What had I gotten myself into?
There was a pile of pillows on the floor in the middle of the room. Slides of erotic sculpture were being flashed on a screen. Pornographic movies were being projected on either side of the sculpture slide show. This was in the 1980’s. I thought this was going to be a professional workshop. I was an inexperienced social worker in need of some skills. I didn’t need this.
A few years out of graduate school, working as a professional social worker in a large agency serving individuals with developmental and physical disabilities, I came increasingly aware of the lack of knowledge many of my clients had regarding sexuality. I told my supervisor that I was aware that a local chapter of Planned Parenthood offered workshops on such matters. I suggested that I contact them and see if they would provide some workshops for my clients. My supervisor said she would get back to me on that.
A week later I received the good news that my supervisor had every confidence that I could provide workshops on sexual expression myself without the need for assistance from outside agencies. I expressed gratitude for the vote of confidence, but just the same I preferred to not have duties added to my job description on this particular topic.
My boss let it slip that one of the agency’s board members was active in the “Right to Life” movement. As for Planned Parenthood, this board member believed I would be a better choice. She didn’t know me and what I was incapable of, but she did know about Planned Parenthood’s role with abortions.
At the time my sons were not old enough to wonder about where babies come from. Thank goodness, because I wasn’t ready to tell them. I decided that I couldn’t let my clients lack of asking about sexual expression get me off the hook of providing them with some education. Many of them were way behind their age in their understanding of matters sexual.
The agency had resources and connections to provide education, training and support for virtually every aspect of human functioning, except for sex. When it came to my functioning as a human being, sex was right up towards the top of my most favorite functions. Why should problems with such functioning be ignored when it came to my clients? Because I didn’t know what I was doing and didn’t know who could help me, didn’t seem like a good enough reason.
I started to collect books and started going to trainings. In my sexual educational efforts with clients I was doing a good deal of making stuff up as I went along. I don’t mean I was telling clients that babies were delivered by storks, I mean, at the time, it wasn’t easy to access good instructional materials. That’s how I ended up at this workshop.
I knew something different was up when I was told at the registration desk, to just use my first name and to not disclose my professional affiliation. That could wait until the end of the two day training. I was told to be aware that some of the participants were not professionals, but were interested in the subject of sexuality and physical disability for personal reasons. I was told that the professionals would be getting personal just like everybody else.
The dirty movies and naughty art, just kept coming. No narration, no explanation, no sound. The sound track to this show was occasional throat clearing from the otherwise silent audience.
It was not that I never had seen such entertainment before, but not so much. This was pre-internet, early-VCR. You could see such things in art books and magazines without much trouble, the movies took effort to locate.
The main disturbance was the question as to how react.
I had no question that in the setting I was in, I found none of what I was looking at to be entertaining. I tried thinking about baseball. I tried rating the sculptures as to my aesthetic appreciation and take guesses as to who were their makers and in what eras were they made. I was upset that nobody was laughing at the crude theatrics of the porno movies. Inane dialog was inaudible, but ridiculous posturing remained, but for whatever reason it just wasn’t cool to snicker because nobody was doing it. Sarcastic joking was my primary defense against social awkwardness in the presence of porn. This display had me defenseless. I needed to grab on to something.
I tried clinical detachment. I thought that heterosexual male gynecologists in training must have to develop skills to avoid becoming overly interested in the study of the body parts that were the focus of their speciality. I tried practicing clinical detachment. No one needed to know.
Finally speakers walked to center stage. We were welcomed. We were told that through out the workshop we would be exposed to aspects of human sexuality followed by small group discussions to process what just happened.
My small group first discussed what was going through our minds and the rest of our bodies as the group watched the introductory presentation of things normally done in private. I recalled that I got in touch with the utility of a skill that I had developed in high school of suppressing an erection. I wasn’t sure what nerves and muscles and organs were involved, but it could be done. If their were commands that the male body knew how to follow in this inhibitory process they remained outside of my conscious awareness. The group leader reminded me that the name of the workshop was, “Sexual Attitude Reassessment” and this was just the beginning of reassessing attitudes I didn’t know that I had.
We got together as a large group again and were treated to and assaulted by more pornographic movies. In the following small group discussion there was plenty of theatrical critique and guffaws.
Next up were sexually explicit documentary films featuring heterosexual couples. Watching them moved the heart more than the gonads. The contrast between porn stars building towards the “money shot” and plain folks in love doing what lovers do, was jarring. We talked about it.
Then came same sex, sex.
When a film introduced a lesbian couple, as a heterosexual male, I immediately liked the couple and looked forward to knowing more about them and what they were up to behind closed doors, with documentary cameras rolling.
This film was followed by one regarding two gentleman who were in love. I felt good to be a liberally minded man, who had no ethical qualms regarding what consenting adults do with each other. However, as their bed room door opened, I suddenly became aware that while I had been open to knowing more about the lesbian couple, I was keenly disinterested in the details with these men. I was astonished that my primary desire as this film progressed was to shut my eyes. If I had been neutral to this film, that would have been okay. If I had been “bicurious” that would have been interesting, but I had to admit to myself that what I was feeling was disgust.
The dissonance from seeing myself as a liberal man who warmly embraced the rightness of two men loving each other, while reacting with disgust to the physical ways they do that, was most uncomfortable. That can be what it feels like when attitudes begin to adjust.
As the film went on to sample everyday displays of affection between this couple, my disgust evaporated. In its place was the same “ahhh isn’t that sweet, ain’t love grand” reaction to all the forms of the erotic expression of love, that I experienced with the previous documentaries.
Something in me had shifted.
So, of course I was ready for the film about a heterosexual couple in their eighties. No I was not. My initial reaction was that this film was not necessary. I felt that the makers of this film were exploiting the couple. Manipulating them to expose that which surely should be kept private.
Then it occurred to me that I harbored an attitude that sex just stops at a certain age.
It occurred to me that my own fear of aging, included loathing a process that would end my sex life. This old couple proclaimed that it never needed to end. Now, these weren’t senior, sexual freaks of nature exceptions that proved the rule that getting it on was the reserve of the young. No, they we’ve gray, wrinkly overweight plain, old commoners who were deeply in love. After awhile I forgot that I had never seen a naked old person in the heat of passion before.
So then I was ready. It was time to meet a man with a severe physical disability and his partner via film. I had come so far with adjusting my attitudes during the course of the training to have it tainted in the end, by a true freak show. It is unbelievable to me, today, that thirty years ago, at that training, I had forgotten why I was there in the first place. That film changed the way I looked at the equal opportunity magic of the sexual expression of love forever. It made me mad as to the extent of the cultural repression of this magic.
In the last small group discussion, I women asked if she could have a few minutes of the group’s time. She wanted to share that she was a breast cancer survivor and when she lost her breasts she had lost her interest in sex. She related that she had just gotten off the phone with her husband. She said that her husband had stood by her through out her battle with cancer. For years they had not laid down together and loved as physically close, as they once had. She said she had been afraid to. She said she told her husband that she had experienced a sexual awareness attitude readjustment at the workshop. She said her husband told her that he couldn’t wait for her to come home. There were cheers and tears shared in response to that real life story. There was no discussion.
I think that there were many that finished that training who were looking forward to going home.
It is so ingrained in most of us that being sexy requires looking as good as we possibly can. If all else fails we keep the lights off. So much money is made from exploiting our insecurities about looking, smelling, moving and feeling good enough to the touch, to rightly express our affection in a physical manner. The sellers of cosmetics, fashion, jewelry, exotic resorts and sports cars, join the pornographers in reminding that it is not okay to just get private, get naked and love. The onslaught of propaganda as to this bullshit will continue to be massive and relentless.
Good love story documentaries and fiction are still very hard to come by. Crude entertainment for men to get hard and come to, is everywhere.
Picture a mass culture sexual attitude readjustment where media, instruction and support on ways to be a kind, and compassionate lover get equal time with the pornography.
Men in conversation about ways to be more compassionate to themselves and to others as a path to mind blowing sex, is happening more and more these days. When it comes to a sexual revolution, the world hasn’t seen anything yet, but it is beginning to.
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