Latest posts for tag fear

Just like magic, spirituality is our to make. To find the most in the sacred and our own spiritual journey, it helps to take stock. What is our spiritual path? How do the things we do feed that path? For me that introspection is long over due. I was afraid that I would find that the things i was doing did not feed that path, and so I procrastinated.

Don’t do what I did. By delaying, I only missed an opportunity to better appreciate the sacred in what is before me.

My Spiritual Goals

My goals remain the same. I want to learn, practice, and teach love and share that message. I want to lend my energy toward a world where love and intimacy are more welcome. I want to promote authenticity and promote doing the work to make openness and vulnerability wise, safe choices.

When I come back to those goals, my doubts fade away. I have been going to fewer events that bill themselves as explicitly spiritual. My rituals have been with my vassal rather than public rituals. But when I read that statement of my goals, it’s obvious that I continue to do the work that I set out to do. And that work has the same spiritual significance it has for me throughout my journey.

The fears are natural too. Seeing something as spiritual or sacred adds gravitas. I find myself asking whether I really believe in what I am doing enough to attach that gravitas.

Seeing the Sacred in my Actions

Much of my work these days is teaching, both in my local community and nationally. My vassal and I taught a class about “Changing the World One Heart at a Time”—the slow, methodical work of building community and approaching people where they are, taking advantage of one-on-one connections to learn and teach. Creating that class was its own journey of believing in ourselves and manifesting a space in which to share the message. It brought us closer to our community. And of course actually teaching about vulnerability and connection is sharing a message that is a spiritual truth for me.

Some of my work has been more personal: building connections with people and helping them at cusp points along their individual paths. At one level, that work is building friendships and being there for my friends. How can that be spiritual or sacred? It’s just living my life. But when I talk about love as something that can be practiced, and dedicating myself to actually practicing love, living my life with openness actually becomes the most sacred responsibility ever. All of the teaching and learning about love and intimacy are valuable only because it allows us to actually learn the skills we need to bring stronger love and deeper connection into the world.


At least for me, spirituality and the sacred are about intent. Examining my path serves to remind me of that important truth. By focusing on how what I am doing connects to my spiritual goals and path, I can focus my intent and justify the gravitas of the sacred that caused me to second guess where I was.

It was September of 2019 when I last danced around a ritual fire. This Beltane I returned. I almost didn't. That would have been a huge mistake.

I was doubting my place in the community—doubting whether that community was part of my life now that I’ve moved to Colorado. Back in 2016, I still worked to bridge gaps and connect with people, even those who disagreed with me significantly. These days, my focus is on my local community. The broader world is too filled with fear and hate; it is not a safe space. I was struggling trying to figure out if Beltane was too distant from that local community. Was it worth the investment of energy and vulnerability. I struggled the last couple of times I danced around a ritual fire. I wanted to find a way I could grow and contribute more effectively. I was a thinker in a community of people who work with their hands. I was someone whose ordeals run toward the mind and spirit in a community of people who turn to the physical. I’d been reassured that I belonged. And yet again and again that weekend in 2019, as I offered to contribute in ways that played to my strengths, I was told “No, we don’t need that. We’ve got it all covered.”

If that had been true it still would have stung. But as far as I could tell, my contributions would have improved our rituals. So I struggled, trying to find a voice, trying to find ways to give back, and most of all trying to find ways to grow with the tribe I had found. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to face that struggle again from across the country.

The Long Road

Thursday’s ritual focused on telling our story over the two years we were apart. It was a real gut punch. I know I’ve struggled. What shocked me was how universal the struggles were. Yes, each of us faced different obstacles. But we were all alone, disconnected, and fighting in our own ways. The forms of connection we grew to depend on to support us often failed. Some of us found connection during the pandemic, but that connection was tight and close rather than the kind of community we were used to. It seems like in many cases building even that connection was a struggle.

As the event progressed, it became clear we had gotten used to being isolated, and this harmed us. Several people expressed relief and joy that I had chosen to attend. They told me I was an important part of the community and it meant a lot I was there. They said they were worried I would not come. “Why didn’t you reach out and ask if I was coming?” I asked.

One person told me that felt invasive. They weren’t sure that it would be okay to reach out into my life outside of festival.

If they only had! That sort of contact would have helped me step past my fears about whether I belonged. It would have created an opportunity for me to explore ways of improving how I interact with the fire tribe and how to grow in that environment.

I could have reached out too. I had doubts. Why didn’t I reach out and ask what was going on and whether I could help? Why didn’t I choose the path of vulnerability and openness, share my concerns, and ask for help?

The Pandemic Poisons Us

I think the answer to both questions is in the long road we’ve traveled. The pandemic has poisoned us. We are used to being isolated. We are used to hurting in a world that is harder to understand. Frightened, afraid, in our own little bubbles, reaching out for the very things that would nourish our souls is too much.

For me the really scary thing is how natural the isolation had become. I didn’t realize I was poisoning myself. It scares me how close I came to losing a community that has been part of my life since 2011. It would have been all too easy to walk away. Facing the vulnerability of coming even though I had fear and doubts was an act of will and stubbornness.

Lifting the Veil of Isolation

It was liberating to let go of that isolation and to be in community. I began to see how I contributed, and how the community’s care lifted and supported me. It felt like coming out of a shell after a long winter.

We all experienced a shared trauma. I pray that as we begin to heal from the last two years, we find some way to reject that isolation and use the experience to motivate ourselves to come closer together. I know that for myself I value connection more than ever.

A week ago I faced one of the most intense rituals of my life. In order to break through some of the spiritual walls that have plagued me for the last year, I joined a hook suspension ritual. The idea is that two large hooks will be run under the skin of your back and then you will be suspended from the hooks. As you might imagine, it's physically and emotionally intense, and in the right context that intensity can be very spiritual.

I'd like to share this note I wrote to the community discussing what a transformative experience it was.

I want to share my experience Saturday night. We have a wonderful tribe and I'd like to share exactly how amazing it is.


I came into this set of rituals confused and deaf. I haven't been able to hear my gods clearly. Venus has been trying to say something in my dreams but it hasn't been coming through. Connecting with fire has been spotty. There are big things in the future and I've found it challenging to prepare for them without deeper connection to the spiritual.

I am very uncomfortable with divination in general and oracles in particular. I think you should be very careful asking the universe a question: you might get an answer. Generally I've found it is far better to live in the moment than to be constrained by an answered question.

But I was stuck. So, when an oracle was offered at Friday ritual, i took advantage. I learned that to hear the spiritual easily, I needed to finish healing my own spirit from the pain of the last year. I'll admit that the “well duh” gong sounding with that realization was kind of loud and I’m sort of surprised that I didn’t hear it sooner. On the other hand, It’s easy to hope and believe that we’ve finished our healing: the healing is long and hard, and it’s disappointing to admit to ourselves that there is more ahead.

Further, the oracle suggested that I couldn’t always be driving my own work. I didn’t always need to be the one doing; I needed to trust in my community—I needed to be taken care of.


When I attended my first hook suspension I admired the courage of those who went through the ordeal. Back then, I thought it would be unlikely that I would need an experience so intensely physical . My trials seemed to involve finding the courage to be open and honest, not the physical ordeal that the primal rituals are best known for.

Yet when I heard that there would be hook suspensions Saturday, I immediately began to wonder whether it was my time. I needed something powerful enough to knock down the walls I built around my spirit. I needed something powerful enough that I could surrender to the community; something I could not face without letting go and trusting. Over the past couple of years I’ve been getting some strong messages of welcome and belonging from the tribe. I wanted a way of saying “I hear you; in my brain, breath, bone and blood I know that this is my fire.” Surrendering to the hooks would do all that.

Yet this would be a big step for me. I’ve only been suspended once; a very mild experience offered around the fire a couple years ago. I’ve only had one piercing scene before: I received a few 24-gauge needles on my front. A hook suspension is not really comparable to either of those. I had no comparison. I was jumping into the ocean; I knew it was bigger than my bath tub. I suspected I might need something that big.

So I meditated. By the time I was ready to go down to the fire I was reasonably sure that I needed hooks. The community considered my request and I was given a slot.

I submerge myself in the ritual. The ritual, the fire are beautiful. I dance and hold space. I am calm; I made my decision. I let go more and more. I lose track of where I am; I float between the fire and the drums. I lose track of the orientation of the circle: as some of the drummers moved, I lost track of which end was the drum pit and where in the circle I was. That’s only happened once before. The fire is hot. I continue to drift.

The Hooks Go In

I am called over to get ready. I lay on the table and the first hook goes in. It hurts; I don’t know that I could have taken it two years ago. Now, it is a pain I can breathe through. That first hook settles easily. Three breaths later, the second hook goes in. That hurts! It hurts a lot. And it does not stop hurting.

A couple minutes later it has sort of settled and I prepare to try and sit up. D is there to rig me. We’ve been together since the Temple of Flame. His voice, calmly and carefully walking someone through a scene that was very close to their limits, is one of the memories that typifies the strength of our tribe. I trust no one greater for this sort of experience.

I sit up and turned to my left. Holey fuck! That hurt a lot. As I moved, both hooks, but especially the left really start to hurt. Waves of dizziness roll through me. Wow, that hurts, I think. Fuck, I'm going to have to stand up, walk over to the rigging station, and then things are going to get a whole lot more intense. Hey, body, are we up for that? My body responds viscerally.

“Sam, you passed out for a bit.” Yeah, seems about right. Discontinuity in my sense of time. I don’t know how I got into this position. Hmm, soon someone is going to want to put a bunch of large meat hooks in my back. I’m already hurting. I don’t know if I can take that.

“Are you with us?”

“Yes. I’m safe.” I realize it’s true. There are the drums, I’m floating in their energy. I’m surrounded by my tribe. I am absolutely safe. I realize that at no point in this entire experience have I felt any significant fear.

Stop and think about that for a moment. I’m going from the experience of tiny needles and a simple rope suspension to hooks and possibly a suspension. I’m not afraid. I’m not even afraid when my body seems to be telling me that I’m asking too much of it. I’ve had hours to consider this upcoming experience and all I felt was nervousness.

And let me tell you that I’m not immune to fear. I know the mind-crippling fear that locks down your body. Again and again I have challenged my fear around the fire.

But for me, this time around the fire is about surrendering to trust, not fighting fear. We’ve built a spiritual container strong enough that I can face an experience this intense without fear. I know I’ll be safe. And as my body relaxes there on that table, even as the scene takes a turn for the unexpected, the trust and acceptance of my tribe fills me.

The medic tries to reassure me that “Yes, you are safe.” She’s funny. The safety and trust are so intrinsic that her reassurance is meaningless. I’m letting her know that I’m in my scene, in a good place, and I’ve returned from passing out to a very wonderful sub space.

I fade in and out a bit more. Eventually, I regain enough verbal acuity to ask for help. “I’m not sure if I can take going up. Standing up and walking to the rigging station seems like it’s going to be a lot. How should we make that decision?”

“O, I don’t think going up tonight would be a good idea.” She goes on. She then tries to reassure me that I can try and go up some other time; I did what I could that evening. I laugh and explain. Flying was not my desire. I wanted to release my spirit to the cosmos. I wanted to take down the walls. I wanted to surrender to tribe. Flying was only a tool. All that has happened without that tool. I got the ordeal I needed. The ritual was already a success, and I was happy to rely on her recommendation. If flying is in the cards some day, so be it, but that shall be a ritual for its own reasons, not a completion of this.

The hooks were removed and I made a few rounds around the fire to celebrate trust and surrender.


I am honored to be part of our community. I am honored to help bring people to the fire, to provide encouragement, and to provide care when needed. There are many who strive for flash or show around the fire. That was not my role, not even this time. I’m there to find the simplest path to where I’m going and to help everyone believe that this is their fire. I’m there to help people see that the fire is for them listening to the drums and watching from the side with intent. I’m there to say that the fire is for those of us giving our energy to the dance and holding space no matter our level of skill or flash. Saturday I was there to say that the fire, the ritual is ours, even when we face the unexpected. So long as we bring what openness we can, so long as we bring our intent, this is our fire.

Give Thanks!

I've been struggling to write this entry for several weeks now. I am trying to find the words to capture something that shook me to the core. I came closer than I'd like to making mistakes I'd really regret. I still don't know how to avoid similar mistakes in the future, although at least I'm more aware of how dangerous the waters are.

This is also harder to write about because the important bits aren't mine to share. It's hard to capture the affect that someone else's story can have on you when you cannot tell that story.

For me, one of the defining characteristics of the Fires of Venus environment was that it was permissive. We trusted people to know their own desires and to know what they were ready for. We didn't second guess people, or judge what training they needed before taking a particular risk. We created a space that helped people find a yes within themselves when approaching things they wanted to experience. I speak of this in the original Sacred Lover post as one of the things I most value in the community. For me, a space in which I was encouraged to embrace risk and to challenge myself to open to opportunities changed my life.

Last year, I faced the potential harm of this sort of permissive environment. Intellectually, I've long been aware that people can feel pressured into saying yes when they would rather not. I understand that abuse can create or amplify that. Last year, though, I slammed hard into the emotional reality.

Multiple times, I ran into cases where people I viewed as strong—people who helped me learn to accept risk and face my own yes—were not easily able to say no. I ran into cases where offering willingness to work with someone became pressure to do that work. I ran into cases where being honest about my desires came close to a situation where something happened that shouldn’t.

Facing this continues to be hard. I care a lot about consent. For me a huge part of what makes my work sacred is that everyone involved willingly accepts the work. Yes, I might be open to exploring something. I might even desire something. An essential part of that desire is to desire in a context where the desire is shared.

I am frightened and disgusted considering how close I came to situations where someone might be too afraid to say no. I never want someone to do something with me because they are afraid of getting hurt or of sharing their feelings. My feelings are strong here for several reasons. I did listen as people eventually did open up about feeling pressured and afraid. Also, I do recall at least one time where I let fear speak and did something because I was too afraid of saying no. I was worried that if I didn't participate, I would lose my entire network of friends. Instead, I found myself afraid and emotionally detached, involved in something far before I was ready as connection turned to ash in my mouth.

My own experience was a strong enough memory. And yet I didn't face anyone hurting me, teaching me that saying no was a recipe for future pain. I am furious thinking about those who have hurt those I care about, for previous abuse is often a factor here.

I regret that it took so long to appreciate how difficult it can be to say no. I regret people I cared about faced challenges defending their boundaries. I’m filled with relief that I learned this before something more serious happened.

I’m still figuring out how to adjust my Sacred Lover work. I already knew there was training I needed in this area, but the priority of seeking that has increased significantly. Until then, I am being cautious about what I do as a Sacred Lover. I’m not putting my life on hold, but most of the things we talked about doing in the Lover’s Grove context now appear predicated on making progress on balancing two things. First, One of the core ideas of meeting in the Strength of Love is being able to trust people to know their own limits and to be honest about their desires. I don’t think it is as explicitly stated, but I think the same core principle was present at Fires of Venus and is present in the work at Beltane and other events.

However, we need a balance because not everyone is ready for that. I think we’ve all faced difficulties saying no. We might face rejection; someone we care about might be sad or hurt. I now better understand that some face a much worse struggle when they face no. As a Sacred Lover, I need better techniques and approaches for respecting and working with those challenges. A big part of it may simply be understanding what situations to avoid, and who I can safely work with as a sacred lover.

I think there are huge benefits to spaces and work that focus on being permissive, that allow people to say yes when that is hard. For myself, having the confidence to say yes and to embrace opportunities has changed my life and brought great happiness. I think this is an important aspect of love work to preserve. The trick is to do that without people feeling pressured to say yes or even pressuring themselves into saying yes.

As I left work Wednesday, my boss stopped to compliment me on starting posting Lover's Shadow. I panicked.

Bosses just aren't supposed to know about the erotica you write. My initial reaction was "How did he find out?" That's probably one of the stupidest things I've thought in a long time. I posted to Facebook and another social networking site. Because of a tangled confluence of events, I even pointed him at a couple of entries on my blog. My SOL author profile is easy to link back to my real identity. I'm trying to create a social media presence; people are supposed to be able to find out.

I have talked about the fear and embarrassment of my love work coming up in professional contexts. My boss's comment triggered that reaction. But as I examined my reaction, I realized that didn't make sense. We were alone in the building. He was careful to mention he was shifting into a personal context; I consider him a friend. I've talked about my love work before with him. As I dug deeper, I realized that I was reacting in fear to how open I had become. If my boss can find my work, so can anyone else. Others might not be as careful of my need for acceptance, respect, and to choose boundaries around how one part of my life impacts my professional work. It wasn't my boss at all: it was me facing the inevitable consequences of openness.

In a conversation discussing my reaction, my boss said that I did a great job of projecting openness and comfort. He implied that without that, he never would have approached me. It fills me with joy to hear that I've managed to create that climate. That's much of what I'm trying to do.

Finding Pride

I'm very glad that my boss did compliment my work. It means a lot that I can create something where the openness shines through enough that someone who takes a different approach can acknowledge the achievement. It was hard for him to bring up the subject; it would have been very easy to say nothing. The compliment was heart-felt.

Also, I found myself trying to dismiss his compliment. "It's just porn," I thought. As I thought that, I realized that I didn't believe that. Writing a hundred thousand well-crafted words about anything in the middle of moving, finding a new job, and struggling with a crisis of faith is something to be proud of.

And it's not "just porn." It's a narrative about openness and a commentary on shame and intent. I've focused as much on the world building, character development, and politics as any author. Yes, there's a lot of sex, but the sex is an important part of the character exploration as well as a challenge to the reader to think about intent. I think it's hot, but it's more than just hot.

So, being challenged in this way helped me find pride that I otherwise would not have done.

Living Openness

I do want to embody the openness I projected to my boss. I want to be the kind of person who can hear congratulations about my erotica with the same comfort I accept comments about my professional standards work or my contributions to Debian.

Apparently I'm not there. This conversation helped me confirm that's what I want and understand what I need to do in order to achieve that.

In a future post, I hope to come back to the challenge of maintaining appropriate professional boundaries while being open about my life. I know I'm not the only one struggling with that.

I haven't felt that naked in a long time.

My apartment has a beautiful, wooden spiral staircase. When Susan first saw it, her reaction was “bondage furniture!”

We finally got an opportunity to try it out when she was in town last week.

She tied me to the stairs and then began to experiment with two floggers. The first was Mr. Thuddy, my long, heavy, leather flogger. The other was a short-but-reasonably-thuddy rubber jack I bought. I’m hoping to have better control with the rubber jack, but still produce something very similar to thuddy flogging.

As her swings gained power, the crack of tails meeting skin sounded throughout the space. I reached for the relaxation and openness that is a good thuddy flogging, but it always seemed just out of my grasp. I knew I was stressed, so I did not worry about what I could not find. I would be in the moment to the extent I was able. Worry would only take me further from the experience.

I was acutely aware of being naked with my legs spread and genitals on display. Normally I draw strength from being naked: I honor my body and honor my acceptance of myself. However I felt exposed: a common enough reaction to nudity, but not mine.

My mind wondered between my nudity and the sounds of the street coming in through the open windows. I considered asking that we close the windows. That might have been a good idea, but I realized that would not help what I was facing.

No, my trial was below me. Any minute, I expected to hear the squeak of the gate through the window, followed by a knocking at the door. Susan would go to open the door and I'd be there exposed before my neighbors as they lectured us on noise. “Of course we all have urges...but we can’t just give into them. You need to respect the common spaces. You can have sex, but not that way, not in an apartment near other people,” the dominant one would say.

My neighbors would prefer a quiet living space. They were concerned that I was sliding my office chair across the floor at 10 PM; they complained that I was pacing in my kitchen late at night; and they complained that my nine-year-old daughter was running around the apartment all day.

Of course, if there had been a knock, it would not have played out that way. If the door had to be answered, Susan could have stepped onto the porch or waited until I could be untied. Still it would have been distinctly awkward.

I felt shame that I might have to defend my sexuality in front of my neighbors. I felt shame that my home might not be a place where I could open to myself. That, rather than physical nudity was why I was exposed.

I considered whether I wanted to ask for a change in the scene. The windows could have been closed, but that would not change how sound traveled inside the apartment. I did suggest that hitting me was fine, but hitting the stairs themselves should be avoided. The stairs would act as a sounding board, conducting sound directly into the floor.

I struggled wondering whether I wanted to fight this. I thought about similar situations. Strangely, had I been screaming in orgasm, I would have had no problem. If someone complained, I would tell them that sexual expression and openness were important to me.

Similarly if it were just noise, I would not complain. I imagined deciding to sand my floor in preparation for refinishing it. I would agree that sanding is loud—louder even than our scene. However, my neighbors don’t get to object to me sanding my floor at 8:30 PM on a Friday, although I might work with them to find a least inconvenient time.

So if something was wrong here, it was because the noises were BDSM noises. No, I don't want to involve third parties in my sexuality or BDSM. Even so, I will not tiptoe around it so much that I embrace shame.

All this ran through my mind as the strokes fell. By this point I was floating somewhere between my shame and the physical sensation. The scene was becoming a meditation in where my boundaries around shame were. I built up courage to face that knock, to hear that condemnation, and to stand strong, while perhaps compromising around timing.

Around then Susan checked in, and I told her where I had gotten to. She put aside the floggers and showed me that with claws out, she at least could be a lot quieter. At first, I thought I had been heard wrong and she'd changed the scene to work around my shame rather than help me face it.

No, she was brilliant. She showed that we could have had a different scene. And then went right back to where we were with the floggers. She reminded me that it was my choice. I had power here. She didn't quite turn it into humiliation play, although she used some of the same techniques: she rubbed my face into the shame a bit, forcing me to challenge it head-on. The scene transformed. If I was having trouble being fully in the moment we were planning, then we'd have the moment I was in. It worked perfectly.

There was no knock, no snippy email. I learned later the neighbors were out of town. So I must face that all again some day. I dread.

Looking Forward

There's actually a very thorny problem here and the answer is not simple. I do understand it can be uncomfortable when side effects of something someone does impinges on your space. Next time I'll definitely have the windows closed and play some masking music. There are scenes I'd be reluctant to have in an apartment because of noise. But I need to draw the boundary somewhere that is not about embracing shame. I certainly could use others' input in balancing this embracing sexuality, politeness and rejecting shame.

The last month has been very full, and I wanted to write about all the things going on in the background.

First, a correction to my last blog post. A Reader pointed out that my closing could be read to imply that I took it hard when someone declined to use BDSM as a path to growth. I've tried to correct the text as I see where that reading came from. My disappointment is when people choose not to find some path to growth, whatever path is right for them. It's also true that I do yearn to find people to more closely share parts of the journey with, but typically my reaction to seeing someone find a path to growth different than mine is joy and happiness.

Five Years around the Fire

This June, I was dancing around the fire and realized I had been dancing for 5 years, since June of 2011. I stood by the same lake where it all started, home in my community--my tribe. There was a break in the drumming and I began to speak. I told about how I came to that first fire those years ago. I felt at home; I felt like I had done this before. I wanted to dance; I asked if I could. It was "not recommended." I kept edging closer to the sand where the dancers danced. Soon, I found myself dancing, doing what I needed to do rather than what others told me I should do. I told how I found my goddess, my community, and how it changed my life.

Apparently that was what several people needed to hear. They came up after, and shared their stories of growth. It was good to hear that I had made a difference--that I had helped people.


The healing at Beltane was an important step, but I continue to struggle, filled with self doubt. I've been asked to help someone do some ritual work, asking Venus to help approach new skills of love. Approaching that has been hard: connecting with myself and connecting with Venus have all been difficult. Even preparing ritual space in my new apartment has been a challenge.

Finally, a few days ago, I tried to open myself. I'd dance, my mind drifting. I'd clear it, and some worry would re-enter. I'd clear again, and once more, some form of stress would intrude. Then, I began to be worried about being stressed. It's almost impossible to clear your mind when you're doubting even your ability to clear it.

I decided to grab a snack, return and see if I had more luck. I stood, a peach in my hand, prepared to bite into it. I remember at my second Fires of Venus asking someone who worked with Aphrodite how to offer to her. He talked about how she valued offerings of pleasure; even the pleasure of eating a peach can be offered to Aphrodite. So, rather than the three bites I planned, I slowly began to eat the peach, appreciating the juice, the flavor, and the texture between my teeth. I offered this to Venus.

"Ah! Finally," she said. "You're so stressed, so busy, that you don't even take the time to be happy."

As usual in such things, she was right. There are lots of wonderful things in my life right now; without a doubt I'm building my best of all possible worlds. However, I'm not there right now, and I'm frustrated at how slow I'm moving in some ways. She was right: even in my spiritual work, even when doing things I'm really proud of, the hustle, the struggle to do as much as I could got in the way of pleasure and happiness. It also gets in the way of being open to myself and open to connection.

"You're going to have to do ritual work to get to a place where you can plan the ritual."


She didn't bother to answer. By this point I ought to be able to put together such a ritual to help myself. After a few false starts, I had some ideas.

Since then I have gotten better at opening to pleasure, opening to her.


I'm at a point of transition. I'm starting to realize some important lacks in where I am. The love work is more important than ever. Every day, I learn of new incidents of hate, fear and disconnection. I don't know if my love work can make a difference, but it's the thing I have to give. Love is needed in the world like at no point previously in my life. I listen and it feels like I'm trying to sell last century's fashion as I strugle to find a way to interest a world ever-more-fixed-on-hate in the power of love. Yet, I know I've made differences to individuals, made differences in small communities. I know those differences ripple, and those differences are what I have to offer until I find some better approach.

So, I began to gain clarity in what I'm missing, or at least what I hope for. Soon, I suspect I will begin to approach how I would manifest those hopes.


I've finished a first draft of Lover's Shadow, my first novel-length fiction. I think there's a lot to be proud of in what I've written. I think it is more accessible than my writing hear, but explores important messages about how we might approach each other with love and openness across gulfs of disagreement and fear.


I've even found an editor to help me edit it. He's new to editing just as I'm new to writing. However, he has promise and dedication. He has the kind of detail focus I need. He started by jumping into working with me to revise my most challenging story, a monologue filled with idiom, some of it fabricated from my imagination. His approach is effective, and while I'm smarting from some of the criticism, it's exactly what I need to hear in order to grow.

I think I will have things to offer myself. In my own way I'm good at grammar, usage and language, and it helps to have a community one can trust for those discussions. Also, just as he's giving me new things to think about, I think I've challenged him to think about new dimensions in writing.

Give Thanks; for there is much of joy afoot!

Life has been rough, but I'm doing better. A significant part of that was a healing ritual that happened at Beltane. I've written a narrative of that experience to share with the world. It's not really fiction: I've tried to capture as much of the experience as I could and share what I could within the limitations of memory and respect for the privacy of others.

I've written a lot about the vulnerability of being open. In writing about experimentation with water sports, BDSM and writing fiction, I've experienced that vulnerability most acutely, sharing that vulnerability as part of the experience.

While this was easier to write than those earlier posts, the vulnerability is deeper. When writing about water sports, the topic was so taboo that I kind of hid behind it. In talking about healing through BDSM, I never talked about what needed healing. The fiction, well, that was close to this level of vulnerability, but because it is fiction, I had some distance.

Here though, I try to invite the reader into my experience as deeply as I can. I do so at a time when I'm filled with doubt, when I'm being asked serious questions by those I care about. I hope to show how spirituality and BDSM can make a difference. I hope to also show the power of a community like Beltane and the primal arts tribe.

I expose a lot of myself. There's a lot that someone could use to try and hurt me.

More deeply, this all matters to me. I hope for understanding. "Hmm, let's talk about something else," is about as painful a response as a directed attack.

As I say, I hope people find whatever path is right for them. It's painful when people look and say effectively "yeah, I'm good thanks; that self growth and introspection sounds hard." Of course I honor that choice, but when the people near me choose not to find some path to growth, it is hard.

Finally, I do hope that others will join me. I hope out there, there will be people who find they wish to walk a similar path. Telling my story gives that wish teeth--both good and bad.

The story is titled Singing of the Chalice and the Lash. There's no sexual content, although there is explicit description of nudity and BDSM scenes.

In the last post, I explored the role of feelings in managing STI risks. I talked about why even getting testing can have complex feelings associated and shared some of the experiences that helped me learn what my feelings are.

This post is the most challenging to write because I have less to say here that's generally applicable. As I discussed at the beginning of this series, the process of thinking through things yourself and coming to grips with your own feelings is critical; I can't give someone else the answers. There are many assumptions that go into a model of risk probabilities; even more so than feelings such a model will be individual. I have shared my specific assumptions and specific analysis with those closest to me--those who need to understand what risks I'm taking. If you'd like to see my specific conclusions and model, I do have them written up, and I'd be happy to talk about whether I feel comfortable sharing. If I know you well enough to have confidence that you'd take it as input into your own process and that you can think about statistics enough to understand the many limitations, then I would almost certainly be comfortable with that.

Once I got to a point where I thought I understood how I'd react if I did have to face an infection, I started trying to model activities I might engage in. For me, the final result was a spreadsheet representing a numerical risk model. On one tab I can enter assumptions including things like how sexually active I expect to be and assumptions about the population I fuck in. Another tab gives a variety of statistics about risks under those assumptions. In my first post on this topic, I pointed to an article discussing why this sort of modeling is dangerous. Certainly, there are a lot of limitations to any model, and a model is only as good as its input. However, I think this helps with a number of questions I have.

First, I wanted to see if my practices were consistent. For example I'd hate to be spending a lot of effort (or giving up opportunities) to avoid a consequence in one way, but run a relatively high risk of the same consequence because of something else I was doing. I'd also be suspicious if I found myself spending a lot of effort to avoid a relatively low-cost consequence while vulnerable to a high cost consequence.

I wanted to be able to understand the relative risks of various activities related to the threats I had identified. For example I've always wanted to develop intuition for whether unprotected oral sex was more or less dangerous than protected vaginal sex with regard to threats that matter to me. Ultimately I wanted to develop a set of practices for my behavior. My hope is that if I follow these practices, I will feel that I've treated myself with care, regardless of the actual outcome. To do that I want to have an intuitive feel for how likely risks are.

Understanding risk numbers at an intuitive level is hard. One in ten thousand seems like a low probability. Sometimes it is. If there were advances so that our probability of death from cancer was one in ten thousand over an entire lifetime, the medical community would be filled with joy. Even so, tens of thousands of people alive today in the United States would still be expected to die of cancer. However, if my probability of getting shot on the way to the store was one in ten thousand, I'd know many people killed on the way to the store, and shopping death would be one of the more likely ways I'd die.


Here are some things I pondered when putting together assumptions for the model. As I mentioned in the first post, one thing I was looking for while researching was statistics on the chance of transferring an infection through a particular activity.

Infection Frequencies

The way I'd heard a lot of people talking about safe sex approaches, I'd assumed that the biggest factor in risk mitigation was what protective strategies you used. I've come to the conclusion that while safe sex approaches such as condoms are certainly valuable, I end up caring a lot more about how common infections are than I expected. Even perfect use of condoms doesn't always work, and other methods and drugs have failure rates high enough that I need to consider them. (I admit needing to look more at the Truvada studies, although I'd imagine a lot of participants combined Truvada with condoms.)

If I'm going to consider infection rates in the community, I need to consider the affects of testing. For myself, I'm comfortable insisting on recent tests before engaging in a lot of sexual activities. So, the question becomes how likely are infections in the set of people who claim to have recent enough tests and claim not to be infected? A lot of factors can influence this. People might lie about their testing status.

People might be infected since the last time they were tested.

With HSV there are additional complications. Absent an outbreak, tests can tell you what strain of HSV you have, but not where. As I've mentioned, I don't buy the presumption that HSV type 2 is genital and HSV type 1 is oral. Making that assumption is an example of one of those cases where I'd be throwing away a lot of opportunities while still exposed to the risk. So, I need to make assumptions about how I decide whether I am at risk of genital HSV when someone tests positive for some strain of HSV but has not had recent outbreaks.

I'll flag one unpleasant truth about population statistics. Race (and presumably economic class) matters in infection rates. I have no idea what to do about that; for myself I've decided to ignore the issue, but that's an area where I can see difficult decisions.

Unless I assume very high probabilities that someone will lie, testing significantly reduces infection rates in the population of people I'll interact with sexually. For me that had more of an effect than I expected.

Number of New Partners

I'll discuss the general question of independence of events in a moment. However, there's one specific case I'd like to call out. What fraction of my interactions are with new partners matters a lot. If I have a hundred interactions in a year with a hundred new partners, then it's reasonable to assume that the probability that my partner is infected is independent for each of those hundred interactions. However, if I have a hundred interactions spread across 5 partners, then my overall probability of getting infected will be different because the conditional probability of getting a particular infection given a partner who does not transmit that disease is zero, and my interactions are not independent with regard to that conditional probability.

Independence of Events

More generally, when looking at probabilities you need to consider how events are related. There are all sorts of ways things might be related:

  • If cumulative exposure matters to the probability of getting infections, then more interactions with an infected partner may produce a even higher chance of infection than expected.

  • One infection can make it more likely that you'll get another.

  • A subsection of the community might be more inter-dependent than usual in ways that skew infection percentages

Acute Infection Period, Viral Load, and Asymptomatic Shedding

There are a lot of reasons someone might be more or less infectious than average. At the beginning of a viral infection, someone is likely to be much more infectious.

With HIV, if someone's viral load is low, research suggests it is a lot harder to spread the virus.

With HSV, we believe it is much harder to spread the virus when it is in a dormant period and not being shed from the skin.

You'll be making some assumption or another about this. Perhaps you'll decide that this can all be factored into averages. Perhaps you'll try to explicitly account for it.

How long does it take to detect an Infection?

If you're like me and you would choose different behavior when facing a partner who had an infection, you probably want to think about how long it would take to detect an infection. Especially given acute infection periods, it probably matters what sort of testing schedule you're looking at for yourself and partners.

HSV and the Yearly Risk Rates

Studies I've seen discussing the risk of contracting genital HSV give results in your percentage chance per year of contracting the infection with an infected sexual partner. They don't give a chance of contracting the infection from a particular sexual interaction. That's problematic because it makes it hard to adjust for frequency of sexual activity or number of partners. I ended up having to make the assumption that the chance of getting genital HSV is independent of the number of partners I had. That assumption is clearly false.

Unfortunately it's quite difficult to do any better than that. HSV spreading is very dependent on asymptomatic shedding. That varies by person and throughout the year. So it seems like it would be quite difficult to get a per-fuck chance that meant anything. This is a great illustration that a lot of the assumptions you make will be necessitated by incomplete information and will decrease the accuracy of any model.

What Can I Use it For

After looking at all those assumptions, it's easy to see that the value of any model is going to be limited. However, I've found it very helpful for reasoning about order-of-magnitude risks. I was able to compare risks of getting diseases to other health challenges I will face as aging and based on how I felt about those potential challenges answer questions like "Would a 1% lifetime risk of that be acceptable? What about a 10% risk? Do I need to keep things under one in a thousand?" Thinking about how many people I'd know with a condition if a lot of people I knew had a one in a thousand chance or a 1% chance also helped. With that I was able to come up with lifetime risk tolerances I tend to think accurately represent my feelings.

I think the sort of work I'm doing is good enough to let me reason about how far my practices diverge from those lifetime risk tolerances. That's been amazingly useful to me.

It's also been helpful to think about what activities I care most about. I've also been able to reason about how much of my partner's sexual history I need to know and about how comfortable I am interacting with partners who use different practices.

I've also found it helpful to reason about how important I think condoms are and about how comfortable I'd be with multiple partners where I chose not to use protection. I'll say that I think safe sex is another area where we spread fear and shame. I've continued to use condoms for penetration, but I'm a lot less afraid of doing something else than I expected to be. I'm also very strongly defensive of people who choose not to employ safe sex measures. I do think it's worth investing the time to become comfortable having great sex even when you use protection, because that seems like a wonderful skill to have. However, in an attempt to protect those who did want to establish safe sex boundaries, I think we've chosen to shame those who choose differently. I don't think the science supports that shame (like any science possibly could). For myself this is a case where exploring STI risks has helped me be comfortable fighting that shame, while still fighting for people's write to establish their boundaries.

Beyond that, I don't think the modeling work I've done would have much use. I think it would be very dangerous to apply it to find the risk of specific situations rather than general trends. It certainly wouldn't work to apply something this simplistic to estimate how a community would change over time. Even so, it helped me understand my needs and factor medical information into what is a very important set of feelings.

That is of huge value to me.

Partners with Infections

I haven't talked about how I'd approach a partner who had an infection. I've faced that with regard to genital HSV. However, even that is fairly rough and raw. This is an area where I have more growth to do, and where I am uncertain of what to say. Empathy, respect and love are important. As far as the decisions or how to make them? I suspect others involved in this discussion have far more to say than I; I'll listen not speak.

Looking Forward

In the final article in this series, I'd like to talk about communicating about STI risk and precautions. That communication has been one of the most painful areas of interaction as a lover. None of the important relationships in my life have escaped pain from that communication. Even so, I've worked to improve, and learned some things I'd suggest considering along the way.

In the first post in the series, I discussed framing the problem, some thoughts about researching STI risks, and my thoughts on threats I'd like to avoid.

That post sparked some interesting discussion on Facebook. I learned that Truvada (an HIV prevention drug) is far more effective than I suspected and it may help with genital HSV prevention. I'd like to thank my friends for those two pointers. I'm still digesting and have not examined the studies in question.

When reading those comments I was initially quite discouraged. Despite having tried to think carefully about this issue, I'm missing critical findings that can significantly reduce HIV risk. I briefly asked myself whether I should just close my mouth and let others speak.

That was just a momentary reaction. My friends were eager to share their knowledge just as they were happy to read and think about what I have to say. Also, I'm not here to focus on medical facts; a good part of my point is that the medical issues are not the hardest ones. Still, when balancing health vs intimacy, it's very easy to feel a lack of confidence, even after a long time of trying to build strength. This is particularly true in our shame culture where taking risks in order to connect and have sex is shamed as dirty or slutty. I'm particularly frustrated that somehow we've gotten it into our culture that a drug might be bad if people felt safe enough to be more sexually adventurous. It's not just the politicians saying this; even the researchers being interviewed about drug studies all spread this particular shame. I don't know if they actually buy into that or feel it is necessary to continue their funding. For myself, I'd be delighted if people reached a level of safety where they could be more physically open.

Why Feelings?

So why do I focus on feelings? My goal in exploring STI risk is to come up with a set of practices that balance my needs for safety and intimacy. In the moment, I don't want fears about safety, shame or similar to get in the way of me opening as a lover. Later, I hope I will not regret my choices. When something goes wrong such as a broken condom or a lover getting an unexpected test result, I want to approach the situation from a place of strength rather than a place where I'm being controlled by fear or anger. I may feel fear in some cases, but there is a huge difference between the fear you can work with as you understand your needs and the fear that drives panic. Even in the unlikely event that I get an infection, I hope to value the intimacy and growth I gained rather than falling to anger with my past decisions.

Not getting sick is at most a secondary concern in all that. I'm concerned about being happy, living with integrity, and respecting myself.

In essence, to understand whether my practices are adequate, I'd like to understand how I'm going to feel in the future if there is some live-changing event like getting an incurable STI. It turns out knowing that about yourself is tricky. What I'm discussing here is how I've tried to come as close as I can to knowing that sort of thing.

Accepting Risk is not Accepting Risky Behavior

You can't understand your feelings without changing them. Especially when we approach fear and anger and work to accept and honor these feelings, understanding our needs, we are very likely to feel less afraid and angry. Going down this path I've become a lot less afraid of getting an STI. If you think the fear is what stops us from getting STIs, then you might think that facing this fear is dangerous because it opens up risky behavior.

First, the fear isn't stopping us. Many educators have tried pushing abstinence-based sex education plus a huge dose of fear of pregnancy and disease (along with shame) down the throats of their students. Yet these same students end up fucking, pregnant and sick. We have needs related to intimacy, and many of us have a desire for physical connection. When we do not take these needs into account, we tend to lose respect for our own decision process. We tend to act. We may feel shame and guilt in the moment. We may be disappointed in ourselves. But we often act; later regrets do not roll back what has happened.

In contrast, I'm not particularly afraid when I think about taking heroin or meth. I'm quite sure I'm located in a community where it would be easy to get either. Instead, I feel mild confusion about the idea. The confusion is mild because I know that I'm just not interested in taking them; it's not going to happen. I think about those particular drug abuse risks with no fear for myself because I understand the risks, have balanced my needs against those risks, and value having a productive life far more than the effects those drugs would have for me.

Pregnancy works that way for me. I strongly desire that any kid I father be an active choice. Having considered the risk and adopted practices I believe are adequate, I rarely fear pregnancy risk.

However, working through your fears does involve trusting and valuing your future self enough to change. In other areas, when I've considered my fears, I've decided to take on more risk. To a large extent my fears were effective in stopping risky behavior because I valued my needs enough to promise myself to face the fears, working to keep that promise. I deferred several decisions until I had balanced my needs. Sometimes I decided to engage in more risky behavior; sometimes I decided consequences were things I wanted to avoid.

Bad Outcomes may not Indicate Bad Decisions

My friend talks of watching televised poker tournaments with frustration. Whenever a player makes a decision that works out well, the announcer praises the decision. However, the announcer and audience can see all the cards. He is frustrated when a player makes a decision unsupported by the odds. Perhaps there's some hint the player has that gives them extra information. Often, though, the player is just lucky.

The converse happens all the time. We are unlucky, and we question our decisions. I worked at an online banking company. Every morning we had a root cause meeting. After determining a sometimes accurate cause of the previous day's problems, we would make some procedure change designed to reduce the risk of that problem. Typically we failed to ask the question of whether the problem was likely enough to avoid in the future. We might debate the relative costs of solutions, but if there was one solution proposed, we would not debate the cost of that solution against accepting the risk. It was a given we were going to make some change.

Asking what you can learn from an experience is valuable.

I'm sad when something bad happens and people jump to "I'll never do that again." Sometimes, when you face your feelings after an undesired outcome or get new information, you realize you want to balance your needs differently. When I realized that condoms break in the real world (it's not just a theoretical statistic) and worked through my feelings about my practices in reaction to that, I made some changes.

However, I've found huge value in considering the possibility that sometimes when you accept risk, consequences happen. I try to think about the joy and happiness I find in my behavior and think about what I'd lose by adopting different practices. I spend the time to separate disappointment in the outcome from regret leading to a desire to change my future behavior.

Play as you Go

I've talked about how getting to the point where I am has been a decade-long process, presumably with more changes in the future. I've talked about how I've sometimes deferred decisions until I could face and work through my fears.

I hope that you find practices that lead to happiness while you grow. I did. At every point along the way I've balanced my need to grow as a lover with my desire to be safe. When I've deferred decisions about safety until I understood my reaction to risk, it's because I could do so without sacrificing my growth as a lover. When I needed decisions faster, I worked to make them. Sometimes this involved loving with more fear in the moment than I prefer as I faced the unknown.

I could not have grown in my approach to risk without the parallel growth as a lover, actively open to his sexuality.

Experiences that Shape

I'd like to share a combination of experiences that helped me understand my feelings. Some of these come from things that actually happened; some from thought experiments. My hope is that you can find things to think about from your life and thought experiments to run yourself. I'm nervous being open. Perhaps you've found this all very easy and you're wondering why I spend my life in what seems to you a haze of fear, self-doubt and uncertainty. Realistically, I know I'm not alone in my fears (even if there are lucky folk out there who face significantly less uncertainty): I've met enough lovers in the strength of love as they faced their own fear related to this.


I became sexually active late in life. As I approached vaginal and anal sex for the first time, I decided to get testing.

I quickly began to face fears and doubts. It wasn't clear what tests to get. There were debates about anonymous testing.

I realized that for my testing to be useful to another lover, I'd need to get tested for the infections they cared about. Similarly I would want them to test for the infections I cared about. Without actual agreement on what tests to get in the broader community, I could easily face the situation where someone had gotten tested and I'd be telling them they got the wrong series of tests. Back then I didn't know how to say or hear this without it coming across as a judgment. Should I compromise what I was looking for, or should I demand that my lover face the frustration and fears of testing again to get the tests I needed.

You'd think that you could just go somewhere and request a set of STI tests of your choice. If you're in California, that's apparently reasonably true. Here in Massachusetts, there are certainly places where that is true. However, you can't walk into a place like Quest diagnostics and get tests: you'll need a doctor's order before they'll test you. (There is a website that will get some doctor to go order tests for you without asking any questions though.)

You'd think that Planned Parenthood would be good at this. You can call them up and they are happy to make an appointment to give you an STI screening. They are quite inflexible on what they test for and it's surprisingly inadequate. I think they wanted to run two or three tests for me, although the battery seems to change over time. They told one of my lovers she didn't need a syphilis test: "that's a gay disease."

Getting an HSV test can be particularly hard. People go around saying that the test is useless because it doesn't tell you what strain of HSV you have; if so, find a better provider as the current recommended tests are type-specific with good sensitivity and specificity. You may be told that the test is pointless because you probably already have it and because you weren't going to do anything different if you do. You'll be told that the test will not tell you where in your body you have HSV unless you get an active outbreak tested; this is true. HSV testing in treatment is complicated; I can see practices under which you don't care about your HSV test results. However, I can see cases where you do.

You may get complaints about the cost of the testing you request; I've particularly gotten this when I ask for HSV testing. You can get a home test kit for $200 that will give you results for a full eight-panel in real time. That price is retail packaging; if your doctor complains about cost tell them to get over themselves.

I found that exploring my fears and frustrations about testing helped me understand some of my reaction to the broader situation. In the past I've written about the value of compassion when talking to partners about testing. I think those prior comments apply well here.

Unexpected Test Results

Typically when I've gotten tested I expect all tests to come back negative except for tests where I've received a vaccine.

I remember sitting there the second time I ever got tested. A nurse walks out with my lover angrily orbiting; she had gone in to get tested first. The nurse strongly suspects that I have given my lover some bacterial infection; my lover is angry about me cheating in the hospital waiting room. I know what I've done and the probability that my lover has gotten anything from me is really low. It turns out when all the cultures are processed no one had anything; a latex allergy can irritate a cervix similarly to an infection.

I learned a lot. You may not get compassion from medical professionals when you need it most. The whole experience was very judgmental with high pressure to accept antibiotics for an infection I turned out not to have. I learned that CDC guidelines are very different for testing facilities where your doctor expects compliance than for those where you might not return.

I learned that every time you get a test you should be prepared for any answer the test can give. Later I learned that tests do actually give inconclusive answers or indicate systemic failure. One lover had to try for an HSV test three times because of various process failures.

What if I get Something

That got me started thinking about my reaction if I got an infection. I felt dirty when I was accused of having a bacterial infection. I didn't like that and decided to work to feel differently.

How would I feel if I ended up having to take a pill every day for the rest of my life? What if I had to take an ever-changing series of drugs like those used to fight HIV?

I had a relatively recent breakthrough when I got to a point where I got past shame related to sex enough to compare STIs to other diseases. I imagined HSV and compared it to the various chronic discomfort I can expect to face as I grow old. I found thinking about the struggles I've watched people go through facing cancer very helpful in thinking about HIV.

However there is a social cost. For most STIs, especially including HSV and often HIV, the social impact is greater than the medical impact. How would I feel facing the rejection of potential lovers? How would I feel facing moral judgments both from potential lovers and others who learned I had something? How would I feel letting others have that much power over my life?

A Lover has an Infection

Going and telling all my lovers about the bogus bacterial infection before actual useful results came back really sucked. It was good to practice that conversation. I learned it's very hard for people not to focus on the risk to themselves. Such conversations can become judgmental, hurt and frustrated easily. Facing that while you are worried about your own state is hard.

I decided that for myself, I want to be ready to face that before taking any risk. I've often found that preparing to face others reactions is one of the longest steps before I am comfortable with accepting risk. However, being able to face these sorts of difficult conversations with strength has been quite valuable. I think that if I had taken less time preparing to be strong in this way, I would have regretted several of my choices.

STI conversations and disconnects in views about risk-taking has been a significant stress on multiple relationship's I've had. I think that such a disagreement contributed significantly to at least one relationship failure.

Facing situations where my lovers have had an infection or taken risks I'm uncomfortable with also is difficult. I try to think of STI risks in terms of what activities am I comfortable with, not who I'm comfortable with. If someone has an infection I don't want to acquire, it may change my practices with them and the activities I'm comfortable with. However, there's a lot of great sex that is very low risk. Even so, I've had things fall apart because of a disconnect here.

Looking Forward

In the next post I'd like to explore how to take what we learn about our feelings and turn it into information about what risks are acceptable. My approach works for me. However, I'm an engineer, comfortable with modeling problems and using math to think about the universe. That part of my approach is likely less generally applicable than the rest of what I have.