Thursday, March 29, 2007
NICK KARRAS and SAYAKA ADACHI:
Promoting Sexual Happiness, Well-Being and Fulfillment
interview by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
Professional sexologists Nick Karras and Sayaka Adachi have their headquarters in an unassuming institutional-green duplex bungalow at 412 Pennsylvania Avenue in Hillcrest. They operate the LLS (Love, Life, Sex) Center at that address and live next door in the other unit of the same building. They only recently opened up, but they’ve already started a wide range of workshops divided into “For Men,” “For Women” and “For Everybody” — with “For Couples” and “For Parents” to be added later — aimed not only at broadening people’s sexual experiences but at increasing the level of fulfillment from them.
Their backgrounds couldn’t have been more different. Karras worked as a commercial photographer in San Diego for 27 years and, as a hobby, also shot black-and-white erotica. When he produced a book of photographs of women’s genitalia and called it Petals, it got a surprising degree of attention and inspired him to return to college for a doctorate in human sexuality. There he met Adachi and started what’s become both a personal and a professional partnership with her.
Adachi, born and raised in Japan, worked as a school psychologist with children with both physical and mental disabilities. Her clients ranged in age from three to 21, but were all in wheelchairs and were nonverbal. “They needed sensory input to feel happy,” she recalled. She liked the job, but changes in her work situation led her to reconsider her career path. “My passion has always been sexuality,” she said. “Sexuality has gotten me into a lot of trouble in the past, and as a school psychologist I wasn’t really able to put the sex up front.” So she too decided to pursue a doctorate in human sexuality.
When Adachi first met Karras, she was immediately attracted to him but originally thought he was Gay. Then she saw the Petals book and, realizing a Gay man would be highly unlikely to put that amount of time and trouble into taking pictures of women’s sex organs, she went after him and their unlikely but highly powerful relationship was born.
An indication of their varied interests and the range of programs they offer clients can be found in the workshop topics listed on their Web site, www.lovelifesex.com. Among the male-only workshops are “The Art of Attracting Others,” “First-Date Etiquette” and “Become a Sex God!” The women-only workshops include “Unleash Your Inner Sex Goddess,” “How to Attract the Man of Your Dreams” and “Blow Him Away,” a workshop on specific sexual techniques.
The workshops “For Everyone” are headed by two dealing with sadomasochistic practices, “BDSM 101” and “Shibari (Rope Tying) 101,” and also include sessions on cross-dressing, swinging (swapping partners), open relationships, erotic photography, “I Am Curious” (which gives men and women the chance to ask each other anonymous questions about sex) and appreciating the visual look of both male and female sex organs. Karras and Adachi also do private counseling and “sex coaching” sessions.
“The approach of the LLS Center is frankly at the edge,” Karras and Adachi state on the home page of their Web site. “In fact, that’s the very nature of a fulfilling sex life. It’s what both attracts us and scares us. The learning environment at the LLS Center is a safe place to explore your deeper, and often most guarded, sexual needs.” For more information, visit www.lovelifesex.com
Zenger’s: Before we get into what you do here at the Center, can you talk briefly about the Petals book? What was the concept behind that, and why?
Nick Karras: I think all human beings struggle with their sexual identity, and that’s part of our life journey. I use photography as a way to explore that. That’s why, as a hobby, I did erotic photography. I loved to document sexuality that way. I did a series of bodyscape pictures, and I noticed that that a person’s sexuality could empower them or drain them. I started seeing that correlation when I would take pictures: people who were in tune with their sexuality and enjoyed it were happier. They seemed to be more full of life. They seemed to have things coming their way. So it was a way for me to learn to do that with myself.
Women, I noticed, especially had a lot of issues around that. The Petals book started because a lover of mine at the time didn’t like her vulva, [the visible part of the] vagina, and it held her back. I saw it as this beautiful thing, and that was why, through photography, I wanted her to see that and use it to empower herself, not feel ashamed by it. That’s what got the Petals series going. I figured out a way to photograph it so that she saw it as beautiful. She showed it to her friend, and that woman belonged to a women’s group where a lot of women had issues because they’d been molested or raped, or just thought it was ugly.
I could see that using photography in reconnecting a woman with her source of power was a very powerful thing, and that’s what inspired me to go back to school and to learn more than that. I saw that when a person is in touch with their sexuality and empowered by it, it’s just a wonderful way to live life. Also, after 27 years as a commercial photographer, it was time to do something I was more passionate about. I felt that this was my purpose.
Sayaka Adachi: You have kind of gotten sucked into this field. A lot of women started sending you pictures and asking you, “Am I normal?” You were in a counselor’s position without a counseling degree, so you started to feel, “I need to educate myself more.”
Karras: I don’t think I would have thought 10 years ago that this would be my passion, what I’m doing. I don’t think any of us really know what’s in store for us. But it’s been wonderful. I’ve met so many wonderful people, and the best part is something so simple as to show somebody the beauty in a part of them is so easy. It’s sort of an easy gift to give someone.
Zenger’s: When did you start working with clients and when did you open this Center?
Adachi: We opened the Center in —
Karras: — December, huh?
Adachi: Yeah. We didn’t really start until January.
Zenger’s: Could you talk about some of the topics you have in the workshops and why you picked the particular ones you did?
Adachi: The erotic photography workshop was an easy one, because that’s Nick’s specialty. He’s gotten a lot of requests and done workshops around the country and in Canada, and it’s been a success. For the other ones, what we did was talk to fellow sexologists and people who work in the sexuality field. We asked what were the most common requests from the clients: what were the things they most wanted to learn. And from there, we picked a few.
Karras: Just talking to the people.
Adachi: Then I saw something that I’m passionate about. Because of his Petals — and now we are doing a male version of it — we are kind of genitals specialists, so to speak. So we do two workshops, one on “The Vagina” and the other on “Penises,” which is not something anyone else is doing.
Karras: It would probably help if you’d explain to him the concept of how sexologists are basically permission-givers, in a sense.
Adachi: Oh, yes. Sexologists are definitely different from sex therapists. Often people confuse the two. People understand that “therapists” are people who treat problems and disorders, which means they first have to diagnose things.
Sexologists don’t really diagnose anything. We go by what we call a PLISSIT model. The P stands for Permission-giving. LI stands for Limited Information, SS for Specific Suggestion, and IT for Intensive Therapy. As sexologists, usually our purpose is to do PLISS. Most sexologists refer the IT part out. But most clients, 99 percent of the clients that we help, it’s just PLISS. So that’s what we do, and if you can think about the workshops as basic PLI, we can color how we look at them that way.
Karras: We basically just give permission as far as your sexuality, and we help you find the information that’s out there.
Zenger’s: I notice you have the listing split between workshops for men, workshops for women, workshops for couples, and workshops for everyone, and the first two topics on the workshops for everyone revolve around at least light S/M. Why is that?
Adachi: We may have to change that ordering because we’ve noticed that some people, when they click on the “Workshops for Everyone” and the first two are those two, if that’s not something that they’re interested in, or if that’s something that they really have aversion to, they don’t even pass through that. But we included them because that’s a healthy expression of lovemaking or erotic expression. Right now S/M is considered mentally ill under DSM-IV [the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the “bible” that defines what is and isn’t a mental illness]. We don’t believe it.
I guess when we went to school, part of our education was to get to know something about every kink. A representative of each of these kink communities would come to the school and talk to us about what they do, how they do it and why they do it. And That opened my mind up big-time. I guess what I really liked about S/M really is the communication that takes place between the top and the bottom before the play. That’s something that’s often lacking in regular vanilla sex, and the lack of that communication can create troubles later on. Even if you don’t play in a BDSM role, learning those communications skills is very important. Maybe that’s why I have BDSM on top.
A lot of people think BDSM is all about just control and dominance, and the sub just goes into the sub mode and has no power. That’s so untrue. It’s such a loving relationship, as far as I can see, in these people. So maybe that’s why the S/M topics are on top of our list.
Zenger’s: So what you’re saying is that the kinds of communications skills you have to have to do S/M, because of the dangers of not doing it, are things that even people who aren’t into S/M could find helpful?
Karras: And they can carry that into all their aspects of sexuality.
Adachi: Especially in fantasy play. I think a lot of people are really afraid of getting into fantasy play because they don’t know how to negotiate and communicate exactly what the boundaries are. By learning the basics of BDSM communication, you can use that in every aspect, and your repertoire just grows so big in a very safe, sane and consensual way.
Karras: We both definitely feel that sexuality is a really important part, if not the most important part, of the human experience. Just as each soul has a unique purpose here, we express ourselves through our sexuality just as uniquely. Part of this journey is finding who we are as sexual beings, and being O.K. with that. It takes a lot of communication, a lot of trust, and a lot of exploring. That’s what we try to encourage here.
Adachi: Yes, and it is so hard to break the shell, because the culture really constantly tells people that sexuality is bad, sexuality is dirty, sexuality is dangerous. Yet this is something so special that we keep it for somebody we love. This whole dilemma is still very alive and well in so many people. I see people who are stuck in the Madonna/whore syndrome, and then they can’t really integrate the two. That’s common. There are a lot of women that have the good girl/bad girl kind of thing, and that’s hard for them to break. But just by giving them permission, it really helps them out. Usually our sessions are really short. Our clients come in and go out like that.
Zenger’s: I’ve generally thought that a lot of our sexual repression comes from our religious tradition, the very heavy anti-sex message of the Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Sayaka, you grew up in another culture with a very different religious history. Do those repressive messages still filter down in Japanese culture the way they do here?
Adachi: Japanese culture is definitely suppressive towards sexuality. At the same time, the sex industry is the number two industry in Japan, number one being automobiles. So sex is a huge dichotomy in Japan. Nudity is pretty much O.K., especially same-sex nudity, because from our childhoods everyone takes baths together.
The laws are much more lenient in terms of consensual sex in Japan, but not so lenient as far as adult entertainment is concerned. So when I was growing up, porn was illegal if they showed any pubic hair. Not that they could just shave it off; they couldn’t show genitals at all, really.
It’s interesting because I grew up in a very sex-positive family. My family owned a lot of porn. My mother, because she had me so young and didn’t want me to have the same thing going on, really gave me a good sex educatrion. In fact, she did so to all my classmates in junior high.
So when I was in seventh grade, my classmates came to my house. My mother popped in porn videos. We all watched illegal porn, and she showed us how to use condoms and talked about the power of no and the power of yes, and told us that this can be a wonderful thing, but you just do it when you want to, and when you are ready to do it, you use condoms. That was the message I got. If that was here in the United States, my mother would be in jail.
So I was thankful that I grew up there. But now that I am here, I am thankful I am here because I couldn’t really have this job in Japan.
Zenger’s: We’ve talked about religion. What would you say are the other things that hold people back from a full expression of their sexuality?
Adachi: Fear of disease, fear of morals, fear of being labeled.
Karras: I would say moving sexual energy between two people expressing themselves sexually is the most complicated thing that we do. Most of us don’t have the tools or the teachings to do it from a place of power. Once we acquire that, it’s beautiful and it’s easier. But unless we’re willing to work through that and make our mistakes, we’re never going to learn from it. I just think it’s the fear of the unknown, and of getting hurt.
Adachi: Yes, the fear of getting hurt. I think that’s it, too.
Karras: It is complicated, and it takes a person with a lot of self-esteem and personal power.
Adachi: And good communications skills.
Karras: It’s a difficult dance, but one well worth learning.
Zenger’s: As sexologists, do you believe sexual orientation is inborn, is conditioned very early on, is subject to environmental pressures as an adult, is something that we can consciously choose, or some mix of all of the above?
Adachi: We really won’t know the cause of sexual orientation in terms of being Bi or Gay as long as we don’t know the cause of heterosexuality. That’s what we learned in school. I don’t think people consciously or subconsciously choose to be Gay. As of nowadays, it’s much more accepted, especially in a cosmopolitan area like here. It is harder in many ways, so why would you choose that kind of a lifestyle? Especially — this is not sexual orientation per se, but Trans people, why would they choose that? I can’t imagine choosing that. What do you think?
Karras: I think it’s irrelevant. It’s like trying to analyze why someone likes Mexican food or Asian food. It doesn’t matter. However we want to express ourselves is an individual thing. I’m amazed that we’re even questioning it and trying to analyze something.
Adachi: So we don’t.
Karras: I think that comes with the soul. I think we come here with our sexual orientation, if I had to say anything.
Adachi: I think people fall in love because they’re like souls. And whether that be in the male form or the female form, why would that matter?
Karras: To me, if there were such a thing as “normal,” Bisexuality would be normal. And yet both camps struggle with that one, I think because it takes the argument out of the picture.
Adachi: Well, sometimes to accept the middle you need to fight the polar opposites first, and maybe people can meet in the middle after that. Maybe that has been happening.
Zenger’s: Part of the problem is that we’ve put sexuality into this kind of walled compartment. We’ve made it totally different from all the other parts of our lives. We don’t make moral judgments about people as to, to use your metaphor, whether they like Mexican or Chinese food, or both. I was wondering how much of this comes from the indoctrination of religion, this whole idea that sexuality is inherently evil and its only legitimate purpose is within a heterosexual marriage and only to produce offspring; and how much of this comes from other sources, the fact that we’ve put this wall around sexuality and treat it so differently from any other human experience?
Adachi: When people want to control other people, the easiest thing to do is to take away their sex. I think that’s why sex is taboo, because if everyone were sexually powerful and expressed their sexual being honestly and from a very loving, powerful place, they couldn’t be controlled anymore. I think our government is afraid of that, and religion is too.
Karras: People are afraid of that. We need structure. Human beings need structure. We’re scared of the unknown.
Adachi: I was just reading this book called The Power of Now [by Eckhart Tolle], and he talked about sexuality being taken away because sexuality seemed so raw, and so “animalistic.” Although I have to argue with that, because we are the only animal that has sex other than for reproduction, other than for reproductive purposes: humans and bonobo monkeys. Other species just mate during the mating season or when they’re hot. So actually expressing sexuality for other than reproductive purposes is as human as you can get.
But anyway, people used to think that was so “animalistic.” And because we are “superior,” quote-unquote, and we have our mind, our brain at work, we didn’t want to make it a natural part of our lives. We didn’t want to be like animals. We wanted to claim the superior thing, this control, this thing that we can actually control our body with our mind, this type of thing. We can do anything our mind chooses to do, and I think that just went too far.
Karras: I think the whole thing about sexuality is we should be free to express ourselves any way we want. Everybody should leave everybody else alone, not try to defend ourselves or try to fight with someone. It seems like it’s never going to end.
Adachi: It’s too bad that Jesus’s teaching became this judgmental Christianity movement, instead of what he was really trying to say: love your enemies. They don’t love their enemies in the Christian movement! But I’m not a theologian, so I can’t really discuss religion very much.
Karras: The few [religious] clients that we’ve had, we’ve worked within that. I think the first thing that we do is [ask] what is your belief, what do you need to hold on to, and now give us something to work with here. How can we fit sexuality into your belief system? And sometimes it’s very complicated.
Adachi: Yeah. Sometimes it’s really simple. But I wish religious people would drop the judgments and stop judging what’s right and what’s wrong, and how to fix unbroken things.
Karras: Sometimes, it seems like when you have the perfect sexual union, you get so high, you’re relating to your personal god. And religious people don’t want you relating to another god.