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Whitman’s Child: Joseph Kramer by David Guy

from Red Thread of Passion: Spirituality and the Paradox of Sex by David Guy

Joseph Kramer is warm, friendly, affectionate, expansive, and just slightly – shall we say – hyper. He had recently turned fifty when I visited him at his home in Oakland, but there is something boyish about him, like a boy genius who can’t keep the words from flowing. He kept reaching out to grab me as we walked along the sidewalk to lunch, as if to make sure we were still in touch; he constantly – as a practitioner of rebirthing – took in large gusts of air and let them out with an audible sigh; he frequently burst into shouts of barrel-chested laughter; and as we sat together at a sushi bar he let out audible murmurs of pleasure at tastes. He took delight in everything, even – it seemed – our footsteps as we strolled along the sidewalk.

There was nothing phony about this. It was too spontaneous and irrepressible. Kramer is a genuinely generous person, with his time, his energy, with everything he has. He is especially generous with ideas, and if there is a problem, it is that they pour out of him at a terrific clip. He is the perpetually exuberant young man with too much to say.

Kramer is not only Jesuit trained; he was a Jesuit, spent ten years in the order, and dropped out one year short of the priesthood. He has the theoretical and encyclopedic brilliance of the Jesuits, their interest in ordering information and developing pedagogic techniques. Of all the healers I visited, he is probably the leading theoretician, the person you would go to when you want to locate your practice in a tradition.

He begins his series of six tapes, for instance (Ecstatic Sex, Healthy Sex) with an effortless exposition of three views on sex, Taoist, Tantric, and Reichian, an obvious comparison that I never heard anyone make. He contrasted these traditions with the way most men have sex, which he calls – like the high school biology teacher trying to give us something we’ll remember – balloon sex. Kramer’s talks are loaded with such tags.

In balloon sex, you tighten at the quadriceps, tighten at the belly, isolate all your feelings in your genitals, then blow up and blow up until you pop. Picture a twelve year old alone in bed at night, masturbating so his brothers won’t hear. It is an act that takes place quickly, is entirely genital, and – because it offers limited satisfaction – needs to be repeated. And repeated. Picture the same boy all grown up now, haunting bathhouses and massage parlors.

In contrast to that, Kramer offers – here comes another tag – the Pan dick state. The Greek god Pan – though the Disney version doesn’t include this detail – had a perpetual flaming erection, and the suggestion was not so much that he was always ready for sex as that he represents man in a vibrant, energetic state. When the energy is flowing, we’re hard. A corollary of that is that the state of sexual excitement is not one of tension and discomfort. “We’re such an anti-pleasure culture that we don’t even know when we’re feeling pleasure.” Kramer says.

It is in support of this view that Kramer goes to the ancient Eastern traditions, Taoism in particular, which has been a major influence in his life. Taoism dates from centuries before Christ; it has been variously described as a religion, a philosophy, and a way of life. It speaks to sex because it speaks to every aspect of our lives, and because it sees sex as a central focus.

Taoism regards everything in life as energy, in constant change; the energy of life force is chi, and energy flowing from the genitals – what we think of as erotic energy – is ching chi. Chi takes on two major forms, yang and yin – which correspond to roughly male and female – and the key to skillful living is to keep those two forces in balance. Chi is both a force for healing and a pathway to transcendence.

Tantra is a specifically spiritual path that arose out of the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. While many traditions avoid or deny erotic energy, tantra embraces it as a pathway to the divine. A Tantric cultivates erotic energy – or erotic prana – and lives in a perpetually erotic state. The sexual partner is a vehicle for divine energy.

In both Taoism and Tantra, the way to keep erotic energy flowing between heterosexual partners is to stimulate female orgasm – which raises the energy higher and higher – but avoid male ejaculation, which stops the flow. Both of these disciplines see sex not as a linear event, moving towards a goal, but as one in which energy keeps circulating, getting more and more intense, opening into ecstasy.

In contrast to these ancient and venerable systems, Wilhelm Reich was a maverick twentieth-century psychologist, a disciple of Freud who took the master’s theories to their logical conclusions. He concentrated on the body more than the mind and is the father of all modern body therapies, rolfing, bioenergetics, primal screaming, rebirthing. He believed that all neurosis is repressed sexuality and that if we could be fully and freely sexual our problems would clear up.

Reich called the healing energy orgone and believed – like the Eastern traditions – that it was important to keep it moving through the body. He felt that most people are not truly orgasmic because their orgasms are confined to the genitals. He did not have a theory about retention of sperm; he believed in discharge. He felt that the function of the orgasm was to release accumulated tension in our bodies.

All of these systems have elaborate theories about the flow of energy. Reich referred to body armoring: tensions in our bodies occur because we draw back from experience, and they become a part of our musculature, blocking the flow. He referred to seven segments of armoring – starting with the eyes and moving down to the hips – and believed that the orgone moves downward, so that bodywork begins at higher centers.

Taoism referred to channels of energy on both sides of the body, one running from the base of the genitals to the tongue, the other from the tailbone through the skull to the roof of the mouth (hence the meditation instruction, in many Eastern traditions, to touch the tongue to the roof of the mouth connecting the two channels and allowing the energy to flow).

Tantra – from the somewhat better-known Indian system – speaks of seven energy centers, known as the chakras, beginning with the base chakra, at the perineum, and moving up to the crown chakra at the top of the skull. It associates different energy centers with different human capabilities and sees the purpose of sex as moving the energy through all chakras, making the sexual spiritual and creating a state of wholeness. You consciously connect your chakras with those of your partner, embracing all levels and circulating energy through your bodies.

All of this is a far cry from balloon sex, which localizes feeling in the genitals and doesn’t move it anywhere. It doesn’t – to name one obvious center – connect sex with the heart. Balloon sex actually shuts off other energy centers, because it tightens the body. It doesn’t allow energy to flow, and it isn’t healing.

As Joseph Kramer would say, it is compulsive, addictive, and paltry. Worst of all, paltry.

Kramer grew up in a Catholic family in St., Louis that was not – to say the least – without boundaries. This was the Catholicism of the fifties: compulsory mass on Sunday, tuna casserole on Fridays, and a strict moral code. “We weren’t even supposed to play with Protestant kids,” he says, and he doesn’t mean sex play, just cops and robbers. But he isn’t overly critical of his background, or of the Jesuit order he eventually entered; when I asked him about his spirituality today, the first influence he mentioned was Catholicism, and when we spoke of his vocation, he turned back, rather touchingly, to the lessons of his boyhood.

“I felt from early on that my life’s work was to be of service,” he says. “I still do.” In his family, that meant service in both a religious and social sense; they were influenced by the traditional church and by the radical Catholic worker movement. For Kramer today it has meant serving the gay and straight men whom he sees as his tribe, rescuing them not just from the compulsive sex that was taking their lives but from the paltry sex that was sapping their spirits.

In that extremely restricted world of fifties Catholic morality, the one place he found freedom and ecstasy was in masturbation. That is still a key act in Kramer’s teachings about sex, and he started out with a bang.

“The Catholic church helped me because it was a mortal sin to masturbate. I figured, if it’s a mortal sin, maybe even after coming I would just keep stroking, so it would only be one mortal sin. So I learned multiple orgasms.

“The other thing that the repressiveness of Catholicism did was to bring God and sex together in my mind. God cared every time I had sex. Later on, once I got rid of my guilt, I realized that the God space, the religious space, was intimately tied up with sex. This was a part of what spirituality meant to me.”

He decided in his youth that he has a vocation for the priesthood. He had plenty of help making the decision. “I think that’s a coded message in the Catholic community. People telling you that you have a vocation. I must have heard that two hundred times when I was young. What they often meant is that they think you’re not marrying material.”

He entered the Jesuit order in 1965, at the age if eighteen. “It was homosexual heaven,” he says, meaning just that he found himself in a group of like-minded men. “The Jesuits were masters of male bonding.”

Kramer at that point had had almost no partner sex at all. There had been some fooling around when he was a child and one “hitchhiking experience” when he was a teenager. During his ten years with the Jesuits, he had several slipups with other men, all of which resembled the first occurrence.

“It was an occasion of boyish wrestling that turned into mutual masturbation,” he says. “It caused a lot of guilt and travail.” This extremely sensual and sexual man had been bottling himself up for years, and although he felt bad about breaking his vows, there were other feelings as well. “My heart opened up. I laughed. There was a level of freedom emerging, a new understanding of myself. I knew who I was” – that he was gay, he means – “and that all was right with the world, that if I chose to stay with the Jesuits it wasn’t my path to have sex, but sex wasn’t a mortal sin.”

In 1972 he went to Berkeley to study at the Graduate Theological Union. He took courses at the University of California at Berkeley and was much inspired by the milieu of Sproul Plaza, where the free speech movement had started in the sixties.

“You’d see professors walk by and students and wheelchair people and street people and entertainers and preachers and political people and the Hare Krishnas, the Moonies. There was a celebration of diversity. I realized I was not celebrating my diversity. I was fitting into a Jesuit mold, the Catholic mold, and I’d never been who I was.

“So 1972 was my coming out in Sproul Plaza. I was a gay man, and I wanted to say it. That didn’t fit in with the Jesuit thing, because if you’re celibate you don’t have to say it. They have power over you if you’re guilty. And many Jesuits are guilty.”

He eventually decided that he didn’t want to just identify as a gay man, he wanted to live as one. He left the order in 1976 and moved from Berkeley to New York.

Some people look back on gay life in the seventies with horror, seeing it as a time of moral license and degeneracy that sowed the seeds of the AIDS epidemic. Kramer – who went from being celibate to having sex for hours every day – takes a different view. He believes that he was doing a form of Reichian therapy, shaking off his body armor and ridding himself of years of repression.

“I was vibrating out all the dead spots in myself. It wasn’t compulsive, addictive acting out. It was openhearted, fun, innocent. It was enlightening. Everyone realized we were doing something that hadn’t been done before. I felt that consciousness all around me.”

People wonder how he survived. “There are three tribes in the gay world,” he says. “The anal tribe, the oral tribe, and the hand tribe.” Kramer, as a future masseur, was in the hand tribe. He actually enjoys all kinds of sex and has learned from all of it, but he doesn’t give any primacy to intercourse. It is all sex to him. Foreplay. Afterplay. Even massage.

“Penetration has always been very special for me, reserved for a lover, not for casual contact,” he says. “That’s probably why I’m alive today.”

Even in those days, Kramer’s life was not about scoring, about – as he puts it – “getting hard and squirting.” He had not yet studied Taoism, but what he enjoyed was getting in an erotic vibration and staying there. Kramer is an intuitive person, kinesthetic, a kind of sexual mystic. What attracts him is not a certain look but a feeling.

“There is almost no correlation between how a person looks and how you will get along with him,” he says. “But there is a strong correlation between your first feeling and how well you will get along. What I learned in New York was to go for the vibrancy and aliveness.”

Especially important to him was a man he met in a bathhouse after he moved back to the Bay Area in the late seventies. “I had some experiences of conscious sex that just blew me away. One was with a very old man, in a bathhouse called the Steam Works.

“He said, ‘Take some deep breaths.’ He knelt down and started sucking me. Then he started doing things with his hands. He was holding acupressure points, at first on my shoulders, neck, and chest. Eventually he worked his way all the way down to my feet, and up on to my head. This went on for about an hour. I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I knew I was in the hands of a master. Finally I said, ‘What is this?’ He said, ‘I was just doing acupressure, pulling the erotic energy around through your body.’

“I soon began to study acupressure myself. Now it’s a major part of all my trainings.”

After leaving the Jesuits, Kramer had made his living as a teacher at a Catholic girls’ school in Manhattan. He was fired for being openly gay and eventually moved back to California, where he worked as a counselor to young gay men while finishing his degree in theology. He concentrated on the link between sexuality and spirituality and began to study the Eastern traditions. He thought all along that he would continue as a counselor.

But despite his intellectual accomplishments, Kramer has always believed more in the wisdom of the body than that of the mind. “I think that maybe a third of the people who go to psychotherapists just need to masturbate better,” he says. He had been studying massage, had been much impressed by a statement of Joseph Campbell’s: “People don’t need to know the meaning of life. They need to have the experience of it.” He decided he wanted to take some of the young men he’d been counseling and do a massage weekend with them. “Absolutely not,” his department head said. “This is a counseling program.” That was when he decided to become a bodyworker.

“I wanted to find wonderful ways to touch men. I didn’t look at my massage table as a place of therapy but as one of celebration, almost like an altar. A man is on the table, and I anoint him with oil and make him shudder with delight at his own being.”

At around the same time, in 1981, Kramer began to study rebirthing, a system of conscious breathing that circulates energy in the body. It doesn’t have a specifically sexual component, but he found that when he did conscious breathing he had “wonderful full-body orgasms,” not ejaculating but experiencing the wave of energy that Reich had spoken of. With his knowledge of Taoism and Tantra, it seemed natural to hook conscious breathing up with sex.

“You can have an orgasm from breath energy and an orgasm from erotic energy” – from stimulating the genitals – “and when the two come together, there’s a synergy that causes a leap in consciousness. The ego dissolves. That’s the core of Tantric teaching and Taoist sexual theories. The synergy of yin and yang come together, and something extraordinary happens.”

Breathing and sexuality also combine rather naturally with massage, and Kramer began to – in addition to conventional bodywork – do erotic massage. Normally that means a regular massage followed by a hand job, but Kramer wasn’t interested in the standard procedure. Massage opened the channels of energy and got it flowing, as did the breathing techniques of rebirthing. Genital touching got the specifically erotic energy involved. But the point wasn’t genital release. It was to put the client into an erotic vibration and leave him there.

All of Kramer’s interests – including his spiritual studies – were coming together. But he was making these discoveries in the early eighties, when AIDS was beginning to surface. And the sex that he saw as deeper and more satisfying was also safe, mostly because it was manual but also because it also didn’t involve ejaculation. There was no exchange of bodily fluids.

In addition to his bodywork, Kramer was lecturing on what he had studied, sometimes informally at his house, other times in more formal settings. One day at the Gay People’s Alliance at the University of California, one of his students said, “This is a great class. When is the lab period?” Never one to refuse a challenge, Kramer said, “If any of you men is interested in a lab period, come up afterward and give me your name and address.”

Twelve men signed up. “I was really nervous – what to do? And I thought, ‘Oh Joe, you had five hours of sex a day for four years in New York City. What do you mean, what are you going to do?”

That was the beginning of what – three years later – would become the Body Electric School of erotic massage.

When you speak to Joseph Kramer about his spirituality – he prefers the term spiritualities, to emphasize multiple influences on his life – he does speak, not surprisingly, of Taoism, which is the oldest system that describes the circulation of energy. But he also speaks in all seriousness of Catholicism, both in its ideal of service and in the Jesuit practice of discernment, going deeply into yourself to see what your gifts are and what the world needs from them. We are all, as Saint Paul said, a part of the body of Christ. Some are the hands, some the eyes, some the feet. Which of us, Kramer wondered, are the genitals?

It didn’t take much discernment in 1983 to see that the world needed a safe alternative to the ecstatic sex that gay men had experienced in the seventies. Kramer actually believed that his brand of sex was superior. He would have offered it if AIDS had never happened.

The moment utilized some of his strongest gifts, “One of my shamanistic, tribal names is Sacred Weaver. I have this ability to weave people and things together in rituals. I also have the gift of foresight. I can see things ten years in the future, where things are going, where things need to go.

“The very first time I read about gay cancer, I stopped having unsafe sex. I started developing alternatives that were no risk. I didn’t even like the idea of low risk.

“What had happened in the seventies was that gay men had become my people. All of a sudden I’d found a community. As I’d committed myself to the Jesuits, I committed my life to this. This is my path. This is my purpose. I want to celebrate – this is where Walt Whitman comes in – the dear love of comrades.”

Whitman was also a major spiritual influence, though Kramer had never studied him formally.

“I remember in college in St. Louis reading Leaves of Grass. I started reading it out loud, and I got high. I’d never smoked marijuana, and later when I did I remembered I’d had that feeling while reading Leaves of Grass. I didn’t even know Whitman was gay, I just got into this state.

“Then years later, when I was starting my school, I thought of naming it after the fifty-sixth hexagram of the I Ching, Fire on the Mountain. But something happened in 1983 in Berkeley that made Body Electric come to me. I felt that Walt Whitman’s energy was there. He loved men, and I had the exact same feelings he did. I feel there is a part of him alive in me.”

Kramer through the years has taught by varying means. He has given countless lectures expounding his evolving theories; they are best summed up in the six tapes Ecstatic Sex, Healthy Sex. For years he did workshops teaching his brand of Taoist erotic massage, including “conscious breathing…continuous eye contact, simultaneous heart and genital connection, and building ecstatic energy without ejaculation.” The Body Electric School, under its present owner Colin Brown, continues to offer these workshops.

Kramer also teaches men to enter high ecstatic states by masturbation, or – the term he prefers- soloving. He sees it as a liberation practice, a central human ritual that connects us not only with ourselves but with the whole cosmos. It is a standard cliché that we cannot love others until we love ourselves. Kramer takes that statement quite literally, in a physical sense.

“Reich believed that masturbation was a perversion because there was no love object. I thought, no love object? Wait a minute.” Masturbation involves the most important love object of all.

Kramer doesn’t hesitate to adopt the terms of pop psychology when they are useful to him. He refers to a person being in a head space when his consciousness is up in his head, a physical space when it is down in the body. The erotic space is a subset of the physical. Being in an erotic space doesn’t mean you’re thinking about sex but that your consciousness is focused in the specifically erotic energy of the body. There has been a fear of that space in the eighties and nineties because of AIDS. That fear has driven people into a head space, the locale of phone sex, cyber sex, erotic videos and pictures.

Kramer refers to that kind of sex as hot-wiring. People have a fantasy up in their heads and use it to become aroused. They might continue with the fantasy all the way to orgasm. They are, in effect, having sex in a head space. For many people – even those with partners – that is the only sex they ever have. That makes sex extremely narrow, because most people have only one or two fantasies that work.

The Taoist and Tantric traditions avoid fantasy. They have sex in the physical space and focus on the feelings of the body to be in the present moment.

The other distinction that these traditions make is to separate the concept of orgasm from that of ejaculation. Most men—and women–think of male orgasm as the emission of semen from the penis, no matter what the accompanying feeling. But even Reich – who was all in favor of ejaculation – taught that orgasm was a full-bodied event, an S-shaped whiplash of energy that moves through the whole body. That sensation can take place without an accompanying ejaculation. The Tantric male is not a wildly frustrated person, bursting with pent-up sexual energy. He probably has more orgasms than most men. He just doesn’t ejaculate.

Kramer also makes a distinction between a Pan dick erection, the result of energy moving through the body, and a hot-wiring erection, which is created by an image in the mind and can actually be disturbed by what happens in the body. The energy of the Pan dick state is healing. Men can engage in masturbation or partner sex for one hour, two hours, and even charge their bodies with more and more energy. They can notice – when they are not tensing their belly and thighs – that this state is pleasurable. Men tend to think of sexual arousal as a tense uncomfortable state, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be exhilarating, man in his power.

Kramer teaches six steps to get into the high ecstatic state, in which orgasm can be a prolonged event rather than a brief spasm.

1. Learn to be in a physical space. This is a long-term discipline, practiced over the course of a lifetime. It is fundamental to many meditative traditions, as well as to yoga, the martial arts, and other physical disciplines. Kramer recommends any form of full-body exercise, like running, swimming, aerobic dance. He advocates an hour of intense physical activity each day to charge the body.

2. Learn to relax during sex. Balloon sex is an act of tensing and tensing until you pop. But a tense body cannot feel, so many men don’t know what full-bodied sexual pleasure is like. We reach ecstatic states through a relaxed mode, in which the energy has a chance to flow.

Humans have both a sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic system involves the fight or flight response and operates when men are aggressive in sex. The parasympathetic system is involuntary and operates when we are relaxed. Some men can get an erection only when they are aggressive. One way to expand the capacity for erection is through erotic situations – like massage – in which you are entirely passive.

3. Breath consciously. An important part of Kramer’s teaching comes from the breathing techniques that he learned in rebirthing. We are a nation of subventilators and often diminish breathing in order not to feel things.

Conscious breathing has many virtues. It helps you feel. It keeps you in the present moment. It circulates energy. It also sometimes produces the kind of full-bodied orgasm that Kramer experienced when he was studying rebirthing.

4. Focus on the sensations of the body. This seems an obvious instruction, but most of us hot-wire straight into fantasy. That is an old habit and can be frustratingly difficult to break, but the technique is the same as that of meditation: when you find yourself wandering into fantasy, gently come back to the sensations of the body. They are infinitely subtle and fascinating. Annie Sprinkle calls this process – when practiced during masturbation – medibation.

5. Take time to build the charge. Most of us think of sex as an event that is over in minutes, but high ecstatic states take time to build, forty-five minutes to an hour. Kramer and his associates practice for hours at a time.

6. Include movement and sound. Many of us learned sex in situations where we had to be still so we wouldn’t be detected. There is also a prejudice against movement on the part of men, especially around the hips, perhaps because it is perceived as effeminate, or gay. But ecstatic energy circulates through movement, and it is helpful to stand and move, even dance, with your sexual feelings. It also helps to vocalize the feelings, raising the energy into the throat chakra and circulating it even further.

Kramer often sees the world through the lens of archetypes, like the shamanic “weaver of dreams”, which explains his skill in creating the Body Electric workshops. Another such archetype is the one he borrowed from Karen Finley, consciousness scout, or—in his case–erotic consciousness scout, the person who goes to the far edges of erotic experiences and comes back to tell the rest of us about it.

Marco Vassi was such a person; we still, eight years after his death haven’t caught up with all he taught us. His lover Annie Sprinkle was, and continues to be, one, instructing by means of performance and other erotic art. Betty Dodson, author of the groundbreaking book for women Liberating Masturbation, is such a person. And so is Joseph Kramer, the kind of visionary who sees the form of something long before it takes shape. By the time it does, he is ready to move on.

He built his informal classes and workshops on sex into the Body Electric School and for years taught workshops entitled “Celebrating the Body Erotic” all over this country and in Europe. Demand for his classes was such that he took on more people to help teach and gradually became a trainer of teachers. He began to realize that he was encountering people who were erotically gifted, even though – in our homophobic and antisex culture – they had often been marginalized. Kramer coined the term Sacred Intimate and conducted his first workshop for them at the Wildwood Conference Center in 1991.

Now the system of training Sacred Intimates has become self-perpetuating, and Kramer – as he enters his fifties – is pulling back. He sold the Body Electric to Collin Brown in 1992. He felt he was a good teacher, and a good trainer of teachers, but didn’t want to spend his time as an administrator. He thought he could teach just as effectively by means of the Internet and videos. He sells videos through his Erospirit Research Institute, a business that he runs out of his home. Otherwise he spends his time doing bodywork and expanding his practice as a masturbation coach.

It is ironic that after all these years, and all the experience he’s had, he has come back to the simple act with which he – and most of us – began. He arrived at this place through the process of discernment; he saw the need for such work and didn’t know of anyone else who was offering it. He asks a basic question to advertise his service: Are you still masturbating the way you did ten years ago? Not a question you want to ask at the local pool hall, but a good one nevertheless.

He invites clients to his room where he does bodywork. He teaches the techniques he has developed through the years; conscious breathing, eye gazing (in a mirror), various inventive ways to stroke the penis, preparing for sex by stretching and movement (He reviews these steps in the video Evolutionary Masturbation). But basically he just invites men to masturbate and serves as a witness, like a young boy who wants to see how it is done, or a man watching his buddy do it. He shares his learning with his clients and tells them what he sees.

The subject that comes up most often these days is shame, an emotion discussed in some depth by Robert Bly and addressed by the men’s movement. Kramer admires much that the men’s movement has done but feels that it stalled when it came to physical intimacy. Iron John had no genitals. Bly teaches from his gifts and has a great deal to contribute, but he isn’t especially comfortable in the area of sexuality.

Shame for Kramer is the great interrupter; it rises up in men and keeps them from reaching ecstatic states, from achieving wholeness. It often steps in before that, of course, and keeps us from taking joy in our daily lives. Men feel shame about all kinds of things connected with sex: feeling lust, desiring specific sexual acts, being naked, having less than a perfect body, having an aging body, having an erection, not having an erection, not performing well, not satisfying their partner…the list goes on and on.

There is an enormous amount of shame around masturbation itself. Kramer’s way of dealing with it is really just the technique of awareness practice: see that it is present and allow yourself to experience it. Don’t repress it, and don’t get lost in it. See how much a part of your life it is. And begin to see that erotic energy itself can vibrate it away.

Kramer is not as strict now as he was when he was formulating his theories. In the early years he and some of the men he worked with were fanatical about not ejaculating, and there was one year at least when no one ejaculated during an erotic massage on his table. “I was a rabid authoritarian Taoist,” he says with a grin.

But he doesn’t believe that even the Taoists were totally against ejaculation. “That was coded,” he says. Having sex without ejaculating is really just a technique for learning. You learn how to charge your body erotically, learn that excitement can be a pleasurable and ecstatic state, learn to have orgasms without ejaculating, learn that sex doesn’t need to have a goal. Once you have learned these things you can ejaculate or not. Freedom is all about choice.

There is nothing wrong with getting off quickly, for instance, if you’re looking for a sedative. “It’s better than a sleeping pill, or a Scotch.” And if you take the time to charge your body erotically – fifteen minutes or more – you don’t loose energy by ejaculating. The charge stays in your body.

About fantasy he is still adamant. He believes that our tendency to hot-wire keeps us not only from intimacy with our partner but from the reality of our experience. That is why conscious breathing is important; it keeps us in contact with the body. If clients are really devoted to fantasy – pictures, video, or just their own imaginings –Kramer suggests that they use it to raise the erotic charge but that once the energy is flowing they drop it and stay in their present experience.

He has made it a general rule not to get sexually involved with clients or students from his workshops. He enjoys living alone and does not have one steady sexual partner, but he has five intimate friends with whom he is erotic on a regular basis. One of them – startlingly – is Annie Sprinkle, the woman who seems to keep turning up in the erotic history of our time.

Kramer has worked with Sprinkle in various situations, teaching workshops to men and women, and they are obviously kindred spirits. He really meant it when he said it is the erotic vibration that attracts him and not anything superficial (like gender!) about his partner. Though he is a lifelong gay man, sex with this woman has seemed perfectly natural; they started at a place that was way beyond gender. “We’d have sex for an hour, two hours,” Kramer said. “I never had any trouble staying hard.” They actually contemplated getting married for a while, and having children. But they decided that their work wasn’t compatible with that kind of life.

Or, as Sprinkle suddenly said one day: “We can’t get married. We’re sacred prostitutes.”

“I think you’re a priest,” I said to Kramer at the end of our long day together. “You trained as a priest, and you are one.” In addition to helping men with their sex lives, he volunteers at an AIDS hospice, doing massage; and as he has gotten older he spends more and more time working with older men, who are often looked down on by other bodyworkers. A third of his clients are over sixty.

“I actually feel that I’ve kept my Jesuit vows,” he said. “This isn’t really poverty, of course.” He said, gesturing to his surroundings. He lives well, but not extravagantly, in the same rental house he has occupied for eleven years. “But I try to practice poverty by not being attached to things. I practice chastity when I honor the erotic vibration. What brings up shame for me is when I use sex in a paltry or compulsive way. I feel I’m being chaste when I honor it.”

Poverty, maybe. Obedience, for sure. But chastity? Joseph Kramer? I’ll have to think about that.

from Red Thread of Passion: Spirituality and the Paradox of Sex by David Guy

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