What does sex-positive herbalism look like?

“To get mired in the dirt is to miss the exaltation.”-Jane and Michael Stern, Elvis World

“Maybe a little dirt, though.”-me

I’ve been thinking on sex in herbalism for years now, observing how we talk about it, and well, it’s an awkward subject that can be hard to discuss. But I think we have reached a moment, culturally, that is ready. We are experiencing the growing pains of a third wave of herbalism and it feels to me like a time of change.

I’d like us to ask, collectively and individually, what does sex-positivity look like within the world of herbalism? How will we participate in this change if we don’t know what it looks like? What are we doing to create and promote and maintain a culture that supports our own and others’ sexual wellness? How are we examining ourselves–  our attitudes  and our words to co-create something better than what came before us?

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So, to get the conversation started, here are a few sparks:

–What does it mean to be a sex-positive herbalist?–

Body Positive: we can start by assuming that ALL bodies are potentially sexual bodies. Fat bodies, skinny bodies, old bodies, younger bodies, able bodies, less able bodies, ill bodies, well bodies, queer bodies, poor bodies, marginalized bodies all hold the seed of a sexual self. When we deny another’s sexuality, we deny their humanity

Consent: promote and support consent and the right to sexual agency for all persons.  Make a point to mention consent in the context of a class or discussion of sexuality-that we all have the right to give it, or not, and the responsibility to seek it. There are some areas where consent is a grey area, such as people experiencing certain physical or mental health challenges, such as dementia for example, and there is no reason to shy away from learning about the complex ethical discussions happening around this

Sexual Health IS health. It’s not a secret, and it doesn’t need to hide in dark places. We do not need to separate sexual health from a “normal” class, educational curriculum or a “regular” intake. Integrating discussions about sexuality and wellness, normalizing words that refer to stigmatized body parts and acts, and just generally acting like the world won’t end if we talk about sexual subjects are all ways to help create conversation

Masturbation IS sex. When we talk about sex, that can include all types of sex, and sex alone is just one of those types. It’s been linked to sin, hell, moral repugnance, inability to find a partner and “self-pollution”, all of which are total bullshit myths that need to die. Masturbation is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, a fantasy life is a valid human need, and there is no need to perpetuate shame around either

Shame. And while we are on the shame train, let’s let go of all sexual shaming. Don’t judge or shame others’ pleasure at all, unless it is causing harm to another

-As for harm, let’s try to understand sexual and physical trauma and the issues around that which can contribute to physical and emotional pain. Trauma-informed herbalism means, very basically, that we acknowledge that trauma is real and that we are open to listening/supporting around it. So you can just say that to people.

– Pay attention to power dynamics. Teacher/student, healer/client, expert/seeker, male/female, and so forth–there is a lot of potential within our community to misuse our position. It is important to be ethical in our boundaries and power dynamics.

Stop selling products that exploit sexual problems and body issues. Stop misunderstanding the mechanics of sexuality, and promoting so-called aphrodisiacs. Stop calling it a “men’s herb” or a “women’s herb”. Stop offering easy answers to complex social issues like romantic love, intimacy, body composition, the stress response, and rock-hard erections for 3 easy payments of 19.99. Please

Include, include, include. If our sex positive culture doesn’t include everyone, it’s crap. If it doesn’t include ALL bodies, it’s useless. My liberation is useless if it excludes you, and the opposite is also true.  Not all groups are treated equally by alternative health culture. For example, I’ve seen a streak of anti-trans “Activism” within the wider herbalist culture, and, let’s call it what it is: hate. We can all help to expose the limits of the gender binary and support the rights of ALL persons to gender identity, sexual self-definition and full-spectrum expression.

Reproductive rights exist. We need to support others’ choices to do what is best for themselves. That is all.

Harm-reduction approach. There are people who engage in sexual–or otherwise–practices that are known to be risky. There are dangers inherent in the sharing of bodily fluids and challenges involved in navigating intimate acts out in the world. And there are also rewards. But we can provide information in a straightforward way to promote safer sex and safer choices, that also lets people know that we respect their humanity, no matter how they choose to get off.

Drop the assumptions that others want what we want.  We aren’t the gatekeepers of sexuality, of desire, of womanhood or manhood, of what bodies should be or should like. I’ve noticed that some herb books/blogs/etc suggest that we ALL want sacred sex, soft music, “a clean body”, penis-vagina-only sex, straight sex, 4-hour-tantric-whatever, romance, monogamy, a giant erection, lots of cinnamon. Maybe we can actively challenge this paradigm when we are presenting our own classes/pieces of writing/advice around sex. Guess what, some people want a spanking.        IMG_0574

So let’s  make room in our views for other peoples’ lived experiences. Other peoples’ rich fantasy lives. Other peoples’ kinks and toys and means of expression.

It is OK for us to talk back to those who are sex-negative and body-negative, those who seek to shut sexuality down or tuck it away in a creepy little  box. It only enriches us all, over time, to create the space for exchange to happen around sexuality, to be an ally and an advocate for ALL of our  (consensual) sexy times.                                                                            And thanks to Sean Donahue for breaking the ice with his  recent blog post All Acts of Love and Pleasure: http://www.greenmanramblings.blogspot.com.  He provided the WHY, and I’m suggesting the HOW.  And let’s keep it going! What else should we add to the list?

Co-create the conversation.

“Having a conversation is not a death sentence.”-Bishop Gwendolyn Philips Coates

If this schlock is clean, I’d rather be dirty.

Perhaps you have seen the word clean thrown around a lot lately. It is having its moment, again. Heck, clean living hasn’t enjoyed this much popularity since the graham cracker saved us all from masturbatory hell!

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There are a lot of books on Amazon such as Clean Food, Clean eating, Eat Clean, Live Well, Oh She Glows (eyeroll), Clean Food-Amazing Body, Pure Food, Food Rules and Clean Start. There are products too: a Clean Energy patch, Clean Energy Pills, an Amazing Miracle Cleanse And Runa Clean Energy drink.

Fun Amazon fact:  people who bought these items also bought a family-size box of disposable latex gloves. Infer what you’d like from that information.

So this brings up two of my very favorite issues. What is energy and what is clean. The energy piece makes me wonder why we have this cultural expectation that we are all supposed to live in this energized cheerful positive hell, never stopping or napping. It is a depleted state which is based on delusion. Real energy comes from rest, nourishment and a movement practice.

There is nothing inherently better or “cleaner” about using a caffeine patch or Guayasa tea for energy compared to a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.

“Clean, focused, balanced energy”…sounds like buzzword bullshit to me.

Now, the deeper issue is what is clean. The whole concept is based on our viewing ourselves as dirty, as broken. Because CLEAN implies that what is not clean is therefore  DIRTY. Religious concepts of original sin, body pollution and pleasure-phobia have seeped deeply into our culture to the point where we often don’t even see them. We tremble in fear of being dirty in any way, from body odors to buttholes and go to extremes to avoid what we see as germs.

The result is a judgmental, holier-than-thou approach to diet and a bonus to the book industry.

The result is a heck of a lot of “othering”.

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So now all these things have been labeled as dirty: meat, grains, coffee, spices, sugar, salt, processed foods, alcohol, GMOs, all non-organic foods, cooked foods, alliums.

These foods make you less spiritual, less sexy, less glowing, angry, lusty, fat, stupid, un-evolved.

I think it is time to talk back to the overuse of “clean”, people.

I think it is time to admit that we are all dirty, and we like it.

We are setting up a binary that doesn’t exist. There does not have to be labels of clean and dirty on people, on foods or on your colon. We don’t have to put others down in order to raise ourselves up.

I do support all people in making healthy changes. I support your spiritual practices, your weird-ass teas and label-examinations. I support choosing sobriety, if needed.

BUT.

Let’s not let the marketing people manipulate us into judging each other as dirty. Let’s not loathe our own body parts and processes. Let’s not forget to delight in a sweet, sticky, meaty, lusty, sweaty life.  Let’s not hate ourselves for choosing a shot and a beer over a nasty-ass raw green juice on a hot summer night.

If we are the people being marketed to, if we are the people being represented by these products and concepts then it is up to us to say HEY, WORDS MATTER!! It is easy to dismiss words, to decline the debate. “Oh, words don’t matter.”

But they do.

There is no magical level of cleanliness that will save us from ourselves, no pure space that lives above marketing and critical thinking and debate, and perhaps that is for the best.

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Opportunity knocks.

People who work the front desks of medical offices are like gatekeepers. They are ambassadors. They are the first voice or face a person encounters when they are seeking care. And the energy of that first interaction can be important.

Sometimes the person who is seeking that appointment  hasn’t always done the best job of self-care. Perhaps they were unwilling or unable to keep up on their medical care. Perhaps they are a little outside of normal, or have in some way not “measured up” to the American standard in terms of class, gender, sexuality, appearance, ability, religious or other self- expression.

This is an opportunity.

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As a gatekeeper, you have the opportunity, almost a sacred duty, to help bring this person into the fold of access. To welcome this person who may have obvious or hidden baggage around seeking some type of care into a safe space.

This person has reached out, has made an attempt to do the right thing, to access this care.

And this first interaction can truly make it or break it.

If a person who is trying to make an appointment, trying to ask a question or is in need of care feels judgement, feels pushed away or unwanted, feels uncomfortable, this can potentially reinforce the worldview that they don’t belong.

Or…this interaction could be a turning point.

If they walk into a gym, ready to make the leap of beginning fitness. If they walk into a farmer’s market, ready to add more vegetables. If they walk into an herbalist’s office, a massage studio, yoga class, health food store, running-shoe store, feminist sex shop….making this shift could change their freakin life.

They have taken a step.

What may be just another day to you could be a moment someone else has built up the courage to do for, like, ever.

Many people carry a lifetime of baggage, of judgement, of abuse, of discomfort, of self-loathing around like a big heavy stupid backpack,  and it’s just enough to hold them back.

Maybe they already know they aren’t from around here. Maybe they drink too much, don’t take enough walks, rely excessively on quick fixes.. Maybe they already know the pain of rejection. Maybe they already know what that damn raised eyebrow means.

There may be a reason that someone has avoided seeking needed care. There may be a history that you can’t see. Neither the mainstream nor the alternative healthcare systems have always been kind to everyone.   It is noone’s fault, it just “is”.

And, to those on the front lines of healthcare, I honor you, Physical care, mental care, fitness, alternative and mainstream– I don’t heap with you blame or anger for being human. Many of you are doing GREAT. And…Perhaps you have your own baggage. Perhaps you are just having a tough day. I thank you for the work you do.

But if you are able to keep this in mind, if you are able to welcome all the freaks into your space, actively welcome, to remember that it may feel foreign to some, dangerous even, to be accessing your services, perhaps you can see yourself as THE ANSWER. Or at least AN answer. This outreach position has the potential to literally shift someone’s feelings about the entire system. This interaction can be THE pivotal moment for a marginalized person. Or this moment can just reinforce the beliefs a person already holds.

“This is not for me.” “I am an outsider.”

They might bring vulnerability, shame, misunderstanding. You can be a bridge.

And around 90% of people are not seeking the lecture that you could deliver–even if, technically, you are “right”.

Maybe there will always be a douchebag who feels the need to yell at less-fit persons who finally worked up the courage to start running. Maybe there will always be a person who rolls their eyes when you say you have never had a primary care doctor. Maybe there will always be an herbalist who insists your colon isn’t clean enough. Maybe some people need to feel superior to those dorks who drag themselves out of bed, try their best, don’t fit in but do it anyway.

Maybe.

But don’t let that douchebag be you.

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Barrels of Narratives!

In the poem ‘To a Young Girl in Washington Square Park’ George Green says “Your beauty is the barrel you’ll go over the falls in.” And for some of us, it is. But my barrel is my narrative. My story, that which I believe about myself and my world is the barrel that takes me through the rapids and over the freefall.
My narrative cannot protect me from everything but it does keep the sharks out.
And what does it mean to have a story?
Importantly, it keeps the millions of messages that come at us from all angles at bay. The world is full of people telling you that you are not good enough, and offering to make you better. For a fee. (Or that you are SO a-mazing!)  And at times, self-improvement is a very good thing–I would never argue against striving towards greatness.
But.
Sometimes what truly needs to be great is our perspective.
It seems like we always believe something is missing, that if only we could get the numbers right, take the right combination of herbs or lose an inch off our thighs everything would shift for us. It feels to me like a distraction from the maybe more important work of shifting our own attitudes.
Maybe you don’t really need to add a product?
Maybe you are actually fine.
For example, maybe if you are cold you could go outside for a few minutes, and you’ll realize that you really were not.
Maybe noone gives a shit about your neck wrinkles.
Maybe you are actually kinda awesome.
And maybe-just maybe-every single detail of our health and fitness doesn’t really need to be picked apart and examined under the highest resolution microscope every single freakin day.

What would your story look like if you were to just accept that you are strong, able, powerful? That you are not broken? That you are a do-er, just going around doing things and hey, that’s cool?
What would your narrative feel like if you let go of “My body is this and my body is that” and realized I AM my body?
It is not about creating our own delusional reality, ignoring the negative side of life and manifesting magical muscles with our minds. Not at all. It is about re-framing our views of who we are– from someone who needs to be “fixed” to someone who is on a lifelong journey of adding to and taking away, of balancing and building.
Sometimes the whole IS greater than its parts.
So what I see happening is people talking back to those sharks who try to gnaw at us, people disproving our culture’s narratives that only certain types of people can run, jump, dance, lift, climb. I see people using their own bodies and lives to show that there are many ways to be. I see people shifting and changing the world of fitness, beauty, health by their own actions. I see people healing their relationship with their bodies, and supporting each other in doing so.
Any one of us can go over the falls alone, but I have a vision of a world where so many of us make the leap that those who abuse their power in the world of health, beauty and fitness are left all alone in their manipulative little viewing tower, wondering what the hell happened!IMG_3263

Work! It! Out!

Runnin'
Runnin’

Recently I have been exploring fitness education for herbalists. I am a big advocate for movement and I do not currently see much movement-herbalism integration education, but it is my passion. I have lived my own personal journey from being scared of movement to being a huge advocate for and do-er of movement. I have put together a list of resources for those who wish to further their knowledge of the body, and I’ve decided to make it share-able–since, as I will repeat like 10 times–I really believe in this.
And I’d love for this to be the beginning of a bigger conversation. Tell me what resources you like, and why you do or don’t agree with me. Help me make this list more diverse. Let’s co-create the inclusive and inspiring and integrative movement culture of our dreams! Let’s build bridges across our divisions and go forward together!
So….I believe in movement. But first, my spiel:
I hear that herbs won’t “work” without diet and exercise and I think that is bull. It assumes that your diet is problematic and you’re not already exercising. And it assumes that the speaker knows what diet and what exercise is right. The fact is, sometimes herbs just work. You could be a lazy-ass, sitting around eating chips all day and maybe herbs just fix you up. Or you could be The Zumba Queen living on barley and carrot sticks and just drop dead. Wellness is complicated and none of us has figured this all out.
That said, I do believe that nourishment and movement support health in most cases. I do believe able-bodied people have the responsibility to maintain a certain level of fitness–not to avoid offending people with one’s poor aesthetics but to be of real service.
Who will help our elders safely cross streets, run into burning buildings and save kittens from trees if we all reject fitness? Don’t assume someone else is coming to save you.
It is often stated that fitness is a personal choice. But I believe that when we reject basic training we also reject service to our community and our own self-defense. There is value in being able to outrun anything, from an attacker to an alligator.
And if you actively reject your muscles in order to perform femininity you are part of the problem.
(I want to be very clear that I am talking about able-bodied, basically well people.)

Mr. and Mrs. Fitness America!
Mr. and Mrs. Fitness America!

I have a list of resources to share. It is hard to know where to look for good information. The world of fitness is very fraught with issues, from judgmental attitudes, manymanymany stupid useless products, sexual harassment, actively harmful advice, absurd weight-loss programs, dangerous drugs and supplements–it can be very overwhelming. This list is just a place to start. It is just a reflection of my personal journey. Take it or leave it, I hope it can be of use to you.
This list also speaks to the fact that fitness isn’t just going to a gym. It is very much about doing what you can with what you have. There are great resources for bodyweight-only fitness, outdoor fitness, flexible and functional fitness. I have a few resistance bands, a yoga mat, some kettlebells, a pair of minimalist shoes, a used Craigslist rowing machine and a great playlist. It is not all about the money or the gear.
And I also want to address a HUGE barrier to fitness: body shame. Self-loathing will get you nowhere. I was terrified to start fitness-ing. “What will people think?!?!?!” I look back on it now with a bit of humor, but believe me I am very sympathetic to those sitting at home reading this, thinking “I. CAN’T.”
1. Yes, you can.
2. How can I help?
OK, onwards and upwards. In no particular order:

-The women of Crossfit Dynamix http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kksQV6al1k
I came across this video one day while searching for something else. I can now admit, I burst into tears the first time I saw it. Because it gives permission to seek strength. Because it speaks to my deep desire to be a part of something. Part of a team. I feel like sometimes we don’t know quite what is wrong. Something is off. That something is a culture of movement. A culture of support.
http://www.Crossfit.com and Crossfit Journal
I am going to be clear. I am NOT a Crossfit fanatic. I do not currently belong to a Crossfit. But a lot of my ideas about fitness and what I do come from Crossfitters. I observe that many leading fitness thinkers are involved in some way with Crossfit. I think it is evolving into many branches, some better than others. I personally don’t care for the Crossfit games or the dark side of the competitive Crossfit or competitive fitness in general. But. Crossfit. Way to change the game, especially for women. And I will say, don’t be afraid of the extremes. Just ignore them if needed. Check it out, take what you need from it, integrate the principles that work for you. The Crossfit journal has some great writing and videos and I find it very inspiring. I will never, ever bother with a 5-pound weight again.
-SIDE NOTE: I will warn you though, Crossfit videos, and fitness videos in general, can be associated with sexually harassing comments.   Who are these people who sit at home watching Butt-lift videos and spewing their sexually aggressive thoughts all over them? They didn’t just THINK it, they took the time to SHARE it. They hit send. Try not to read the comments if you don’t care for truly offensive dirtbags making inappropriate proposals. And to those who can’t watch a fitness video without commenting on the body parts of women: please die now.
-Katy Bowman, http://www.katysays.com, http://www.alignedandwell.com http://www.nutritiousmovement.com
I cannot possibly say enough good things about Katy Bowman. There is no “but”. Just run to the store and get her books. Read her blog, like her on Facebook, check out her podcast, and videos, take her classes.
http://www.Movnat.com
Movnat is natural movement. A big part of my point is that you don’t necessarily need to perform “exercises”. You don’t need to Jane Fonda, friends. You don’t always need a numeric goal. Movement is just the human animal, getting from place to place, moving loads and doing work, just like we have always done.
Running, jumping, climbing over something.
I’m into it.
http://www.IdoPortal.com
Ido Portal advocates for a movement culture, a world where it is totally normal to devote time to moving around and noone will point and stare if we occasionally bust out a pull-up at the playground. He seems like a weird dude, and I like that. His videos make movement seem totally normal, and reminds me how our culture is so separated. No touching, no grappling, no horseplay between consenting adults. Let’s bring it back.
http://www.thefitnessexplorer.com
Darryl Edwards also brings back that playful side of movement. His book Paleo Fitness advocates mostly bodyweight strength training, play, group fitness, outdoor fitness and what I see as a flexible and intuitive path.
http://www.evolvemoveplay.com
My final player for now is Rafe Kelley and he teaches a Parkour/play/natural movement system that I just can’t get enough of, and includes dance and outdoors. His videos and blog are inspiring and fun.
I appreciate full-body stuff like freerunning, obstacle racing, rockclimbing, puddle jumping and tracking.
http://www.Mobilitywod.com
I consider Kelly Starrett to be one of the movement geniuses of our time. His writing and videos are inspiring, accessible, interesting and a joy to watch. And he’s funny. I believe he makes learning about our bodies fun and exciting. His books, Becoming a Supple Leopard and Ready to Run, are page-folded, covered in wine splashes and often next to my bed.
I strongly suggest checking him out.
– wwww.BretContreras.com
The Glute guy, Bret Contreras is a wealth of information. He advocates for strong glutes as a source of power. And in many ways, they are. I waffled about suggesting his website because there is a strong bias there towards those who are competing in bikini competitions–which I personally feel weird about. And the last thing I want is to add more body shame!!! So I will say:  this resource is not for everyone. But if you are in the mood to get some solid information and can handle a few butt pics then go for it.
He also has a book, Strong Curves. Again, if you can hack your way through the figure model bits, it’s useful. So, I give it 2 buns up.
http://www.Gokaleo.com
I can’t help but love someone who brings humor and sarcasm to the fitness industry. Amber advocates for eating enough food, and critiques the diet industry.
http://www.yogatuneup.com
Jill Miller just released a new book called The Roll Model, and it is just great. I like her videos and I like her style. Pain is a major reason many people don’t move, and she helps to address that. Videos, classes, YTU balls, etc.
http://www.Liberatedbody.com
Brooke Thomas has a great podcast, one of my favorites. She talks a lot about fascia, an exciting aspect of our bodies that is often overlooked. Her e-book, Why Fascia Matters, is interesting and her writing is great. Highly recommended.
http://www.EvilSugarRadio.com
In case you get overwhelmed by all this input, Evil Sugar radio is a down-to-earth weekly podcast by 2 fitness professionals, Scott Kustes and Antonio Valladares. It is controversial, pleasantly obnoxious, always interesting. They have some great interviews and a lot of ranting. Importantly, they actively challenge the sexism, racism and classism which is rampant in the world of fitness, from diet to exercise and everything in between. Inclusion and tolerance are extremely important to me, and I am very thankful that someone is willing to speak about the reality of the industry–while also bringing good information to  people. They also have a lot of links under each show for further information. This is valuable because I like to research further.
And maybe now is a great time to mention–critical thinking, people. Don’t take anyone’s word without thinking, researching and trying. And that applies to me as well!
OK, how about a short list of other books I like:
-Core Awareness by Liz Koch
-The Swing! by Tracy Reifkind (KETTLEBELLS!!!)
-Mad Skills Exercise Encyclopedia by Ben Musholt
-Kettlebells for Women by Lauren Brooks
-The Art of Roughhousing by Anthony T DeBenedet, MD and Lawrence J Cohen, Phd
-The Parkour and Freerunning Handbook by Dan Edwardes
-Power Speed Endurance by Brian McKenzie
And if you overdo it, I recommend getting bodywork at WestSide wWellness in Providence RI.
http://www.Westsidewell.com

And how about a short list of what to avoid?
Most fitness magazines.
Anything that promotes body shame.
Non-functional exercises that do more harm than good.
Obsessing about every little detail.
Starving oneself.
Trendy doo-dads, like Thighmaster, green coffee beans, 30 days to ripped abs, ass-shaping sneakers and Celery diets.
Ultimately, you are great exactly as you are. You were great before, and you will be great later, whether you work out or not. Movement is not about punishment for being imperfect. Integrating movement into our lives is about stimulating our bodies and minds, about circulating our lymph and running wild. It is about being the human animal, running free through the woods. It is about the future of our mobility, about the ability to get up and down off the floor. It is about creating wellness, having an outlet and giving a shit about lung capacity. It is about power, creating our personal power and cultivating our own inner strength. It is a way to connect, to build bridges. It is a way to add to our world, to serve, to help keep kids out of trouble, to help recovery from physical and mental disorders, addiction, imbalance. It is giving ourselves time to process this screwed-up world and self-care and blowing off steam. Until we see movement as a gift, an opportunity, rather than a thing to check off our to-do list, no resources will fix us.

damn straight it's out of order!
damn straight it’s out of order!