Temple Of Love

5.31.2008

By Mike Albo

On a recent Saturday around 11 a.m., I found myself naked with 30 other men, blindfolded, lying on a towel and pleasuring myself with a spurt of coconut oil. I was at Celebrating the Body Erotic -- a course offered by the Body Electric School that is designed to teach men to 'awaken the erotic energy that lies within all of us.' The group had spent the morning getting to know each other through various exercises, and two hours in we were sans clothes and fondling ourselves.

Our leader was Michael -- a spry, gray-haired man with a quick gay wit. The purpose of the blindfold, he said, was to help us get out of our heads and turn our minds inward. If you needed more coconut oil, you could raise one hand while cupping the other one at your hip, and a naked assistant would come by and squirt more into it. Along with his four or five assistants, Michael, also naked, urged us to try different areas with the oil: between the thighs, the scrotum, the stomach -- pretty much everywhere but the penis. In fact, throughout the day, as we danced, breathed, hugged, and caressed each other, we were encouraged to refrain from ejaculation.

Michael suggested we arch our backs. I thrust my pelvis into the air and tried to enjoy myself, but I felt like an amateur porn actress trying to be sexy. I couldn't shake the thought that the Body Electric team was watching -- even if it was 'without judgment.' I felt a little dumb and inhibited -- which was surprising since, as a 38-year-old single gay New Yorker, I have been in more compromising positions.

After massaging ourselves blindfolded, we stood in a circle touching our erections. We were told to turn to the person next to us and talk about how we like to get off. Under normal circumstances this might be awkward, but having spent the morning having heartfelt one-on-one encounters, massaging one another's shoulders and staring into each other's eyes, we were all very comfortable with each other.

Two months after my workshop I visited Joseph Kramer, the man who founded the Body Electric School in 1984. He greeted me in his Oakland, Calif., office -- a carpeted space on the top floor of a two-story brick-red house. Kramer has grayish hair, twinkling blue eyes, a solid body, and large hands. In a Harry Potter film, he would be an avuncular but mischievous teacher at Hogwarts.

Kramer has been called a sexual revolutionary for his work rescuing gay male sexuality and, in a larger sense, sexual culture from the fear and panic that proliferated in the late '80s and early '90s. Take one look at the nerve-racking government 'safe sex' brochures from that era and it's easy to recall how frightened people, especially gay men, were of their own bodies back then.

In the beginning Kramer was a pious, celibate teen. In 1965, at 17, he left home and entered a Jesuit seminary, but in 1975, after 10 years of abstinence, he realized he didn't possess what the Catholic Church calls the 'gift of celibacy.' He came out of the closet, moved to the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City, and had as much sex as possible. Within a few months Kramer had a live-in lover, a circle of close friends he had sex with, and a fleet of men walking through the streets and on the piers available for countless random encounters.
Like many men who have lived to tell, Kramer describes the 1970s as if it were a sexual heaven on earth, a Gay Golden Age -- as if back then there weren't any jealous boyfriends, competitive jerks, fuck-buddy pseudo-relationships, flirtatious guys with boyfriends, or smug playaz. 'I don't remember at all this pair-bonding,' Kramer explains. Recalling the numerous sexual encounters he had in New York, he says, 'I understood sex as a communal experience. I didn't feel it was personal.' During this time, Kramer devoted himself to studying the body, training in acupuncture, Chinese pressure points, and bodywork techniques.

In 1992 he sold the Body Electric School to Collin Brown, a participant in the workshops, who then sold it last year to another devotee of the school, Bob Findle. Kramer had gone on to earn a Ph.D. in human sexuality at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. Steeped in sexology, he applies an intoxicating range of words drawn from science and smut to discuss sex (oral sex can heighten 'neural firing'; he jokingly referred to himself and his ex-boyfriend as 'sensate pigs').

He often defines states of sexual excitement as 'scripts.' This ascribes to a theory developed by psychology professor Donald Mosher, who proposed that during sex a person engages in one or more of three distinct sexual scripts. Roughly defined, these are 'partner engagement' (connection, eye contact, relationship affirmation), 'sexual role'enactment' (top/bottom, master/slave, husband/wife), and 'sexual trance' scripts.

When describing his own sexual behavior, Kramer often cites entrancement as his primary goal. 'Trance allows me to connect,' Kramer says. 'The skin goes away, and it's a connection.' He has four or five 'intimates,' including two women (one of whom is sexologist and performance artist Annie Sprinkle, a fellow teacher at the New School of Erotic Touch). Once or twice a year he also participates in a Native American'style 'hook-pull' ritual, where he and others are attached to a pole by hooks pierced through their chests, with their flesh pulled inches from their bodies. People drum and hook up to each other as well. Kramer, who often wears a veil during this ritual, says he falls into a trance state.

'The class you took, the Body Electric class, is based on this,' Kramer tells me. 'Not only sex, but embodiment, how we are in our bodies, is a communally shared thing.'

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