramer in the early 1990s and today has evolved to mean someone who works with clients seeking help and exploration in sexuality. It’s experiential work at the “intersection of body, Eros, emotion and spirit.” Those who call themselves Sacred Intimates “see the power of pleasure as a healing and transformative experience.”

I’m friendly with some self-described Sacred Intimates, and reached out to learn more of what they do. Using movement, breath, touch and body awareness, a Sacred Intimate guides someone “through sensual, sexual and erotic experiences.” It can involve bodywork, coaching, mutual exploration, energy work and ‘Tantra,’ and in some cases ‘surrogate partnerships.’ What’s more, anyone can call themselves a Sacred Intimate, and those who engage in the work from a wholehearted centered, one rooted in healing and honoring the divine in each of us, client, healer and (as in my case) curious observer, believe it is a calling.

Who am I to determine otherwise? Ultimately, there is no clear answer as to my original quest to discover some clear boundaries that separate ordinary garden-variety sex work from that which is labeled ‘sacred.’ What’s profane to one is considered sacred by another, especially when it comes to sexuality and nudity.

Just contemplating those questions confirms for me that sacred sexual healing practices are mysteries beyond my level of wisdom. What’s more, the practice of trying to define or make sense of the mysterious, something I wrote about in my last article, alters our consciousness as well as the thing we are musing upon.

Ultimately, the highest good isn’t determined by the lowest common denominator, as so often seems the case when it comes to public consumption of sexuality. What we do and how we do it must be evaluated by the intentions behind the deed, whether it is sexual healing for hire, or that in the arms of our truly beloved.