As my first wife – Jan – began her plunge into schizophrenia, my sainted mother briefly mentioned that in her family there had been a relative: a renowned healer of ‘Hysteria’. My mother, Margaret, was a person far from impressed by the ‘wu’ of any spiritual healer or what we now call alternative medical treatments. She was no great fan of doctors and the medical profession generally. She lived to 93 in defiance of much of contemporary medicine. Margaret’s lack of respect for doctors was coupled with no respect whatsoever for psychiatrists. Jan’s eventual diagnosis of pre or postnatal depression was ridiculous in her view, as was the encompassing schizophrenia. Jan simply needed to get her act together and focus on the important aspects of child rearing. After all, what good was a diagnosis if there was no cure? The diagnosis was just an excuse for misbehavior.
The information that Margaret provided was brief, vague, and dismissive. In the early1930’s Margaret was off the farm and in college (Wazoo). She was working as a maid/housekeeper with no support from the family farm in Prosser. She was desperately trying to complete a teaching degree in hopes of evading the life of her parents; trapped in endless heavy labor on a perpetually failing minimum income farm. Both of her parents were college educated and her father was considered a ‘genius’, equipped with a photographic memory. In Mother’s opinion: “The most impractical man she’d ever met.”
Her reference to Aunt Edna was just a few sentences. Edna had set out to become a medical practitioner/doctor. She had been inspired by the medical corps’ role in the Civil War and tales of Florence Nightingale. Walt Whitman, among others, had written of the appalling circumstances regarding the treatment of the wounded and dying soldiers; many died of infections such as gangrene and other diseases caused by lack of provision for sanitation. Every town had veterans; most families had losses. As in most wars of the era, it has been estimated that about 25% of the troops were infected with STD’s. There was no effective cure and little emphasis on prevention. Those too sick to fight but ambulatory were simply released to walk home.
The Civil War was over in 1865, about 20 years before her birth. Edna would have been approaching adulthood around 1900. There had been some money in that branch of the family, but as occurs today, there were recessions and bankruptcies and swindles and fraud. The Aunt had to drop the dream of being a college educated medical professional. She became involved in the Kellogg dietary/exercise/ treatment franchise. Kellogg was a bit of a shyster, and offered mail order courses which could be completed in weeks and which lead to certifications as Practitioner or Doctor.
Upon certification, my Great Aunt was employed at the Kellogg Sanitarium in Battle Creek Michigan. The Battle Creek Facility was a supervised live-in treatment center that featured a strict vegetarian whole grain diet, rigorous exercises, and frequent and dramatic enemas. Upon arrival, a participant was given an individual assessment and a dietary and treatment regime. The sanitarium itself would seem Spartan for us today; it was clean, airy, and austerely elegant. Various additional services were offered such as: brisk hikes, interpretative dancing, mud baths, coldwater drenching, abrasive body rubs, and hot oil massages. There were special treatments in mechanotherapy, electrotherapeutics, and manipulative therapies (often recommended for what was referred to as ‘Hysteria’).
The patrons of the Kellogg Sanitarium were well-to-do upper class white people, predominantly women. Within that class there was great refinement and repression. Many women of that time and class led what we would consider incredibly sheltered lives. Marriages were often arranged, and there may have been little consultation on the part of the soon to be wed couple. They may have been formally introduced and perhaps had some brief chaperoned conversations. Marriages based upon our contemporary sense of romantic love were not unknown, but married life could be more commonly characterized as love shaded heavily by factors such as loyalty, partnership, mutual regard, or dependency, rather than passion.
An excerpt that illustrates the arrangements of the upper middle class of the time from Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’:
Gwendolen announced her informal engagement to her mother; Lady Bracknell, and the good lady replied: “Pardon me, you are not engaged to anyone. When you do become engaged to someone, I, or your father, should his health permit him, will inform you of the fact. An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, as the case may be. It is hardly a matter that she could be allowed to arrange for herself….I have always been of the opinion that a person desiring to get married should either know everything or nothing…..I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone.”
Divorce was difficult and not common. Women often died in childbirth; or from infections, or diseases such as the flu, small pox, polio, or diphtheria. Diseases that we have become unaccustomed to in our era would often decimate entire communities. It was not uncommon for survivors (often men) to remarry several times.
In 1900 the world population was about 1.6 billion, and today it is almost 7 billion. In 1900 most people in America were directly involved in agriculture of some sort, living rurally and either farming or distributing farm products. Today most people live in cities and have a wide variety of employment opportunities: hardly anyone is a farmer in the old sense. Living in a town or small city in 1900 provided few opportunities to meet a variety of suitable mates. The entire social atmosphere, particularly for upper class women, was circumscribed. In 1900 many people didn’t get more than 100 miles from their birthplace although the intercontinental railways made travel safe, common, and inexpensive. It could be a huge adventure to travel the Mississippi on a sternwheeler, for instance. For many, such an episode would be the trip of a lifetime.
Men were encouraged to go out in the world and had many more opportunities to create a life of rich experiences. Many upper class men enlisted in the Civil War for the sport of it, as a way to burnish their resume. The same phenomenon was repeated with the Gold Rushes and massive land sales that accompanied the westward expansion of the railroads. The popular phrase “Go West, Young man!” was literally an invitation for adventure. Go out and seek one’s fortune and return to civilization with restlessness satiated.
A suitable marriage could always be arranged later. A gentleman had no expectation that his wife would derive significant pleasure from the brutish act of sexual union. Should she be eager and libidinous it may have seemed improper: he had not bartered for that sort of girl. Should the gentleman want to have some fun with the ladies; there were brothels full of women dedicated to providing pleasure. For example, one of Seattle brothels was notoriously referred to as the “House of Holes”. In Seattle in 1900 there was a brothel with 500 rooms, advertising 500 ladies for a man’s delectation, delight, and daily service. In good weather some of the ladies would be on display riding in horse drawn carriages through Pioneer Square. They would hand out discount cards to interested bystanders. Seattle had a population of about 85,000 at the time, and an estimated 2,500 ‘ladies of leisure’. A gentleman of the time could easily have his unfortunate lustful urges satiated. The brothels for the working class and those in the mercantile trades were priced accordingly. But a moneyed sport of the time could maintain a courtesan, sometimes referred to in those days as a grande horizontale.
It is difficult to assess what the realm of sexuality may have been in the past, and what it may have been for individuals in various economic and social environments is a bit of a guess. Even today in our supposedly more enlightened era there is considerable variation in physical relationships. After all, some people are colorblind or tone deaf, and in the sensual physical realm there are those for whom sexual joys are a primary aspect of life, and there are those that simply don’t understand what the fuss is about.
As an example of men’s general boorishness: one of my peers, a long married gent that spent part of his 20’s in the military in Korea, is somewhat bewildered at today’s highly sexualized society. He knew ‘damned little’ about sex until he was stationed in Korea. He shared an off-base apartment with a couple other guys, and they employed a ‘moose’ – a Korean young lady that did the shopping, laundry, some cooking and housekeeping for them in return for what sounds like spare change. She also would fellate the young soldiers should the need arise. Prostitutes were readily available in local bars. When he got back to America he found to his consternation that fellatio was not at a commonly available practice, and upon marrying his high school sweetheart, he discovered that she had never heard about nor would consider such an activity. They managed to have three kids, so in his mind he was a perfectly adequate husband. “All this sexy advertising and movies, who is all that for? All this talk about how to turn someone on, and orgasms: what the hell? I did my job, got her pregnant! What is there to learn? We had sex every month or two, and I suppose that as a young man I got an hour’s experience every year. I guess she was happy enough, she stuck with me for 50 years.”
The status and autonomy of women has dramatically changed in the past couple of centuries. Up until the 1890’s the age of consent was as low as 7 in Delaware, and 10 or 12 in most other jurisdictions. It was not raised to 16 or 18 until the 1920’s. The Social Purity Movement that started in the English speaking countries around the 1860’s brought about this age-awareness change. Social Purity became the Women’s Temperance League. It was an outgrowth of the Abolitionists, and spread out into areas of Temperance, Prohibition, anti-prostitution campaigns, and eventually led to the Women’s Suffrage activities that resulted in women being enabled to vote – thus becoming equal citizens and no longer mere property of men.
Kellogg and other entrepreneurs were swimming in the Social Purity stream. Right thinking believers were introduced to proper exercise and the consumption of whole unprocessed Biblical foods – each bite was to be chewed 30 times to ensure mastication. Healthy vegetarian fare coupled with vigorous colon cleansing ensured regularity that was said to be spiritually invigorating. It purified not only the body, but also the mind and spirit as well. Libidinousness and physical expression of animal spirits would be brought under control, at last. It was hoped that the introduction of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Wheaties et al would dramatically reduce the consumption of customary breakfast animal products such as eggs, bacon, or ham. Better behavior was sure to follow.
The diet of the majority in the 1800’s was execrable by today’s standards. There was little refrigeration – blocks of ice. Canning was a recent technology and often tainted. Farmers might eat relatively well on the farm, but horse drawn wagons were slow, and produce and meat was often not considered worth the trouble of delivering to the cities. Live animals were hauled into neighborhood butcher shops, and some would advertise meat as “Fresh Killed Daily”. Chickens and other fowl were often purchased live and slaughtered at home, or selected for the butcher to slaughter. Sanitation was often non-existent through the First World War. During the Depression the Dept of Agriculture was attempting to educate rural citizens in the advantages of remote outhouse locations, boiling water for sterilization, hand washing during food preparation, etc. The military greatly improved the general health of the citizenry by training soldiers to bathe regularly, and to receive inoculations, and rudimentary basic first aid. The returning soldiers brought this training home. While the theory of germs had been developed in the early 1800’s, it had little influence in daily life or the field of medicine until WWII. My uncle Roy, hale and hearty in his 20’s, died in the early ‘40’s from a routine appendectomy and the massive infection that followed the operation that was performed on the household kitchen table by a local family doctor. My grandfather held the lamp, and grandmother provided hot water and towels.
Fruit, corn, potatoes etc were often more profitably sold as ‘potable spirits’: cider, and versions of whiskey. There was little or no control over how these widely consumed products were distilled until after Prohibition. Whiskey, beer, or wine, were considered a safer drink than water. “In Wine there is Wisdom, in Beer there is Freedom, but in Water there is Disease.” Vast amounts of alcoholic beverages were consumed from childhood on. Much farm produce was fed to hogs. The large hunks of hogs were brined and smoked: sold as ham, bacon, trotters etc. Once thoroughly brined and smoked such treated meats were relatively safe, even if hauled miles in ox drawn wagons. Carcasses were rendered for Lard. Dairy products such as fresh milk were uncommon, but sharp and/or highly odiferous cheeses were available. There were frequently outbreaks of food poisoning.
In heavily industrialized areas such as London, in which children of five were often employed in horrible conditions, the health of adults was not good, and life expectancy was perhaps 40. Infant mortality was common and in many areas only about one out of 6 children would survive to age sixteen. A recent article regarding longevity mentions a survey of 1840 regarding cultural longevity – Sweden was considered to be an unusually healthy country of the time, however the average age at death for Swedish women was only 45. That has now increased to eighty-three. There has been a dramatic increase in the efficacy of medicine, with preventative measures such as inoculations, and treatments. In the industrialized countries, childbirth is far less dangerous for both the mother and the child. Despite the pride many express regarding the current state of American medical facilities, we are far below other nations in children’s survival rates, and overall longevity is a decade less on average than many other countries. Contemporary medicine now attempts to ‘compress morbidity’ and thus postpone ‘senescence’, the inevitable physical and mental collapse, into a shorter period of a life.
While the Kellogg regime would seem limited and coarse today, it was an advancement at the time, but only available to the upper class individuals. They could sign up for treatments of varying lengths, a week, fortnight, a month perhaps, and return to city life refreshed, invigorated, and renewed in spirit.
There was longstanding medical evidence that proper women were perhaps incapable of physical pleasure from sexual activities. Intercourse was for procreation and the necessary siphoning of men’s lamentable need for physical release. Since women did not regularly release liquid during intercourse, and rarely expressed any enthusiasm for basic and feverish rutting, it was a topic of debate among medical practitioners whether proper women were capable of sensual desire or sexual pleasure. It came to be believed that fluids built up and captured by the womb might cause a woman’s Hysteria. Discomfort or disease might also be caused by a uterus that was too light due to lack of bodily fluids, thus the floating womb was thought to shift location and cause distress. Intercourse might ‘moisten’ the womb and facilitate blood circulation, however activities such as enduring the indignities of the marriage bed were thought to be less than pleasurable and an inadequate treatment for those women afflicted with Hysteria.
Skilled manipulative therapy by trained practitioners could assist in releasing the internal womb pressure. It was observed that educated and refined married women often wearied of their husband’s overindulgence in sexual intercourse and that caused congestion of the female genitalia. Women’s reproductive organs were looked upon as “a veritable swamp, rife with pathogenic miasmas”.
Hysteria was a uniquely female complaint and was generic. Anything from headaches, fatigue, fainting, dizziness, lack of appetite, bad dreams, almost any ailment could be diagnosed as Hysteria. There were a wide variety of treatments available such as laudanum, herbal tinctures, invigorating tonics, breathing regimes, and physical exercise. In the 1850’s a form of digital manipulation of the nether regions became an increasingly popular treatment option. There were Doctors and clinics in the big cities that specialized in this service.
Aunt Edna began providing this treatment at the Kellogg Sanitarium. A Doctor that specialized in the service had trained her. It had become so popular that additional practitioners had to be recruited. The patient would often be fully clothed and recline upon a comfortable waist high bench with heel cups to elevate the knees. As best I understand, the treatment often included an initial upper body massage: the compressing of the rib cage and diaphragm to get the patient breathing deeply. This was occasionally coupled with what we would think of as CPR, direct mouth-to-mouth air exchange. After the preliminaries, the doctor would sit and reach a hand up under the skirt and massage the clitoral and vaginal areas until some curative Hysteria energies were released.
This was not viewed as a sexual act. Sex involved penile insertion by a husband or lover. Women that were afflicted with Hysteria were considered to have a serious medical condition that could be relieved with digital manipulation by skilled practitioners. Even the most skilled digital administration was often unpredictable, which made appointment scheduling a nightmare. One distressed female might require a full hour of energetic effort and another may experience relief in just a few minutes. Prolonged diligence put the doctor at risk of hand cramps or even the development of as yet undiagnosed carpal tunnel. The busiest clinics often trained midwives or nurses to take over the seemingly endless chore of a parade of women patients suffering from Hysteria. No one wanted this boring and fatiguing job. After all, the husbands had done their duty and were not about to take on additional chores that were best delegated to skilled and certified specialists.
Some enthusiasts for the treatment felt that only a woman practitioner could fully understand and bring forth the complete release of the tensions of pelvic congestion that was causing the Hysteria. Men might be unsympathetic or clumsy in their ministrations. There were special prescriptive ointments compounded for the purpose. Soothing oils were often coupled with mint, lavender, eucalyptus, ginseng, willow bark, or occasionally derivatives of opium poppy, codeine, paregoric, and laudanum.
Great-great Aunt Edna evidently had the touch. As her career progressed she added to her repertoire, becoming a labor coach/mid-wife, a general specialist in ‘woman troubles’, and veterinarian. However as the ‘Great Depression’ impoverished her clientele, she was unable to maintain her private practice in Ohio. In that time, displaced family members were often absorbed into relative’s households and farms. My grandparents had a farm in Prosser that was never prosperous, but it was mostly paid for. Edna was in her 40’s, and had quite a background in medicine – such as it was at the time. She took up residence on the farm, briefly sharing an upstairs bedroom. She quickly established a following in the tiny town of Prosser.
She encouraged my grandfather to put in a small field of herbs and poppies. Edna was skilled in the preparation of tinctures – little more than a bit of fruit wine or herbal tea with a dried poppy seedpod infused. At the time, Prosser was basically cash free. There was very little actual money in circulation and as a consequence it was largely a barter society. Her ability to stitch up an injury, attend a birth, cool a fever, relieve pain, or treat a bout of Hysteria was rewarded with trades and a bit of cash. Ham hocks, a chicken, a haunch of venison, home canned fruit, or some heavy labor on the farm could be exchanged, for instance.
The Great Depression decimated the upper middle class. Suddenly those family units that had money invested in stocks, bonds, or bank holdings were reduced to poverty. It was common for families in these sheltered income categories to have quite large houses, with rooms and facilities for servants such as maids, cooks, cleaners, yard workers, horse groomers, nannies, wet nurses and so on. As is the case today, these support personnel were poorly paid, and had circumscribed private lives – two days off per month, room and board were provided, but the cook prepared special lower cost meals for the hired help.
For millennia the wealthy or powerful had slaves or servants. The exact definition and role of these household or field workers varied. In Biblical times, and within Islamic families today, the role of servants is often disguised as polygamy (multiple wives or concubines). The facility with which the upper classes can obtain maids and household help has been a stultifying economic factor. Since the ‘help’ was on staff anyway, why invest in improved efficiency? However a task may have been accomplished in the past was plenty good enough. Why buy a washing machine for one of the ‘wives’ when she has always done an ok job down at the pond, pounding clothes on the rocks? Servants didn’t need automation. What would they do with the extra time? Given time and energy to reflect upon life can only lead to dissatisfaction.
There was always the possibility that servants would be taken advantage of sexually. In some societies and households this was taken for granted, in others it was forbidden. A maid caught up in a sexual incident could be dismissed in disgrace, or sometimes quietly provided with a bit of a dowry and an arranged marriage with some local. As the railroads connected the American coasts, compromised maids were sometimes given the proverbial ‘ticket to Frisco’ where they were subject to various outcomes, often drifting into prostitution.
My grandmother ‘Steena’ came to America as an indentured servant and worked for 3 years for a prosperous family of German immigrants in Illinois. Upon fulfillment of her contract she traveled to Seattle to be near relatives. She went back to work as a servant. Her cousin, Gerda, was also a servant, but then was in an arranged marriage in what must have been a very minimally pleasurable union. (My mother couldn’t stand ‘Uncle Arnold’, the husband. He was a self-educated domineering bastard, in her opinion.) Upon his death Gerda went back to work as a nanny, working for a wealthy Seattle family for 40+ years. The family eventually arranged a pittance retirement for her. I had a great-uncle that had prospered in America, but he lost it all in the Depression. He said, as he began to prosper again in WWII; “I never dreamed I would again be so rich as to have my own car while being so poor that I have to drive it myself.”
The women of the servant class or the wives of the working class, were not receiving treatment for Hysteria. There was considerable discussion regarding the folly of educating young women in cultural refinement. The young ladies would become unfit as suitable breeding stock, filled with unrealistic expectations of privilege and promised ethereal pleasures. While the father, brothers, or husband of educated and refined young women might disport themselves with earthy and carnal lower class women, the daughter or wife was expected to be of a higher moral character. The physical and carnal could be suppressed through attention to spiritual enhancement. They were supposed to demurely close their eyes and focus upon the ethereal should the husband desire to plow the ‘south forty’. These refined women were to be the regenerators of a less brutish generation of offspring, lessening the slaughter and oppression of the physically feverish.
As electricity was introduced into households, a wide variety of vibrators and electrical stimulation devices became available. The Sears catalog and magazines coyly advertised muscle toning and tension relief devices. Many practitioners sold devices to clients as well. By the beginning of WW II ladies were taking care of themselves. The Hysteria Epidemic of the previous couple of generations faded away. Today there is an entire industry dedicated to a wide variety of vibrators, sometimes referred to as “marital aides”.
In our present state of enlightenment we can scoff at the efficacy and concept of Hysteria with the hands-on manipulated masturbation that today seems ridiculous. But what harm was done, really? A few ladies spent some money on pleasurable relief unavailable elsewhere in a repressive society. The use of poppy tinctures to alleviate anxiety or pain seems quaint today when the vast pharmaceutical industry owns every possible cure for every real or imagined ailment. At present there is a low-key government program to coerce seed sellers to eliminate the opium poppies from catalogs. If one wants to buy poppy seeds today, one must search on-line sources for true opium poppy varieties.
When Margaret briefly spoke of Great Aunt Edna I was experiencing a troubled passage of life and it is possible that I have misinterpreted the few sentences and have created what may be a plausible fantasy scenario. The Seventh Day Adventist cult of whole grains as expressed through the Kellogg Foundation may have been sufficient for Great Aunt Edna to prosper as a practitioner. While in Nome in 2013 I was researching the 1904-’06 era. Jorgen, my grandfather, was in Nome in that period. The local newspaper of the time has been preserved on microfiche, all slightly out of focus. A recurring ad in ’05 featured an “Anna M. Kellogg: Proprietor of Bath and Massage Parlors.” The advertisement’s services are illegible despite my best efforts, but such services and facilities were evidently widespread, even in the most remote areas. There were no similar ads. In 1904, Nome had experienced a serious fire that wiped out a significant amount of the town. One area that was destroyed was the fenced confinement that encompassed several blocks of ‘cribs and brothels’. Anna M. Kellogg may have been advertising additional illicit services, or it may have been legitimate soothing candlelit massages. We have no way of determining specifically what was being offered.
Long ago I was on a work team in which one of my cohorts was a devout vegetarian and he had many similar beliefs as Kellogg. His family were members of an outgrowth of the 7th day Adventist Church, as was Kellogg. A healthy bowel, fully cleansed and regularly producing multiple large, coarse bowel movements every day may go a long way to creating upright posture, a focused mind and joyous personality. My co-worker had not reached a blissful state of mind, but his bowels were a frequent topic of conversation – much as dog owners all too frequently discuss the state of their puppy’s poop.
I went to assist in some car tinkering at his place one sunny day, and felt the need to use his bathroom. As I disappeared around the side of the house, he shouted “Shearsonnahanger!” In the bathroom above the toilet hung a large pair of kitchen shears. The shears were to be used to hack up the massive turds his diet created. In Rabelais the turds of the peasants during grape harvesting season were said to be as solid and as long as the handle of an axe. Grapes were lunch and dinner for the peasants. Breakfast consisted of ‘groans, sighs and coughs’.
Locally we have a very hard working craftsperson with no health insurance. She finally grudgingly admitted that something is wrong ‘down there’ and she went to the doctor and expected a diagnosis of a hysterectomy for fibroids, perhaps. It turned out that she is a few years too late; cancer was eating her insides. If she went in for the chemo and surgery the entire family would be in bankruptcy for hundreds of thousands of dollars for treatment and be rendered homeless. Historically her treatment would have been laudanum or poppy infusion, and she would have passed with minimized discomfort. In our contemporary medical wisdom the doctors will extend her period of misery for many months, and the family can then go through hardship and bankruptcy to celebrate her misfortune. (She has died, and the family has imploded.)
I came to the Great-great Aunt Edna topic through a chance encounter with Lynn Schirmer, a Seattle artist of considerable facility. I admire her work, and she ekes out a living on art sales and related activities. She had come across recent research regarding the clitoris. Amazingly, this vital bit of female anatomy has not been extensively studied and in many medical books it is passed over: lacking detail, and incorrectly rendered. Lynn decided to create a topical art exhibit regarding the clitoris – coupled with a web site that revealed some of the contemporary research to illuminate the entire show.
I volunteered to create a piece for the show, but began to have misgivings regarding my qualifications to participate. As a professional old fart, what the hell would I know about the topic? I can reflect upon what I should have known, what I could have known had I been concerned. As far as I knew, the female orgasm was invented in the ‘60’s, and my experience was so limited that I still have no clear notion of how all that might have worked, aside from the insight that sometimes amazing accidents happen. In considering the nature of the research for the art show, it occurred to me that all these revelations could make life a lot more interesting for the young adults that might put it to use.
My general idea was that perhaps this scientific information regarding the extent and range of the clitoris would lead to specialized tune up and adjustment centers. This could be a new franchise opportunity with skilled technicians trained in clitoral performance enhancement. It might be similar to the old days when I would invite old ‘Jimbo’ over and we’d drink beer till dark and then get out and tune the Triumph Bonneville until it emitted the exactly perfect blue flame out of the exhaust port.
My line of thought resulted in the 24 X 36 poster that was exhibited. The show was open for a month, but attendance opening night was thin because of bad weather. The show had a lengthy preview article before opening, but little publicity during the event. In my humble opinion, the overall show was lacking in thought and drama. The artwork submitted was mostly by female artists and was decorative but lacking confrontational edge. My work received little or no attention and no comment. Nothing in the show was sold.
I had bought one of the Clitoris T-shirts at the show and subsequently wore it to the gym. One of the gents thought the graphic image resembled the Martian death ray machines in the original “War of the Worlds” movie. I briefly explained the art show and the image.
“Well I’ve heard something about this clitoris thing somewhere, but I don’t think any pussy looks like that! But what the hell would I know? Its dark in the bedroom! Har, Har, Har”. This loud outburst is from a retired gent with a striking grey haired trophy wife, and four kids by his first wife.
We parted ways and we each moved on to our next exercise. A few minutes later, Dan approached. He had overheard part of the little hilarity. He also inquired about the graphic image. He recalled a Tantric image that is similar. I don’t know Dan well, and I don’t know much about Tantric studies or beliefs, and had no idea what Dan and Tantric practices had in common.
When I started attending my current gym, my notoriety as an artist preceded me. Dan was, and probably still is, under the popular delusion that being an artist is an opportunity to become involved with lovely models. The dreary fact is that I have rarely been able to afford a model for myself. I have attended dozens of artist group sessions with 3 to 12 artists drawing frantically while encircling the model. Models earn $12 to $20 an hour. It is just a part time job but some models take it rather seriously and show an interest in the eventual artwork. Models are frequently involved in the arts: as artists, dancers, musicians, poets, and yoga practitioners. Models occasionally show up with a friend or lover to act as chaperone. With but one exception in ancient times, I’ve not been blessed with more than a handshake relationship with models.
Dan assumed that I was some sort of libertine and thus a kindred soul. He felt compelled to regale me with some brief stories of his exploits with ladies of the world in such ports as Singapore, Estonia, Sweden, and Viet Nam etc. He had been part of a military flight crew and is currently associated with one of the airlines. We share a bit of an illusion of camaraderie as ‘naughty boys’.
While admiring the T-shirt graphic he talked a bit about how, in his travels, he had recently become a patron of Tantric Massage studios, and that presently he is involved with a Tantric Temple. He feels privileged to be receiving Tantric instruction from a wonderful young lady called something like Mirandananda Dawnstarr who has a Temple near Sumner. The outside of the temple is completely ordinary, but the inside is amazingly decorated and one of the bedrooms has become an expanded ceremonial bathing and warming area. Obviously this has become an important and fulfilling participative activity for him. He offered to serve as a reference for an introduction. She is very selective and newcomers must have references and interviews.
I briefly discussed the Clitoris Art Show and contemporary research and he nodded his head, “Oh, yes, well the Tantric Yoga tradition has long known all of this. The West is so ignorant of the principles of pleasure.” He has recently been instructed in the proper forms of ‘Yoni Adoration’, for instance. He has been considering encouraging his current lady friend to accompany him to the Temple for mutual ecstatic ceremonies. This would involve his girlfriend attending a few solo sessions to enable Mirandananda to evaluate her readiness for prolonged orgasmic experiences.
In a previous month I was introduced to what I suppose is his current girl friend, a quite fit and pleasant looking woman in her late 20’s. To me, her most memorable feature was her smile. Unlike so many of that generation, she had been spared dental braces that result in the manufactured perfect toothy smile. Her smile reveals some slightly crowded teeth with the canines a bit prominent. She probably does not consider her teeth a distinguishing asset, but I found them endearing.
Aside from the brief introduction and subsequent nods of acknowledgement while passing in the gym, I have not had occasion to talk to her. After all, what can an old fart such as I have in common with an energetic young lady? I wonder how far outside the common mould of suburban single mom her sexual interests may extend, it is none of my business, of course. Does she know of his Tantric adventures? Or does she simply benefit from his secret participation? Has he, in fact, enlisted her in the enlightenment program?
I could sympathize with her apprehension regarding the grading of her level of ability to experience and sustain blissful states. She may be reluctant to subscribe to solo evaluations of her orgasmic capacity. Dan may be a wonderful, satisfying and accomplished lover, but the Tantric mumbo jumbo may be a bit alienating, and the idea of this Mirandananda woman adoring and manipulating her ‘Yoni’ may be too far to go. It would seem tinged with lesbianism, and for many in our repressive society any whiff of same sex pleasuring is forbidden. After all, would Dan be so interested in the Tantric if he was having extended orgasms with a turbaned young man?
As is my nature, I got to brooding about this episode and opened the mentor’s website and checked out a few other sites offering similar services. Many of them list their services as available to: women, men, and couples. That ‘women’ are listed first may be a hint that most clients are women. The websites are not worded in such a way as to imply sex in the manner of the escort ads or Asian Massage Parlors. A large part of the allure may be sensual, not sexual. A long contemplative massage in a spiritual environment coupled with warm oils, candles, incense, and comforting mantras may be money well spent at $200 an hour.
Another group called ‘One Taste’ created by Nicole Daedone specializes in group therapy sessions referred to as “Orgasmic Meditation’. She has also written a book ‘Slow Sex’. There is also a TED Talk in which she explains the philosophy behind the search for a four-month orgasm. The group meetings are an organized informational presentation followed by a 15 minute carefully executed clitoral stimulation period between two strangers; other members of the audience. One part of the meditation requires that the women become trusting of their own unique abilities to experience pleasure in the hands of an unknown individual. This becomes a matter of giving permission to one’s own responses, not with a familiar lover or friend, but with a complete stranger that may well never be seen again.
Since starting this line of investigation my interest has waned a bit, but as I was leafing through a women’s fashion magazine a related reference leapt out. In ELLE, Sept 2012, is an article regarding a book by Naomi Wolf (Vagina; A New Biography). I had no interest in reading the article – I was looking for a usable female pose with significant contrapasto. But a sentence suddenly caught my attention in which a Mike Lausada is mentioned as a London practitioner in orgasmic therapy. A quick web search reveals that he offers a variety of counseling and physical therapy programs to enhance and encourage female sensuality. His rates range between 200 and 400 pounds per hour, with multi-hour sessions encouraged.
Other sex or intimacy training is available, for instance; Annie Sprinkle tours the country speaking of the vagina and clitoris. Annie is attempting to educate and inspire women to learn about their bodies and become familiar with their own pleasures, and if necessary, take care of their own orgasms. I gather that she has been conducting these seminars for a couple of decades and the audiences remain small despite advertising and occasional censure in the press. I read somewhere that she has volunteers on stage to show their vagina and demonstrate various techniques and implements for achieving orgasm. One of the displayed procedures is ‘fisting’ in which an entire hand is inserted in a vagina.
Long ago, when pterodactyls soared over the veld, before life went entirely to Hell with my first wife, we became briefly acquainted with a couple that was very involved in Tantra and the newly published Kama Sutra. This was in the era of the downward slide of Hippiedom. We were awash in those that had read a few pages of Siddhartha, Castaneda, the Whole Earth Catalog, the Mayan Astronauts, and the Apocalypse. All manner of young people were far too earnest about esoteric topics that they, in fact, knew nothing about. This was the beginning of the end of fact based citizen knowledge. Enthusiasm and opinion now rules, and this has led to the vast foolishness we see in today’s politics.
A major societal change has occurred in recent decades. The ‘Great Depression’ and WWII was a very difficult period for most citizens and the result was several generations of hard-living, hard-working, hard-headed skinflints. This time period, which extended up into the early 60’s has come to be viewed as the “Adversity Culture”. Within the Arts this led to a separation between the ordinary citizens and the few that were driven to participate in the Arts. That generation is now dying off and has been replaced by what has been described as “the Screw-around Culture” in which vast numbers of often overly sincere but none too competent individuals have wandered into the Arts.
Looking back, I suspect that this couple had some hopes of us as recruits and participants in their joyous nude temple celebrations. They were both art students and thus I was unable to avoid them entirely. Jan, my wife at the time, was already on the road to the far country of schizophrenia, although it seemed just creative poetic associations at the time. The sudden infusion of Tantric Yoga jargon was very wearing and disruptive on the home front. A couple of years later the Temple was headlines, it had been raided as a cult which was supposedly a front for prostitution and drug dealing. I have no idea what part was played by my acquaintances.
Christianity, Islam, and many other religions have long disdained the pleasures of the body. The indulgence in the pleasurable, particularly sex, has been considered sinful and not the path to enlightenment. There have been occasional contrary offshoots, but in general, among the staunch believers, sex has been basically for procreation. Backsliders, heathens, pagans and the hell-bound could indulge in guilty play, but the true believer was expected to attempt to maintain a level of uncontaminated purity. Ignorance of the possibilities can control urges. Relationships with no occasion of mutual orgasm can be created and maintained with purposeful ignorance.
While the Social Purity Movement was attempting to create proper thinking and restrained behavior through organic diet and exercise, there was parallel movement elsewhere in the world. One group in Russia took more drastic steps to free the believers of lust. The Skoptsy sect believed that castration would restore mankind to the pristine state that preceded the Original Sin in the Garden of Eden. Men would have their testicles removed and if that didn’t prove efficacious, they would have their penis cut off. Women would have mastectomies, and some had the labia removed. It is estimated that there were at least 100,000 members by 1900. The goal had been an enrollment of 144,000. That number would assure the arrival of the Messiah as promised in Rev. 14:1,4. The last adherents are believed to have died during WWII.
Locally there were a few commune settlements dedicated to a wide variety of experimental social orders. The Town of Home WA was originally a Biblical/socialist order founded in Eatonville that ultimately disintegrated due to divisions between the ‘Nudes & Prudes’. The ‘Nudes’ believed in free love and the ‘Prudes’ insisted on Biblically ordained procreation-only intercourse and restraint in intellectual interests. Elsewhere in America there were the Shakers, Mormons, Quakers, Unitarians, and hundreds of other sects. Some of these groups were exploring obscure Biblical interpretations, and others were attempting to redefine the ideas of personal freedom, equitable distribution of goods and services, equality between the sexes, the elimination of wage-slavery, and on and on. The crushing burden of capitalism and the oppressive requirement for labor in exchange for poverty and squalor was prompting revolutionary ideas and attempts to create a new and different reality.
We tend to think of the Great Depression as an American phenomena, but it was a worldwide collapse similar in many ways to our present ‘Recession’. WWI brought about great political and economic changes in Europe, the death of millions shattered many of the traditional political notions. The writings of Karl Marx and others supplied the intellectual ferment that led to the attempt to establish more perfect and just communist/socialist systems. Many of the most radical revolutionaries were women, and they insisted that the necessary changes revolved around the status of women. Often within the Capitalist system women are little more than property, slaves to men and treated abysmally.
Early in the revolutionary process questions arose regarding sexuality – were the people to be liberated to follow their urges in the new society or should the new society suppress freedom of physical expression in the interest of familial stability. By the late ‘20’s, despite considerable argumentation, the power of Stalin and Lenin established a repressive regime. Laws were enacted that attempted to define the role of sex as a service of society rather than sex as an expression of freedom within society. Was sexuality a savage and unruly freedom to be a stumbling block to the creation of the new world? Or was this vital animalistic force to be suppressed to avoid the commoditization of pleasure that might squander the energy required to create a more perfect society? In very short order the suppression of individuals triumphed.
In Maoist China the needs of the state clearly came before those of the individuals. A one child per marriage rule was enforced to control population growth. One unpredicted side effect was widespread abortions of girls. There is now a vast oversupply of men with no prospects of ever getting married. The one child program was originally to produce dramatically smaller families, and that worked, however it has also reduced the number of potential families. A similar circumstance has arisen in countries such as India where cheap and easy sex determination tests for babies has led to abortion of girl fetuses to avoid the necessity of the family preparing dowries to marry off the resulting adolescent girls. This social custom of dowries in many castes has made young men valuable and young women a liability, and now there is a huge mismatch between the numbers of young men and women. There are numerous cases of young women becoming prostitutes for a couple of years to earn their own dowry with family approval, and then having their hymen surgically restored to enable the young lady to become an eligible virgin for marriage.
Currently, in America – the home of the brave and land of the free – there are continual attempts at the suppression of information about sex. There are widespread attempts to prevent the presentation of even basic and minimal information regarding the biological facts of human intercourse. Additional information regarding the cultivation of pleasure is forbidden and thus the knowledge and techniques that may provide pleasure is left to the arena of uninformed amateur experimentation or pornography that is now amazingly available. Pornography is most often viewed by young men and is unfortunately primarily oriented towards male dominance. The lessons learned may lead to insensitive, abusive behavior and one-sided expectations.
Dan, the Tantra man, may be attempting to expand his sensual horizons. His girlfriend may benefit from his refined abilities. I gather that much of his past sexual education was from one-night stands with ladies acquired in hotel bars around the world. I don’t know him well and it is none of my business. I’m not about to inquire, but this absence of fact enables the creation of any scenario we can dream up. It is intriguing to consider that there could be a coherent and detailed educational opportunity to enrich understanding of the more blissful of life’s pleasures. An adult has an opportunity through the Tantric disciplines, but this is heavily infused with ‘wu’, and may be a form of activities related to prostitution rather than education.
The establishment of some form of sensual education or familiarization program would inevitably be problematic. Many parents would be reluctant to enroll their precious pubescent daughter or hormone-laden son in a sexual sensuality program, despite a batch of ‘wu’ woven into the curriculum. Commonly the hands-on aspect of sexuality is provided free in the backseat. The more out-going and energetic, the braver or the more desperate and least guilt-ridden, will figure out the basics. This casual ‘let-nature-take-its-course’ free-range, hunt-and-peck, ad hoc self-education can certainly lead to a lot of fun, and also a lot of anguish. One can proceed through life with nothing but the most basic of pleasures. For the most part that is what our peers and our ancestors have done. As individuals we are all a product of unskilled labor that has been mucking about in a huge experiment in random genetic dispersion since the first squiggles of life in the pond water. Enthusiasm and ignorance are the commonly essential elements for sexual activity.
We look back at the Hysteria diagnosis and treatment in the previous century, and we can be amused at their perspective, their flawed medical opinions, and the no-fun aspect of these stodgy stalwarts. We would like to congratulate ourselves on how much better informed and smarter and happier and fulfilled we are today in our enlightenment. With the passage of time we will also be looked upon as self-congratulatory fools. If the fervently religious become more prevalent, we will be seen as condemned to hell. Certainly in my disappearing generation, ignorance in sensual and sexual matters was near complete. No one told me anything. It was all a mystery. What little pornography I saw in the ‘50’s and early ‘60’s had the nipples, navels and body hair eliminated through photographic retouching. It can be assumed that my parents were told little or nothing, and certainly my parents told me nothing. As a result, I was unprepared to tell my children anything either. What could I tell them? I was far from certain about what I knew.
In the past 50 years or so, there has been some research into this aspect of human behavior. Kinsey and the team of Masters & Johnson made inquiries of common sexual practices, conducted tests, and attempted to define and refine aspects of behavior. Much of their research was published and publicly available, but not widely read or studied; it had little effect upon the standard cultural norms of the times. Women’s sexual response remains a mystery to most men, as best I can determine. Many men feel threatened by women that seem to be sexually independent. The men instinctively realize that they would be into uncharted territory because of their own ignorance and lack of meaningful experience.
Lynn Schirmer’s Clitoral Art Show was a bit of a revelation to the few who saw it. Certainly thought provoking for me as a member of a rapidly vanishing generation. Recently an article briefly described current research into female arousal. Meredith Chiver devised an experiment in which women were shown a wide variety of pornographic images. The women were equipped with a plethysmograph in the vagina to measure blood flow and moistness. This demonstrated a much wider range of responsiveness in most individuals than was personally admitted or commonly thought. A similar test for men revealed how limited their responses were. Women were generally significantly more responsive to a wider range of stimuli than men.
Recently a bit of web media sensation occurred regarding a young Polish lady, Ania Lewiska. She has publicly announced an attempt to establish a Guinness Book record by having sex with 100,000 men. This is not exactly prostitution because she is not charging for the 20 minute service, but expects the men to donate a bit to pay for the hotel rooms, transportation, and so on. She suddenly has a quite long subscriber list of men willing to assist her in this noble attempt. Unfortunately the Guinness Record organization has no category for sexual escapades. Quick research reveals that this accomplishment has been achieved by quite a variety of professional ‘soiled doves’. The Fokken twins of Amsterdam, now in their 60’s, estimate their client count to be in the range of 250,000 each, and one of them is still active.
We have many various cultures on the planet at the moment, and in the past many thousands of years there have been great differences in acceptable behavior – some probably unimaginable to our tiny brains and limited experience. Women have been subjugated and ruled over by men for reasons not all that obvious. Within these tribal and territorial groupings there have been some in which women played elaborate roles within the sexual realm. In others, such as current Fundamentalist Christian and Islamic cultures women are seriously repressed. Despite all reason or common sense they are treated like errant children, laborers, and slaves. In some branches of Islam, women are genitally mutilated to prevent them from experiencing sexual pleasure. Some are sold into child prostitution, or marriage far below childbearing age. The stoning of women considered adulteresses is still common, with no legal recourse. Many countries have customs that seem strange, perhaps unthinkable to us, as if we were right. From their point of view we are the strange and outrageous ones.
Technology has now entered the field of sexual possibilities, and ancient Bronze Age religions will find it difficult to maintain their long-standing beliefs. At present it is estimated that in wealthy countries about 1% of births are a result of in vitro fertilization – many couples evidently now prefer to select the child’s gender, race, hair color, and potential IQ or talents from sperm and/or egg donors. This is often coupled with ‘surrogate mothers’ bearing the child. How this technological feat is to be united with the religious notion of god’s will and bounty is yet to be determined. It is estimated that within 50 years 20% of births will be created through in vitro intervention. Vast numbers of birth defects are now detected and pregnancies terminated through everyday screening tests. The do-it-yourself aspect of breeding may rapidly become somewhat obsolete – if ‘parents’ have the money and inclination they can be assured of a higher quality child through science. Why would a ‘parent’ handicap their child by insisting that the couple whittle it out of their own flawed wood?
I suspect that many a woman presently looks at her children and wonders if they wouldn’t be significantly better creations had she been more discerning in the selection of mating material. With the divorce rate at over 50% and the birthrate of ‘bastards’ (children out of wedlock) also over 50%, many parents are saddled with a flock of children of mixed parentage. It must be often dismaying to realize that the genetics of the offspring are flawed to the extent that the children often display unfortunate characteristics of males long discarded due to those very flaws. In my own case there was long concern and now the reality that while little or no sign of mental disorders have developed, one of the kids is chronically suffering from the inherited problem of ileitis /colitis/Crohn’s Disease that is traceable back 150 years.
I have no idea what Great-great Aunt Edna would make of life as it is today. There is no one alive today to confirm or deny whatever her life may have been. Frankly, I also don’t know what to think about life today, or the past, or the future – should there happen to be one. We are all free to pretend that there is reason for optimism. We can be amazed at our very existence. There are numerous misfortunes that plague mankind, but we, the still upright, have momentarily eluded many of them. It won’t continue. There is no medicine for regrets. There’s nothing we can do about time. We await the inevitable erosion of the physical and the collapse of aspirations as we enter into the flatlands of the worn and aged. There is complete indifference to our losses by those still vibrantly living.