Apr 302014

Partners in Passion

Ed. Note: I’m excited to present this guest post by Mark A. Michaels and Patricia Johnson, authors of the new book, Partners in Passion.

Articles bemoaning the state of marital sex seem to emerge in clusters, often in the run-up to Valentine’s Day. This year, The New York Times helped lead the charge with the publication of two articles on successive Sundays.

The first, “Good Enough? That’s Great!” by Daniel Jones, editor of the “Modern Love” column, appeared on February 2nd and was excerpted from his recently published Love Illuminated.  Jones characterized couples that seek to maintain or renew their erotic connection as “Restorers” whose approach to relating is based on either “drudgery” or a need for “spice.” He concluded that it is “risky” for couples to do more than settle for staleness and that the prudent course is to be “appreciatively resigned.” This conclusion neglects the very real possibility that those who choose to be interested in each other, to be curious and engaged are not seeking to recapture something that has been lost but are instead cultivating relationships skills that others would benefit from learning. Being “appreciatively resigned” is no sign of wisdom, and remaining emotionally and erotically engaged need not be either “drudgery” or “spice”; it can be a shared adventure.

Jones discussed the outcry over Ayelet Waldman’s 2005 statement that putting her “marriage ahead of motherhood” was the key to her marital happiness and erotic satisfaction. In his characterization, Waldman is akin to an alien being and her marriage is “extremely rare”, though letters he received during his years as editor of “Modern Love” hardly comprise a scientific sample. It would have been more illuminating to examine the sources of the outrage – America’s almost cultish devotion to the child; the still pervasive sexist and sex negative currents in our society; and the notion that love is a zero-sum game.

Jones’s piece was followed by a cover story in the February 9, 2014 Magazine by psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb – titled “Sexless but Equal” on the cover and “The Egalitarian-Marriage Conundrum” inside. In the article, Gottlieb cited a study published in 2013 claiming that couples in “equal marriages”, where husbands do “what researchers characterize as feminine chores like folding laundry, cooking, or vacuuming” had sex 1.5 fewer times per month than couples whose division of labor was more conventionally gendered. While Gottlieb acknowledged several potential flaws in the study, she relied on anecdotes from her personal life and practice to bolster the idea that relatively equal partnerships are likely to suffer from erotic deficit.

Gottlieb’s article was replete with essentialist ideas about gender – for example that men watch Pornohub and women follow Pinterest. Her thinking about pornography generally was antiquated or naive – that it’s all about male pleasure, women being subservient, with no negotiation, female desire or role reversal (the proliferation of feminist porn notwithstanding), and that the “MILF” is a new cultural phenomenon. Some of the biggest porn stars of the1970s were middle-aged, even though the term had not yet been invented.

The anecdotes from her practice were similarly superficial. In one case, a woman in her 40s and in an “equal” marriage examined her husband’s Internet history and discovered that he had viewed porn involving scenes of domination. The discovery inspired her to express her own desire to be dominated; a fantasy the couple explored. The woman was “surprised by his lack of enthusiasm” and felt rejected as a result. Gottlieb never mentioned the apparent invasion of privacy and how that violation may have impacted the interaction. Also unexamined were some potentially deeper issues, how the woman communicated her desire, whether it was received as a criticism, and perhaps more importantly why the husband was unable to take pleasure fulfilling his wife’s fantasy. There’s no intrinsic reason that acting out fantasies of domination in the bedroom will have any implications in other aspects of life.

MarkandPatricia-high-resIn another anecdote, one of Gottlieb’s clients claimed to “crave” her husband when he returned from the gym, undressed, and got into the shower. The husband replied that he had done just that on the morning of the session, and she became irritated because he had thrown his clothes on the floor and then complained that he had failed to vacuum “the day before, when she had to work late.” The conversation then turned to the fact that the wife did not find vacuuming a turn-on.

Gottlieb either ignored or missed the fact that the woman shifted her attention from her desire to her resentment. It’s by no means self-evident that the dynamic has anything to do with gender-neutrality or egalitarianism or that her response would have been any different if the task involved had been one that is conventionally deemed to be masculine – taking out the trash or fixing the car. In this incident, resentment, not gender equality, killed desire.

These articles partake of a generalized cultural anxiety about marriage and long-term relationships that is not entirely misplaced. The work of Esther Perel, which is cited in both articles, highlights the tension that between the domestic and the erotic. 21st-century society imposes a very heavy burden on long-term relationships; partners are expected to be lovers, friends, and parents, and it is not easy to balance these demands, especially when work and other obligations are factored in. Nonetheless, examples of couples successfully navigating these conflicts are not that difficult to find.

Perhaps it’s sexier to focus on dissatisfaction and lack of sex. Perhaps it is safer as well. Long-term couples that have satisfying sex make relationship a priority. They may explore various forms of open relating or kink, which are typically downplayed or ignored in the ‘marriage in crisis’ genre, or they may be vanilla and monogamous. What these couples have in common is a dedication to maintaining their erotic connection. The reaction to Ayelet Waldman’s statements makes it clear that making the erotic a priority remains a radical act, especially if the person prioritizing is a woman and a mother.

Mark A. Michaels and Patricia Johnson are a devoted married couple. They have been creative collaborators – teaching and writing about sexuality and Tantra together – since 1999. Michaels and Johnson are the authors of Partners in Passion (Cleis 2014), Great Sex Made Simple, Tantra for Erotic Empowerment, and The Essence of Tantric Sexuality. Their books have garnered numerous awards: Independent Publishing (IPPY), ForeWord Reviews, and USA Book News Best Books, among others. They are also the creators of the meditation CD set Ananda Nidra: Blissful Sleep. To support the pleasure-positive community in New York, they co-founded Pleasure Salon in 2007. www.MichaelsandJohnson




Jan 222013


Dee Dennis (Catalyst Con)


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This Friday, January 25th, Sex Out Loud is live and the show starts at 5 pm PT / 8 pm ET. First we’ll talk with Dee Dennis, creator and founder of CatalystCon, a conference she refers to as a “melting pot of sexuality” that will unite sex educators, sexologists, sex workers, writers, activists, and anyone with a passion for creating change. She’ll discuss what to expect this March when the conference hits DC and how you can join in. Then, Patricia Johnson and Mark Michaels, authors of the book Great Sex Made Simple, will discuss what exactly is tantra and how everyone can benefit from their tantric tips to deepen intimacy and heighten pleasure within sexual relationships.

An activist in the field of sexuality, Dee Dennis started her career as a sex blogger, writing about the end of her marriage and starting the next chapter in her life. Through this metamorphosis, Dee discovered her passion for sexuality rights and issues for people around the world. Dee’s commitment to taking the conversation about sexuality offline and into the real world lead in part to the creation of MOMENTUM, a conference she co-founded to empower people to come together and exchange ideas that would further the conversations about sexuality, inspire people and motivate them to carry the conversation forward. In 2012, Dee founded CatalystCon, which she regards as a “melting pot of sexuality” that unites sex educators, sexologists, sex workers, writers, activists, and anyone with a passion for creating change. To Dee, “knowledge is power, and sharing that knowledge is the first spark in igniting change.” This is the fundamental principle behind CatalystCon.

Mark A. Michaels (Swami Umeshanand Saraswati) and Patricia Johnson (Devi Veenanand), a devoted married couple, have been teaching Tantra together since 1999. Their approach combines traditional lineage-based Tantra with the best contemporary methods so that students can bring heightened awareness and an expanded capacity for pleasure into all aspects of everyday life. Michaels and Johnson are the authors of The Essence of Tantric Sexuality (Llewellyn, 2006), which won the USA Book News National Best Books 2007 Award in Health: Sexuality. Their second book, Tantra for Erotic Empowerment: The Key to Enriching Your Sexual Life (Llewellyn 2008) won the 2008 USA Book News Award, also in Health: Sexuality, was selected as an Indie Excellence Awards finalist in New Age Non-Fiction, and was a ForeWord Magazine Books of the Year Award finalist in the Body, Mind and Spirit category.) Their meditation CD set, Ananda Nidra: Blissful Sleep(Projekt Records) was a finalist for the 2012 COVR Visionary Award for Innerspace/Meditational/Healing Music.

Michaels and Johnson wrote and appeared in two instructional DVDs produced by the Alexander Institute: Tantric Sexual Massage for Lovers and Advanced Tantric Sex Secrets. They have been featured on television (Good Day Colorado, AM Northwest, Naked New York), radio (Afternoon Advice and Nightcalls on Playboy Radio, Go to Bed with Cosmo Radio, The Derek and Romaine Show, and NPR’s A Chef’s Table) and have been quoted as experts in numerous publications and on many websites – from women’s magazines to dating websites to men’s magazines to GLBT- oriented media – including Redbook, Latina, Jane, Cosmopolitan, The Village Voice, Metro, Pregnancy and Newborn, More, Rockstar, Woman’s World, The Sydney Star Observer (Australia’s most popular GLBT weekly), Emotion (Germany), The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Tantric Sex, and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Enhancing Sexual Desire. They have also contributed articles to various online and print publications, including Chronogram and Debonair, and give sexuality and relationship advice at Dick-n-Jane.com.

The couple has taught throughout the United States, as well as in Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, and Australia. They are senior students of Tantric pioneer Dr. Jonn Mumford (Swami Anandakapila Saraswati). Dr. Mumford has named them his lineage holders for the Americas and Europe. In addition, they have studied Bhakti Yoga with Bhagavan Das and Tantra with Dr. Rudolph Ballentine.

Michaels is a graduate of New York University School of Law and a member of the Bar in New York State. He holds master’s degrees in American Studies from NYU and Yale. Formerly, a playwright and translator, he translated and adapted Goldoni’s The Mistress of the Inn for the Roundabout Theatre Company, and co-wrote The Thrill of Victory, The Agony of Debate, which premiered at New York’s Primary Stages. Johnson is a retired professional operatic soprano who toured throughout the United States, Europe, and South America and performed with the New York City Opera, the Houston Grand Opera, and the Komsiche Oper Berlin. She currently is active in the conservation and preservation of New York’s native turtles.

Michaels and Johnson are co-founders of the Pleasure Salon, a monthly gathering in New York City that brings together sex-positive people and pleasure activists from a variety of communities.

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