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Posts Tagged ‘Rome’

I have an incurable, fatal disease: my doctors advise me to expect to live another 30-70 months.  I’m not afraid of dying and in examining my life the only thing that really bothers me is the state of my spiritual life.  While I was born and raised Catholic, I left organized religion as my mind matured and my path to access spirituality became intimate times with my lovers.  I haven’t experienced that connection with something greater than ourselves since my wife left me on the mountaintop 10 years ago.  Regular, long sessions with professionals have immeasurably improved and enriched my life but don’t reach that level.  Tantra specialists offer a kind of enhanced FBSM but none seem to seek that connection to the infinite.  Meditation, yoga, chanting, all are relaxing and enjoyable, but just don’t get me to that higher plane.  Small doses of some recreational drugs have been useful in the past, but only in the context of the intimacy that comes with great sex.  It’s my one and only spiritual life and it’s not what it ought to be.   I’m not sure how to fix it, and don’t want to find myself on my deathbed with this deficit.

I’ve been mulling over how to best answer your question, and I don’t mind telling you that I’m not sure I can give you a good answer.  The problem is that spirituality is so damned hard to pin down and define; religions have been trying for at least 5000 years and probably longer, and yet they all disagree on what exactly it is.  Even the words we use to describe the spiritual dimension are maddeningly vague; we speak of “the ineffable”, “the supernatural”, “the unknown”, “the beyond” and the like.  Since you were raised Catholic you may remember what the religious phenomena associated with the life of Jesus are called (in the context of praying the rosary): mysteries.  And that term predates Catholicism; the “mystery religions” were a group of cults that flourished in the time roughly between the Golden Age of Greece and the fall of Rome, a time when the old functions of religion (social control and explanation of natural phenomena) were being replaced by newer institutions (non-religious legal codes and science).  Classical civilization produced societies far more stable than any which had gone before, and the privileged classes were secure enough in their physical existence that they began to have the luxury of asking questions like, “Is this all there is?” and “What is the meaning of life?”

The mystery religions, more mystical outgrowths of traditional pagan religions, promised to answer these questions.  Hinduism grew out of the old Vedic religion and Buddhism grew from Hinduism; in the West, cults arose around the Egyptian Isis, the Anatolian Cybele, the Persian Mithra and many others.  All of these religions had various circles of initiation which the devout had to work to rise through; Christianity’s innovation (which caused it to rapidly supplant all others in Europe) was that there was only one circle, and every convert had access to all the mysteries right away.  We all know them; transsubstantiation, the Trinity, the virgin birth, etc, logical impossibilities that could not be explained rationally and were supposed to be meditated upon in order to obtain salvation.  The fall of Rome plunged Europe back into a precarious state again, and religion once again assumed its old roles until the Age of Reason gave the privileged classes back the freedom of not having to worry about where their next meal was coming from.  The modern industrial age took that a step further, giving virtually everyone in developed nations that freedom to wonder, “What else is there?”, and of course the result has been the return of old mystery religions (such as evangelical Christianity) and the creation of new ones (such as Mormonism and Scientology), each with its mysteries, circles of initiation, transcendent experiences (such as speaking in tongues), etc.  They all promise to answer The Question, and of course none of them do; oh, they provide the devout with explanations sufficient for many of their adherents, but if any of them could really provide a better answer to the ultimate question than “forty-two”, everyone in the world would’ve converted to that religion long ago and the Millennium would’ve arrived.

By now you may be beginning to get the idea that I don’t actually have an answer to your question, and on one level you’d be right; the truth, however, is that no priest, yogi, guru, prophet or adept in the world does either.  And the reason they don’t is that there is no one answer; the point of The Great Question is not to be answered, but to be asked in the first place.  In other words, the seeking of truth is the point in itself; it’s a limit approaching infinity, but as you and I both know any point along that journey is equally far from its infinitely-distant end.  The observable universe is an infinitesimal particle of all that there is; it’s elephants all the way down and all the way up, and all the way in every direction you can conceive of and an infinity of directions that you can’t, except for “elephants” read “math”.  It is, by definition, utterly incomprehensible to finite beings such as ourselves; the only meaning in existence is the meaning we as conscious beings give it.  So, while sex, drugs, religion, music and other temporal lobe phenomena may give one a sense or feeling of connection to the Divine, the truth is that we’re always connected; we’re just not always aware of it, because if we were we’d be unable to carry out the functions of mundane existence, and would instead merely lie physically inert while contemplating higher dimensions.

I said at the beginning of the previous paragraph that the point of the question is the process of answering it, and that’s not just inscrutable bullshit intended to cover the fact that I have no idea what I’m talking about; I meant it exactly as stated.  Imagine yourself a passenger in a vehicle, travelling a road or railway around a majestic mountain; as the vehicle moves, you need to change your position within it to keep looking at the mountain.  And life is like that, too.  In your youth, sex provided the proper angle to see the mountain, but now it no longer does; you’re still looking out of the same window, and though you’ve tried others none of them have yet given you that which you seek.  Perhaps the answer is larger doses of recreational drugs, or trying others you haven’t yet tried; perhaps you should try doing so in a ritualized setting, like a peyote or ayahuasca journey.  I myself have achieved remarkable results with edible cannabis, listening to instrumental music.  Perhaps you might try visiting sacred places, or exploring your own psychosexual landscape through kink, painting or writing.  And here’s the good news:  you can’t get this wrong.  You needn’t worry about a deficit; I can’t promise you won’t feel a sense of disappointment or regret on your deathbed, because we all leave this world in the same way we enter it: in blood and pain, wholly ignorant of what comes next.  But I can assure you that on a spiritual level, no one seeking as earnestly as you are can be considered to have any kind of spiritual deficit.  The point of the question is to be asked, and you’re certainly asking.  The point of the journey is the journey itself.  And when the end of your biological life comes, and you move on to a different plane of existence, you will be able to do so knowing that you succeeded with flying colors in your mission on this one: to never cease asking questions and searching diligently for an ultimate answer neither you nor I nor any other sentient being can ever find.

(Have a question of your own?  Please consult this page to see if I’ve answered it in a previous column, and if not just click here to ask me via email.)

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After the United States dies, the evil of prohibition will (albeit gradually) follow it into Hell.  –  “Successor

Four years ago I wrote “The Mills of the Gods”, in which I explained that…

…my perspective on human affairs had undergone a dramatic shift toward the cosmic…my viewpoint…receded, as though I had stepped away from a magnifying lens through which I had always viewed the world…since then I have been unable to view the timescale of any human life as “long”, and in fact often catch myself talking about stretches of many decades as “brief periods in history”…

Though at the time of that writing I imagined the process as a singular shift, I have since come to realize that it was only the beginning of a continuing process which has since gone much further, and will probably continue until I leave this world.  Whether the disassociation is merely a part of the original process, a response to the deep emotional trauma of the past few years, a defense mechanism to protect my psyche against the cultural horror show I chronicle every day, an adaptation to make me a more effective activist or some combination of several or all of these, I cannot tell; all I know is that I’ve come to view the present as an historical tableau, a set of events that has already happened, which I observe unfolding as though I were a time traveler from a future age.  This isn’t to say I know what’s going to happen; I usually don’t, and even when I do I arrive at the prediction by cognitive processes rather than precognitive ones.  At least, I think that’s the case, and if I’m wrong it’s probably better I don’t know about it just yet.

So, while many of my friends are extremely concerned and even frightened by the events of this century so far (and especially recent events), I tend to view them with a sort of detachment.  This isn’t to say that I’m not angry or offended by them, but I also tend to burst into tears when watching any depiction of the First World War and a number of other historical events that I’m not aware of having been a part of.  Expressed less metaphysically, the political events I’m living through now don’t really feel any more real or personal to me than the events of the Great War, the Roman civil wars or the constantly-shifting political landscape of ancient Mesopotamia, and my tiny part in the events of the present often feels almost inevitable, as though I’m following a script written for me long ago.  People call me heroic, but I don’t feel heroic; I usually feel as though what I’m doing is the only possible choice, or at least the only moral one.

And so, unlike most Americans, I have no innate sense of American exceptionalism; I understand that the current American government will soon (on the historical scale of time) fall, just as all bloated, decadent, dying empires do, and that we’re already beyond the point at which future historians will divide the “classical” US from the late-period one.  I understand that when the collapse comes, it’s not going to be pretty or nice, and that a lot of innocent blood will be spilled along with that of the tyrants and revolutionaries.  I recognize that it’s very unlikely that a new federal government without a clear line of political succession will be able to hold onto all of the states any more than collapsing Rome could hold onto all of her far-flung provinces, and that it’s very likely that in another century the map of North America will look at least as different from the current one as a map of modern Europe looks from an 18th-century one.  I understand and accept these things as wholly as you accept the events of the 19th century: as phenomena that, while one might have feelings about them (even very strong feelings), there’s absolutely nothing one can do about them.  Call that fatalism if you like; I don’t see it that way.  I see it as history, and I see history as a continuously-unfolding process stretching into the far future rather than as a collection of moldering facts about the dead past.

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All things must end…life depends upon the deaths of other organisms, and…old, decaying things must be cleared away – sometimes forcibly – in order to make way for new, younger and often better things.  Old people must pass on to make room for new children; dilapidated buildings must be demolished to pave the way for new construction.  And old, moribund governments which serve only the entrenched and wealthy must be removed if we are to build new ones which better serve all of the people and protect minorities from oppression by both majorities and other, more privileged minorities.  –  “Cleansing Fire

Every year on November 1st I remind my readers that death is not only not an evil to be feared, but a good to be celebrated; all things are mortal, and old things must die to make room for and feed the new.  And four days later, again every year, I remind my readers that this is no less true for nation-states than it is for living organisms.  Countries and empires, like organic beings, are born from other cultures; they grow, mature, age, fall into decay and eventually die, and their remains nourish the next generation of nations.  But those new nations aren’t necessarily foreign, so to speak; sometimes dead things are dragged off and devoured by creatures from elsewhere, but very often they rot where they fall and give rise to new life right there in the same soil.

fall-of-romeIf you don’t quite get where I’m going with this, remember that the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia weren’t usually succeeded by invaders from elsewhere, but by their own former subjects; the Assyrians were once subjects of the Babylonians, and the Chaldeans and Persians subjects of the Assyrians.  And when the Roman Empire collapsed, individual countries arose from what had once been Roman provinces, and Spain, Portugal, France, England and Germany each became world players with empires of their own.  The British Empire in turn spawned a number of powerful nations as it fell apart, and now the American Empire is decaying and will collapse within the lifetime of some of you who are reading this.  I myself will probably not live to see it, but it’s a virtual certainty that those of you now under 30 will.  The United States, however, is no more a monolith than the Roman and British Empires were; it contains within it 50 independent states and a number of territories, not to mention its many satellites around the world.  As the central government loses control and implodes, the governments of the various states will need to take up the functions Washington is no longer willing or able to provide (I consider the slow procession of states abandoning the cannabis campaign of the drug war to be an early harbinger of this).  Several states already have populations and economies that would put them among the largest countries in the world if they were independent, and even the poorest and least-populous states fall within the spectrum of sovereign nations.  Once the central government is gone or slowly descends into a mere symbol like the Papacy or the title of Holy Roman Emperor, the states will begin to function as independent nations; they will form alliances, trade with one another, and war amongst one another; strong states may conquer neighboring weak ones, and groups of small states may combine into new nations or even claim to be the legitimate successors of the American tradition, just as Constantinople and the aforementioned Holy Roman Empire both claimed to be the legitimate successors of Rome.  And just as nobody in Odoacer’s time could’ve predicted that the rather small and isolated province of Britannia would one day rule an empire far larger than that of any Caesar, so it’s impossible for any of us to predict which American states might one day come to rule many or all of the others.  And when that day comes, I hope its rulers remember the fates of the great empires that came before it, and perhaps learn from their mistakes so as to slow that New Empire’s descent into tyranny and collective hubris.

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Obviously, she didn’t come out of it well.  –  Danielle Bargala

Another Halloween cartoon?  Yep.  Pleasant dreams.  The links above it are from  Tim Cushing (“fascism”, “serves” and “hope”), Jesse Walker (“machine”), Amy Alkon (“shoes”), and Women With A Vision (“cops”).

From the Archives

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Valentine’s Day 2016


Most Valentine’s Day pinups aren’t much better than most valentine cards, but this Gil Elvgren piece from 50 years ago is a notable exception.  The only other thing I’d like to say, I already said last year: “I don’t care much for Valentine’s Day…I like the classical Roman Lupercalia much better; dudes running around naked and hitting women with whips seems to me a much more exciting way to celebrate than being given a box of chocolates I can’t eat without worrying about my waistline.

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Valentine’s Day 2015

An obligatory “gift” of a certain expected value which must be presented at a certain time in order to retain a woman’s sexual favors is not a love offering, but rather a whore’s fee.  –  “St. Valentine’s Day
Kitten Valentine
Regular readers know that I don’t care much for Valentine’s Day, mostly because it’s so nakedly hypocritical but also because, as I explained last year,

…while all the others are inclusive, this one is exclusive.  Holidays are times for friends, families and others to gather and celebrate together, but Valentine’s Day festivities (except, perhaps, for polyamorists) are exactly the opposite.  Lovers tend to seek every available excuse to be alone together anyway; it hardly seems necessary to set aside a special day for that, especially one on which the show is celebrated above the substance.

In fact, I like the classical Roman Lupercalia much better; dudes running around naked and hitting women with whips seems to me a much more exciting way to celebrate than being given a box of chocolates I can’t eat without worrying about my waistline.  Even most Valentine images are annoying or even creepy, which is why I like the little kitten one above so much.  SEE HOW CUTE IT IS??? Major, major cute.  7.5 on the Richter scale of cuteness.  And therefore one of the few I can stand.  Starting next year, I’ll be generating my own images for this occasion, but until then you’ll have to settle for…no, I can’t say it; some puns are just too awful, even for a Valentine.

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Dr. David Ley is a clinical psychologist and author who often writes and speaks about sexuality issues, especially those that others are unwilling to discuss; he is probably best known to readers of this blog as the foremost critic of the “sex addiction” myth, and he writes a blog on Psychology Today entitled Women Who Stray.  But since PT can be rather staid, I asked him if there were any topics he wanted to write on, but couldn’t in that venue; this was his reply.

I first encountered the “creampie fetish” in 2007 as I was interviewing for my book Insatiable Wives: Women Who Stray and the Men Who Love Them (2009), which discussed the psychology and biology behind couples who deliberately shared the wives sexually with other men.  In that lifestyle the creampie, or a man’s ejaculate, trickling slowly from the woman’s vagina, is celebrated as a sort of Holy Grail, demonstrating the wife’s defilement by another man (though the word defilement sounds much, much meaner than these couples usually intend it).  In Insatiable Wives, I discussed the creampie it related to the psychology of this lifestyle.  But, over recent years, the creampie fetish is no longer relegated to the cuckold fans, but appears to have gone “mainstream,” popping up in porn and sexuality discussions at a much broader level.

Since 2005, Google searches for “creampie” have quadrupled, with the most frequent searches involving “creampie porn” and “anal creampie.”  Pornhub recently released interesting user data, also showing that creampie is a highly sought-after form of porn, especially in more politically conservative states.  Jokes about creampies are found in movies and late-night comedy talkshows, and Miley Cyrus even performed at a “Christmas Creampies Concert” in 2012.  Despite these interesting data and trends of sexual interest, no one has written about the potential psychological and sociological implications of growing interest in this fetishistic desire (like many of my colleagues, I use the term fetish to describe a strong sexual interest or predilection, and do not imply that this desire is inherently pathological or evidence of disturbed sexuality).

zebrasSperm Warfare is a theory describing behavioral and biological adaptations which exert influence over whose sperm is most likely to fertilize a woman’s ovum.  Accepting the premise that humans evolved in a promiscuous, nonmonogamous environment where a man’s sperm had to “compete” with the sperm of other men in a woman’s vagina, sperm warfare suggests that natural selection acted upon the physiology and psychology of males, females, sperm, eggs, sex and procreation.  The quantity and quality of a man’s sperm at ejaculation is affected by conscious and unconscious beliefs that the woman might have had sex with another man, and the shape of the human penis works like a plunger to remove the semen of another male, if present.  (In zebras, there is an immediate, dramatically expulsive fountain of sperm that the female ejects from her vagina during intercourse with a male – if you don’t believe me check out this video, but be warned, it’s not for the faint of heart).  When a man believes that he and his sperm may need to compete, the man is more likely to thrust harder, ejaculate more forcefully, and get physically excited again, sooner, in order to put more of his soldiers onto the battlefield.  Deeper, more vigorous thrusts are more likely to dislodge any sperm from another man, or even to dislodge an already fertilized egg.  Modern research shows that semen contains surprising levels of psychoactive hormones, and ingesting or absorbing semen is associated with decreased depression.  Women’s orgasms act, in part, to exert some control of which man’s sperm is most likely to fertilize them, and when being unfaithful, women are more likely to orgasm with the other man, and to wait at least 24 hours (enough time for conception and implantation) before having sex with their primary mate.

Sperm warfare is a powerful theory, but I firmly believe that human behaviors are complex, and multiply determined, especially when it comes to sexual behaviors.  It is rare, in my opinion, that any complex behavior has a single explanation.  Aside from the biology and psychology of conception warfare, many people eroticize semen itself.  Semen holds a powerful symbolic status, from Onan in the Bible, who spilled his seed outside of a woman’s body in what was probably the first creampie in recorded history, to modern porn where cumshots are augmented with cornstarch cream shot by devices to create impossible gushing jets of ejaculate.  Many of the cuckold couples I’ve interviewed specifically eroticized the semen of other men, commenting on it as a powerful visual and tactile symbol of a woman’s sexual connection with another man.  Men and women have described with me the tactile feeling of penetrating a woman’s vagina after another man had ejaculated within her, and attributed significant emotional impact to this experience.  Among the Romans, where women were forbidden to drink wine, husbands would sometimes kiss their wives to detect the taste of wine in her mouth; similarly, it has been suggested that oral sex might actually have developed as a strategy to detect evidence of sexual infidelity.  Cuckold fetishists take this anti-cuckoldry mechanism and turn it on its head, fantasizing about performing oral sex on their wife, while her vagina contains the ejaculate of another man, and celebrating the fact.  Those who celebrate cuckolding creampies usually describe the sensuality of dominance, submission, taboo, violating social norms, exploring direct and indirect bisexuality, and the clear visual evidence of their wife’s sexual contact with another man.

But, the current popularity of the creampie is not limited to the cuckolding lifestyle.  Beyond the generally relevant reason of sperm warfare, why does it seem to have gained popularity in a mainstream audience?  Here are a few speculations, but at this point, we have little evidence or research upon which to evaluate these theories:

  • It has been suggested that the demand for condom-free sex in pornography represents people’s desires for fantasy, consequence-free sex of abandon, where STD’s and pregnancy are meaningless.  The cumshot, and more so, the creampie, demonstrate visually that the actors are embracing and living that fantasy;
  • We are inundated by messages and marketing that porn is fake, and doesn’t reflect “real sex.”  While I agree with aspects of that message, there is something very, very “real” and complete about the sex that leaves behind a creampie;
  • The quantity of a man’s ejaculate is correlated with the size of their testicles, and is commonly believed to reflect something of the man’s masculinity.  When a man leaves a large quantity of semen, enough to be readily visible, is this a sign of his virility, such that the viewer can more readily see the man as iconic?
  • Internet porn has changed the pornography industry, creating financially viable niches for genres of porn which wouldn’t have been popular or lucrative enough in the past.  It seems possible that there have always been those who were or would be, interested in creampies, but that what has changed is the ability of the market to recognize and respond to this desire, rather than the creation of a new desire.

creampieThe fertile fluids of the genitals, semen, and female prostatic fluids, have always been eroticized, and treated as powerful symbols of sexuality and virility.  The heady brew of the effects of these fluids, involved as they are with feelings of sexual pleasure and arousal, are intrinsically involved in the physiological and psychological experiences of people.  The modern popularity of creampie porn is popular because it expresses and triggers many powerful psychological and biological mechanisms of human sexuality.

*Note – I often write for Psychology Today, but this topic is slightly too edgy for them – I once had trouble after writing about the psychology of a man who put his own semen in yogurt samples he distributed to strangers.  I’m indebted to Maggie for the invitation to draft it for her own blog.

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