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Join me in Love

Lovers Grove: a Community of Professionals

Published by hartmans on 2015-07-02
I'd like to live in a world where love is a profession; I'd like to live in a world where you can maintain a reasonable standard of living exploring, teaching and learning love. I'd be delighted if we can turn Lovers Grove into such a community. I imagine a community of lovers and messengers splitting their time between working with clients sexually, working with clients in other ways, working spiritually through ritual, writing, engaging with the community, teaching and taking classes, and exploring ourselves. The ritual and spiritual work would provide an anchor, a way to connect with gods and with the other members of the grove to grow, gain strength, heal and give thanks. The community ministry (work with clients) would build from this base of strength pushing out the magic of love, building a better world, weaving the web of compassion and connection.
It's easy to see something like Lovers Grove as a volunteer project. However, as I realized that I was thinking of something bigger, I began to question myself. Why do you need that? We all hope to find love and compassion within our lives; can it really be hard enough it's worth that many resources and that much time? Then I realized that there's a huge difference between growing as an individual lover and the challenge of growing the world in love. Even if you grow the world by connecting with individuals, it's big. It can take all the time and resources you have and then some.
I then began to wonder whether this is important enough for that kind of effort. We all choose our own values. For myself, yes, this is important enough. Watching the changes in myself and those near me, I'm absolutely willing to do what I can to lend power to the grove.
Some probably wonder whether turning this into a job, a calling will somehow sully it, turn it into drudgery. It's certainly possible for anything to become drudgery, but from my experience that's about whether you are happy in what you do rather than what you are doing. I wake up every work day and go design and write computer software. I thought that was amazingly awesome when I first heard about it in the late 1970's. I still do. Some parts of my job I could do without, but the vast majority of it fills me with joy and accomplishment. If helping others grow becomes tedious, it will be time to stop, regardless of whether it is what I get paid for, regardless of how often I do it.
The big question though is how to make it succeed. This is an area we are still exploring. I want to share our thoughts from the beginning. I'd like to see this turn into a community of professionals, but I'm not willing to sacrifice the work to achieve that. I'd love feedback.

Non-Profit Fund raising

One approach is to take donations. Certainly we will do that, but I think it will be a long time (if ever) before we can fund a diverse group of people for a significant fraction of their time. So, what other options do we have?

Video Sales/Advertising

In the post on messengers, I talked about how we plan to produce videos of people's stories of growth. Some of these videos will be erotic. Some of the videos (erotic and non-erotic) may be things people would pay to watch or pay to advertise along-side.
I don't think selling this work inherently demeans it. I think porn can be healthy, and money is not inherently unhealthy. Venus Victrix (Venus as the patroness of generals) and Venus Genetrix (Venus as the mother of the Roman Empire) certainly understand the value of logistics and the need for resources. Hermes gets the gritty practicalities. So, while it's important to me that I have the support of my gods, I don't see a problem there.
It's important to preserve the integrity of the work. This needs to be about helping lovers grow in the ways they need to grow and about telling their stories. Having it turn into finding profitable stories to tell, or worse, twisting stories until they are profitable would destroy an essential openness of the work.
I think it's important that the videos be openly available. It's important to me that cost not become a significant obstacle to people exploring our work. Every time someone decides something we produce is too expensive, we lose an opportunity to connect with them.
Some clients may be uncomfortable with the videos being sold. Perhaps they want a cut. Perhaps they aren't comfortable with money being involved.
In the previous post, I talked about the importance of not faking or playing to the camera. The incentives to do this might be higher if profit is involved. Being blind, I don't know whether it's possible to produce erotica people would be interested in watching that is about the lovers' experience rather than designed to be a pornographic depiction of a sexual event.
I'm very concerned about exploitation of the people involved in this process. To some extent that's going to be important to think about whenever something like this becomes someone's livelihood. However, it becomes significantly more of a concern if the videos are going to be an important source of funding. I'll discuss avoiding exploitation towards the end of the post.
So, are there ways we can address some of these concerns? The most important step to me seems to be to have the video sales at an arms-length from the work of the Sacred Lovers and Sacred Messengers. For example the main work of the grove could be organized into a non-profit, and the video sales could be handled by a commercial entity. It would be important that the commercial entity have no influence over which videos were made or over the decisions made in filming the video. As a society, we have a lot of experience creating this sort of isolation around non-profits, and I think we understand what works. It probably makes sense to look at advertising-based income and subscription-based income rather than charging for access to individual videos to maximize availability of the videos. I think these approaches help with a number of the concerns around integrity of the work and availability.

Charging Clients

This post represents my hopes and desires at the time I'm writing it. As much as anything else, it's musing on the options we might have and the ethics of those options. This is not a plan and is certainly not the policy of Lovers Grove. I'm writing this before we've completed legal review. Following the law is important to me and I fully expect our ideas to change as we spend some quality time and money with lawyers reviewing all our options.
One option we've been considering is charging clients for our time. The ethics of money and spirituality are complex and go back at least as far as Luther's objections to selling indulgences. Not all of what we're doing involves sex, but some will. The ethics of sex and money are more complex and go back further.
I am angry when I hear the claim that paying for sex inherently sullies it, and furious when I hear that it sullies sex workers. I wish to fight this shame. I wish to live in a world where sex workers can live with pride, grow as professionals, and use all the tools that we have to fight exploitation or unfair working conditions. Part of me hopes that having a Lovers Grove community proud of their work, open about what they are doing, willing to charge clients might help fight this shame. It seems very likely that for many reasons we'd charge for time independent of what happened with that time, but it also seems like even doing that could be a stand against shame in all forms of sex work.
Taking that stand and receiving income are the clear positives. Now I'll try and explore the nest of scorpions we find under the rock I've overturned in this section. First, I'd be very uncomfortable charging for the spiritual work of the grove towards its members. I wouldn't want to charge for being in ritual with folks, nor training them on paths that might lead to the offices of the grove. I don't want to charge someone for helping them work with Venus or Hermes.
Charging for something makes it easier for people with money to get and harder for others. I'm concerned though that people who have the disposable income to pay for our time might be less ready for our work than average. It could quickly turn to drudgery if your calendar is filled with people who are not very open to meeting in the strength of love.
Even if we can find a full calendar of well-off clients who have mutually fulfilling work to do, I don't want this to be only for the rich. I don't mind if there's some financial bias, just as there is in my work today. However it's important that we have mechanisms so that motivated lovers can work with us even if they are not able to pay what we might charge.
Charging may well drive away some who would work with us as clients or as Sacred Lovers. If we drive away some and get a community of professionals, that might be worth it; that goal is important. If we drive away folks and get nothing, or if we drive away more than we must, I hope we can do better.
There's huge legal complexity. In most US jurisdictions, prostitution is illegal. Case law makes it clear that wording the transaction in terms of charging for time is not generally sufficient to avoid the offense of prostitution. It's easy to take a quick glance at the law and jump to the conclusion that charging for anything involving sex is illegal. It's clear to me that it's more complex than that. Consider how porn movies are made. It's relatively common in small porn productions for the producer to both be involved in the action and to hire the actors. It is possible that everything we'd consider in this space is illegal in the jurisdictions we'd like to work, but that's a question only lawyers can answer.

Fighting Exploitation

I've mentioned a number of times that we need to be really careful about avoiding exploitation of our lovers. Here I'm talking about people who might be part of the community of professionals; Sacred Lovers and staff of the grove. It's also important that we respect the boundaries of clients and not exploit them financially or otherwise; that is a topic for later.
I think there are a number of things we can do to manage the exploitation risk. One of the biggest is to require that anyone involved in setting policy for the grove's lovers work actively as a grove lover; we want to make sure that those who would decide must live under their decisions. At a point where we get any non-management folks involved, we probably want to set up a group to make sure their needs are met.
It's important that at an individual level the financial incentives not favor any particular decision about boundaries. You don't want people to make more money if they have sex or if they engage in some particular sex act in a particular interaction. You don't want them to lose money if they decline to work with a client, use a safe word, or assert some boundary. At first this might seem like it would make it hard to provide sexual connection when that's what people want. I think that it creates management pressure to hire people who enjoy their sexuality and to create an environment where being open in that way is what they want to do. It also removes a crutch used to deal with bad job fit: if people are paid per act, then if they just really aren't cut out for the job, they will not make enough money. Instead you would have to have some harder conversations, because if someone really isn't interested in being sexually open in the way the organization needs at a particular time, they aren't a good fit for a job that requires that.
It's important to pay people well and give them good benefits. It also seems important to try and hire people/help people into positions where they have other options. When people are ready to leave, You really want people who say "Ugh, I'm done here. I'm going to accept another offer," rather than "I'm trapped here because I cannot find another option."

Conclusions

I don't have any firm answers. There's a lot to think about. I do care greatly about the ethics and about treating people right. I'm very interested in input on how to do that. However, long-term, I'm willing to risk a fair bit to create a place where focusing on love work can be what people do. I don't consider business or money or the gritty practicalities of life evil, nor do they inherently detract from the sacred. Money and business are just another form of magic/power. Your intent matters, you're responsible for what you wrought; the more power you apply, the more care is required. I want to be clear from the beginning that we are considering these sorts of issues.

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