Psychotherapy meets erotic massage

Posted by Caroline Bobby, Thursday 1st January, 2015

My answer to that question we often ask one another, so what is it that you do, has grown longer over time. It’s this: I am a psychotherapist, an erotic masseuse, a bespoke caterer and a writer. It is the journey from the first to the second and the nature of the space in between that I write of here.

It has not been easy to precisely name my erotic work. I am indeed an erotic masseuse and yet that doesn’t say what I do. I use the word Tantra because I have done a lot of tantric exploration and training and it is a big part of what informs my erotic practice. And, I wouldn’t say in the most orthodox sense that I am offering Tantra. So, I am still looking for a nice, tight encompassing heading, a word that says I am a this or a that.

5 years ago I had a vision of myself offering sensual pleasures within a therapeutic and relational setting. Of course it didn’t come out of nowhere. I am deeply interested in human sexuality as a doorway to being as alive and connected to ourselves, each other and life itself, as we can dare and bear to be. I am preoccupied with intimacy, both our capacity and longing for it, and paradoxically, our complex resistances to it. My own, very personal interpretation of Tantra, is that being alive in all it’s prosaic and sublime narratives, is a sensual business. In other words, that life is sexy because feeling alive is sexy.

My vision arose in the context of my experience and interests. It was very clear. It was simple and direct. My mind resisted. In a nutshell I feared judgment and wondered if I were acting something out. I had shocked myself, not morally, but rather with the clarity and impetus of the idea. It wouldn’t go away or lie down or give up. It was a call of the heart and in the end I trusted it because I couldn’t not.

Differences & Similarities

It was, nevertheless, a very considered leap of faith. There is a coherent thread that runs between my identity and experience as a psychotherapist, and my newer, parallel erotic work. In some sense I feel it as essentially the same work. When I tried thinking of it in terms of being either naked or clothed ‘therapy’ I realized that nakedness is not for me, defined by the wearing, or not, of clothes. It reminded me of struggling, earlier in my career with the lines between mind and body therapies. Without wishing to be simplistic, I see all therapy as bodywork. Even if the structure of the therapy is to sit in two chairs and use a verbal language with no physical contact, we are located inside the physicality of our human body at all times. In that vein, I understand that the shape and form of a therapeutic relationship, across different modalities, will involve nakedness, also known as vulnerability and the core currency of intimacy.

So, maybe it’s all bodywork and all naked therapy? If I consider the underlying hungers and needs that bring people to see me for both kinds of appointment, they are often the same. Of course, many different life situations and events send people to psychotherapists. It’s often a crisis, a loss or a shock, and all those unique experiences can be more or less helpfully worked with and through, in a competent and safe psychotherapy. And while it is not usually such an obvious sense of crisis that sends people out in search of an erotic massage, if we look at what’s running beneath the content and narrative, it is often what makes us most human, that we find there. Whatever kind of story we are bringing, we need to be received and welcomed. Whatever pain we may be in, or pleasure we may be seeking, we need to be received and welcomed. It is simple, and it is not always so easy to allow or to find.

As a psychotherapist over nearly 2 decades, and because of my own narrative of unwelcome and loss, I have learned slowly but surely, how to make myself and others welcome in a real and felt way. And when I talk of welcoming like this, I don’t mean anything perfunctory or conditional. I am not talking of social intercourse or etiquette. I mean welcome, however and wherever you find yourself: full of love, murderous, lost, found, desperate, joyous, insatiable, silent, ambivalent…

If this is the basic ground of the therapeutic relationship, the structure and form of a therapy, and it is for me, then it isn’t as radical as some might think, that I find myself building a parallel practice and working with the libidinal heart like this.

As we live in a culture where women are perceived as more in need of emotional discourse and men are more driven by sex, it is to be expected that more women come to see me for psychotherapy and more men for an erotic massage. There is an erotic market place, a chaotic sex industry that almost exclusively caters to men. And I believe, mostly offers services, which while being diverse, and pitched at every imaginable appetite, largely ignore the human heart.

I have no doubt about the direct link between our hungry genitals and the fiercest longings of our hearts. And as someone always curious about how things get split off and separated, it seems clear how estranged sex and spirit have become. In some of our healing communities and therapies, I think the shadow to understanding this point, is to focus on a kind of ascendancy rather than embodiment. I am learning that the only way (for me) to enlightenment/grace/freedom… whatever names we give to that which we seek, is through the very substance of my physical, human body. At a critical moment in my life, and in the face of a huge loss, I found myself on a 5 Rhythms dance floor for the first time. I heard these utterly simple words: welcome and just keep going. Certainly words said to me before by teachers, healers and friends, but this was the first time I had received them in my body. It was a transformational moment and one I recognize as changing the direction of my work.

It is paradoxical at this moment in our human history, with sexuality more explicit and available than ever before, that finding touch can be so illusive. I find I have a little talent and/or vocation, for giving pleasure that is grounded in intimacy. Perhaps the most astonishing revelation that helps me do this in the flow of compassion and tenderness, has been to grasp how truly exquisite and erotic our vulnerability is. How human we are when we are naked. How sexy it can be to show up face to face, just like this. People, mostly men for now, come and see me because they ache to be received and pleasured, not mechanistically handled. It doesn’t seem to matter whether someone can articulate this or not. It is always true.

Talking more

I know I have moved myself out of the mainstream and into the margins of my original profession, through the decisions I’ve made and direction taken over recent years. Maybe some from the psychotherapeutic tradition would have me for breakfast, just as I might have had the author of this article for breakfast, if I’d read it ten years ago. And although sometimes I miss myself there, and as I realign and find my place in what isn’t quite this and isn’t quite that, I sometimes feel a touch lonely, this is where I am. This is where I find myself, and feel myself, quietly doing my work and breathing in and breathing out.

I am a passionate advocate for more meeting and talking between tradition, orthodoxy and… well, I can’t deftly find a word that fosters co-existence. I know it’s a split I’d like to put my back into countering. It would be far too easy for traditional psychotherapies to take a same kind of attitude as traditional medicine often does to the alternatives. It is far tougher to meet across diversity, difference and all manor of judgments, without letting that define the nature of the dialogue. And, I reckon, much more satisfying. I’d love to think that in the not too distant future, the sexual therapy that I and others like me practice, could be a part of multi-disciplinary team work, in say, the NHS or Voluntary Sector. Magical thinking?

© 2013 Caroline Bobby

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Caroline Bobby

Psychotherapist

Caroline trained in psychotherapy, initially at The Psychosynthesis & Education Trust, and later at The Tavistock & Portman Trust. She has a background in Addiction Services and over the last 14 years, has worked exclusively in private practice. She also runs groups and offers support to other practitioners.

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