In this unforseen and unprecedented time, I find one of themes emerging in chatting with others involves how to adjust to the lack of opportunity to be in physical proximity and connection with loved ones. Chaos abounds. In our heads, we know we are to stay apart for our health and the health of others. In our bodies, this “shock” of not being to touch or be touched, or even be close to others, is creating what I believe to be a physiological trauma and confusion.
How are we to stay healthy, if one of the ways we knew to stay healthy before this situation was to experience physical connection with others? Touching our children. Shaking hands with colleagues. Patting our buddies on the back as a greeting or for a job well done? Connecting physically and sexually with our intimates; Experiencing the profound pleasure of having sex with others that previously brought us a sense of elation, rejuvenation, comfort, and connectivity?
The answers: Turning back to boyhood
In a recent talk I shared with a group of erotic explorers, I offered thoughts of my own personal struggles with adjusting to the challenges of current times, and how I am attempting to find my way. Surprisingly, in meditating about this experience, I realized some answers to my struggle may exist in lessons I learned as a young boy.
Journeying back to thoughts of childhood as a way of discovering new ways of coping with a lack of touch and physical connection was not difficult for me. I was an only child for many years; my sister was not born until almost ten years after me. I did have children around me; cousins, neighborhood kids, and school classmates among them, but for whatever reason, I was still very much a loner as a child.
In learning as a boy about how to entertain myself, I developed skills I am finding now to be helpful in coping with the current reality. One of the most powerful tools for learning I had as a boy was a screwdriver. I was always fascinated with how things worked. I took everything apart. Radios. Lights. Appliances. Whatever I could get my hands on. It drove my parents nuts, because I was not as diligent about putting things back together, but this practice satisfied my curiosities.
Reading was another passion. One summer an encyclopedia salesman appeared at my front door and convinced my mother to purchase a full set of encyclopedias, dictionaries, and a children’s version of learning books, and soon I had tons of reading material available. I read through every volume; some of them multiple times, especially on hot, lonely summer days when others were out enjoying the sun. I would get lost reading about things I didn’t know and places I hadn’t been. The world, in a way, was open to me.
And creativity was another huge factor. My father purchased a three-wheeler motorcycle for me, and I spent many summers with cousins and friends playing make-believe. We would ride through the desert taking turns; imagining our corner of the world being far-away places. Many times I would take others and drop them off in different areas of the desert to explore, returning to pick them up. It was our way of flying away on jet planes and visiting exotic locales.
When it would get too hot outside, we would gather in my sister’s very large bedroom and set up her closet as a performance stage. Recording our favorite songs on cassette tapes from local radio stations, dressing up in random clothes not in season, belonging to adults, or slated for the next garage sale brought us great entertainment and distraction. We got to be pop stars, movie stars, or strange or unusual beings no one had seen before. It was hilarious. It was fun. And it was healing.
Losing curiosity, creativity, and play in adulthood
Fast forward to young adulthood, and those things began to change. Those practices dissipated, and the need to conform to societal norms, beliefs, and expectations emerged. Questioning how things work was not necessarily encouraged; it was more about learning how the world expected us to fit into how things worked. Reading became nerdy; I was ashamed to admit I enjoyed reading over other activities as a young male. And imagination and creativity was deemed silly and unproductive.
It was these messages, along with my emerging sexual desires and needs, that led to a definite struggle. Recognizing that I was experiencing attraction to those of the same gender went against everything I learned was supposed to be important as an adult. I wasn’t to question how sexual roles worked. I wasn’t to “tinker” with my feelings about my sexual role in society. I wasn’t supposed to be creative in my connection with others. I wasn’t supposed to explore. I wasn’t supposed to try out what it would be like to be someone other than what I was expected to be in the eyes of those in the world around me.
So I tried to hide. I tried to conform. I tried to stifle myself. And, that only led to depression. It led to a lack of connection. It led to frustration and anger. And it led to behaviors that were detrimental to my physical, physiological, and mental state of being.
I was basically lost to my body and my being for almost 20 years.
Rediscovering the keys: Accessing healing in embodiment
When I first entered a space to reconnect to my body (in this case, it was a workshop offered by the Body Electric School in 2007), things began to emerge within me. I was introduced, seemingly for the first time, to my body. I entered a space that welcomed me as I was, without demand or expectation. It was in that community, and many others to follow, that I began to realize that my world was experienced in my body as much as in my mind, and at times, more so. It was where I first started to hear about this thing called eros, and how powerful it could be in my life.
In the years that followed, I learned how to reframe my world. I learned I could walk in the world celebrating what I wanted, what I felt, and what I expected, and not struggle with the thoughts, expectations, judgments and demands placed on me by others. I learned of the power in my body, and I learned that this thing called eros could transform my life. It would help me search for and find my wounds. It could help me bring them out and in front of me; confront them and embrace them and transform them. And this knowledge could help me not only to heal from pain and struggle, but to expand into the person I had the potential to be.
And you know how I was taught to get there? Through my sex. Through play. Through questioning the world and what existed around me. Through exploration. Through creativity and expression.
So I found myself doing many of the same things I did as a young boy, before I “grew up” to become an adult. To not only question and tolerate my desires and curiosities, but to accept them and celebrate them. I was encouraged not to walk in shame of my desires, my body, or who I was in the world. I was encouraged to experiment, to question. I was encouraged to reclaim my body as my own, to do with as I wish, rather than allowing others to control it. I was invited to be creative, to try things. Like role playing. Like dressing up. Like diving into what it would be like to express myself in the moment. To demand to be noticed and honored. To let whatever was inside of me, moment to moment, to come out. And that I did; Over and over.
And I haven’t looked back.
Turning inward: Everything you need is within you
And, in all of this, especially in current times, I’ve realized I’ve done this alone, on my own. So, although I, like I’m assuming most others, are yearning to connect with others, all of this began and ended in my body. And it’s still there.
Yes, I still yearn for others’ touch. I yearn for physical connection with others. But, I also know that I connect with myself. I own my body, and thus, I own what I need to help me not only to survive but thrive in these strange times. I can dress up. I can dance and perform. I can experiment with myself, find new present and conscious ways of performing activities I have taken for granted day to day. Like cook in different ways. Like eat. Like find things to take apart, and (perhaps) put back together, but put them together differently. I can get lost in reading, in drawing, in painting, in taking in the beauty of nature and the world around me…each and every day.
And, I can celebrate my body. I can touch myself. I can use pleasure and arousal to raise vital energy in my body, and revel in it. I can walk in that energy. I can use the seemingly endless ingredients of substances, fantasies, and experiences to create a new reality for myself. And I can do so in a space of absolute abandon. It is my body.
And although I shall never replace the experience of what it is to connect physically with another, I am learning how much more appreciative I will be when that time comes again.
And I look forward to experiencing that with the world.
Here are some resources mentioned in my recent talk. If you have an opportunity, please visit the offerings available through the New Body Electric School All current online offerings are free.
Broughton, J. Erogeny. Film, 1976.
The film travels in close-up over the mysterious terrains of nude human bodies as they touch and explore one another. It is like an expedition into human geography, an intimate sculpture, an erogenous healing ceremony, and an ode to the pleasures of touch. Also it is an homage to old friends, Willard Maas and Marie Menken, who made the first body poem in cinema history, Geography of the Body, in 1943. .
Lancer, D. The Healing Power of Eros, International Journal of Emergency Mental Health and Human Resilience, 2015. p. 213-218.
Nachmanovitch, S. “Eros and Creation,” Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art, Penguin, 1990.