Sex therapist at the Academy Awards:  Helen Hunt in The Sessions

Sex therapist at the Academy Awards: Helen Hunt in The Sessions

    A Strange Thing, Mystifying How many of you saw The Sessions?  Good – I see some hands. Did it lead to much discussion?  Well it didn’t in my house either. And in the popular press the same thing.  A few early reviews saying it was very moving, and well done.  Then nothing more. A movie about a severely disabled man — the poet Mark O’Brien — who enlists a sex surrogate to help him experience physical passion, and about the emotional and religious complexities (he’s Catholic) that ensue.    It would seem this film would prompt endless discussion, with so many possible points of entry. But it didn’t.  Everyone agreed that the film was “very moving,” but no one seemed to have much to say about it. Maybe it’s that The Sessions involved things we’ve learned to keep quiet about —  such as that the world might be a better place if we could all give and receive sexual pleasure a whole lot more freely.   Such an idea of course generally meets with polite silence.   Even in our sex-saturated times, sexual surrogacy as a profession still hardly dares speak its name. Or maybe that’s not it.   Perhaps it’s something else.  Maybe the movie prompts feelings that are simply too difficult to express with words.  That wouldn’t be surprising — given how sexuality reaches into the most primitive parts of our minds.  Maybe we’d all really love to talk about this movie, but we lack the necessary vocabulary. Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the artist who shows his work at a gallery opening.   Someone comes up to him and...
French women say, “Enough with modernism!  Give us long baths with expensive body wash!”

French women say, “Enough with modernism! Give us long baths with expensive body wash!”

The New York Times reports today that Cinquante Nuances de Grey (that’s French for you-know-what) is now selling briskly in France — despite a hearty and unanimous condemnation by the French literary elite. According to the article “A Defiant Oui for ‘Fifty Shades” by Times columnist Elaine Sciolino, French critical opinion on the book has pointed out that its BDSM is not philosophical enough.  And that its characters are too obsessed with hygiene (translation:  too many scenes involving long baths). I was most struck by a quotation from the French publisher Franck Spengler — about whom the article states,  “eroticism is for him a ‘space of freedom and rebellion, liberated from moral criteria.’ ”   Sciolino notes that Spengler dislikes the book’s ” ‘American-style Puritanism’ in which sex acts can only be justified by love.” The justification of sex by love, though scorned by the French critical establishment, is apparently just the thing French women want these days. Who can blame them?   According to the New York Times article, in the traditional French erotic novel, “most of the time it’s sex without love and women are submissive to men.”   When the book first came out in English, American critics compared it unfavorably to established works of literary BDSM such as Pauline Reage’s Story of  O (in which, for those of you who haven’t read it recently, the heroine is branded with a hot iron, has her labia pierced, and finally becomes a faceless slave)   And the Marquis de Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom (in which young women are ritualistically murdered and then ground to bits). Apparently Cinquante Nuances was...
Slow Sex in Manhattan

Slow Sex in Manhattan

“I want to know what became of the changes We waited for love to bring. Were they only the fitful dreams Of some greater awakening? –Jackson Browne, The Pretender   The cultivation of sexual mindfulness One rainy Friday afternoon in mid-summer, I traveled uptown to speak with Nicole Daedone, a former professor of semantics who now devotes herself full-time to teaching what must be one of the world’s most curious mindfulness techniques. At Daedone’s OneTaste Urban Retreat Center in San Francisco, and at workshops she conducts around the world, practitioners gather together to do “Orgasmic Meditation” (“OM for short”) —  a simple technique, really, but an odd one. OM is done in pairs.   In OM, a woman undresses from the waist down, lies on her back and receives direct clitoral stimulation from her (male or female) partner for fifteen minutes.   Not to achieve sexual climax necessarily, though that might occasionally happen.   Rather, just to practice sexual mindfulness for its own sake. That’s it.   That’s OM. So why is this strange practice  suddenly so popular?   And why is Daedone’s book, Slow Sex:  The Art and Craft of the Female Orgasm currently getting 4 and 1/2 stars on Amazon?   Sex in the 21st Century Daedone’s work arrives at a curious point  in modern sexual history. With erotica flooding the internet, sex has become pretty much just another consumer commodity.   Most Americans today are either overworked (not particularly conducive to good sex, which requires leisure) — or else unemployed (DEFINITELY not conducive to good sex).   Many young people’s experience of sex seems to involve drunken...
Eros, Spirituality, and Crying During Sex

Eros, Spirituality, and Crying During Sex

Most recent in a series of articles  and interviews based on the new book Slow Sex by Nicole Daedone.   This is article 4 in the series.   My fellow sex journalist Tracy Clark-Flory was a guest at one of  Nicole Daedone’s weekend retreats  for women at Le Meridien in San Francisco last year.   One of the events was a live demonstration of Daedone’s technique of what she calls Orgasmic Meditation (OM) with a female volunteer.  (See references 1-3 below) During this public OM session, the volunteer apparently experienced one or more sexual climaxes, accompanied by loud vocalization. Writing later about the experience for Salon, Clark-Flory described the experience as having been “both arousing and deeply bizarre.” She also noted that during the demonstration two women in the audience were silently crying. I’m not surprised that Clark-Flory found the experience arousing, or bizarre.  But I’m disappointed she didn’t inquire more why those two audience members were crying. I would love to have asked them.   My guess? These women were crying because the scene, strange as it was, touched something profound inside them.   Not unlike what might cause one to cry during especially satisfying sex. Say what one will about Daedone, one must credit her with having followed an intuition that there is something profound about deeply felt sexual desire. Peak desire involves a sense of specialness, of connectedness, even of sacredness, that shares something with peak religious experience.  It’s not hard to imagine eros and spirituality sharing some special part of the human self. In her book Slow Sex, Daedone writes about her clients coming in saying that they’re...
Where the Magic Gets Made

Where the Magic Gets Made

    After many years of trying, an experienced rock and roll groupie finally managed to sleep with Mick Jagger. When her friends asked her how the legendary rocker had been as a sexual partner, she replied,  “He was good — but he was no Mick Jagger.” That sweet coo I couldn’t help recalling this story as I read The New York Times recent profile of Kuk Harrell, Justin Bieber’s vocal producer — who also produces sound tracks for Jennifer Lopez and Rihanna. I’d thought that vocal production meant fancy echo chambers and audio air-brushing.    But no, that’s not it. As I learned in the article, being a vocal producer involves making singers “sound as engaged and alive as possible  . . . making them sound even more like themselves.” In order to do this, it’s the vocal producer’s job “to preserve and highlight what’s distinctive about each voice:   Ms. Lopez’s blend of husk and flirt, Rihanna’s petulant purr, Mr Bieber’s sweet coo.” Ah, that sweat coo.   The one that makes the magic happen.   That sweet coo that  can launch a very young woman’s dreams.  That one.   The sound studio of the erotic Vocal producer.   Magic maker.   Hmm.   You know, that pretty much nails Eros. His eyes.  Her breasts.   The haunting details that launch dreams.  It’s all magic, isn’t it? Husk and flirt, petulant purr, or sweet coo.   Just your inner vocal producer, sprinkling magic dust. Freud marveled at it.   He was amazed at how Eros established erogenous zones in parts of the body which ordinarily serve much...