This book is about sex education, a how-to for building the foundation for an enduring and satisfying erotic partnership, and a guide to the holistic philosophies of Tantra. It’s more than a brainfull. I read it once, turned from the last page back to the first and started over again. Partners in Passion is the type of book you can read over and over again with complete enjoyment and learn something new every time.
I also had a blast interviewing the authors Mark Michaels and Patricia Johnson.
1. How did you discover Tantra? What drew you into it, made you want to dedicate a lifetime to its practice?
Long before we met, we had early sexual experiences that were profound and hinted at the mystical possibilities in sex. These experiences inspired us to read books on Tantra, Western Sex Magic and Taoism. For Mark, the books made very little sense; Patricia was unable to find partners who were interested in exploring with her. A couple of years after Mark’s first marriage broke up, he decided to take a workshop that had several segments on Tantra and to do a private session with the person teaching those segments before the weekend began. The experience (which is described in detail in Partners in Passion) was intense and life changing. He started studying with anyone he could and reading more about the history and philosophy, although prior to our meeting, much of the work involved the Americanized, popular form. After we got together, we decided that it was important to delve more deeply and to study with a more traditional teacher, and we found Dr. Jonn Mumford (Swami Anandakapila Saraswati). Through our work with him we became more deeply aware of how the practice of Tantra can impact all aspects of life, not just sexuality.
2. In the Preface, you said you met your partner Patricia at a lecture you were giving on Tantra. “During that first meeting, we decided to explore the sexual aspects of Tantra together, without having so much as held hands.” What was it about her that emboldened you to commit to such a goal defying what you call the “game playing and manipulation that is so common in the dating scene”?
Actually, the first meeting refers to our getting together a few weeks and a number of emails after the lecture. When I was introduced to Patricia at the lecture, the first thing I said was, “You look familiar. Do I know you from somewhere?” I’m a little challenged when it comes to recognizing faces and often have a very hard time placing people. . .anyway, it wasn’t a line, and there was something really familiar about her. Maybe that sense of comfort made it a little easier to be so forthright, but I also think I had reached a point in my life when I had no more patience for game-playing and wasn’t really looking for a long-term relationship. That also emboldened me to be totally upfront.
One of the main reasons we tell the story is that we think it’s really important for people to be as open about their sexuality as possible from the very start. For us, that meant making it clear that we value sex so highly that we see it as a spiritual path. Even if you don’t feel so strongly, withholding your sexuality early in a relationship can set a bad precedent and can make it harder to be open about it as time goes on. Of course, there’s a balance that everyone needs to strike, and too much self-disclosure before there’s trust can cause problems. Still, sexual compatibility is very important for the long term, and it’s a good idea to have a clear sense of whether you’re compatible before getting too emotionally entangled.
3. My favorite chapter is the second where you explore the Ten Big Myths of Good Relationships. Incredibly insightful and will leave me thinking for some time to come. Topics like contemporary society’s need to find its “soul mate,” you have to “work” on your relationship, and the impossible burden one puts on a partner to have their needs met. What are some of the things you’ve read/experienced that inspired these philosophies? Where can I (or other readers) go to learn more?
A lot of the ideas come from our own experience and our work with people over the past 15 years. The critique of “Men Are from Mars. . .” came in part from the way we relate to one another, some of which mirrors conventional gender roles (Mark does most of the driving, and Patricia does most of the cooking) and some of which reverses them is completely (Mark is typically the one who wants to talk about emotions.) Our thinking on “opposite sexes” was also influenced by Thomas Laqueur and his Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud. Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity, Christopher Ryan’s Sex at Dawn and Tristan Taormino’s Opening Up also informed this chapter. While she’s not referenced in the bibliography, Stephanie Coontz was an influence through her books: The Way We Never Were and Marriage: a History. Mostly though, these ideas are drawn from our observations, conversations with friends and colleagues, our general study of the history of relationships, and our experiences both before and after we got together.
Excerpt from PARTNERS IN PASSION
CHAPTER 5 — GREAT SEX: CONCEPTS
DON’T WAIT TO FEEL DESIRE
Back in the days of Masters and Johnson, the sexual response cycle was described in a fairly mechanistic way: arousal, plateau, orgasm, and resolution. While the Masters and Johnson model remains something of the standard even now, more recent models have added additional elements in an effort to incorporate sex’s more mental and emotional components. Helen Singer Kaplan proposed a three-stage cycle that involved desire, arousal, and release. Another approach, developed by Rosemary Basson, is based on the idea that women respond differently than men and that their interest in sex is influenced by a need for intimacy, among other factors. Basson also recognized that sexual desire in women frequently is experienced concurrently with arousal not as a precursor to it. While there is no need to delve into the details of these various models, it is worth considering the role of desire, which is popularly accorded far more significance than it should be. In long-term relationships, waiting to have sex until you feel desire is a very bad idea.
Humans can choose when to be sexual. We don’t have to feel desire before we make love. You can use whatever works to keep the choice to be sexual foremost in your mind, whether it’s your interest in being close to your partner, a decision to make sex a priority in your life, or just the recognition that sex is a great tool for reducing stress. This is a way to transform desire from a bodily need or a vague emotional state into a more conscious process, something over which you have greater control. This will enable you to choose erotic activities even when you do not actively desire sex. Unless there’s a serious physical or emotional disruption, having sex when you’re not in the mood is likely to leave you feeling just as satisfied as having it when you are.
Overall sex drive or libido is probably influenced by a variety of factors that are beyond our control: genetics, childhood environment, culture, and hormones. There is clearly a spectrum, just as there’s a spectrum when it comes to orientation. In fact, there’s currently an active effort to define asexuality (meaning a lack of interest in or desire to have sex) as an orientation, and it seems likely that many of the people who identify as asexual are born with a considerably lower basic sex drive than the vast majority of the population. Given all the mixed messages people receive about sex, those who are on the lower end of the sex drive spectrum often feel marginalized. Since you’re reading this book, however, chances are your basic sex drive is moderate to high. Maybe you’re interested in having better sex, but there’s a good chance you’d like to have more of it too.
To return to desire, in most males, it is at its strongest during the teenage years. This form of desire is hormonally driven, and it is a very intense, physically charged state, characterized by spontaneous erections, wet dreams, and frequent masturbation. As adolescence gives way to adulthood, this dramatic form of desire starts to recede, and while interest in sex may continue to be strong, it has a more mental quality. Hormones also play an important role in shaping female sexuality. By now it is well documented that female desire is profoundly influenced by the menstrual cycle and is usually at its peak around the time of ovulation. Stress and other emotional factors also come into play, as can medications.
There wouldn’t be much to worry about if we were only interested in sex for procreation. In our society, people often life into their nineties, and most of our sex is nonprocreative. For this reason, it is very limiting to rely on hormones alone to make sex happen. Not only that, but many hormonally driven encounters are not very well thought through beforehand and often lead to less than pleasurable experiences, or worse, fiascos.
If you’d like to win a trade paperback copy of Partners in Passion, leave a comment below. A winner will be picked at random on Thursday, April 10, 2014. Good luck and happy reading!
Mark A. Michaels and Patricia Johnson are a devoted married couple. They have been creative collaborators – teaching and writing about sexuality and Tantra together – since 1999. Michaels and Johnson are the authors of Partners in Passion (Cleis 2014), Great Sex Made Simple, Tantra for Erotic Empowerment, and The Essence of Tantric Sexuality. Their books have garnered numerous awards: Independent Publishing (IPPY), ForeWord Reviews, and USA Book News Best Books, among others. They are also the creators of the meditation CD set Ananda Nidra: Blissful Sleep. To support the pleasure-positive community in New York, they co-founded Pleasure Salon in 2007. http://www.MichaelsandJohnson