The Joy of Sex
Meet John. His story is an amalgamation of the insights we’ve got from a number of people one of us has interviewed over the years for various different projects related to sex. He’s just come back from a hippy tantra festival overseas. He thought it might help him with his porn addiction. He doesn’t call his problem a porn addiction, but like many men in the UK, if even conservative estimates are anything to go by, he’s addicted alright.
And he’s not just addicted to watching grown up women earn an honest crust to buy their kids’ school uniforms. John has far more sinister urges. It’s not that he feels good about that. It wasn’t something he meant to do, but he found himself straying into sites where he could watch young girls at work, after he got bored with masturbating over housewives his own age. He didn’t even think about it—nor about why those girls would want to be prancing round for his pleasure. They must like it, right? And he wasn’t doing any harm, was he? Just looking. And well, a bit of masturbation. Where was the harm in that? More of that in a bit.
Anyway, when his wife Mandy threatened to run away with their two little kids, he finally agreed to go to Relate. But by then, Mandy was past trying to patch things up. She’d never known about his online Thai © The Author(s) 2017
C. Walker et al., Building a New Community Psychology of Mental Health, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-36099-1_9
school girls, but she had seen the way he looked at their daughter’s friends and it made her stomach churn.
Even John was feeling that it had all started to spiral out of control. But he was still thinking that it wasn’t really his fault. He and Mandy hadn’t had sex for years. Not since the kids came along. What was the big deal about a bit of porn? Mandy kicked up a right stink—she said it was disgusting the kids were the same age as John’s. That was ridiculous. John never thought about his own kids that way!
Sex between John and Mandy had been weird for a long time, and when they did it was as if neither one of them was a part of it. Mandy had also come to hate his laptops, and she knew deep down that there was something decidedly odd about the fact that he was always breaking them.
John and Mandy have never heard of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the psychiatrist’s bible we discussed earlier in this book. But given how much it does cover, isn’t it funny that internet pornography addiction and online sex addiction are not official diagnoses in it. You may have gathered from our earlier chapters that we’re not huge fans of this manual (well, one of us isn’t especially). But even he reckons that if anything was going to be documented in this manual, some people think those would. Of course, this isn’t a straightforward issue though. There is considerable debate about whether addiction exists, for example. The addiction cycle of dopamine describes the response to pleasure but does not necessarily constitute addiction. But however you look at it, there is certainly something very wrong with John.
With Mandy and the kids out of the way, the opportunities for John to access the porn increased. In fact, almost any time he wasn’t working or sleeping. But the hours online didn’t seem to be satisfying—he ended up spending more, and more, and more time online. And visiting more and more out-of-the way places along the way. In fact, sometimes he felt so disgusted afterwards, he wanted to trash his computer. In the last year, John had to buy seven new laptops because he’d smashed them all in fits of frustration and anger at his behaviour. Always in the early hours, always when he’d ejaculated to the gentle moans of Thai schoolgirls tortured by men who looked like mates from his local pub. One Sunday, dawn broke as John wept on the phone to Samaritan Jean. Jean gently coaxed him to put down the razor blade and hold a tight cloth to the wounds on his wrist and allow her to call an ambulance. John told the hospital psychiatrist that he was just a bit fed up because his wife Mandy had left and wasn’t letting him see the kids. He was fine now and had never meant to actually take his own life. The weary psychiatrist made him an outpatient appointment and sent him on his way.
That night, to the moanings of five different Thai kids, John nearly finished the job off properly. He didn’t think it was lucky at the time, but fortunately for him his lodger Nirdosh came back from his weekend away early and called an ambulance. Luckily for John, Nirdosh saw what was on his laptop and insisted he got help. It was either that or the police. If he were a real person instead of an assemblage of people we know, we’d be livid that Nirdosh didn’t call the police anyway. You might be sharing our sentiment. But whatever you think, that is how John ended up at the tantra festival, posing as a sexual explorer. It seemed like an unlikely place for John to end up, but Nirdosh knew a few hippies who’d helped other blokes just like John. And since Nirdosh was the only one who knew his dirty little secret—apart from Mandy—John felt he had to take his guidance. After all, maybe there was more to what he was doing than seeking solace through escapist porn.
He needed to connect his cock properly with his heart and brain, Nirdosh explained. They were good at helping people do that—con- scious sexuality he called it. These people didn’t seem to be that conscious to him—more like off their faces. Granted that at times they dressed it up in what seemed like a cross between a Baptist church service, a yoga class and a scene from a Dennis Wheatley novel. Only problem was, all that prancing about in white robes, incense and cross-legged Sarong ceremonies didn’t do it for John. And he was in agony in some of the punishing cross-legged yoga poses because he could hardly sit up straight for 10 minutes, let alone four hours. Something else bothered him about it; although he was a right pervert, John was politically correct in a few ways. He’d noticed how heterosexist a lot of the tantric stuff was and he didn’t like that. And some of their drivelling on about women as essential Shakti energy irritated the sociologist in him. But still, having lost his wife and children, he was desperate, so he suspended his doubts.
When he arrived, the first session was already in progress. And the organisers seemed to mean well (well, in a heteronormative kind of way);
all women are beautiful goddesses to be respected, and when she says no she means it. John didn’t notice any mention of age taboos, and as the weekend wore on, he began to feel uncomfortable about the way in which a couple of the older male workshop facilitators seemed to delight in thrusting themselves rhythmically into the crotches of a succession of young girls desperate for attention. Funnily enough, it was seeing other men behave in such a deeply dodgy way, alongside other chaps there who were making profound spiritual connections, which became John’s tipping point. He threw himself into tantric practice and began to experience a change in his attitude to his own body and his own erotic feelings. He got excited about the amount of sexual freedom at the workshop and kept coming back, and back, gradually understanding how the women were both different from men and the same. As the workshop facilitator he particularly gelled with explained, regardless of gender and sexual orientation, we all want our basic needs to be met. Yes, maybe he did become more conscious, and after a ground-breaking darkness retreat in Bali, he ended up retraining as a tantra teacher. Along the way he saw a psychologist about his attraction to young girls, and he felt she’d helped him a bit. But most of his change process, he says, was down to getting into tantra.
Fast forward 10 years and now you’ll find him happy as Larry. He tours the world supporting men to appreciate sex and relationships in a more respectful way. And he helps people to really enjoy sex and be technically fabulous at it. Most importantly, he no longer lusts after young girls and he has even hooked up with a tantric goddess two years older than him. And yes, he wears a kaftan and sandals sometimes. And yes, he doesn’t need to break his laptops anymore. Shame he doesn’t see his kids very much though. They’re teenagers now, but Mandy still won’t risk letting them stay with him.
Sixteen-year-old Vanessa, a sexual abuse survivor got a lucky break at the tantra festival too. She’d pretended to be 18 when she signed up for it, but early on she confessed to a facilitator who announced to the group that they all needed to take care of the young people at the festival. He made it clear that if anyone had any difficulties with the behaviour of any one individual, they should seek him out, and he’d see to it that they’d ‘never walk again’. The facilitator was joking about the last bit, and yes, it doesn’t sound very spiritual as a behavioural practice, but it seemed to work by putting the wind up some of the men who would have behaved that way. Unexpectedly the festival gave Vanessa a chance to connect with the other goddesses and explore her lesbian side with some of the other young women there. She’s never looked back.
And 39-year-old Louis got something out of it too. Louis is a member of a club for people with disabilities. He’d plucked up the courage to attend the tantra festival after going on a trip to Berlin with a few mates and some support workers. In Berlin he’d paid a prostitute and actually had sex with another human being for the first time in his life. It wasn’t that much fun, but the second time he did it with a lady who advertised herself as a sexual surrogate, it was much better. There was a bit of a drama about it all when he got back home to his group. A few managers kicked off about him spending some of his benefit money on sex, but the dust eventually settled. He felt it was worth it as now he feels he’s beginning to see himself as a sexual person, so much so that he even visited a cuddle party in Berlin on his next trip and had a couple of sexual encounters without paying anyone. He hadn’t noticed many disabled people there, but the few that were out clubbing that night provided good role models. Just a year ago, he was a profoundly lonely and clinically depressed virgin about to pay a prostitute for sex, and just look at him now, cheerful as ever in his sarong, gazing down into the eyes of a cross-legged goddess who was returning his gaze with something that felt like love.
Looking back at the other chapters in this book, we’ve probably not been short of writing about charities or non-profit-making organisations that have, as a by-product, often without knowing it, helped people whose mental health is tied up with a very unhappy relationship to sex. In our interviews with these organisations, we didn’t explicitly ask anyone about sex. Looking back to the interviews now after writing this chapter, perhaps we should have. But let’s just explore that narrative anyway. It’s not too far-fetched to imagine the unemployment centre worker who finds a couple of men confiding in them about their porn addiction, or the cycling club organiser who doesn’t even know that cycling in his group helps a woman who’s never had a consensual relationship, or an orgasm for that matter, feel just a little bit more trusting of men than she has ever done in her life. You get the picture. And as well as the support that the kind of organisations we’ve discussed in this book offer, of course there are formal statutory and voluntary sector structures that give explicit support with sexual health, for example, GPs (in the UK at least) and sexual health clinics.
And for young people, Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education lessons at school help them to grasp some of the basics, although the curriculum is largely deficit focused—how to deal with the negative side of sex, almost completely ignoring pleasure. Attempts in the UK to introduce a General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) in sex which would be an opportunity to really explore the positive have been thwarted.1 In relation to young people again, one of our interviewees for this chapter was from YoungMinds, a UK national charity. They support young people with mental health issues, and campaign for better services. YoungMinds explained to us about the frequent calls to their helpline from parents and young people asking for support with negative sexual experiences such as sexting, pornography and online bullying. We explicitly asked them whether they are ever asked by a young person about how to have nice sex, just to help them feel happier per se. Maybe as an alternative to some kind of therapeutic intervention even. Or by a parent about how to talk to young people about the joys of sex. Nobody at YoungMinds could recall ever having such a conversation.
Of course, YoungMinds is not explicitly a sex helpline so perhaps it’s not surprising that their workers don’t recall ever being asked that question. However, even thinking about many of these avenues for people to access explicit support around sex, one thing is very striking. They are to a large extent connected to supporting people with problems, so they are deficit focus. There are a few good internet resources that support young people, with Scarlateen being a good place to start (www.scarlateen.com).
Looking at what academics have to say about sex and sexual practices confirms our idea that much of what we see and hear about sex, and support for sex, is deficit focused. For example, there exists a plethora of research looking to explore the ‘risk factors’ associated with individuals engaging with unsafe sex or ‘risky sexual behaviour’ (e.g.2,3,4). Research has also explored the determinants of teenage pregnancy as an outcome of problematic sexual behaviours (e.g.5,6,7). Other areas include research exploring issues around sexual offenders;8 the negative impact of pornography on expectations of sexual practices,9 sexual aggression,10 female disempowerment11 and compulsive pornography consumption has had a great deal of attention.12 Whilst the purpose of this chapter is not to provide a systematic review of this literature, perhaps it will suffice to highlight to the reader that sex in these core areas of research is generally perceived and presented in a negative light, as a ‘problem’. It’s left us wondering ever more, where do regular people, not necessarily those with porn addictions, find support simply to help access the joy of sex? Especially young people.
Sex is arguably one of the most natural forms of pleasure known to humans, yet it really does seem that it has largely been understood as a devious or morally problematic set of practices in many parts of the world.13 This hasn’t always been the case. For example, Foucault14,15 argues that in classical antiquity, sex and sexual practices were understood through entirely different discourses (e.g. pleasure, reciprocal relationships, affect). He and many others (e.g.16) arrive at the rather damning conclusion that this positive representation of sex and sexual practices remains largely absent in much of contemporary society.
In the absence of a long list of not-for-profit organisations that we would feel comfortable sending friends and family off to for support with sex, we are turning to wider influences and research that other people have undertaken to bring out the joy of sex. Some attempts within society have been made to challenge this dominant understanding of sex. For example, let’s consider the publication of Alex Comfort’s illustrated book The Joy of Sex in 1972.17 What a controversy that book caused by, on the one hand, being a book that spent 11 weeks at the top of The New York Times Best Seller list, yet, on the other hand, being kept out of USA libraries by religious groups. More recently the launch of the book, and subsequent film, Fifty Shades of Grey,16 reawakened some of the debates and taboos associated with sex and sexual practices. Still we’ve not yet been part of any conversations that have involved a sensible discussion of how playing with Mr Grey might have helped his lady friend feel happier in life and stay free of an Increasing Access to Mental Health (IAPT) intervention.
Ok. We’re clutching at straws now, so how about we get scholarly again? Let’s consider what support there is for the fundamental argument that sex is good for mental health. Experiments by Brody and colleagues19 did find that people who had recently had penile-vaginal intercourse were less stressed than those that hadn’t had any sexual activity. All a bit heterosexist of course, but you get the idea. Mr Grey’s lady friend take note.
Exploring the empirical literature some more, there is further support for our argument here, although it has to be said that studies concerning themselves with the benefits of sex, especially the mental health benefits, represent a minority of the research on sex.20 For example, Gott and Hinchliff21 explore the importance of sex for elderly individuals finding that all participants that had a sexual partner rated sex as ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ important. In addition, Diamond and Huebner22 argue that positive sexual functioning plays a ‘unique’ and ‘fundamental’ role in an individual’s health and psychological well-being. Finally, Blanchflower and Oswald23 analysed data from 16,000 Americans to explore the possible links between money, sex and happiness, finding that sexual activity is positively correlated with happiness. Therefore, whilst Foucault highlights the notion of pleasure in ancient historical understandings of sex and sexual activities, this seems to have been placed secondary to the ‘darker’ side of sex.
Considering these academic and popular culture avenues have convinced us all the more that it’s worth trying to uncover something of the joy of sex for mental health, part of a wider programme of work taking a positive resilience-focussed approach to supporting mental health, rather than a deficit-focussed approach (Hart et al. 2016, Hart et al. 2007, Boingboing, 2016). So this chapter attempts to build on the rather marginalised research exploring the more positive aspects of sexual activity on an individual’s psychological health and well-being. Research for this chapter has found us combing the world looking for great organisations that don’t (just) focus on safer sex, but rather on the joys of sex. Well, we haven’t literally combed the world. We have mostly looked on the internet, read some books and have interviewed a handful of people on Skype. One of us has also been to a few hippy festivals and interviewed various colourful characters for this book. But the festivals were paid for out of personal finance in case anyone from the Daily Mail is reading this and wants to have a good moan about universities wasting public money.
When we first decided to include a chapter on sex in this book, we didn’t think it would be so hard to find not-for-profit organisations focusing on sex, which we felt happy to include in this chapter. But it has been. So let us fill you in what we have discovered.
First, The Pleasure Project based in Sussex, UK, has been “putting the sexy into safer sex since 2004... Because sex education is rarely sexy. And erotica is rarely safe.” (The Pleasure Project, 2013) — we couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Whilst they don’t explicitly mention mental health, the site is most definitely focussed on the joy and pleasure of (safe) sex. They’ve scoured the internet to provide a hub of resources including training information and ideas for sex educators, links to other sex-positive websites, and a global Pleasure Map of other “people and resources who promote pleasure and sexy safe sex in the public health world”. Remember the plethora of deficit-focussed sex research we mentioned earlier? The Pleasure Project have published research showing how promoting female condom use as a pleasure-enhancing erotic accessory, has changed attitudes and acceptability, for sexy safe sex in several different countries (Philpott et al., 2006). If you, or someone you know, are practicing what they preach, you can submit your details for inclusion in the website. Perhaps our tantric guru, John, can add his respectful sex and relationship coaching for men to the Pleasure Map. And if you’re interested in finding out what’s available in your neck of the woods, or you want to point your teenager at some joyful content, perhaps to balance whatever their mates send them on the latest sexting app, this might be a good place to start.
We’re also going to put in a plug for our good old National Health Service (NHS) in the UK. On the NHS Choices website there are a few pages discussing how sex can be really beneficial.29 It’s all a bit 1970s, and they don’t go into the mental health side of sex particularly, but at least there is something positive about the health benefits. They even include some sex tips which actually touch on how to have good sex, rather than warning of its hazards. Mind you, they can’t resist discussing cleanliness issues which might put a dampener on things if you are seeking advice. Still if you’re wondering about the best practice in how to wash a penis, alongside many other useful tips, such information can be found here.30
Whilst the internet provides privacy and information, it’s probably not going to give you warm and meaningful sex-positive experiences. For the human element, there are individuals, groups and organisations that offer telephone and face-to-face support and information. Think back to John’s sexual rebirth which we introduced at the beginning of this chapter it’s not that we’re exactly enthusing about tantra organisations and practices here. Most of them seem to be private organisations or freelancers, with a great variation in the technical quality and ethics of their work. Not that, at least overall, there is that much money to be made from it. With the exception of the occasional very rich Australian guru type who was too busy, or who didn’t want to be interviewed for this book (after he said yes can you believe and teased us with emails back and forth, you know who you are!), tantra practitioners, are in the main, people who have spent quite a lot on their training and yet they don’t earn a vast amount of money. Partly we’re clutching at straws telling you so much about tan- tra because there are relatively few community organisations or activities that have a really positive take on sex compared to sex doomsayers. In the remainder of this chapter we will discuss a few organisations not mentioned elsewhere who support people’s positive sexual expression. The first is an organisation that helps disabled people. The others are personal development centres. We will come back to them later.
Earlier on in this chapter we mentioned Louis, a member of a charity that supports disabled people. Outsiders is the kind of charity that Louis might belong to. It’s a social, peer support and dating club run by and for socially and physically disabled people.31 They have written a book based on their experiences32 and they receive funding from places like the Big Lottery Fund.
For this chapter some of the volunteers from Outsiders were interviewed and this is what they told us about how people use the club. First we will fill you in a bit about the kind of people who are involved with Outsiders. There are members of the public—disabled people with sexual problems and their health professionals—who call the Sex and Disability Helpline for support with the problems, which normally takes around four minutes. Some people send emails which is more difficult and takes longer, with a yoyo of questions/answers. The main coordinator told us that one young disabled lady took 52 emails of advice support to enjoy a satisfactory orgasm. That’s dedication, both for the young lady and the coordinator emailing back and forth.
Then there are the disabled people who join the Outsiders Club, to meet new people, find peer support and find a partner (or whatever sex- ual/social relationship they seek). They are restricted to ‘people who can handle their own affairs’ and this excludes some with learning difficulties, mental health problems and brain injury. The coordinator said that the volunteers requested they stick to this original arrangement very strictly, because ‘they are not able nor willing to cope with the trouble caused if we don’t’. Funding never stretches to paid staff but interviewees said that everyone felt very bonded and happy in their work. Some people come in from outside, usually people with physical or hidden impairments, as trustees, lunch workshop/discussion facilitators, designers, webmasters and so on. They have a team of sexual advocates across the country and abroad, for disabled people and health professionals who need support with negotiations, including sexuality as part of holistic care and places where they feel stuck. Part of this work is supporting disabled people to have a positive experience with a sex worker.
Within the Outsiders Club there are the Sexual Health And Disability Alliance (SHADA) members, social and health professionals who work with disabled patients and clients in a holistic, person-centred fashion, including their sexual expression. SHADA has a chair, secretary, coordinator, convenor and scribe. They meet in London twice a year and are just beginning to form pressure groups to support pioneers who find themselves blocked from putting their policies into practice.
The coordinator of the group, Tuppy Owen, said that she felt that the group had been of enormous help to people’s mental health, helping them feel more stable and happy. On the other hand, she stressed that mental health wasn’t really their domain and they were wary of supporting people with serious mental health problems. That said, it certainly seemed like Outsiders had done a lot to help people in this regard. One example she gave to illustrate this was that of a blind man who said he’d joined Outsiders after his (happy) marriage had broken up because he could no longer cope. He explained that for the first two years postmarriage, all that happened was that he was in telephone contact with other severely depressed women. Then he met his current girlfriend, also blind, and they have a wonderful relationship, and have even discussed starting a group (along the lines of swinging) for blind couples. Result. Another man she mentioned, who is partially sighted and very bright, with Asperger’s, says that if he doesn’t get out to mix with other people for too long, he begins to wonder if he is the right gender, if he is gay, or even if he is a paedophile because of the way his anxieties spiral out of control. So it seems vital to her that he come along to Outsiders. Mixing helps him to ground his self-talk in reality. She also mentioned that they were planning a workshop on how depression impacts on masturbation. Important here too is for people to be aware of how antidepressants can impact on sex drive. So clearly issues of mental health crop up in their orbit on a frequent basis.
In general, volunteers tended to concur with Tuppy’s view. For example, here’s Barry, who said that he suffered from depression and posttraumatic stress disorder, talking about the effect that being part of Outsiders has had on his mental health. He said, ‘Since joining Outsiders I have become more open-minded than before and equally closer to understanding what true equality is.’ Barry went on to say that he had found a warm, friendly group of people who have also shared similar issues and difficulties with forming relationships and exploring their sexual identity. As he comments:
We are able to share knowledge and therefore lessen the barriers we have experienced. Providing travel to and from any event or lunch has gone well and without major difficulty, in general, I have felt a great uplift in mood, with memories to treasure on quieter and more difficult days in life. My circle of friends and acquaintances will have greatly improved with which to network with via multimedia or to meet up with in the future
In particular, Barry found the openness helpful with regard to sex and relationships and the issues people face. He appreciated others offering suggestions and help in a friendly manner to attempt to solve these issues. Talking about sex normalises the issues and integrates them into the individual’s self-perception.
Important to note here is that in no way is this organisation trying to promote itself as supporting the mental health of disabled people.
However, through helping people connect with their sexual selves and challenging societal attitudes through their information and advocacy work, they are clearly doing work that hits this spot. Imagine if access to this club was seen by our society as a potential therapeutic intervention to tackle Louis’s depression and to work with dealing with earlier trauma through healing touch grounded in trusting relationships. Imagine if it were included alongside therapeutic interventions in research programmes. How different might the recovery story be?
There are two personal development organisations that are also worth mentioning in our discussion of positive support for sex and mental health. The first is Living Love, created by Jewels Wingfield. She offers a programme of tantra workshops, courses, solo retreats and events both indoors and in nature, as well as private sessions for couples and women. Jewels shares her vision on the website but it is a bit vague and for those of us who aren’t in the tantra world, quite hard to understand from the vision exactly what they do. See how they describe it on the website:
Living Love seeks to serve the awakening and evolution of the individual and collective human consciousness and return humanity to living as interconnected Sacred beings with all life in the context of an Earth based spirituality
From what we know, most people are attracted by experiencing a taste of her work at a summer festival or workshop in nearby Bristol. Jewels’s couples work is grounded in her work with women, women’s cycles, red tent gatherings and other spiritual activities, and her approach with couples is to support better communication. For those who just want a bit of help spicing up their weekly sex session to cheer themselves up a bit after a night losing at bingo, it might come across as somewhat esoteric and bewildering. Still, it certainly seems to offer the chance for people to connect with their sexual selves and improve their mental health as a result. Unless you are a carnivore, you might well enjoy a short sejour to find out for yourself. At the time of writing, none of us has been there so we can’t tell you what we thought. Its home is four acres of land and a forest temple in the middle of the 200,000-acre ancient Forest of Dean, near Bristol in the UK. They do seem to be a private company, but they offer a sliding scale and we don’t get the impression that they are in it for the money. Most of the workshops happen in the forest temple and some in other cities around the UK. Jewels is the guardian of this land, EarthHeart—and the website says that it ‘offers a place for people to come and reconnect with how to honour Nature as Sacred and a gateway to reconnecting ourselves as a living embodiment of this’.33 Perhaps they could benefit from a translation section on their website for cynics or people totally new to the world of Conscious Sexuality. You could really get put off by this, or just be totally confused. But we don’t mean to be unencouraging. At least she’s trying to do something sex positive.
Another UK-based personal development organisation that inadvertently supports people’s mental health through working with sex is Osho Leela in Dorset.34 They have a somewhat controversial connection to the Osho Sanyasin movement which we won’t go into here, but you can read more about it, if you fancy.35 Over the years, the centre has changed to some extent, catering more and more for people who aren’t specifically connected to the Sanyasin movement. Osho Leela run a variety of personal development workshops and festivals. They describe themselves as a therapy, training and personal growth centre. On their website the language is less complex than that of EarthHeart: ‘Well known for its festivals, parties and celebrations, Osho Leela is supported by a vibrant community that resides in a beautiful manor house in the heart of the Dorset countryside.’ To give you a flavour of what they do, some activities are music based and others oriented around dance. Massage and gardening get a look in too, and some are tantric, although they too refer to this side of their work these days as ‘conscious sexuality’. All have a meditative focus.
There are some caveats we should mention here about what they offer at Osho Leela and this goes for other conscious sexuality outfits potentially too. Osho’s take on ‘therapy’ developed in the era of confrontation and catharsis, so their approach works best for people who are fairly robust. The people who run self-development workshops are not required to be therapists in the strictest sense of the word as people would understand it in modern Britain—by which we mean they’re not qualified, supervised or members of professional bodies. Although most of the facilitators have had some formal training, they don’t all receive ongoing regular supervision, and aren’t all registered with a professional body. Given the complex psychological dynamics that go in such group contexts, it would seem sensible to at least ensure that the facilitators have some kind of supervision structure in place. Some sort of therapeutic support for those who get triggered or re-traumatised by their robust approach is also necessary in our view. You might think it is a bit hypocritical saying this after those earlier chapters in this book questioning the current make-up of the formal psych industry. What can we say, except you are right and so are we. We never said all this was easy to sort out.
Nevertheless, interviewing people who have been to Osho Leela, it’s clear that the tantric side of the work that goes on there that they host, can support positive mental health. For example, a regular visitor to the centre highlighted how it had really helped his clinical depression to explore his sexuality with a group of like-minded people, and through the group he attended he had made friends with some people who he connects with regularly back home. A woman at the group simply said that it made her feel much better about her body exploring her sexuality in this environment; previously she had felt unattractive. Good stuff there then.
And so we could continue this chapter with even more snippets from the bricolage we have assembled from the research we conducted. This bricolage is the end result of a somewhat thwarted quest to support the original ambition of illustrating the important work that organisations do to promote good sex, rather than respond to deficits. During the research for this chapter we have come across many freelance sex therapists who support people with positive sexual expression, in particular using tantric techniques and philosophies in their work. Both within and beyond the world of tantra, the interviews highlighted the fact that a number of people have found sexual practices to be of great benefit to their mental health. These range from everyday folk who spoke about how having sex with their partner frequently chased their blues away, to a man who eschews sexual relationships with others, yet masturbates every day. He noted that daily masturbation calms his mood and helps him feel more cheerful. And the link between good sex and positive mental health isn’t just about sex in the raw. We could tell you about Josie, a woman interviewed for this research, who reports to have transformed her mood by accessing an online site that encourages people—men, women and transgender folk—to play with their sexual selves and those of others in a form of sexual second life. It is quite literally on the Second Life website.36 So just go there yourself if you’re curious! But possibly not on your work computer if you work, and have one.
We would be the first to admit that we started this chapter with a deficit story and haven’t really been able to snap out of it for more than a few short paragraphs. The material is simply not there. The cultural pull towards negativity around sex is very strong. Foucault was right. Still, it’s been good to get it out there on the table. Perhaps one of you reading this chapter will set up your own not-for-profit organisation that is primarily about celebrating our sexual selves. It could do wonders for people’s mental health. Maybe even more than official therapy does. Or if not, it might at least constitute a worthy second fiddle.
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