Gina Ogden, High Priestess of Sexology
I have met many of my sexology forebears at one or another sex conference, but by no means all of them; it’s always pretty thrilling when I get to swap ideas with someone who got to the party long before I did, whose work has in fact influenced me and the rest of my colleagues. An earlier generation of people developed the field as we know it today — some of them, like Vern Bullough, have already died, while others are at the height of their influence. An example of the latter is Gina Ogden, whom I just had the honor of interviewing for CarnalNation.
Trained as a relationship therapist, Gina realized in the 1970s that she needed to add much more sex information to her bag of tricks than traditional therapy training had given her (unfortunately, this is still true today — marriage and family counselors sometimes still get no, or next to no, sexuality training). She was an early attendee of the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality— and there, she noticed that, even though there were great people gathered together doing good work, a focus on the distinct experience of women was largely absent.
It’s one thing to notice an absence or a lack; it’s another thing altogether to figure out how to fill it. Setting out to address the problems she observed in her professional world, Gina Ogden became a trailblazer — and apparently it’s a vantage that suited her, because she’s still at it. Looking at ways to “put the ‘fun’ back in sexual function,” Gina did work that became her influential book Women Who Love Sex. Not only were those women, as Gina discovered as she looked at what made them distinctive, oriented to a broad view of sexuality extending well past the “one man, one woman, intercourse and very little else” mode that was considered “normal” sexual functioning — these women had many other erotic eggs, so to speak, in their baskets — but she also uncovered a perspective that led her to the next phase of her work. She realized from these highly sexually functioning women that she needed to look beyond physiology, sexual arousal and response and consider not only their emotional reality — that’s maybe not too surprising, given our cultural identification with women and emotion, love, and relationship — but also their spiritual feelings.
Many years later, Gina has gone deeply into the spiritual elements of sex. She amassed survey research on thousands of women from 18 to 80+, looked into ancient spiritual and religious systems, and developed trainings that allow women (and everyone else) to reconnect to their authentic, powerful sources of passion. This phase of her career has so far resulted in two more books: The Heart and Soul of Sex and The Return of Desire.
I didn’t share this with Gina during our discussion — I was way too into hearing about her journey — but in my youthful search for sexual pleasure and agency, I also discovered the deep importance of spirituality to my own sense of the erotic and my own sexual identity. I wouldn’t say this was a religious quest, exactly, although I taught a class as a grad student in sociology called “Women and Religion, Women’s Religion,” and my artwork now — I’m a cut-paper collage-maker (and will be sharing a show at Good Vibrations’ Polk Street Gallery next month with my partner Robert Morgan Lawrence, who makes Photoshop collage, and the awe-inspiring collagist [and Tantra pioneer] Penny Slinger)– trades heavily in religious and erotic images, so clearly religion has gotten under my skin and into my psyche.
But learning about the history of Goddess religions and acknowledging the importance, to me personally, of spiritual practice, ritual, and the more ineffable side of things, the big connections, definitely found its way into my sexual identity. Many people have heard about the Queen of Heaven parties Robert and I used to run: those were an outgrowth of my participation in another group of erotic adventurers, the Jack-and-Jill-Off crowd (obviously that’s also a precursor to our live Masturbate-a-Thon gatherings). At the JJOs I always felt that I was in spiritually powerful space — which may sound odd to those among you who grew up with religions that prohibited sexual adventuring, but it was seriously true for me. I wrote an essay about it, published in my book Real Live Nude Girl, called “On Stage with Annie” — a riff beginning with joining Annie Sprinkle and a group of her friends for the notorious sex ritual that closed her solo show Post Porn Modernist, and ending with musings on what life would be like in a culture that truly integrated sex and spirit.
Not everyone links sexuality and spirituality, of course, at least, not mindfully. But in the middle of my talk with Gina I found myself saying, “I suppose you could call love, in one sense, a form of spirituality,” to which she replied, as only one who’s explored the depths of these issue for years could do, “Of course!!” (Like, no duh, grasshopper!) So, all you lovers out there, perhaps you are connecting with a different sort of worship in addition to the awe you feel when in the presence of your beloved. Valentine was a saint, after all.
Gina and I covered much more ground in our discussion, including a dissection of psychotherapy and the new changes pending to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), plus more about her current work training therapists and others to integrate mind, body, sexuality and spirit. We also brainstormed a fabulous new book project! Stay tuned!
And if you’re interested in more about Gina, check her out here: www.GinaOgden.com.