Archive for the 'sex and sexuality' Category

Sex and sexuality: Learning from porn

September 19, 2013

At the Rowe Labor Day retreat in Massachusetts for gay, bisexual, and questioning men, I conducted a workshop called “Learning from Porn.” I felt ever-so-slightly scandalous broaching this topic while attending a conference at a Unitarian Universalist retreat center. At the same time, like my teacher and mentor Joseph Kramer I’m committed to healing the split between sexuality and spirituality in our culture. We all have bodies, and it is our spiritual invitation to inhabit them fully and mindfully. And reading a poster in the Rowe library enumerating the core values of Unitarian Universalism, I resonated with its championing “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”

As a number of participants in the workshop immediately acknowledged, almost every male adult has some kind of love/hate relationship with pornography, that ubiquitous form of entertainment that heavily influences the norms by which we judge our bodies, our desires, and our sexual partners — but we hardly ever talk about it to anyone. I wanted to create a safe, non-judgmental context in which to consider a few pertinent questions: What is hot about porn? What myths about sex does porn perpetuate, for better or for worse? What aspects of pleasurable sexuality never show up in porn? I quickly learned that men have plenty to say on all these topics.

I wrote an article about this discussion that was just published online by the Boston gay newspaper EDGE. Check it out here and let me know what you think.

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Sex and sexuality: having the conversation about HIV status

February 21, 2013

A college professor in his early 40s, Jeff has been in therapy with me on and off for ten years. [I’ve changed his name and occupation to preserve confidentiality.] I’ve seen him through the ups and downs of a couple of relationships and a struggle with substance abuse. He’s currently single and reasonably happy with that. Like many gay men, when he’s in a relationship Jeff often has a hard time juggling his partner’s desire for together-time with his own desire for alone-time. (Gay men are far from alone in this. The great lesbian folksinger Ferron nailed the phenomenon in a couplet from her song, “Our Purpose Here”: “It’s a woman’s dream, this autonomy/Where the lines connect but the point stays free….”) Yet the freedom of being single rubs up against loneliness, the sheer pleasure of companionship.

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Lately we’ve spent time exploring a split that he notices in his interactions with other men. He has no problem getting slutty with guys he meets on Grindr or Manhunt. But when he meets a guy that he likes and might consider dating, he suddenly becomes weirdly reserved, reluctant to show his sexual self. Some of that may be the residue of a Catholic upbringing; girls aren’t the only ones who internalize the Madonna/whore dichotomy. When he found himself repeating that pattern with another guy recently, a light bulb went off: Jeff realized that he drags his heels when it comes to having sex with a Nice Guy He’s Dating because he’s HIV-positive and he dreads having The Disclosure Conversation. With his characteristic bluntness, he says, “If I’m blowing a guy, I feel like I don’t have to tell him because I’m not putting him in any danger, and chances are I’m never going to see him again. But if it’s someone I might want to date, then I feel like I have to be honest. But then it’s scarier because I have more to lose if he can’t handle it and walks away.”

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Now Jeff is an extremely outgoing guy and an unusually assured public speaker. He has no problem speaking, often without notes, to his classes and at professional conferences. Yet the prospect of having the intimate conversation about HIV-status with a guy he’s dating fills him with terror and, more to the point, shame. His friend Daniel, one of the few in his social circle who is also HIV-positive, has developed over time a matter-of-fact attitude about telling people in his life that he’s healthy-poz-undetectable. Jeff is not there yet. In his blackest moods, he considers himself to be “a filthy, diseased creature.” Mind you, that’s not how he views other people with HIV. And no one else has ever judged him that way. The people in his life that he has told have been kind and supportive without exception. And yet he struggles with the sense of being “damaged goods.” This is something probably every single person has wrestled with at some point after being told they’re HIV-positive. What about you? How have you coped with this personal/social dilemma?

I thought about Jeff when a Facebook friend shared a moving essay that appeared on Buzzfeed.com called “My Virus, My Husband, and Me.” Author Michael Broder, a long-term survivor of HIV, writes with honesty and some humor about the evolution of his feelings and practice around disclosing his HIV status. Check it out and let me know what you think. He references a “Puppet Service Announcement” about HIV awareness that was created by the cast of the Broadway musical Avenue Q and that aired on RuPaul’s Drag Race. You can view that video online here.

Sex and sexuality: SACRED INTIMACY

February 16, 2012

Have you ever wondered what people mean when they use the term “sacred intimate” or “sacred intimacy”? Here’s a 12-minute interview with me talking about that subject. The interview was conducted by Thorsten Kregel, a filmmaker shooting a documentary about a two-year-long training by the European organization Gay Love Spirit, which culminated in a ten-day workshop on sacred intimacy, which I co-taught with three other teachers in June 2011.

DON SHEWEY talks about SACRED INTIMACY from HealingTheWorld on Vimeo.

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