Sex Therapist at the Academy Awards, Part 2: The Courage to be Seen

Sex Therapist at the Academy Awards, Part 2: The Courage to be Seen

On the occasion of The Sessions being up for an Academy Award this year (Helen Hunt, for best supporting actress), we’re discussing some of the film’s implications  for sex therapy.  This is part 2. Something quite ordinary The Sessions tells the story one man’s extraordinary misfortune — paralyzed by polio at age 6 — and of his equally extraordinary courage in living, loving, and finding a place in the world.  It also concerns an extraordinary kind of sex treatment — sex surrogacy — where the therapist actually gets naked and has sex with her client. I don’t do sex surrogacy.   Neither do any of my colleagues.   Few sex therapists these days refer patients for sex surrogacy.   And not many sex therapists see clients who are as profoundly disabled as Mark O’Brien, the hero of The Sessions.    So on all counts, it’s hardly a typical story. But in one respect, O’Brien’s quest for sexual healing is completely ordinary — and entirely typical of the individuals and couples I see daily in my office. I’m referring to his intense ambivalence about getting help. Ambivalence, of course, is characteristic of all human endeavor.   And that’s certainly true about seeking any kind of mental health care.   But it’s in the realm of getting help for sexual suffering that the natural and universal human tendency toward ambivalence reaches perhaps its absolute peak. One of the movie’s most dramatic scenes has O’Brien, flat on his back as always, being wheeled to his first appointment with a sex therapist.  It’s an appointment that he himself made.  But he is screaming to be allowed...
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...
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...
Before the last word is said about Fifty Shades

Before the last word is said about Fifty Shades

Here’s a question: Does anyone have any idea why Fifty Shades of Grey has sold so many millions of books? I’m asking because in all that I’ve read about this book, I haven’t seen one mention of what it’s really about.  And why it’s been such a runaway success. Is it because of the explicit sex scenes? (No, I don’t think so.) Is it because of the BDSM? (Not likely.) No, the reason Fifty Shades has captivated so many American women is this: It’s a book about impossible love – made possible by courage, persistence, and luck. Just like Twilight: A young woman falls in love with a vampire.  Impossible.  But they make it work. In Fifty Shades a young woman falls in love with a deeply damaged man who is a sexual dominant.   He needs a submissive woman, and he’s had many such women.   But he hasn’t been able to fall in love with any of them.  So he’s deeply lonely. He meets the heroine, who of all the women he’s met, does not have a submissive bone in her body.    So it’s impossible. She too has never been in love before. But by the end of Volume 1, she has against her will fallen deeply in love with this tormented man.   In the first book . . . At the very end . . .  in a moment of profound tenderness, she tells him she loves him.  His response is brief.  “Oh, no,” he says. She leaves his place immediately, goes home, falls on her bed and is wracked with sobs.  She is broken. Except...