I was born and raised in the South Bronx, an area of New York that was pretty rough in the 1970s. Later we moved to a more peaceful neighborhood, and I went to Catholic school. It wasn't a childhood conducive to helping me understand I was gay. When I went away to the military, I still didn’t really know what my sexuality was. I had plenty of girlfriends and got married to a woman.
Both before joining the military and during my four years in the service, I traveled throughout Europe. I noticed how differently Europeans approach the body.. At a nude beach in Germany, I saw how casually families treated each other's naked bodies, compared to the close-mindedness of my youth. As an adolescent boy, I was terrified for anyone to see me naked, but these German kids were running around and enjoying themselves within their family structure. When I asked people about it, they said that if your body isn't sexualized as you're growing up, then you tend to respect other people more, whether it's a woman or a man, a partner or not a partner.
By the time I returned to New York, I had realized I was gay, but I wasn't ready to be out. I went to college in Puerto Rico, where I was able to come out in a limited sense. Then I came back to the States to do my first master's degree in social work, in order to become a psychotherapist. By this point, in my early 40s, I was fully out and embracing my identity in a series of long-term relationships with men.
One of my friends from my graduate program was a very open woman who invited me to meet with people who practiced Orgasmic Meditation. It was a stimulating encounter because it took me out of my comfort zone. They would talk about intimacy and ask me about myself, and I felt out of control. Even though I was embarrassed, their casual, interested response made me feel it was okay to not be in control. There was also a sense of camaraderie because we were all there talking about topics that aren't usually discussed in public.
I was already involved with Zen meditation, so when OM was described to me, I was drawn to the meditation aspect. As a gay man, I wasn't turned on by the idea of stroking a clitoris, but it seemed like it could be a powerful form of meditation.
For the first few OMs, I was mainly focused on learning how to stroke. Some women were expressive and would ask for a lot of adjustments to my strokes, which gave me helpful guidance. It was more frustrating when the strokee didn't give me feedback, so I didn't know if I was on the right spot or giving the right amount of pressure. As a meditator, I was accustomed to maintaining mindfulness of whatever I was doing, moment to moment. In OM, that awareness extends to the partner and noticing how her body is responding. I learned to distinguish between different movements and sounds so I could intuit what the strokee needed, often without having to be told.
That skill translated to other situations in my life in which I had to make major decisions. While I was in a private practice in psychotherapy, I had an intuition to go back to college and get a second Masters degree. Based on that training, I was able to open up a successful therapy business, hiring several employees. Last year, my intuition said I needed to get out of the sticks-and-bricks, apartment-dweller lifestyle. I sold everything and bought an RV. Now, I'm traveling the US, still running my company from the road.
One of my roles in an OM was to make the strokee feel safe enough to open up to her sensations. Some women would be so anxious, they couldn't relax. I learned to take responsibility for the OM container, which lays out steps and rules that I follow closely. I set up the nest of pillows, provide the towel and gloves. Some women cry when they get to a point of opening, and others have intensely joyous experiences. I want to make sure they feel comfortable expressing whatever it is that they feel.
I can create a similar kind of container in my therapy sessions. If my client is anxious, I don't necessarily try to stop them from feeling anxious; but if I provide the proper container, they can feel safe enough to express themselves freely. We can both let down our barriers and find a way to connect. My understanding of a safe container was informed by my OM practice.