R.I.P.’n The Kama Sutra

(9/30/13)  As sex-positive educators and activists, we tend to aim for the cutting edge when it comes to strategies for improving sex lives, but we try not to rule out ways to update classical approaches when it’s viable to do so.  In this vein, one of the earliest and most comprehensive works on the subject for its time, the Kama Sutra (K.S.) certainly qualifies as a classic, but looking at how it might be modernized made us wonder:  Are approaches that have roots in exceptionally outdated social mores better boxed up and left in the dust rather than tweaked for today’s use?

Keeping in mind that it was created as religion-based lifestyle advice for a specific, male-oriented culture existing in ancient times, it’s pretty easy to see how much of its approach could be viewed as sexist (and perhaps even racist) by modern standards.  Interpretations of it over the years, including the later addition of artwork depicting a variety of positions, may have diffused some of culture-specific effect and attempted to broaden its appeal as an aid for improving sex lives, but even those efforts were still a product of their times and difficult to relate to today.  None of this is to suggest the K.S. is completely worthless, mind you.  As an ancient literary work, it does have some intrinsic value today if one is interested in exploring historical cultures.  If that’s the goal (or you just happen to be a rabid fan of Sanskrit), one might easily find it fascinating.  Beyond that, however, updating the concepts in order to keep it as a proverbial go-to-guide for practical erotica is a bit like trying to strap a jet engine on a Model-T.  Yeah, it’ll probably work to some extent, but…well, you get the idea.

Here’s the rub:  Without doubt, the basic premise is a good one–Sex is an amazing part of the human experience, so learn how to enjoy your sex life.  Okay.  No sweat there.  By all means, bring that little nugget forward.  However, it’s not the “what” but rather the “how” that’s at issue.  Style-wise, it’s wonky at best and incredibly pompous at worst, but more to the point, it’s hardly a panacea for improving sex simply because “it’s the original recipe” so to speak.  That recipe may have worked well in a time of clay ovens, but it has no place in the microwave age.

It’s actually a validation of our modern sensibilities that the K.S. has gone the way of the Dodo and lost its place in the hierarchy of sex manuals.  Today’s interpretations of it are really more of a marketing ploy to take advantage of a well-known name associated to erotic education–and some of these, actually, are quite useful.  For example, our good friends at Adam & Eve have a wonderful take on the K.S. that’s perfectly great today.  But that’s where the comparisons should end.  As a tool for positive sex education, let’s just say it had its day and leave it for a dignified burial.  Sure, in many cases, what’s old is new again and indeed, sometimes that’s a “good” thing (hint: lava lamps).  More often than not, however, what’s old is old for a reason–and is better left in the rear view mirror.

The Kama Sutra fits in that bin.  R.I.P.

Good Lovin’ Through Surrogate Partner Therapies

(9/23/13)  Masters and Johnson are back in the news with the upcoming premiere of Masters of Sex, a Showtime series dramatizing the lives of the sex therapy pioneers.  Accordingly, we thought it would be a good time to highlight one of their lesser known approaches for dealing with a wide array of sexual dysfunctions: The use of surrogate partner therapies.

If you saw the 2012 award winning film, The Sessions, then you have a basic idea of how surrogacy works.  Though the film is highly fictionalized for entertainment purposes and not representative of how such therapies play out in real life, it does give a reasonable example of how the approach can be powerful and transformative.  Specifically, a Surrogate Partner Therapist (SPT) expands upon traditional therapies by helping clients with exercises and experiences involving sensual and sexual touch, breathing techniques, relaxation skills and sensate focus.  Trained and certified by the International Professional Surrogates Association (IPSA) which has led this field since 1973, their work always involves the ongoing participation of a licensed mental health professional to work effectively in a therapeutic team with the client.  Ethical guidelines established by IPSA are followed at all times and clients must be seeing a therapist/counselor before starting sex surrogacy therapies.

Clients benefit by focusing on immediate, positive physical and emotional outcomes, leaving unproductive sexual thought processes behind.  Additionally, responding to the physical body helps overcome other difficulties clients may be experiencing in their lives.  Leaving the talk therapy to the therapist and dealing specifically with the body work, the triadic relationship enables clients to positively process their experience with maximum support.  Because this work is very intimate and intense, SPTs only works with licensed psychologists, psychotherapists and sex therapists.  Through thorough and specific support, the client receives maximum help and understanding.  The goal of the therapy is to understand and resolve whatever is inhibiting a person’s sexual success so the client doesn’t have to spend another day living with pain, fear or sexual discomfort.

Specifically, SPTs can help with:

  • Reducing anxiety
  • Connecting with your body’s sensations
  • Shedding inhibitions
  • Releasing misconceptions about sex
  • Learning how to ask for what you want
  • Developing healthy relationships
  • Feeling more comfortable with intimacy 
  • Addressing adult virginity
  • Vaginismus
  • Erectile insufficiency
  • Early ejaculation
  • Delayed ejaculation
  • Shyness
  • Body image issues
  • Gaining self-love and self-acceptance
  • Overcoming sexual problems
  • Unlocking your unexplored sexual potential
  • Developing social skills to help with dating  

Although the approach has been around for years, it’s not without some controversy, particularly when it comes to ethics, legalities and credentialing.  Presently, there are actually very few (less than 50) certified SPTs in the country, but ensuring that an SPT is appropriately prepared is an important distinction in terms of professionalism and raising the chances for a positive client outcome.  Though no state currently has any laws prohibiting surrogate partner therapy, situational reviews do occur on occasion and tend to focus primarily on the professional competencies involved.  For example, at least two cases in California involving a therapist referring to a surrogate partner were reviewed by the state’s Licensing Review Board and in each case the board determined that no unethical behavior was present.  According to an article in the San Jose Mercury News, Kamala Harris (then of the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office and later, California’s Attorney General) stated unequivocally, ”If it’s between consensual adults and referred by licensed therapists and doesn’t involve minors, then it’s not illegal.” Additionally, in August 2010, the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT) affirmed that if the surrogate partner is properly trained and educated, then the therapy is not unethical.

Ultimately, when applied competently, the approach has proven exceptionally effective in improving the lives of many who would otherwise suffer through a life of dysfunction.  So, if you (or someone you know) are feeling uncomfortable with your sexual orientation or gender, dealing with insecurity or lack of experience with sexuality, afraid of not being able to perform sexually or struggling with long-standing physical or emotional issues with sex, then Surrogate Partner Therapy might be a viable strategy to consider.

(Note:  We’ve provided the IPSA link above if you need general information, but if you have specific/confidential questions, just email us directly we’ll be happy to address your concerns or try to point you in the right direction.)

The Case of Disappearing Taboos

(9/16/13)  Taboos have been perpetually moving targets throughout civilization–rising and falling based on the religious, social or political wind direction of the day.  Recently, though, as societies have become connected like never before, exposure (some might even say, overexposure) to previously taboo concepts appears to have desensitized many to them, leaving fewer inhibitions and more implied freedom to explore.

For the scope of this article, we probably need to establish a common frame of reference that only includes sexually-oriented taboo activities occurring between consenting adults.  Otherwise, it could easily run off in hundreds of tangents and it’s reasonable to presume that taboos outside this spotlight are commonly accepted by the majority as protective in nature.  Inside the above focus, it’s not as much about protection as it is about mature, personal responsibility in exploring something that’s been previously frowned upon, restricted or even prohibited outright because of cultural custom.  Those types in particular have been the taboos that seemingly self-destruct easily these days.

Let’s use a simple, fairly benign example to illustrate:  Until the mid-20th Century, it was generally taboo to discuss sex openly and certainly not in public.  Today, it’s rare that you can sit in a coffee shop and not overhear a gathering at the next table casually bantering the graphic details of someone’s recent sexcapade.  Yeah, that kind of taboo has pretty much been shaved to a nub in today’s everyone-gets-a-trophy-no-matter-how-badly-they-played environment.

Some might criticize that sort of thing as a lowering of social standards while others would praise it as liberating them.  It’s seems pretty natural that every generation rebels in some fashion from the previous one, so it really shouldn’t be much of a surprise to see such social shifts.  In any event, going from the Leave it to Beaver era where married couples were never shown sleeping together much less talking about it to the fare of today where it’s almost expected that key plotlines will be frequently interrupted with gratuitous sportboinking was a simple, predictable extension of media-induced desensitization.  By default, taboos became less the things of eternal damnation and more akin to advertised fun to be had by those who would boldly fly in the face of artificial/superficial no-nos.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?  We’d prefer you judge for yourself and we’d love to hear your thoughts because there are plenty of reasonable arguments to be made on all 47 sides of this phenomenon.  From our point of view, we see the lowest common denominator as simply:  If someone tells us we’re not allowed to do something, we’re instinctively curious about it.  If the “something” proves to be of no harm to anyone else and looks like it might be fun, then trying it is just a matter of individual adventurousness.  Whether consciously or just as a by-product, we become taboo hunter-killers, seeking to stomp those little suckers by breaking through the perceived walls of outdated thinking in order to own today for ourselves.  Since media in all of its modern forms has developed increasingly greater abilities to connect with audiences, giving them what they want–access to what they’ve previously been denied–is a fairly practical outcome.  And once an idea is planted, some form of rooting is usually going to take place.  That’s just nature, folks.

So, in many ways, the kinds of dying taboos we’re talking about here have, in recent years, been treated less like sturdy oaks and more like nasty weeds–being pulled and tossed aside as useless, artificial barriers to enjoying the beautiful gardens that lie beyond.  It doesn’t mean it’s the end of civilization as we know it.  Hardly.  It just means it’s the next step in the evolution of it.

The “Hook-up Culture”–Today’s On-Campus Sex Scene

(9/9/13)  Got your pens or stylus?  Got your notebooks or tablet?  Got your condoms or what?  As the new school year kicks off, keeping up with new terminology, technology and trends is getting to be a full-time gig.  With chalk boards quickly become a relic of the past in favor of touch screens, life at colleges across the country is obviously in flux–making it the perfect time to chase down some current sex-related trends at American colleges.

Two interesting items popped right out that we’d like to focus on:

1)  There’s slightly less sex at America’s campuses today than a decade ago, but attitudes towards sex are much more casual and liberated today.

2)  There’s a growing movement by students themselves to take responsibility for comprehensive sex education, moving it outside the classroom and into campus-wide events–often without official institutional sanctioning or sponsoring.

The first claim is based on a study published last month by the University of Portland.  Researchers used nationally representative samples of approximately 1,800 18-25 year-old high school graduates who have completed at least one year of college, comparing data from respondents during 1988-1996 with those from 2002-2010.  The results showed a 6% decrease in sexual activity between the two samples (65.2% in the first group reporting at least weekly sexual activity to 59.3% currently), but also indicated a shift in attitudes about casual sex with today’s collegiate crowd being about 10% more likely to have sex with a casual date or “pickup” (44.4% today versus 34.5%).  Additionally, the study reported that student’s today are more likely to be accepting of sex between adults of the same sex—an indicator that may have much broader implications when it comes to the near future of several matters on the current political horizon.

While the study draws an overall conclusion that there hasn’t been a significant change in sexual attitudes over the past couple of decades, it’s pretty clear that the pendulum is starting a more progressive arc, shifting away from what used to be known as a “friends-with-benefits” philosophy to what’s now called a “hook-up culture.”  (And, actually, we didn’t realize the former had become passé already.  L’sigh.  The ravages of age.)  There may be a myriad of reasons for this, but one explanation might be found in the apparent unwillingness of today’s college generation to accept a lacking sex education system as it is, opting instead to take their own lead in order to fill in the gaps as they see them.

For example, more and more university student bodies are organizing events such as “Sex Week” where frank panel discussions, lectures and presentations cover an eclectic range of topics such as talking about sex with your doctor, sex and religion, alternative sex lifestyles and even careers in sex-oriented occupations.  While it’s easy to imagine the political nonsense that’s popping up with such activities, students are not being deterred; pressing on with first-rate events that feature diverse points of view including educators, activists, religious figures and health-care professionals, to name a few.  Ultimately, the trend is to focus less on associated political and social agendas and, instead, more on how a huge variety of sex-related topics impact individuals uniquely and on a more personal basis.  It’s also a perfect opportunity for the educators of today to sharpen their repertoires by keeping up with modern science, technologies and social attitudes.

Regardless of how these items are interpreted (and we fully recognize that there are multiple ways they can be spun depending on one’s strategic aim), the key factor is that a growing number of young adults are taking more direct responsibility regarding their dissatisfaction with the status-quo rather than just complaining or assigning blame elsewhere.  If any trend regarding sex at American campuses today is worthy of note, it’s that one.  It’s a positive swing that speaks highly of “Generation Next” and their potential to change the American social landscape for the better.

At Sex Across America, we support these efforts and encourage other educators and activists to be more proactive in supporting the types of events described above. We also hope that our readers will publicize this article through their own channels as a means for bringing more light to what’s developing at America’s colleges and encouraging others to offer their support as well.