Last year Sacred Sexuality was the topic of choice at the International Conference on Shamanism. I was pretty impressed with the fact that it made topic of the year for people in the field. Once a year I too try to explore sacred touch on my blog. I attempt to bring up different perspectives because touch is crucial on so many different levels. For starters, I’m one of those people who believe that we can’t journey towards wellness without expanding our consciousness of touch. Sensuality, sexuality and affection is usually how we define touch in our lives; but what if I told you that touch is crucial in the development of self-esteem; helps in alleviating depression; and can prolong the life of a terminally ill patients etc…
In our Western society we’ve regulated touch through indoctrination. We’ve promoted monogamy and we’ve punished promiscuity through social judgments and persecution. Still, both adult men and women have difficulty staying faithful or being content in a long-term relationship. Why is that? I’ve noticed when speaking to couples in difficulty that more often than not the issue is about touch. The desire is always that the mate should fulfill all of the needs of his or her partner. In 75% of the cases this is an unrealistic expectation.
Last week I was watching how Bella, our Beagle puppy, loves to get her belly rubbed. She literally throws herself on her back in front of everyone and anyone until they get on all fours and give her a pat. When people walk in the house she loves to put her paws on them and give a little whine. She never says no to a little ear rub. Finally, when we go to dog school our trainer always pets her neck and looks at her in the eye when purring the positive reinforcement “Bella you are such a good girl.” Wouldn’t we all want to be a dog? They seem to be so open to touch and they can actually get whatever they want, whenever they want it. Why has it become so complicated for us humans? How did we get to be so uncomfortable with hugs and so prudish about touch?
Not too long ago massage therapy was frowned upon. These days you can go to school to learn the trade; open your own clinic; and for many clients, it’s even covered by most private insurances. People usually complain about muscle pain or back pain when consulting a massage therapist. You can still feel the old program that “touch is touchy topic” lingering in the background. It’s rare that you’ll meet people who will openly admit consulting experts for sensual massages. Just the mention of it makes most people cringe.
“Only dirty old men go to those places,” most people will say.
I’ve surveyed a few hundred people on the topic while I was researching people’s opinion on the importance of touch. I actually found it quite unfortunate that in a society, which prides itself to be media open on sex there’s still so many social misgivings and collective programs about touch. In 1999 - I picked up this article on Sacred Sexuality where an ethnologist was talking about the different rites of Love and Sex all over the World. I enjoyed the article because the ethnologist took a Shamanic perspective. He talked about tribal living and how people used certain rituals to teach each other how to be collectively healthy. Touch was useful to teach strong and positive attitudes; inspire community members to be creative and passionate; and brought people to be loving and generous towards each other. Touch wasn’t only about sexuality or procreation – it was about community building and about self-development.
In this article, the author talked about Greek ancestors (1700’s) and how adult men and women used to be publicly affectionate with each other to teach their children how to be open and intimate towards their own people. He also mentioned the worshipping of Aphrodite and how it influenced Greek people to be focused on pleasure. I am not Greek; but I’ve been fortunate enough to have many Greek friends. I don’t know if any of you have ever noticed but even amongst Greek people today, casual affection is visibly apparent. You can see within the Greek culture the affects of ancestral, ritual touch. I’ve seen similar behaviors with Cuban people.
It certainly makes us wonder about our modern Society… What are we teaching our children? Are we helping them develop as loving, caring, affectionate and functionally sexual individuals? Or are we simply showing them that relationships don’t last and that they should never trust their mates to be faithful? What are the sexual rituals of the 21st century and what do they say about us?
This French journalist, Nathalie Dray wrote an article on Sacred Prostitutes in India. She too made a connection between the worshipping of the Goddess Yellama and the behaviors and the attitudes of the people. She seemed to be saying that "our beliefs" impact our issues or non-issues with sexuality, intimacy and touch in general. I came to notice that the idea of the Kama Sutra for example, seemed more interesting to men; but scared women. Most women in our modern culture seem to fear sexual abuse or disempowerment. Interestingly enough the concept of exploratory touch brought forth a vulnerability that was often plagued by social indoctrination.
From my point of view, touch is crucial to survival. I need to be kissed, to be hugged, and to feel pleasure. Without daily affection I would imagine that I would start feeling lonely, forgotten or as if I don’t belong. In my World touch is not something that I expect from others; but more so a reality. I make an effort to connect to my environment whether it be with my dog, the plants in my home, my clothes, the weather and of course the people. I’ve noticed through the years that the more I focus on how my body feels in the shower, out in the wind, or lying in the sun; the more touch becomes a natural phenomenon. I don’t feel shy touching people. The more sincere and genuine we become in our touch the more people want us to touch them and vise versa.
Who doesn’t seek companionship? We are physical creatures who need each other. Whether we are talking about a hug, a pat on the back, holding hands, the warmth of someone else's body in our bed, or SEX -- it's all about TOUCH and it's all about fulfilling a need; which isn’t only physical but also emotional, psychological and spiritual. If we can somehow work through our control issues and let go of attachment and possessiveness we can come to explore touch and truly understand how valuable it is to our personal growth, learning and healing.
When my kids were babies and toddlers, we often gave them massages. KT even begged for them after her bath to help her sleep. As she grew up she didn’t change. She continued to enjoy touch and what was impressive was how she didn’t harbor any scruples or taboos. Both my children didn’t have any qualms with sharing their bed with friends. When came time to speak to them about sexuality (around the age of 9 years old) they didn’t need a lengthily speech. They were the first one to tell us that they had noticed nuances in the way they felt when it came to certain people and certain touches. They could easily express what was right and what was wrong for them. By speaking openly about touch, they grew up to be comfortable with it and healthy in their own sexuality. It’s not hard to believe that our bodies know and intuitively transmit the information to our minds and our hearts.
I wish I could have been brought up like my kids because I had to work a bit harder at feeling comfortable with my body and my sexuality. It took a good decade of exploration and communication to finally reach a point where I was “touching wellness.” Both my husband and I journeyed together in sacred touch.
In our tradition this refers to the teachings of the sixteen mysteries on the Medicine Wheel. It’s an incredible journey into what it means to grow old together. We learnt to let go of the notion that “we own each other” and we let go of the many programs that indoctrinated us to fear the world around us. I can’t fulfill all of my husband’s needs and it would be incredibly arrogant of me to claim that I do or to accept that kind of burden. There are depths to masculinity that are just not meant for a woman to explore and vise versa. Still, we agreed to openly share everything with one another and work through the issues and the emotions that certain situations trigger. We’ve set rules with the intent of breaking these rules eventually; accepting that we will grow, we will change, and we will be more and more trusting of one another. We are approaching our 25th wedding anniversary and we are ready for yet another 25 years.
P.S. I’d love to hear your comments on this topic and please don’t be shy to ask questions. If you don’t want to post publicly – you can always send me e-mails at firstname.lastname@example.org