Undressing Sex: Re-Imagining The Art of Female Eroticism

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power

"There are many kinds of power, used and unused, acknowledged or otherwise. The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling....

The erotic offers a well of replenishing and provocative force to the woman who does not fear its revelation, nor succumb to the belief that sensation is enough.... Of course, women so empowered are dangerous. So we are taught to separate the erotic demand from the most vital areas of our lives other than sex...

This is why the erotic is so feared, and so often relegated to the bedroom alone, when it is recognized at all. For once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with our deepest erotic knowledge and joy. Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives. And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.

I find the erotic such a kernel within myself. When released from its intense and constrained pellet, it flows through and colors my life with a kind of energy that heightens and sensitizes and strengthens all my experience.... And then, there becomes for me, no difference between writing a good poem and moving into sunlight against the body of a woman I love."

~Audre Lorde

audre lordeThe above quote is taken from a longer seminal essay entitled Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power, written by the late feminist writer, poet and activist, Audre Lorde. At the time of its publication in the 1989, Uses of the Erotic was a potent and provocative exposé, delivered with passion and clarity by a radical black lesbian feminist, and aimed to provoke a deeper look into the need for an integration of the erotic into every aspect of women's lives.

Lorde's vision of the erotic was not merely sexual, nor was it meant to be a titillating transgression; rather, Lorde's call to the erotic was deeply hard-hitting, clarifying, sensual, expansive, and directed at integrating and clarifying the deepest a-rational and non-rational energies of the erotic into every dimension of women's lives, from the sexual to the political.

As Lorde states:

"The very word erotic comes from the Greek word eros, the personification of love in all its aspects - born of Chaos, and personifying creative power and harmony. When I speak of the erotic, then, I speak of it as an assertion of the life-force of women; of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our dancing, our work, our lives."

Lorde argued that when not suppressed or distorted by the many forms of cultural repression, consumerism, and pornification, the erotic could actually become a primary liberating force and a source energy for our most potent joy, knowledge and discernment as women. When clarified, the erotic impulse could actually support us in making the most courageous and informed moral, as well as aesthetic, decisions about our lives.

Lorde argues that despite the fact that patriarchy can eulogize certain forms of pornographic and exhibitionist sexual expression, patriarchy at its core actually perpetuates an anti-erotic and anti-feeling culture. It does this by distorting or making women fearful of their genuine erotic impulses, because the liberation of that genuine erotic impulse in women would, Lorde believes, be powerful enough to dismantle the very foundations of the patriarchal system itself.

As Lorde notes, "The fear of our desires keeps them suspect and indiscriminately powerful, for to suppress any truth is to give it strength beyond endurance. The fear that we cannot grow beyond whatever distortions we may find within ourselves keeps us docile and loyal and obedient, externally defined, and leads us to accept many facets of our oppression as women."

Lorde was an erotic provocateur of the highest order, calling for an integration of eroticism's clarifying fire into all areas of life, so as to transform women's personal lives, as well as the wider socio-political world.
When I came across Lorde's vision of the erotic, it was her sensual intuition alongside her intellectual depth and provocative sensibility that activated an incredibly deep turn on within me. Reading her words felt like taking in a long-awaited breath of fresh-air, and I knew I had stumbled upon something that I had been searching for for a very long time...

A Reflection on Where I've Come: Shadow, Individuation & Emergence

underwater

Anyone who has been following my writing as an author here on Beams and Struts, knows that the questions of sexuality, eroticism, feminism and female empowerment have been a constant inquiry for me as a young woman, and have been very intimate and vulnerable to my own journey. My other two articles Pop Culture, Porn Stars and the Mis-guided Revolution, and Envisioning Young Women's Leadership for the 21st Century, have offered in-depth critiques of the problems and confusion I have observed with much of the contemporary postmodern landscape when it comes to understanding and representing young women's empowerment and sexual liberation.

Both of my articles have critiqued specific individual young women (former porn star turned actress Sasha Grey and spiritual RedVolutionary Sera Beak), whom I saw as individual embodied examples of much of the cultural confusion representative in our notions of liberation and sexual freedom in a postmodern world. My last article on Sera Beak ignited quite a potent online discussion here at Beams, as well as a vulnerable exchange between Sera and I, as she responded to my critique of her work in the comments.

The article, alongside the interactions between Sera and I sparked some great dialogue on the site, as well as stirring some great conversations between myself and other women. The whole experience was also very vulnerable for me and ignited new questions about these topics within myself. Therefore, I felt called to write a follow up article in order to integrate some new insights, to dive a little deeper, and to open up the inquiry.

I wanted to start with a moment of reflection on what has brought me to this article, as the past few months have been quite a potent and powerful time for me.

I had an interesting experience a couple months after publishing the article on Sera. I was sitting at work with my laptop open to my website, which had pictures of both Sasha and Sera on that screen promoting my articles. One of my male co-workers, whom knows absolutely nothing about the work or writing I do, looked over my shoulder at the pictures of Sasha and Sera and asked me, "Is that you?"

sasha, sera, vanessa

(Left to Right: Sasha Grey, Sera Beak, Vanessa Fisher)

It was an interesting and somewhat jarring comment from a person who had no awareness of the kind of work that I do. As I took a deeper look at the pictures of Sasha and Sera in that moment, I couldn't help but acknowledge that they did both look a little like me—well, actually, a lot like me. Sera had also commented on our similar appearance, and it really hadn't occurred to me that we shared some similar attributes until she mentioned it. The similarity hit me deeper and undeniably harder when my co-worker mis-took both Sasha and Sera's photos for me.

The reason this realization was interesting to me was because it suddenly turned a mirror back on myself and caused me to want to probe a little deeper into why I had chosen to focus on these two specific young women for my articles. As I looked deeper within myself, I realized that there was something that both these young women represented; something that they reflected in me as a young woman in postmodern culture that I was trying very deeply to work through and understand myself. My unconscious choice to pick two women that looked similar to me was admittedly a bit of a humorous reflection of my own narcissism, but it was also more than that. It exposed a deeper reflection of my own ongoing quest to understand and articulate what an authentic and fiery, yet dignified and mature eroticism and sexuality might look like, both for myself, and for a wider culture of young women.

I hadn't been satisfied in encountering either Sasha or Sera's work, and I'm still not, but there was something in what they were trying to express that I did resonate with and even felt some desire and attraction to. There was some similar rebellious fire, and some common interest and yearning that we all shared, even though we were each expressing it in very different ways. Ultimately, I saw that we were sisters in this collective struggle, and I believe this is also a yearning and struggle that is representative of our times, and representative of many of the conflicts and tensions about women, sex and empowerment that have yet to be resolved for my generation by feminism, spirituality, or contemporary culture.

That is why for this essay I decided to deepen my inquiry into this topic by getting a little more undressed myself. Seeing as I spent a lot of my energy in my last two articles digging into and turning a discerning eye on Sasha and Sera, it seemed appropriate to now take that gaze and turn it back on myself. This seemed valuable not because I think I have all the answers to these questions, but rather because by being willing to get undressed enough to begin to clarify, expose and embrace my own deepest erotic spark, I hope to encourage other young women to do the same. And perhaps together we can open an emergent space for visioning into a more mature, dignified and fiery eroticism that could really quench the thirst for depth, discernment and embodied sensuality that I sense many young women are still deeply yearning for.

The Difficulty of Erotic Empowerment: Setting the Context for Discernment

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Before I dive into some reflection on my own journey with the erotic, I want to offer a small preamble that I think is important for framing some of the context for this overall inquiry. To start, I want to make clear that I'm not only interested in supporting young women's sexual empowerment (although that is definitely a part of it), but also in empowering a deeply erotic sensibility and dignity that can branch out into all areas of our lives as women.

I am staking my foundation for this inquiry based on Lorde's definition of the erotic, which she ties to the force of Eros itself. Since ancient Greece, Eros has been recognized as the fundamental life force surging through all of creation. At its essence, Eros is powerful, radiant, unselfconscious and unadorned. It is the force of creative fire and love that resides within each one of us as our sacred birthright and has no preference for race, gender, sexual orientation or physical appearance. For Plato, Eros was the force of love that helped the soul remember beauty at the deepest level, and it was the remembrance of that beauty that contributed to an understanding and enhancement of our spiritual nature. Therefore, as we align more with Eros and the erotic impulse itself, it increasingly becomes a force of desire, discernment and clarification in all aspects of our lives.

As Lorde states:

"I believe in the erotic and I believe in it as an enlightening force within our lives as women. I have become clearer about the distinctions between the erotic and other apparently similar forces. We tend to think of the erotic as an easy, tantalizing sexual arousal. I speak of the erotic as the deepest life force, a force which moves us toward living in a fundamental way. And when I say living I mean it as that force which moves us toward what will accomplish real positive change."

My wish is to facilitate and even help to ignite an erotic awakening in young women that can really open up the potentials for this force of Eros in their lives. I want to support young women with the strength, power, discernment and courage to uncover their own unique erotic flavor, and navigate their lives with an increasing autonomy, radiance, selflessness, relational attunement and embodied sensuality that can service the larger whole.

Of course, it must be stated that any discussion about the erotic, and any discussion about cultivating empowered sexuality is fraught with difficulty. Mainly because, as I've pointed out in great depth in my previous two articles, I believe our notions of empowerment, sexuality and freedom are deeply clouded and confused for many young women in contemporary postmodern culture. There is also a severe lack of depth and discerning nuance in many of the mainstream approaches that attempt to empower young women around their sexuality and eroticism. That is why, for me, developing a deep critical literacy on the wider culture and our history, as well as a discerning eye on the values and conflicts that mark our generation (see my previous two articles), must go hand in hand with cultivating our intuitive sensitivity to our own erotic yearnings and inner guidance as women. With these two practices in tandem, I do believe that following the thread of our most intimate desire can actually be a deeply clarifying and maturing endeavor, and can have positive and life-affirming effects that extend far beyond the confines of our bedrooms.

Unraveling the Erotic in Sexuality, Art and Service

The erotic offers a well of replenishing and provocative force to the woman who does not fear its revelation, nor succumb to the belief that sensation is enough...
~Audre Lorde

nude

The electrifying force of what I would call a very deep erotic impulse has been a strong underlying current in my life journey from a very early age. From as young as I can remember, I've experienced this force of Eros as both deeply compelling and confusing, and it has always charged my path with a force of energy and guidance that has felt largely beyond my personal will or control. The presence of this force has impelled me to make many life-changing decisions without really knowing why or where they were leading me. It has also pushed me in directions that have confronted me with painful, humbling and gut-wrenching trials—but trials that turned out to be essential for my own deepening and growth.

In some ways, I've always felt a slave to this strong and wild erotic force within myself, and in times when I have tried to fight the direction of its energy in favor of safety, comfort or ignorance, I have always ended up scorched by its unforgiving and clarifying fires. Thus I have learned after many intense experiences with this uncompromising energy within myself, that whether I liked it or not, I am here to serve it.

I had never interpreted this energetic force in religious or spiritual terms when I was growing up. In many ways, growing up as a pre-teen and early teenager, I was quite rebellious against anything religious or spiritual. Until I was sixteen years old, I was raised primarily by my mother whom had been a devoted nun in the Catholic church for 15 years before leaving the convent at age 32 to start her family. When I was twelve, I declared to my mother that I no longer believed in God and refused to go to church. Soon after that I spiraled into a world of intense partying, alcohol and drug abuse that led to the eventually flunking my grade 10 year.

Although I had felt this strong and wild force of Eros within myself at many different points throughout my early years, the first time I remember the energy of its erotic demand really taking center stage in my life was when I was sixteen years old. At the time, my life was going increasingly downhill and spiraling into cycles of addiction that could have become catastrophic. It was that year that I had a powerful dream. In the dream I got a very clear message and demand that I was to leave Saskatchewan where I was living at the time, leave my mother and all of my friends behind, and move to Vancouver to live with my father.

Without hesitation, and without really knowing why, I made the move to Vancouver that month. It proved to be a life-saving and life-transforming decision on many levels. In one year I completely turned my life around—I quit smoking, quit drinking and doing drugs, and worked my ass off to pick up my grades enough to graduate from high school. It was also during that time that I started doing a tremendous amount of emotional and psychodynamic work, as well as taking up weight training and meditation.

In my late teens and early twenties, this driving erotic energy started to became increasingly prominent in the forefront of my experience, instigating some strange and high state experiences, and compelling me into a deep philosophical and spiritual search for deeper answers about my identity, my purpose, and the meaning of my life.

beachThat drive of Eros has stayed with me ever since, and it has continually shaped my life and choices in incredibly awesome, painful, beautiful and gut-wrenching ways. But despite the fact that I have always had some ongoing access to this very powerful erotic force within myself, that doesn't mean it has always been clarified, conscious or healthily expressed. In fact, it has taken me many years to get some kind of conscious handle on it, and in many ways I still experience it as a wild fire within me that can, at times, become dangerous and consuming if I don't find ways to properly contain and work with it.

One area that for many years remained a difficult edge for me to grow into in relation to this erotic force was how it showed up in my sexuality. Ever since I can remember, I have been a very potently charged sexual being. And with a lack of proper containers in our culture to understand or work with it, I've experienced a lifelong battle with how to express and relate to it. Having a mother who was a Catholic nun and whom lived under years of intense sexual repression within the church only added to the lack of a female role model and presence in my life that could reflect an image of what it looked like to be a healthy, embodied, sensual and integrated erotic being.

Therefore, throughout my life I found myself vacillating between poles of irresponsible hedonistic expression and fearful caged repression of my sexuality, both of which caused their own painful flavor of suffering on my body, mind and soul. My attraction to both Sasha and Sera was no doubt in part because they reflected that highly sexually charged energy that I had struggled to integrate within myself and that I saw neither of them, nor our larger culture, creating conscious and firm containers of responsibility or collective accountability for.

In my late teens, my own struggle with my sexual charge often showed up as a very dissociated and fragmented relationship to my body. And again, because there were so few role models in the culture of women who reflected a dignified and integrated relationship to their bodies, and because issues of objectification were still so contentious within feminism and women's circles, I felt I had few places to turn to in order to inquire into and deepen a healthy relationship to my own body and sexuality.

vanessaI did experience a significant turning point in my struggle with my body in my early twenties when my stepmother, Barbara Bickel, a very talented feminist artist who invited me into a co-creative art process and ritual with her. On my 21st birthday she unveiled the final product of our artistic process together, which was a nude portrait of myself, called "Spirit's Vessel" (seen to the left).1 

Becoming the conscious object of art was an incredibly healing and transformative process for me on many levels, and re-calibrated my understanding of what it could mean to be objectified. My stepmother was able to facilitate a very powerful and conscious midwifing through her art process that allowed me to step more fully into myself as a consciously embodied object, as well as expanding my subjectivity as an erotically charged human being and "vessel for spirit."

As one of my favorite body art feminists of the 70s, Hannah Wilke once said:

"In contemporary usage, the word object applied to a woman is considered negative. She is solely a sex object, a thing perceived without empathy or compassion. However, an object, defined as something that is or is capable of being seen, touched, or otherwise sensed, exists; thus, respecting object hood can be an assertion of existence... If you show your body and are proud of it, it frightens people, for then a woman exists, intensely."

Because of the safe and conscious aesthetic and relational container that my step-mother created during our photo shoot, I was able to rest into a new home with my body and joyously claim myself as the object of the viewer's gaze without loosing touch with myself as a conscious and empowered subject. This process thus provoked an important movement within me, aimed towards a greater body-mind and spirit integration within myself.

The Erotic as Practice

Being able to claim my objectivity as an empowered subject, and increasingly learning how to move sexual energy freely through my body without turning away from it or fixating on it, has indeed been a powerful part of my practice in regards to deepening my intimacy and an integrated relationship with the erotic force itself.

As Lorde states:

"Women must be brave enough to risk sharing the erotic's electrical charge without having to look away, and without distorting the enormously powerful and creative nature of that exchange. Recognizing the power of the erotic within our lives can then lead to giving us the energy to pursue genuine change within our world."

Indeed, because my own erotic force has always been particularly strong, and because I've had so little understanding or mentoring of how to work with it, my own journey towards integration with my body and sexuality has been a long and arduous one and is by no means over.

woman in redAs I've become more intimate with the different flavors and movements of my own sexual energy, it has certainly supported my development and sensitivity to the larger energies of Eros itself. With increasing intimacy and attunement to my own internal erotic rhythms, I've found myself maturing in relationship to the more subtle and refined erotic energies of intuition, attraction and creativity coursing throughout my being and through the wider universe itself. The more open and comfortable I am in my own skin, the more I'm able to connect with the subtler dimensions of that powerful erotic force and relate to it all consciously because there are fewer blocks of resistance that would hold back that energy from circulating freely throughout my entire body-mind.

My developing sensitivity to the erotic has also shown up increasingly as a desire to serve the larger whole through my work in the world. Whether it is my writing and art, or my volunteer work on the ground in different cultures as I travel, my increasing attunement to the movements of Eros have definitely extended far beyond my own sexuality. My own erotic force has increasingly converged with a sense of collective responsibility and an ecstatic desire to serve and make love to the world around me.

I'm in no way perfectly integrated and probably never will be, nor do I think perfect integration is the point. I am far from completing the process of unfolding the depths of my own journey with this wild force of erotic fire within me, but I do find myself growing into increasing intimacy and trust with it as a guiding force in my life; increasingly surrendering to it as the deepest moral and aesthetic compass for my artistic, spiritual and sexual choices.

Giving Sex it's Place: Closing Reflections on the Place of Sex in Human and Spiritual Development

In closing this article, I feel it's important to segue from my personal journey into a few final reflections about sex and its place in human and spiritual development.

woman and man

Firstly, I want to reiterate that the kind of eroticism that Lorde was speaking to in her original essay, and that I have been speaking about in this article, is about much more than just sex. That said, I do believe (and I'm guessing that Lorde would agree) that a healthy ecstatic connection to the erotic in all areas of life is greatly supported and even dependent on the foundations of a healthy and joyous relationship to sex and the sexual impulse itself. I'm not saying that great sex is the most important thing in life, nor am I saying that we should turn to sex to try to solve all of our existential insecurities as modern and postmodern women. I don't think that better orgasms will save the world, but I do see the sexual impulse as the bedrock of our foundational relationship to the erotic impulse itself. Thus, a healthy, sane and non-fear based relationship to sex is a significant building block for sustaining and stabilizing the entire arc of our erotic and spiritual development.

Unfortunately, cultivating healthy foundations for a joyous and conscious relationship to the sexual impulse for young women (and men) is extremely difficult in a culture like North America, which often perpetuates contradictory values and messages about sex to its youth.

On the one hand, the legacy of our Victorian, puritanical shame/fear-based roots around sex can't be denied as still having a significant influence on some of the underlying strains of sexual values within our culture.
If we look at the roots of sexuality education itself, they can be traced back to the late 19th century, in a time when there was growing concern about the erosion of Victorian morality. Urbanization had created a new class of people called the "adolescents," a group of young people who had more time between sexual maturity and marriage than their parents, and also more leisure time to experiment with sex.

sex ed

As sex educators, Michele J. Eliason and John P. Elia, point out in their upcoming article, An Integral Approach to Sex Education, the aims of sexuality education from its inception was to stop the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases and reinforce sexual morality. These sexuality education efforts took place within a social hygiene movement that was essentially devoted to sexual purity, and from its original inception to the present day, sex education has remained the site of many competing and contentious political and religious agendas.

As Eliason and Elia note:

"There is very little writing in the sexuality education field about the developmental or spiritual dimensions of sexuality, how sexual development intersects with other lines of development, the intersections of sexism, racism and heterosexism that are imbedded in education, or what the consequences of focusing on sex as dangerous and disease-ridden might be on the quality of life and relationships of individuals who are given these messages in their youth. Current discourses about sexuality likely interferes with the full development of human potential, and leads to fixated levels of sexual development laden with guilt and shame."

Due to an often lousy and fragmented sex education from our primary schools, many youth now turn to mainstream media or hardcore pornography for their real sex education. And this is where we find the other side of the contradiction in our sexual values and messages as a culture.

The mainstream consumerist packaging of sex, alongside the impacts of an increasingly materialist, superficial, pornified, and sexually exhibitionist culture, have had their own negative effects on the healthy sexual development of youth. For example, it is interesting to note that despite the fact that Gen X and Gen Y have ample access to sexually explicit imagery and information, and are perhaps one of the most sexually "free" generations to grace the planet, recent studies report that as high as 58% of women still don't consistently experience pleasurable orgasms during sex. The Hite Report, a national study done on female sexuality, also reveals that women are carrying increased feelings of disappointment, frustration and inadequacy in the bedroom.

Even more interesting, as cultural critic Laura Kipnis points out, is that sexual dissatisfaction is showing up at even higher rates among younger women, particularly those of Generation X and Y.

confusedI would argue that this conundrum is largely due to the fact that my generation is still being given very contradictory messages about sex from our culture. Steeped in a culture of unresolved shame, an increased commodification and over-glorification of sex in both mainstream and spiritual marketplaces, alongside a piecemeal sex education at our foundations, is it any wonder that many of us young women are struggling with feelings of disconnection from our bodies, and disconnection from any sense of genuine sexual pleasure and dignity? As I've stated many times in this article, there really are very few role models in popular culture of women who exhibit a grounded, dignified and congruent sexual self-sense, never mind a deeply refined embodiment of the more subtle expressions of the kind of erotic energy that Lorde was speaking of. How are young women expected to navigate a healthy and sane relationship to their most genuine erotic impulses and yearnings in such a context?

This is why I argue in closing that any discussion about empowering young women into the fullest dimensions of the erotic has to include empowering them with a healthy, conscious and joyous relationship to their sexuality. Being empowered sexually does not mean you have to go out and prove yourself as a sexual being. It doesn't mean you have to become a sexual wildcat, talk about dildos and butt plugs, or put on a mini-skirt that shows off half your ass as a statement of owning how sexy you are. Obviously, these behaviors can very easily just be part of a reactionary narcissistic/exhibitionist/addictive drive that has nothing to do with feeling deeply into ones own sexual and sensual depths.

That said, I leave room open for the fact that being able to use or talk openly about dildos and butt plugs may be a legitimate growth edge to lean into for some women at particular points in their development. I would definitely support leaning into that edge for those young women with whom it may be an appropriate step of growth in their own psycho-sexual development. I would just encourage them to create appropriate containers and conscious support for their inquiry and ask that they not make their own process into a mantra of liberation for everyone.

In moving forward, I realize that the topics of sexuality, eroticism and women's empowerment are extremely complex, and something I could never do full justice to in one article. That said, I hope that this piece has offered some important points of integration from the insights gleaned in my last two articles, and also offered a more vulnerable and humbled perspective by weaving myself, my imperfect journey, and my own deepest vision for the erotic more intimately into the overall narrative.

I realize my own observations will always in some way be shaped and limited by my age (28 years old), my own development, my cultural context and my personal history. That said, I still believe that my cultural critiques thus far and my personal journey to date are a valuable resource that can offer an important piece to the puzzle and ideally support a deeper inquiry into these issues among a larger collective of erotically charged and soulfully engaged women (and men).

I wanted to end with a quote from one of my philosophical mentors, Ken Wilber. Although male-centered in its reference, it is a quote that I feel speaks to some of the highest potentials available to those of us (male or female) who do not shy away from the powerful force of our own erotic demand. It also speaks to what is possible when we connect and submit our own unique erotic calling into humble service to the wider collective, and thus weave it into the very fabric of Eros that drives the entire cosmic process...

"Think of the great yogis, saints, and sages--from Moses to Christ to Padmasambhaya. They were not feeble-mannered milquetoasts, but fierce movers and shakers--from bullwhips in the Temple to subduing entire countries. They rattled the world on its own terms, not some pie-in-the-sky piety; many of them instigated massive social revolutions that have continued for thousands of years. And they did so, not because they avoided the physical, emotional, and mental dimensions of humanness, and the ego that is their vehicle, but because they engaged them with a drive and intensity that shook the world to its very foundations."

Amen.

fierce woman

--

 1. Barbara Bickel (copyright symbol) 2004, Spirit's Vessel, 48 x 18 inches, mixed media drawing on wood. A co-creation with Vanessa Fisher.

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40 comments

  • Comment Link Stuart Monday, 13 February 2012 15:03 posted by Stuart

    Brilliant, as always. Thank you, Vanessa. I will be sharing this.

  • Comment Link Gilles Herrada Monday, 13 February 2012 15:36 posted by Gilles Herrada

    Dear Vanessa,
    Thanks for this beautiful article. I always enjoy and admire your authenticity and openness. That you can write about those issues beyond (and probably, despite) your (ours) natural need for immediate validation is a great strength of yours and a precious contribution to women and our community in general.
    As a gay man, I—just like you—keep questioning the ways we understand, approach, and use sex. Just like you, I struggle to make sense of and give sense to this "ontological beast." It is like if we were trapped in a room covered with broken mirrors, trying to understand what our faces look like. Sex reflects every aspect of ourselves: in sex, the darkest recesses of our shadow will inevitably leak through; in sex, we can experience divine egoless-ness; sex is a tentacular monster that tears us apart and inexorably leaves our souls naked and vulnerable, …dangerously vulnerable; but isn't it what transformation feels like too?

    For me, Vanessa, the greatest virtue of your article, and of your writings on female sexuality in general, resides in your ability to challenge and dissolve "taboos." By sharing your experience and standing within the paradox that it inevitably contains, unwilling to pretend that you can or want to resolve it, you incarnate a freedom than those who can't help demanding of you to stop, not "to go there," or better, to be "responsible," have not yet reached, I believe. Vanessa, keep ignoring their friendly advises.

    Let me reflect a little further (just a little) on this. Our mission, as integralists, has been to escape the Newtonian paradigm of simple cause and effect. And we (as a community) have done a fairly good job at this in many domains ... but one: morals. We have been largely unable to escape the moralism that characterizes previous memes. Our conversation about morals—the good, the bad and everything that lies in between, remains conflated with our factual "reality," trapped in a realm of linear (even if relativistic) correlations. In my opinion, Vanessa, what you do in this beautiful article is the only thing what can do to begin to break free from first-tier moralism: to explore authentically the territory that was given to you, unconstrained by yet not unconcerned with the world that surrounds you. You are breaking through Vanessa, and as your friend, I find it both beautiful and moving.

    It is difficult to explore a territory as mined with moral certainties of all kind (i.e., types and levels) as sexuality, and at the same time stand for moral virtues. But it seems to me that as long as one strives to remain authentic, open, and compassionate, one can't really go wrong, regardless of the nature of the territory.

    Thank you Vanessa,
    Gilles

  • Comment Link Bonnitta Roy Monday, 13 February 2012 16:34 posted by Bonnitta Roy

    Vanessa,
    I want to dip and cross and carry this excellent and powerful article and overlay it onto Olen's interview/article with Bruce and Thomas on creating collective spiritual cosmologies... I want to point out the involution of eros that comes not "to us" but *through us* from deep onto-genetic time that is continuous with ever-present source, and arises as the thrust of creative and provocative enthusiasm to be temporally and ontologically embalmed in the other (through which source is flowing) -- which has the power to shatter self in an intricate inter-enfolding - source through self to immersion ... Great, powerful, provocative, loving, gritty, stuff! Love it. Love you.

  • Comment Link Amir Monday, 13 February 2012 22:06 posted by Amir

    Hey V,

    Great stuff as usual. I can't relate to the topic the way you do because as you know I come from a very different background and had a different journey. I could relate to some aspects though for sure, mainly the struggle to be self-expressed sexually and spiritually in a healthy way. How does that look when expressed in different cultures?

    Having grown up in a conservative and traditional setting, the S word was dirty. "Repression" was the "good" norm and what was expected. Its expression was only encouraged in the bedroom after marriage, and talk about it was almost always from the perspective of a male. Even most women parroted what the males preached and in doing so didn't see how they were confining themselves within the order of things.

    Getting exposed to a freer expression in Western culture through Hollywood was something I delved into eventually, but later on, I realized it was from a mainly Western male perspective too. Women were still objects (in the negative sense).

    The writings of American feminists (no one specific) changed that, but I also sensed some victimization in them that put me off sometimes. It's one thing to be reactionary, another to be self-conscious of one's work potentially being reactionary and to seek to make it proactive instead.

    Your article was beautiful because you shared your own personal story. You were vulnerable and by doing that, you invited the reader to see that your work wasn't reactionary in the negative sense, but was out of genuine desire to heal internally and to heal the external confusion in the feminine spiritual landscape.

    Thumbs up!

    And again, how will a spirituality intertwined with erotic sexuality look like when self-expressed "healthily" in different cultures?

    Big question. Your article provides some interesting clues to get started with though. Good food for thought.

    Thanks for writing it.

  • Comment Link David Kim Tuesday, 14 February 2012 01:43 posted by David Kim

    Dearest Sister Vanessa:

    Thank you for showing us such a vulnerable and intimate side to yourself. Your poetry, your writing, your blog and all the work you do for the Hahl Muh Nees, is just so infused with your very own unique flavor that, I'm always left smiling at your heart felt authenticity.

    As a male, and at the risk of sounding creepy, I will take that risk with the hope that it will somehow allow the emergence of a greater vulnerability and intimacy in this space, but also in service of that which is continually arising "through us" as the lovely Ms. Bonnitta Roy continually calls for us to remember (had to include you Sister Bonnitta as you are equally lovely - continually learn so much from you) I must confess, in my experience, there are not a lot of women like you guys around. Or maybe I'm looking in the wrong places? Where do you guys hide? Ya'll are rarer than pandas!

    By coming out into the open, taking risks, speaking passionately from your highest self and being vulnerable as you continually do, you give us integrally informed trying to walk-our-talk guys hope that there might be more of you out there, if we keep looking. Thanks again, for all your love and for your rich and wonderful offering.

    David

  • Comment Link Carol Horton Tuesday, 14 February 2012 03:46 posted by Carol Horton

    Hey Vanessa -

    My reaction to this is a sense of recognition: that we as a culture are missing some vital, visceral sense of being plugged into the power of life. The desire to live with passion and beauty, mystery and meaning, is the force of the erotic. Our culture has felt largely devoid of this for some time now. For all too many, there seems to be a sense of being stifled, tricked, disconnected, hoodwinked, lost . . .

    I don't think that this is in any sense a young woman's issue in particular. You experience it as such because you are that - but the same basic schema (with variations!) could well apply to an 80-year-old man - or to a five-year-old child who's already feeling pressure to fit into some stultifying box.

    I guess that's to say that the sexual element is a life cycle element, but that the question of the erotic itself spans the full course of human development. So, I guess my question might be: what's gained and what's lost by narrowing your focus to young women? When it is better to do so - and when might it be better to widen the lens?

  • Comment Link Vanessa D. Fisher Tuesday, 14 February 2012 04:54 posted by Vanessa D. Fisher

    Thank you for the great comments and feedback so far everyone.

    Stuart, Gilles and Bonnitta, I LOVE YOU GUYS! I mean that, you are such special friends to me and you make me teary, tender and sweetly erotically charged at the same time :)

    Amir, great questions to put out in regards to other cultures. I think this is really important, and it is also an area I'm delving more into. I don't feel expert enough to write about other cultures as in-depth yet, but I am exploring the territory.

    One example you may be interested in, I will be doing a live dialogue with Elza Maalouf on my website as part of my upcoming podcast series. We will be looking at the recent phenomenon of young Arab women who are stripping down on the internet and on magazine covers as a statement of freedom for women in the middle east. It is a very complex topic, and Elza, being from the Arab world, has some great perspectives on it.

    We also plan to dive into what sexual freedom means for women in different cultures. I think it should be juicy.

    This is a link to the young Egyptian woman who posed naked on the internet and caused massive controversy:

    http://articles.cnn.com/2011-11-19/middleeast/world_meast_nude-blogger-aliaa-magda-elmahdy_1_egyptian-blogger-nude-photo-kareem-amer?_s=PM:MIDDLEEAST

    And this is an Arab-Israeli woman who recently posed in a tiny bikini for a mainstream magazine with the intention of empowering herself and other women.

    http://www.mizozo.com/entertainment/10/2011/10/huda-naccache-arab-israeli-model-pose-in-the-bikin....html

    It's definitely a very interesting conversation. And of course, gets even more interesting when we start talking about men too!

    Feel free to add any pieces of your own journey here Amir, if you want. I'm happy to engage any pieces of the conversation around it for men that you would like to talk about also, as I think having a safe and conscious space to explore this is also really important for men in so many ways...

    David, thank you very much for your supportive words brother. Very sweet...

    And Carol, I completely agree. I think I'm particularly trying to reach a specific demographic with this article, because of the nature of my last two articles, but it is by no means meant to be limited. Plus, I've now turned 28, so I won't be in the category of "young woman" for a whole lot longer :)

    I'd love to see this conversation branch out to all ages, all genders, all sexual orientations, and all races... I would support anyone who would like to ignite that fire!

  • Comment Link Marco V Morelli Tuesday, 14 February 2012 21:05 posted by Marco V Morelli

    Hey Vanessa- a good friend of mine sent me a quote the other day that I think reflects the essence of your article; so in the spirit of synchronicity, I'd like to share it here, along with an optional) question or two . . .

    "The beloved is already in our being, as thirst and 'otherness.' Being is eroticism. Inspiration is that strange voice that takes man out of himself to be everything that he is, everything that he desires: another body, another being. Beyond, outside of me, in the green and gold thicket, among the tremulous branches, sings the unknown. It calls to me." - Octavio Paz

    I think what's beautiful about this quote, as with your piece, is that it goes to the ontological and spiritual root of the erotic, and yet gives it concreteness in sexuality, nature, and, by extension, an infinity of other expressions.

    I find it fascinating that the erotic always involves an 'otherness,' a distance and intimacy in dynamic tension. This means that there is also always a relationship that is presumed, whether it's to a physical lover, the starry sky, or any other being.

    One aspect of eroticism is the self-relationship, or how you relate to your own deepest energies and desires as they arise through your bodymind. Another aspect is sexual, relating to others, men and women. But another aspect involves how you relate to the world at large. (We might call these the I, We, and It dimensions of Eros.)

    To focus on the "It" (or your Id for the It, heh) you mention that one way you're experiencing the erotic is in your desire to serve the larger whole through your work and being-in-the-world. One piece of this is your writing. And I know that you've been traveling the world, on a pilgrimage of sorts. So . . . I'm curious what you're finding most "other" and unknown (and erotically attractive) in this sphere, and how, perhaps, it flows back into your experience of sexuality.

    To give an example, in my early 20s I travelled and did volunteer work in Central America. That's where my mom is from, which is partly why I wanted to go. But it was also a difficult and forbidding place for me because of its history of war and violence (from which my parents sheltered me) -- and I wanted to somehow face those realities.

    Through my work and interviews and reading, I learned a lot about the political history of these countries (especially Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala), and the role of my "home" country, the USA, in some of the painful realities that I heard about and witnessed.

    What's interesting is that in my poetic imagination, I always saw this part of the world as a feminine being, and I felt truly, deeply, and passionately in love with it/her. I loved the individual people I met, worked with, and befriended, but in some sense, I was also in love the place itself. This came out in my poetry at the time.

    I'm sure that, on a Freudian level, this imaginative trope was a way for my unconscious to transfigure an erotic relationship with my mother. But I believe there is also a way in which peoples, places, and cultures have an erotic energy of their own -- not apart from, but deeper than whatever psychodynamic complexes we bring to the equation.

    If that resonates with you, I'd love to hear more about how you feel this global dimension of Eros is expressing itself in your travels, learning, and work in the world . . .

    Thanks for the thought-provoking article!
    -Marco

  • Comment Link Vanessa D. Fisher Wednesday, 15 February 2012 08:30 posted by Vanessa D. Fisher

    Dear Marco,
    What a beautiful post, and what a beautiful quote. Thank you.

    I'm literally right now feeling some warmth wrapping around my being when I read your words, and I'm not exaggerating. It actually feels very sensual and I suppose because your worlds hold some deep beautiful humility and resonance in them...

    I love how you are articulating your own experience through traveling and your relationship to the lands of other countries and cultures. I most definitely have felt that too.

    I actually had my most potent hit of that when I was in Cambodia this past October. South Korea has also been a great experience, but the soil and the people of Cambodia, for some reason, oozed much deeper into my being at a soul and erotic level.

    Of course, I don't intend to glorify or idealize any one culture, but as a general statement, I found the Cambodian people so delightful, earthy, richly erotic and full of joy, even in their poverty in hardships.

    There is dire poverty in Cambodia of course, and as a white person visiting there, but I still found the people incredibly endearing and warm for the most part (at least the ones I encountered).

    I was lucky, on my first day in Cambodia, to meet a young Cambodian man who I then paid to be my tour guide. He took me to some wonderful places. He took me to the amazing temples of Angkor Wat (which completely blew me away!), but he also took me to the more non-tourist areas, where I got to meet more of the local people in the poorer villages. He even took me to a local Cambodian kickboxing match, which was utterly fabulous and erotic beyond words!

    The Cambodian kickboxers were so utterly beautiful. Their style of fighting was full of reverence and humility, and unlike any kind of fighting I've witnessed in the West (from my limited experience). I was also deeply mesmerized by their dark brown chocolate skin as I watched them fight, perhaps in the way it offered this compelling contrast and "otherness" to my own pale white skin~I found it incredibly erotic.

    In the poor villages, I also met many Cambodian children who had barely seen a foreigner before, and the interactions I had with those children I know will remain some of the most cherished moments of my life. Their innocence, beauty and fascination with me sunk deep into my soul on a very profound level. I truly fell in love with those children, and I had a couple experiences of feeling like the world mother to these children... as an embracing energy of some sort.

    And like you, learning about the history of Cambodia was also very important to my love affair with the place. The suffering that the Cambodian people have endured is unimaginable, and it put my own life and privilege into a whole different perspective...

    So yes, a love affair with the unique beauty of other lands and the people of those lands has definitely been part of my journey, and part of my humbling process. Each place I go challenges and changes me...

    Thanks again for provoking the questions. And I love the way you are holding the erotic through I, WE, and IT. I deeply resonate, and the second person relationship to the erotic, whether through my physical lovers, or through the lands of other cultures, or through God in its infinite forms has always been the most potent form of erotic exchange and spiritual insight for me...

  • Comment Link Karen Thursday, 16 February 2012 00:19 posted by Karen

    I thought one of the points you brought us about Lordes..."despite the fact that patriarchy can eulogize certain forms of pornographic and exhibitionist sexual expression, patriarchy at its core actually perpetuates an anti-erotic and anti-feeling culture." very interesting and struck a cord with me. I would loved to hear your thoughts more on this... esp. the anti-erotic and what is your framework for the difference between pornographic/​exhibitionist vs. erotic... fascinating stuff your exploring, and inspiring!

  • Comment Link Vanessa D. Fisher Thursday, 16 February 2012 04:36 posted by Vanessa D. Fisher

    Hey Karen,
    Thanks for probing a bit deeper into this. There is a lot I could say on this topic, and probably will have more come to me as my own journey deepens and unfolds over time...

    If you'll allow me, I'm just going to authentically ramble a bit here to see what comes in response to your question.

    The first word that comes to mind for me in response to your question is the word "power". And the question of: "What is real power"? Right now I'm particularly thinking about the continuum of sexual and erotic power, but it isn't limited to that.

    I do feel it is very important for us as women to start really digging into the question of power, and how we experience and express power in the world, sexually, erotically and otherwise.

    I would say that our relationship to power itself exists along a developmental spectrum, and that a lot of our relationship as women (and men) to erotic power gets stunted or fixated at early stages of development for many of the reasons I've illuminated in this article. That sexual stunting then also stunts and kinks us in many other areas of our lives.

    Particularly, I see this due to Western culture's largely schizophrenic and divided relationship to sex, which perpetuates a lot of confusion and disconnection~ giving us a culture stuck in repression-expression cycles.

    We haven't really re-calibrated as a culture, nor are we congruent in our sexual messages, so that will be reflected in each of us also to different degrees...

    We each have different personal backgrounds, but we are all also mirrors of the culture we grow up in and live in. That is why becoming conscious of these dynamics within ourselves is so important, and gives us the possibility of navigating a way through to something more conscious and something based on real choice.

    In my view, a great deal of pornography is caught in this unhealthy cycle of our culture. I'm not against pornography, and I've watched a lot of it. I also enjoy some of it.

    There are many different degrees of porn~ from tasteful and sensual erotica, to all out hardcore violent porn where women are raped, beaten and even simulated having their throats slit. When you go far down the rabbit hole of the porn world, it gets scary, and even more scary is how available it is!

    But porn itself is a vast spectrum. I would say that pornography perpetuates an anti-erotic culture when it portrays sex that is disconnected from intimacy. Most hardcore porn does this. Hardcore porn is often women simulating pleasure and portraying themselves for the male gaze. This encourages a disconnection from self, a disconnection from pleasure, and a disconnection from ones own desires as women. This seems obvious sexually, but the impacts go far beyond just our sexuality...

    As women, I would argue that we tend to often see ourselves and our bodies through patriarchy's eyes before our own. And we get a certain kind of secondary power by playing into that game (hence the Girls Gone Wild phenomenon, etc), but ultimately it keeps us caged, or more accurately, it keeps us stunted in our deepest erotic growth.

    When women really start connecting with their own erotic power in the deepest sense, it is incredibly potent because it is destabilizing to the status quo.

    There are not really any structures in patriarchal society to hold women who are deeply coming from that mature erotic relationship with themselves and the cosmos, and thus it shakes things up in the deepest way. A woman acting from that place is a huge threat to the system itself...

    I also just want to make clear that I'm not equating patriarchy with men. I see patriarchy as a system, and men's sexuality and eroticism is just as stiffled, stunted and caged within that system. And when women liberate themselves from that system, they also invite men to liberate themselves by giving men a new way to see women. We have to liberate each other.

    So ultimately, what I'm saying is that there is a ton of stuff in our culture that is labeled as "sexual freedom" that really is just women internalizing the patriarchal gaze, and perhaps using it to their advantage, but not really freeing themselves at a deeply erotic level in a way that would actually destabilize the system itself.

    Women get a lot of benefit from playing into that system, and we can derive a certain kind of power from it, but it is not really "free" in the way I or Lorde are speaking about. That is what is so confusing about it all. What looks free and empowered and even transgressive and badass resistance, can really easily just be a new twist on the same old patriarchal game...

    I don't know if that answers your question, but that is what came :) Feel free to inquire deeper if you want, or share some of your own insights too.

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Thursday, 16 February 2012 05:28 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    I join with the others Vanessa in gratitude for your vulnerability and skill in making clear that the sexual is just one (important) manifestation of Eros.

    We are still learning, as men, to learn the skill of witnessing how our culturally acquired assumptions sexualize eros every time and freeze it there. This practice of witnessing sexual arousal, but letting it morph, deepen, transmute, move through us as a creative energy would save our species from a lot of grief.

    It may be a key practice in helping us move to the next iteration of humanity. As Barbara Marx Hubbard puts it, the desire to procreate is contextualized by the desire to co-create.

    Thanks again Vanessa

  • Comment Link Mushin Thursday, 16 February 2012 12:54 posted by Mushin

    Hi Vanessa,
    You mention that recent studies have shown, that 58% of women do not consistently experience pleasurable orgasms during sex. And that makes me wonder if not an equal amount of men (or maybe many more) still don't know what a real orgasm is like. Tell-taling in this regard is the wikipedia article about ejaculation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ejaculation) which illustrates that orgasm and ejaculation are regarded as almost the same 'thing'. But that is just genital orgasm, which, to be sure, is pleasurable, but it's like the difference between fun and joy...
    I discovered that accidentally, really, when a "real orgasm" simply happened. It IS a rare occurrence, and since I'm not in a relationship anymore, is not really available as, in my case, a deep intimate abandon is part of that, something that does seem to require a building up of trust and intimacy for a longer period of time...

  • Comment Link Vanessa D. Fisher Friday, 17 February 2012 04:26 posted by Vanessa D. Fisher

    Bruce, thank you for your sweet words. Your support means a lot. And yes, we are all in this learning together, men and women alike. I think this entire journey through the sexual and erotic takes a lot of humility, compassion, bravery, grit and surrender to navigate. And we have to support each other because it will often be a messy process...

    Mushin, I couldn't agree more. There is a similar struggle with men around all this. I personally can't wait till someone writes an article to really address the difficulties facing men in this area. I'd totally do it myself, but I just don't have the firsthand experience :)

    Thanks for the reference!

  • Comment Link Dan McKinnon Sunday, 19 February 2012 16:12 posted by Dan McKinnon

    Hello Vanessa,
    Once again you have skilfully uncovered and exposed a catalytic conversation that is both, timely and timeless. Thank you! And yes, Sasha, Sera and you do have the similar look of sisters. What a terrific looking glass on the self they must be for you (and them?). It is seductively encouraging to realize that a "universal life force" such as Eros so penetrates each of us to the core of our being. Truly liberating, indeed. You've helped me further understand the truth in the saying that, "life lives us as much as we live life". Thank you, again! I notice that you chose not to mention Thanatos (death/destruction) the darker twin of Eros (life/creation), and how enfolded in every act of creation is a equally transformative movement of destruction. How do you think Thanatos shows up in your world of eroticism, sexuality and feminine liberation? As someone who is much further along the life cycle than you I wonder what your thoughts are about how the erotic expresses itself across the generations. Vanessa, I so admire and respect your courage, compassion and genius as well as your Eros-infused efforts to create a life that transforms anyone who knows and loves you. Thank you, a third time!

  • Comment Link Vanessa D. Fisher Sunday, 19 February 2012 23:48 posted by Vanessa D. Fisher

    Hey Dan, thanks for the great question indeed!

    Let me move it out of theory, and into my own direct experience, and then weave it back out into your larger question.

    In my own experience, Eros and Thanatos have always been deeply intertwined. I allude to it in the article when I speak of how this erotic energy force was expressed in many unhealthy ways in my early years, and in ways that became incredibly destructive and dark.

    After declaring that I no longer believed in God, I cycled into quite a whirlpool of destructive and addictive behaviors because I didn't have a healthy outlet for that intense energy within me.

    I've also vacillated between those two poles my whole life, only now starting to get more conscious control on it all to really work towards using it as a force of light, goodness and beauty in the world.

    But the potential for destruction and darkness is always present.

    Ultimately, that darker aspect is also part of the juice. It is the Kali/Durga energy. And that destruction and death element is necessary for real deep transformation.

    The Kali archetype has always been very present in my experience, and started showing up in my life at a very young age. And she is a face and metaphor for that wildfire energy of transformation. I also think she is somewhat more linked into feminine/female expressions of sexuality for a few reasons. And it is also partly that energy that attracted me to Sasha and Sera.

    Thing is, I've learned from my own experience that that energy is incredibly potent and also incredibly powerful, and not something to be held or used lightly or naively. That is why I've put such an emphasis on proper containers and supports for working with that energy.

    I've learned through my own experience that these deeper dark energies are both incredibly potent and useful, but also can be incredibly dangerous and destructive if not worked with skillfully, and if one doesn't place themselves in a very humble relationship to that energy.

    Also, everyone is at different places in their ability to work with those kind of darker energies, and that is why developmental containers are also very important for people at different stages along the journey.

    I've had many experiences in my own life of thinking I was much farther along than I was, because I'd had some incredibly deep and powerful experiences. I developed an arrogance in relation to that force that ended up getting me into some very dangerous and even life-threatening situations.

    That is why being sensitive to these potential dangers is so important in my view, for anyone that is putting tantric-type ideas into the mainstream. This is party why I've been critical of David Deida's work also.

    This is also part of why I've been so concerned with certain approaches that don't hold the developmental sensitivity to all this in the forefront, and also approaches that mainstream this energy into a commodity to be bought and sold in the spiritual marketplace.

    I think it can be dangerous. Not for everyone obviously, but for some it can be. Which is why a sensitivity to the wider collective is so important in my view.

    And I also think my karma, ultimately, is to support people working with these darker energies, because I've been to hell and back with them...

    I do think that the erotic stretches far beyond "young women" and in future I think I will drop the reference to young women as my main demographic, as I think what I'm speaking to is much broader than that. I think helping older women find their way within this is also just as essential. And I think supporting men in this is also extremely pertinent. As I do think men have less supports and guidance in this area at present.

    Thanks again for the great questions!

  • Comment Link Vanessa D. Fisher Monday, 20 February 2012 01:59 posted by Vanessa D. Fisher

    I also just wanted to add to this last point that just as keeping all these potential pitfalls and danger zones in awareness is really critical in my view, I'm also very adamant to not encourage a kind of fear around women's (or men's) sexuality.

    I think there is already a lot of fear around sexuality coming from different corners of religious and even feminist discourses, which even when well intentioned, can add to the problem.

    So finding a way to support women and men in becoming conscious of their sexual energy, building containers, discernment and a sense of responsibility around it, but also facilitating a joyous relationship to the process is all part of what I would like to see occur in sex education in future...

    I think a lot of the problem really lies in the fact that we are not well educated around sex, nor are we well educated around energetics, and energetic relationships. If we were better educated and taught to be more aware of all these dynamics, I think there would be less pitfalls along the way.

  • Comment Link Dan McKinnon Monday, 20 February 2012 14:35 posted by Dan McKinnon

    Dear Vanessa,
    What a perfect "fire in the belly" and being-provoking response to my post. Thank you MUCH. You do embody the Kali/Shakti universal force with such elegance. It's a brilliant idea you have, educating for the erotic energies and energetic relationships and doing so in public education would be a fearless and fruitful teaching indeed. I'm going to give that some thought for quite sometime. Hoping to awaken my own creative (Eros) force. If one thinks that "outing" the erotic in adult culture would be taboo and transformative (which we both do) the lid of the erotic energetic container would blow if one did so with children. One thing I'm wondering, and you nicely touch upon it, is how do the erotics and energetics of those usually forgotten or side-lined by popular culture, our elders,come alive and thrive? Anyone over 50, maybe even 40, has at least once and most likely many times existentially expressed how Thanatos is now in them and with them and a scramble for a liberating Eros is frantically underway. Looking forward to exchanging energetics with you "now and then" on our shared life path....:>)

  • Comment Link Terry Patten Monday, 20 February 2012 22:42 posted by Terry Patten

    Beautiful article, Vanessa! You've shared your own inquiry here in beautiful, intelligent fashion. And I think the rich comments have only deepened and expanded the discussion. Gorgeous really. On the themes that have already been discussed, I don't have much to add. But I have some additional thoughts...

    I've often been struck by three distinct kinds of feminine eros:

    1) The energetic eros of the intersubjective space. This includes all the dynamics of how women get turned on and turn on men, and how erotically-charged energies are felt, held, intensified, exchanged, projected, and resolved or discharged. How the attention a woman attracts can be incredibly psychically intense, and a source of very real physical, or even energetic threat and of amazing (and increasing) power. And how some women develop in their capacity to attract this energy and use or circulate it and the power it brings with confidence and skill and maturity.


    2) Feminine sexuality itself, including pleasure, comfort in the body, the capacity for ecstasy, orgasmic aliveness, the capacity to stream and scream with abandon and delight and to circulate those energies with a lover — to receive and to give in a seamless flow.

    3) The "higher" inspirational and aspirational eros of "the Goddess" or the Muse, functioning like Dante's Beatrice, to attract men and women upward, to evolve, to awaken, to create, to aspire to our highest possibilities.

    I've often been struck by how little they're correlated, developmentally. Women (and men!) who are highly developed in one of these domains of erotic capacity are sometimes blocked or undeveloped in one or more of the others.

    This is particularly intense, and perhaps painful, when an attractive young woman is highly developed in the first sense but not terribly developed in the second sense. Sasha Grey is good at working with the energy and attention she can attract, but is her actual sexual life full and happy and pleasurable and ecstatic and fulfilling?

    Our sexualized media culture is all about this first kind of eroticism but it builds a charge that can only be resolved when it's married to (2) and/or (3).

    I wonder if part of what you've been doing, Vanessa, is to resolve these different dimensions of your own being, especially by addressing the distortion-field that popular culture creates around this first kind of eroticism, and perhaps of your own experience of attracting attention you probably at first didn't know what to do with?

    Thank you for being courageous and transparent about this exploration. I hope this contributes!

  • Comment Link Vanessa D. Fisher Tuesday, 21 February 2012 09:22 posted by Vanessa D. Fisher

    @ Dan: Yes, I think the process of awakening Eros in the elder years, and in those who have been sidelined by traditional definitions of beauty, is a very fruitful inquiry, and is also close to my heart.

    This is why I like Audre Lorde, cause she was anything but the traditional female beauty. She was a radical black lesbian feminist, I believe in her 40s or 50s, when she wrote "Uses of the Erotic, the Erotic as Power."

    Lorde is inspiring both for her provocative calling, and for the ways she existed outside patriarchal definitions of beauty.

    Of course, this then forefronts how I relate to my own appearance/beauty as a more "tradionally beauty" woman by patriarchal standards, and also puts into question how I hold that in relation to what I'm putting forward with the erotic when I display my own body like I have in this article.

    I'll go into this more as I address Terry's question next.

    Thanks again for the inquiry, and more power to you in awakening the erotic in your later years of life!

  • Comment Link Vanessa D. Fisher Tuesday, 21 February 2012 09:51 posted by Vanessa D. Fisher

    @ Terry: Thanks for the great questions and inquiry.

    There is definitely lots in what you have said, and I'm sure you and I could have some deep conversations about it over a cup of tea at one point (let's plan for that! :)

    I'll offer some initial reflections that come to me in the moment.

    In regards to the 3 areas you point to, definitely very interesting to contemplate.

    The energetic of eros in the intersubjective space is definitely potent, and I'd say the site of sexual experience and exchange that is very mired with complexity and potential pitfalls in our culture.

    How women develop a healthy, free, but also responsible and contained relationship to that intersubjective dimension with men and other women is really huge.

    This is particularly true because there is so much room for potential mis-use of that attractive power in the intersubjective space. And as you and I have talked about before, it is also a space where men can be easily manipulated and sucked into unhealthy dynamics with women. It's definitely a bit of a mine field, and not a lot of role models for how women (or men) can navigate that space with a sense of integrity, congruency, responsibility and grace. But I do believe that if it is done well, and with consciousness, it is one of the most beautiful dimensions for erotic exchange.

    Female sexuality, which you've listed as the second, is also tied into the first. They intertwine.

    I agree in regards to your comments around Sasha Grey. I remember her saying on an interview once that she didn't like having much sex off screen. And although I want to be careful of projecting, I have to say from watching a great deal of her videos, I don't sense her as a young woman who is really connected to her deepest pleasure. I definitely feel she is getting something out of doing the porn, but I don't feel that something is pleasure... That is my read anyways.

    And moving to the third area you mention. Very interesting also~what you articulate as the feminine as muse.

    I agree about the use of attractive and aesthetic power to move evolution. Reminds me of Alfred North Whitehead's notion of beauty being the ultimate attractor and drive of Eros and evolution. I've always felt that potential deep in my own being too, and what I've been most drawn to.

    My only caution around this aspect is how we see the feminine in this light. Many images of the feminine that have functioned as this muse role in male literature, poetry or fantasy have been very traditional in female appearance, and also somewhat passive in their own creative role as women.

    Of course this brings up the whole debate about "what is masculine, what is feminine", which we don't need to get into :) But it is interesting as a point in regards to what kind of imagery is available for women (and also men) in visioning themselves embodied at this "third" stage.

    This somewhat also weaves back into the questions that came up a bit in Dan's post, and also your question about how I've related to my own appearance as a "traditionally" beautiful woman.

    I agree with you that putting attention to Sasha and Sera's work has been a kind of working through and healing of layers of personal and cultural psyche for me, which stretch from the personal to the collective, and my own attempt to enter into a more conscious and congruent relationship to all those aspects of self.

    It was also a big thing for me to post the nude painting of myself because of all the things that a naked woman's body brings up when placed in the public sphere, and also my own desire not to limit notions of beauty to any one body-type or expression for women.

    I've been inquiring into beauty from a very early age, and I think it is a very big conversation (probably too much to bring into this comment thread), but just to say that I am aware of all the tensions of it, and my own desire to constantly expand definitions, while simultaneously learning how to embrace my own expression of beauty at increasingly deeper, mature and more authentic levels... It is an ongoing journey.

    Thank you again for the juice you've brought. Obviously so much more than I can address here. But again, let's plan for that coffee...

  • Comment Link Philip Corkill Wednesday, 22 February 2012 00:00 posted by Philip Corkill

    Hey V,

    as you know, I'm not much of a reader or intellectual and I'm committed to The Magellan Courses and readings and that is way more than I can handle. I can't fit these great Beams articles into my schedule any more.

    I'll make an exception here if you can convince me it will be worth my time. Why should I read all those words?

    Love,

    Phil

  • Comment Link Vanessa D. Fisher Wednesday, 22 February 2012 04:44 posted by Vanessa D. Fisher

    Phil, I don't know you personally so I'd simply say that everyone has different access points. If working on the Magellan Courses is where your energy is drawn, I would follow that.

    I have zero interest to convince anyone to read my articles unless they are inclined to.

    Peace,
    Vanessa

  • Comment Link Philip Corkill Wednesday, 22 February 2012 15:24 posted by Philip Corkill

    Thanks V,

    In that case I will be reading it soon;-)

    CU

    Phil

  • Comment Link Amy Jean Cousins Friday, 24 February 2012 07:51 posted by Amy Jean Cousins

    Hi Vanessa,
    I feel like this article is like a "coming out" for you so to speak.

    I know a little about your spiritual history in that you were once connected with Andrew Cohen's work. What I find (from following on the periphery at that time), is that there was increased focus on the "impersonal" or "post-personal" perspective of spiritual eros or evolution.

    What I love and appreciate about your piece here is that you've dramatically and "personally" stepped out into the internet and said, "this is me, AND" as opposed to solely, "this is what I think". In my opinion, as I am currently studying Cohen's teachings, it is important to include (and there is definitely space for) both the personal and the post-personal in our inquiries. I sense this is a big time of personal inquiry for you, and I appreciate you sharing your process publicly, and with transparency, here on Beams.

    I believe deeply in Wilber's "transcend and include", and am a stickler for provocative and cyclical inquiry into areas we may have too quickly tossed aside in the name of "evolution" or "personal development". Eroticism and sexuality are definitely areas we can all push into; healthy exploration of all lines of development is crucial.

    I love all the quotes you've shared from Audre Lorde - that's really powerful stuff. I've personally been contemplating the nature of desire lately as the force which pulls us forward; the force that compels and inspires us into our next move. Too often I witness this desire within us being interpreted through (simply) a sexual lens.

    Because we are not taught to relate to our bodies on a subtle level, the first line of reference for this sensation is sex. To be totally honest, most "subtle" or remotely "intimate" experiences are often interpreted through a sexual lens. But the reality of it is that it could be a whole host of things yet to be manifest! It could be a creative business relationship, the next major or minor lesson on your path, a fantastic meal, or a new pair of shoes. Desire can lead us in all directions... the impulse is there, we just have to learn how to interpret, trust and follow it's lead.

    So now that you're "out" and have shared parts of your story, I look forward to seeing how this personal perspective will cycle back through and include a post-personal lens as you continue to explore your own edge and push into the cultural collective at the same time.

    In gratitude, Amy

  • Comment Link Vanessa D. Fisher Saturday, 25 February 2012 00:38 posted by Vanessa D. Fisher

    Dear Amy,
    Thank you very much for your beautiful note. Yes, cyclical inquiry is very important I believe. In my experience, development is not a one-way or linear track, which is why I even find the whole notion of linear evolution problematic.

    We are always weaving in and out of pre-personal, personal, and transpersonal tapestries... And to me, that is where the real richness and beauty is. Being able to include and embrace it all, while at the same time also being able to make important developmental distinctions and discernments~that is the great challenge of it all, and I think it requires a lot of flexibility, humility and compassion.

    Desire is a big topic... it is also juicy and raw and vulnerable. So it only seems appropriate to embody all those qualities when I inquire into it. I'm glad you enjoyed Lorde as much as I do!

    And you are definitely right, it has been a "coming out" for me on many levels. Moving across the world has also impacted this in a big way, as well as working on the ground in other cultures. It has given me a deeper appreciation for all the dimensions of self, culture and nature that weave int one another and call for my attention and my service...

    As a last note, you are right that I have woven in and out of the Cohen teachings, but I have never been a formal student. I've learned a lot from my relationships in that world, and I'm grateful for the work they are doing, but it has never been a path I've followed exclusively.

    Much love to you,
    Vanessa

  • Comment Link Philip Corkill Sunday, 26 February 2012 07:04 posted by Philip Corkill

    Hey again Vanessa,

    Thank you for being so beautiful...

    It remains really tough for me to take in this piece. Not being a good reader or philosopher. So, I'm gonna take it in bites. I wish I could listen to you read it or watch you speak it. That would be a lot more informative for me. However, as I have said, you are worth it, so I will take it as an initiation to further contact with you, to battle my way through my lack of literacy here.

    In this little 31 year old life, in a male body, I have had a strange relationship with this topic. One reason, is that my surrogate spiritual teacher, Pyar Troll, a brilliant and brutally radiant woman, with whom I shared and incredible non-sexual intimacy, "had a great fall" from integrity around this, in spite of rigorous training addressing all the domains from the heart down to the big toes, and living in a normal conventional sexual relationship of considerable depth and beauty.

    It was deeply mystifying and incredibly painful to see our Sangha go through such an ordeal, that dragged so many beautiful men and women with it. Of course, in the long run, we all learned a lot. The ones that have been able to weep enough...

    ...I don't know if I will ever weep enough actually...

    just see this magnificence:
    http://www.pyar.de/pyar%20galerie/index.html

    What became evident for many of us was that it can no longer really be accepted that a spiritual teacher offers a master-disciple relationship (and I stand by the beauty of that form beyond the integral formulation "teacher-student" which would kill all the terrifying wonder and surrender of such a relationship) without becoming soooo fully integrous with his/her humanity, and especially his/her animality, that it boarders on demanding super-human standards. which I don't think is fair. This training must be developed. Otherwise we will see Gafni, after Gafni, after Gafni, and who knows if we are even seeing him, or our own lack of erotic understanding...

    There is a possibility of Master-Master relationships at this time too. Or servant-servant, even student-student mutuality, but the risk of loosing any true discipline, is so great, that it is hard to tell if this has any true value at all, for me.

    However, worse than anything conceivable, is a Master-Disciple relationship, where one of the two, particularly when it's the "master", is mixing his heart or even his prayers into the offerings of his under-sucked dick (/under-licked ...).

    I know I'm far away from your piece here but since you undressed some of your life here, I am responding by sharing some of mine. Hope that's OK. This is the way I feel moved these days. You move me by sharing you beauty and I mirror it by sharing my pain.

    All this experience, leaves me deeply troubled at this time. As I notice the power of my meditation grow, I perceive the direct correlation in the amount of blow jobs on offer, from women that wouldn't have let my clean their shoes when I wanted to, years ago. And I wonder how this might be all we are truly about? And how sad I would be, had I not been graced with the de-monstration that it can not be all, that it is only the wonderful beginning that most people are denied, and go on seeking in vain, in everything, ever after (not quite ever;-). One meeting with such a blessed woman de-monstress, smashed me out of monastic life, into kingdom come, for good. a leave you tonight with that beauty (publicly available, so I assume it is ok to share):

    http://adverstock.photoshelter.com/image?_bqG=39&_bqH=eJxtj1trwzAMhX9N89yxpJSAHxxLDVoTe_WlkCdjRljZBcaW3f79rFC2sE0P9neOdGzUNtMDpP3hqt3gZ4m3p1Qe4Clc7mBbb7Z1ta4v1rlqiuCUcG9pekwFRQfS46pq.n5VgVgYAGwALKwhF5t8Zxt_R_FvFP.PKvLD_JnPbQZlgvZ2iOQMS2MJde6R0SzJRYsdSodwltdL7Yz1wkq9L.blotQgpszBoY0EIvDierxvPl7Lbrx7z60jWR9kF2WLWg08VETVRMoP5.gZwzfa3Q_2jFJ58TKm55tTcZzTLZ9ffBlvNA--


    Thanks again Vanessa, so when are you arriving?;-)

  • Comment Link Alexey Sunday, 26 February 2012 20:38 posted by Alexey

    Thank you, Vanessa.
    May I ask your permission to translate
    "Undressing Sex: Re-Imagining The Art of Female Eroticism" into Russian?

  • Comment Link Vanessa D. Fisher Monday, 27 February 2012 02:35 posted by Vanessa D. Fisher

    Alexey, your request is so timely, as I will be moving to Moscow this coming April :) What forum where you wanting to publish this article in Russian? If you'd like to contact me personally to speak about it, my email address is: vanessa.d.fisher@gmail.com

    Phil, thank you for responding to my article with a sharing from your own authenticity. I definitely agree that this is very tricky territory, and it is an area that, when left unclarified, has ruined many spiritual communities. So I hear your pain.

    As for my arrival back to North America, my global pilgrimage will be unfolding for some years still, so I probably won't be back to that area of the globe for some time...

    Peace,
    Vanessa

  • Comment Link Philip Corkill Monday, 27 February 2012 02:46 posted by Philip Corkill

    Shame, it's my birthday soon. I would have loved to have you here...

    ...and Sera too... and...

    ...never mind, never mind, never mind....

  • Comment Link Willa Geertsema Monday, 27 February 2012 13:49 posted by Willa Geertsema

    Hi Vanessa,

    Thanks for making me aware of your article! Very interesting what you write. First of all, I was moved to read about the way you turned your life around as a lost teenager, I have tremendous respect for that.

    The topic you are writing about is, of course, a mine field, and you show courage sinking your teeth in it. I had a few observations which might add food for contemplation.

    You are writing about the erotic impulse, and its expression in your own life and being. And at different places, you link this to the Life Impulse, which I very much agree with. Throughout history, we have not been able to see the Life Impulse objectively, because cognitively we were at a level where we had to always project it outside ourselves (God, Mother Nature, Zeus, you name it). And although we are now capable of seeing ourselves as part of the Life Impulse, I would say we’re still quite confused; clarity at an emotional and cultural level doesn’t happen overnight and it can take a while for understanding to pierce our cultural images and emotional convictions.

    So I think the reason this area is a mine field is that this is one area where we are still quite unclear.

    You are writing: “… I do see the sexual impulse as the bedrock of our foundational relationship to the erotic impulse itself. Thus, a healthy, sane and non-fear based relationship to sex is a significant building block for sustaining and stabilizing the entire arc of our erotic and spiritual development”.

    I interpret that erotic and spiritual development in the context of eros, which is the impulse to become, to express, to create, and which can be expressed at different levels (physical/sexual, creatively, spiritually).

    That would mean there is a distinction between sex and eros. They can be the same, but aren’t necessarily. Eros is the primordial one, and sex/eroticism its expression at the level of physical procreation and the energy, pleasure, and pain that might accompany it. But that means eros can’t be dependent on sex – while sex is certainly dependent on eros (no Life Impulse, why bother to procreate!).

    Now I totally agree with you that a healthy, non-fear based relationship to sex is hugely important for a life of sanity. But rather than seeing it as a building block for erotic (in the largest sense of the word) and spiritual development, I would propose that a healthy spiritual development will make us see through our sexual neuroses and discover a free relationship to our physical expression of the erotic force (which is sex and eroticism in the sexual sense of the word).

    I think all this gets relevant in what you write about the younger generation and the “commercial packaging of sex”. I totally share your concern here. But is it true that women’s confusion is because the culture gives “very contradictory messages about sex”? I think that even before that, we are confused. For millennia, sexuality has been our only source of power. The last fifty years we have been socially liberated, but without the spiritual and philosophical wherewithal to know how to relate to that in a new way. If our deepest identification is still with our sexuality and eroticism, we will use our newfound freedom to increase that identification. None of the deeper origins of eros (as in Life Impulse) have been questioned, and hence with the fortunate falling away of cultural constraints, our female identity is unfortunately becoming more fused with the erotic.

    What I see in many women who are a bit younger than me (I am 44; I am talking about women roughly between 16 and 30) is that they don’t distinguish anymore between themselves and their sexuality. Identity seems to be fused with femininity, with the erotic, with sexual power – it can be expressed in more gross or subtle ways, whether that is a nightly “dumbing down” of bright female students at Ivy League campuses, or my brilliant colleague at work who is depressed because she turned 29 and feels at the end of her game (really!). I am almost beginning to feel grateful for the shame and guilt my dear mother taught me because at least I learned to distinguish between me and my sexuality!

    So if you are fused with your sexual identity and you want to find yourself, you need to explore your identity through the sexual, your femininity, the erotic. To me, this is a recipe for unfreedom, and confusion. Empowering young women, to me, would mean learning to distinguish between our deepest being and our sexuality, and build confidence in that deepest identity, letting sexuality be one healthy expression of a deeper confidence in Life – but only that, and not a concern or something to be built up.

    I am not talking about de-sexing women. Spiritual in the 21st century does not mean sex-less; highly developed does not mean un-erotic. To me, it means that the erotic is fully integrated into our whole being, in its rightful place, so that we have a free, healthy relationship to it and can flourish fully. I envision women to be vibrant and beautiful, but free from this painful, deeply intertwined relationship with our sexuality that always poses the question: “But what about my sexuality?”. If our eroticism is fully integrated, that question would not arise (and that is, of course, your purpose in exploring the topic in the first place!).

    It’s true that there are few women who are like that. My greatest example will always be the Indian sage Vimala Thakar, who died a few years ago – she was the most rational, deeply spiritual, fearless woman, but utterly feminine, beautiful even in her late eighties, and endearingly motherly at the most unexpected moments.

    Enough said… I hope these are interesting points for reflection. It’s a great topic and will keep us thinking and talking and evolving for a long time!

    Willa

  • Comment Link Vanessa D. Fisher Monday, 27 February 2012 16:53 posted by Vanessa D. Fisher

    Dear Willa,
    Thank you so much for your in-depth response to my piece. There is so much in what you've said that I would love to dive into. Let me sort of chaordically and intuitively pick up on a few strands and see where that takes us...

    First strand...

    You said:
    "I interpret that erotic and spiritual development in the context of eros, which is the impulse to become, to express, to create, and which can be expressed at different levels (physical/sexual, creatively, spiritually). That would mean there is a distinction between sex and eros. They can be the same, but aren’t necessarily. Eros is the primordial one, and sex/eroticism its expression at the level of physical procreation and the energy, pleasure, and pain that might accompany it. But that means eros can’t be dependent on sex – while sex is certainly dependent on eros."

    I think fundamentally we agree here. I'm not conflating eros or the erotic with sex, which I try to make very clear throughout the essay, and with Lorde as my reference point.

    I don't think sex is the only expression of Eros, and I think that is pretty obvious in the article. Where I do think our different is, and perhaps where you are feeling the tension point, is in where our emphasis lies, and perhaps a bit of nuance in how we each view development. So let me hone in a bit on that first.

    I know you are a core student of Andrew Cohen, so I sense that some of our differences may come out in that regard, which is fine and beautiful, but will impact the difference in our views for a few reasons, which I'll try to illuminate.

    First of all, I've put an emphasis on the sexual impulse as a significant foundational building block for the expression of Eros and the erotic in all other areas of life. You are arguing the opposite, that the sexual will be clarified when we in some sense transcend it and purify it's neurosis from a more spiritual standpoint and perspective.

    I lean towards the former argument because of how few spiritually clarified individuals I've met that actually embody a fully integrated sexual self without shadow. I disagree in some sense that a deep spiritual realization will in any way clarify our sexuality. We could both probably point to examples of hundreds of spiritual teachers that this wasn't the case for, and whose sexual shadows destroyed their communities.

    I would also argue that high spiritual realization without healthy foundations can actually lead to an exacerbation of pathologies at lowers levels of the developmental and erotic spectrum.

    I do agree that a spiritual perspective can offer us a unique perspective on our sexuality, and particularly our embedded identity with the sexual impulse, but I don't see it as inherently freeing us from the pathologies that can arise at the foundational levels of our sexual identity.

    I know quite a few spiritual teachers who have spoken very eloquently and had major insight on the nature of the sexual impulse and our fusion with it, but yet perpetuated some of the most flagrant sexual shadow because, I would argue, their foundations were shaky.

    I can also speak to this transparently in my own experience. I'm not a realized saint, but I've had some very powerful openings and also experience a very direct and ongoing line to the Ground of Being in my life. I say that not in arrogance because I never really earned it in the traditional sense, it came by grace, and through a lot of suffering.
    But that deeper subtle bridge to Self and Source, for me, did not in itself clear up my relationship to my sexuality, nor my kinks in that area. I suppose you could argue that I just haven't gone deep enough, or that these other spiritual teachers didn't go deep enough, but I would question that.

    I worked on my "spiritual self" for many years just to go deeper, but it never unraveled the kinks in this area. It gave me a unique perspective on it, but if I was to be totally blunt, my greatest liberational work as of the last year, and at this point in my development, has really come from engaging the sexual dimension of myself with full force, raw and unconstrained intensity (within appropriate containers) and conscious awareness.

    This has been more liberating for me than any more hours spent on a meditation cushion. And that cycling back, I feel, has also strengthened my capacity, flexibility, and extension into the other realms of erotic expression in life, including my writing, my art, and my conscious drive to create. Engaging an exploration has in no way left me more confused, rather it has been the opposite for me.

    So that is where our emphasis creates a bit of a tension point. I also think that no individual is exactly the same, and that where I have needed to get raw and intense, another person may need to refrain and abstain. And we go through cycles also, so that is where I'm weary of the one-size fits all path that I often feel in the EnlightenNext approach to women's sexuality. That is obviously a longer conversation, which I'm also open to having...

    You said:

    "But is it true that women’s confusion is because the culture gives “very contradictory messages about sex”? I think that even before that, we are confused. For millennia, sexuality has been our only source of power. The last fifty years we have been socially liberated, but without the spiritual and philosophical wherewithal to know how to relate to that in a new way. If our deepest identification is still with our sexuality and eroticism, we will use our newfound freedom to increase that identification. None of the deeper origins of eros (as in Life Impulse) have been questioned, and hence with the fortunate falling away of cultural constraints, our female identity is unfortunately becoming more fused with the erotic."

    I think there is definitely important truths in what you are saying, but again, for me, they feel a bit one-sided in emphasis.

    I personally do think that we are getting very conflicted messages that are new due to the cultural context we are embodying in a modern and postmodern world, where shame and exhibitionism are expressing themselves in unprecedented ways. I don't think it is comparable to ancient times.

    Sure, we had other ways we were confused about sex in earlier times, but I do think we also find ourselves in a unique cultural moment.

    Where I agree with you that we NEED to question and unearth new ways of understanding the erotic and eros so that it doesn't just get fused with sexuality (which was actually what I was trying to do in the article), I also think that we have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    In my eyes, the shame, repression and fear around sex has to also be acknowledged as part of the problem, and as part of why the exhibitionism of our culture continues. It is part of a schizophrenic system.

    I know my own exhibitionism as a teen was largely due to my unresolved shame and fear around sex, and it is important to make this distinction because just because young women are acting out in sexually exhibitionist ways, it doesn't mean they have confused eros with their sexuality. Far from it, many young women aren't even connected to eros in their sexuality.

    Many young women aren't IN their sexuality or their bodies (hence the studies on lack of pleasure).

    I think if young women actually had a strong, healthy and autonomous connection to eros in their sexuality, it would go a long way in liberating eros from a purely sexual identification. That may sound like a conundrum or contradiction, but for me it was true. Healthy foundations can liberate "higher" levels of expression... so I don't hold the same space as you do with it in that regard.

    You said:
    "So if you are fused with your sexual identity and you want to find yourself, you need to explore your identity through the sexual, your femininity, the erotic. To me, this is a recipe for unfreedom, and confusion. Empowering young women, to me, would mean learning to distinguish between our deepest being and our sexuality, and build confidence in that deepest identity, letting sexuality be one healthy expression of a deeper confidence in Life – but only that, and not a concern or something to be built up."

    Again, I think we fundamentally agree, but again, it is where our emphasis lies. I personally think, as I've said, that connecting young women to the erotic/eros in sex is a foundational connection point. And without a strong foundation, we will likely perpetuate and even exacerbate shadows and kinks in the other "higher" expressions of our eros impulses.

    I don't think it has to be an either or, and I personally just have less fear that young women can't navigate this area and create distinctions for themselves if they were given the proper education and tools for discernments. I don't think exploring your sexuality as part of your identity has to be a recipe for confusion, and my concern with that kind of discourse is that I think it can add, whether intentional or not, to the fragmentation that young women are already feeling in this area.

    You said:

    "Spiritual in the 21st century does not mean sex-less; highly developed does not mean un-erotic. To me, it means that the erotic is fully integrated into our whole being, in its rightful place, so that we have a free, healthy relationship to it and can flourish fully. I envision women to be vibrant and beautiful, but free from this painful, deeply intertwined relationship with our sexuality that always poses the question: “But what about my sexuality?”. If our eroticism is fully integrated, that question would not arise"

    Again, I think we fundamentally agree :) But the difference of emphasis is important. I personally think it is fair for some young women, at particular points in their development, to ask "But what about my sexuality."

    To me, it is not something that has to be prematurely transcended or feared for in concern that young women will get lost there. Perfect integration and spiritual realization at all levels is of course the ideal, but in my eyes, it is far from where the majority of us are, and I see basic foundational work as essential to the overall picture, and the health at higher expression of eros. So that is how I hold the integration of these different realms. It is more chaordic for me, and more of a cyclic movement that is best served with strong foundations...

    Wow, that was a long-winded post :) Thanks for igniting the conversation...

  • Comment Link adubalicious Thursday, 01 March 2012 06:53 posted by adubalicious

    Thanks everyone so much for this juicy thread... here's a link to a recent interview with Sasha Grey: http://thechamps.libsyn.com/webpage/sasha-grey-flying-lotus

  • Comment Link Katherine Konner Saturday, 03 March 2012 03:11 posted by Katherine Konner

    I am 53 and have just begun experiencing sexuality as erotic and in relation to eros. I don’t mind that I’m this age because I love what is happening with my life and I cherish the relationship with goodness that grounds my being the beauty I am. This sometimes translates as a sense of empowerment, from which I have the strength to deflect projections by others towards me. I continually refocus, as one would do in meditation with the breath, on a practice which fosters communion as a true sense of care. I have attended Deida workshops to help me practice what I have to do, as me, to get to that place of enjoying communication between human beings, rather than just being so conscious of the efforts and what it takes me to shift into this conscious state. This isn’t any easy task. I’ve got a lot of shadow work still, fears of speaking up, saying what I experience, what is real. I still have to be aware of tendencies to judge or being caught in feelings and emotions and anything else that hinders the immeasurable joy which is experienced in the presence of my relationships, to my self, to other people, with all of creation existing internally and externally to my being. Being naked, exposed, is my preference.

    I have a private practice for encouraging my femininity. I use movement, sound, words while being upright in the world, and downward into my self. I explore the stages of arousal on my own and with a lover. I experiment with how these stages exist outside sexuality. For example, which level and intensity of arousal do I meet someone, place my attention on, and move with. Eros is wild. I feel the sexual exchange across dimensions and fall deeper and deeper in love. There is a blessing and a grace which I write with. There is no better place to be than in love, making love, being love as the expression through me. I seem blinded to understand whether I love God enough and feel this as pain. Yet this is what drives me, and what I hope becomes a demonstration of all that I go through to get closer to being more and more present as love, as eros reaching across any distance to commune.

    So this is the part I haven’t really read about yet in any of the posts. Yes, there is the need for knowing our selves without shame, in the glory of being what we truly are expressions of. For being the pleasure seeking pleasure, for being eros driven mad to know and experience itself through anything. I have an 18 year old daughter who I love so much, yet is in so much trouble because of her need for intimacy through sex without a handle on the complexity of feelings associated in interactions. One day I hope she can read articles like yours Vanessa, and become the woman I have loved from the moment I held her in my arms and said I am so glad it’s you.

    Thank you for your work, your insistence that we learn about our relationships, sexuality, eroticism, love, and eros.

  • Comment Link Vanessa D. Fisher Saturday, 03 March 2012 14:15 posted by Vanessa D. Fisher

    Wow, Katherine. Thank you. And sending love right back to you as you and your daughter journey with and through the erotic. Yum.

    Audabalicious, that interview was very interesting, Thanks!

  • Comment Link Philip Corkill Sunday, 04 March 2012 14:08 posted by Philip Corkill

    May it be so, Katherine...

    The goal of tears...

    My full intentions to intervene and reunite are with you...

  • Comment Link Willa Geertsema Sunday, 08 April 2012 21:39 posted by Willa Geertsema

    Dear Vanessa,
    Apologies for a very late reply. Life intervened with some unexpected events in the last month, but now that that’s all done, I will finally respond to your answer. Lifting out the main points that struck me I think will be most useful.

    First of all, obviously my views are influenced by what I fill my life with, but the fact that I am a close student of Andrew Cohen shouldn’t change the value of my views, which, given that they are uttered by me, must be my views… so I hope you take my words at face value – to me that seems an important building block for philosophical discourse, no?

    So let’s dive in… I think the next point that struck me is that we seem to have different points of view on what spiritual development means, and where it could lead to. I have to say, it saddens me what your view is, and that’s not a criticism to you, as it is not just you – this is unfortunately the current popular view on spirituality: because so many spiritual authorities have messed up, spirituality can’t be taken seriously anymore. But have you ever contemplated the purpose of spirituality, and the possibility that human beings could live up to their spiritual ambitions? Because if we humans have come up with those ambitions, shouldn’t there be a possibility to live up to them and express them? I mean, would we really come up with an ambition that we couldn’t possibly live up to? I love to dare any spiritual authority to think this through – and answering this question certainly is my own life purpose. That doesn’t make me a saint, nor does it need to – I consider it just plain common sense!

    And considering that further – what IS spiritual development, anyway? Obviously the people who fell on their face were not as developed as they, or all of us, thought – because they fell on their face. But what would a fully lived spirituality be? You point to the meditation cushion not being enough, and I agree with you… that’s exactly what has been proven over and over again. We postmoderns are so much more complex than our traditional forebears – and as the great spiritual traditions were created in traditional times they don’t give us enough to work with as 21st century humans. So here we go – we need to go further, deeper, and have some imagination about how to make this work properly.

    So this comes down to the fact that what spiritual traditions have offered us so far is great, but not enough. Most spiritual leaders have gone on their face. But if that’s the case, does that mean that the spiritual ideal is dead?

    Here I want to remind you of Wilber’s brilliant concept of Non-exclusion, which points to the fact that everything has value if judged within its own paradigm. So when judging the potential of spiritual development, we must take up the most imaginative spiritual position we can muster up, or else we should leave some space for a possibility we can’t possibly know.

    You said you may not have gone far enough in your own spiritual experience; I think you are probably right, and there is nothing wrong with that. Spiritual development takes a lot; more than doing a few workshops or having a deep experience... development happens through time and effort, and should lead to real and lasting change. This is not everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s fine. But if we don’t decide to embark on that rigorous path, then we can’t therefore conclude that it doesn’t lead anywhere meaningful.

    So all that being said – perhaps that explains the difference in emphasis you pointed out. I would call it a difference in context.

    Further to that, when I say “confused” I don’t mean unclear about all the specifics of our sexual identity. And I am also not saying that exploring your sexuality leads to confusion – if you read closely you can see that I say: exploring your sexuality in order to find your identity. There’s a subtle difference there.

    If we explore our identity through only a part of it, we are going to have a less than full view of who we REALLY are, in the depth of our souls. Chances are we’ll mistake our deepest identity for only a part of our being. And I wholly agree with you that our sexual being is a part of us, is natural, and needs to be related to in a very healthy way in order to live a free life. But, take it or leave it, I can’t help but take a position that we need to see ourselves in the glory of our fullest possible expression – call it spiritual if you want, but to me it is a potential for everyone, and simply the only way we’re going to find our way out of the complex times we live in.

    One last thing is that you mention a “one size fits all approach” to sexuality from EnlightenNext – I’d be curious where you hear or see that, as that is not what I am aware is being practiced. I would agree with you that this couldn’t possibly work – as an independently minded individual I would certainly not be wasting my own time on that :-). What is investigated is the deeper dimensions of our higher selves, while shining the light on all day-to-day expressions of those selves, including our sexuality – and this is done in many different ways without any uniform concept.

    Best wishes,

    Willa

  • Comment Link Vanessa D. Fisher Monday, 09 April 2012 00:22 posted by Vanessa D. Fisher

    Dear Willa,
    Thank you for your response. There is a lot in here I'd love to respond to.

    I'm also thinking that an online forum like this may be difficult in regards to engaging the conversation in a way that we would both feel really received and heard in the nuances of what we are each trying to articulate. I'd always be open to a call at some point if you like...


    I'm totally happy to treat you as you, and I apologize if it felt like I implied that you were simply a product of Andrew's teaching. I know you are each your own people as well. All I meant is that that I've encountered many many people and students engaged in Andrew's work and they tend to share some very similar views about development, and about women. Some I agree with, and some I really don't.


    I'll offer a couple things in response to what you've said, and I"m happy to engage further if you like, perhaps by phone?

    I wanted to make clear that I don't think facing the reality of how many spiritual teachers have fucked up has to mean that we loose our idealism of the possibilities of our own development.

    I'm also not saying that we shouldn't take spirituality seriously, nor that deep attainment isn't possible. What I'm trying to emphasize is a matured approach to our idealism that holds the need for patience and strong foundations to serve our deeper potentials. This is something I often see missing in idealistic "spiritual" seekers.

    In my article I really point to this need for strong foundations also, so as to serve the higher healthy expressions of Eros. That is where my emphasis lies for many reasons. This is also based in my own experience where working on my foundations has really allowed the more subtle forms of Eros to integrate and expand in my own life... I'm not sure from your response if you are understanding this piece of my argument? It may be the difficulty of online forums for all this.


    The "one-size-fits-all" approach I was referring to at EnlightenNext would be a nuanced conversation for us to have, which I'm open to if you want.

    I'm not saying that Andrew's teachings expects all people to express themselves the same way, but I would argue that there is many underlying philosophical and spiritual assumptions about women and sexuality that are being proposed and taught as truth within the community, and which don't serve everyone.

    I, like you Willa, take my own life and my spiritual commitment very seriously. I know I still have years to live and a long road to go in my own unfolding, but I don't feel I have ever given up on the deepest possibilities I know inside me. I'd love for you to read my latest blog on my website here:

    http://www.vanessadfisher.com/blog/beauty-the-existential-beast-my-descent-into-ugliness

    I think it will illuminate a lot of the deeper layers of my own journey, and how much I take this all very seriously, just as you do...

    Big hugs,
    Vanessa

  • Comment Link Bonnitta Roy Wednesday, 11 April 2012 12:08 posted by Bonnitta Roy

    Today I found this video. It is interesting to feel the different energies that these two women are embodying- the shape and contour, tastes and colors... as a compare and contrast. Which one are you most attracted to and why? Which one do you most identify with and why? Which one seems weak, which one strong, which one would frighten you, challenge you? Do you see an underlying feminine archetype that cuts across these differences?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ef-f-l2Pbn8

  • Comment Link Vanessa D. Fisher Wednesday, 11 April 2012 20:05 posted by Vanessa D. Fisher

    Hey Bonnitta. I love this video. I saw it a about a year back when I was working for Evolving Wisdom. Katherine Woodward Thomas did a live interview with Melissa Etheridge that I transcribed, and I had to do some research on Melissa in order to do the write-up for the call. That was when I came across this video.

    I was actually moved to tears when I watched this video. I also thought Etheridge was stunningly beautiful...

    I don't know what feminine archetype I see in it, but my experience of Etheridge in general is that I find her and her music moving and fearless. This clip is one of my favorites, and I know she knocked over the audience with this performance.

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