Stroking Naked Men

(written and published online 2012)

My answer to that often asked question, so what is it that you do? has grown longer over time. It is this – I’m a psychotherapist, an erotic masseuse, a cook and a writer. It is the journey from the first to the second and the nature of the space between, that I write of here.

It has not been easy to precisely name my erotic work. I am indeed an erotic masseuse and yet that doesn’t say what I do. I use the word Tantra because I have done a lot of Tantric exploration and training and it is an important dimension of what informs my erotic practice. And, I wouldn’t say in the most orthodox sense that I am offering Tantra. So, I am still looking for a nice, tight, encompassing heading, a word that says I am a this or a that.

Five years ago I had a vision of myself offering sensual pleasures within a therapeutic and relational setting. Of course, that didn’t come out of nowhere. I am deeply interested in human sexuality as a doorway to being alive and connected, to ourselves, others and to life itself. I am preoccupied with intimacy, both our capacity and longing for it, and our complex resistances to it. My own, very simple and personal interpretation of Tantra, is that being alive in all its prosaic and sublime narratives, is a sensual business. In other words, that life is sexy because feeling alive is sexy.

My vision arose in the context of my experience and interests. It was very clear, simple and direct. My mind resisted. I was afraid of judgement and a small part of my brain did wonder if I’d gone a bit nuts. I had shocked myself, not morally, but rather with the clarity and impetus of the idea. It wouldn’t go away or lie down or give up. It was a call from the heart and in the end I trusted it because I couldn’t not.

It was nevertheless, a very considered leap of faith. There is a coherent thread running between my identity and experience as a psychotherapist, and my newer, parallel erotic work. In some sense I feel it as essentially the same work. When I tried seeing it in terms of either clothed or naked, ‘therapy’, I realised that nakedness is not for me, defined by the wearing, or not, of clothes. It reminded me of struggling earlier in my career, with the lines between mind and body therapies. Without wishing to be simplistic, I see it all as bodywork. Even if the structure of the therapy is to sit in two chairs and use a verbal language with no physical contact, we are located within the physicality of our human body at all times. In that vein, I understand that the shape and form of a therapeutic relationship, across different modalities, will involve nakedness, also known as vulnerability and the core currency of intimacy.

So maybe its all bodywork and all naked therapy? If I consider the underlying hungers and needs that bring people to see me for both kinds of appointment, they are often the same. Of course, many different life situations and events send people to psychotherapists. Its often a crisis, a loss or a shock, and all those unique experiences can be more or less, helpfully worked with and through, in a competent and safe psychotherapy. And while it is not usually such an obvious sense of crisis that sends people out in search of an erotic massage, if we look at what runs beneath the content and narrative, it is often what makes us most human that we find there. Whatever kind of story we are bringing, we need to be received and welcomed. Whatever pain we may be in, or pleasure we may be seeking, we need to be received and welcomed. It is simple and yet much more elusive than it could be.

As a psychotherapist over nearly two decades, and because of my own story about absence of welcome, and loss, I have learned slowly but surely, something about making myself and others welcome. And when I talk of welcoming, like this, I don’t mean anything perfunctory or conditional. I am not talking of social intercourse or etiquette. I mean welcome, however and wherever you find yourself – full of love, murderous, lost, found, desperate, joyous, insatiable, silent, ambivalent…

If this is the basic ground of therapeutic relationship, the structure and form of a therapy, and it is for me, then it isn’t as radical as some might think to be building a parallel practice and working with the libidinal heart like this.

As we live in a culture where women are perceived as more in need of emotional discourse and men are more driven by sex, it is to be expected that more women come to see me for psychotherapy and more men for erotic massage. There is an erotic market place, a chaotic sex industry that almost exclusively caters to men. and, I believe, mostly offers services, which while being diverse and pitched at every imaginable appetite, largely ignore the human heart.

I have no doubt about the direct link between our hungry genitals and the fiercest longings of the heart. As someone always curious about how things get split off and separated, it seems obvious how estranged sex and spirit have become. In some of our healing communities and therapy circles, I think the shadow to this point, is a weighted focus on ascendancy rather than embodiment. I am learning, achingly slowly, that the only way to Grace is through the very substance of my physical, human body. At a critical moment in my life and in the face of a huge loss, I found myself on a 5Rhythms dance floor for the first time. I heard these utterly simple words, ‘welcome and just keep going’. Certainly words I had heard before, from teachers or friends, but this was the first time I heard these precious words in my body. It was a transformational moment and one I recognise as changing the direction of my work.

It is a paradox, at this moment in our human history, with so much explicit sexuality available, that finding touch is so very rare. I seem to have a little talent and/or vocation, for giving pleasure that is grounded in intimacy, within the psychotherapeutic form. Perhaps the most astonishing revelatory gift, has been to grasp how truly exquisite and erotic our vulnerability is. How beautiful, how very naked we all are, underneath. People, mostly men, come and see me because they ache to be received and touched. It doesn’t seem to matter if this can be articulated or not. It is just true.

I know I have moved myself to the margins of my original profession, through the decisions I’ve made over recent years. Maybe some from the psychotherapeutic tradition would have me for breakfast, just as I might have had the author of this article for breakfast if I’d read it ten years ago. And although sometimes I miss myself there, as I realign and find my place that isn’t quite this and isn’t quite that, and feel a spike of lonely, it is where I am and where I have brought myself. This is where I find myself and feel myself, quietly doing my work and breathing in and out.