I first heard of San Francisco psychologist Jack Morin in Andrew Holleran’s 1978 novel, Dancer from the Dance, where there is a short mention of a group of men in San Francisco doing anal therapy together. That was Jack. Probably more than any single person, Jack counseled and coached me through the pitfalls of graduate school to my exalted status as a Ph.D. in human sexuality.
Jack Morin has written three books. In Men Loving Themselves, he has photographed, in black and white, twelve men naked and masturbating. These men are diverse in age, in race, in sexual preference and in body type. Morin reports that one reason each of these twelve men allowed himself to be photographed was that it might “be useful to others.” The photographs do not focus on the genitals but on the whole man. Each man is not only photographed by Morin but offers us a short essay or story about his solo sexuality. Morin ends the book with an essay on “the psychology of male self-sexuality.” Morin’s best known book is Anal Pleasure and Health.
Morin’s book on masturbation inspired and encouraged me during the filming of my class: Evolutionary Masturbation. His book Anal Pleasure and Health guided me during the creation of my video classes Anal Massage on a Man and Uranus–Self Anal Massage. But his magnum opus, The Erotic Mind, changed my life forever.
How does each of us know what is erotically beneficial for us? In The Erotic Mind, Jack Morin offers us assistance in the difficult but necessary process of erotic discernment. The book is divided into three parts. In Part I Morin invites the reader to an “erotic self-exploration” (p. 8) that focuses not on the reader’s sexual problems but on his or her peak erotic experiences. Part II explores the pathology of sexual scripts and low self esteem before offering us Morin’s seven steps to sexual growth. In Part III Morin investigates how long-term couples keep passion alive. His most important concept here is “cultivating warm sex.” Morin ends his book by giving the reader his understanding of the nature of erotic health.
Part I. Dr. Jack Morin, influenced by visionary psychologist Abraham Maslow, believes more transformation can be had by identifying what constitutes a peak erotic experience than by focusing on dysfunction and pathology. The main tool of this erotic self exploration is The Sexual Excitement Survey, available at the end of the book. The central elements of this survey are descriptions by individuals of “memorable encounters,” of “favorite fantasies” and of “the most intense point of excitement.”
This survey serves the reader in two important ways. Morin has given this survey to 351 men and women whose responses are the basis for the pedagogy in The Erotic Mind. Furthermore, Morin encourages the reader in the first chapter to take The Sexual Excitement Survey because real data from the reader’s personal sex life provides invaluable information for reflection and processing.
Morin’s research has found that memorable and intense erotic experiences most often involved first times, surprises, idyllic situations and/or fantasy partners.
Central to Morin’s understanding of sexual passion is what he calls “The Erotic Equation”: attraction plus obstacles equal excitement. He says that although most couples envision a harmonious love life, sexual arousal thrives upon conflict and “the dark side of lust.” (p. 56) He suggests that sex is paradoxical, which in his equation means full of obstacles. He says a foundational, healthy approach to sex involves “embracing the paradoxical perspective.” (p. 70)
Morin then explains what he calls “The Four Cornerstones of Eroticism:” longing and anticipation, violating prohibitions, searching for power and overcoming ambivalence. Longing–the foundation of romantic love–is desire for what is not present; anticipation is the short-term relishing of what is soon to happen. Prohibitions can function as an aphrodisiac, somewhat of a subset of “the Erotic Equation” mentioned above. Power dynamics–that is, being submissive or dominant–becomes co-assembled with sexual desire in many folks. Finally, a decision to overcome conflicting feelings is also a turn on for many folks. (This, too, seems another subset of “the Erotic Equation”.)
The book then offers Morin’s explanation of the role of emotion in sexual encounters. He says that “emotions are the energizers. Feelings make sex better.” (p. 110) He rightly distinguishes between emotions that often contribute to sexual arousal, such as closeness, anxiety, guilt and anger, and those emotions that flow from the experience of arousal, such as exuberance and satisfaction. In keeping with his discernment theme, Morin requests that the reader evaluate both the “emotional aphrodisiacs” and the “response emotions” in their peak erotic experiences.
Morin ends Part One of his book by exploring “your core erotic theme” (CET). He says that this internal blueprint for arousal “transforms old wounds and conflicts into excitation.” (p. 139) This concept of an erotic template or a constellation of recurring patterns parallels John Money’s “lovemaps,” but Morin says that many CETs have little to do with love, so he finds Money’s term too limiting. Morin posits that “if you wish to touch the deepest sources of your eroticism, delve into your CET, for it is the most ingenious invention of your erotic mind….Hidden within your CET is a formula for transforming unfinished emotional business from childhood and adolescence into excitation and pleasure.” (p. 141)
Morin suggests that his readers examine their masturbation fantasies, peak sexual experiences and the video pornography that they choose to watch to help them discern their CET. In a footnote, the author warns readers that an over dependence on pornography might lull the erotic imagination of the individual, rendering them less responsive to what truly excites them.
In Part II, Morin states that one can only deal with dysfunctional and pathological erotic patterns by “naming them, exploring their shape and texture, even when it’s disturbing to do so.” (p. 172) He points out that most of the problems that sex therapy dealt with in the Masters and Johnson era concerned arousal and orgasm, whereas many of the sexual problems today seem to focus on areas like the lack of desire. This chapter explores three sexual problem areas. The first problem area Morin explores is when something that in the past has caused excitement begins to produce unwanted side effects in the present. An example of this would be alcohol or drug use that in teen years lowered inhibitions but now interferes with biological arousal. The second problem deals with “troublesome attractions.” An example here would be a sexual script where a person was only attracted to others who were already in relationships. The third erotic problem comes from the Christian ethic that love is good and lust is bad. This means that a man may love his wife but not desire her; he then needs to act out his desire with prostitutes or in other “sinful” situations. Morin ends this chapter by asking the reader to discern if any of the above three erotic problems is present in his or her life.
In chapter 7, Morin tackles the relationship between sex and self-hate. He says eroticized self-hate can be the “most perplexing and troublesome of all turn-ons….Some sufferers derive unmatched intensity from compulsively reenacting their grueling inner struggle in nonstop sexual repetitions that generate enormous heat, but little satisfaction.” (p. 203) Morin goes on to explain that “anyone whose eroticism is founded on antiself core beliefs and who later develops more self-loving attitudes and behaviors will face a crisis” because the central purpose of his or her eroticism is threatened. (p.218) Again, Morin ends this chapter with practical suggestions for confronting self-hate.
How can we change what we are sexually attracted to? Morin doesn’t suggest that one can change his or her sexual preferences, but he does state that one’s preferences can be “modified or expanded” with his seven-step program. Central to his program is mindfulness of one’s body along with the ability to take risks.
Part III begins with an exploration of what keeps passion alive in long-term relationships. Morin’s advice to openly confront problems continues in chapter 9 where he states, “It is crucial to acknowledge that closeness and sexual desire are not one and the same.” (p.268) Morin notes three different reasons why couples bond. Passionate couples are in it for the erotic and emotional intensity. These couples are fragile and often break up as the sexual passion cools. Compassionate couples often are best friends or soul mates. While these folks are highly romantic, they aren’t very sexual. Pragmatic couples bond for practical reasons like money, prestige or social acceptance. These couples are characterized by a lack of sex or passion. Their relationship is more like a business deal.
Morin acknowledges that long-term couples have difficulty sustaining excitement. He suggests the importance of the other positive affect involved with sex–enjoyment. He advises couples to “cultivate warm sex.” Whereas excitement involves intensity and an increase in neural firing, warm sex involves “calmer experiences of sensuality, affection, pleasure, and playful fun….warm sex maintains an erotic playground.” (p. 283)
Couples, writes Morin, that stay together successfully for years learn the paradox of intimacy and passion. Intimacy is “engendered by the desire to know every detail” about the other. Passion is felt when one “appreciates him or her as an individual who can never be fully known.” (p. 301) Morin distinguishes between “secrecy,” which he says hurts intimate relationships, and “privacy,” which is honoring agreed upon private realms such as masturbation fantasies.
Morin’s second to the last chapter invites the reader to make a self-assessment on eight different “signposts to erotic health.” Once again Morin offers the reader very practical ways he or she can make changes in the quality of his or her erotic health.
In the last chapter, Morin makes a brilliant summary of the paradox of sex. He says that peak erotic experiences involve both excitement and fulfillment and yet, he acknowledges, that these states of being are often polar opposites. This “passion-fulfillment paradox” is what makes the dance of eros so interesting.
One of Jack Morin’s theses in The Erotic Mind is that sex is paradoxical. He says if you can tolerate erotic polarities and even rise above them, you can more deeply appreciate sex. Even the structure of his book is paradoxical. Morin offers the reader a most practical self-help book if that is the intention of the reader. But even if the reader eschews self-examination, self-healing and personal growth, this book offers a brilliant compendium of important sexual information.
Morin’s emphasis on the therapeutic nature of high erotic states could and should transform contemporary sex therapy, which has been suffocated by psychotherapy and the primitive Masters and Johnson techniques. Morin’s foundational thesis, that we can learn more about our sexuality by examining our peak sexual experiences and fantasies than by looking at our failures, seems novel in a erotophobic culture that stigmatizes pleasure and satisfaction. This very readable book investigates complicated and paradoxical erotic concepts in clear prose understandable to almost all readers.
Morin’s process of discovering your Core Erotic Theme is very similar to the shamanic journey in the Michael Harner tradition, where you allow your mind to clear and travel in your fantasy to the underworld to meet your animal spirit guide. In Morin’s scenario, you meet the central theme of your erotic imagination.
“Hidden within your CET is a formula for transforming unfinished emotional business from childhood and adolescence into excitation and pleasure.”(p. 141) This weighty statement allows at least two significant approaches to sex therapy. One is Morin’s–the exploration of the CET as a therapeutic tool. Having conscious sex as therapy is an idea whose time has come. The second sex therapy approach is even more radical. Can one access arousal that is free from the influences of one’s CET? This has been this writer’s work for the last fifteen years. Through the medium of erotic massage and masturbation coaching, many men and woman can access a state of sexual arousal free from all unfinished emotional business, religious beliefs, cultural caveats and limiting sexual scripts.
Accessing this state of sexual arousal is the erotic equivalent of the Buddhist meditation called vipassana. In this physical process, one pays attention to one’s breathing and to every genital caress. If thoughts or feeling states arise, the “meditator” just watches the mental process of thoughts or feelings arising, while continuing to pay attention to the physical. Sometimes to access arousal, the meditator uses elements of his or her CET, but once arousal is complete, then one disengages all thought processes except a mindfulness of the state of arousal, especially the ongoing caressing of the genitals and other sensuous parts of the body. During this erotic meditation, one also pays close attention to the inhaling and exhaling of breath. This is taking the “sensate focus” of Masters and Johnson to its most extreme and transformative frontier. Some even experience this state of undifferentiated high eroticism as a type of celibacy.
Psychologist-philosopher Silvan Tomkins has written that there are two major positive affects involved with human sexuality. He names these two positive affect spectrums as “interest-excitement” and “enjoyment-joy.” The affect “interest-excitement” is characterized by an increase in neural firing. A low grade increase registers as interest. The more neural firing that takes place, the more excitement is registered. “Enjoyment-joy” is characterized by a decrease in neural firing. Enjoyment involves somewhat of a decrease; joy involves a significant decrease in neural firing.
The first half of Morin’s book emphasizes the element of sex that the culture finds significant, excitement. But as The Erotic Mind unfolds its wisdom, the emphasis shifts to the other, equally important element of sex: enjoyment/contentment/satisfaction. Morin calls this realm, “warm sex.” (pp. 283-284). The second half of The Erotic Mind acknowledges that enjoyment is equally important as excitement for quality sex, especially within the context of a long-term relationship. Morin ends his book acknowledging the “unavoidable tension” between enjoyment and excitement.
Morin quotes Kinsey Institute researcher C.A. Tripp, who claims that as homosexual couples become more compatible their erotic passion declines. This writer wonders if Tripp’s generalization made from observing homosexual men has equal significance for heterosexual and lesbian couples. Men more than women define sexual passion in terms of excitement. Women more than men tend to define sexual passion in terms of enjoyment. So Tripp offers us some erotic wisdom from his research with male couples. But an understanding of the difference between excitement and enjoyment would suggest that male/male couples would be less compatible than heterosexual or lesbian couples after passion has waned.
The advent of Viagra allows us an important pharmaceutical question. If excitement produces erections and enjoyment doesn’t stimulate erections to the same degree, can Viagra supply the tumescence that is necessary for men to enjoy a high level of sexual pleasure when they are totally harmonized with their partners? This researcher thinks yes. Viagra can substitute for excitement and allow for more “warm sex.”
This writer found Morin’s discussion of children’s sexuality to be most significant. Following on John Money’s premise that “sex rehearsal play” is essential to children’s erotic development, Morin posits that “Erotically healthy people who are involved with children take an interest in their sexual development.” (p. 318) Morin takes what this writer thinks is a most radical stance when he suggests that “it’s just as important that we avoid meddling in their sensual and sexual experimentation unless we have reason to believe they might be hurt emotionally or physically.” (p. 319) Unfortunately, a significant number of parents and adults intervene in children’s sex play with age-mates or in children’s masturbatory sex play because the adults think the child might be committing a sin. This is sexual abuse of children perpetrated on a massive scale in the name of religion.
This writer would recommend The Erotic Mind to anyone interested in sexual health and erotic fulfillment.
Morin, Jack, Ph.D., The Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Sexual Passion and Fulfillment. Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 1995. pp. 390.