1. Introduction: Challenging the Massage Profession
Ever since I learned Taoist Erotic Massage (TEM) sixteen years ago, I’ve been a man with a mission. Prior to that I was trained as a massage therapist, and I learned not only the strengths of massage therapy but also some of its prejudices and weaknesses. I have come to believe that one of the most profound weaknesses in the way massage is conventionally taught is the taboo against including erotic touch in the massage. This taboo is so widespread and so strong that it is hardly questioned within conventional massage modalities. However, I believe this taboo is actually harmful and runs counter to the deepest and most central principles of massage therapy.
Massage therapists are trained to teach their clients that the body is beautiful, that the body is sensuous, that the body can be honored and healed through touch, and they are encouraged to communicate this with regard to every part of the client’s body except the genitals and the anus. These, in contrast to the rest of the client’s body, must never be touched. I believe that this ban on touching actually conveys its own message. What is being conveyed to thousands of clients, in thousands of massage sessions all over this country, is in fact a very deep wounding to the body, as masseur after masseur refuses to touch the body’s most profoundly intimate and tender places – the genitals and the anus.
This repeated refusal to touch communicates a sense that these parts of the body are somehow “unclean”, “untouchable”, and not worthy of being honored in the same sensuous way as the rest of the body. This is, in itself, a deep wounding to the body. Furthermore, for people in our culture these are also the parts of the body that carry our deepest, most profoundly rooted shame. They are also the places around which many of us carry wounds of abuse. Many of us have experienced some kind of abuse, either as children or with adult sex partners. So when masseurs refuse to touch and honor these parts of our bodies, they not only ignore opportunities for deep healing, but they actually reinforce our underlying feelings of shame and our memories of abuse.
I therefore believe that touching and honoring the entire body, and integrating erotic, genital and anal touch within massage is critically important to actually carry through the core mission of the whole massage movement. I think that when massage schools in this country ignore this, or actually speak out against it, they offer a grave disservice to the massage profession, to individual clients, and to human healing itself.
2. How is Erotic Touch Healing?
Erotic touch, especially when integrated within massage, has the potential to be profoundly healing. I would like to consider this on several levels. Firstly, when masseurs integrate respectful genital and anal touch within their bodywork, they physically counter-act old patterns of shame within their clients and within our culture. At the most fundamental level, when we, as massage therapists, are working on the body and we treat the genitals and anus as a ‘no touch zone’, what we are basically saying is that everything here is okay but these areas. This negative message is communicated at a really deep level into the body. However, by contrast, when we integrate genital and anal touch within the massage, honoring these areas as natural, “touchable” parts of the body, we send a very different message, and the body hears that. In fact, I believe our bodies are hungry for this healing message, for this profound touch.
Secondly, I believe there is enormous healing potential in pleasure itself. The sensuous pleasure of massage plays a fundamental role in creating, integrating and releasing a sense of well-being and happiness in the client, and this is actually extended and enriched through erotic touch. In fact, I think that the distinction between regular sensuous touch and erotic touch is a specious distinction. Eroticism is a natural, necessary and completely appropriate response to sensuous touch, and the separation made between them in massage mainstream dogma is false and hypocritical.
Thirdly, integrating erotic massage within a healing modality can have profound importance for people who have experienced abuse. Increasingly, we are, as a culture, coming to realize that abuse of one sort or another has been widespread in this country.
We all recognize that childhood sexual abuse, incest, rape, bad sexual encounters and physical abuse can be deeply destructive of our sense of self-worth and of our capacity for love and joy. However, abuse can be experienced at any number of levels and in many ways. Many people today speak of psychological abuse in childhood, for example, that has left them deeply wounded. Some would say the same about their religious conditioning. Many people today live with paralyzing fear around AIDS and other sexually transmissible infections. At a more basic, cultural level, I would say that living in a sex-negative society is fundamentally abusive. It abuses our bodies, our sense of ourselves, our sense of pride and joy in life – and therefore it abuses our sense of spirit. This is, perhaps, the most widespread and insidious of all forms of abuse.
I believe that respectful, sensuous erotic touch, and in particular the TEM, has enormous potential to help heal abuse on all these various levels. This kind of touch opens us to the possibility of re-programming experience, of returning to the original root experiences and reintegrating them – and reintegrating ourselves – as we, in a sense, put the pieces together again in new ways. At this level, because the TEM includes breath and touch and heightened states of energy and awareness, there is the potential to reach very deep into the body and the psyche and open up enormous emotional release. Then, with loving, sustained, nurturing touch, there is also the potential for reintegration. I can say this because I have experienced it myself, and I have observed it closely in any number of my clients.
3. Healing Abuse, Opening to Pleasure
As I have already mentioned, abuse has the potential to happen at any number of levels and in a variety of ways and it is continually being reinforced by the pervasive, almost pandemic sex-negativity of our culture. Healing from such abuse will be complex and multi-faceted, and it will often lead us through phases or periods that are not pleasurable at all.
In doing erotic, healing work with clients I have observed a characteristic pattern, which I have also observed in myself in my own personal process. When this kind of bodywork first begins, I have found that erotic touch is not necessarily associated with pleasure. This is particularly true for people who have suffered profound physical abuse. Even if erotic touch is associated with pleasure there is often a kind of split inside them that is very difficult to reconcile. This is a split between the fear of further abuse and the experience of physical pleasure itself. This is often further complicated by entangled memories of the pleasures associated with past abuse, or perhaps associated with certain kinds of pain. The masseur needs to be very sensitive and very patient as the client begins to face, rather than repress, both fear and pleasure. I think that one of the things that is so profound about doing this work with people is that it is really an expression of love, and it’s the open-hearted, respectful, embodied love that actually brings the healing, or at least lays the foundation for the healing. Being held in a continuous, non-threatening way and receiving genital touch in a steady, sensitive, loving way, can be profoundly healing. A lot of us carry body shame, and to be held, loved and touched in the places that we’re ashamed of is, in itself, a healing experience.
In this whole journey of erotic healing there are, of course, further developments and phases. Many of us need to learn how to develop our capacity for pleasure and once the first tear in the fabric of our being has begun to be repaired, then we can actually begin to re-knit the weave of delight, joy and openness to ecstatic spiritual experience in our lives. So the healing process at that point moves far beyond repair, and invites us to become more whole, more authentic, more expansive in our embrace of all that makes us truly human and fully alive. And that, for me, is the pro-active, exciting, generative dimension of erotic touch, erotic healing and erotic life.
4. TEM: Levels of Growth and Transformation
One of the things I really love about Taoist Erotic Massage (TEM) is that it is so inherently rich, functioning at multiple levels. Over my years of practice with TEM, these are some of the levels that I have discerned.
At the most basic level, Taoist Erotic Massage is about pleasure. It is wonderful to be touched. It is wonderful to be turned on. It is really wonderful to feel every tissue of the body awake, vibrating with sexual energy. This kind of pleasure is not usually available to most individuals, at least in our culture. So TEM is a great way to enhance or expand our capacity for pleasure.
At the second level, there is the potential for healing. TEM is a powerful healing tool. Moving erotic energy throughout the body heals not only sexual trauma associated with the genitals or the anus, but it also heals the body as a whole. TEM is an effective way of energizing the body, of building up the immune system, of working with depression and moving the client out of de-energized, deflated states. By building up vitality in the body and awakening a sense of physical well-being, we can effect an integration so essential for any kind of real healing.
At the third level, TEM has the potential to function as a “shamanic tool”. Many people have found that TEM is a way of achieving altered states and entering into altered perceptions of the world. For me, it is a way of awakening my ability to see the world as energy, and as energy forms. When I am practicing TEM and I reach a high enough state of arousal, with enough energy moving in my body, I find I can literally look out into the world and see it as an energy phenomenon, seeing the material world as patterns of organized energy.
The fourth level of TEM actually goes beyond this opening to altered states. I would describe it as achieving mystical states of awareness, actually peering into the center of existence. It is a little hard to articulate, but I know I have had classical, mystical experiences through this process, and I know many other people have. For me, the most real, awe-inspiring and exciting potential of TEM is what it can awaken and unleash in terms of our profound visionary capacity.
5. Exploring the “Big Draw”
At the end of the Taoist Erotic Massage, the receiver is encouraged to clench for twenty or thirty seconds all the muscles of the body. This is called the “Big Draw”. The most important areas to clench are the muscles of the pelvic floor. The Big Draw focuses the energy, circulates it throughout the body and, if enough energy has been built up through the breath-work and the touch, sends it out through the crown of the head. This process can lead to profound visionary experiences.
The Big Draw can be used in many different ways. I use the Big Draw in my masturbation practice as a way of working consciously with erotic energy. After I’ve been charging the body for a while with massage, movement and breath, I’ll use the Big Draw to collect the energy and take myself to the next plateau of experience. In this process I am using it strictly as an erotic practice, as a way of building and heightening the erotic experience. I build up the energy, I come to a plateau, and I’m able to remain at that plateau. Once I stabilize the energy, I then can use the Big Draw to move to the next level.
My lover and I are both experienced in using the Big Draw. Often, when we are having sex together, we will use this clenching as a kind of alternative to ejaculation. When we have been making love for an extended period of time, we’ll come to a climax place, use the Big Draw, and have this sort of alternative climax that sends us to very heightened states of joy and pleasure, of intimacy and release. Then we’ll come into a kind of quiet place, and rest together. This leaves us prepared to go on if we choose. So it’s a great technique for extending lovemaking, and for increasing the shared intensity of pleasure that the lovers experience. If your partner is not familiar with this technique, it can be wonderful to introduce him or her to it and to explore and experiment with it together.
In addition to offering heightened states of sexual pleasure, the Big Draw can open us to profound states of awareness. The key to using the Big Draw in this way is the breath. While the body is being erotically charged through touch, it’s critical that it’s also being charged through breathing. The technique for doing this is usually demonstrated by a sharp, strong inhalation followed by a very relaxed exhalation. This is very helpful if you’re learning the breath or if you’re breathing with other people, since it produces a clear sound and a strong rhythmic breathing. The real key to the charging breath, however, is actually taking in more oxygen. So, it’s even more effective to relax the face, relax the lungs, relax the whole body, and take in more air. When the body is fully charged through both breath and touch and we are reaching a very high state of erotic or sexual arousal, then we use the Big Draw. At this point, the potential to actually go out of the body and into really amazing shamanic, spiritual or mystical experience is greatly heightened and enhanced. The nature of these experiences is unpredictable.
I’ve had experiences of seeing the whole cosmic order laid out in front of me. I’ve had experiences of going back to the moment of my birth, of experiencing my mother’s pain as she was giving me birth. I’ve had experiences of healing old wounds and shame. I’ve had experiences of unbelievable bliss. I’ve also had experiences of emptiness and quiet. All of these are potentialities embedded in this astonishingly simple technique – a technique anyone can use at any time. Many people who are coming to TEM for the first time may be unaware of how rich, deep and life-long this practice can be. It is an authentic spiritual practice, that deepens over time. There are all kinds of things to explore within this practice. I encourage people to experiment with it, to try it and test it, to play with it, to discover both the joy of enhancing pleasure and erotic delight, and the adventure of achieving these profound states of awareness and consciousness.
6. Creative Practice
One of the things that I would caution against, particularly for those of you who are learning this practice from DVDs like Fire on the Mountain or Fire in the Valley is becoming too rote about this practice. As with any practice, we can slip into familiar and well-worn grooves that subtly de-energize us and sap our practice of its capacity for opening us to ecstasy and transformation. The TEM arises out of the awareness that we carry amazing energetic potential in our bodies. An effective way to raise that energetic potential is through genital stimulation combined with breathing and massage strokes that move the energy throughout the body. This is the central concept. Beyond that there is the process of the Big Draw for collecting the energy and moving it to a higher state. These are the core aspects of TEM. We can play with them in any number of ways. We can use them ourselves in our masturbation practices. We can use them with friends on a massage table – much as is demonstrated in the DVDs. We can use them with lovers and with partners. We can use them in public erotic space. So, becoming flexible, becoming fluid, becoming thoroughly versed in these various strokes and techniques and understanding their potential, means that we can move them into every aspect of our lives. And what a great way to live!
Like any authentic spiritual practice, TEM has lasting effects on the lives of people who are committed to it. I have been working with TEM for over fifteen years, and I’ve seen profound changes in myself, in clients, and in the colleagues with whom I’ve been exploring and practicing this work. I think the most pronounced effect has to do with a growing sense of confidence – that’s the best word I can find for it. We seem to share a deepening sense of being a whole person and of being confident in the world and in relating to one another. This sense of confidence is not over-weaning or aggressive, but rather it is a kind of quiet, self-assuredness that is generous with regard to other people. I notice it over and over again. It is a kind of deep intuition about this universe being a friendly place, being a place that holds a space for humanity, and that awareness becomes the source or wellspring for love. The people I know who do this work in a consistent way have a great and developed capacity for loving – not just one person, but for loving in general – loving the world, loving each other, loving their clients, loving themselves.
7. Men and Taoist Erotic Massage
TEM is a great place for us to come together as men. It offers a rich, embodied experience that men can share in common, and it also offers a great opportunity for healing all kinds of arbitrary distinctions between us – and particularly the distinction between gay and straight. Straight men who attend an all male TEM training discover not only a highly charged experience of working with erotic energy, but also a whole new kind of bonding with other men. This can be revolutionary for them; it can change their lives. As men, both straight and gay, learn to bond at this deep level, they can also work to change the world in wonderful, healing ways. I would like to imagine that this experience has a deep affinity with the way men in tribal cultures bonded together. The Erotic was an honored aspect of all men, who they were, and how they connected in the world. It had nothing to do with how they identified themselves in terms of sexual orientation – it had to do with a certain nature of eroticism that is characteristic of men, and that all men share with each other. As men, we have to rediscover this potential to bond with one another, to learn from one another and to teach one another about what it is to be a man and an erotic being.
8. Eros and the Earth
I lead a dual life. On the one hand I’m a masseur and an erotic practitioner; on the other hand I’m an environmentalist and an ecological designer. I have spent many years designing and lecturing about permaculture, which is a whole-systems way of design. I’ve also spent many years trying to understand how these two seemingly separate parts of my life–the environmental and the erotic– relate to one another. This has not been an easy question to resolve, but I know it has been an important issue for me to work on. I have come to believe that the radical disconnection from our bodies, which so many modern people experience, is closely related to our radical disconnection from the earth. Our inability to understand the flows and dynamics of our own bodies is closely related to our failure to lead lives that are fully engaged, integrated, whole, healthy, and that contribute to the well-being of the people around us. This failure, this deep disconnection from ourselves and from others, is directly parallel to, and perhaps identical to, the way we engage in the on-going destruction of our planet, of ecosystems, and of our own environment, simply through the way that we live.
It’s not that we are interested in going out and doing harm–most of us would actually love to do good! We would love to be able to live in a way that benefits each other and benefits the planet. And yet we find ourselves, again and again, bumping into these blank walls and facing these dead-ends. Why is this? I believe the solution has to do with dropping into who we truly are as living beings, and seeing that erotic energy, is at the core of our being. I believe that when we can love ourselves, love our bodies, love the earth, love animals, love trees and love one another, from a really grounded, embodied place, we will discover the sensitivity to be able to shift the systems that we create as human beings, and transform them so that they no longer do harm.
Of course, there appear to be all kinds of technical issues and problems involved in humans living in harmony with the planet. In reality, the solutions to most of these problems have been known for a long time. Some of them were resolved millennia ago. The real issue is one of consciousness. Although we know, in theory, how to live in harmony with the earth, we don’t know how to adopt this as an enduring way of life. This would require developing a different perspective and a different kind of sensitivity in ourselves. TEM is not a cure-all for the work needed to develop this sensitivity, but it’s a very good way to begin, since it awakens the body part of our lives. The body is itself organized and orchestrated as a natural system, and this is where the understanding of how the living world works lives in us. This is where it is – right here in our bodies. Becoming tuned in, plugged into this embodied knowing, feeling it fully, feeling the waves of emotion, the waves of energy, the waves of arousal, the waves of blood coursing through the body, feeling the way that connection and love occur between us and everything else, really tuning into that – this is our best way of coming to understand and study nature, ourselves, and the world as a whole.
This is, perhaps, the most precious gift and the most radical promise that Taoist Erotic Massage offers to the human family.
Ben Haggard is a graduate of the first Sexological Bodywork training in 2003. You can witness and learn from his considerable massage skills as he pleasures his husband in Ben and Joe.