Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Book Blab (it's really not a review) Thy Neighbor's Wife by Gay Talese

 In the late spring of 1972, while I was in the Air Force stationed in the Mojave Desert, I pulled into a scenic overlook not far from the Mount Wilson Observatory in the San Gabriel Mountains.  I looked down on the twinkling expanse of Pasadena in the deepening twilight and wondered  how many people were in love and making love right now below me?  I felt a bittersweet feeling of grief for my own loneliness and yet a joy that people love each other and express it with sex.  Mostly I felt an envious melancholy, sorry for myself that everyone was getting laid except me.  Little did I know that if I had simply gone another 32 miles west, to the Santa Monica Mountains, to one of the overlooks on Topanga Canyon Road, I could have possibly looked down on pure bacchanalia.

Topanga Canyon Image Credit Wikipedia

The Sandstone Retreat was located about 3 miles west of Topanga Canyon Road, which was one of my favorite scenic routes, although really, I was probably on the road only a half dozen times.  Yet there I was living two hours away and I never heard of Sandstone Retreat until I read about it in Talese’s book, Thy Neighbor's Wife three weeks ago.  Alas!

Alas? Not really, even if I could have afforded the membership fee, I doubt that the Williams would have wanted the likes of me, a skinny, lonely, callow Air Force buck sergeant mooning over the lack of love in his life.  Even if they had taken pity on me and allowed me entry, I doubt I would have found what I was looking for.  Oh sure I would have been wowed temporarily by the sex, but I think I would soon have discovered what I suspected then and know about myself now…it is not sex that makes a person like me happy.  It is Love.  Sex is a Sacrament of that Love, but without Love, sex is just a celebration of lust.  If that is your thing, fine, I hold no great moral convictions regarding sex.  As long as everyone is 100% informed and 100% on board, an enthusiastic yes, then do what floats your collective boat.  Just don’t hurt anyone in the process.   But I have come to learn something about myself, I am an oxytocin junky not a dopamine addict, and Love gets the oxytocin squirting for me.  Warm, messy, plugged in, loving, fragrant post-coital bliss with my wife and I lying in a pool of oxytocin is Heaven on Earth for us, not the thrill of the novelty of yet another partner.  

I feel personally indebted to the sexual revolution (what ever it is), and I enjoyed reading Thy Neighbor’s Wife because I have an almost hobby like interest in sex and sexuality like some people have for model trains or astronomy.  I have never quite got over the awe struck dumb founded fascination for the tales I heard as a 9 year old boy about the games that big people play.  “He sticks it where????  No way!!!!” 

So reading Thy Neighbor’s Wife was sort of a cheap thrill of reading about the games that the really big people play.  Ok I read this four decades after it was written so there was no great surprises of what goes on, yet with the quality of Talese’s writing, the level of detail that he went into, and his admission that not only was he an observer but a willing participant sort of got the lust hairs on the back of my neck to stand up and go woo-woo.  I thought they had wore out from pure exhaustion over the onslaught of sexual imagery and innuendo of modern life.  But when I finished the book, I got the uncomfortable, well actually for me a comfortable, feeling that none of this applies to me.  It was like a trip into a weird amusement park that is somewhat thrilling while you are there, but you are more than happy to leave and never come back. 

I am not quite sure what Talese’s goal was for this book.  What was his point?  To show how morality changed in America?  To celebrate the Supreme Court decisions that now allow me to buy a copy of Fanny Hill on my Kindle for 99 cents, or Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer for $1.99.  Years ago possessing these books would have got me arrested.  So yes, I am glad I can purchase sexually suggestive if not downright filth and not worry about the likes of Comstock seizing my Kindle and burning it and tossing my ass into the klink.  But I also find that I am a hell of a lot more grateful for the Supreme Court decision known as Griswold Vs Connecticut…from Wikipedia:

The case involved a Connecticut "Comstock law" that prohibited any person from using "any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception". The court held that the statute was unconstitutional, and that "the clear effect of [the Connecticut law ...] is to deny disadvantaged citizens ... access to medical assistance and up-to-date information in respect to proper methods of birth control." By a vote of 7–2, the Supreme Court invalidated the law on the grounds that it violated the "right to marital privacy", establishing the basis for the right to privacy with respect to intimate practices. This and other cases view the right to privacy as a right to "protect[ion] from governmental intrusion".  

In 1964 it was illegal to use a condom in Connecticut.  Amazing!  Yes I may enjoy reading Fanny Hill but believe me back in the day prior to menopause, I was far happier to be able to buy a box of condoms hanging out on an open shelf in the grocery store rather than whispering in the local pharmacist’s ear while judgmental old biddies stared and thought about writing their congressman over the lack of morals in our state.   I was even happier to whisper in the pharmacist’s ear to get birth control pills which for a time were even covered by my employee hospitalization plan.  So yes, I feel indebted to the sexual revolution.

I feel far more indebted to David Reuben than Hugh Hefner.  Yes, I looked at my share of Playmates of the Month before I was married.  But I never recall seeing a detailed photo or diagram of a vulva in Playboy with an arrow pointing to the clitoris with an explanation of the importance of it to a woman’s sexual satisfaction.  Yes, I am sure that somewhere along the line Playboy had an article on how to pleasure a woman, but if you want to find out this afternoon and not wait for several years until Playboy got around to addressing it along with cars or polo clothes  that I could never afford to buy, then maybe you needed a book like Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex: But Were Afraid to Ask.  Was the book perfect?  Did it have biases?  Were gays ignored or treated poorly?  (See edit below.) Yes.  But still it was far better than the marriage manuals of my parent’s era that spoke of the proper way to engage in sex (penis in vagina, in the missionary position with the goal of mutual orgasm)  and warned of dangerous perversions that lurked around any act that went beyond that narrow definition.  Here is a favorite:

We have seen how body kisses may play an exaggerated part in sexual relations so that what should be part of the normal effort to induce pleasurable excitement in the partner becomes the whole, such kisses thus comprising the complete act.  For those who replace coitus by the form of partial intercourse, cunnilinctus [sic] is often an act of self-abasement.  It is the sign of a dog-like devotion.  A masochistic male, one with the tendency towards finding pleasure in suffering and humiliation, moves by way of the perfectly normal body kisses to one of the byways which lead him away from normality.  Eventually, he cannot enjoy full normal union.  The part has replaced the whole.   Page 251. 

That is an excerpt from a book titled ironically Love Without Fear by Eustace Chesser.   Well, call me a dog-like devotee!  I don’t know about Eustace, but I tend to feel like the conductor of a massive orchestra and choir playing the final movement of Mahler’s Symphony number 2 during such activities.  Masochism and humiliation for rocketing my wife down the yellow brick road off to Oz in paroxysms that shake the house?  I have never had an orgasm that came close to the power of hers…I enjoy her orgasms far more than my own little putt putts.  Perhaps proof that I am the big sissy the Chesser suggests.  

So yes I feel a deep indebtedness to the sexual revolution that allowed my wife and I to have proper information and communication skills so that we were not fumbling around in the dark, or in fear or putting ourselves in a poor house with too many mouths to feed, or engaged in some sinful perversion that would anger God.  I feel indebted to feminism that give women a voice and the beginnings of equality.  So I feel indebted to the likes of Marie Stopes, Margaret Sanger, Alfred Kinsey, Masters and Johnson, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem (one of Hefner’s favorites), Estelle Griswold, David Reuben, Shere Hite, and yes in more indirect way even Betty Dodson.  Most of these people, except Dodson, got little or no mention in “Thy Neighbor’s Wife.”  All of them had their personal foibles, prejudices, and weidicities.  People are victims of their times, yet they are the heroes of the sexual revolution to me, not Hugh Hefner or  John and Barbara Williams.  

To illustrate my point further, before Masters and Johnson the process of vaginal lubrication during arousal was not understood.  Even after Masters and Johnson, the true size and shape of the clitoris was, depending on how you want to look at it, either unknown or forgotten.  I find it incredible that William Masters, a gynecological surgeon, believed the clitoris to be the small external bud.  Indeed when Thy Neighbor’s Wife was published in 1980 more was known about the dark side of the moon than the true topography of the clitoris.  Helen O'Connell (another hero in my estimation) revealed the extensive internal structure in the mid 1990s.  

So yes I feel an indebtedness to the sexual revolution, but felt very little appreciation for the facets that Talese discussed in Thy Neighbor’s Wife.  It dimly occurs to me, that while I have rambled through a garbled description of my feelings of the book, I have stated very little about the book itself.   For an excellent review of the book, may I suggest Matt’s review on Goodreads:

The weird thing I have found with Matt, he knows and can write down in a review more about how I feel about a book than I am aware of.  I often find myself seeking his reviews after I have read a book, to clear the cobwebs and tell me how I really feel about it.  I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads. 

Edit 1/3/2023: I just re-read Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask.  I have no idea why this book holds such an exalted place in my memory.  Not much how to and a lot of information that while perhaps interesting reading at the time was more of a sexuality and society type of thing.  Reuben's opinion of LGBTQ issues, especially gay males, is horrific. It is actually a pretty crappy book.  Books are always prisoners of the attitudes and thinking of their time.  But Reuben went over board on gay bashing even considering the time.  I also didn't find Reuben's opinions of women to be very enlightened.  

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Book Review, The Technology of Orgasm, by Rachel Maines


I read this book not long after it was published (back around the turn of the century), and yes, let’s get this out of the way, I read it for the salaciousness of its content, that a cottage industry of doctors and midwives existed to treat women for hysteria by giving them external vulva massages to induce a paroxysm, a physical reaction which would move the uterus back to its proper position, relieve congested humors, and thus free the woman of the pelvic discomfort and disturbing dreams and erotic thoughts. Then the electric vibrator was introduced and was hailed as a great advancement for this industry because it could attain a paroxysm in a matter of 10 minutes versus the often wrist numbing hour required by manual methods. This treatment was purely medicinal, not at all sexual because no penetration occurred. The book was peppered with illustrations of some of the ghastly devices used in the treatment of hysteria. 

I loved this book, I gave it 5 stars. I recommended it to friends. I have had the Kindle edition on my wish list forever hoping that it would appear on sale. 

As I mentioned I was more driven by titillation than historical or technical accuracy, so I did not read this with a critical eye. I am a layman who has an interest in sex like some people have an interest in model trains. I didn’t fact check the book. Good grief, why should I, it is published by John Hopkins University Press. I just enjoyed the book and patted myself on the back for having a superior knowledge of sex, the female anatomy, and how to bring it to orgasm thus sparing my wife the horrors of hysteria--a medical condition no longer recognized. I swallowed the information presented in the book, as they say, hook, line, and sinker. 

Well apparently I was not the only person who didn’t read it with a critical eye. With few minor exceptions no one seemed to question the content of this book and it became instilled in the popular culture as fact. 

Well today, I ran into an article published several years ago that disputes most of the content of this book, in fact it shreds it almost line for line: “A Failure of Academic Quality Control: The Technology of Orgasm” by Hallie Lieberman Eric Schatzberg both of the Georgia Institute of Technology was published in The Journal of Positive Sexuality. You can read a PDF of the article at:

It is 20 pages of text and 4 pages of references. So I read the entire article, again not fact checking any references. I am layman, not an academic, fact checking is beyond my paygrade. I read it in disbelief. Surely they are making a mountain of a molehill. OK, maybe Maines got a little sloppy with some of her research. Surely the whole book couldn’t be questioned. 

Liberman and Schatzberg even addressed folks of my particular ilk:

Yet the book’s appeal isn’t just sexual. Maines’ story fits narratives of progress in sexual knowledge, allowing readers to see themselves as worldly sophisticates in contrast to the clueless, desexualized Victorians. Physicians look particularly ignorant in this account, having no clue what the clitoris was, let alone an orgasm. Maines also portrays women as victims of profit-hungry physicians. Such victim narratives were a staple of feminists critiques of medical care in the 1970s (e.g., Frankfort, 1972). Women have no real agency in Maines’ account, as the historical actors are all male physicians, and women’s voices are completely absent. However, readers can still view the female patients as heroes who subvert patriarchy by procuring orgasms under the guise of medical treatment. The story is thus paradoxical—women are victims, but the tools used to victimize them bring them orgasms, a delicious irony.


Emphasis mine. Yes, that is me, a worldly sophisticate! How dare these eggheads smear one of my favorite books. 

So when I finished the article I tried to Google a refutation by Maines. I didn’t do an extensive search just a quickie. I found this article in The Atlantic:

In this article Maines offers up this reply:

In an interview, Maines said that she has heard variations of the paper’s criticism before—and that her argument in The Technology of Orgasm was really only a “hypothesis,” anyway. “I never claimed to have evidence that this was really the case,” she said. “What I said was that this was an interesting hypothesis, and as [Lieberman] points out—correctly, I think—people fell all over it. It was ripe to be turned into mythology somehow. I didn’t intend it that way, but boy, people sure took it, ran with it.”

 Maines added that she was a little surprised it took so long for other scholars to question her argument, given how admittedly “slender” the evidence she gave in The Technology of Orgasm was.  “I thought people were going to attack it right away. But it’s taken 20 years for people to even—people didn’t want to question it. They liked it so much they didn’t want to attack it.”

 Emphasis mine. Ha! Ha! Ha! Worldly sophisticate? Sextant you dipshit, you “fell all over it.” Not only did I “run with it” but it took me 20 years to find out that it is just an “interesting hypothesis.”

Well fine Ms Maines. A factual book on The Technology of Orgasm will earn you 5 stars. But a poorly researched “interesting hypothesis?”  Two stars (only because I liked the illustrations) not that I imagine you give a damn what a yahoo like me would think anyhow. 

Oh, and I removed it from my Kindle wish list. I see no need to refer to it any longer. 


Hallie Lieberman, Eric Schatzberg. “Failure of Academic Quality Control: The Technology of Orgasm.” The Journal of Positive Sexuality.  Volume 4, Issue 2, August 2018.

Robinson Meyer, Ashley Fetters. “Victorian-Era Orgasms and the Crisis of Peer Review.” The Atlantic. (Online). September 6, 2018.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Familiar Birds by Émile Friant, 1921

I have become too old and cranky to bother much with blog posts any longer.  It is easier to sit back and read a book, but every once in a while something grabs my attention.  And such it was when I saw the painting for the December 23, 2020 post on the That Is Priceless blog:

The painting is titled Familiar Birds by Émile Friant. It is oil on canvas and was done in 1921.

Before reading the discussion below, I recommend opening this large scan of the painting.  It provides a better view of the detail:

Oh my goodness, look at her, she is magnificent!

OK dear reader, I suspect at this junction you are thinking what the hell is with this guy, he is getting himself worked up over a breast.  Indeed yes, a quite lovely breast, and yes I like it, but dear reader the internet is loaded with lovely breasts.  My wife has lovely breasts.  Do you honestly think that I am going to come out of a 20 month hiatus from posting on this blog over a breast?  The breast, albeit lovely, is just the icing on the cake.  Here is what I love about this painting. 

I love realism in paintings.  As such, I have always been a fan of William Adolph Bouguereau's works, and this painting puts me in mind of a Bouguereau.  So being a work in realism, our young lady is very real, no tawdry outfits or over sexualized poses and pouts of a pin up.  She is just ecstatic to be alive and sitting here with all these lovely birds.  Look at her expression, she is just really happy and it makes me happy looking at her.  She has that wholesome girl next door look, maybe a little too wholesome.  Hell, she looks like Shirley Temple's Heide very much grown up.    

 I love the detail in her hair, you can almost see the individual strands.  At first glance she appears to be young, but if you look at the larger and more detailed scan (see above) you can see there is some maturity in her facial features and she is a little dark around the eyes.  She is young but not too young.  The cleft in her chin is quite charming.  A very lovely spot is directly below the bird on her right shoulder where her jacket is pulled back.  The dark hollow above and below her collarbone and the rounded softness of her exposed shoulder ache to be gently caressed.  

Her casual posture is given some authority by her left hand placed on her hip.  I like her garments which I assume are some manner of French early 1920s casual lounge wear, something of the equivalent to a house coat with trousers although perhaps considered a bit more elegant.  Alas the high waist, it obscures what I am sure would be a most exquisite belly, yet the curious bunching of the material with taught downward V shaped lines suggest the sacred feminine triangle and gives her a subtle suggestion of female eroticism further emphasized by the curve of her derriere.    

What really thrills me about this painting is her crossed right leg with the raised pant leg exposing her calf and ankle.  This is no girl, she has a woman’s calf, there is nothing delicate about it.  In fact it is so ordinary that I find it absolutely erotic.  I revel in the subtle coloration difference between her shin and calf.  You can follow the line of her shin bone right into her ankle.  The front surface of her shin appears to have some mottled depressions, old healed wounds.  She is a real woman, and she bangs her shins now and again in her life.   

And now, pause for a deep breath.  Her bare right foot, artfully up turned. Another deep breath.   Oh my, my!  Yes I confess to a minor foot fetish, and hers is so heartbreakingly real, it thrills me.  Look at it, it's dirty.  This is no Athenian goddess, ethereally hanging in airy gossamers.  Her foot is dirty. This is a flesh and blood Goddess who walks the Earth, but a Goddess nonetheless, and far more real than any resident of Olympus.  I love the coloration on the ball of her foot and her upturned toes.  The curvature of her instep demands a one fingered caress.

The damned cockatoo!  Why didn’t he steal her other slipper also.  We have been denied the beauty of a bare left foot by a lazy cockatoo.  Alas our loss.  But what we can see is enthralling,  Are those hints of veins that I see on the front and side of her ankle? 

Roland Barthes describes the concepts of studium and punctum in a book on photography, called Camera Lucida. I assume perhaps due to my ignorance, that the concepts would apply to paintings and other forms of imagery and not just photography.   Studium is the physical, cultural, and political aspects of the photograph. A young woman, birds, slippers, her green outfit and colorful sashes and pillows are elements of the studium of this painting that apply to anyone including myself. The punctum of the painting would be that which pierces one’s heart. For many people there would be absolutely no punctum in this painting.  For some perhaps the bared breast or her wonderful smile would pierce their hearts and be the punctum for them.  For me, the punctum is that this lovely young woman reminds me of a woman that I never knew.

When I was cleaning my mother’s house after she died, I found a photograph of her that I had never seen before.  My father took the picture when they were first married before I came along.  It showed a happy young woman that very much had a sparkle in her eye.  What this woman seemed to be saying was “I just got laid, and I am about to get laid again, and I can’t wait.”  If such thoughts about one’s mother seem unsavory, again, I remind you, I did not know the woman in the photograph.  And if you think that thoughts of your parents having sex are somehow unseemly, you should try the reality of a childhood that witnessed a father that was habitually drunk and an extremely unhappy mother that fought him tooth an nail over his drinking and the almost daily violence that resulted from this union.  I would have loved to have heard the bed springs squeaking. 

I wept when I found that photograph.  It indeed pierced my heart.  I never knew the woman in that picture, she was long gone by the time I was old enough to understand the interactions between woman and man.  My mother was once a vibrant and erotic young woman, and I never knew that woman. 

So the punctum in this painting for me is not that the woman looks like my mother, a minor resemblance perhaps, mostly in their similar hairstyles, but that the woman in the painting (and yes the bare breast helps in this regard) seems to be saying  “I just got laid, and I am about to get laid again, and I can’t wait.” 

Here is a review of the painting by someone that actually knows something about art:

The Familiar Birds by Émile Friant | Canvases, Carats & Curiosities, Fine Art - From the Library at MS Rau, Since 1912.

You can find more works by Friant at the following two sites:

 Post Script:  Ok, maybe the breast has more bearing than I give credit.  Ten years ago, I wrote a blog post on John Waterford’s painting, The Soul of the Rose.

At the time, I yearned for a peek inside the woman’s heavy robe.   

Image credit:

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Book Non-Review, Enlightened Relations: The Life in a Day: A Couple Enjoys Spiritual Enlightenment Together

Enlightened Relations: The Life in a Day: A Couple Enjoys Spiritual Enlightenment TogetherEnlightened Relations: The Life in a Day: A Couple Enjoys Spiritual Enlightenment Together by Richard Dietrich Maddox
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The reader bought the book. Most readers would have an expectation of learning, or being entertained, or perhaps both, the great goal of edifying and entertaining, as Robert Pirsig set out to do with his concept of the Chautauqua in the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. But not this reader. For this reader, having attained a great and seemingly eternal Mediocrity of Spirit--caught some where in a mythical stage of 4.8 to 5.1 on Fowler's Stages of Faith--knew that the book could only be but a ripple on the surface of the deep ocean of Being. So the reader read with neither joy nor disappointment for such emotions would indicate a differentiation of one moment from the next. But time as most people know it, does not exist. It is a great illusion of the four dimensional material Universe, and for the All Being Consciousness, there is only the great and Infinite Now. The reader knew that one book like one moment could never be greater than another book...the New York Times bestseller list or a toothed gold "Amazon #1 Bestseller" medallion on a book cover being but a mere false construction of the ego which has become blinded from eternal Love and the magnificence of Soul by profit and fame.

The reader read great paragraphs of Whitmanian poetic descriptive prose which some readers would say contain a phenomenal thesaurusitic beauty that out thoreaued Thoreau and yet other readers might say the paragraphs were overwrought and perhaps infused with too much desperate wonder and veneration. But the reader felt neither beauty or boredom because the reader knows that words are but mirrors of the great Bliss, the deep Consciousness, the All Knowing All Eternal. Some readers would note a constant repetition of the idea of the Deep Consciousness having neither positive or negative views on a topic, but this reader was neither vexed or delighted with the repetition, but realized that IT is what it IS.

So the reader neither enjoyed nor disliked the book as most readers would, but yet maintained a great empathy for the author whom the reader realizes not only means well but perhaps is indeed far more Enlightened than the reader himself...who recognizes, however vaguely, that many future incarnations still remain for him. As such, the reader could neither give a good review nor a bad review. For what is a review? A Judgement! And should not the Enlightened avoid judgements in the deep ocean of Eternal Being?

View all my reviews

Sunday, November 18, 2018

A Blue Collar Interpretation of a 90 Million Dollar Painting

Portrait of an Artist (Pool With Two Figures)
Image Credit:

I have always found David Hockney’s art visually interesting.  Eye catching.   Striking.  He has a paradoxical simplicity that seems to obscure a deeper complexity.  To me, more of an admirer of realism, Hockney’s paintings are borderline cartoony, yet with an implication of something deeper.  They seem to ask a question, but not answer it.  I always find myself wondering what am I missing in this painting.  But that has not been the case with his painting Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), which just was auctioned at Christie’s for $90.3 million on November 15, 2018. 

Wow!  Ninety million for a painting of the prelude of a rich 70’s Hollywood executive about to counsel his teenage son about off roading in the Mercedes and leaving a roach in the ashtray.  “And furthermore, young man, I did not appreciate the beer cans on the floor, the melted Sugar Daddy stuck to the console, and the soiled condom under the seat.  You are grounded for a week.…”

This is why blue collar slobs are never art critics.  The real meaning behind this painting involves love and loss that totally evades me even after reading two articles about the painting:

Nope, sorry, I just see a teenager about to get his ass chewed.  Maybe I should stick to Normal Rockwell.  

I do have a favorite Hockney,  Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy. 

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy
Image Credit:

I like this this painting.  It reminds me of when I was young, not that I was ever as seemingly wealthy as Mr. and Mrs. Clark, but I can identify with the time period.  I like the interplay of light from the window.  The notes on this painting tell us that we are in the Clark’s bedroom.  They also tell us that both Mr. and Mrs. Clark are looking at the viewer of the painting.   Does that put me in the Clark’s marital bed, perhaps with their house sitter?   They don’t look very happy with we viewers.  If indeed, we are nothing more than just viewer in a gallery, they seem to be saying “Do you mind!  We are trying to have a conversation here.  Move along to the next painting.”

The last piece of Hockney’s art that I would like to mention  is Pearblossom  Highway #2. 

Pearblossom Highway #2
Image Credit:

This is not a painting but a collage of hundreds of chunks of photographs that Hockney took in Antelope Valley, California.   I spent two and half years in the Air Force near here and Hockney captured the essence of the Mojave although for me in a somewhat irritating fashion.  Its a weird piece.  It almost shimmers mirage like.  I find myself thinking, this would be a lot better if it stopped jiggling.  Again, blue collar slobs should never be art critics.   

Friday, September 14, 2018

Sensate Focus

Sensate Focus in Sex Therapy: The Illustrated ManualSensate Focus in Sex Therapy: The Illustrated Manual by Linda Weiner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was both delighted and dourly disappointed with this book. The delight? At last someone has taken Master’s and Johnson’s Sensate Focus seriously and written up a comprehensive procedure for it. You no longer have to rely on M & Js poor description of it spread across several books or look for some article on the internet that is either blocked by a professional pay wall, or be bamboozled by a self proclaimed sexperts that have little real knowledge of how Sensate Focus really works. Here is a comprehensive set of procedures that will benefit both clinicians and their patients. The book separates the various dysfunctions and provides detailed instructions for each. It also contains treatment plans geared for diverse populations such as LGBTQ clients, the elderly, those who suffer from substance abuse, the disabled, clients with serious psychological problems, and clients on the autism spectrum.

Image Credit: Institute for Sexual & Relationship Therapy & Training .

The book has tasteful illustrations that are based on the idea that Hellen Singer Kaplan incorporated in her The Illustrated Manual of Sex Therapy from four decades ago. The authors quoted Kaplan's thoughts on the illustrations in her book:

The drawings will, apart from merely illustrating specific positions, also, I hope, convey the beauty and humanity of sex, fundamentals to successful sex therapy.

Weiner, Linda. Sensate Focus in Sex Therapy: The Illustrated Manual (p. 3). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

All in all for clinicians and their clients this is an excellent book. Five well deserved stars

For the do it yourself couple that maybe just wants to tune up their sex life…not so much. Hence my disappointment. Quite early in the book the authors make it a point to define two types of Sensate Focus:

Although we have been using the general term Sensate Focus to identify the hierarchical touching suggestions, we make a distinction between two phases of Sensate Focus, as we have suggested. What we have been describing thus far is more accurately referred to as Sensate Focus 1. However, there is also another phase that we call Sensate Focus 2. This is because just as there is more to sex than natural responses, so there is more to Sensate Focus than touching for your interest. While we will be discussing Sensate Focus 2 in more detail at the end of this manual, we are emphasizing the components of Sensate Focus 1 in order to underscore the importance of mastering sex as a natural function, and mastering its attitudinal and practical applications of touching for your own interest, before moving on to Sensate Focus 2. Sensate Focus 1 involves mastering skills for people who are having sexual difficulties. Sensate Focus 2 is for people who are not having difficulties, or who have resolved their difficulties, and who want to enhance sexual satisfaction.

Weiner, Linda. Sensate Focus in Sex Therapy: The Illustrated Manual (p. 14). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

OK great! I lick my chops in anticipation of reading about Sensate Focus 2 which will take may wife and I to a transcendental state of sexual satisfaction. So I wade through 9 chapters of dysfunctions and diverse populations. I enjoyed it and I learned a lot but for the most part it doesn't really apply to me. So finally I get to Chapter 10 Sensate Focus 1 and 2. There are some basic definitions and then we get to this paragraph:

However, there is one additional characteristic of Sensate Focus 2 that is perhaps even more important than these relationship enhancements. Clients do not talk about it directly, perhaps because it crosses over into the realm of indescribable experience. However, over the years we have come to appreciate it as the ultimate, if unspoken, goal of those who come in for sex therapy. Kleinplatz refers to this as transcendence. It goes by many names, none of which do it justice: “‘peak experience,’ … ‘magical experiences,’ and ‘spirituality’ … ‘a portal to an alternate reality’ … ‘expansive and enlightening’ … ‘it leaves you bigger than you were before’ … ‘flashes of illumination’ … ‘It [is] revelatory – an epiphany’” (Kleinplatz & Ménard, 2007, pp. 75–76). Noted analyst James Hollis refers to it as “the god to be found in sexuality” and suggests that clients who want to enrich their sexual lives “follow what [the poet] Rilke called the dark ‘river god of the blood’ … The higher power are powers, indeed, but so are the lower ones … [and] sexuality, the dark river god of the blood, is sacred” (1998, pp. 91–92). This spiritual or transcendent dimension of sexuality requires entering into the radically self-focused mindset of Sensate Focus 1 but this time through a deeply sensorial, sensual, and emotional relationship with the partner that characterizes Sensate Focus 2. This is when absorption in the sensations moves into absorption by the sensations and ultimately into an altered state of consciousness that is transcendent sexual responsiveness to which we refer in Chapter 2 (Why is Sensate Focus Based on Touch?). This sensorial, sensual, sexual, emotional, and relational integration leads not only to the enlargement of each partner but also to the enlarged intimate connection between the partners.

Weiner, Linda. Sensate Focus in Sex Therapy: The Illustrated Manual (pp. 122-123). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

I had to stop reading. I clasped my Kindle to my pitter pattering heart, stared off into the distance, and sighed. At last, at last! After years of being confused by tantra, failing to give up our addictions to orgasm induced dopamine through the use of karezza, of never knowing the mystical energy flow between Divine Lovers, at last we will follow “the dark river god of the blood” to the sacred transcendent dimension of sexuality through Sensate Focus 2! As tears of joy for soon to be found portals of alternate reality flow down my cheek, I lower the Kindle from my beating heart and with trembling hands begin to read the next paragraph:

Suggestions to enhance sexual satisfaction and enrich intimate communication will be the subject of subsequent publications.

Weiner, Linda. Sensate Focus in Sex Therapy: The Illustrated Manual (p. 123). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

What? Subsequent publications? I have to wait for the next book? What the hell is this the The Game of Thrones? Emphasis, obviously mine.

Hence my dour disappointment. For me the book was still worth while because I have an interest in sexuality like some people have in astronomy or model railroading. But for the average couple that is finding the magic of those first years are slipping away and they would like to tune up things a bit, I am not sure I can recommended this book. I hope in the future to be able to recommend the “subsequent publications,” but for now, I think it would require an extremely devoted couple to benefit from this book without the aid of a professional sex therapist.

As such I do have a concern about Sensate Focus. Will it ever be available for the average do it yourself couple? The thing I like about Sensate Focus is that it is simple and it can be done by the couple seemingly without a sex therapist looking over their shoulder. I really love execises that a couple can do together and build a deeper intimacy. But somebody has to write the book that couple can use for themselves. For a devoted couple, I believe they could sit down, wade through this book, and come up with a program, but why can’t there be a book on Sensate Focus for just that couple? All sorts of arguments can be made that without a sex therapist, Sensate Focus won’t work…and I believe that is true for the couple that are plagued with the dysfunctions described in this book. But what about the functional couple that is trying to avoid getting to the point of dysfunction? Many couples don’t have the financial resources or the time to be heading off to a sex therapist. There are a ton of books on the market about improving orgasms and trying some fantastic positions, but I am not aware of any that give a concise program for Sensate Focus. Rather than adding to the anxieties that a couple’s orgasms are not good enough or in the right spot or that they are having enough of them, why not show a couple how to get lost in sensation and all that other stuff will take care of itself? My personal belief is that Sensate Focus should be a lot of fun to do in its own right and that it could easily be adapted for couples who are not dysfunctional and just want a reliable program to find that “river god of the blood.”

So while my rating remains at 5 stars, because the book is an excellent resource for clinicians and their clients, for the average couple I can only rate it at 3 stars. It can be useful especially for describing what Sensate Focus is and what it can do for you, but it will take some work on the couple’s part to figure out their own program and how they want to implement it. I sincerely hope that the subsequent publications will have have a program of Sensate Focus 1 and 2 for our functional couple that is looking for more out of sex, love and life.

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Monday, August 27, 2018

Book Review, Night Thoughts, Reflections of a Sex Therapist, Dr. Avodah K. Offit

Night Thoughts: Reflections of a Sex Therapist (Avodah Offit Memorial Series Book 1)Night Thoughts: Reflections of a Sex Therapist by Avodah K. Offit
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first thing I enjoyed about this book is its title. "Night thoughts" bring to my mind a romanticized vision, perhaps fitting for a Edward Hopper painting. I see the author sitting in an over stuffed chair in the library of her Upper East Side brownstone home. Dark paneled walls and lovely floor to ceiling book shelves are dimly lit from a banker’s desk lamp with traditional green glass shade from across the room. Barber’s Adagio for Strings softly plays on the stereo. Dr. Offit holds a Perrier in her hand, while outside a gentle autumn rain lightly taps on the window. She stares off into the dimly lit room, while thoughts of the larger meaning of her work goes through her mind:

At night, questions become more abstract. I try not to let them get out of hand. I know I can’t answer the larger ones. I simply ask why we behave as we do. Why, for example, do some people thrash about miserably in the chains of their unreleased passion while others feel grateful to be undisturbed by any sexual emotion? What accounts for the patterns of difference I detect between the desires and expectations of men and those of women? Are the differences chemical or cultural? How can people change their sexual attitudes --and should they be asked to?

Offit, Avodah K. Night Thoughts: Reflections of a Sex Therapist (Avodah Offit Memorial Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 64-68). Beckham Publications Group. Kindle Edition.

Cover Image:  Henri Rousseau,  The Snake Charmer, 1907
Image Credit: 
To get a better understanding of what this book is about, one should read the sub-title Reflections of A Sex Therapist. Reflections is key. This book is not a how to manual, there are no plumbing diagrams, no descriptions of positions, no technique for mind blowing orgasms, or 10 steps to better sex in one week. There are no discussions on avoiding STDs, how to date better, or contraceptive methods. Nor is it a listing of sexual dysfunctions or the specific cures for them. No, there is none of that, nor does there need to be, there are a zillion books that tell us the basics of the birds and the bees, how to have better orgasms, and the dysfunctions and their cures. Rather, these are her reflections of Dr. Offit’s experience practicing the art and science of sex therapy. Offit provides a standalone essay on a specific topic. For most part, you can read these in any order, or skip those in which you have no interest and it would really not affect your overall understanding of the book. You don’t have to read the first four essays to understand the fifth. The topics are varied and not necessarily what you would expect…Morning sex, Menstruation and Sex, Nymphomania Reconsidered, The Matter of Smell, Postcoital Feelings, to name a few.

The essays often don’t go the way you would expect. For instance she starts the essay Morning Sex:

I ASSOCIATE MORNING sex with camping. Although I have never gone camping, I own a pair of new summer hiking shoes. I fantasize backpacking as a romantic experience the way some people dream of New York: gourmet restaurants, vintage e me wines, a box at the opera, a carriage ride through Central Park have at midnight, and love between silken sheets at the St. Regis. The best part of camping must be to open your eyes in the morning, that. see the sunrise, the sky, and the trees--and feel the warmth of a lover there with you in your double sleeping bag.

Offit, Avodah K. Night Thoughts: Reflections of a Sex Therapist (Avodah Offit Memorial Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 92-96). Beckham Publications Group. Kindle Edition.

Offit then discusses her observations of her patients reactions to morning sex, it's like it, women often don't...exceptions abound.
Image Credit: Sidney Offit and The Avodah K. Offit Papers, 
Archives & Special Collections, Hunter College Libraries, 
Hunter College of The City University of New York.

I was happy to see that Offit did not continue the extensive cataloguing of the various personality types and the particular sexual neurosis that each type exhibited with each of the other types as she did in The Sexual Self: How Character Shapes Sexual Experience. This smacked too much of a Viennese purple velvet analytical chaise with Freud stroking his goatee while asking me questions regarding my mother's emotional rejection of every girl in which I had showed any interest, strongly paralleled to questions regarding premature ejaculation. While I take a certain level of pride in being a somewhat neurotic INFJ, or a Negotiator/Director in Helen Fisher's personality types, and even a Mature Soul in the Scholar role in my unicorn riding, New Age flakery, for the life of me I couldn't determine if I was a passive, a passive aggressive, schizoid, paranoid, or a compulsive. I was pretty sure that I was neither a histrionic or narcissist. Blue collar slob, didn't seem to be one of the personality types.

One area she discussed that I was quite taken with was Postcoital Feelings. Most books I have read on sex have a few sentences on the afterglow or a paragraph on postcoital pillow talk. Dr. Offit devotes an entire essay to the subject and she mentions the difference between men and women. She offered this observation with a bit of humor:

The troubles people have during sex cause them to flounder about the bed after sex in various degrees of unrest. Many couples fail to discuss their immediate reactions to sexual dilemmas. While these need not be dissected immediately like a cadaver on the postcoital bed, they can be touched on delicately. In any case, it's well to discuss them sometime between one lovemaking experience and the next.

Offit, Avodah K. Night Thoughts: Reflections of a Sex Therapist (Avodah Offit Memorial Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2662-2665). Beckham Publications Group. Kindle Edition.

Also in Postcoital Feeling Offit discusses a phenomena that I have never heard of and yet have suffered in a minor way. So it was with great interest that I read the following passage:

After sex, women more than men tend to be in touch with "postcoital tristesse, " feeling sad without precisely assigning a reason. In therapy, women most often trace this sadness to feelings of loss and separation. The closeness of intercourse is over. When a person feels sad about one parting, all other separations and losses seem to join the procession. People who have lost a significant relative, friend, teacher, or even another lover often mourn this loss after sexual intimacy. The reduction of boundaries when naked bodies merge may release conscious or unconscious memories. Some people are perfectly aware that they are remembering a grandmother's caress or a parent's tenderness; others are bewildered by the mystery and do not know what they are lamenting. The French expression for orgasm is "the little death." And after such a death we have the opportunity to mourn at our own gravesites. Resentment or depression can result when a lover ignores these feelings, runs away from them, negates them as "irrational," or tries to be cheery in the face of our penchant for grief.

Offit, Avodah K. Night Thoughts: Reflections of a Sex Therapist (Avodah Offit Memorial Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2764-2772). Beckham Publications Group. Kindle Edition.

Never one to miss an opportunity to feel a lovely dose of melancholy, I have over the years often felt, while entwined with my wife in a postcoital bliss, the cool wind of mortality blow across my bare and sweat beaded behind. “One day, all this will be taken from you. Either you or she will survive the parting of the other, and lie in this bed alone.” To counter this postcoital tristesse I at times have a fantasy of the furnace exploding right at the moment of a mutual orgasm when she is 100, and I am 104, our bodies melted together and orgasm faces forever branded on to our countenances.

Dr. Offit strikes me as though she was a very private person, most likely an introvert. That coupled with a non-emotional professional air of stoic impassivity while discussing topics highly fraught with emotional and cultural expectations and norms, one could expect a certain level of clinical detachment to her writing. Yet I found a high level of warmth and humanity to her writing. She at times would give us an entertaining overt glimpse of Avodah (verses Dr. Offit) such as this description of one of her patient's perfume:

A third [patient] wears a preparation whose molecules are so arranged that they inspire me to want to don the high heels that I never wear except as a sexual indulgence. I haven't asked her the name of her mixture. It might be dangerous.

Offit, Avodah K. Night Thoughts: Reflections of a Sex Therapist (Avodah Offit Memorial Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 1882-1884). Beckham Publications Group. Kindle Edition.

Another time she tells us of a postcoital dispute that she and her husband had when they were first married:

He would sometimes accuse me of being heartless. "You actually roll over and go to sleep!" he would say. "Just like the legendary man." Imagine--I, who had been with him for the past forty-eight hours, and doing unspeakable female things! "I need to close my eyes and think for a while, that's all," I would reply. "Besides, I like to be held while I'm sleeping. That's not like a man.”

Offit, Avodah K. Night Thoughts: Reflections of a Sex Therapist (Avodah Offit Memorial Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2653-2656). Beckham Publications Group. Kindle Edition.

I immediately thought of the narrator’s wish in the The Grapes of Wrath regarding the sins alluded to in a revival meeting, “Wisht I knowed what all the ‘unspeakable female things’ was, so I could ask for ’em" (adapted from quote on page 388).

At other times, her revelations are more covert. Every now and again I would detect a certain wistfulness in her more explicit descriptions. I could almost hear her sigh, rub her eyes, and long to set down the pen, wake her husband, and gloriously do what she had just been writing about.

There are three negative things which I think should be mentioned regarding this book. The first is that the Kindle edition does have some formatting and typographical errors. You can see some in the quotes I provided. I don’t get my knickers in knot over such errors but if you do, you may find it better to buy a paperback copy of the book (although I can't vouch for the fact they may not have the same errors). The second thing is that one must remember that books are always victims of the culture and social norms of the era in which they are published. When reading this book if you find ideas that may seem dated or a little less enlightened than current thought, think back to how you felt in 1981 when the book was first published or when she revised it in 1995. Almost a quarter century has passed since Offit expressed her “night thoughts,” as such one may have to exercise some tolerance when reading this. The last thought that occurs to me is that I don’t imagine the Dr. Offit found many plumbers or waitresses from Queens among her patients. If there is a certain “first world” aspect to some of her patient’s problems, I think it may be in the nature of the type of people who are inclined and can afford to go see a sex therapist.

I immensely enjoyed this book and as such, I would like to give my heartfelt thanks to Dr. Stephen Snyder who mentioned and quoted Avodah Offit's books in his excellent book Love Worth Making: How to Have Ridiculously Great Sex in a Long-Lasting Relationship. Had I not read Snyder's book, I may very well had never heard about Offit's books. Both Snyder and Offit have done much to enrich my understanding of love and sex.

In probably what amounts to a classic case of therapist/reader transference, when I completed this book several days ago, I fell into a bit of a depression. I finished Night Thoughts, now what? I could read her third book, the novel Virtual Love. But no I wanted more Night Thoughts. I felt like I had lost a friend. I moped about the house and found myself being dragged back to reread certain passages. Years ago a reviewer in the The New Republic called her the Montaigne of human sexuality. I agree but to me Avodah Offit is something far beyond an accomplished essayist. I have read that sex is God's joke on humanity. Perhaps Avodah Offit through not only her work but also her writing was something of a Divine Comedian. Knowledge and understanding are the underpinnings of wisdom. Perhaps Offit was able through that wisdom and her faith in love, in some small way, turn that joke back around on God. I imagine them now, God and Avodah, having a drink in some Bohemian dive out on the seedier edge of Heaven, well away from the righteous, laughing like hell about male frustration over multiple female orgasm. Then God in an unusual display of humility asks with a glint in his eye "So Avodah, what were those unspeakable female things?"

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Dr. Avodah K. Offit passed away in January of 2015, here is her obituary that appeared in the New York Times:

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Cover Image:Óleo_sobre_lienzo%2C_169_x_189.5_cm%29.jpg

Dr. Avodah K. Offit: