Thursday, May 16, 2013
For the past five years until nine months ago, when my beautiful neighbors moved four hours away, this is what happened.
Every day on my way to my day job, I would walk past my neighbors’ house while the two children and one or both of their parents were having breakfast in their dining room. I’m not sure how it started, but it became a game: I would do something silly outside their window, like throw snow or my hat up in the air, dance, do whatever crossed my mind to make them laugh and smile and give me a little joy to start my day. Then, when I came home, I would see them, and knowing that life is short, I would not hesitate to play with them if it were summer time or give them a hug or chase them (kids love to be chased) or play tag or play games that Kai, the five-year-old, usually made up.
I have felt so grateful that their parents could share them and not be afraid that they could love another adult, one not related by blood. I think this culture has a lot to learn about dealing with insecurities and not feeling threatened or jealous in all of our loves and friendships.
Have I told you I don’t do anything typical? I don’t think of family, parenting, children or any way of my being in a typical way. Since the parents were so loving and open to me and not threatened that their children loved me, I took the time to be there and help if they asked. Even if they did not ask, if I saw the children in the backyard on the weekend, I would run over there and let the parents do something else while I played with them.
I love both of the children very much, and Ruby June, who is two and a half, and I have a very special connection. I swear I was waiting for her before she was born. I tell people that I think she and I knew each other in a past life. She would say “my Susan,” and I would reassure her that I will always be hers. Right before they moved, she would want me to do everything—change her diaper (if she had one on) or give her a bath at bedtime. She asked one Saturday to come to my house and eat lunch and take a nap. The mother told me no one could get Ruby to nap so easily—not Grandma, Dad or her. Ruby and I would go to the nearby park and take our time coming home, talking about all we were seeing as we walked home (or I carried her and whatever she chose to bring with us to the park).
I used to joke that I wanted to marry the family—the entire family—and I don’t mean that in any sexual way. Have I told you I don’t do anything in a typical way? I do it in the way that feels best and most authentic to me. Loving those children and that family feels really right to me.
There was a time in my life I thought I was not capable of love and that I would only feel hate. So it is actually very beautiful that I will love and risk losing and do it again and again in each moment. I would never undo or change what I had with those little ones.
I joked with one person at my day job (when she was having a hard day) that maybe if she played Ring Around the Rosy every day the way I did, she would have a better time at work.
I miss the daily presence of those two children very much.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
Book Review: Think Like a Stripper: Business Lessons to Up Your Confidence, Attract More Clients & Rule Your Market
To say the least, Erika Lyremark, author of Think Like a Stripper: Business Lessons to Up Your Confidence, Attract More Clients & Rule Your Market, is witty and funny and has a unique business brand. Regardless of what someone may think of the book title, the essence of the book is giving helpful, insightful business tips on selling, money, hustling, delegating, being productive and a whole lot more.
My favorite tips address some of the more important issues in business and in living life such as being our authentic selves, handling rejection and dealing with failure.
In full disclosure, I have hired Erika as a business coach and participated in two of her programs. So no doubt I am biased in appreciating her fun and direct style of coaching.
While I recognize that this book is about business techniques with stripper stories incorporated into the lessons (have I said that Erika’s branding is unique?), I cannot review this book without looking through the lens of my work as a sexuality educator and writer.
Erika does a good job in the introduction and throughout the book of explaining why she chose the title, what led her to do nine years of stripping, what were the valuable lessons she learned and what were some of the more difficult parts of having that job.
My sexuality education work gives me one of the most important lenses through which I read this book. Erika admits in the book that stripping is a job most people would never do. I too have had a job that most people would never do.
One of the things I have done for money is let future doctors, nurses and chiropractors practice breast and pelvic exams on my body, teaching them how to do the technique so that it will not be painful to future patients and also teaching them the importance of skills like communication, sensitivity, being nonjudgmental and showing respect.
Before and after my five years of experience working as what is called in some parts of the country a gynecological teaching associate, I have done sexuality education on a range of topics. I’ve educated people on unlearning homophobia, biphobia and sexphobia for five years. I’ve presented on the importance of self-pleasuring, healing the entire body and looking at pleasure, touch, intimacy and sexuality as being complex.
I have always asked questions as a part of my work in trying to delve into solving some of the complex sexuality problems that exist in the United States. In one workshop, I even included dying as well as sexuality when exploring the concept of consent in how we live all parts of our lives.
In particular, my experience as a gynecological teaching associate got me asking even deeper questions. What did it mean that I got paid money to let people touch my genitals? When did it feel most respectful, and when did it not feel respectful?
Soon I was asking questions such as: How was my letting future doctors and nurses practice pelvic exams on me similar to or different from sex work? And what was sex work anyway?
These questions led me to present at a conference for sex workers. I also presented at a conference held by the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance in Washington, D.C., an organization that supports a range of sexual freedom issues, including sex workers’ rights.
So, from all of these perspectives, the part of Erika Lyremark’s book that resonated the most with me was Stripper Tip #65: Don’t strip off the clock. She writes (p. 121):
But the one thing I didn’t like was the expectation that I would act like a stripper outside the club.
At work, indulging someone’s fantasy was my job. Period. Outside of work, I was college-bound, book-loving Erika. I was not a topless exhibition waiting to happen and I was not pleased when strange men at a party would ask me for a dance.
These are the topics I talk about the most in my sexuality education work: the importance of honesty, respect, consent and the fact that it does not matter as much what we do or say as how we do it or say it.
I’ve learned about what is important after years of searching for answers to our serious sexuality problems in the United States, which include incest; rape; HIV/STIs; unplanned pregnancies; relationship problems and problems with intimacy; touch deprivation; discomfort with the body, emotions and sexuality; the lack of pleasure in our society and difficulty in experiencing orgasm.
It does not matter to me if someone exchanges sex for money. What matters to me is that there is respect, consent and dignity in every situation. It does not matter to me if someone is a stripper, exotic dancer or burlesque performer, or takes their clothes off in public for an audience or for money. What matters to me is that there is respect, consent and dignity in every situation. It does not matter to me what someone wears or if someone is in touch with sensuality or eroticism or sexuality in how they express themselves in the world. What matters to me is that we find a way to treat each other with respect in all situations—at home, at work, out in the street, at social gatherings, in relationships and in dating.
It does not matter to me if I am talking about sex and sexuality publicly or in my writings or undergoing pelvic exams for money. What matters is that I am shown respect.
I am a sexuality educator. I know that sometimes we start at zero with learning these skills of communication and respect and how to manage intimacy and consent in all parts of our lives. I find myself talking to people at bus stops, at temporary jobs and at parties because I feel so passionate about these issues. So it does not matter to me if someone needs to learn these skills from scratch or whether we make mistakes when trying to have fun and find love, sex and intimacy in our lives. What does matter to me is that we have an intention to learn, grow and do our best. We need to show respect and have consent in all situations in and out of the stripper club.
Stripping may have been mostly a job for Erika Lyremark, as she makes clear over and over in the book: her purpose for doing it was to make money. However, as a sexuality educator trying to solve some of the most serious sexuality problems in the United States, I will go on record as saying that I support people doing what they choose for work and money as long as it is consensual. The problem is not sex work or stripping or an exchange of money for sex or for anything else, including business coaching. The problem is when people feel they can be disrespectful for any reason.
Think Like a Stripper is officially for sale! http://tinyurl.com/ccgornd
Sunday, April 21, 2013
I have not been hesitant to write and talk about sexuality topics such as self-pleasuring or the concept of healing the entire body, including the genitals. But I also believe that our pleasure has many sources, not just the genitals, and it is important to emphasize pleasure beyond the genitals.
I respect and honor many simple pleasures, and I love to connect with professionals who work on the multifaceted aspects of healing, not necessarily having anything to do with sexuality. It is incredibly important to have knowledge and awareness of our minds, bodies and emotions. Any time we do something that allows us to be present in the moment and in our bodies and minds, we support sexual healing, even if what we do is not directly related to sexuality. Some of the healing options I personally use and respect are yoga, meditation, exercise, bodywork, massage and relaxation. And I believe in embracing the simple pleasures in life such as movement, the warmth from the sun or a sauna, sensations of all kinds and the pleasure of food.
There is a saying that we teach what we need to learn. I have been healing from and learning about a whole range of experiences over the course of my adult life. I’ve been a recovering alcoholic since 1984 and hope to continue that journey one day at a time for the rest of my life. My life journey has been about healing all aspects of myself, including my mind, emotions, body, sexuality and relationship with food.
I am as careful and conscious about sharing food with someone as I am about any other intimacy I may share with someone. I value all the forms of intimacy I encounter each and every day; I don’t take them for granted even if they are small or brief. I am conscious of the interactions and sharing of intimacy I have with people whether friends or family, in the workplace or at one-time meetings with people on the bus, in the street or at a conference or event. Some of these seemingly less significant forms of intimacy may be conversation, eye contact, silence, humor and sharing food. However, I consider all of these just as important and intimate as physical or sexual intimacy and possibly even if with a stranger or very brief.
To really embrace our full sexuality, then, means doing more than being sexual or engaging in self-pleasure. It means being present in our minds, bodies and hearts. It means experiencing full embodiment. It means healthy self-esteem and a sense of being worthy. All of these important elements can be found in all the other forms of intimacy I have mentioned as well as in sharing our experiences with food.
Embracing sexuality means self-love and trust and letting go in order to feel pleasure in every moment. It means nourishing ourselves in every way, with sleep, enjoyment, relaxation, hopeful thoughts and food. Healing our connection with food and bringing awareness about food into our lives are just as important as opening up to our self-love in other ways, including through sexual pleasure with another person or ourselves.
Saturday, April 13, 2013
I think of the decision about what we charge financially for a service as one of our boundary choices. Respecting someone’s financial boundary is one of the first ways that as their customer I can show someone I will respect every aspect of them. I cannot think of a time when I have asked someone to lower their fee for a service. And I never feel that just because I paid someone money, they owe me something or I can treat them poorly.
Of course, there is some exchange taking place, or I would not have paid them, and I do want to be treated well as a customer. If I am not treated well, I will probably choose to not be a customer of that person.
But even if I am paying someone for a service, I want them to want to provide the service and not just because they are receiving money.
On occasion I have done something just for the money, like some day jobs, and it never feels good. I don’t want to be on either side of that kind of an exchange.
What I say a lot is that life is short. So having conscious intent and consent in every situation is a priority to me. I want to consciously choose everything I do in my life and know that people interacting with me are consciously choosing and wanting to interact with me as well. It does not feel good to interact if either person in the exchange does not truly want to participate. I believe this is true even if money is exchanged.
Friday, March 29, 2013
Well, of course, the answer is we don’t have to do anything. But it is important to me, as a sexuality educator, to write about children for this reason: if I don’t care about children, you should not trust me as a sexuality educator.
I have many children in my life. I have a large family of origin and more nieces and nephews than I can count. I also have a number of friends with children.
I love the children in my life and give to them as much as I would love and give to my own children. I have never felt any need or desire to be a parent because I believe that all the children in this world are my children and I have responsibility for all of them.
As a sexuality educator, I have been sensitive to the taboo of talking about sexuality and children. Childhood sexuality is not the main focus of my work. However, I often call my work “sexual healing education” rather than “sexuality education” because I do my work from the vantage point of knowing many of us need to heal our sexualities because of our childhood experiences. I also want to prevent more harm being done to anyone in the world, particularly children.
Preventing harm also includes letting children discover their bodies naturally. When we teach children about limits or boundaries, we should do it in a way that when they become adults, they don’t have difficulty claiming their natural-born right to pleasure. It means understanding that not all touch is sexual, so we can all get the nurturing touch we need. And children in particular can get the love, touch and attention they deserve.
If I didn’t keep the best interest of children in mind, you should not trust me as a sexuality educator. Teaching adults about sexuality can be interesting, but that is not where my primary interest lies. It is in understanding how to have the healthiest relationships and friendships in our lives and how to develop a sexuality that is not stifled or repressed by cultures uncomfortable with touch, sexuality, feelings and all else that matters.
I believe in paying attention to what happens to children as well as adults. That is why I do what I do, and you should only trust me as a sexuality educator if you know that I will care for the children.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
I stepped on a sharp rake, and they came to see how I was doing. But when I fell on my clitoris as a very young child, no one came to comfort me.
I grew up on a farm. It is a wonder that as a child I didn’t have even more falls and injuries than I experienced. But the injury I remember today is falling on my clitoris.
Several of my twelve siblings and I were playing on a road grader. There is nothing cushiony or soft about a road grader. There is no place to sit. There are sharp points all over it, in addition to the sharp blades used to make the rough gravel roads smooth.
I was walking from the back of the grader to the front when I fell on my clitoris. It felt like falling on a knife. I got off and ran to the house screaming. My next memory is lying on a reclining chair. I heard whispering. One of my sisters who had been out on the road grader and probably saw what happened was whispering to another sibling.
I stopped crying long enough to let it sink in that it probably had something to do with what part of my body was injured. But no one came to see if I was okay.
Is it any wonder that as an adult, I have been publicly talking and writing about healing the entire body, including the genital area?
Sunday, March 10, 2013
If I were to treat money the way I treat sex, here is what I would do.
I would hold on to it a little while and let it build, and I’d savor the moment with it. I would think of the freedom and choices it could give me if I got intentional and centered and intuitive with it.
I would hold it for awhile but not hold it too tight. I would be conscious of the ebb and flow, the expansion and contraction, the in and out of all things—including money.
I would be giving it and receiving it and be conscious of the relationships I am building with it.
I would honor the relationships that grow with the sharing of it and not have any more rules for how and when I share it than I do for how to have healthy, abundant friendships and relationships in my life.
If I were to treat money the way I treat sex, I would honor it and keep it safe and respect it. I would honor the power of it and the generosity of it. I would know that I could share it and give it away and there will always be more. I would honor my yes and no and maybe with it.
I would be as intentional with it as I am with all other parts of my life.
It would be a part of me but not the most important part of me. I would use it as a tool to create a life on this earth that fits with my values and helps me be creative and do what I am meant to do on this earth.
I would enjoy it by buying things and experiences that are pleasurable.
I would let go of how it comes to me so that I can be creative in all parts of my life, because nothing is more important to me than living a creative life.
And I would fight for everyone to have abundance, just as I fight for everyone to get to have empowered sexuality in their life.