Sex and spirit: are there two topics that could be more interesting? From time to time, I’ll be using this blog to explore the dance between passion and transcendence, the place where bodies and spirits touch.
Not all sex happens within a relationship. While many men equate sex with love and intimacy, many other men do not. Men who make a distinction between sex and romantic love are looking for something else. For some it is simple pleasure or erotic relief. For others there is another quality to this part of their erotic selves – a sense of connection to an erotic tribe of gay men.
It’s Saturday night in Atlanta and Richard is on the prowl. He heads to his favorite dance club. His shirt comes off and before long he has worked up a sweat dancing to the driving beat of hot new music. The sensation of dancing alone in the crowd makes him feel united with something beyond himself, although he might have a hard time putting it into words. He feels alive and connected in a way that makes him high. He senses that he is part of this community of sexy, writhing men is important to him, even though he hasn’t spoken a word other than to order a drink during the first two hours of his night out. He feels sexy and alive in a primal way.
It’s well past midnight now and Richard drives off and heads downtown to his loft with William. The bass beat still makes his head pound – but that’s not the only part of him throbbing. The connection he felt on the dance floor echoes within him as he and William undress one another and explore each other’s bodies.
Tribes have certain rituals; members have ways of acknowledging one another. Some tribes are homogeneous, with everyone looking and behaving pretty much alike; other tribes make room for all sorts of members, so long as they go along with the rituals and rules. Gay tribes come in both flavors.
Miles away in New York, Mark is headed to a sex club he visits when he is in town. Once there he undresses and joins the other towel clad men walking the hallways. Sometimes there’s a nod or a smile or an exchange of pleasantries; more often there is only a quick glance. The music and smell of the place is familiar and exhilarating. To Mark it smells like sex.
After making the rounds and checking out who’s here, Mark heads to a dimly lit room where a circle of ten men stand. All are naked. They are pleasuring themselves, standing shoulder to shoulder and urging one another on. Mark finds himself wondering why is this so exciting, when none of these men is really his type. Maybe it’s being together with other men who are shameless and feeling the same thing. He begins to surrender to the building excitement.
Separating love and sex isn’t always good for you, of course. Sex can become compulsive, and looking for one sex partner after another can be a way of avoiding the challenges of intimate relationships. Continually being on the hunt can mean never simply allowing yourself to enjoy feeling content. And cruising for sex can be a problem if it serves as a way of distracting yourself from other problems in life that you would be better off addressing.
It’s too simplistic, though, to make the judgment that all men who have sex in tribal settings are avoiding one-on-one intimacy.
Ben is on a retreat at a ranch in the California wine country. At least once each year he comes here for a program that helps him to get more in touch with his spirituality and his sense of himself. If you ask him, though, he’ll freely admit that spending six days naked with three dozen other gay men is a big part of the experience for him. He enjoys the sense of camaraderie and he likes the touch. He’s been coming here long enough that the experience of driving up the mountain seems like entering a deeper spiritual dimension to him. For Ben, this place has become holy ground.
Connecting raising erotic energy with the sense of tribal bonding these men feel is a powerful experience – especially for those of us living in communities where we can feel isolated, or where we have outgrown our familial or cultural roots. This sense of connection isn’t something everyone encounters, but for those who do it can be an important experience.
Americans are optimists and have a long history of experimenting with utopian communities that haven’t worked out well. In the same way, it is important for men who connect with this tribal erotic energy to cultivate an ability to reflect on their experience. Take a look. Is connecting with the group a substitute for finding a deep relationship with one individual? Does the sense of tribal connection require everyone to act and look just the same, or are men of other races, looks, abilities and ages welcome? Is there an unhealthy pressure to conform? Will you be kicked out of this seeming paradise when you reach a certain age?
For men who are part of the erotic tribe, taking a look at safer sex practices is especially important. Is any sex that takes place safer sex? Is there a place for self-disclosure, or would saying to someone “We need to use a condom, I have HIV” be seen as odd? Allowing your sense of tribal connection with others to become an excuse for avoiding taking care of yourself or others with whom you connect is just another way of being in denial.
Sexual self-expression in all its glory is something our gay male community has traditionally valued. Take time to stay conscious about your choices and the events in which you take part and celebrate your life.