The Wonk of Wank 

Joseph Kramer didn't just reinvent the career of Sexological Bodywork: He helped convince state regulators to sanction it.

It was a clear Saturday morning, nine o'clock, and the day's early yellow light spilled into Collin Brown's second-floor studio. "You made it," he said, as I sidled up to him and introduced myself. "You're brave."

As I chatted up Brown -- a middle-aged, balding man with soft hazel-green eyes and an easy manner -- the room began to fill with other men: some young, some old, but most in that paunchy wilderness of middle age. They seemed almost relaxed as they milled about, clustering as they did in little knots and making small talk. Each wore a name tag. Each had arrived with two innocuous towels, a bedsheet, and a pair of tube socks. Still, the crystal phalluses resting on a nearby table assured me this was no yoga class.

But I already knew that. I had arrived that day at Oakland's Body Electric School as part of an agreement with Joseph Kramer, the grandfather of modern-day Sexological Bodywork. He founded the school in 1984, and though he has since sold it to Brown, Kramer retains his reputation among Bay Area bodyworkers as a "visionary," a "great deity," and -- get ready for this -- a "god."

Still, Kramer the man teaches Taoist Erotic Massage, and as such, this deity is leery of journalists. True to his shamanic reputation, Kramer had agreed to speak with me only on condition that I first attend a class at the Body Electric. I had to understand the experience, he reasoned. I had to be open to his pedagogy. I had to prepare myself for his message. I had, in other words, to get my head right.

But there was little time for such considerations. Brown soon had us in a large circle, shaking hands, telling stories about ourselves, and looking deep into one another's eyes. We hugged. We massaged. We jumped like cheerleaders.

Now, sure, I was blindfolded. And sure, someone was clammy to the touch. One of my mates thought he had big hips; another spent a small fortune each month on lubricants. It can also be disconcerting when three beefy strangers close in on you for a group hug.

But what got me was our hug's release: One pair of hands began rubbing my back. Another worked my shoulders and forearms. A third moved slowly down my thighs toward my calves. They'd been at it for about five minutes when I felt someone tug at my shirt. He unbuttoned it, and then lifted it off my shoulders. Next went my belt, my pants and, finally, my underwear.

When it was over, there we stood, all forty of us, blindfolds off, stark naked and hugging. But these weren't the tight, needy hugs of a maiden aunt. No, we tried to be completely present in our embrace -- nothing more, nothing less. But as I communed with my group, eyes clenched and hands gripping those strange hairy shoulders, I was suddenly hit with a blast of halitosis. I shuddered. I couldn't help it. Try though I might, I had to look. I had to know. Slowly, I lifted my head and opened my eyes.

There was my classmate: thick glasses askew, week-old whiskers sprouting at the chin, and a tie-dyed bandanna clinging to his scalp. He looked at me, smiled ecstatically, and asked: "Do I look pretty weird?"

I didn't answer. I was trying to remember how I'd come to attend "Celebrating the Body Erotic," a two-day beginners' workshop in masturbation.


Now stop. I know what you're thinking. Few boys over the age of fourteen can be called a "beginner" when it comes to wanking. Many practice daily. Mastery soon follows, and by the time those same boys have reached manhood, most can literally do it in the dark with one hand tied behind their backs.

But what do we really know about it? Not much, if you ask Joseph Kramer. Onan's dark art is rarely taught. Most boys stumble upon it as if by accident, alone and at night. It soon becomes a source of embarrassment and shame, and that, according to Kramer, causes them to masturbate as quickly and furtively as possible -- damning their erotic energy to a sort of Kleenex purgatory. Masturbation is ignored in waking life. Though men may think about the quality of their sex life, their romantic life, and their spiritual life, they rarely think about that of their primary erotic experience: their masturbatory life. Neglected and hidden, masturbation soon becomes routine, perfunctory even.

"Every time somebody masturbates there are one or two -- maybe three if you're really creative -- ways that men hold their bodies," Kramer told me when we finally met at his Rockridge home. "It's the same almost every time. That's the norm, but that's also the way dogs have sex. ... We have the option to do something else."

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