Tag Archives: sex advice

#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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Next up: The Sex Magician of the Civil War

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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

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

Spring Has Sprung (Update!)

3 May

libraryI’m really and truly almost finished with my book, Remaking Sex (out in 2015 from from Disinformation books). Right now, I’m compiling a full publication, media appearance and movie archive, as well as overhauling my website.  If you’re a web designer and you want to help me out with that, great!  In the meantime, there’s plenty else going on.  Like what? you ask.  Well, here you go.

INTERVIEWS

Two (very different) interviews out.  One with chick-lit superstar, Babe Walker, on the crazy popular White Girl Problems website.  I talk about having a hard on for my trainers, biodynamic iris facial cream (really!), and a getting forcibly fucked by Spartans.  There’s also an old (pre-porn, actually) but kind of fun photo of me posing Burt Lancaster style, naked with some books.  The other interview is on gay hookup paradise, Manhunt, and we talk about my book, the state of internet censorship, and the guys I most want to do scenes with (no surprise that Colby Jansen and Bravo Delta are on there).

The attitude that allows people to attack women in porn is the same attitude that kept women from getting degrees at Duke University until the late 19th Century.”  – I was also interviewed by maverick feminist site Jezebel for their article on media sensation Belle Knox, the out sex worker/porn star Duke University student. The article is pretty solid.

I appeared on two podcasts – gay radio comedy meltdown Feast of Fun – which was mostly about my essay in The Stranger, “What I Want To Know is Why You Hate Porn Stars.”  And I was on the Out of the Box podcast with comedian  Rosie Tran – we go allll over the place on that one: sex, social control, relationships, etc.  It’s good stuff, and Rosie was a lot of fun to talk with.

WRITING

My thoughts on ambition appear in Adult Magazine in their monthly advice round table.  I say a bunch of stuff about fairy tales and respond to Cord Jefferson, Emily Gould, and others.  It’s a fun quick read.

Salon.com reissued my essay, “Rest Stop Confidential,” which is about having sex at rest areas in the RestAreawoods/bathrooms.  It caused a little bit of a stir when it came out, and  it’s been making the round again.  Happily, American Conservative Magazine got its bloody hands on it and decided to publicly insult me, which I count as a sort of personal victory.  The essay also appears in Best Sex Writing 2013 (along with essays by Jonathan Lethem, Carol Queen and more), which you can purchase here.

My weekly sex and relationship advice column, Free Sex, on Millionaire Matchmaker Patti Stanger‘s site, PattiKnows, is going strong.  Recent topics include: “Four Reasons Why You Should Have Sex Right Away“, and my favorite so far, “You Don’t Have To Be In A Relationship. (Ever.).”

APPEARANCES

I’ll be presenting at the Lambda Literary Awards on June 2nd in New York, along with AM Homes, Urvashi Vaid, Justin Hall, and more.  Very excited to be a part of the event, which is the largest LGBT literary event in the world.  Truly honored.  It’s open to the public – info and how to get tickets are all listed here.

HIRE ME

As always, if you’re interested in hiring me to speak at your event, organization, or school, please click here.  If you’d like help with your writing projects – including essays, fiction, screenplays, plays and more, click here.

More soon! Love,

CH