A transcription taken from
a talk by Joseph Kramer
(Copyright © 1994 EroSpirit Research Institute)
Hi, my name is Joseph Kramer, and I'd like to talk today about sex monasteries. In fact I have an invitation to consider sex monastery as a life style, as a way of living. For the last ten years I've been teaching classes in sex and each weekend or each gathering or each evening when people come together, mostly men, mainly men, I notice a synergy, a way that we relate. And there's a container and we are within the container raising a certain vibration. This is really what a monastery is. It's a way of keeping out things that we don't want, it's a way of containing in a certain vibration, a certain meaning. And there's always been... monasteries have been the way men have lived for... since there's been religions. I like the idea of a monastery as a group marriage, a group of men coming together to live in a certain way. Now since the beginning of time most monasteries were non-sexual, in fact often anti-sexual. So what I'd like to put forward here are some reflections on erotic monasteries, sexual monasteries. Monasteries where one of the goals is that we catch ourselves on fire. I've always had this irresistible longing to live in erotic community.
Right around puberty, twelve, thirteen or fourteen, I started to have dreams of myself with other boys and often we'd be naked and playing and just at that time my parents sent me to a Jesuit high school, an all boys high school. And they weren't wild boys, they weren't all naked except in the locker rooms sometimes, but it was the beginning of being around other erotic beings. All these boys were going through the same thing I was - puberty. I started spending more time at school and less time at home. My mom and dad used to say "It's like we're sending you to boarding school, you're always spending time down at the school or with those other boys." I loved it. I didn't feel like my family were my people, there wasn't like that vibration.
And as I developed in high school I recognized that the Jesuits, this Roman Catholic religious order... I was attracted to them. They lived together. A group of men living together, non-sexually. What I found at later was that most of them were homosexual, that this was a major homosexual expression, the teaching of young boys. And the Catholic elite of the United States and other countries send their boys to a homosexual religious order. So as I was in this high school I said, "I want to be a part of this. I want to live my life in an all-male environment." I didn't know anything about gay or gay community or erotic monasteries. I just knew that this was the only thing that I saw. I want to live with these men, like these men.
So as I reached 17 I made application to join the Jesuits. There was only one problem: as a high school kid I loved to masturbate. Ah! I masturbated all day long. Some days I came ten times. I was a prolific lad. And the Jesuits had these had these vows. Poverty, meaning non-attachment to material goods. Piece of cake, I don't care about material goods. Obedience, to some of the desires that the superiors represent God's will. Fine, I'll be obedient, that's law and order. That's OK. And then chastity. No sex, even with yourself. No sex? I was accepted into the Jesuits and I decided I was never going to have sex again. At seventeen. I remember the weekend before I went into the Jesuits. I go, I have one more weekend. Now, I was a Catholic boy and I masturbated lots but I did think that this was a mortal sin so I went to confession. I remember going to confession and saying, "Bless me father for I have sinned. It's been one day since my last confession. I masturbated dudu times." And he said "What did you say?" "I masturbated thirteen times." "What!" Anyway, this weekend before I entered the Jesuits I go "This is my last chance to have sex." Sex opened my heart, it was like the crack in my cosmic egg, it was the only place where I felt free, that I was creative. Even at seventeen, especially at seventeen. So there was this last weekend. My wild weekend, with myself. And I masturbated while there. I remember Saturday morning I'm masturbating and I have this tremendousn ejaculation and I go, "I'm going to stop there. That was the last time I'm ever going to have sex in my life." Not. "I think I'll do it again." Anyway, I masturbated all weekend, non-stop. And I go, "How am I ever going to give this up. I love sex. I love this vibration too much." And I remember that I was going to go to confession on Monday morning, so Monday morning I masturbated one more time before I went to church to go to confession. And I remember as I was coming, I remember saying, "Remember what this is like. Remember the wonderfulness of this, because you're never going to have it again. Because in my heart of hearts, in my integrity, my intention was that I was going to follow the rules of this order. No sex. I went to confession and a day later I entered the Society of Jesus as a novice and for the next three and a half years I didn't masturbate once.
It was not an erotic community, on one level. It was not a sex monastery. But we were all seventeen, eighteen, ninenteen. And we grew to like each other, and we grew to love each other, and in fact almost everyone there were homosexual. Young gay boys. And we didn't know what to do with our lives. We knew we didn't want to get married. We knew that wasn't our life to get married and have a family and so what was the other option - join the Jesuits. And the Jesuits sent their most extraordinary teachers to be our guides, our spiritual guides. And so we had amazing homosexual men the age that I am now, in my fourties, guiding these teenagers and boys in their twenties. I was in heaven. Except, no sex. But somehow it didn't matter. There was a joy and a vibration in my body and I remember it. It was incredible living in community. And the novitiate, the religious order was a container that contained a very special vibration. And yet, there was a denial of part of who I was. In fact, all of us were denying a part of who we were, our sexual selves, our erotic selves.
So I remember there was a form of seminary sex. And it usually began by saying, "Would you like a backrub?" And the backrub often went down to the buttocks and around. And so there was some touching and play. And I do think that influenced me going into massage and teaching massage later. Because that was my introduction to massage, touching my very special friends on the back, on the buttocks, on the cock. So there was a bit of eroticism, you can't get that many hot young men and older men together without some sparking.
The way I learned to numb out my desires was alcohol. When I got access to alcohol I thought, this is an easier way. I have desires. I have desires to express myself genitally, from the heart, and I drank alcohol. And alcohol numbed it out. I gained thirty pounds. And then I gained thirty more pounds. And gaining sixty pounds drinking beer said something to me about my lifestyle. And so in 1975, at the end of 1975, I left the Jesuits, even though it was a Roman Catholic homosexual religious order, but the goal was non-sexual. And I left that wonderful experience and that very special education and headed to New York City for the year of the bicentennial and an erotic community. And I immediately dove into this erotic community called the gay subculture, which was full of pioneers. And everyone was young then, everyone was in their twenties having wild times. And I had a lot of sex. And I go "This is the way I want it." I met a wonderful man. We moved in together. He taught me a lot about love. Carlos Fernandez. I had many great friends, erotic buddies. There were people I knew all over. Ahh. I had sex sometimes three, five hours a day. Not searching for it, having it. I didn't want to ejaculate. I had to learn ways to circulate this energy in my body. I was on fire. The most creative visions came to me. I was a teacher. Great teachings were coming out of me. I knew directions I wanted to go. I wanted to live in a situation like this. I remember renting a place on Fire Island for part of the summer and inviting people from Dignity, gay Catholics. And it was an erotic Catholic summer place. It was amazing. Sex non-stop. Was this acting-out sex? I felt like it was an expression of my heart, my desire to connect with people. But especially it was a waking up of parts of myself that had been number out. The closet is a numbing out. And just speaking that you're gay isn't enough. The energetic way, you have to wake up the stuck places. And it took hours, it took three years of hours a day of waking up and I got to a place of celebration.
I invite you to take a few breaths with me. (About a dozen rapid breaths.)
So I woke up in New York. I woke up a lot. And there was something that I wanted. There was something more. I decided to go back and finish my degree that I'd started in the Jesuits, my masters degree in sexuality and spirituality. I moved back to Berkeley and finished my degree and studied academically sexuality. And I recognized that the problem in starting, in the whole history of monasticism is that there are no models of communities that really worked sexually. There was the Oneida Community. It was a Christian community in the 1900's. For seventy years they were a polygamous community where there was free sex. There were married couples but there was free sex and it was Christian. And... but I didn't get much information or guidance from any place except from what was evolving and unfolding in the gay community. I decided I wanted to start a center, a place, a community that focused on eroticism and spirituality, where I could do research. I actually wanted a place to do research and in 1980 I said I am going to do this and it took me three years, three and a half years to get the money and the wisdom and all the preparation and I started Body Electric School. And one of my main goals at Body Electric was to develop erotic rituals for groups of men. Erotic rituals that were not the bonding of lovers but that were erotic rituals for communities. And I had two main areas of research. One area was soloving rituals of working with oneself in a communal context and the other were actual interactions and it became taoist erotic massage rituals for groups of men.
As I was exploring erotic rituals I kept my eye open for any place where groups of people came together for group bonding rituals, celebratory rituals. And when I was in New Zealand I went and visited CenterPoint. Center Point is a community of 400 plus people that is a free sex community. It's been around for 15 to 20 years and it's very successful, financially successful. And I received a wonderful tour by Len Oaks, one of the main stays and one of the guides of the community. There are a hundred children, and there are not many gay people, I met one - I met two. But it was a sexual community, and it had been persecuted in Aukland, New Zealand. But it was wonderful to be with these folks and they were... it wasn't easy. It's not easy to have a sex commune, a sex community. But it fed me. I saw what they were doing. And I paid attention to other places. Short Mountain, a radical fairy... In fact, I've went to a variety of radical fairy gatherings because I felt these were gay people coming together in different forms of community. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are radical fairies doing activist work and yet being in erotic community. And yet they weren't the erotic community I was hoping for. There weren't the sex rituals that I was hoping for. I talked to someonee at the radical fairy collective called Short Mountain and he told me, me said "When we have lots of guests there's sex that happens here. But when the guests go home and there's just the sixteen of us, the fifteen to twenty of us, not a lot of eroticism happens." So it's a community but they haven't found the rituals that they as a community... can wake up the whole community.
This is an important problem. This is a dilemna. Becase it's time for a new monasticism. You know, my experience is this, that one fifth of gay men, one in every five, would best live their humanity, would best live what their life is about in a communal context, especially an erotic communal context. And how do most gay men live? Alone, in an apartment, sharing it with a roommate or with a lover, one on one. But I think there are different facets of who we are and as these facets are activated and rub against different people and different consciousnesses we get awakened. So our full humanity gets awakened in a communal context. And our full erotic humanity gets awakened in an erotic context. So I'd like to explain to you one of the rituals, one of the two major rituals that I think are important for our contemporary erotic community, or at least possible for a contemporary erotic monastery. I call it the Fire Ritual because it's about creating fire in the circle of the community. And it's a circle. I first dreamed this up and thought of it and it came in dreams. And a few years ago Eric Mainard and I were traveling south in Germany into Austria and we were teaching a class and there was a whole afternoon where we hadn't planned and he said, "Is there a ritual that you haven't done that you'd like to do, that you've always wanted to do?" And I go "Yes, this fire ritual. Let's try it out." I remember I explained the ritual and we did it, and I'll explain it to you, and afterwards they wanted to chuck the rest of the workshop and just do the ritual again. "Can we get up at midnight and do the fire ritual? Can we do it.." It was a great success. I then have done this ritual at sacred intimate gatherings. I've done this ritual with men and women. But this is not about one, two or three times... I see the necessity of this as a daily ritual. And after three months something special starts to happen. And at six months there is an incredible weaving of erotic energy like nothing on the planet. So this is not only a ritual expression of erotic community, but this is actually the ritual that builds erotic community, that weaves the different hearts and genitals, energy force fields, together. I call it the Fire Ritual, for a monastic community.
I see the room where this ritual takes place is a circle, with two level around it for chairs or for seating. So there's a level and then you could step down a level and then there's the floor level. And that upper level goes around the whole circle. And the second level goes around the whole circle. And those levels are just about three feet wide. And so when men come in in the morning, or a midnight, or at noon, for the fire ritual, each comes in washed, prepared, and naked. Perhaps sometimes there's just a robe. And come in and go into the upper circle and circle around and sit down. And this is the place of being, of participating as a witness and a be-er. Nothing to do in this circle. When one chooses, after the ritual begins, one steps down to the second level. This is the level of waking up, of generating energy, of preparation, of the Great Work, of doing the human thing of waking up. And it's about self-massage and shaking and breathing and waking up, stroking, soloving, making love to oneself. And as you wake up you can look around the circle at other members of the community, at other monks who are waking up. And when I do this it's like dancing. I'll see somebody shaking and I'll go "that's right for me now too" and I'll shake. Or someone else starts to laugh and their laughter is infectious; I start to laugh because it wakes me up. Or somebody else is breathing in a certain way and many of the waking up circles will start to breathe in that way. So this is not about touching anybody else and you have just stepped down from your place of watching, of witnessing, to your place of waking up. But it's with self, your self.
The third space is stepping down again into the circle that is the middle of the room. And it's the place of the great erotic dance. It's the place of touch, of communication, of connection, of wildness and deep silence. And so when one feels that one is awake enough to share that awakedness, that one is aroused enough and charged enough with vibrant alive energy, then you step forward into that circle. And you might be the only person there. So you dance for the other monks. And your dance, at a full aliveness, of glowing eroticism, helps them to wake up even faster. And other monks may step in and dance. It becomes like contact improvization. Erotic touch, play, and you can't tell the dancer from the dance. Just this dance, the building of the energy.
Meantime there are people who remain in the second level, who wake up for the whole meditation. There are people who for a month just wake up. Every day, day after day, there are waking up and charging their body. They do not feel ready to step into the middle. And there are those monks who are just witnesses. They do not even choose to step down into the waking up, they sit in the upper level and watch. And they just be; nothing to do. So we have the be-ers, the waking up level, and the dancing of aliveness, the community dance.
Now, when you're dancing, when you're having sex, when you're playing, often you get thrown off. You get pulled away from this consciousness and you get pulled into some rut. And I've been in the middle dancing and I recognized that I've lost my centeredness. And I've forgotten some of who I am and I step back and go back to my place as in the charging place, the waking up place, and do some more self work. Or I may decide to go one level higher and just be a witness for awhile. So this ritual, the first time is very interesting, because people say "Who's going to go into the middle, and I wanted to get to the middle quick." And communities... I've even been in groups where people go "He's in the middle and he's not charged. How come he's in the middle? I'm more charged than he is." And there can become all these politics. Or I imagine a monastery where this has been going on for years and years and years and there's this old monk who every morning has come in for the Fire Meditation but has never once stepped down to wake up, never once been in the middle. And he just sits there for years and years. And one day there's a visiting monk, young monk from a neighboring monastery who, when he gets in the middle and starts to dance, the energy that comes off of his body casts a different flavor on the room and this old monk awakens in a way he's never awakened before. He starts to move, he steps down, shakes off years of sitting and moves into the middle to dance and play and touch and be a part of the erotic dance.
So what I see happening here is a refinement of how we raise erotic energy and weave it into community, into this cone of power. It is how we learn to focus this fire. So I see in the very middle of the dance floor a pit, and in that pit on some days fire is burning and you can go and dance close to the fire and leap across the fire. And if it's appropriate for that day you can cum into the fire. Sssss. The semen burning into the smoke, into the air and we breathe it. And some days that pit has water in it. And you can reach into the water, dance around the water, honor water, cum into the water. And some days there's just earth there. And you can touch it to your own body and dance around it and honor earth. And some days the pit is empty. Air. Just the air we breathe and we celebrate that.
Some days the ritual is about cuming, ejaculating, and the monks gather and circle until that moment of cumming and the cumming is into the middle.
Some days the ritual is about healing, and that brother or that person who needs healing is in the center, perhaps on a bed, perhaps on his death bed. And the monks raise the energy around him. In fact, I see this as a ritual for the dying, as a man is dying perhaps the monks gather and for days on this erotic rituals are danced around this man who is dying, or this man who is sick, and the vibration is being shot through him. I have done this ritual with men who are dying. This is the way I want to go. I want to be in the center, perhaps on my death bed, with erotic vibration from those men who are closest to my heart, my fellow monks, dancing the dance of life, the Fire Dance.
What happens after a few days, and a few weeks, is we learn to raise our erotic energy and we learn the refined focus and how to weave it with the other members of the community so it's a fine, fine cone of power that is built and the group as a whole, the monastery as a whole, with intention, can send and focus this erotic energy out, out to manifest for healing, for the shifting of consciousness in the world, for waking up, for a cure for AIDS. So this can be part of the great work of the monastery, the great healing, the great transformative work, the raising of this energy. And after a while if a visitor comes and partakes in this, it's like a new thread in the tapestry and the visitor's energy gets pulled into this wonderful erotic vibratory field. And so the sacred place in this monastery is not just this room - it's not like a church on a chapel, but it is the vibration created by the monks, the erotic vibration. And if one chooses not tobe genital, not to raise the energy for years, one can sit as witness and to feel the energy at the outskirts, at the edge of the room to be part of the container.
So this is one direction that the erotic monastery, that the rituals can take. I see this as a morning ritual or a midnight, waking up in the middle of the night ritual. The other many of you are familiar with is taoist erotic massage. I see this as a ritual of each monk regularly being allowed to go off into himself, and yet other men who know his body and know their hands and know what they can do, to do taoist erotic massage on his body, on his heart and genitals, to wake up that nourishment, to wake up that energy to such a degree that he is bathed in this sacred vibration, in this erotic fire and he's nourished. And that's a reason for living in a monastery, to regularly have this. And I can see men who are lovers, I can see special friends, but when we come together in certain rituals every person comes as an equal to these rituals.
Now most explorations in erotic community have been partner switching. That's what people look at as "free sex." And a few orgies. But even when three people are together somebody's left out. Not in this. Not in the Fire Ritual or in taoist erotic massage. So in ten years of work at Body Electric and researching I think we've come up with rituals, erotic rituals that will work for any kinds of community: a Buddhist community, a Christian contemplative community. I call this contemplative eroticism. For activist communities - I think people in ACTUP need this type of fire. Their anger sometimes doesn't get balanced by enough being grounded in the physical, being grounded in their own cocks, the weaving together of hearts and cocks. So, those are two of the erotic rituals. More are going to be introduced, these are just two suggestions of mine.
So I don't have an answer or a blueprint of exactly how a monastery should be, but I do know there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of ways we can live together. MTV's program The Real World has influenced me a lot. This is an experiment where MTV invites seven young people in their twenties to live together for five months. And their living together is documented on video and then edited and we get to see the joys, the sorrows, the trials, the tribulations, the conflicts, the ecstasies, and it's quite interesting. What an interesting experiment for these young people.
I actually think every gay man, every young gay man especially, should seek out and try to find a communal, an erotic communal living experience, at least for a year. What a way to learn, where there are older gay men and younger, where there can be a lot of exchange of information and wisdom and life experience, where the rough edges have to be dealt with, the conflicts. Where the addictions and the shame, the way we live, needs to be dealt with.
I was really impressed with the movie Enchanted April. Enchanted April is a story of about ten people whose lives are rather tedious; meaning has gone out. In fact, it's not fine at all. And they decide to go on vacation and somehow they all get to this place in Italy for April, for one month. And living in this place, the first day it starts to break but a few days later they've changed. Their lives as they lived them have been changed by the communal living, by the beauty of the place, by the synergy. And by the end of April, one month, they're totally transformed.
I believe this is possible. I believe the effect we can have on each other can be extraordinary. And yet the way we live, insectisoid type existences, separate from each other, gives us total freedom by one definition of freedom, but we lose the human community aspect of what it is to be a human. Nowhere does this become clearer than when we're dying. The American way of dying - in an intensive care ward, taken care of by professionals. Perhaps with somebody from a hospice holding our hand. Especially gay men, where in large cities, here in San Francisco Bay area half of gay men have HIV. It's very scary to live alone with HIV, and it's very scary to live as a couple. If one person gets sick the other person takes care of him. A rough job. It's much more logical to live in a community - five people, eight people. This is the way it's always been, and when grandma got sick or uncle Joe got sick we take care of them. And it may be several years of taking care of them. This was the American, this was the human way, this was the human community. We don't do this any more. We've lost something.
So some things that I would like in my community. I would like to live in a community who are erotic masseurs. And that part of our livelihood is that we do erotic massage. Are you saying, sounds like a house of prostitution, ill-repute? Perhaps. But I think we even go out and do house calls 'cause some people need house calls. I would like to live in community because I would like other people to exercise with. So unlike maybe some Catholic monastic traditions that I know, this would be a monastery more like the Sufi that Gurdjieff funds at the end of the movie Meetings with Remarkable Men. And the pictures of this monastery are all these movements to wake up the body, dances and exercises. I like that. I would like to exercise with people, I would like people to guide me in waking up and I would like to work with them. Monasteries that not only focus on sex but focus on body, and focus on breathing, focus on service, excellence in food, justice doing.
So if we are interested in living in such an environment, that container, that focuses our intentions, perhaps a contemplative place where it's just bringing the divine into our bodies so that we totally wake up. Whatever our visions of how this might be, how do we get started? I've a couple suggestions. One is invite a few friends over for a slumber party, a weekend. You cook food, talk about your visions and spend time together in your house. Perhaps you sleep on the floor, on the couch, do erotic massage, solove together. In other words, a weekend of monastery, just to check it out, to check the resonance, and try this again and again. So it's a little like a date, except with one person, with several. So your own home, your own apartment, becomes the beginning of monastery.
All the classes that I did at Body Electric I thought were experiments in monastery. And I kept wanting longer and longer times. I would say the ideal situation would be a year-long experiment with eight men, or men and women, or twelve men. And I'm interested in this. A year of living dangerously. A year and a day of living ecstatically. A year of waking up. And after that year I think it would be very clear if this is your heart's desire or what form this need take for you to be in relationship with a group and what that relationship would look like. I actually think, I've mentioned this before, but I really think that 1/5 of gay men, to find their heart's desire, to live full lives, need a communal, an erotic communal situation. This is the greenhouse where we plants best thrive. It's a greenhouse where all the conditions are perfect for us to grow and be who we are, for us to bear fruit, flowers.
I'm interested in a monastery. In fact I'm interested in dozens and hundreds of monasteries. Queer monasteries. Log cabin monasteries. Monasteries of people into wholistic health. Monasteries of activists. Monasteries of Catholics and Buddhists. Monasteries of monks who used to be in monasteries. Monasteries of artists, of hermits. Monasteries of families who are bearing children. Monasteries of men and women, gay and straight. You know, at one time in Europe one-third of the people in Europe lived in monasteries. At one point there were over a hundred thousand monasteries in Europe. This was the norm. They weren't all huge things like Cluny and Clavaux. There might be five people living in a monastery, a little hut, a little place off the church. So these are... this is just a new way of thinking, but I would like to put out the invitation. And if you have any pieces of this puzzle, let's talk. I'm interested in monasteries, in ashrams, in erotic communities. Let's do it. Let's weave hearts together. Let's weave cock energy together. Let's weave our visions together. Let's teach each other what we know about life and death. What is possible? That's what I'm interested in. What is possible? 'Cause I want what is possible.
Sex Monasteries is Volume 12 of Joseph Kramer's Gay Sex Wisdom Series
For the complete talk or to learn about other tapes in the series, write:
EroSpirit Research Institute, PO Box 3893, Oakland CA 94609 -- or phone 510-428-9063