Archive for March, 2014

March 31st, 2014

Partners in Passion Walking Their Talk


I was first exposed to Mark A. Michaels and Patricia Johnson when I attended their Tantra-related session at the inaugural MOMENTUM Conference in 2011. I felt deeply affected by both their presence and their presentation, and when I heard of their new book, Partners in Passion (published by Cleis Press), I knew I would want to read it. I was thus delighted to volunteer to participate in the blog tour dedicated to the book—which, incidentally, I enjoyed even more than I anticipated.

It’s felt a bit difficult to me to formulate this post in an aim to do justice to the way I experienced Partners in Passion without going on for indeterminate pages. I found this book to be an extraordinary combination of explanation of pertinent history and cultural context; affirmation of readers’ uniqueness as both couples and individuals; invitation to personal exploration; and practical considerations, resources, and/or recommendations. I was also struck by how comprehensive the volume is. It contains an incredible range of information and covers an array of topics to a surprising degree of depth. Need an overview of sexual anatomy? See chapter six. Interested in Tantra? Check out chapter seven. Curious about swinging or other forms of nonmonogamy? Visit chapter nine. Wondering about sex and parenting issues? Reference chapter eleven. Incidentally, any time you want more information about almost any area covered, you can check the vast resource guide that comprises chapter thirteen.

The authors establish their orientation to and respect for the importance of sexuality in the preface in a way that resonated with me deeply. They relate how, when they first met (as two individuals already interested in or practicing Tantra), they proposed a suggestion to explore Tantric sexual practices together. “By putting our interest in sex on the table from the start and being clear that it was very important to both of us, we bypassed a lot of the game playing and manipulation that is so common in the dating scene” (p. xxx). While I don’t have any experience with Tantra to speak of, I relate to this desire and approach strongly, and for me, it immediately affirmed the credibility and authentic perspective of the authors in relation to their subject matter (which admittedly wasn’t in question due to my previous experience of meeting them in person).

What perhaps remains one of my favorite parts of the book came very early on in the form of utterly fascinating revelations about the original implications of fairy tales and their contrast with contemporary interpretations. I found this short section riveting, and the introduction of just how culturally formulated (rather than somehow intrinsic to the human experience) our cultural perception of romantic “happily-ever-after” is was truly revelatory for me. The earliness of this subject matter was not a coincidence, of course; the contextual relevance of this collective shift in perception served as a backdrop for much of the authors’ offerings about relationship and connection throughout the text.

The nuanced and clearly presented perspectives Patricia and Mark offer that in some cases fly in the face of social strictures or indoctrination were like a breath of fresh air to me. The book elucidates and invites exploration of such provocative statements as:

“The real secret of great lovers is in their ability to get pleasure from giving pleasure” (p. 64).

“We all have entrenched beliefs about ourselves, and it can be very unsettling to recognize, let alone embrace, the fact that our sexual proclivities don’t always match our self-images or what we would like our partners to believe about us” (p. 83).

“Statistics and studies can be informative and often make for great sound bites; however, they can’t give you any specific information about your own life” (p. 106).

“Trust is not based on a commitment or a promise” (p. 213).

“Many predispositions are formed at an early age and have nothing to do with the dynamics of your relationship” (p. 229).

“The tools it takes to have a vibrant, fulfilling, and expansive sex life are the same ones that can be used to create a satisfying long-term relationship” (p. xxix—the authors’ first line of the book).

None of these was presented bombastically or with any hint of shock value. Each is surrounded by the authors’ explanation of perspective and unyielding support for the reader in exploring these conceptions in the context of his/her/their own relationship. While most of these perspectives either already resonated with me or presented new angles I also found resonant, even if they don’t (right away), it seems to me they offer the opportunity for expanded consideration or jumping-off points for one’s own exploration of what does resonate. Indeed, since I interpreted the authors as claiming that the very devotion of time and attention to sexuality as a subject invites an expansion of sexual connection, the invitation itself to consider these ideas seems potentially self-fulfilling.

The openness of the authors’ sharing around, for example, their experience with BDSM established a relatability around the kind of process I perceived them as advocating in sexual adventuring. The sharing of this particular evolution thwarted any potential impression of condescension or dismissiveness in the context of the authors’ offering advice about sexuality and relating—it is clear they have undertaken their own process in general; in this instance, they approach an area around which they feel some initial trepidation with sincere interest and enough respect for the possibilities to want to know more. As usual, they take into this exploration an underlying orientation toward self-awareness and the aim for its development. Their personal sharing of this with us as readers is reminiscent, to me, of their general recommendation to treat one’s partner with respect, caring, and consideration; here, and indeed throughout the book, they are demonstrating this themselves in the way they treat the reader.

Indeed, to me it felt impossible not to be affected by the kindness and sincerity with which the authors write, and perhaps the aspect of Partners in Passion I found most affirming was the constant emphasis on respect and kindness toward each other—even (perhaps especially) in the face of challenging times, situations, or conversations. I experienced this perspective as so seamless and consistent that it felt clear to me that the authors embody it themselves with a degree of consciousness and practice that makes it seem effortless—or, perhaps more accurately, simply a way of being. As Tammy Nelson, PhD, states in the foreword, “Michaels and Johnson write what they know because they are living what they write” (p. xxvi).

Partners in Passion is not, in any way, a clinical, detached, or “how-to” guide that glosses over anything in the name of quick fixes or empty suggestions. Rather, it is a sincere, depth-filled, conscientious exploration imbued with the sense that the authors have walked (and are walking) their talk and are inviting you to learn and walk along with them at your own pace and in your own way. As a truly affected and appreciative reader, I add my voice to that invitation.

Purchase Partners in Passion from the authors, the publisher, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble (or your own preferred online retailer). Elsewhere online, you can follow the book and the authors on Twitter, visit the authors’ website, and watch Mark and Patricia on video. Thanks so much for stopping by!


“Being sexually free in a society that remains at once extremely sex-negative and overly obsessed with sexuality takes courage.”
-from Partners in Passion, p. 84

March 26th, 2014

Recommended Reading #194: Reproductive Choice, Pt. III

      “‘Most days, I feel like we’re going backwards'” by Katie Mcdonough (Abortion, U.S. Public Policy, Politics) 1/16/14

This struck me as a relatively detailed look at some of the legislative initiatives currently threatening legal access to abortion throughout the U.S., with some historical information included.


      “The Medical Community’s Hidden Abortion-Training War” by Abigail Golden (Health and Body, Abortion, Education) 2/27/14

As an activist, I’ve been aware for years that abortion provision training in medical education is alarmingly lacking (I’ve also been a long-time supporter of Medical Students for Choice and Nursing Students for Choice); it’s something of which I’d like to see the public and pro-choice supporters more aware. And of course it’s something I’d like to see shift.


      “#NotMyBossBusiness Rally at the Supreme Court” by NARAL Pro-Choice America (Contraception, Sex and Culture, U.S. Public Policy) 3/26/14

I felt energized after and loved reading this Storify compilation of tweets from the #NotMyBossBusiness rally in DC Tuesday morning in front of the Supreme Court. (The Court is currently hearing the case from Hobby Lobby claiming it should have the right as a corporation to deny insurance coverage for birth control to its employees on religious freedom grounds.) I loved seeing the camaraderie between Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America, as well as other pro-choice orgs!


Recommended Reading posted every Wednesday

March 19th, 2014

Recommended Reading #193: Digging Deeper, Pt. IX

      “Read A F*cking Book: 5 Truths About Sex Work I Learned from ‘Playing The Whore’ [sic]” by Carmen (Sex Work, Sex and Culture, Labor, Human Rights) 2/28/14

I simply fucking love this piece. I much look forward to reading the book on which it was based, and in the meantime, I fervently appreciate that this was written and almost all of what I interpret it as saying.


      “The Reason Every Kid Should Talk Back to Their Parents” by Kelly M. Flanagan (Parenting, Youth, Psychology) 11/6/13

Articles like this about parenting elicit such rushes of gratitude in me I’m often brought to tears. This was no exception.


      “What Sex-Positivity Is — And Is Not.” by Carol Queen (Sex and Culture, Gender, Sexual Orientation) 3/4/14

What a lovely piece. I feel as though when I first started seeing the term “sex-positive,” for whatever reason, I was already observing it in a context that seemed to, if you will, use the term for one’s personal agenda or purposes. I’ve rarely used the term, though I don’t disparage it either. For whatever reason, I just haven’t felt historical resonance with it. I’m truly not sure why/where I got the impression I feel like I’ve had about it, but I love this piece for its description of Carol’s interpretation of the term—all of it encompasses things that seem helpful and beautiful to me!


Recommended Reading posted every Wednesday

March 12th, 2014

Recommended Reading #192: History

      “Albert Cashier’s Secret” by Jean R. Freedman (Gender, Military, U.S. History) 1/28/14

Truthfully, it blows my mind that some perspectives still perceive that women aren’t capable of doing what men do. It seems so clear to me that they have long performed feats that illustrate the contrary, even if awareness of it didn’t appear to be widespread.


      “Bookish Birthdays: Edith Wharton” by Kate Phillips (Non-Sex-Related, Writing, Sociology) 1/24/11

It is admittedly probably because The Age of Innocence is my favorite novel that I find this so interesting, but I indeed do. :)


      “Forty Years Later, We’re Still Fighting ‘Eisenstadt v. Baird'” by Jonathan D. Moreno and Frances Kissling (Sex and Culture, Reproductive Rights, U.S. Public Policy and Judicial History) 3/20/12

This was written in the run-up to the last U.S. presidential election, but the history about the Eisenstadt case and the context of cultural perceptions around contraception strike me as both interesting and currently relevant.


Recommended Reading posted every Wednesday

March 6th, 2014

An Early Birthday Wish from a Scarleteen Supporter

sttwLike many of Scarleteen’s careful, thorough, detailed posts, this post may seem long. I implore you, please, to read it anyway.*

May 1 is my birthday. I would truly prefer it not also mark this year the day Scarleteen had to shut down any of its vital services because of a lack of funding.

I participated in Scarleteen‘s fundraising blog carnival a few years ago, and as I said in that post, from the time I considered creating my own website, I knew Scarleteen would be the place to which I linked on my entry page for potential visitors who were not yet eighteen. It is that way on my site now, and it has been ever since it was launched.

I am one of those people Heather refers to that raves about what Scarleteen does and refers people there regularly but in the midst of whom Scarleteen still has not been able to adequately financially support itself. And she’s right that it’s (past) time for me to step up and support Scarleteen financially in addition to supporting them the other ways I do. After I read her post, I did. I hope you will too, if you are in a position to. I recognize the particular importance of this in that a lot of the people Scarleteen helps aren’t in a position to offer financial support—the organization is specifically geared toward young people, who often don’t have such disposable resources.

I’m reminded as well of a post I wrote a few years ago thanking sex educators. I still feel this way, earnestly, and I see Heather Corinna as truly one of the pioneering ones of these—she supports, without judgement or condescension, and with caring and an obvious deep well of knowledge, young people: some of the people society most seems to want to deprive of support and understanding around sexuality and to whom this deprivation does a unique disservice.

I truly hope all reading this will consider donating to Scarleteen and/or helping however they feel they can. I see the work of this organization as phenomenal, and I promise you, Heather and Scarleteen, I am pulling for you. It has become a birthday wish for me this year that you get the funding you need and find yourselves in a position to continue the monumental, deeply relevant work you do.


*Please also see this follow-up post if you feel any concerns about fund handling.

“And when the hardest part is over we’ll be here, and our dreams will break the boundaries of our fear…”
-Brandon Flowers “Crossfire”