Cuddle Party

When I started to advertise Glasgow’s first Cuddle Party at the start of this month on social media, what amazed me was the response. I naively thought that the event would be uncontroversial.

 

But uniquely, people with whom I had no connection shared the posts, even though they often did so with comments like “being hugged by strangers is my worst nightmare”. Not one but two Glasgow Herald journalists got in touch with us. One of their leading journalists, Rohese Devereux Taylor, wrote a half page article on the event, which was beautifully objective and fair. (there’s a link to the article on the Home Page of my website www.loveandsexcoaching.co.uk ). Radio Scotland interviewed us, and again, were fair and enquiring, rather than the sensationalism we were apprehensive about (and familiar with). 

 

The readers of the Evening Times were cordially flabbergasted at our effrontery. Reader Betty McCormick opined “Omg, what is coming to Glasgow next?”. Reader Fergus Thomson was of the view “ the lunatics have taken over the asylum”.

 

I had no idea cuddling was so radical.

 

We eventually sold 25 tickets, and there were 30 of us gathered in The Clubroom, a beautiful dance space, within the CCA on a wet Sunday afternoon on 2 February. My dear friend Stella Sonnenbaum, who has been running these events in London monthly for the past five years, facilitated the event, and I assisted her.

 

We started with a sharing circle, where we all took turns to say our names, what had brought us here, what we hoped to get out of it, and any anxieties which we had. Other than me, none of the participants had been to a Cuddle Party before.

 

After that, we went over the rules of Cuddle Party. There are 12 of them, but the essentials are that the participants stay clothed, there is no sexual touch and we only accept touch if we actively want it.

 

We then got into groups of three, where we took turns to  practice asking for how we would like to touch, or to be touched. In the first round, our partners would give us a No, in the second round they would give us a Yes (nothing happening in either case), and in the third round, when we asked, our partners would give an authentic Yes or No. It is a great opportunity to practice saying Yes and No, to experience hearing Yes and No, and not to be crushed by feelings of compliance, resentment, embarrassment or shame. As the great Betty Martin says, if you can’t say No, your Yes isn’t worth anything.

 

After that was the free section, where each of us could ask for the touch we wanted. When I looked around after my experience with my group of three, I was surprised to find that everyone else appeared to have scarpered to the refreshment area next door. After a little while however, people started coming back in, interacting with each other. What was so beautiful to see was how tenderly feeling it all was. Some people were spooning in groups of three or four, some people were hugging, and there was a tangible feeling of gentleness, connection and warmth in the room.

 

The last part of the workshop was the Cuddle pile. This is what is depicted in the photograph. One person lies down in the middle of the room, then the rest of us lie in connection with that person, and each other, and we’re then still for 5 minutes or so. It’s wonderful!

 

And that was it. We got lovely feedback. One participant later said:

 

“I had a wonderful time at the cuddle party at CCA, thanks to you and Stella, it was such a great experience, felt really safe and well facilitated and actually such a space for exploration and growth in a lot of ways I think”. 

 

Due to the response, Stella recommended that I arrange another Cuddle Workshop as soon as possible, and I have: it’s on Sunday 15 March 2-5pm at In The Moment Yoga Studio, 72 Berkeley Street, Glasgow G3 7SD. I’ll facilitate it. The cost is the same as before, £14, and payment is in advance. Places are limited, so if you’re interested, please contact me. You can email me through the website, or at johnwebberfraser@gmail.com, or text me on 07545707751.

 

Be part of something new. And radical, apparently.

 

Cuddle Party

The Herald article by Rohese Devereux Taylor, 1st February 2020

Physical contact is good for us. Studies have shown it can ease pain, lift depression and strengthen our immune systems.

Conversely, a lack of touch can lead to developmental issues in infants and elevated levels of stress hormones.

This, at least in part, is what motivated sex therapists John Fraser and Stella Sonnenbaum to bring the first ever so-called “cuddle party” to Glasgow.

The unconventional event is an invitation for men and women to explore their boundaries, build confidence and experience intimacy with no expectations – perhaps a hard-sell in a part of Scotland not known for its overly tactile culture.

Therapist Mr Fraser, who specialises in working with individuals and couples on issues around sexuality, relating and intimacy, said: “I think it’s needed [in Glasgow] because I don’t think people know that they are touch-deprived. We just live in a very touch-deprived society. It’s just awful.

“You see people after they’ve had lots of touch and they’re really peaceful, content and happy and they lose the jaggedness that lots of people have.”

As a lawyer for more than 30 years before retiring last May to focus on his therapy work, Mr Fraser dealt with countless acrimonious divorces and saw first-hand the effects of touch and affection deprivation.

He said: “One of the things cuddle parties try and do is break the unfortunate connection that people have got with affectionate touch and sexual touch, with the consequence that people are simultaneously over-sexualised and touch deprived.”

As adults, who do we get touch from, he asks, especially without demand. One cuddle party-goer who was only ever touched when her husband wanted physical intimacy and received no affectionate contact was “essentially starved of touch”.

Mr Fraser said: “Coming to the cuddle parties enabled her to experience affectionate, consensual touch with no sexual agenda.”

A hug that lasts for 20 seconds releases the hormone oxytocin, known as the cuddle or love hormone, which can lower blood pressure, slow heart rates and improve mood.

Researchers have found that the same areas of the brain that respond positively to gentle touch also help to develop a sense of body ownership, or what Mr Fraser calls “embodiment”, the sense of inhabiting one’s own body and setting healthy boundaries.

The first cuddle party was held in 2004 in the United States and soon migrated to British shores where the y started with regular events in London, facilitated by Ms Sonnenbaum.

She said: “A cuddle party is a way to ask for and receive loving touch in a safe non-sexual setting. This helps with finding out about our own touch preferences and communicating about them effectively without fear of being judged or rejected.

“We practise saying both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ confidently to each other. Strong personal boundaries and the ability to say ‘no’ are the prerequisite for letting people come close to us – or else this wouldn’t feel safe.”

She added: “With the rise of one-person households in big cities people don’t get a lot of touch which is non-sexual and my suspicion is that people have casual sex just to satisfy their skin hunger.”

The party, held at the Centre for Contemporary Arts tomorrow, begins with participants sharing their expectations and concerns. Ms Sonnenbaum then lays down the rules: touch is always consensual and non sexual; people remain fully clothed; the group breaks up into smaller groups to practice their asking and their yeses and nos.

Mr Fraser said: “People have said things like, ‘this is my worst nightmare’. But it’s only touch that you wish to receive – if you don’t want to get hugged by somebody, you don’t get hugged by them.

“This is the opposite of being indiscriminately touched by other people. It’s reprogramming people and it’s empowering people.”

Consent is vital and never more so than in the post #MeToo era when even consensual physical intimacy can be shadowed by fears of accusation and abuse.

Mr Fraser said: “The traditional idea of consent is a bit like an army besieging a castle and the people inside surrender and open the doors and then the army can come in and do whatever they like. You agree to something and then you’ve got to just accept whatever follows. Our idea of consent is entirely different – it’s based on enthusiastic consent in the moment.”

The importance of being able to say no to touch of any kind can’t be underestimated, said Mr Fraser. He added: “If a person can’t say no then they and the person in contact with them are both fundamentally unsafe. You have to have clarity because it’s only if you have a no that your yes means something.”

EveryBody Loves Cuddle Party Workshop, CCA Glasgow, Sunday February 2, 2pm-5pm.

Twice a week, on my way to the zen dojo, I walk through Glasgow University and past a plaque commemorating Adam Smith, the father of capitalism, who was a professor there.

 

Adam Smith had a theory about the origin of money. He said that prior to money, people would rely on barter. Say that I’m a fisherman and you’re a farmer. I’d give you, say, two fish for a lump of bacon. That was the exchange rate. There’d be some other deal with the baker and the candlestick maker. But the problem with the barter system was that it was cumbersome. So, some bright spark invented money.

 

The thing is, the theory is entirely untrue. When anthropologists looked at ‘primitive’ societies who didn’t have money, they worked on mutuality, not barter. If I caught a lot of fish, I’d give you some. When you slaughtered some pigs, you’d give me some bacon. It wouldn’t work of course if one of us was a freeloader, but that didn’t seem to happen.

 

I thought of this in connection with our language of sexuality, which seems to operate as a kind of barter. I ‘give’ you x, then you ‘give’ me y. If I receive x from you, I feel the obligation to give you something back. It’s as if our sexuality to reduced to Christmas time at the Miser Twins’ house, where each twin gives the other £5. Miserable.

 

The language of phoney giving is ubiquitous. The most rapacious and greedy people talk about ‘giving something back’, or about their ‘legacy’, as if they’re the Hapsburg Empire or something.

 

People imagine zen is like that too. You put in the hard yards of meditation, and in due course you’re rewarded with enlightenment.

 

Miserable. Miserable. If we monetise our souls, we will be folded up into nothingness.

 

Here is a modest suggestion: I believe that what makes us truly happy is the opportunity to be the best version of ourselves. So, when we have the chance to give, and we can give wholeheartedly, we should be grateful for that because, for that moment at least, we are the person we want to be.

 

And applying that to sex, instead of being resentful and dissatisfied and constantly calculating what we’re owed, we can be grateful for the chance, at this moment, not to be a crimped, calculating person, but a great person, and so, we can give, not in the expectation of reward, but in gratitude at being let out of the cage of calculation. And we can freely receive knowing that whatever connection we create is enough of a gift in any given moment, our body our attention, our willingness to break free ….(please continue/adapt. I felt it needed a balance)

 

I say something like this to my zen group: that the purpose of practice isn’t to feel enlightened, but to feel grateful. Mind you, it’s always been a small group.

 

Shame is endemic in our society, yet nobody talks about it. Which is strange, because it is the silent killer of sexual love. The heart isn’t cut to pieces in battle. It unknowingly dies, like a sleeping person in a room gradually filling with carbon monoxide.

 

Shame reveals – and hence conceals – itself differently. For each person, and for each gender. 

 

With due regard for generalisation, for heterosexual men, it works something like

 

  • you won’t be able to get an erection. You’re useless
  • Ok, you’ve got an erection, but you’ll lose it. You’re useless.
  • Ok, you won’t lose it but you’ll come too quickly. You’re useless
  • Anyway, she’s not had an orgasm, or at least not the one you were looking for, so you’re completely useless, saddo

 

And because it’s shameful, it can’t be talked about. So if you’re a woman, trying to make sense of this behaviour, you might think your partner is selfish, inconsiderate, disconnected and performance focused.

 

Shame explains something weird about male behaviour: it’s really important that you like the sex, but if you helpfully propose something to make it better, generally, he doesn’t want to know. Why? Shame again. Change is a confession of past uselessness, which is hard to bear.

 

As a woman, how does shame affect you? Well, you might think that you’re to blame if there’s any erection issues, because you’re not sufficiently attractive, or arousing, or sexy, hence there’s something wrong with you, or you didn’t have an orgasm, or at least, not the right kind of orgasm, which means there’s something wrong with you, and so on. Shame again, but slightly different in its location.

 

A person, finding the shame hard to bear, might attempt to displace it onto their partner, through blame. Silence, shame, blame. They don’t come bearing weapons, but they don’t have to.

 

Between the sexes, shame is intractable if we don’t understand that both genders have it, but in slightly different positions, meaning that the shame of each gender is invisible to the other, unless we communicate.

 

Shame is kept in place by the false notion that sex is about performance rather than about connection, but it’s difficult to be inoculated against it whilst we have such an impoverished idea of what heterosexual sex is, namely that it’s about intercourse leading to orgasm.

 

So, a first step is to broaden our idea. In my recent blog ‘ Sexual Empathy’, I gave an example of another form of sexual encounter which wasn’t orgasmic, but was connecting and heartfully intimate, not just sensation based, but deeply feeling. And part of my work is to elaborate and expand upon The Wheel Of Sexuality taught to me by my tantra teacher Hilly Spenceley in such a way that it cumulatively engages all our erotic and connecting potential. My intention is to initially develop this with individuals and couples and then, perhaps later this year, start to offer it in a workshop format. Watch this space.

 

The First Cuddle Party was held 16 years ago in America, and since then, it has spread around the World. And now, at last, it is about to come to Glasgow, on Sunday 2 February, 2-5pm at the CCA, facilitated by Stella Anna Sonnenbaum, who has been running these events monthly in London for the past five years.

 

Cuddle Party is a non sexual, clothed event, part workshop, part social gathering, that offers participants an opportunity to experience personal exploration and connection with like minded individuals, in a relaxed, friendly environment that teaches and models personal boundaries, and where a safe and warm atmosphere is maintained at all times. At Cuddle Parties, everyone is encouraged to engage in communication and touch, in a non threatening, share affirming format.

 

The event begins with a Sharing Circle, where everyone is introduced to the “rules of cuddling”. For example, that you don’t have to cuddle anyone, and you must ask permission and receive a verbal “Yes” before you touch anyone.

 

There are then some exercises to teach communication and boundary skills in a fun and light hearted way, and then a free form part, where you can relax, chat, share consensual touch, cuddle, snack, or just hang out.

 

It is a lovely way to receive lots of consensual touch, to learn how to ask for what you want, and to practice saying Yes and No, and having this respected.

 

There is lots more information on Stella’s website, including interviews, newspaper articles and suchlike

 https://stellawithlove.com/cuddle-party/ https://stellawithlove.com/cuddle-party

which has articles on the slider at the bottom.

 

If you have any queries, please just contact me, either by email (johnwebberfraser@gmail.com) or text 07545707751

 

Tickets are on sale through the CCA http://www.cca-glasgow.com/programme/everybody-loves-cuddle-party-workshop

 

Early booking is recommended, as we have already had a lot of interest.

According to the NHS website, 1 in 6 women are affected by chronic pelvic pain. That’s an extraordinary statistic. A lot of the time, doctors can identify the cause. But that still leaves many many cases of unexplained, long term pain. And, you start to realise that quite a lot of ‘diagnoses’ are nothing of the sort: they’re just a description of how the patient is suffering, with no properly identified cause, and no effective treatment.

 

Why isn’t this a national scandal?

 

What, if anything, can people like me do to help?

 

From my perspective, pain is a form of communication: it has an intelligence. This is obviously true when there is a clear cause of the pain. If I have a pain in my foot, I’m alerted to the possibility of something bad, a shard of glass being there, for example, and so can take steps to remove it. I imagine that’s uncontroversial.

 

But also, if the body is experiencing something it doesn’t like, it will communicate that in a number of ways. If, for instance, someone is acting sexually towards me, and I don’t like it, I will experience a number of emotions: fear, anger, disgust. But I may not be able to express these emotions, or expressing them may be ineffective, because of the situation. Perhaps the abuser is more powerful than me. So what does the body do then? Well, it might simply become numb. Or it might develop a pain response. So if, for instance, I don’t want to have sex with my partner but can’t say so, and feel I ought to want it, it might be the intelligent, albeit unconscious, choice to manifest pain. Then what I don’t want might not happen, and I won’t get blamed, or feel guilty.

 

Whether or not you think it absurd, it has been my actual experience in Bodywork that unexplained body pain is often layered. There is the pain, as it were, on the surface. But underneath that is very often something else, almost always a disagreeable emotion. And associated with that emotion is a story. And once all of that comes out, the pain sometimes goes away. But even if it doesn’t, the relationship with the pain changes. The sufferer sees that it’s like an intelligence, rather than a brute punisher. And that helps to restore autonomy and enquiry.

 

‘Anhedonia’ is the inability to feel pleasure. And I think that many of us have it, in the sense both that we lack a sense of ease and joy in our simple embodiment, and also that our ability to feel sexual joy – the sensation, the expression, the connection with another – is seriously compromised.

 

And, it is particularly present with people who feel chronic pain. The dial is set between neutral and painful. So, with Bodywork, if we can also find pleasure in the body, that again changes our sense of ourselves. We’re not a malfunctioning machine, but a human being, capable of feeling a whole range of things, good and bad. That restores our soul to us.

 

And, it seems this can be addressed in a receptive way – the client lying on the massage table and receiving agreed touch – but also, in a relational way. In my work, I find it helpful to designate three ways in which I work with the client. Two of these ways are familiar; Talking and Bodywork, but the third area I think is very important, particularly with clients who have suffered trauma or have difficulties engaging  with another. I call it the Experimental. Essentially, this is a mode where the client and I co-create relational exercises which emphasise connection, agency and self empowerment. I’ll write about this tripartite structure separately, but for present purposes, the Experimental mode puts the client in a more active – and activated – position.

 

So, we breathe and move vitality and choice back into the body, and with that, the possibility of pleasure experienced as dynamic and chosen, rather than the more simple receptivity of touch on the massage table. And again, that restores our soul to us. Why? Because we aren’t experiencing pleasure as something outside which is given to us, but something arising within us, in all its inarticulate intelligence.

 

Physical and emotional pleasure is a fundamental aspect of our dignity and joy as human beings. We all deserve – at least sometimes – to feel happy and brave and open and delighted. Although I’m a Sex Therapist, my work isn’t really about sex as such. It’s about attending to the obstacles we experience to happiness, joy and fulfilment. Chronic, unexplained pain is one of these obstacles. Let me see if I can help you.

 

One of the more difficult things in our intimate lives is to change our lover’s behaviour. If we say something negative (“ I don’t like it when you do x”), the response is often negative. If we say something positive (“ I’d like it if you did x”), then often the response is negative too.

 

What’s going on?

 

Part of it is the insidious influence of shame. We’re expected to know what to do and how to be, so any criticism undermines that, which in turn produces a defensive, unhelpful response.

 

So what can be done?

 

Well, in the spirit of giving, I’d like to give you an exercise to try. I’ll describe the exercise first, then the thinking behind it.

 

The Exercise

 

Find a time where you don’t have time constraints, you won’t be interrupted and you’re both fresh and relaxed. Pick some nice relaxing music you both like. Warm up the room. Warm up some coconut oil and some castor oil.

 

Start by sitting opposite one another, eye gazing. When you feel that you have established a steady, tranquil, loving connection, ask your partner to lie down on their belly. Have various pillows and cushions to hand to make them comfortable.

 

Start with your hand on the back of your partner’s heart, then start massaging their shoulders, back, bottom and upper thighs with the coconut oil. Put your heart in your hands and touch intuitively. Spend quite a long time doing this. Gradually focus more on the bottom, and then on the area around the anus. Use castor oil for that area.Go very slowly and gently.

 

Adjust your partner’s position so that they are lying more on their side, and one of their knees is up. In particular, adjust your partner’s head so you can make comfortable eye contact with each other. Have one of your arms on the side of your partner’s body in such a position that they can comfortably place their hand on your arm. Ask your partner to have particular awareness of their middle finger, as that is how you will be communicating as the exercise develops. Explain that you will try to touch them in as close a way as you can to how their finger is touching you, and have a signal for pause ( one tap, say) and stop (say, two taps). 

 

With your own middle finger ( wearing a glove) touch the opening of the anus. From this point, pay equal attention to

  • the quality of the eye connection between you and your partner
  • What you are feeling with your finger, with regard to receptivity and resistance
  • What you are feeling on your arm from your partner’s middle finger

 

Don’t do anything unless all three are in alignment. Go extremely slowly. IF you feel invited in, enter very slowly and gradually, always responding to what you feel from moment to moment. 

 

When you finish the exercise, cover over your partner and lie in contact next to them, gradually separating. 

 

( I’m deliberately not giving specific strokes, as people almost invariably treat these as prescriptive, rather than as examples)

 

The Purpose

 

It doesn’t have to be the anus. I just chose that because it’s universal.

 

The point of the exercise is primarily to develop empathetic connectivity, the sense that you are empowered and are choosing what touch you receive, rather than being done to. And that you matter. The eye contact is crucial, because it means YOU are being touched, not just ‘the body’. It should feel very tender and feeling, quite tearful possibly.

 

If your partner can experience this, then that can become part of their repertoire. And then, sexuality becomes a matter of connectivity, rather than performance. 

 

In other words, you can change your partner best, not by giving them instructions, but by broadening and deepening their sense of possibilities.

 

If you remember the principles, you’re absolutely free to vary the specifics as much as you like.

 

Try it.

 

It’s one of the truisms of sexuality that women’s sexuality is elusive, and men’s is obvious. It’s obvious, because -presumably – an erection is conspicuously obvious. It’s obvious, because the point of an erection – surely –  is to ejaculate. So it’s ‘blindingly obvious’ that men’s sexuality is about ejaculation. And so from there, we imagine the penis to be in a somewhat detached relationship from the rest of the body, stuck on at the pubic bone like volatile plasticine, with the scrotum underneath, and made up of two parts:the glands or the head, where the action is, and the visible rest of it, which doesn’t seem to do or feel much.

 

Almost all of this isn’t true. Did you know, for instance, that one third of the penis isn’t visible? it isn’t hidden away in some mysterious place, it’s plainly there, but nobody talks about it. Specifically, it runs down the centre of the scrotum underneath the skin and attaches to the pelvic floor, and it’s very sensitive. But, it seems, nobody talks about it  because of the assumptions I’ve just detailed. Prior to tumescence, you can’t really feel it, and after tumescence, well, the circus has headed north.

 

Why does this matter?

 

If our focus is on (mistaken) anatomy rather than what we feel, we are much more inclined to dichotomise men and women’s experience. Or we are likely to seize upon mistaken analogies, thinking, for example, of the clitoris as being like the penis, rather than thinking of both as each being part of a much larger whole, which enables us to understand both sets of genital systems as being remarkably similar. Not in terms of appearance obviously, which is trivial, but in terms of what they can experience, because the nerve connections – what makes us feel what we feel – are essentially the same.

 

We are also in our assumptions very likely to think of male sexuality in binary terms: there’s either an exuberant tumescence or there isn’t, whereas if we expand the area of pleasure then we also – crucially – expand the palette of pleasure, which in turn integrates our sexuality both with our feelings, and also with the rest of our lives. The body is full of feeling: it’s not like a machine which is either turned on or off, there is a whole spectrum of feeling sensation. If men can be engaged with prostate pleasure, that obviously helps, because they can experience something happening to them internally, but without an expansion of pleasure into the whole area between the glands and the prostate, the man is like an anaesthetised person, who feels sensation in his head and his feet, but everywhere in between is numb.

 

 I’ll write more about this, but would strongly recommend a brilliant book by R. Louis Schultz “Out In The Open – The Complete Male Pelvis”

 

(This is an article I wrote for my tanta teacher, Hilly Spenceley Of Shakti Tantra. She pioneered Women only tantra, branching out into mixed work and, more recently, work with Couples. She is the most influential of all my teachers. Although I tend not to use the word Tantra to describe my own work, partly because the term has been so misused, I really believe it to be a great path of liberation from the fragmentation that is characteristic of modern life. You can find out more about her work at www.shaktitantra.co.uk)

Frequently with couples, the sex between them has stopped, or has become radically unsatisfactory, and neither partner really knows why. The problem is twofold. Firstly, the couple tend to have a clear idea of what sex should be like. You could call it The Hollywood Model. In this model of sex, each is urgently passionate for the other, so much so that they tear each other’s clothes off, with scant regard for fabric longevity, have some very perfunctory foreplay, then get down to business, and in no time at all simultaneously and noisily orgasm. Whilst having sex, they are very engaged with each other.

That’s the first problem: there’s an ideal of what sex should be like, and you’re naturally disappointed and frustrated if it isn’t like that for you. The second is the focus on orgasm. Couples tend to speak about this in terms of what “works”. If it promotes orgasm, it’s good, if it doesn’t, not so much. But over time, the sex gradually narrows, like a play where the characters, one by one, disappear, until you get to the point where it’s just perfunctory. And then it vanishes entirely.So, it isn’t just a restrictive view about what sexuality is like. It’s an increasingly restrictive view about what THEIR sexuality is like.

How can we think of sex in a different way? Donald Mosher, an American researcher, came up with the idea that we have three different sexual modes. What I’ve called The Hollywood Model is his second mode, Partner Engagement, but there’s two others: Trance and Play. Trance is where you’re very caught up in your own experience. Your partner might be doing something delicious to you, and you are having an exquisite time, but it’s very internal. It’s as if you are having a delicious meal. You don’t want to tell the waiter every five minutes what a great time you’re having, as that detracts from the experience. Except, because The Hollywood Model is what we think sex is, we often feel guilty and selfish when we’re in this mode, and feel that we’re taking up too much time. And we feel we have to reassure our partner, even although that takes away from our experience. The other state is Play. BDSM – particularly power games – are the classic exemplars, but it really includes all behaviour where the couple are acting a part. For instance, where they pretend to be strangers, picking each other up in a bar. Or one of them is a Naughty Doctor. For example.

In remedial work with couples in a non-tantra setting, it’s helpful to focus on these two other states – and primarily on Trance to begin with – so that the couple can broaden out an idea of sex which was largely restricted to Partner Engagement in the first place, and fatally constricted further by the singleminded focus on the boa constrictor of orgasm.

How does this all relate to tantra? It relates very much, because all three of these aspects come together in co-created, ceremonial space which is, essentially, what tantra is.

In tantra, we see ourselves and our partner as aspects of the Divine. In a sense, that’s clearly in the Play mode, but let’s be clear: it is the capacity to play which quintessentially makes us human. It isn’t something trivial, it is our essence. Play, like Love, completes and vivifies us. And that’s what ceremony understands. In my other identity as a zen teacher, I misunderstood ceremony for 25 years. I thought it was symbolic activity. It took me that long to understand that I was mistaken, that ceremony is the direct entranceway to the crucible of the Present.

Because we are with our partner, we are also in the Partner Engagement mode, but in a different, broader, more profound sense. We are with our partner as an aspect of divine creation made flesh, not with an overfamiliar body with an ill functioning orgasm switch. That’s a crucial distinction. And because we are in moment to moment contact with what we feel, in a world entirely different from the dysfunctional sexual capitalism that is our usual home, we are also in the Trance state, but reconfigured not as something ‘internal’ or ‘subjective’, but as an aspect of total human experience, channeled through this body.

In this way, the couple can learn a way of being together which is much broader, which has much more feeling, and which has much more connection to everything. Rather than a Puritan focus on performance, we are opened up to our creative and expressive capacities as instruments of the divine. And that changes everything.

I talked to my Zen Group the other week about the language we use when we talk about the body. In that context, I noted that in ordinary language, we tend to use the word “body” to refer to the body below the neck, and the word “head” to refer to the neck (along some unspecified boundary) and above. And we identify ourselves with our ‘head’ rather than our ‘body’, viewing the body as a vehicle, or, better, a recalcitrant servant, who refuses to do what he’s told.

Until our body breaks down due to ill health or age, or both, the part of the body for which our servant is maximally unco-operative is usually our genitals, who resolutely won’t do what we wish them to do.

And so you come and see someone like me. But here’s the kicker: it’s not physical. Of course, we can teach you things which are helpful. If you’re a man, we can help you with premature ejaculation. If you’re a woman, we can help you with genital numbness. We can help with lots of things.

But just as a therapist can do something about your neurosis but can’t teach you spontaneity and joy, an approach solely based on the body – as we normally conceive it -has significant limitations.

In my experience, I can work with a client and get them into an orgasmic state quite easily, but something is still missing. What is that something?

An example: Quite early on, I remember working with a woman and during the session, she became very orgasmic. After a while, this became too much for her, and she asked me to stop. She then just rested on the massage table. I understood that what was needed was for me to lie on the table with her, holding her. When we were talking after the session, she said “What was that amazing technique you were using?I felt so much?” I thought she was referring to the bodywork part of her session, but she corrected me and said, no, it was afterwards, when we were both lying on the table.

This is the amazing ‘technique’: connection, heartfulness, love.

Another time, I was working with a very sexually active man, who couldn’t get erect other than by progressively greater physical stimulus. A lot of people are like that. They touch themselves accidentally as children and get aroused, but over time the effect fades, so the touch has to be harder, faster, stronger, and eventually, it only gets you part of the way, and then, not at all.

I touched this man’s genitals as I would have touched a wounded person, forced into servitude and injured and hurt by that: touching with respect, enquiry, tenderness.

Each part of us is all of us.

Bear this in mind when you next read an article in The Daily Mail about vaginal massage, or you read about techniques on how to be a better lover: it isn’t that it’s wrong, or not useful, but it’s incomplete.