Sea of Noise

Mon, 27 Sep 2004

The Wonk of Wank: Joseph Kramer and Sexological Bodywork

Malcom Gay wrote in East Bay Extress this past April ("The Wonk of Wank: Joseph Kramer didn't just reinvent the career of Sexological Bodywork: He helped convince state regulators to sanction it.") about Joseph Kramer and Sexological Bodywork:

With its blend of Taoist erotic massage, masturbation coaching, pelvic release work, and counseling, Sexological Bodywork is meant to educate and help people with problems of sexuality and shame. It draws from the work of such sexological luminaries as Wilhelm Reich and Donald Mosher, and argues that psychology, with its strict emphasis on the mind, is often incapable of addressing certain memories and impressions that are held in the body. . . . With Sexological Bodywork's emphasis on touch and the transformative powers of sexual trance and pleasure, Kramer and his students believe their new profession can not only heal people of sexual shame and dysfunction, but also free them of their sexual limitations.

His Sexological Bodywork certificate program was approved by the California Department of Consumer Affairs and graduated its first class in 2003:

. . . state approval places Kramer and his students in an odd position. Previously, his practice -- like that of many Bay Area bodyworkers -- had existed in a sort of legal nether region. It wasn't exactly prostitution; then again, as a practice that involves the exchange of money for sexual gratification, it sort of was. Still, it functioned beneath the radar of bureaucratic oversight and regulation. Since his practice involves explicit genital manipulation, most massage certification agencies won't touch him. . . .

Gay participated in four hours of a class, but felt uncomfortable finishing it:

It wasn't until later that I began to realize what I'd found so troubling about the class: Yes, sex can be a casual means of personal gratification and transformation. But sex also can be paltry. Sex can be disgusting. It can be fun, violent, boring, predatory, convenient, acquisitive, intimate, dangerous, conciliatory, routine, and -- at times -- even loving. Sex, for all that it is packaged, manipulated, and commodified, remains one of the few inscrutable acts available to us. And try though we may to codify, delimit, and categorize sex and sexuality, these arbitrary constraints fall away when faced with the primordial act itself. In sex, we never know the outcome, and to be tossed into those dark waters as if I were taking a casual dip in the community pool was deeply troubling. And while the physical act of sex is nothing if not simple, it is this complex emotional dimension that keeps our interest. . . .

And that's when it dawned on me. Whether out of fear or circumstance, Kramer has effectively inverted the mental and physical dimensions of sex. Whereas many of us have sex lives that are physically simple but emotionally complex, Kramer has attempted to reverse that order. With all of his emphasis on specific strokes, breathing, and personal, nonpartner engagement, he has tried to transform sex into an act that is physically demanding, but interpersonally safe. . . .

Of course, Kramer is very clear that he offers one mode of sexual experience, and that it is not for everyone. "The whole culture has opted out of learning erotic trance for partner engagement," he said. "I'm not an expert in relationships, and I don't claim to be."

See also this profile from May 1999 in Salon.

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