Meet our great erotic mentor, Joseph Kramer, Ph.D. and hear the story of how a gay boy born into a Catholic family followed his path to become an erotic pioneer and visionary.
In this intimate interview between student and mentor, Joseph Kramer shares his life story about discovering masturbation as a devout Catholic boy, leaving the Jesuits to celebrate being a gay man in New York City, and how he discovered the power of massage and breath. He generously shares the stories of the explorations and education that he gathered together as he developed the formal Erotic Massage modality that has spread around the world through his vast network of students, his educational videos and the professions he has pioneered.
Joseph Kramer has trained the world in the art of erotic touch, erotic breathwork and the profound presence that unlocks extraordinary erotic states. He is not satisfied with “paltry sex” and insists upon the exploration of the far reaches of what is erotically possible.
Joseph Kramer is a primary mentor of both the Pleasure Mechanics – in fact Chris and Charlotte met during a Sexological Bodywork training, and both are trained in the Body Electric lineage.
Joseph Kramer is founder of the Body Electric School, which still runs under new leadership and the New School of Erotic Touch. He has been teaching about erotic embodiment, somatic sex education and pleasure activism for over 40 years.
Image credits: Thanks to Joseph Kramer and Annie Sprinkle for sharing personal photos. Thanks also to Rick McGinnis for images shot for the Village Voice in 1992.
Transcript of Podcast Episode The Origin Of Erotic Massage : Joseph Kramer Interview Part 1
Podcast transcripts are generated with love by humans, and thus may not be 100% accurate. Time stamps are included so you can cross reference or jump to any point in the podcast episode above. Thanks to our supporters on Patreon for helping to make podcast transcripts possible!
Chris Rose: 00:00 Welcome to Speaking of Sex, with the Pleasure Mechanics. I’m Chris from Pleasuremechanics.com. And on this podcast, we have soulful, explicit conversations about every facet of human sexuality. Come on over to pleasuremechanics.com where you will find our complete podcast archive. And while you are there, go to pleasuremechanics.com/free to sign up for our free online course, The Erotic Essentials. That’s pleasuremechanics.com/free and you will find our free course to get started.
Chris Rose: 00:39 I’m so excited for today’s episode because I have the distinct pleasure of introducing you to my great erotic mentor, [Joseph Kramer 00:00:48] Joseph Kramer is an erotic pioneer and visionary. He was born a gay boy in the 1950s to a devoutly Catholic family. Now, he’s 72 years old, living in Oakland, California, and his lifetime has been one of erotic service to the world.
Chris Rose: 01:12 He left his life as a Jesuit priest after discovering the reverent power of touch when he got his first massage. Joe is going to tell us his story of discovering the power of massage and breathwork together as he took Psilocybin mushrooms and shared blowjobs with his friends, and how this all crystallized into the practice of erotic massage, the combination of full-body massage, erotic touch, conscious breathwork and exquisite presence that creates one of the most exquisite, erotic experiences that I’ve ever known.
Chris Rose: 01:59 Joe went on to teach erotic massage all around the world in workshops, in professional trainings. He codified the category of erotic massage. And in this interview, he’s going to tell that story of how a little gay boy from a Catholic family, went on to become a global leader of sex wisdom.
Chris Rose: 02:26 This interview is so deeply personal to me because Joseph Kramer initiated me into my life of erotic service. I had been a sex educator before I met Joe, but when [Annie Sprinkle 00:02:40] introduced me to Joseph Kramer, that was my initiation into a life of erotic service. Into a life guiding others into what is possible in these human bodies of ours. What is possible, not only in terms of pleasure and erotic trance, and erotic ecstasy, and the amount of pleasure we can give one another, that’s part of what Joe taught me. But Joe also initiated me into these practices that teach us how big we can love. How much we can show up for one another.
Chris Rose: 03:17 Charlotte and I met in a training that Joe and I were teaching together, one of the first Sexological Bodywork trainings in San Francisco. So, Charlotte and I met very much through this work, so my love story with Charlotte and my family would also not have been possible if I was not working side-by-side with Joe. And while my life has been touched so deeply by Joe’s, and therefore your life, if you’re a listener of this podcast, that is just one of the ripple effects of his work, because he has trained tens of thousands of students. He has initiated so many people into a life of erotic curiosity and erotic service.
Chris Rose: 04:05 And from working with Joe, I know he doesn’t love to give interviews, he doesn’t do it often. So, I was really honored when he agreed to a long-form two-hour interview with me. And rather than start at the end, rather than start with all of his global accomplishments, and his schools, and the professions he has founded, and to talk about the global reach of his erotic knowledge, I wanted to start at the beginning. I wanted to hear his life story as it unfolded and share that with you as a story of an erotic pioneer, who’s curiosity and commitment to love and to pleasure created a life of erotic service to the world.
Chris Rose: 04:55 So, we are going to start at the beginning as he is born a little gay boy into a devoutly Catholic family and we are going to tell his story together. Gather round and join me for part one of my interview with Joseph Kramer, PhD. Cheers.
Chris Rose: 05:18 Hi, Joe.
Joseph Kramer: 05:20 Hello, Chris Rose.
Chris Rose: 05:23 So, Joseph Kramer, you are born a gay boy in a Catholic family in St. Louis.
Joseph Kramer: 05:31 Exactly.
Chris Rose: 05:31 Can you take us to that moment of your birth? How did the Catholic context of your childhood shape you from the beginning?
Joseph Kramer: 05:42 I don’t have a lot of memories about very early childhood. I have a couple I’ll mention. My mother and father were rabid Catholics. Not in the sense today of a rigid and political-type sense, but in a spiritual sense. So, they went to mass every single day. Every single day they went to church. There were times of travel, and obviously, they couldn’t, but this was part of it.
Joseph Kramer: 06:14 Part of my upbringing was family prayers, family rosary. Of course, prayers before meals and going to Catholic schools. The question came up, actually, and this was a question that was around in the 50s, can we talk to the Protestant kids in the neighborhood. Can we associate with them? There was an unspoken arrogance like we were saved and the protestants aren’t, the other people aren’t. But my parents didn’t say we couldn’t talk to the Protestant kids.
Joseph Kramer: 06:47 So, it was a really closed system. The values, especially the religion and spirituality. And it was definitely bifurcated. Pleasure was almost a bad thing. It was un-embodied. Our time on this earth, right from the time I was five and six years old, our time on this earth was just testing us for the real thing, which was heaven. We were watched at all time. God was watching at all time.
Joseph Kramer: 07:21 And I bought into this. I knew nothing else. How wonderful, God is taking care of us. I found the life of Jesus, especially his messages, the seminar on the mount, et cetera, wonderful. I didn’t quite understand the death and resurrection part of it. I don’t know if anybody totally understands that. But I bought into this. I didn’t even buy into it, it was all that I knew. It’s what I drank. It was like a fish in water.
Joseph Kramer: 07:54 I didn’t understand at the beginning, the anti-body and anti-sex. But I remember at about age three, and this is my earliest memory. I was taking an afternoon nap, I was laying face down, I had my hands in my underwear, and I was about three years old, and my mother said, don’t touch yourself there, God doesn’t like if you touch yourself there. And this was one of the first messages that I got directly to me about something I was doing that God didn’t like. And it was touching my own genitals.
Joseph Kramer: 08:38 There was no reflection, it was a reaction that stayed with me to the present. I remembered that. So, the genitals became this special place that God cared about. I could touch my elbow, or my feet, or my head, and God didn’t care. But if I touched my genitals, it was kind of like the story of the garden of Eden. You have the whole garden, but this one tree, you cannot eat the fruit of that tree. And of course, like Eve, as I grew a little older, and I’m not talking puberty, I think five or six, I started touching myself there because this is the taboo place.
Joseph Kramer: 09:19 I don’t know where this came from in me, but I learned to masturbate very early. And I learned to rub myself and it felt good. I had orgasms, and I remember them. And later, when I’ve studied this, perhaps 10% of kids masturbate very early on and have orgasmic experiences. Boys and girls and everybody around that and in between that.
Chris Rose: 09:50 Was that pleasure burdened by a sense of shame already?
Joseph Kramer: 09:53 No. Well, except that one thing from my mother. And I didn’t quite hook it together. I was masturbating. But in first grade or second grade comes the idea of confession in the Catholic school. And then the priest brings up one of the things that you might want to confess, and he’s telling these six and seven-year-olds, is if you touch yourself in an impure way, that was the terminology, and I was thinking, uh oh, that’s the name for it. I’m touching myself in an impure way.
Joseph Kramer: 10:38 But I didn’t quite get the concept of hell and mortal sin. It didn’t hook up until a little later. About puberty, again, the same priest and others said this is to test yourself here, will take you to hell forever and ever. And you’re put here by God out of love to do this experiment. And by touching yourself, you could go to hell. If you die without going to confession, you go to hell. So, I believed this.
Joseph Kramer: 11:15 That started maybe at 12, that every time I touched myself, I knew I had to go to confession. I knew I couldn’t go to communion. This is very interesting, because this is what I’m exploring right now. I’m realizing with all the emphasis on trauma, that there’s a large swath, if that’s the right word, of the culture that has had not specific moments of trauma, but in their upbringing, it might be culturally, for me it was spiritual, and I think a lot of people grew up with this exact belief system.
Joseph Kramer: 11:49 When I went to high school, to jump ahead of it, I went to a Catholic Jesuit high school, they had mass three days a week and they had confessions before class, confession during mass, confessions during break. And I would say, out of 800 boys, a couple hundred, maybe more than that, went to confession every day. There was just this unspoken thing of why you’re going to confession.
Joseph Kramer: 12:20 As long as we’re here, what happened after masturbation, my penis, this arousal, this pleasure, was, the prase early-on, was the crack in the cosmic egg. I was in this system, and this was the thing, I didn’t know it, but this was the thing that was going to be the crack to get me out of this closed system.
Joseph Kramer: 12:46 I would masturbate, and then I would go into terror. And I mean, actual terror. That if I died. And I would lay and I would think flames all over my body and that I was forever and ever. I can’t imagine that this was less worse than some of the other trauma terrors that people go through. And yet, this was thousands of times, because I masturbated a lot.
Joseph Kramer: 13:16 And every time, I had to go to confession, had the intention that you weren’t going to do this again. That was part of it. So, there was this system that placed huge emphasis on sexual arousal and pleasure and the body, and avoiding it. And the irony is, that when I broke out of this, this was what was important to me, still. And so, my work became about pleasure, and body, and an emphasis on starting with masturbation and penis.
Joseph Kramer: 13:50 I think it’s still there, and no wonder there’s so much drinking among, the Irish, they said, but among Catholics. It’s kind of a numbing out of body. It’s a physical way of being in alignment with the religious beliefs. And I haven’t seen a lot of speaking to this trauma that people carry. And I know other religious backgrounds, other ethnic backgrounds have similar suffocating beliefs.
Joseph Kramer: 14:24 When I was going to sex school, one man, a Mormon bishop came and got his PHD at the same time as I did. And he did his PHD on masturbation in the Mormon church. And there, there’s no confession, so, once you masturbate, you’re impure. And what his dissertation was, was suicide among boys because of this. And it goes on. They still teach this. And homosexuality and other body-based things that are not heterosexual marriage.
Joseph Kramer: 15:04 So, anyway, that was my experience as a kid. But the masturbation was an entrance, and why I kept going back to it, it was an entrance into some other way of feeling. There was an aliveness that I was in touch with. And that is still a major theme. That’s why I do what I do. Get in touch with the aliveness within. Our own aliveness. This is who we are, alive. We can call it embodiment today, but in those days, that was my embodiment practice, although in the system I was in, it was a horrible thing. Luckily hormones or whatever, I kept at it.
Chris Rose: 15:49 Let’s tell that story a little bit. So, you didn’t run fleeing as soon as you turned 18. Instead, you actually went deeper into your faith and joined the Jesuits. And as much as we can talk about the Catholic body shame and the sexual shame and that as a burden you carried from your faith, you also brought some gifts from your faith. Your love of teaching, your knowledge of pedagogy.
Chris Rose: 16:17 So, you were in the Jesuit community for several years. And then one of your theology teachers went to Esalen and trained in massage and came home and offered massage. He was newly indoctrinated and wanted to practice. Can you take us to that moment as a theology student and receiving your first massage, and how what you call the crack in the egg split right open.
Joseph Kramer: 16:46 I was still in this closed system, I would say. And what happened in late puberty, late high school, is I understood I was attracted to other boys and not girls. And in those days, I didn’t see homosexuality mentioned anywhere, except in prisons. And I remember being a 13 and 14-year-old saying is there some way I could commit a crime and get in prison, so I could be with people who would do with I do. Except I was the best little boy. I didn’t want to commit [inaudible 00:17:23].
Joseph Kramer: 17:23 So, I knew this was sinful, and I go, there’s no future for me as a person, except what the church offers, the milieu I was in was some status and to be of service by being a priest. So, this was a logical choice. I went to a Jesuit high school. There were 30 different teachers that I respected and revered. And they all seemingly had no sex, no masturbation, and this was the goal, the ideal. And they were doing it well and relating, and teaching, and being of service. My high school years were a great time.
Joseph Kramer: 18:06 So, at the end of high school, I go, yeah, this is the path that I’d like to do. I’d like to follow. I didn’t think, I don’t have any other options, but I wasn’t thinking other options. But in terms of this huge thing about sin, that was the only option that I had. So, I joined the Jesuits and was in the Jesuits 10 years.
Joseph Kramer: 18:28 I was studying theology eight years into the Jesuits in Berkeley. Luckily, I somehow got to Berkeley to study.
Chris Rose: 18:37 Was that a deliberate choice? Did you know there were gay people there and you went?
Joseph Kramer: 18:43 No. But, there’s certain things that are emblazoned on my mind, and I remember watching television in 1963 and seeing the free speech movement starting in Berkeley campus. And there were riots and Reagan was the governor. And I remember watching this, but it was all over free speech. I felt muzzled, of course, at the time. I was in high school. But I felt this aliveness. I couldn’t speak, there were no words. So, I went into the Jesuits.
Joseph Kramer: 19:20 And again, this was blissful because it was a celibate, non-masturbatory place, but it was with men who were idealistic boys, 17, 18, 19-year-olds. It was wonderful to be in that comradery and seemingly the part that was evil in me was being stamped down in a sense, or quieted.
Joseph Kramer: 19:48 I went through this and it was an education of the mind, it was an education of thinking. Jesuits are the thinkers and the teachers of the church and they run institutions, they run universities, and colleges, and have for the last 400 years. So, I thought this was a wonderful path, and it was a path of service. This is really one of the big things I took from Jesus, to be of service. And even from my parents, as Christians, that was big for them, was service. My father, especially.
Joseph Kramer: 20:30 So, to be a Jesuit. And I was in Berkeley, and I was studying theology. And theology is like mathematics. Like other things, it has almost no touch with reality, with the reality of the body. And yet, I was in California, Berkeley in the early 70s. There was just amazing things happening, bodily, but I didn’t connect with them for a few years. But I did intersect with them once, and you started the story.
Joseph Kramer: 21:03 A priest, who was my academic advisor went to Esalen and took a weekend workshop and came back. And I remember, there were maybe 200, 150 Jesuits who were in Berkeley in smaller groups, but we ate in a big dining room. And I remember sitting at a table with about six other young Jesuits, and this priest came back and said, I had a wonderful weekend. I went and studied Esalen massage down in Big Sur. And I need to practice. If any of you would like a massage, let me know.
Joseph Kramer: 21:40 There was this panic in all the people around me, and I looked. There was a thing in me that says yes. Right away, I said, yes, I would like that. And he said, well you need a massage table, it needs to be on a massage table. I remember taking the door off my closet in my room and tying it to my desk and putting blankets over it and all this. And I was really nervous because I was gonna be naked, because I was going to be touched. And I thought, but he’s a priest. Even my parents would be okay with this.
Joseph Kramer: 22:22 So, anyway, I got a massage, and it was a two-hour massage and he was meticulous. My attention, there was no distractions. My attention was at the point of contact for two hours. And I was feeling my body in ways that I never, ever felt before. There was not a fear that all of a sudden something was going to happen sexually, or that I get aroused, or all this, although I was naked. It was just feeling what was happening.
Joseph Kramer: 22:57 He went through my body up my face, my head, all the way down. Not my genitals, not my anal area. But everywhere else. And I do remember vividly the webbing in my feet and in my hands when he was doing this, especially in my feet. I knew I had webbing between my toes, but it was so delicious, I was so awake. He said, thank you and gave me this and left. And I realized that that was the most important two hours of education that I’d had in my whole life. I was introduced to my body.
Joseph Kramer: 23:40 And I want to say I had one other practice other than masturbation. And that was at age 14, I was in the car with my family a couple miles from my home, we were jogging home, and I got in an argument with my father. We were at loggerheads. He was at a stoplight and I just opened the door and got out and then he drove off. And I go, I’m two miles from home, how am I going to get home? And so, remembered I’d read about this senator from Wisconsin, Proxmire, I think. Someone who jogged. And I went that’s interesting. Nobody jogged in these days. I thought, I’ll try jogging. I was 14 or 13.
Joseph Kramer: 24:31 And so, I started doing running. And I ran two miles home. When I got home I was ecstatic. I started out like this, I just had this thing with my father, and I got out two miles from my home. I ran two miles. So, the next day, I went out and ran around the blocks, and the next day. When I was in Freshman year of high school, I joined the cross country team. And I was terrible, because I didn’t run fast, but I ran long distances for that ectasy. So, I found that as a practice. So I found masturbation and running were my two practices.
Joseph Kramer: 25:09 Now when this happened, this massage, there was a third entry, a third practice into my body. By the way, when I had that massage, I had been running for years every day, so I ran between five and 10 miles a day to feel. It was to feel aliveness, and I didn’t listen to anything. It was being with my body, like masturbation was being with my body or like the massage was.
Joseph Kramer: 25:41 Anyway, after the massage, I go, I want more massages. I was a Jesuit, I didn’t have any money. And I found, I don’t know how I can get money to get massages, but I had thought, I need more massage.
Chris Rose: 26:01 What did you do?
Joseph Kramer: 26:02 After that, I didn’t recognize that that was the beginning, but that was the beginning of the Jesuits are not a place for me. I need a place where I can get massage. Where I can get into a full-body feeling. I knew about my penis feeling. I knew the general feeling of running. But this was a sensuality of certain tissues that I’d never accessed.
Chris Rose: 26:25 Did you change the way you masturbated after that massage?
Joseph Kramer: 26:28 So, there were times in my Jesuit years when I masturbated, but I was still not a practice. It was a sin, still, and I believed that. In fact, I remember the first time I masturbated as a Jesuit. It was three years into the Jesuits, and I was in Denver. I went out with this friend of mine, who’s a priest now, he’s a seminarian. He says, do you want to smoke grass. We smoked grass and I said, I don’t feel anything. Then went back to my room, I just laid down, and all of a sudden I was touching myself and I couldn’t stop. It was so amazing.
Joseph Kramer: 27:10 So, the first time I smoked grass was the first time I masturbated. I was certainly guilty, but the grass was an access into the aliveness, into the feelings. The gift of being embodied in our body. And theologically, I was saying this is what incarnation is. The idea of God becomes man. And so the flesh takes on this role. And I go yes, it’s a celebration of my flesh.
Joseph Kramer: 27:38 I knew after that massage from my academic director. And he was my academic director and he gave me information and experience that got me out of the academics. And I left the Jesuits within a year.
Chris Rose: 27:54 And you moved to new york city.
Joseph Kramer: 27:56 I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I didn’t want to go back to St. Louis and the milieu I grew up in, so I moved to New York City, yes. And I also knew I was gay.
Joseph Kramer: 28:13 It’s a long story, but the short part of it is, after that waking up, I was much more open. And I told the Jesuits that I was gay. I was in Berkeley. There were people who were out gay. And the Jesuits were freaked out. The head of the school said no one’s ever come in here and told me that. I go, like one-third or one-half of these people are gay, no one’s ever told you that?
Joseph Kramer: 28:42 So, the Jesuits sent me to Toronto, and in Toronto, my spiritual advisor said, you know what, they’re not going to ordain you as a priest. They think you’re too much of a liability just saying you’re gay. They don’t want that out. They don’t want anybody as a Jesuit is gay. And he says why don’t you take a leave of absence, which was a wonderful thing. He was really a wonderful man. That took me to New York City.
Joseph Kramer: 29:11 And I knew I was gay, so I thought, I’m going to meet gay people. I started by going to gay Catholic masses with Dignity. And it was a wonderful, vibrant group of men and women, who so many of them had histories just like me. They were going to mass still in their 20s and 30s and 40s because this was important to them, but they were also gay and sexual. So, that was my first couple of years.
Joseph Kramer: 29:44 In New York, I met a lover very quickly, moved in with him. I had other loves. I was never monogamous. And what I recognized is another way out for me was sex. It was amazing. Every time I had sex, it was this extraordinary experience. It wasn’t paltry. I know a lot of sex and a lot of masturbation can be paltry, and that’s why I went this direction of teaching and my whole life. This is such an amazing potential in this activity we call sex with yourself, or with others.
Chris Rose: 30:28 I want to slow this down. So, this is 1975?
Joseph Kramer: 30:35 76-80 I was in New York, yes.
Chris Rose: 30:39 So this is pre-AIDS gay culture in New York City.
Joseph Kramer: 30:42 Yes, that was important.
Chris Rose: 30:44 Was this your initiation also to communal erotic experience? The bathhouses, the peers, there was a lot of gay sex communal culture at that time.
Joseph Kramer: 30:58 Yes, it was. The communal aspect of life was what was impressed upon me in my 10 years as a Jesuit. And it kind of flowed out of Catholic family life, the communal life, and working together as a commune. Jesuits teaching in schools together. The great work of life was done as a commune. So, your work and your play and your living was communal.
Joseph Kramer: 31:25 So, when I came out in New York, there’s this subculture. In the late 70s, there wasn’t many people, and probably it was mostly people who were very gay, Kinsey sixes. But it wasn’t above the radar. So, there were bathhouses, and bars, and places, but it was like a private realm. And by that, I mean, there was a lot of freedom. I felt huge amounts of freedom within this, of ways to relate to people.
Joseph Kramer: 32:05 I’m verbal, I was trained by the Jesuits in philosophy, and theology, and mathematics. And so, words were always part of it. So, whenever I was playing, words were a part of it. And I don’t mean talking dirty. I wanted to find out who this person was. Hey, do you like this? What’s going on here. When was the first time you ever did this. And shut up, I’m having sex. I got that a lot.
Joseph Kramer: 32:29 But yes, it was this communal aspect. Even with my partner, my lover, we had close friends, and they would come over and have dinner and we’d have sex together. So, it was very common that sex was a communal thing. And there wasn’t the fear of STDs or especially AIDS. And certainly, if there was, gonorrhea was probably the major one. You go to the clinic. I think I got gonorrhea once. I know I went to the clinic once or twice, I don’t know if I got gonorrhea, but there was no fear around having sex would be deadly or something really terrible for our health. So, hygiene wasn’t a big deal.
Joseph Kramer: 33:24 But it was an ectatic time. And most of the people who were out as gay, had to be really pioneers or explorers, or people who were expelled from their realities. There was this amazing group of people who had been involved in other communities but now were forming their own, finding their own.
Joseph Kramer: 33:48 I was in New York for three years. Later I learned about Wilhelm Reich and he said orgasms shake the pathology side of your body. That was one of his ideas. That an orgasmic capacity was about well-being. So, I think what was happening there was a Reichian therapy that I went through of vibrating out of my being. And it was heartful, too. I knew all these other people were aliens. We were aliens to the culture, and yet, we were making connections. I met amazing people and I have life-long friends from that period.
Joseph Kramer: 34:37 I had this, I called it sparking, and it was that when you meet people, you’re bringing your best, you’re bringing something and you spark, and there’s something that happens and you take away from that person. So, the sex was sparking. There are all these men who are empowering each other and giving gifts, and that’s kind of how I saw sex in those days. We’re doing this amazing thing. So, I had a ball.
Joseph Kramer: 35:05 And I realized other people came with more wounds and less enthusiasm. Everybody wasn’t in the same boat that I was in. When I later talked to people who we looked back on this, I was like a cheerleader. I put a lot of energy into this and people appreciated it. But it was this communal experience that influenced my work for the rest of my life was the communal erotic experience.
Joseph Kramer: 35:42 And I named it later. I go, I’m trying to think of a name for this. This is a co-created erotic vibratory force field, and that was as close as I could get to it, that there was, you could cut it with a knife sometimes what was created. So, yeah, that was my New York initiation into gay culture and co-creating gay culture at that time.
Chris Rose: 36:13 So, you’re in New York, you went back to the bay area and took an Esolen class, and then you came back to New York and started teaching your community.
Joseph Kramer: 36:24 I thought maybe I want to finish my degree in theology. I left the Jesuits with one quarter. I had one more quarter for a Master of Divinity. So, I went back for a month, just to see. And during this month I saw an ad for Esolen massage class. Four weeks for gay men. This is exactly what I’d like to learn. It was cheap, it was like $60 for a four-week class. Milo Jarvis, thank you, Milo.
Joseph Kramer: 36:56 But I went back to New York, and I now had a structure. And this is one thing the Jesuits taught me, was to teach. So, they’re teachers. And to start schools was a big deal for them. So, I offered a class. So, the very first massage class I offered was probably 79 to a group of Dignity people.
Chris Rose: 37:19 A group of gay Catholics.
Joseph Kramer: 37:21 Mm-hmm (affirmative). I remember I asked somebody to bring the music because we needed music, and he didn’t. And we were at this place a weekend away, and there was only one record. This was the year of records, still. And it was flute music inside the Taj Mahal. And sometimes I can’t listen to it because we played it over and over, but it was beautiful to this massage weekend.
Joseph Kramer: 37:50 It felt right teaching massage. I had taught English, I had taught religion. And there was one moment, Chris, when I said, I love teaching with my clothes off and everybody else’s clothes are off. How can I go back to teaching with my clothes on? So that was another watershed right there. Wow, teaching with your clothes off. It started there.
Chris Rose: 38:16 Teaching with your clothes off, but also ushering a group of people into this embodied state of massage. This is a gift you gave me of being the facilitator of that is a deeply moving experience. I know exactly what you mean.
Chris Rose: 38:36 So, this is 1979. How did the massage become the daoist erotic massage? How did this massage become erotic for you?
Joseph Kramer: 38:48 Let me first mention that this massage, in my gay non-stop sex, huge amounts of sex in New York, it wasn’t very hands and massage-oriented. It was sex. It was play. But hands take a little more skill, I guess. Or maybe not. But hands wasn’t part of it. So, for me, I was now had something new to introduce to my repertoire. In fact, I felt in New York, that casual intercourse, and people were not using condoms at that time, I just felt that this was private. This was between me and my lover. And that other types of sex, oral sex, blow jobs, and other things were what I did out in the world. But I didn’t know massage yet.
Joseph Kramer: 39:52 So, what happened after I learned massage, I actually moved back to the Bay area. I had a group of friends, and so we started giving each other massage with oral sex. So, I became good, I called it blowjob massage. I’m giving somebody a massage, I’m at the massage table sucking their cock and I’m massaging and waking up parts of their body while the pleasure, the excitement’s being generated, and I’m moving it around the body.
Joseph Kramer: 40:21 And the idea was never to become quickly, it was to not come. It was to feel your whole body. There was a second element here. One of my friends was really into psilocybin mushrooms. And I explored during my Berkeley years with LSD and mushrooms. But LSD was an eight, or 10, or 12-hour trip and psilocybin mushrooms was two, or three, or four, so it was more doable.
Joseph Kramer: 40:49 We would take mushrooms and receive and give these massages. Right now, I just bought a book yesterday, How to Change your Mind by Michael Pollan.
Chris Rose: 41:03 It’s on my bedside table, Joe.
Joseph Kramer: 41:05 Your bedside table. Well, what I understand is how to change your mind is psychedelics. And I go, whoa, I have to find out his approach.
Chris Rose: 41:14 A lot of what he talks about is the kind of breaking of the monitor of propriety, of the self-regulation that keeps us kind of caged. And so much of what we know about the erotic is the need to give ourselves permission to go to the ectatic. These states that we’re talking about, most people have never received permission to even think about, let alone explore. And psilocybin, I think, is one of those shortcuts to cracking open consciousness.
Chris Rose: 41:48 So, you’re exploring this with friends on the massage table, including oral sex. So much of how I think about the erotic touch work is we learn massage skills, we activate our hands as tools of pleasure, as tools of communicating intentional touch. And then we bring those skills to the genitals, to the anus. So, were you conscious of the moment where you started massaging the cock? How did these strokes start articulating themselves in your hands?
Joseph Kramer: 42:21 Well, first of all, the cock had a real prominence for me, right from the time I was four years old. So, it was never a handjob. I’ve heard of handjobs and finishing up and releases. But I never saw that as important. I thought, there’s a masterpiece to be created here. There’s a symphony, and orchestra. There’s all this pleasure. There’s connection.
Joseph Kramer: 42:47 As a masseur, and during the 80s, I gave maybe three to five thousand massages. I called myself a massage monk. And what I learned is touch isn’t a mechanical thing. Touching tissue, and my hands are feeling something and they’re reacting, and there’s this communication back and forth. So, there’s a language that’s happening. It’s not about a thought. It’s a language where I would touch and there would be a reaction that said go deeper or lighter or move around or what to do.
Joseph Kramer: 43:29 And what happened is more and more, the reaction I got from people I touched was, I don’t know how you did it, but you did exactly what my body needed. And when I thought of someplace I wanted you to go, you went there. So, that’s this communication. Not just on the penis, but on the whole body. Yes, when I touch penises, people go, I’ve never been touched like that before. Oh, my god.
Joseph Kramer: 43:55 There was one more element, and that was when I’m doing these mushrooms, my partner out here said a friend of his from college was teaching a breath class and it was going to last a year. I didn’t know what this was, but there were classes in body, in touch, in all kinds of things happening, so I said, let’s do it. It was a year in rebirthing breath, which is a breath where there’s no pause at the top or bottom of the breath. Or it could be slow or faster. But it’s no pause at the top or bottom.
Joseph Kramer: 44:35 When you do that, there’s a high, there’s an orgasmic feeling. So, all of a sudden, I had another tool. And I recognized that running was very similar to this because you breathe, but you use the oxygen up in the running. In rebirthing, in this breathing, you get the oxygen in and it isn’t used up, it goes through the blood to the cells, and there’s this ecstatic feeling of more and more vibrancy. That’s what the oxygen does.
Joseph Kramer: 45:06 So, with mushrooms, and touch, and blowjobs, and breathing, those were all the things we were exploring in 79 and 80.
Chris Rose: 45:18 And the breath workshop was with Claire Arneson, was that right.
Joseph Kramer: 45:22 She taught breath that year. And she did individual sessions with me. In the individual sessions, her background wasn’t Catholic, and she says, you have lot of rigidity in your body. And this is after I’m running every day for 15 years and I’m doing mushrooms and I’m learning this breath. But the breath, I learned there were places in my body, it wasn’t going.
Joseph Kramer: 45:49 And it’s, as you said, self-regulation that doesn’t serve us. So, I was regulating. And I thought, if I’m regulating my breath, I’m probably regulating sexual pleasure, also. I’m regulating all kinds of things that I don’t know about, which is what [Yeung 00:46:07] calls the shadow. Things that are influencing us that we’re not even aware of, habits.
Joseph Kramer: 46:14 But what happened is a lot of the people I worked on for massage work came in and they would come to me and they’d go, oh, they wanted to be jerked off because that was part of massage, they thought. I’d go, no, this is not what I’m about. That was in my private life. With this, I’m a professional masseur. Until one day, somebody said, you give the best Catholic massage, and that jolted me. I said, what do you mean? He says, you don’t touch the genitals. Other masseurs in 79, 80, 81 touched genitals.
Joseph Kramer: 46:49 Anyway, I remember the exact day. I was doing acupressure on someone. And I asked him to start breathing. I had not really used this breath in my sessions. But I was holding points on his body. He started breathing, I could see he was getting ecstatic. My other experiences with breathing and someone else had been blowjobs. But I wasn’t going to give him a blowjob. So I said, I’ve been trying this with some of my friends, I told him, where I touch your penis, I was so clinical, while you’re breathing to see what that would be like. I remember he was a therapist. He said okay, let’s try this.
Joseph Kramer: 47:34 So, I did with my hands what I was doing with my mouth and had him breathe. And he went into a place that I was going into with my friends, but we did it regularly. This is the first time he’d ever done this. And he goes, oh, my god, I just went someplace. I had an experience I’ve never had before. He came back every week. Four sessions, I remember.
Joseph Kramer: 48:01 But then I started thinking, maybe I should do this professionally. And it’s not handjobs. It’s not just giving somebody a release. It’s giving somebody a waking up because the breath circulates the excitement through the body. So, that was the beginning. I then decided, I need to advertise erotic massage, that’s what I’m doing. And the gay papers in San Francisco, where I got most of my clients, I lived in Oakland across the bay, I asked them to have a category called erotic massage. They go, no. I said wait, you have hustlers, escorts that are offering all kinds of kinky services and then you have massage. Finally, they said yes, an erotic massage category started which became very lucrative for them. And lots of people came to me.
Joseph Kramer: 48:52 I explored erotic massage with my hands, with breathing. And I found the breathing got people into their body. A lot of people disassociate when they go into sex, or they freeze from mild or major trauma. Or they’re distracted regularly. But whatever’s going on, if you’re breathing in a conscious pattern, you have to stay present to breathe. And I could tell right when they go away. So, I’m giving them the session, they just went away, and I would call them back. So, the breathing became this time when they … That’s why people had amazing experiences because they couldn’t eject out of the experience when they’re breathing.
Joseph Kramer: 49:39 I think the breath also circulated and relaxed and was pleasurable, but it was also a clue to me how I could keep somebody present for this erotic experience. And a lot of people, the erotic experience for them is ejaculation. A lot of men, and probably orgasm for women. But in this process, they had to pay attention to this whole process.
Joseph Kramer: 50:03 And I quoted a Catholic saint, often, Saint Therese of Lisieux. She said heaven is all the way to heaven. That was my statement that heaven isn’t out here. It’s just this whole process. So, that’s where Daoist erotic massage started. Yet, it was in my private practice, and I was quiet about it. I wasn’t ashamed of it, but I was private about it. I was advertised in papers, but I had no thought of like I taught massage, of teaching erotic massage or anything like this at this time. It was several years later.
Chris Rose: 50:49 I hope you enjoyed part one of my interview with Joe Kramer. Next week, we’re going to talk a lot more about erotic massage and teaching erotic massage in classrooms all around the world. Join us next week for part two of my conversation with Joseph Kramer, or visit us at pleasuremechanics.com for our complete podcast archive. And go to pleasuremechanics.com/free for our free online course. I’m Chris from pleasuremechanics.com wishing you a lifetime of pleasure. Cheers.
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