6 min

School for sexual expression

'I was a better hooker than john'

In the grotto that is my bedroom, among phallic fishes and leather harness hanging from the chandelier, I have a framed shopping bag from a clothing store in New York City’s East Village. The name of the store, Religious Sex, is emblazoned in gold letters on the otherwise plain purple bag.

I have it up there on the wall partly because it’s quirky and I like the colours, but also because I like sending the message to anyone who enters my bedroom that I am shopping for a religious experience – at the very least, an interaction that goes beyond the friction of body parts.

I don’t talk about it very often. I find that even to those who are the most religiously sexual, the concept doesn’t mean very much beyond a provocative oxymoron. It just goes to show how effectively the Christian religion has obliterated the obvious – that religion grew out of a fascination with the generative powers of the penis and vagina and states of ecstasy associated with sexual excitement.

You only have to look as far back as ancient Egypt to see the connection made explicit. In that mythology, the creator god, Atum, creates the whole universe by jerking off into the void. He is shown on temple wall reliefs with an enormous erection pointing skyward.

The Osiris myth is also very sexual. At one point Isis has to find the pieces of her dead husband’s body and sew them back together. She finds all of Osiris except his cock, so she makes a fake one out of wood and attaches that instead. Then she fucks the reassembled corpse with such intensity that she gets pregnant and he comes back to life. However, Osiris decides to abandon the world of the living to become the god of the afterlife.

Christianity co-opts key elements of the Osiris story but edits out all references to sex. Now, as the Christian era comes to an close, the link between sex and religion is becoming more visible again.

In the early 20th century, Freud pointed out the connection as a way to demystify religion. At the end of the 20th century the reverse trend began happening – people began elevating sex to the status of the divine.

Annie Sprinkle proclaimed the bond between sluts and goddesses in her post porn modernist one-woman shows; magazines published articles on sacred prostitution; introductory seminars on SM addressed the spiritual side of pain; and Tantra has become so mainstream as to be the butt of jokes on popular sitcoms.

My introduction to sacred sexuality happened in 1992 at the Sacred Intimate Training at Body Electric (, something I embraced back then, but grew cooler to in time.

Informally dubbed “prostitution school,” it was a mixture of theory and hands-on training that taught a combination of shamanism and sex for hire. For two weeks at a retreat in Northern California, 46 mostly-naked men went from morning masturbation meditation to massage practice to tribal council.

The point was to train gay sex-workers-cum-father-confessors who could provide a bridge between the sacred and the sexual on the model of the Native American berdache or ancient temple prostitute. The skills of these modern-day sexual healers should run the gamut from pick-up etiquette to care for the dying.

The theme for my year of training was, “Ask for what you want.” The idea was to articulate what you want in concrete and specific terms, enabling the other guy to decide if he wants to give you that and what he wants in return. When you can separate those negotiations from the emotional whirlwind of infatuation and the shame of inherited straight values, you stand a much better chance of connecting intimately with someone else.

The exercise I remember most vividly divided the camp into johns and hookers. The johns had to visit a series of four hookers in the space of two hours – for 30 minutes each. The objective for each interaction was to clearly define the nature of the service (and that could be anything, from a heart-to-heart talk to a spanking – condoms and gloves were available); negotiate a price (for the purpose of the exercise a trade or a token); perform the activity; and finally come to official closure. After 20 minutes a bell rang as a signal to wrap up and move on.

I was a better hooker than a john. If somebody gives me something to work with I can usually take it and respond – even expand on it sometimes.

But I am just not good at asking for what I want. I’m like Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire: “I want magic!” Maybe even, “Magic, dammit!” But most of the time you can’t have magic, and certainly not if you pout.

All the same, if I have to tell a guy everything I want him to do, I feel like I am choreographing an Esther Williams extravaganza. Are we performing? For whom?

When it was my turn to be the client, I would walk up, bang on the tent flap and say things like, “I want you to surprise me.”

I know that’s wimpy. Most of the hookers in training I visited responded pretty well. I remember body paint and blindfolds, earnest conversations, an introduction to tit clamps, my first cock ring, and massage, lots of massage.

Though I never quite set up shop as a sacred intimate, the course was an important part of my coming-out and maturation process. I got to talk about and experience homosexual sex with intelligent men in a shame-free environment, I learned a lot about being clear and listening, and I did get some magic, too.

I had my first encounter with a vicious drag queen who knew how to work it when about half way through the workshop, “Ingrid” appeared, complete with whip, leather bustier and Madonna ponytail. By that point in the course we all knew enough about each other and had gone through enough together that the air was charged with what I can only call psychic energy. Ingrid wandered around camp reading everyone with such subtlety and wit that she had everyone in hysterics. It felt like we all knew what everyone else was thinking.

Just in case you find this all a little bit cultish, I have to add that it was one of the most anarchistic groups I have ever belonged to. Dissent was encouraged and the leaders accepted challenges as part of the process. It was one of the first groups I belonged to in which I was allowed to disagree without being labeled a negative influence.

Ten years after the fact, I am not sure what I think anymore.

I am finding now that I get a bit irritated with new-agey soft-focus approaches to sex. I wonder why we have to dress it up in Eastern symbolism and Pan flutes and whale calls. It occurs to me that all that may be a subtle form of prudery, a way to make sex seem somehow more respectable. Maybe for some of us, sex is inherently dark and forbidden and even dangerous, and maybe that isn’t a manifestation of internalized homophobia.

Maybe it’s just difficult for us Westerners to think of religion meaning anything but “rules for being good.” Sex is surely not that. If sex is religious it’s because it connects us to a powerful, elemental, universal force that is neither good or bad. Sex is worthy of worship because it can knock us out of the glazed stupor of correct behaviour.

I still don’t know how to ask for what I want. But maybe that’s okay, too. For me the connection is primary. If I connect with someone, then I am open to doing almost anything with him. Until I make that connection, I have no idea what I want. And the best connection often comes as a surprise – an unexpected turn of the conversation that reveals a guy with wit, insight and vulnerability. How do you get there with choreography?

For me I fear that the only path to the divine is improvisation. And it doesn’t always work.

I picked up a guy the other night at the bar. He was in his mid-20s, handsome and fairly new to Toronto from a Latin culture. I wasn’t quite sure if we were connecting or not, but he was persistent so we went back to my place.

We took off our clothes, got into bed; I lay on my back, he sat on top of me undulating against my cock. I thought I was getting a pretty clear sense of where we were going, but when I reached for a condom he got up to leave, horrified that I could even think of anal sex.

“I didn’t think you were like that!” he said.

I was a little bewildered, but I didn’t protest. I figured he had issues, and the only times I’ve ever tried to help someone with baggage I’ve gotten hit on the head with a purse.

“Okay. Bye.”

The thing is, I think I might have understood more where he was coming from 10 years ago, at least I might have wanted to try.

Now as I look up at my shopping bag I have to wonder if I have gone forward or backward.