• “Will we ever feel ecstatic again?” A message for Solstice.

    I’ve got a feeling, that keeps me on my toes
    I’ve got a feeling, I think that everybody knows

    Everybody had a hard year
    Everybody had a good time
    Everybody had a wet dream
    Everybody saw the sunshine

    Everybody had a good year
    Everybody let their hair down
    Everybody pulled their socks up
    Everybody put their foot down

    I’ve got a feeling…I’ve got a feeling…

    ~John Lennon & Paul McCartney

    These lyrics are really resonating with me this holiday season. I definitely have a feeling. I’ve got lots of feelings. I’ll bet you do, too. Here we are, at Solstice and Yule, feeling like we’re pedaling backward into the Covid pandemic.

    The other day my beloved asked me, “Will we ever be happy again?” That question stopped me in my tracks. Really, it felt like a dagger through the heart.

    Yeah, the two of us have had a hard year—a flood, a move from hell, health issues. But all through it, we’ve been saying, “We are so lucky. Others have had it so much worse.” And it’s true. But what we have been ignoring when we say that, are two years’ worth of micro-losses. Countless lost visits with family and friends, canceled holiday plans, no trips to the theatre, no travel, no in-person professional meetups, no in-person workshops. Not to mention the deaths of several friends and family members who had no funerals. The list of pandemic-related losses goes on and on…

    As you know, helping people create ecstatic experiences is the essence of my life’s work. The very nature of ecstasy is the intensity of seemingly opposing emotions occurring simultaneously to produce expansion, transformation and pleasure. But how can we possibly find ecstasy in the midst of endless, grinding micro- (and sometimes macro-) losses and all the accumulated grief they bring?

    I decided to try a simple experiment. What if I could focus on micro-joys? A few tiny moments per day when I could create delight for myself? I tried but at first, it didn’t work so well. I realized that I could not find joy unless I could also acknowledge and honor the amount of grief I was feeling. So, me and my grief went out for a walk, looking to see if something joyful would join us.

    I started locally and small. Joy was surprisingly easy to find. There was the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony my new neighbors held as they trimmed a tree decorated with kid-made ornaments on the corner. Down the street at a Christmas tree stand, I pass when I walk my dogs, there is a persistent and delicious smell of pine and fir that I love. Just two blocks from our new home is a pub with the most delicious food, the friendliest people, and the most beautiful holiday decorations. With a few conscious breaths, focused attention, and intent, I am able to turn everyday pleasantries like these into micro joys. Just as the micro-losses have led to real grief, I can feel the micro-joys leading me back to real ecstasy.

    This holiday season I invite you to grieve your losses—they are real and not to be measured as “less than” by some arbitrary standard—and to find delights in what remains. It’s not hard. The world is still a wondrous place. But it does take intention. Do you have an exercise routine? A meditation practice? Some other regular practice that brings you health and well-being? The micro-joy process is like that. It can bring you peace, joy, and delight in a holiday season that could otherwise be dominated by fear, loss, and bad news.

    You can do it. I know you can.

    Wishing you delightful moments of micro-ecstasies this holiday season.

    Love,
    Barbara

    P.S. To answer your questions about Urban Tantra Workshops in 2022:

    The only in-person workshops I’ve got planned thus far are the two Urban Tantra Professional Training Programs: April in upstate New York, and October in the U.K. We held a super-successful UTPTP this past September. We were able to do the weeklong training safely by making group agreements about health protocols based upon the science available at the time. We will make similar agreements (which always include the possibility of postponement) based upon the conditions at the time of each program. Safety is, as always, our first priority.

    I will be holding virtual Urban Tantra workshops which are in the scheduling process now. I’ll keep you posted on dates and times.

  • IMsLBB 2019 Keynote

    This is the keynote address I gave at the 2019 International Ms Leather/Bootblack weekend, 11 – 14 April 2019.

    I’d like to begin by acknowledging that we are standing on the ancestral lands of the Ohlone and Tamyen people. I want to pay respects to their elders past and present. Please take a moment to consider the many legacies of violence, displacement, migration, and settlement that bring us together here today.

    I noticed something recently. Perhaps you’ve noticed it, too. I’ve noticed that with the exception of in this hotel this weekend, that it’s gotten difficult to start a conversation about sex with good news. I realized that the highlights of my TV binge watching this winter featured 6 hours about R Kelly terrorizing young black women, and 2 hours about the emotional agony of two brave young men as they tried to reconcile the love and loyalty they had to Michael Jackson, the artist, with the betrayal they felt by Michael Jackson, the pedophile. And of course all that was preceded in the fall by the televised shitshow of another privileged white male supreme court nominee ducking responsibility for sexual misconduct. And if the video media wasn’t enough, I realized that a really high percentage of my reading list was filled with articles and emails from my students and colleagues on the international devastation being wrought by SESTA/FOSTA. A supposedly anti-sex-trafficking bill sloppily drafted with no input whatsoever from the sex workers whose lives would be irreparably harmed by it’s enforcement.

    But this goes beyond media. I spent a fair portion of the past year in support of numerous traumatized survivors of a sexual predator within my own Urban Tantra community. I spent hours in closed online support groups and video meetings with attorneys, therapists, event producers, and of course the survivors themselves. Some nights I would crawl out of my office shaking and in tears, and ask Kate, “Is all this really my job?” And Kate, who is usually the first one to tell me to stop working and rest, would say, “This is your most important job.” I knew she was right. But I wondered, what happened to the Pleasure? Where is the love, the ecstasy, the connection, the yum?

    I did not realize how out of balance I’d gotten till a friend of mine was astounded that I had not yet even heard of, much less seen the British documentary 100 Vaginas. [Google it.]  I was shocked that I was among the last, instead of one of the first to see this phenomenally beautiful, radically honest film about female pleasure, power and beauty. How long had it been since I’d watched an affirmative, sex positive, shame healing and erotically uplifting film? I was profoundly shocked and sad to think that I’d let the soundtrack of my life become abuse and assault instead of pleasure, and love.

    All of this was leaving me with a feeling of deja vu. I had flashbacks to the AIDS epidemic 30 years ago. Back then the meme was SEX = DEATH. Today, it’s SEX = ABUSE, SEX = ASSAULT, SEX = TRAUMA.

    So I took a breath and said, okay, so what had I learned 30 years ago that could be applied to today. 1) This is not really about the sex. In the 1980’s the issue was most definitely really about the death—hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by an illness which was caused by the AIDS virus. And okay, it was a bit about the sex—-those deaths were also caused by the refusal of government and institutional leaders to respond in a timely manner because the illness was sexually transmitted and affecting primarily gay men.

    Today as well, it’s not all about the sex. Sexual assault and abuse are not about the sex. They are about power. And control. And systemized misogyny. Sexual violence has been the most effective way of wielding that power, exerting that control, and reminding people with less power just who’s in charge here.

    In the 80’s many if not most of the people I knew stopped having sex, because sex was a potentially life-threatening activity. Yet, not having sex was really not making anyone feel any safer. Or any healthier or any happier. It was obvious to me (and my erotic co-conspirators Annie Sprinkle and Joseph Kramer) that not only was repressing sex not any kind of permanent solution, it was also a waste of an opportunity. The sexual revolution of the 1970’s was in fact the celebration of gay liberation. The sex was wild, frequent, and often enhanced with drugs. When we were truthful with each other, many of us had explored this particular style of sex to such excess that we were ready to do sex differently. To do that, we had to imagine sex differently. Before we could change our behavior we needed to change our minds about what sex was, and what we wanted from it. In my circles, we wanted emotional and physical healing, we wanted true intimate connection with partners, we wanted a spiritual connection—a connection to something greater than ourselves, and yes, we still wanted mind-blowing orgasms. When we could name what we wanted—name our desires—name our big YESes, we put ourselves on the path to fulfilling them.

    The past couple of years seem to offer another loud and insistent invitation to do sex differently. And once again, that involves a change of consciousness. It involves being more thoughtful, more prepared, and more willing and more practiced at having conversations about consent. This is a good thing. It’s not always an easy thing. Our intention is for consensual sex to be as natural and easy as practicing good manners.

    We in the leather community are good at this. We have to be good at this. Whether you subscribe to safe sane and consensual, or risk aware consensual kink, we understand that consent is the first step in getting our wild, passionate, deep, sacred, groove on. We know the difference between enthusiasm and encouragement, vs. manipulation and coercion. We know what altered states of erotic consciousness can do to peoples’ desires and how to manage that.

    We take risks. Intentionally. We’ve learned by trial and error the level of risk that produces the best sex and the best play for us. When something goes wrong we stop. We fix it. We apologize. We make amends. We do what we need to do to move into more pleasure.

    And this is the key—it’s about the pleasure. The new meme can be SEX = PLEASURE. I believe that the leather community—and particularly this leather community can help turn this ship of sex around—away from abuse and toward pleasure. A whole lot of people in this room have known some kind of abuse and thank goddess we are part of a community that knows how to hold us as we heal so that we can return to the pleasure we were seeking in the first place. We know how to do this stuff. We can be of service as leaders for people who are finding this hard.

    It’s difficult for people to change a lifetime of habits about how they do something. It can be exhausting and confusing and frustrating. And rightly so. When people begin to upend a system that has been upside down for so long it’s hard for them to know what right side up feels like. So they make mistakes. They often over correct, making something like safer sex (in the 80s) and consent (today) so tedious that people wind up more angry and frustrated than turned on. All of this is a normal part of the process. This is the stage we’re at now. It will go on for a while longer. However, I think we can help insure that the temporary over-corrections don’t become the permanent new normal.

    When all our focus is on preventing something bad from happening, we have forgotten the point of why we are practicing safer sex, or getting consent in the first place. We are living in a time when entire cultures at home and abroad are being driven solely by NO—opposition to what they don’t want. No is important. Learning to hear and understand NO is important. But what about our YES? Yes to pleasure, yes to intimacy, yes to surrender, to spiritual realization or whatever your deep ecstatic YES is. We do not have to sacrifice our deep, erotic, ecstatic YESes to achieve consent. Quite the opposite. We need to prioritize them.

    It all comes back to intention. What is our intention? Why do you do sex? What’s the big payoff—the reason why some of us have spent weeks or months organizing the scenes that are happening here this weekend? Clearly you have some pretty intense commitments to your orgasmic YESes. The world needs you now.

    What the world needs is practice at identifying its individual and collective orgasmic YESes and then using all our skills to make those YESes happen.

    The world need to understand that hard limits are not the focus of the journey. Hard limits are simply the things we avoid crashing into so that we can happily and safely arrive at the ecstatic. 

    The world need to understand nuance and the hierarchy of harm. As we know, all mistakes, miscalculations and fuck-ups are not created equal and should not be responded to equally. Some people simply need better mentoring by a more experienced top. Others require a jail sentence. We can help people learn the difference.

    The world needs to understand that pleasure—not just trauma—requires aftercare. Aftercare is that sweet space where you get to integrate your ecstatic experience. The time when you can let it sink in and notice how you’re a little bit or a lot transformed by the pleasure. We will all have found our balance again when people can spend twice as much time savoring their pleasure as they did negotiating the agreement that led to that pleasure.

    Our brains are wired to alert us to danger. This ancient wiring keeps potential threats and tragedies up front in our awareness as a survival mechanism. However, our present and future reality is shaped by our desires and our pleasures. You can’t repress pleasure, yet expect liberation, satisfaction and joy.

    Is there an enthusiastic, orgasmic YES at the center of our work? Hell yes there is. This is a community that was built on YES, that thrives on YES. We are a community who knows how to teach YES to generations coming up behind us. We can get out into the world and remind people—especially college-age people—that safety and consent are so important, but on the pleasure scale, safety for it’s own sake is a very low bar. Pleasure is so much bigger than that. And pleasure is power.

    What would we all be doing with our time and energy if we all made decisions based on a feeling of deep orgasmic erotic YES?

    How would we organize and support our communities if we shifted our focus to what we long for and love rather than what we hate?

    How many times have I heard a sex and pleasure positive person say “The reason sex is so feared by the establishment is that they know how powerful it is, and how impossible it would be to control a truly sexually empowered group of people.” I ask you then—why are we not using our superpowers?

    Yes, being a out and proud sex and pleasure positive person can be scary right now. It’s kind of like taking a night stroll in Coober Pedy. Coober Pedy is an opal mining town in the Australian outback. You might remember it from the movie Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Anyway, the mining laws are kinda loose in Coober Pedy. You can pretty much drill straight down for many feet anywhere you want and when you’re done, you just pop a little warning flag next to hole and the pile of dirt you’ve dug out and walk away. There are signs all over Coober Pedy that warn you that even a moment of inattention to where you’re walking could land you at the bottom of one of these mines. That’s kinda what it’s like talking about sex from a sex positive, pleasure activist point of view these days.

    People are highly sensitized and reactive. There are generational divides and all sorts of opinions among different communities on how to name and deal with past sexual conduct, and what the protocol should be moving forward.

    It’s important to remember that although it might seem to look like these arguments among well meaning people are solely about harm reduction, the bottom line is that people are just trying to get back to being able to have some fun, some pleasure and some hot sex.

    What’s your specific superpower? How can you use it to guide people back to pleasure? In your leather life? In the other lives you lead?

    As Sharrin said on Friday night, all acts of sex and pleasure in these times are political acts—revolutionary acts. How can you serve the sex and pleasure revolution? How can you—as Toni Cade Bambara said—make the revolution irresistible?

  • Catherine Carter: 7 November 1961 – 8 April 2019: A Tribute

    I am celebrating the life of my dear friend and original Urban Tantra co-conspirator, Catherine Carter, who died of a brain tumor on 8 April after living a huge, love-filled life and an equally huge, love-filled death, surround by countless expressions of love and devotion from near and far.

    Cath was one of the founders of Urban Tantra. Hayley Caspers brought her onto the team back in the early 90’s when the team was just Chester Mainard, Hayley and me. Yamini, Cyndi Darnell and Jenny Navarro joined soon after and we became family—bonded by a love of transcendent, grounded, sacred silliness, and a willingness to show up everywhere and anywhere a group might gather to join us in our mad, passionate quest to know the secrets that revealed themselves in the throes of erotic trance.

    Cath was the bedrock of our support system. Cath was there when a dozen massage tables had to be schlepped across Australia and set up on a day’s notice. She was there to lead the sweep up after a weekend of people flinging cornflour all over each other. She was there at stupid o’clock in the morning or in the middle of the night when a participant needed support processing a suddenly triggered trauma or a life-altering revelation. She was there to listen and advise Chester and me in the midst of an intensive workshop when we were so far out on a limb that we couldn’t find our way out of the trees. She was there to channel the rage and grief of the Maori ancestors after the Tasmanian massacre. She was always there. Solid, strong, shining.

    Cath was there when I wanted to spend my 50th birthday retracing the steps of the queens of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Cath, Hayley, Kate and I drove 2,730 km from Adelaide to Alice Springs in a camper van decorated by Cath with boas and glitter and goddesses, stopping each night to celebrate the great Australian night sky (and be gifted with one of Cath’s brilliant astrology readings,) and waking each morning to a birthday ritual that Cath had prepared especially for me.

    Today I celebrate with tears and joy the reunion of Catherine Carter with her soulmate, Chester Mainard. They were such twin flames that it doesn’t even surprise me all that much that they both died of the same cancer (glioblastomas), twelve years apart. Their relationship sometimes confused them, but it was never confusing to those of us who knew and loved them. They were twin spirits. My theory is that they were one soul energy that divided into two for this past incarnation. They were born on opposite sides of the world but with one intention—to spread joy, healing, and spiritual growth through pleasure and conscious sexuality. They both often hid their genius, but never their spirits, their love and their wisdom, which was as ancient as the ancestors they channelled.

    Thank you, Cath, my beloved friend, for all your years of love and service. Thank you for being earth and soul family. Thank you for all those death lessons—both decades ago and in these past two years. Thank you for all the life lessons, too. Please give Cheeky Chester a kiss from me. Till we meet again… <3

     

  • Happy Solstice

    The solstices are my favorite holidays, probably because they are celebrations of the sun—my favorite celestial body. I’m in New York right now and we are having the first really hot summer days of the many yet to come. The long days and the short nights energize my spirit and light a fire under my creative juices. This month I’ve been spending a lot of time in video conversations with my Australian friends, which means that I’m also acutely away of how dark and cold it is in the Southern Hemisphere.

    The contrast between the constant stream of hideous news about the actions of the openly hostile, cruel and reactionary American government, and the beauty of New York in June has me thinking about what we humans can learn from simply observing what happens on the Solstices.

    Solstices show us that our entire planet is based upon sharing resources—in this case, the sun—and trusting that we will always have enough sunlight, even if temporarily, someone else has more. We share the sun and it’s light and energy with everyone else on the planet. Some months, the north gets more and the south less. Then it’s the south’s turn for heat and light, while the north patiently awaits it next season of warm weather and sunshine. Sharing. Trusting. Knowing that when the sun goes to nourish my friends in the south, there will still be enough for me to thrive throughout the winter. Being assured by experience that in a few months the sun will come back warm and strong to delight me once again.

    This Solstice, I’d like us to remember that whether the sun is shining brightly in your life at the moment, or whether life has been pretty dark and cold lately, this too will pass. My invitation to you is to look at someplace in your life where you have an abundance of something—it could be money, food, friends, happiness, love, creativity, time, laughter, hope, health, passion, political power, activist skills or something else entirely—and share some of it with someone whose sun is shining less brightly right now. This does not have to be a huge effort. It can be just reaching out to one person. If we all do this, we can shift global consciousness out of fear, lack and retreat and into trust, abundance and love.

    Share the sunlight. Spread love not fear.

    Happy Solstice.

  • Are Your Ready To Explore More?

    Where can you go to engage in deep, meaningful conversations about love, pleasure, bodies, pop culture, and empathy?

    I’m always looking for important and relevant events and conversations to share with you. This is one of those things!

    Explore More Summit is a free online conference that I adore. It’s a place where we can ask big questions, find ways to get unstuck, and have fun while we do it.

    It kicks off on April 23, 2018 and runs for ten days, entirely online. You can check out the speaker line-up at exploremoresummit.com.


    Each day, several hour-long video interviews will be available for you to watch.

    Even better? If you register before the summit starts, you’ll also get a free mini workbook each day of the summit full of prompts, questions, and exercises designed to help you reflect on your own story, needs, and desires.

    From pleasure and pop culture, kink to self-acceptance, boundaries to comedy, this is a rich, intimate event and I am really excited to share it with you.

    Plus, you can’t beat free.

    There’s also a private Facebook group where you can talk to other participants, answer daily questions, and interact with some of the summit experts.

    I would love to see you there.

    These interviews are the kind of thing you’ll want to talk about and revisit over and over again – so share this with your friends and family, too.

    See you at the summit!

    Ecstatically Yours,

    Barbara

    PS – If you’re as busy as I am, ten days might seem like a lot. Don’t worry about trying to fit it all in. You can take the talks home to watch and re-watch at your leisure AND get some fabulous bonuses, too.