On Sexual Healing and the Ethical Uses of Power

Sexuality has been repressed around our world, in so many different ways, for millennia. How lucky we are to be living in a time in which many different teachers, schools of thought, and techniques for sexual healing, empowerment and liberation are being brought to the fore and gaining mainstream traction.

Yet I can list, so easily, the different communities I have been involved in or adjacent to in which prominent teachers and leaders exploited their students and clients and crossed ethical and sexual lines that should not be crossed. In many cases, the transgressions and abuse were emotional and financial as well, leaving long-lasting reverberations of trauma and betrayal that have seriously harmed people, ripped apart communities of seekers, and further muddied the already troubled waters of our culture of sexual mistrust.

Over and over, in witnessing such cases, we ask ourselves: how could this happen? Here are a few thoughts I’d like to offer on the subject:

As soon as we enter the terrain of sexuality, which is a place of disempowerment and repression for so many people (just like spirituality), we are automatically dealing with issues of power: on both sides of the client/practitioner or teacher/student relationship.

The truth is, being a skilled sex educator or sexual healer DOES NOT MEAN that you’ve investigated your own relationship to power, looked at your privilege, or worked to understand your blind spots. Same goes for spiritual leaders and the incredible amount of abuse that occurs in spiritual communities. Technical skill/capacity as a healer or teacher is one thing — the psychological development, and the practical structures, to wield power ethically is another.

Furthermore, many people who do sexuality work are doing it outside the institutions/structure of psychology, mental health and licensure because we don’t have mainstream institutions that address sexuality in integral and non-pathologizing ways. (And many of these institutions have played BIG roles in repressing and pathologizing sexuality to begin with!) There are many fantastic practitioners doing work outside the formal licensure structure, but we also have to swim in waters that lack formal codes of ethics and structures of accountability. This allows a lot of abuse and problematic behavior to happen under the radar or to be swept under the rug.

Another issue is that a lot of people come to the world of sexuality really hungry for new information and “quick fixes.” They come in with their own trauma and disempowerment history and are so happy and excited to find a place where sexuality is finally talked about and honored and celebrated! They find a school or teacher that offers good and helpful techniques — maybe they learn sexual skills, energetic sex, pleasure techniques and so on, which do address real issues and help stuck energy to move. They feel more vibrant, they release some shame, they liberate more life force and they applaud the techniques and the teachers.

But maybe this is also occurring within hierarchical top-down institutions in which the teachers have little to no supervision or accountability. Maybe the teachers thrive on being powerful leaders/being the person in charge who can head great movements and create cultural change, and have let the praise and adulation they receive become major ego fuel. Maybe one or more of the people at the top are actually narcissistic or character disordered (and remember, people like that tend to rise to the top because they are charismatic and unscrupulous!). Sooner or later, these issues are going to come out, and I am sad to say I have seen quite a few people get sold down the river.

One thing I have noticed in the years I have been working in sexuality, healing and personal development is that I can feel very quickly in my body when something is weird or fucked up, but I am amazingly skilled at rationalizing, dismissing or justifying it. At 29, I am privileged to be a young practitioner who has gotten to learn from some great teachers, and I have also been through several heartbreaking rounds of being in communities where authority figures have taken advantage of and harmed people. I hope to see many other people in the fields of sexuality and spirituality continually investigating and refining their own relationship to power and the structures that we collectively create.

This is also so, so complicated by the fact that we are trying to create these structures within capitalism, which brings in the need to make money (=urgency and scarcity). That’s a whole other essay unto itself.

This is long, so let me just say: Our enthusiasm for sexual freedom and liberation needs to exist alongside a piercing inquiry into how we have internalized patriarchy, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia. How we’ve internalized abusive messages about ALL kinds of power, and how we enact them unknowingly.

Our study of sexual energetic mastery needs to be tempered by a very nuanced understanding of consent and its complexities.

We need to be very vigilant, in creating enterprises around sexual liberation and healing, to address how bringing money into this ups the potential for urgency, scarcity and manipulation — how business is a whole different skillset.

In conclusion: sexuality practitioners and spiritual teachers hold an extremely high level of responsibility for looking at their own relationship to power, continually looking into their blind spots, educating themselves about existing power structures and their potential for misuse — and building in structures of accountability and supervision to keep their relationships clean. I am speaking of client/practitioner relationships and teacher/student relationships as well as other kinds of relationships within teams, organizations and institutions that aim to improve humanity’s lot.

Our vision for an enlightened society needs to be grounded in a firm understanding of oppression, of power in its ethical and unethical forms. There is no transcending this. We begin to address these issues, not through ascension into higher realms, but in addressing power and our own humanity in their ancient and modern complexity and messiness.