Reading the July 1999 issue, I couldn’t help but think how hung up people are about carnal knowledge, and how sad it is that some Sun readers see honest writing about sex in a negative way. It reminded me of a quote from Marlene Dietrich: “Sex: In America, an obsession. In other parts of the world, a fact.”
I imagine you’ll receive quite a few letters about David Guy’s “The Beautiful Woman and the Fear of God.” I enjoyed it as a fine example of one man’s disillusionment with Western religious thought and his embrace of Eastern philosophy.
I am sorry that you chose to publish “The Beautiful Woman and the Fear of God.” I found it to be self-absorbed, sophomoric, and rather tasteless.
I have been an enthusiastic and loyal reader of The Sun for many years. Recently, I encouraged my son and daughter-in-law to subscribe. Now I am afraid this will be their first issue, and they will think their mom an enthusiast of pornography.
On Saturday, I spent a lovely, lazy day floating down a trout stream near my home at the foot of Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. Overhead, I saw yellow-headed blackbirds, scarlet tanagers, brown pelicans, red flickers, and a half dozen other species of birds. Beneath the boat, I saw hundreds of brown trout darting and weaving.
When I got home, I climbed into a bath with a bowl of cherries and my first issue of The Sun. I opened to David Guy’s essay, and as I read I kept thinking, I know what this man is talking about. I, too, have been an explorer in the world of sacred sexuality. Like Guy, I became lost in the darker maze of sexual addiction. When I emerged, however, I found healing not in meditation but in walking on the land. This is where the energy comes to me most readily. I have been celibate by choice for three years. Sometimes I think of myself as an uncloistered nun, a modern-day mystic in a convent on the edge of the wilderness.
When I finished with my bath, I felt charged with the power of Guy’s words, which articulated the mystery so well. I lay on my bed, and the universe came to me. My body responded as it would to a sweet, gentle lover. The energy invited me to swim in it, and I did, floating, pulsing, electrified, while brown trout and bright yellow birds wheeled before my eyes.
I’m glad David Guy “learned more about sex on a meditation cushion than . . . in a whorehouse.” What’s unfortunate is that he ever went to a whorehouse at all. While he calls some of his experiences as a john “deeply satisfying,” there seems to be no consideration for the women involved. The dehumanizing and spiritually degrading effects of prostitution have been widely documented, yet I sense no remorse on Guy’s part, despite his spiritual rebirth. Nor do I sense any real progress in the areas of intimacy, connection, and the sharing of pleasure with a woman. Instead, to use W. H. Auden’s phrase, Guy comes off like a “leper selling his sores at market,” the unhappy beneficiary of his voracious libido (“I did just about everything I’d imagined”), until his saving glory, that hip yuppie trend Buddhism, enters his life.
Guy’s piece made me think of Eric Bogosian’s one-man show Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll — specifically, one of Bogosian’s characters, an aging rock singer in recovery who tells his audience not to do what he did: basically, have sex and snort coke all the time. “It was awful,” the singer laments. Bogosian skewers the hypocrisy inherent in such a message. Guy, on the other hand, implies with a straight face that we men should learn from his experiences and not let our phalluses do the thinking the way he did. Yeah, right. For someone with so much “awareness,” his blind spot seems pretty big.
David Guy responds:
Ira Shull may feel that “the dehumanizing and spiritually degrading effects of prostitution have been widely documented,” but in The Red Thread of Passion: Spirituality and the Paradox of Sex, the book from which this chapter was excerpted, I profile Carol Queen, a woman who worked as a prostitute and didn’t find it degrading in the least. Queen, along with four other sexual healers I profile, sees herself as working in the tradition of sacred prostitutes, for whom sex work is part of a spiritual path. Queen and other women write eloquently of their work in Women of the Light: The New Sexual Healers, edited by Kenneth Ray Stubbs.
Certainly, some women are exploited in prostitution — and in many other lines of work — but other women (and men) choose that work and enjoy it. Shull may not “sense” any consideration for the women on my part. (Was I supposed to say I was considerate?) And I don’t know how he feels qualified to judge my “progress in the areas of intimacy, connection, and the sharing of pleasure.” But he’s right that I don’t feel remorse. Going to massage parlors was something I needed to do at the time, and I learned from it. It wasn’t a bad experience.
Shull seems to want me to beat my breast and lament my sinfulness, but that’s not the kind of religion that interests me. Fortunately, that “hip Yuppie trend Buddhism” — actually a tradition that has been around for twenty-five hundred years — doesn’t ask me to.
If you will permit a response to David Guy’s response to Ira Shull [Correspondence, October 1999], I would like to propose another point of view on sex workers.
Like Guy, I would like to see these workers as proud women with a gift for sensuality, as sacred women: This is their path, their craft. They do it well. But let’s also see these women as hungry. Let’s see them as neglected. Let’s say they have children and not enough money, and are trapped in a poverty mentality. Let’s say that no matter how much someone looks at them, touches them, tells them they are beautiful, it will not be enough to make them feel loved, to make them realize their true worth. Let’s say they are all addicted to something, just like the rest of us. Let’s say that their work is not spiritual all the time, but often just a way to get money.
And let’s also say that they were six-year-old girls once. Let’s say they ate cinnamon toast. Let’s say they lost their first teeth when they were seven. Let’s say, when they were eight, they took their friends to the skating rink for a birthday party, and each of them got a package of M&M’s, which melted in their pockets by the end of the day. Let’s say these women have mothers, and their mothers have shoe boxes filled with crayon drawings of trees and smiling suns. Let’s say these women were not always naked, but were once twelve-year-olds who read C. S. Lewis stories on their back porches, who got A’s and B’s on their geometry finals.
Let’s say all of this is true. Let’s widen our view of these women beyond their bodies, beyond the fifteen-inch screen, beyond even “the red thread of passion.” Because for all of us humans, there are many threads.
Give in to the temptation. We love getting mail.
(Of course, we reserve the right to edit.)