Tag Archives: sex advice

THIS SUNDAY: What Is The Occult + Me on Nerdist, podcasts and more!

6 Mar

Metatronner

“Occultism is the metaphysic of dunces.” – Theodor Adorno, philosopher

“Science is always discovering odd scraps of magical wisdom and making a tremendous fuss about its cleverness.” – Aleister Crowley, magus

“The occult takes everything seriously, because it recognizes that everything is possible.” – Conner Habib, me

The occult is contentious, powerful, absurd, and absolutely vital. My online course, What Is the Occult? Is THIS SUNDAY, 3/12 at noon (PST). Sign up for just 15 bucks! If you can’t attend that day/time, no problem! Your ticket gets you exclusive access to a recording of the whole thing!

You can also get tickets with cool bonus packages like a Skype conversation with me, a curated reading list, suggested rituals, access to recordings of previous courses I’ve given, and more!

Sign up now!

***

I’ve done a lot of media lately, including the legendary Hound Tall podcast with legendary MKcomedian Moshe Kasher on the legendary network, Nerdist! Okay, look, I’m pushing this legendary thing, I get it. The point is, it was fun, like the movie, Legend. Basically, I talked about sex and the occult with a bunch of comedians. They interrupted me a lot, but in funny ways. Moshe’s been on Portlandia, Drunk History, and more. He also has a new show on Comedy Central, Problematic with Moshe Kasher. He’s hilarious and he’s obviously in love with me. Listen to our conversation here.

***

Screen Shot 2017-03-06 at 1.23.06 PM

I was on the coolest Swedish Deleuze-meets-cultural-studies podcast (yes, yes, the joke is that it’s the ONLY Swedish Deleuze-meets-cultural-studies podcast, but it’s still the coolest), The Catacombic Machine. Me and Josef Gustafsson discuss a lot of things: desire, Rudolf Steiner, Gilles Deleuze, and David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. It’s a nice big mindfuck of a podcast, so give it a listen!

 

***
I’m part of this year’s Explore More SummitExplore More SummitExplore More Summit! It’s an online conference featuring tons of sex researchers and experts, set up by sex educator, Dawn Serra. She’s awesome and asks great questions. The way it works: You sign up for free and get access to a whole lot of stuff. If you pay, you get access to a ton more stuff.

Here’s the trailer for my part of the conference! Click here to sign up for free!

***

Oh and here’s the trailer for my course, in case you missed it a couple weeks ago. It’s a masterpiece of me with a candles and some books because that is really witchy. Or something.

Do what I wilt,

CH

EVENT: Hang Out with Me & I’ll Answer Anything You Want To Ask Me about Sex.

26 Jan
Goofyface

So, you want to talk about sex. Hi.

Want to hear me talk about sex? Want to ask me your biggest, most urgent, most arousing question about sex?

Well, all right. Let’s do it.

Here’s how!

(Scroll down to Ask Conner Anything below if you already know the deal.)

THE EXPLORE MORE SUMMIT

I’m part of the Explore More summit – an online summit featuring thirty (!!) sexual thinkers, including Me, Dan Savage, Feminista Jones, Tristan Taromino, and more! (For a full list of speakers, click here.) The summit airs from January 28 – February 6. But you can sign up at any time during the summit!

In my interview, I talk about butts, consent, fear of sex in our culture, the problem of sex on campus, sexual shame, and more. Oh, and I talk about dicks (duh).

Each day, three 60 minute-long video interviews (an hour for each speaker) will be available for you to watch.

DS

Me and Dan Savage, coming at you.

Anyway, it’s totally free! 

You don’t have to pay anything for the interviews, you just have to watch them within 24 hours (Mine airs February 5).

Ask Conner Anything

BUT! Here’s the best part – If you sign up through me for the Platinum Package, there’s a big bonus:

I’ll personally answer any question you have about sex.

Yes! It’s true! Whatever sexy or anxious or baffling or funny or arousing or personal or cultural question you have about sex? I will personally answer it. And I don’t just mean with a “yes” or “no” or “boners!” – I mean, I’ll sit down and really go at answering it. And I’ll send you my answer by the end of the summit (February 6).

It’s easy to sign up.

  1. Just go to the summit site via this link
  2. When you get there, click on BONUS PACKAGES in the top right.
  3. Sign up for the PLATINUM PACKAGE.
  4. After  you sign up, just send me an email with your question – connerhabibsocial[at]gmail.com  – and include “Explore5” in the subject line.  This offer is ONLY available for people that sign up for the summit THROUGH ME.

I’m using the honor system here, so please be a nice person. One sign up = one question.

On top of that, you’ll have access to all the interviews for 90 days, as well as all the bonus materials other speakers are offering.

All right?

All right!
Love,

CH

Twitter Explore More Image

#TheSexRadicals, Conclusion: Where are the sex radicals of today?

22 Sep

AASBEach week this summer, I’ve been posting short essays on sexual thinkers who have changed my perspective on sex, and who, I believe, could be instrumental in helping us remake Western sexual culture. All the figures were dead except one, Amber Hollibaugh, who I included because, in my life, she’s tied to the other thinker featured in that post, Edward Carpenter, in a way that I felt made both more illuminating.

The task at hand after the series was finished was to cap it off with a review of the sex radicals of today.  I thought it would be easy.  Instead, I found myself searching without much success and wandering around in a sort of cultural pessimism.

It’s not that there’s a shortage of people doing amazing sexual thinking. I know dozens of people who are doing essential and powerful work around sex.  I list some of them here in hopes that you will find and engage with their efforts.  People like:

sex and law scholar Eric Berkowitz

trauma and abuse researcher Susan Clancy

Middle East cultural critic and feminist rebel Mona Eltahawy

sex work journalist Melissa Gira Grant

trans rights activist/porn occultist Bailey Jay

critical theorist Roger Lancaster

writer and researcher into childhood sexuality Judith Levine

the dispeller of sex and porn addiction myths David Ley

cultural documentarian and sex worker advocate Maggie McNeill

sex-in-evolutionary thinker Christopher Ryan

The world would be worse off without any of these people’s vital efforts. And for all the tremendous amount of respect and

Wilhelm Reich

Wilhelm Reich

gratitude I have for them, I don’t find in them the big picture risk of someone like Wilhelm Reich, or the comprehensive theorizing of someone like Jacques Lacan. Nor anything like Ida Craddock‘s attempt to merge dimensions of science, pleasure, spirituality, and feminism into a usable practice of sensual liberation.

This isn’t a slight to any of the luminaries I’ve mentioned.  Rather, it’s a report on the state of the world, which has seemingly moved on from a renaissance of interdisciplinary thinking. Instead, thinkers tend to find a niche and gather information, to become experts.  This is, in some ways, a positive development.  After all, the sweeping generalizations of the modern era led to (and continue to lead) to colonialist wars, racism, classism, and more.

But the drive to discover the entire world in yourself, and to discover yourself spread out across the world your very being located everywhere, that does bring us something potent and radical.

Perhaps more to the point, that the current cultural impulse demands we sequester our work and not allow the free flow of other disciplines into our own is decidedly un-sexual.

My mentor, biologist Lynn Margulis, was an interdisciplinary radical if ever there was one.  She knew geology, chemistry, microbioogy, botany.  She could recite Emily Dickinson poems by heart, and at the end of her life published a book of fiction.  She went to school for philosophy and helped create the field of biogeochemistry, which studies how living beings interact with non-living beings in profound discursive loops.

Lynn and Me.

Lynn and Me.

“The people down the hall from my lab,” she told me, “have no idea what I’m doing.  And the people down the hall from them have no idea what they’re doing, and so on.  How is anyone supposed to know what ‘science’ is if scientists don’t talk to each other?”  That was in a single University of Massachusetts building.  Now what about that building and the humanities building?  And other campuses?  And people who don’t go to college or teach at a college and those that do?  The world is hopelessly fragmented and continues to harden into fine intractable points of view.  We don’t have disciplines any more so much as we do shards of thought.  We can’t help but harm ourselves with their edges, still jagged from when they were broken off from the whole.

Happily, there are deeply interdisciplinary thinkers that write and speak about sex. The founder of the Center for Sex and Culture Carol Queen, for example.  Science fiction writer and academic Samuel Delaney. Sex therapist and author Chris Donaghue.

I don’t mean these intellectuals are “better,” simply that they are doing the work of introducing disciplines and perspectives to SOTLother disciplines and perspectives.  They are bridges for disparate ways of thought.  These sorts of bridges are desperately needed.

And we need to do more than that, even.  We need to focus our efforts on more than just sex.  Sex is the teacher, and its lesson is not merely itself.

I’m guilty myself of every charge here, of course.  I’m guilty of limiting my scope and vision and action, and I’d like to do better.

A world that embraces true sexual freedom will need to be pluralistic, because sexuality is individual.  Unfortunately what our culture embraces, sexually, is pluralism’s opposite.

Fundamentalism is the default attitude of our culture when it comes to sex.

It’s an attitude composed of a psychotic certainty about what is sexually moral.  People and institutions in power may have set the stage for these fundamentalist attitudes, but everyone perpetuates them.  Whenever you slut-shame someone, whenever I reactively flinch at a friend’s sexual preference, whenever we unthinkingly let a sexual taboo go unchallenged, even if we are sex positive, we reinforce sexual fundamentalism.  The best way to combat fundamentalism is to cultivate in thinking, feeling and action, a true plurality. Sexually, you may engage with people you might not normally find attractive, try a new sexual act, question your patterns and boundaries.  But let’s move beyond sex here to get truly sexual.  We can read and investigate topics outside of our interests, allow ourselves to be uncomfortable.  Pull a book at random off the shelf at the library, force yourself through it, whatever it is.  We can speak to people outside our group, however we might define it.  Start a conversation with a stranger, and watch your thinking as you proceed.  Finally, we can believe in and hold lightly concepts that are counterintuitive to see how they feel.  Allow love for your enemies, whether they’re people or ideas.

When we view the world pluralistically, when we see many disciplines, the image of the leader dissipates and is replaced with and image of partners.

When Lacan observed the revolution in France in 1968, he said “What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a master.” He knew that what usually happens is that people replace one assembled invisible worldview with another.  There’s no desire in that.

So how can we change the landscape of sex without seeking new masters? 

I’m not sure, but my best shot is this:

Let sex teach you.  Be its student.  Then look to yourself, the world is there.

#TheSexRadicals, Part 5: Amber Hollibaugh & Edward Carpenter on Letting Go of Sexual Shame

19 Aug
AH

Amber Hollibaugh

Each week this summer, I’ll be posting short essays on sexual thinkers (read the introduction to the series here) who have changed my perspective on sex, and who, I believe, could be instrumental in helping us remake Western sexual culture. It will include some bits about my own life, some history, and some controversial claims. Last week was a tour through the sexual utopia of Charles Fourier.  The series also appears on RealitySandwich.com.

How To Fight Sexual Shame: Amber Hollibaugh, Edward Carpenter, and the Strength of Vulnerability

“Wherever you have a secret, that is where you are vulnerable.”

– Amber Hollibaugh (1946-present)

A story about shame.

My first two years of college were spent in a Western Pennsylvania town, huddled in the woods.  “It’s near Pittsburgh,” I’d say, though the truth was, it wasn’t near anything; Pittsburgh was an hour and a half drive away.  My sexuality had dawned on me just a few years before I got there, when I realized that I was attracted to men.  This was before the internet was cast, tangling everyone up, and there weren’t many options for us to find each other.  No apps, not much access to communicate with people like me, and the nearest gay bar was inaccessible, I was too young.

In Keith Hall on campus, there was a space for exception; a bathroom where men, students and townies and staff, would meet

for sex.  Our straight peers were engaging with sex openly; they were able to meet at bars, concerts, and through wanton looks across the green campus center.  Keith Hall was our only space.  Men would go into the stall together, or jerk off at the urinals.  When the door to the bathroom opened, everyone would stop; the secret world would rearrange itself and look like the one weT4A were supposed to be living in.  Who knows how these gathering places — and they exist everywhere, in mall bathrooms, at rest areas, in locker room saunas — take hold?  No one plans them; they show up out of the sheer force of need and will.

The gay and lesbian student group, which met once every few weeks, was like a negative image of Keith Hall.  It was sterile and still.  We sat on the thin industrial carpet of a dull room.  We were in a circle, talking to each other about gays in the military and marriage.  Keith Hall wasn’t an official topic at any meeting, but it was a constant source of anxiety and cause for ridicule.  Members would gossip about other members who they’d seen skulking around the bathroom for a blowjob, or about townie “trolls” who would linger on campus for sex.  Of course, I’d seen each and every one of the male members of the student group in Keith Hall at one point or another, and they no doubt had seen me.  No reason for why we shouldn’t meet there to have sex was given.  It was supposed to be self-evident.  I was silent. 

That is where shame comes from: it’s an agreement to silently betray yourself.

Where were we supposed to go?  In spite of the commonly held image of gay promiscuity, there wasn’t (and isn’t) easy access to sex for gay men for much of their lives.  In cities, sure, but not in the woods, not in the vast middle of the country, only at the edges.  Being a sexual minority, a still demonized sexual minority, a demonized sexual minority in a culture that demonizes sex itself, cut off access. 

If you need sex and don’t have access to it, too bad, we’re told. Our culture, and by extension the on-campus gay and lesbian group, shamed everyone who was defying that by having sex in a “non-sexual” space .  Suck it up.  Suffer.  If you do find it somewhere (anywhere), feel bad about it.  Don’t admit it.  Make others feel bad about it.

There was no way out of the trap.

Then I discovered Amber Hollibaugh.  She spoke at my school and I consumed her writing and perspective. 

MDDShe was a sex worker who grew up so poor that as a child, she slept in a dresser drawer.  Now she was a published author, a labor rights activist, a lecturer.  In her talk, she shared stories about waiting for her clients to fall asleep, and then looking through and committing to memory the titles and passages from the books on their shelves.  Her intellectualism and sexuality and labor politics were all tied together.  She is one of the most complete human beings I have ever encountered.

Whereas the gay and lesbian group I was part of was invested in notions of equality in terms of identity and discrimination, it couldn’t quite bring itself to talk about sex.  It severed, as the contemporary “gay rights” and “equality” movements continue to sever, sex and pleasure from identity.

“I come from a moment in time and a radical vision,” Hollibaugh said, “that never made marriage or the military my criteria of success.  I didn’t want us to have wars, I didn’t want us to have armies, and I didn’t want to register my relationship with the state.”  In other words, the queer movement that Hollibaugh came from was not concerned with equality by emulating the dominant state-supported culture.  Instead, it was concerned with the liberation of desire and pleasure (and so, her life-changing book of essays is aptly titled My Dangerous Desires), and in seeing the powerful radiating potential of that liberation.

“I don’t want a day,” she said, in reference to gay pride. “I want a revolution.”  At her lecture, in my heart, one had begun to occur.

She said, echoing Fourier, that access to consensual pleasure was a right, not a luxury.  In the most electrifying moment, she said, “Wherever you have a secret, that is where you are vulnerable.”

If you try to keep a secret, then someone exposing that secret could damage you. And you live in a state of fear and anxiety, and powerlessness.  In other words, a state of shame. It’s not the content of the secret so much, but the hiding of it that is so damaging.

I was holding on to so many secrets.  Every time I had sex, every time I found a place among the silence of where I lived to experience pleasure, I hid it away.  I didn’t tell anyone.  I was terrified of being exposed and ridiculed.  So I shamed myself.  I knew that almost everyone I had seen in the Keith Hall bathroom must feel the same way.

My interest in Hollibaugh led me to the radical queer underground which traced its roots back to, among others, Edward Carpenter. 

EC

Edward Carpenter

Edward Carpenter (1844-1929), a handsome man with pointed features, a student and lover of Walt Whitman’s, a poet and a philosopher.  Carpenter was a profoundly influential thinker in his time, but is largely unknown today.  His erasure is a familiar one: blot out from history the people that help us understand sex. Carpenter knew that sex was tied to power and tied to the sacred.  More importantly, he knew that how we greeted sex with our thinking and emotions was of more importance than the kind of sex we had, specifically, since sex was part of nature (and nature was part of divine creation). 

Religious thinkers and philosophers of his day (and ours) were popularizing the notion of shame as a guiding force: If you feel shame, it’s indicating that the action you’re taking is wrong.  For Carpenter and the movements that traced their way back to him, shame was a shadow.  It can’t actually guide you anywhere, it’s tacked to your heel, it’s the place the light hasn’t yet reached. To undo sexual shame, Carpenter advised, understand it’s not indicating a course of action.  Understand, also, that it’s not bonded to the sex act so much as the frantic cultural impulses surrounding the sex act.  It’s usually a feeling misdirected from somewhere else. Letting going of shame allows space for sex and pleasure themselves to guide you to your perspective on sex and pleasure.  When you do that, sex has a different feel. 

“The dissatisfaction which at times follows (sex),” Carpenter wrote, “is the same as follows on all pleasure which is sought, and which does not come unsought. The dissatisfaction is not in the nature of pleasure itself but in the nature of seeking.”

This good to keep in mind when you or someone you know says, “hook-ups feel shallow,” or “I want more than just sex.”  If you’re seeking something in a casual sexual encounter, you may find yourself still seeking after it’s done.  If, instead, you are open to seeing what the encounter can teach you, or even if you’re just willing to not dismiss the dissatisfaction as a negative feeling, something profound can happen each and every time. The experience of sex is never in and of itself shallow, a person’s perspective on their sexual experience, however, is a different matter.

My transformation was quick.  I stopped being silently ashamed about my experiences, and I started talking about them.

The UMASS Student Union Building

The UMASS Student Union Building

When I transferred to the University of Massachusetts, there was a Keith Hall equivalent, the Student Union Building.  There’s one on every campus.  Different school, same stigma.  Amherst was much more open to gay and lesbian sexuality than small-town Pennsylvania, but mostly because of the large lesbian population in the surrounding area.  There still weren’t many gay men, and there was a still tense hush amongst gay students about the cruising spots, including a rest area on the nearby highway and a bike path at night. I’d stop at the Student Union bathroom often, between classes, looking for sex. 

And I started telling my friends, gay and straight, about it. 

The straight men expressed an astonished envy: “You can get laid between classes?”  A butch lesbian friend exclaimed, “You’d be stupid if you didn’t go there!”  The gay men, though, were still sheepish.  But their sheepishness didn’t add any shame on my account, and because I was open about it, no one shamed the practice around me.  Reorganizing my thoughts about privacy and secrecy freed me. 

My sex, any aspect of it, is private.  Privacy means I can have whatever thoughts and feelings I want about it, and I can explore those on my own. 

But my sex life was no longer secret:  I wasn’t trying to hide it, and the value of it didn’t come from it being concealed.

I began to understand my own shame as a vestigial organ, something that developed in me but that wasn’t needed anymore.  So many different parts of my life were touched by this preexisting shame: shame in discovering I was attracted to men, shame around expressing sexual feelings, shame that I wasn’t pursuing the societally approved intimacy-within-a-monogamous-relationship.  It was impossible to avoid the shame by simply stopping one or another sexual behavior, it would show up somewhere else.  I’d have to deal with my inner world directly.

Wherever you have a secret, that is where you are vulnerable.  I learned instead, to move toward the vulnerability, instead of retreating from it.  By becoming vulnerable intentionally, through the effort of honesty and openness, we become strong.

*

Next Up: The Russian Mystic in Love with Lust

*
Sources

Hollibaugh, Amber. My Dangerous Desires: A Queer Girl Dreaming Her Way HomeDurham: Duke University Press, 2000.

Amber L. Hollibaugh: The LGBTQ Movement’s Radical Vision (web): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqNrCMG4tjI

Rowbotham, Sheila.  Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love.  Brooklyn: Verso, 2009.

#TheSexRadicals, Part 1: Ida Craddock, the Sexual Freedom Fighter Who Married an Angel

23 Jul

Each week, I’ll be posting short essays on sexual thinkers (read the introduction to the series here) who have changed my perspective on sex, who, I believe, could be instrumental in helping us remake Western sexual culture. It will include some bits about my own life, some history, and some controversial claims. The series also appears on RealitySandwich.com

IC

Ida Craddock

Making Room for Sex: Ida Craddock and The Sacred Profane

“If you believe in Jesus, aspire to be in unison with His will from the moment the [sexual] ecstasy sets in…”

– Ida Craddock (1857-1902)

In 1893, Chicago was humming with an urgent darkness; it was a year of blood. The Mayor was assassinated by an angry and envious political hopeful. A serial killer, H.H. Holmes was stalking the streets of the city, claiming dozens of victims. And Columbus’s brutal arrival in the Americas was being commemorated by The World’s Fair. To stand at the edge of the Fair was to look from a dark room into light. Enter the Fair, and you could leave Chicago, even though you were still in it.

There were representations of buildings and cities from around the world to inspire architects and planners. The World’s Parliament of Religions, with representatives from Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Jainism, Shintoism and more, shocked a new world-awareness into patrons.

The Fair’s Middle Eastern replica, “Cairo Street,” boasted what would seem like an embarrassment of orientalist romanticization today. But in the late 19th Century, the exhibit was alluring, a shiver of power. There was Middle Eastern architecture, the twisting strums of Arabic music playing, people smiling on top of camels.

And there were belly dancers.

In the Egyptian Theatre, women with exposed midriffs made waves of their bodies, turning and flowing to the music. Their arms gracefully ascended into the air then snaked their way back, closer to their bodies. The performances were a huge hit, drawing crowds and exaggerated news coverage. They also drew detractors, who, in a blended condemnation of Arab cultures and sexual expression, proclaimed the shows “demoralizing and disgusting.”

Anthony Comstock was among them, leading the public outcry. Comstock was head of the state-sponsored New York NYSFTSOVSociety for the Suppression of Vice. The globe of his bald head was held by a ring of facial hair that drooped from his cheeks like the slavering jowls of a St. Bernard. He was fond of bow ties. He was a serious person with a serious mission: destroy obscenity. The Society’s badge bore a proud picture of a man dropping books in a fire on one side and a baton-wielding police officer pushing some obscene chap into a cell by his neck. That would do it! These pagan belly dancers — savages! — would have to go into the fire along with all those books.

But while Comstock was raising protests, a defense appeared in the the newsprint pages of New York World. Instead of the dancing being the hip-thrusting of primitives, the defense read, it was a valuable tool in understanding sex, how to move during sex with your partner, the sacredness of sexuality. The defense was outrageous and pulsed with the newness of the Fair. In a time of blood and death, it was a rebirth. The author was Ida Craddock, a women’s rights advocate, stenography teacher, and spouse of an angel. Her mission, also serious, was nothing less than the reinstatement of sex to sacred stature. The world was changing. The moment to rethink sex was at hand.

Craddock was born in Philadelphia in 1857, and endured a puritanical childhood with a paranoid mother who would continue throughout life to be one of her staunchest enemies. Wherever Craddock walked, she encountered patriarchal and sex-phobic ideals forcefully gripping the culture She spent her time systematically prying the fingers back, sometimes successfully. When she was in her twenties, she clashed with the University of Pennsylvania, who refused to admit women into their liberal arts school. Later, frustrated with the limits of Protestantism, she became a Unitarian and called for “Free Thought” Sunday schools, where children would be taught all religious traditions, rather than just one.

VW

Victoria Woodhull

Like many radicals of the time, Craddock found freedom in spiritualism. Today, the occult and spirituality are often ridiculed by the Left, but they played a vital part in the formation of Leftist, feminist, and radical politics, not to mention social justice movements. For instance, Craddock’s eye was always on the oppression of women. Since religion was a key in oppressing women, many activists — including the first female presidential candidate, Victoria Woodhull — worked to create new models of religion to replace what was thought to be the phallocentric Christian one, in which the cross itself was seen as an oppressive phallic symbol. Craddock started out as a skeptic, even a debunker. But eventually, the currents of liberatory spiritualism made their way into her thinking, and she began to seek correspondence with the imagined and real world of spiritual entities. One of them was a seventeen year-old boy she’d known when she was younger. He was killed in an accident and now appeared to her as an angel named Soph. Why not marry an angel? After some loving correspondence with Soph, Craddock did, and reported her ecstatic sexual experiences with him in a language that strongly resembles the language of objectum sexuals, who fall in love with and make love to objects and landmarks. It’s a moving language of ecstasy – an encounter with a partner whose being-ness others can’t understand. The invisible breath of the angel so in love with you, that you’re the only one who can see him.

From her scholarly work, her relationship with Soph, her experience in activism, and her encounters with feminist allies, Ida Craddock enacted her strategy to empower people, particularly women. She started to educate — in-person and through pamphlets — women about their bodies so that they could experience intense sexual pleasure in their relationships rather than live in the dull un-erotic circumstances they’d found themselves in. Craddock’s message was that women had as much of a right to sexual pleasure as their husbands, and that this pleasure was a sacred right. Sex was a gift from God. Sexual pleasure was part of Jesus Christ’s message. Any other interpretation of religion was the love of God passed through a distorted lens. Craddock hoped that this religious foundation of sexual pleasure would create a door for the devout and sexually timid. And she also hoped it would protect her, via the Bill of Rights, from censorship.

But while Craddock had her hopes, Comstock had his very own Act. The Comstock Obscenity Act prevented any obscene information and material from being sent through the US mail. Obscene, as usual, was defined broadly enough to mean anything, including contraceptives, abortion info, sexual instruction, and more. Craddock’s advice was, indeed, explicit for the time – “perform the pelvic movements during the embrace, riding your husband’s organ gently,” she’d written in her publication, The Wedding Night, “up, down, sideways with a semi-rotary movement.” Her pamphlets were thwarted at every turn, forced into obscurity shortly after they hit the postal service. But as a “sexologist” (her self-chosen title) it was harder to stifle her message, since she offered in-person consultations with people in sexual need.

Craddock’s message: If sex and pleasure do not fit into your model of culture, well, then, redraw your model to make room for them. Like the Fair, the contours of your relationship with your partner and God were containers for sights unseen, new experiences, new ways to experience the world and yourself and be free.

Since our attitudes toward sex have been so distorted by people and institutions in power, all sexual revolutionaries of all eras absorb the prejudices and sexual shaming of their time. A lot was lost in Craddock’s religion-meets-sex approach. Even though she was well-versed in the religious history of sexual rituals and wanted women to be liberated from “sex slavery” (a term of her time that loosely approximates to patriarchy), she was so focused on religion that she often lost sight of sex. This is evident in her moral admonitions of oral sex, prostitution and more.

These limits in her thinking show up as sadness and confusion. In two separate cases, men, both interested in sex and love with other men, approached her. She wavered in a perplexed position. Would she find herself in strange alliance with Comstock’s laws, which prohibited depictions of or information about homosexual behavior (and would do so until 1958)? She struggled with whether or not this could be love and not just perversion. That she struggled at all was due in part to the influence of another sexual reformer of the time, Walt Whitman’s protege, Edward Carpenter. Carpenter wore black ties, had sharp features, enjoyed sex with other men, and corresponded with Gandhi. Craddock admired his brilliant and powerful writings about the collapse of civilization and the tenderness of love between men.

AC

Aleister Crowley

But Craddock was unable to undo all the currents of traditional repression. She managed on the one hand to be radical and on the other to be traditional; her focus didn’t stray far from heterosexual monogamy. But what she said you could do within a monogamous partnership was revolutionary. It was inspiring even the most radical thinkers. “Her learning is enormous,” wrote magus Aleister Crowley, in a review of Craddock’s Heavenly Bridegrooms, which he called, “one of the most remarkable human documents ever produced.”

Life as a radical can be lonely and beleaguered, even with an angel at your side. Craddock’s own mother conspired with authorities to have her admitted to a mental institution. The federal government seized her work. She was considered a witch, no small burden to bear at the time. For Comstock, her mother, and the judges at her various trials, it didn’t matter that Craddock’s message was intertwined with Christ. Her embrace of sexual pleasure meant that her angelic husband might as well have been a the devil whispering into her ear.

In 1902, she was sentenced to three months in prison. If she would admit she were insane, she knew, she could avoid prison time. But Craddock refused. When you have seen into the contracted heart of the world’s insanity, what can you do but plead you are sane?

She was released amongst cries of public support and then immediately arrested again, under the Comstock law. Comstock would not stop attacking Ida Craddock. Like the anti-prostitution and anti-porn bigots of today, who delight in attacking sex workers, this was where he found his pleasure.
Unwilling to be Comstock’s partner in pleasure any longer, Craddock went home, turned on the oven gas, and slit her wrists.

She left two letters. One was an open letter, condemning Comstock and the country’s sexual state of affairs. It was a plea to understand the damage being done to our world by obscenity laws, dead marriages, the oppression of women, sexual ignorance.

The second letter was to her mother, but its sentiments also ripple out into the waters of history, hoping to find all of us.

“I love you, dear mother; never forget that. And love cannot die; it is no dream, it is a reality.” Some day, she wrote, her work would be taken up by others and her mother would not be ashamed.

“Some day,” she wrote, “you’ll be proud of me.”

Western culture is still learning this lesson: that we have a right, a sacred right (whether we’re religious or not) to sexual pleasure. And if our worldview or our relationship doesn’t allow for it, we must recreate their boundaries.

Ida Craddock lay in her apartment, sealed off with these letters. There, she bled and breathed false air until she died.

*

Next up: The Sex Magician of the Civil War

*

Sources
Chappell, Vere. Sexual Outlaw, Erotic Mystic: The Essential Ida Craddock.
San Francisco: Weiser, 2010.

Schmidt, Leigh E. Heaven’s Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American
     Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman. New York: Basic, 2010.

IdaCraddock.com

Porn-ing Your Way through College 101: A Syllabus

3 Oct

Porn-ing Your Way Through College 101

Syllabus

Instructor: Conner Habib

blackboardCourse Description

Every year, hundreds of thousands of barely legal teens are coerced by people more powerful than them, as well as societal pressure, to make the life-altering, no-going-back, always-on-your-permanent-record decision to go to college.

There are serious consequences for this, including discrimination based on your performance, not being able to find a job after college ends, and having to disclose to your partners and lovers what your major is.

Nevertheless, here you are, in a financially and sexually exploitative environment with no foreseeable way out.

Never fear!  Pornography is here to help.  Porn-ing Your Way Through College will help navigate the ins and outs of pornography, how to enhance your pornographic experience by being in college, and how to pay your way through porn by being in college.

Course Goals

Porn will help you develop valuable skills for navigating the difficult world of college and beyond.  These include:

Understanding your sexual boundaries.

Sex is constantly present and potentially dangerous in any college environment.  Being in porn will help you develop your boundaries by providing a safe space to experiment with your sexual preferences, constitution, and comfortability.  The general rule on porn sets is that performers have a right to say no at any time to any sexual act.  Developing this detailed understanding of what boundaries are absolute, and which of your own boundaries you’re interested in pushing, will make sex and the possibility of sexual interaction more pleasant for you off set.  Porn will help you understand not just how to say “no” when you don’t want to engage sexually, but also how to say “yes” when you do.

Understanding Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).

Most porn studios have some STI protocol in place.  This means you’ll be engaging with some combination of basic STI education (including how STIs are transmitted and how to prevent and be aware of transmission), STI testing, and condom or other barrier use. You’ll also learn how to be more aware of your body and sexual health, since your livelihood will depend on it.  This will give you important information in your four years of college, as well as potentially transform you into a valuable health resource for your friendly but reckless peers.

Understanding How To Choose What You Want.

Choosing to be in porn is like choosing to be art history major: It’s widely discouraged by our culture.  Yet many people find porn and a career in other humanities rewarding and fulfilling.  By deciding to be in porn, you’ll be casting away social pressure by deciding your desire and integrity is more important than what our culture says you “should” do.  This makes you an ideal role model for incoming freshman who would otherwise throw their lives away traveling a path and choosing a major that’s expected from them.

Understanding How To Create Intimacy.

In porn, you’ll be expected to perform sexual acts with people you may not find immediately attractive.  While some people may deem such sexual acts “mechanical,”  you’ll find, instead, that they can be fun, athletic, and create a sense of healthy detachment.  One of the reasons sex workers are sometimes hired as hospice caregivers in other countries is because they don’t fear the touch of or touching a body that they may not feel drawn to.  The detachment that being in porn can help develop the ability to create intimacy rather than to expect it.  This will make you a better listener, communicator, and less apt to make kneejerk decisions with strangers, professors, or administrators.

classGrades

Whether you pass or fail in Porn-ing Your Way Through College will be assessed by a few factors. 

These include:

Integration of Porn into Your Present and Future Life. 

Let’s face it: Your friends, family, and coworkers, as well as your future employers will probably find out that you’ve appeared in adult scenes.  Make sure you’re ready for that.  Be able to approach them without apology (ie “I’m just working my way through college!”) or resentment (ie. “Yeah I’m in porn, fuck you, so what?!”).  Being able to calmly own your choices and sexuality presents a strong statement to other people and culture, and is more respectable than trying to hide your porn career, which is mostly impossible.

Managing the Rest of Your Affairs.

The down-to-earth nature of performing filmed sexual acts for money may make college, with its emphasis on theories, obedience, and beauracracy seem ungrounded and arbitrarily demanding. Make sure you keep your affairs in order, though.  Even though the academia is unreasonable and demeaning, it’s important that you stay the course and attend to your responsibilities.  It’s also important to keep your financial situation in order by keeping track of your taxes (ask your accounting professor for help!) and saving some money in the event that you’re unable to appear in porn during busy times like finals week.

Responsibility to Promoting Sex-Positivity and Other Sex Workers.

Now that you’re in porn, you’re in the public eye, people are going to have expectations of you, and be looking to you for guidance when it comes to the confusing and culturally fucked up world of sex.  People will appropriately or inappropriately bring up sexual topics and express their curiosities prejudices about what you and other sex workers do.  Everyone should have the right to express themselves sexually provided consent is present for all parties, sex work is work, and you should hold your head high for yourself and others. Make sure you’re able to patiently hear questions about your sex worker peers, including other porn performers, escorts, strippers, online sex cammers and amateurs, and to answer with compassion.

Don’t worry about being perfect, just do what you can!

Join an organization like the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC) or lend a helping hand at St. James Infirmary to interact with and support your peers.  Meet with your on-campus LGBT or sex positive student groups.

textbooksRecommended Reading

Playing the Whore by Melissa Gira Grant

My Dangerous Desires by Amber Hollibaugh

Porn Studies edited by Linda Williams

***

With thanks to Christopher Frizzelle, Bravo Delta, and Belle Knox for the inspiration.