October - November 2001

Compassion and Compersion

First, I'd like to restate an idea from yesterday's edition. "There is a whole world view possible that is different than our culture's dominant ideas, which are (demonstrably) suicidal. The different world view is one in which love adds to love, not subtracts from love.

"I would say that if you're dealing with some kind of force that subtracts, somewhere in the equation there is something other than love. My view is that we need to create new structures that reflect reality and work in the face of what we actually need, feel and experience in this life, now."

To do this, of course, will take more than creating improved relationship and community structures. Much is necessary in the way of inner work, emotional and sexual healing, and what I can only describe as spiritual evolution. In reality it is all spiritual evolution (spiritual usually being a deceptive shorthand buzzword for the equation, "life minus sex"). (Hence, somebody recently invented the concept "spiritual sex." But "spiritual sex" is as natural a product as frozen organge juice, which starts as oranges, becomes juice, is fragmented into ten component parts in a factory, has a few things added, is boiled down to nothing, is frozen, and is finally reconstituted in your kitchen, bearing a vague resemblance to... orange juice, but only vague. I will cover this topic as we approach Sagittarius.)

Ideas are Important

Ideas are our inner structures and they are very important because in order not to be trapped in the world of depression, possession, regression and obsession, we need to vision our way out. Visioning starts with new ideas. There are many people -- you may be one of them -- who know that we need a better way to do love. I think most people know this, but lack the resources to take very many meaningful steps. Part of what we are doing in "serial monogamy" (which is really serial polyamory) is taking a series of steps through which we go from one person to the next. Each person we go through, and usually dispose of, represents a phase of growth, and we might reject a person because we reject how we felt or behaved at the stage of growth they represent.

Visioning starts with new ideas. There are many people -- you may be one of them -- who know that we need a better way to do love than we are currently doing it.

But just because this can be explained does not make it sensible, and neither is it the easiest, nor the kindest, way to learn. Far as I can tell, we are conducting a process that involves projecting inner conflict outward: as blame, as the choice of inappropriate or incompatible partners, as relationship conflict that is based purely on inner conflict, and as jealousy which is based on fear and insecurity that reside within ourselves and nowhere else. We seem to be fragmented within ourselves, and have fragmented lives, in which, for example, the people we love never get to meet one another because we're too scared, or because we're reminded that we don't feel whole in the presence of both of them.

To make any progress at all, IMHO, we are going to need to dedicate our relationships to inner wholeness, which is a call to be whole and real within those relationships, no matter what form they take, no matter what form of Queer we happen to be, and we are all some kind of Queer. No more hiding your true feelings from the boyfriend. No more pretending to be somebody you are not to your parents. No more secret friends or secret, shameful and unspoken desires. No more denying your bisexuality. And thus, no more suffering and loss of empowerment because we are living in denial, or living in pieces. Okay, a torrent of issues may arise in the process, but what are issues for?

Some people ask, "What has physical sex got to do with any of this?" and my answer is, everything. Life and love can be going along dandy until physical sex or even discussion of physical sex enters the picture, or enters the picture in a new way. Then hell pops. This leads most people to conclude that sex itself is the problem. I would say that denying sex is the problem, and that understanding sex is the beginning of the solution. By sex, I mean erotic sharing in its physical and full spectrum of emotional expressions. It was after all, sex that got us into this whole game (life!) to begin with.

Here in America, at least, we know very little about this: we are raised to be ignorant and to think we are really smart. This is the worst kind of ignorance. We lack sexual literacy, or the concept of sexual literacy. We think sex is a performance, a service, a duty, a form of payment. We think that sex can exist apart from feelings, as if sex were not entirely made of feelings. And we view sex as a moral issue. This is so ingrained in our minds that it's almost impossible to see past. We don't view sex as a practical matter or a philosophical question or as a natural pleasure, like eating fruit. Beginning in the Book of Genesis, sex is evil. The entire Judeo-Christian faith (and many others) is based on the idea that sex, and particularly female desire, is evil.

Are we stupid, or what?


We have all heard the word compassion. It means to feel for someone, to softly embrace who they are. When we are compassionate, we are supportive without interfering, and loving without meddling. We allow for imperfection.

Compassion is related to two other words, empathy, which means to take on the feelings of another person, and sympathy, which is to feel the feelings of another person. They are all related through one common ancient Greek root, pathos, which means pain. It is also the root of pathetic, pathology and pathogen.

And, one other word: passion.

In our language, at its deepest level, we connect passion with pain. Indeed, passion often involves pain. It sometimes looks like pain (we don't smile a lot in bed, now do we?) While this passion-pain connection is all poetic and all, it would seem that we are probably missing something.


Most people have not heard the word compersion, unless you read Planet Waves or have stumbled across the Compersion web site (one of my hibernating sites, about to be re-opened shortly). It is one of those words that belongs in the dictionary and will eventually get there.

Compersion is delighting in the pleasure of others, and in the love that people besides yourself share for one another. We all know what this is, like when we see a mother and child nursing and, without getting mixed up in their emotions, feel that sense of appreciation of the good feelings and the beauty of what we are witnessing.

Compersion is this same feeling, but carried into the world of loving relationships between equals. It is love where love creates the open space to feel more love, and in which we do not deny anyone their feelings. That is, for example, if your girlfriend greets a prior lover with a passionate kiss, you can experience not jealusy or rage, but compersion. Appreciation. Acceptance. Encouragement of their desire. Yes, this takes growth, but growth makes us more whole.

Compersion can also exist in what some call monogamous relationships as a mode of respecting friendships outside the relationship, honoring and taking pleasure in your partner's fantasy life and masturbation, and by not denying this person's reality.

How do we learn compersion? First, by being honest about jealousy, desire and pleasure.

In terms of sexual experience, without getting into polyamory, masturbating with your lover or with a friend is the easiest way to learn erotic compersion. This is an exercise in appreciating what our partner feels rather than what we feel; it is about learning to take someone in and respond to who they are. (I will be doing a workshop next summer called Compersion Immersion, based on this idea). The idea is to really pay attention, and feel, and allow. Practice allowing. If you allow, enormous pleasure is possible.

Compersion is, however, very important where any third person enters the consciousness of either party in a one-on-one relationship. And this happens all the time, on a wide variety of terms, such as, for example, when we meet someone who merely desires or appreciates our partner. At that moment, we have two possible options: compersion or control. One form control can take is denial, stuffing the feeling. One form that compersion can take is appreciating and enjoying the fact that someone is feeling your partner's heat or seeing their beauty. It's okay. It's okay. Enjoy.

Here is one example of compersion that involves three people who are not romantically involved, borrowed from my article Fuck Me Free: An Essay into Compersion, from last February. This is example #64.

You live in a shared house and your housemate's lover is there. The walls are a little thin. They disappear into his room, saying good night and leaving you alone in the living room. You hear their giggles and moans of pleasure through the walls, wishing you could be experiencing this, wishing you were there. But you're not; you're alone, and while you could get jealous, the experience is too erotic. Instead, you lay on the couch totally nude and masturbate, surrendering to the beauty of their pleasure, and your own, not caring if one of them walks out and finds you there.

Compersion is compassion for the love pleasure of other people, and compassion for your own pleasure and desire. It's really very simple. Compersion is about surrendering. But it's honest and it's daring.

I will say this: it took me some practice to get it down. I did most of my learning during an incredibly rare experience one summer deep in a forest in New York State. I had a lover named Sabine, and introduced her to another woman, named Michelle. I was able to be lovers with both of them together, and was present most of the time when they were sexual with one another. Guys, this was not as easy as you might think, because the women got really deep into one another and, while I was there with them, I was also on the outside. I was not a woman. I could not experience the delight of mutual female 69, or the bonding of their friendship, or the easy way that one flowed into the other.

At times, I boiled. I burned. I cried. I yearned for what I could not have. I learned to appreciate what I could have, and what they did share with me: the awesome privilege of being witness to their love and pleasure. I learned to love the sight of Sabine's face as she lost herself in the desire, adoration and sweet moisture of her female lover. I surrendered. I let go. I learned to present myself honestly in all my confusion, desire, pain and pleasure. In time, I learned compersion.

I tell you, this skill has done me a lot of good when I have lost women I loved to other men, sometimes men I wished I could know and love myself. And it's a lot of fun the rest of the time.