Ms. LaVie's School of Loving Arts

Interview with Ms. Lavie

Sex Ed For The 21st Century:
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A New Paradigm For Sexuality 

An interview with Candessa Hadsall                

by Tim Miejan ----------Printed in Edge Life magazine, September 2005 

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change things, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."-- Buckminster Fuller 

Sex and sexuality, and intimacy and love, are not well understood in our culture. People tend to repress their true nature or inappropriately express it in relationships. Our society does not encourage frank discussion of the topic, leaving only guesswork for young people who are becoming more mature and adults who have never been given models of what a healthy, loving relationship looks like. 

Candessa Hadsall, a Minneapolis-based sex educator and counselor for more than 20 years, has long desired to share information about human sexuality to young people, but she has run into one too many dead end -- parents and schools alike that are unwilling to share the unvarnished truth to those who need it most. So, backed into a corner, she decided to step into a new paradigm where freedom reigns and where open-minded adults can learn what she has to share. "My goal," she said in an interview with Edge Life, "is to provide learning opportunities, ways in which adults can come together to talk openly about topics that are related to sex and sexuality and intimacy and love, and all of the ins and outs of relationships without having to be shamed or be put down with negative ideas. Our culture, in general, is so obsessed with sex and sexuality, but not on any kind of deep level. It's a very superficial level and not very informative.  "I've taught classes in the correctional system, so I've worked with people who have lots of questions and very little healthy information. Overall I've seen that the average, everyday person has a real lack of healthy information about sexuality that is anything positive." 

In mid-September, Hadsall is opening Ms. LaVie's School of Loving Arts, which will offer courses, weekend retreats and special events for adults on sexuality and relationship issues. The goal is offer adults a safe, supportive and sensuous environment to discuss such issues, fostering sex-positive communities that support sexual healing and cultural transformation. As part of its grand opening, the school is bring Cuddle Party facilitators Reid Mihalko and Marcia Baczynski from New York City to the Twin Cities, and they will lead two parties, from 6-9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 16-17.  Cuddle parties, which are becoming popular across the country, are affectionate play events for adults, designed to provide a space to explore and enjoy touch, nurturing and communication without becoming sexualized. Cuddle Parties are not intended to match up singles, but to give people who need a safe space to be touched by other human beings to do so. Advance registration is required. The school also will present a Resource Showcase from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 17. The Cuddle Parties and Resource Showcase will take place at the Golden Valley Wellness Center. Call (612) 825-0886 for more information. The school's first course, "Getting to Know Your Sexual Self," will be offered in October for a group of no more than 10 people who want to better know their "inner lover," or perhaps become introduced to him or her for the very first time. The class will meet once a week for four weeks and registration is now open. Hadsall spoke with Edge Life on Ms. LaVie's School of Loving Arts and much more. 

Who's Ms. LaVie?Candessa Hadsall: Ms. LaVie is me! Actually it came out of some work that I did in a women's circle last year. We had to come to the circle one night with the name of some alter personality. I've been doing sexuality education and counseling related things for more than 20 years, so the name that came to me was "Lovie." I have a friend whose family has called her Lovie since she was a little girl, so she told me I couldn't be that, so I decided that LaVie sounded a little more exotic. It means "life" in French.  Rather than owner, perhaps I will be Head Mistress. I want this to be fun, but my goal is for this school not to be superficial.
Why do you think our society fails to give in-depth information on sexuality to people?Hadsall: I think a lot of it is fear -- fear of the unknown. Our culture has created a sexually negative environment that has fostered pedophilia and sexual abuse by the clergy, medical people and counselors. People now are afraid to talk about it because somehow it could be misinterpreted. I also think religion and culture has played a huge part in saying that sex is bad, that physical things are bad, that any attention you pay to yourself is negative, that you should always be focused outside of yourself, that you shouldn't be doing things that are for pleasure. Religions promote sex as procreation rather than anything pleasurable. Sex education in the public schools is worse now than it was 20, 30 or 40 years ago. Young people coming out of school today are getting very little information. 
By worse, do you mean that they're not doing a good enough job?Hadsall: No, they're not. Kids are getting very little information, and what information they do get is very slanted in some places. The fact that President Bush has put $50 million a year into abstinence until marriage education gives you a clear picture of what they're focusing on in schools. 
The statistics aren't showing that abstinence education is effective.Hadsall: All of the studies are showing that it's not, and the people who say it is usually have studies that are not scientifically verifiable. I got really frustrated every time I went to try to talk to adults about talking to young people about information that could save their lives, not only from diseases that could kill them, but also could make them be healthier people as adults. Parents should be teaching it, schools should be teaching it, religious institutions should be teaching it. But if it doesn't happen, it's the job of the public schools to be doing it. 
And the problem is that every group disagrees on what should be taught.Hadsall: Right. And, I just got really tired of. It felt to me like every day was an argument with somebody about that stuff, and it just got old. I decided that what I really wanted to do was focus on working with adults, where I could get people who could consent to getting information. That's why the school will not offer classes for adolescents. It will only be for adults, and it will be for people who want information and who want to explore things for themselves more.  I'm hopeful that it will be people who are on a personal journey of discovery or a spiritual journey. Some say that sexual energy and life energy are, in fact, the same. Maybe people in these classes are looking to see how sexuality and spirituality make a connection for them and their lives, and how they can become more loving to all the people in their environment, as well as to themselves. 
Before we go further, one last question about adolescents. Do you feel like that there's such a barrier now to getting information out to kids that it could be quite some time before that changes?Hadsall: Yes, I do. Because it sounds like you're pretty discouraged about the whole process of reaching the kids.Hadsall: I just chose personally to not expend my daily energy on that, because it was too hard on me emotionally to feel like that every day. There are groups out there that are advocating for that, both locally and nationally. I used to be part of those organizations and I still support the work that they do, but I just felt that I didn't personally want to put my energy in that negative direction anymore. Rather than spending my time and energy on trying to convince people, I decided I wanted to put my energy into the positive side, into creating a world and an environment in which people could look at pleasure and sexuality and spirituality in that combination together in a healthy way that makes people feel good about themselves. I just didn't want to do the arguing. I'm sorry that we can't teach young people that, but at this point we have adults who don't believe that they need that information. There are adults who need to be educated before we can educate adolescents. When I saw the quotation from Buckminster Fuller about creating a new model, I told myself, "That's what I'm doing. Hopefully I'm helping other people reframe for themselves the role that sexuality plays in their lives."  As I teach in my classes, a person's sexuality means all of who they are. It means their gender, their affectional preferences, their sexual orientation, their sexual activities, their role that they play in the world, their job. Everything is affected by your sexuality.  I always give the example that let's say for instance that you're at a party and a person comes into the room who's very androgynous looking. Everybody goes crazy trying to figure out, "Is that a man or is that a woman?" They absolutely can hardly focus on anything else until they figure that out. It's like Pat from the old Saturday Night Live skits. How much conversation did people have for years about, "Is she male or is she female?" People need to have some kind of resolution in their heads about what somebody is. You can be that person, walk in the room and have that effect on everybody and never say a word. No one ever needs to say anything to you, but your sexuality and the way you have presented yourself has an effect on everybody. You can either chose to ignore it or you can choose to address it, but it's going to have an effect on your life.  I would like people, in the whole spirit of living with more consciousness about everything in our lives, to love more consciously, to live with passion more consciously, to choose who we are and who we choose to be with -- and that we do that in healthy ways, whatever healthy means to you. This school is not going to be some prescribed view of what I think or what somebody said healthy sexuality is. A lot of what I'm hoping, by offering experiential learning, is that people as a group, as they come together in classes, will have the opportunity to decipher that for themselves, to talk about it and decide, "Well, I think this works and this doesn't work." I just want people to have factual information and know what's accurate, what's out there, what's available that a lot of people don't know about. I want them to have that. Then what they choose to do with that when they leave here, that's up to them. I like to see the sparkle that happens in somebody's eyes when they get a piece of information. That's what turns me on. I truly am an educator, I guess. 
In terms of sexuality, would you say that most people probably lead unfulfilled lives?Hadsall: Yes, absolutely. Unfulfilled and then maybe even worse than that. I came across this article about men who are HIV positive in their thirties and forties who are now getting syphilis, which means that they're not using protection. What came out in a recent study was that men in their twenties and thirties said that it didn't make any difference what happened now anyway, because when they got to their fifties and sixties nobody would want to have sex with them, because their sex lives were over, that people at that age were unattractive, that they wouldn't want to be sexual, so why did it matter. They were going to get everything out of the way now, because sex either didn't exist or it had this negative connotation for them in their future.I just find it so incredibly sad that we have structured everything to be so focused on youth and believe that sex is biologically driven, that it's driven by hormones, and that once your hormones start to subside there's nothing left. I find this same kind of response when I've talked with women who were post menopausal or nearing menopause. The old wive's tale about menopause is that you lose your sex drive, that once your estrogen levels go away, then your sex drive goes away. So a lot of women are either doing one of two things: They're either dreading it, or they're waiting for it hopefully so that they don't have to deal with sex anymore. If sex hasn't been a pleasant thing for them, they can't wait until it's over. I want people to know that sex can be a beautiful, wonderful thing for your entire life. If it has had some bad connotations for you or comes to you with baggage, then there's hope for changing that if you want to change that. Some people aren't going to be motivated to do that, but if they are, I don't want them to think that the only place you can go is to all the sex manuals at the bookstore. Stores are a lot better than they used to be, but the books aren't going to deal with the pain that the past sexual stuff has brought you. It's not going to give you the chance in a group to find out you're not the only person who feels that way. Those are the kinds of things that can happen in a class in a discussion where there are other people and you can have open discussion without shaming and without judgment. 
To what extent is healing involved in your class?Hadsall: That's probably key. Absolutely. Even if you don't have an abusive past, you still have sexual stuff that's been done. All of us have had sexual stuff done to us, if nothing other than the media and cultural messages that we've gotten about sex. Many men were taught at a young age what sex was by looking at pornography. Maybe an older man or woman in that young man's life thought this was a way to show them what sex was about. Maybe the first things they saw about sex were images that were very degrading to women and very much about control and dominance. That's not a place you learn about healthy sexuality. I really think there's a lot of healing that needs to be done. Studies have been done on the fact that our culture has become so touch-deprived that people can't even touch each other on an elevator without somebody being offended like, "Oooh, you ran into me!" Consequently, we have people growing up wanting to be touched but don't know how to do it in healthy ways.  I’ve worked with addicts a lot. They've used alcohol and drugs to deaden a lot of those feelings for a long time. They don't know how to ask for healthy touch. Some of them don't even know what healthy touch feels like. It's important to try to help people see that if you could learn to get comfortable with your own body and get comfortable with touch, then maybe a way to do that is to work with a massage therapist who knows how to work with people so you can leave all your clothes on, who is willing to listen to a client who says "I want you to do this" or "I don't want to you to do that." You keep working with that person until you get to a place where you're more comfortable.  There are all kinds of things that can impact how somebody heals. Talk therapy is part of that. Massage and touch, that's part of it. There are so many things that go into sexual healing. 
You mentioned touch-deprived. It seems like to me that Americans may be the only group of people who are not comfortable greeting each other closely. For example, in sporting events, you'll see two Russian men who will kiss each other on both cheeks upon meeting.Hadsall: I think a lot of it comes from the old, rugged individualism kind of thing. "I'm me. I'm going to pull myself up by my bootstraps." All this stuff focuses on the individual, but being tougher than everybody else, stronger than everybody else, not needing anybody else, so that we've built a country full of individuals, but we haven't built communities. People don't know how to build community.  I've been doing, I've done some work in the past with a Mayan shaman by the name of Martín Prechtel and an African shaman by the name of Malidoma Somé. A lot of what they talk about is building community, and part of building community is being able to be comfortable with each other and comfortable with touch. Malidoma says when people don't touch, it creates a lot of grief. There's a lot of unexpressed grief in our culture, because we don't have the touch and the bonding. Babies get carried around on their mother's backs in many other cultures. For two years, they hardly ever leave their mothers. In our culture, we put them in baby seats and we put them in swings. I'm not saying that that's necessarily bad, but... 
They're not as close...Hadsall: No. They don't have that physical warmth. Information suggests that a hormone is related to bonding and that with physical touch, more of the hormone is released and people feel good and warm and closer to other people. This whole issue of touch is complex. It's complicated by a whole lot of things, but in general, we aren't doing a lot in the general culture to create new ways of looking at things.  The first goal of the school is to offer classes and learning opportunities for adults. The second purpose is to try to reframe this local and national dialogue into a more sex-positive atmosphere. And, the third is to build a community of like-minded people who can get together and have conversations and social events where sex doesn't have to be the taboo subject that no one can talk about. It will create a place where people of all orientations and all persuasions can mingle together and do things. We don't have to have people over here being separate because that's the only way they can feel comfortable, because they feel ostracized in some way by the other group. We can find ways to build communities of people. The school isn't just for heterosexual people. I'm hoping to offer classes for lesbians, classes for gay men, classes for all women, classes for all men, regardless of orientation. 
Regardless of how the outside community views your sexuality, doesn't it ultimately come down to how you feel about yourself?Hadsall: Absolutely. And that's why a lot of the work that I've done in the past with the groups I've done has really been about self-esteem building. It's about realizing that there's nothing wrong with you and that you are a wonderful person. With the women I work with, I use a lot of goddess imagery because I try to get them to see that a lot of the qualities that were given to ancient goddesses are qualities that were based on the qualities that women actually have, and the same for men and gods. You have a goddess inside you, you have a god inside you and it's not meant to be a religious stand. This doesn't take the place of whatever Supreme Being you may believe in. It's about recognizing the Divine and sacred feminine, and the Divine and sacred masculine, part of each of us and seeing we have that inside of ourselves. A lot of people don't believe that and they don't see that about themselves. The body is a sacred object. It's a sacred temple. If you feel like crap about yourself, you're not going to love your body. You're not going to take care of it, you're not going to care who uses it, and you're not going to care if you expose yourself to disease. If you don't go so far as not caring, you're at least going to take little risks here and there -- "maybe only this time won't matter." Some other people say, "Oh, that's not me!" But, how many times did you have sex without a condom or how many times did you not tell your partner the truth about something?
It comes down to self-awareness.Hadsall: Yes. When I talk to people, some will get that it's about learning new things and about being more self-aware. Others will say, "Oh, that's for people with problems. They're going to come to school because they have problems." And it really is not about that. This is a school that should be for everybody. I've been doing this work for 20 years, and I still would say there are things that I still need to learn. There are things that I still don't do perfectly in my own life that I could do better. So it's not about that I have some body of knowledge that other people don't have, but perhaps I'm able to pull it together from a lot of different places and put it into one place where a lot of people can benefit. Take what you need and leave the rest. When I teach a class, I say it's going to be therapeutic, but it's not therapy. If you need to have therapy, I'll help you find a therapist or maybe I'll work with somebody for a couple of times on a one-on-one basis outside of the school. People are not expected to come in and tell everybody everything in a class about everything they've ever done. Some people may come in and share some personal experiences and some people may not share any, and everyone will still get something out of the classes. My expectation is that you will decide for yourself what you feel comfortable sharing. Hopefully, I will be able to create -- along with other people and the co-teachers -- an environment where people will feel safe sharing some things. It will be a place to come and get information, not only from me, but the other people who'll be in the group.
For more information on Ms. LaVie's School of Loving Arts, call (612) 396-0226.  For more details on Cuddle Parties, visit . Tim Miejan is editor of Edge Magazine. Contact him at (651) 578-8969 or e-mail editor@edgemagazine.netCopyright © 2005 Tim Miejan. All rights reserved.  


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Minneapolis, MN  | 612-396-0226