Tarot Card for November 26: The Six of Swords

The Six of Swords

The Lord of Science appears in a reading when we have passed through a stormy or difficult time, and into the safety of a sheltered harbour, where we can recuperate, and consider the difficulties which have arisen around us.

Often we will have passed through a period of dreadful confusion – and frequently a time of emotional suffering. But this card indicates that, at least for the moment, pressure has eased, and we can try to sort out what we really feel. Frequently we need first to rest until we feel refreshed, but eventually we will be required to assess events and make new decisions for our future.

Because we will find ourselves seeing things more clearly, difficult and demanding decisions will be easier to make. We will find ourselves with a more clear overview of the issues we are facing. And we will be able to make choices which bring us peace of mind and happiness.

Expect to find greater objectivity, clarity and new perspectives as a result of the 6 of Swords. This is a card that indicates a healthy balance between the emotions and the intellect, where we can think through even delicate situations, with detached impartiality.

The Six of Swords

(via angelpaths.com and Alan Blackman)

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

By William Blake


A Memorable Fancy.

The Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel dined with me, and I asked them how they dared so roundly to assert that God spake to them; and whether they did not think at the time, that they would be misunderstood, & so be the cause of imposition.
Isaiah answer’d. ‘I saw no God, nor heard any, in a finite organical perception; but my senses discover’d the infinite in every thing, and as I was then perswaded, & remain confirm’d, that the voice of honest indignation is the voice of God, I cared not for consequences but wrote.’
Then I asked: ‘does a firm perswasion that a thing is so, make it so?’
He replied: ‘All poets believe that it does, & in ages of imagination this firm perswasion removed mountains; but many are not capable of a firm perswasion of any thing.’
Then Ezekiel said. ‘The philosophy of the east taught the first principles of human perception: some nations held one principle for the origin & some another; we of Israel taught that the Poetic Genius (as you now call it) was the first principle and all the others merely derivative, which was the cause of our despising the Priests & Philosophers of other countries, and prophecying that all Gods would at last be proved to originate in ours & to be the tributaries of the Poetic Genius; it was this that our great poet King David desired so fervently & invokes so pathetic’ly, saying by this he conquers enemies & governs kingdoms; and we so loved our God. that we cursed in his name all the deities of surrounding nations, and asserted that they had rebelled; from these opinions the vulgar came to think that all nations would at last be subject to the jews.’

‘This’ said he, ‘like all firm perswasions, is come to pass; for all nations believe the jews’ code and worship the jews’ god, and what greater subjection can be?’
I heard this with some wonder, & must confess my own conviction. After dinner I ask’d Isaiah to favour the world with his lost works; he said none of equal value was lost. Ezekiel said the same of his.
I also asked Isaiah what made him go naked and barefoot three years? he answer’d, ‘the same that made our friend Diogenes the Grecian.’
I then asked Ezekiel why he eat dung, & lay so long on his right & left side? he answer’d, ‘the desire of raising other men into a perception of the infinite; this the North American tribes practise, & is he honest who resists his genius or conscience. only for the sake of present ease or gratification?’

The ancient tradition that the world will be consumed in fire at the end of six thousand years is true, as I have heard from Hell.
For the cherub with his flaming sword is hereby commanded to leave his guard at the tree of life, and when he does, the whole creation will be consumed and appear infinite and holy whereas it now appears finite & corrupt.
This will come to pass by an improvement of sensual enjoyment.
But first the notion that man has a body distinct from his soul is to be expunged; this I shall do, by printing in the infernal method, by corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid.
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narow chinks of his cavern.


Brainwashing has a grim history that we shouldn’t dismiss

Brainwashing has a grim history that we shouldn’t dismiss | Psyche

A still from the film The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Photo by Getty

Joel E Dimsdaleis distinguished professor emeritus in the department of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of multiple books, including Anatomy of Malice: The Enigma of the Nazi War Criminals (2016) and Dark Persuasion: A History of Brainwashing from Pavlov to Social Media (2021).

Edited by Matt Huston

24 November 2021 (psyche.co)

In 1937, the longtime Bolshevik leader Georgy Pyatakov was tried in Moscow for treason, sabotage and other alleged crimes against the Soviet Union. He gave a false confession, declaring: ‘Here I stand before you in filth, crushed by my own crimes, bereft of everything through my own fault, a man who has lost his Party, who has no friends, who has lost his family, who has lost his very self.’ He was executed for his alleged offences shortly thereafter – and he was one of many.

How had the Soviets persuaded so many defendants to testify to such lies? Some observers were convinced they had developed a secret tool for coercion. It wasn’t just that they appeared able to force people to say things, but that their victims actually appeared to believe the lies. The Soviets used a number of techniques to obtain confessions. They were not shy about resorting to brutality; some of the signed confessions found in the archives reveal bloodstains. The accused were repeatedly interrogated until they felt like ‘automatons’. They were kept isolated in solitary confinement, but well within earshot of other prisoners who were beaten.

There was initially no widely used term to explain such attempts at forced persuasion, but that changed in the context of Mao Zedong’s victory in China and the Korean War some years later. Edward Hunter, a wartime propagandist with the US Office of Strategic Services, is credited with coining the flamboyant term ‘brainwashing’ in 1950 to account for mysterious confessions extracted from Western prisoners of war by the Chinese government. After brutal treatment, some victims not only confessed to unlikely charges but also appeared to be sympathetic to their captors. Brainwashing later made a prominent appearance in the film The Manchurian Candidate (1962), in which the evil Dr Yen Lo explains to a Communist co-conspirator that his American prisoner has ‘been trained to kill and then to have no memory of having killed … His brain has not only been washed … it has been dry-cleaned.’

With such origins, it is no wonder that the concept of brainwashing is criticised: it all seems so musty, reeking of the Cold War and questionable science. Some note that the concept has been used as a rhetorical weapon to attack followers of new movements (‘Ignore them; they must have been brainwashed to believe this nonsense’). Others dislike the term because it seems to blame victims for being gullible and weak, even though some victims of apparent brainwashing have included very gifted individuals. People lose sight of the fact that this form of dark persuasion occurs in extremis, when people are literally at their wits’ end.

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein observed that ‘a new word is like a fresh seed sown on the ground of the discussion.’ Hunter’s new word might as well have been crabgrass: it crowded out more reasonable alternatives. Some experts have preferred the term ‘coercive persuasion’ to explain the unusual behaviours observed among prisoners of war, cult victims and hostages who have paradoxically sided with their assailants or made palpably false and self-destructive confessions. Despite experts’ research on the subject, many still regard brainwashing as a bubbe-meise, a ghost story from the past.

Lenin was enchanted by the potential for Pavlov’s approach to be used to influence the Russian people

‘Coercive persuasion’ – which I’ll use interchangeably with ‘brainwashing’ – is a much harder term to argue with. It’s obvious that people can be forced to do things, but it also appears that people can be coerced into believing things under certain conditions. We see this all too frequently in instances of false confessions, Stockholm syndrome (in which a hostage develops a loyalty to their captor), and cults that foster various religious and political ideas. There is even concern today that social media has become coercively persuasive, indoctrinating people to believe preposterous things (eg, ‘vaccines cause autism’, ‘COVID-19 isn’t worth worrying about’). Can social media contribute to coercive persuasion? To answer that question, one needs to more clearly define the sorts of situations that produce it.

Dogs at the Imperial Institute of Experimental Medicine, St Petersburg, in 1904. It was here that Pavlov did much of his famous work. Photo courtesy the Wellcome Collection

The Russian physiologist and Nobel Laureate Ivan Pavlov could be called the father of coercive persuasion science. When the Neva River in St Petersburg flooded in 1924, Pavlov gained unique insights into the effects of trauma on behaviour. The river inundated his canine lab and almost drowned his caged dogs. Pavlov observed that the dogs were not the same afterward – they forgot their learned behaviours, and the trauma changed their dispositions. Ever the experimentalist, Pavlov re-exposed one of his traumatised dogs to a trickle of water in the experimental chamber, which again disrupted the dog’s trained response. With his enormous patience and skill, Pavlov could condition a dog to respond to one specific note on the musical scale. The fact that trauma could disrupt such precise training seems to have fascinated him.

The Soviet leader Lenin was enchanted by the potential for Pavlov’s approach to be used to influence the Russian people. And the Soviet government provided financial support for a research institute with hundreds of staff. Pavlov observed that sudden stress immersion, sleep deprivation, isolation and methodical patience all contributed to the alteration of dogs’ behaviours.

Glimmerings of brainwashing surfaced during Stalin’s show trials in the 1930s; during the 1940s when wartime governments searched for drugs to speed interrogation; and in the early Cold War years when they raced to persuade enemies to defect. Throughout the 20th century, governments invested heavily in research on coercive persuasion. Government agencies, foundations and universities collaborated on extensive studies of the use of drugs to change behaviour or extract information. They also demonstrated that sensory deprivation and sleep restriction increased suggestibility. For example, in one line of research, subjects listened to persuasive audio recordings about a particular topic (such as the country Turkey, or parapsychology), and some of them did so while placed in a dark and quiet sensory-deprivation chamber. After their experiments were concluded, volunteers in the sensory-deprivation condition tended to show greater interest in the topics and, in some cases, greater influence from the recordings.

Coercive persuasion seems to be more effective when the victim is isolated from other views and beliefs

I wish I could say that all such studies used volunteers, but some experiments involving drugs were performed on unwitting victims. In the ‘midnight climax’ study of the 1950s-’60s, CIA operatives rented an apartment on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco and hired prostitutes to slip LSD into their customers’ drinks to see if they would confide information more readily.

Thus, brainwashing has a more substantial history than is apparent at first glance, but it will always seem fictitious unless there are clear ways of assessing it. So what are its defining and measurable properties? First, coercive persuasion typically involves surreptitious manipulation – individuals might not even know they are being targeted. Further, actions are taken at the expense of the targeted individuals; someone else benefits from the manipulation. Some degree of sleep deprivation is often part of the regimen, leaving the victim fatigued, confused and suggestible. And coercive persuasion seems to be more effective when the victim is isolated from other views and beliefs.

As a thought experiment, let me suggest how these features might be rated and examine how they appear in documented instances. There are countless examples of purported brainwashing, but many experts would include confessions by the Bolsheviks during Stalin’s ‘Moscow Trials’ of the late 1930s and the behaviour of the Hungarian cardinal József Mindszenty during his show trial in 1949. Most would also label the treatment of some US POWs in the Korean War and some of the victims of the CIA’s infamous MKUltra experiments of the 1950s-’70s as instances of attempted brainwashing – one MKUltra-funded programme in Montreal subjected people to intense electroconvulsive treatment, repeated doses of LSD, and a quarter of a million or more tape loops suggesting how to change their behaviour.

Patty Hearst (right) yells instructions to customers during a bank robbery at the Hibernia bank in San Francisco, 15 April 1974. Courtesy Wikipedia

Various examples of hostage behaviour also seem sensible to consider – including cases such as the kidnapping and conversion of Patricia Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974. Finally, it is fitting to consider lethal cults such as Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate. Based on my reading, these instances would score highly on the putative variables that define coercive persuasion, whereas instances of ‘mere’ persuasion would have low scores.

In evaluating each of these unhappy instances, I ask a series of questions:

  • Was sleep altered? Sleep is commonly manipulated by interrogators, hostage-takers and cults. Cult initiation ceremonies are sometimes held after a period of sleep deprivation. When sleep is curtailed, judgment deteriorates and people become more suggestible. One can rate the severity of the sleep manipulation by how frequently, consistently and thoroughly it is imposed.

One of the few things that many conservatives and liberals seem to agree on is the darkly persuasive capabilities of social media

  • Was there evidence of coercive isolation? Sensory restriction and isolation from friends and family are crucial for coercive persuasion. One can rate the extent of this isolation. Is the victim forbidden to leave the premises or to communicate with others, or merely discouraged from contacting outsiders?
  • How much surreptitious control was imposed? Were the victims given disinhibiting drugs – once or many times, surreptitiously? Were they forced to participate in guilt-inducing, demeaning rituals or subjected to harsh group criticism?
  • Was the participation in the victim’s best interest or someone else’s? Coercive persuasion commonly takes place in settings where the victim’s freedom and safety are jeopardised and where someone else benefits from the subject’s degradation. One could rate this feature based on the extent to which the persuasive tactics involve imprisonment or jeopardise safety.

When more of these conditions are evident, it is more likely that victims have been subjected to coercive persuasion, as opposed to ‘just’ propaganda or indoctrination. Take Jonestown, for instance. The residents of this commune in Guyana were physically restrained from leaving, and communication with outsiders was sharply limited. They were forced to make demeaning public confessions and were chronically sleep-deprived. When it ended, more than 900 individuals died, sacrificed by their leader, Jim Jones.

It would be inaccurate to portray coercive persuasion as some sort of 20th-century aberration. The recent rise and fall of the Nxivm cult in New York suggests that dark persuasion persists. Court testimony and reporting revealed that the organisation involved, among other things, branding and sexual exploitation of female members. Even after their leader, Keith Raniere, was sentenced to 120 years for abusing women physically, emotionally and financially, some of his acolytes danced outside the prison, protesting his incarceration.

The presence of coercive persuasion in one context or another is not a black-or-white distinction. There are contemporary situations that raise questions about new directions in persuasion. As noted earlier, one wonders if coercive persuasion can be conducted via social media. That question needs careful study. Can social media be used to isolate people, coerce or shame them? Is such manipulation surreptitious or is it above-board? Can social media encourage people to risk their safety and enrich others? Can it interfere with the sleep of its adherents? One of the few things that many conservatives and liberals seem to agree on is the darkly persuasive capabilities of social media.

We have a century of observations demonstrating that people can be coerced to do things and coercively persuaded to believe things. It would be a mistake to dismiss such observations. If we ignore the potential developments of brainwashing in the 21st century, we will be defenceless against it.

How to talk about sexual desires

How to talk about sexual desires | Psyche

It’s not always easy to open up about sex. But letting a partner in on your wants and fantasies can strengthen your bond

by Sarah Hunter Murray Photo by Willie B Thomas/Getty

Sarah Hunter Murrayis a registered marriage and family therapist in Winnipeg and holds a PhD in human sexuality from the University of Guelph, both in Canada. She is the author of Not Always in the Mood: The New Science of Men, Sex, and Relationships (2019). She writes the Myths of Desire blog at Psychology Today.

Edited by Matt Huston

24 November 2021 (Psyche.co)

Need to know

We are inundated with ideas about what ‘great sex’ looks like. We see countless romantic movies featuring couples who are completely in rhythm with one another, who never need to discuss what they want, never misread each other’s sexual cues, never bump heads or act awkwardly. They just fall effortlessly into bed in a loving embrace – then cut to the scene where they smile up at the camera, basking in a warm sexual glow. On the other end of the spectrum, we see pornographic videos that depict women as ready to have sex at the drop of a hat (often without any foreplay) and men who take control and know exactly which sexual manoeuvre and position will instantaneously lead to pleasure and orgasms for all involved.

But as anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows all too well, romantic movies and pornographic videos are a far cry from what people typically experience when they engage in sexual activity with another. In the real world, you don’t automatically know what your partner is thinking or what they want. You need to talk to them to figure out what feels satisfying. You need to check in with your partner about whether you are both ‘in the mood’ at the same time, or what they might need to help them get interested. You need to figure out what kind of sex you feel like having – whether that’s making love, having a ‘quickie’ or trying something new and adventurous. You need to give in-the-moment feedback so your partner knows what feels good and what doesn’t. And, if you want to effectively navigate and even improve your sexual relationships, you need to talk openly and honestly about your sexual desires and fantasies.

Sex, however, remains a topic that many feel uncomfortable talking about. Not only have many of us grown up receiving direct and indirect messages suggesting that sex isn’t something to discuss with others, we can also feel shame about our desires (what turns us on sexually) and fantasies (sexually arousing thoughts that we might, or might not, want to act upon), and wonder if our partners will be open to hearing about them.

For instance, perhaps you worry that your partner might feel uncomfortable if you were to suggest that you want to role-play as a nurse and a patient. Or that they might be offended that you think it could be sexy to watch pornography together, or to include another person in your sexual experiences. Maybe you’re concerned that if you didn’t share a desire earlier on in your relationship – that you’d like to use a vibrator during sex, for instance – it might be too late in the game to share that now. Or you might worry that your partner will take it as a sign that they aren’t good enough.

But whether your relationship is relatively new or long-running, talking about sex is a key component of sexual satisfaction. Research reliably shows that those of us who communicate more openly about sex (during sexual activity and between sexual encounters) tend to be more sexually satisfied. And the potential benefits don’t stop there: sexual satisfaction is itself associated with general relationship satisfaction. When we communicate openly about our sexuality, it’s possible that it will have a positive spillover effect in other areas of our intimate relationships.

As a registered marriage and family therapist who works with clients who have various sexual concerns, I have seen firsthand the value of being vulnerable enough to share sexual desires and fantasies with partners. Whether it involves identifying and embracing ‘vanilla’ desires (such as wanting more deep kissing during sex or setting aside time to cuddle after making love) or exploring the kinkier side of sexuality (such as suggesting the introduction of bondage or the possibility of including multiple sexual partners), sharing what we want sexually – while perhaps a bit scary – can ultimately be incredibly rewarding for ourselves and our relationships.

What to do

Take time to discover your desires

Before you start a conversation with your partner, take the time to thoughtfully consider – and be curious about – your sexual desires and fantasies. Many people fall into patterns of what they think they should want based on social norms and gender roles. For example, many are taught that women should want romantic, intimate sex while men are mostly looking for physical release and sexual pleasure.

But a lot of the time these stereotypes don’t fit what many of us actually want. For example, my research on men’s sexual desire suggests that men’s sexuality is a lot more ‘touchy-feely’ than it’s typically described as being, and that many men want to feel desired and less dominant during sexual encounters. Similarly, many women like being dominant or more in control during sex, but sometimes don’t feel comfortable, or take the opportunity, to lean into their sexual agency.

If you aren’t sure where to start, consider the best sex you’ve had and then ask yourself: what made it so good? How did you feel? What kind of sex were you having? Is there a specific act (eg, oral sex) that made it fun? Was it passionate? Was there a lot of kissing? Did you wear something that made you feel sexy? Was it somewhere unexpected? These are all avenues to increased insights into your desires and could give you ideas about what to discuss with your partner.

Another helpful way to get in touch with your sexual desires – particularly if you haven’t had sex before, or wouldn’t describe the sex you have had as ‘good’ – is to reflect on whether there are any scenes in TV shows, films or books that you find intriguing or titillating. Perhaps it’s the ‘will-they-won’t-they’ sexual tension that builds between characters such as Jim and Pam in the US version of The Office (2005-13). Maybe it’s the forbidden sexual urges depicted in period dramas such as Bridgerton (2020-). Or maybe it’s the dominant/submissive dynamics in a book such as E L James’s Fifty Shades of Grey (2011). Whatever you find yourself drawn to, take note of what captures your sexual attention, and then get curious about what it is that turns you on.

Stop judging your sexuality

Even after you know what you desire, you might have to take some time to work through how you feel about your wants and needs before sharing them. As a therapist, I regularly speak with individuals who have concerns about whether their desires and fantasies are normal or if there is something ‘wrong’ with them.

For instance, some clients ask me if they should be worried that they sometimes fantasise about steamy sex they had with an ex, or they wonder if their desire to be sexually dominated means they have self-esteem issues. (For the record: remembering good sex with a past partner is totally normal, and there is no evidence that BDSM – which includes sexual activities such as bondage, domination and submission – is linked to low self-esteem or self-worth.)

So it’s important to ask yourself: are you comfortable with your sexual desires? Or do you judge them as ‘abnormal’ or ‘weird’? As a general rule, as long as sexual fantasies consist of consensual acts between adults (ie, people over 18 who are cognitively able to consent to sexual activity) you most likely don’t need to worry that your fantasies are a cause for concern. Many sexual desires and fantasies that might seem unusual to you are actually surprisingly common (see Learn More, below). Assessing your comfort level with your desires is a really important step, as we need to have some acceptance of our own desires and fantasies if we are going to be able to effectively share them with a partner.

Consider the underlying meaning(s) of your sexual thoughts

Once you can recognise and describe your desires, it’s important to consider: what is the underlying appeal? For example, if you dream of having threesomes, the meaning could be straightforward, in that you literally want to include another person in your sexual experiences. However, it might also signify that you crave more sexual attention; imagining an additional person focusing on you during sex could mean you want more of that from your current partner. Similarly, you might fantasise about being physically restrained with ropes or handcuffs, which, again, could be literal. Or, it might be a sign that you want to be less in control during sexual activity and would like your partner to take a more active role – say, by being the initiator of sexual activity or being the one to suggest which position or act you try that day.

Having an answer (or at least a hunch) as to why a desire or fantasy is appealing could determine what sort of conversation you have with your partner. Unless you take the time to examine it, you might express an apparent desire that doesn’t align with what you truly want.

Accept that some fantasies are just for you

Remember that you don’t have to share every sexual thought you’ve ever had. It’s important to consider which fantasies you might want to keep to yourself and which ones you want to share with your partner. For example, maybe you’ve enjoyed fantasising about that one wild night with your ex, or an imagined sexual romp with a celebrity or someone you met at a party. If you’re generally satisfied in your relationship, having such a fantasy doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to be with that person or that your relationship is in jeopardy because you’re sexually attracted to other people. It also doesn’t mean that you need to (or should) share it with your partner.

If you’re wondering whether or not you should share a fantasy with your partner, consider whether doing so would be helpful or hurtful. Does your fantasy represent something that you want to try with your partner or think would enhance your sexual satisfaction? If so, then it is most likely worth having the conversation. But if you suspect that sharing the fantasy might simply worry your partner or make them feel uneasy or jealous, it’s probably better not to share.

Take it one step at a time

When you know what desires and fantasies you do want to share, start small and, if possible, try to build on what is already working in your relationship. For example, if sex is feeling somewhat disconnected and you desire more deep kissing to increase your sense of connection, it might be helpful to share memories of earlier on in your relationship when you really enjoyed making out for longer periods of time, and to suggest that it would be fun to do more of that again now. If your desire is to have your partner be more assertive during sex, and if there was a time or two in the past when they initiated or took control, share how much you enjoy that memory, and talk about whether that could be something you try again or build from.

If you’re sharing a desire or fantasy that is entirely new to your partner, consider whether you could start by sharing a piece of it to see how it feels and how your partner reacts. For example, if you’re interested in kink, you could point out that the dominant/submissive dynamic you’ve seen in a show is arousing to you. If your partner seems thrown off, take it as a cue to slow down or try again another day. If they seem intrigued, you could take the conversation one step further – for instance, talking about the possibility of including fuzzy handcuffs or a silk blindfold in a future sexual encounter.

Starting a conversation about sex can feel awkward for many of us. I often remind clients that the goal of having a conversation about sex is not to avoid feeling awkward. The important thing is to start sharing and embrace the awkward – giggle, blush, stumble over your words but do just go for it. If you don’t know where to start, consider saying to your partner something along the lines of: ‘Our relationship is really important to me, and the connection we feel during sex is something I really value. I’m wondering if you would be open to talking a bit more about our sex life?’

Try making a game of it

Talking about desires doesn’t have to be a serious, intense experience. If you want to approach the conversation in a more lighthearted way, consider making a game of it. Try this: brainstorm with your partner as many sexual acts and activities as you can think of, from deep kissing and massages, to blindfolds and making your own personal pornography, to being naked in public and swinging. Then you each put a green, yellow or red dot beside each one – green for ‘yes, this sounds fun’, yellow for ‘maybe/I would need to think about that some more’, and red for a ‘hard no’.

Not only could this be a helpful jumping-off point for thinking and talking about why you put certain activities in each category, it could also be a fun way to learn whether you have some areas of overlap that you haven’t yet discussed.

Prepare for a conversation, not a monologue

Consider your partner’s perspective and give them time to process what you decide to share. They may be excited and pleased that you chose to open up and let them into your sexual inner world. In my clinical practice, I have seen many people feel closer to their partner after one of them shares something they desire (whether that’s watching a certain kind of porn together, sending sexy pictures or texts during the day, or dressing sexy for a night out). That’s because most of us want to please our partner sexually and have them please us in return. Plus, novelty is a key piece to keeping the spark alive in a longer-term relationship.

However, your desire or fantasy could be something your partner has never considered and that they need time to process or make sense of, or something they have considered but already know they aren’t into. For example, the idea of nonmonogamy can be a definite ‘no’ for some people, even if one partner finds the idea enticing. Maybe your partner won’t feel comfortable acting out your fantasy, but they might be happy to discuss it or learn more about what you find exciting about it.

Also, it’s possible that your partner has their own desires and fantasies to share and hasn’t known how to discuss them with you. Be prepared for a two-way exchange. Try to respond to their sexual wants in the same way you hope they will respond to yours: with curiosity rather than judgment.

Leave the door open for further discussion

If your conversation about sexual desires goes well, that’s wonderful – enjoy it! But, if it doesn’t go as well as you’d hoped (eg, your partner has nothing to say, the conversation falls flat, or your partner gets upset and doesn’t like what you’ve shared with them), there are some ways to recover. You can tell them that you know you’re talking about something new and it’s OK to take some time to process the information. You can let them know that the conversation is valuable to you, and you hope you might revisit it at another time, when they feel up for it. If your relationship is important to you – and more important than a particular sexual desire – remind your partner that they matter, and that, while you’d like to keep the door open to future conversations, specific desires are not critical to your relationship.

Remember that the process of talking about sexuality in a relationship is a marathon, not a sprint. Exploring our sexual desires and fantasies is an ongoing part of a healthy sex life. What you liked last month or last year could be different from what you like now or what you might desire in the future.

Take time to know and grow yourself, and to know and grow sexually with your partner. Sexuality isn’t stagnant. The same way that you perhaps used to drink rum and cokes on a Saturday night but now prefer a crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc, your sexual preferences can also evolve with time. Accepting this about yourself and accepting this about your partner can give you both more space to talk about your sexual desires.NEED TO KNOWWHAT TO DOKEY POINTSLEARN MORELINKS & BOOKS

Key points – How to talk about sexual desires

  1. Know that talking about sex is valuable. Bringing up sexual desires and fantasies can be challenging for many of us, even in longer-term relationships. But sexual communication is important for finding sexual satisfaction.
  2. Take time to discover your desires. Be open to sexual wants that diverge from strict social norms. Think about what you’ve enjoyed most in your best sexual encounters – or what intrigues you about fictional sexual scenarios.
  3. Stop judging your sexuality. If you notice any discomfort or self-judgment around your desires and fantasies, remember that non-‘vanilla’ thoughts and wants are quite common and can be perfectly healthy.
  4. Consider the underlying meaning(s) of your sexual thoughts. A fantasy might literally signal a specific desire (eg, to have a threesome), or it could indicate a broader sexual want (eg, increased attention during sex). The kind of talk you have with a partner depends on what you think a fantasy means.
  5. Accept that some fantasies are just for you. Consider sharing if it would be helpful – such as by introducing a new sexual activity into your relationship. But you needn’t share if it’s likely to just cause worry, jealousy or discomfort.
  6. Take it one step at a time. When you’re ready to share a fantasy or desire, do so a little bit at a time and consider your partner’s comfort level. If possible, treat what you’re describing as a way to build on what has already worked in your relationship.
  7. Try making a game of it. An exercise such as listing and rating your feelings about various sexual activities can help open up conversation without it getting overly serious.
  8. Prepare for a conversation, not a monologue. Your partner could have different desires and fantasies than you have, and they might need time to process what you’ve shared about yours.
  9. Leave the door open for further discussion. If you’re not satisfied with the first talk, express a desire to revisit the topic later and remind your partner how much they matter to you. Remember that sexuality evolves along with relationships, and anticipate further conversations down the road.


Learn more

A common barrier to talking about sexual desires and fantasies is worrying that what turns us on might be weird or abnormal. The good news is that sex researchers are accumulating an increasing volume of knowledge about sexual fantasies, including what people tend to fantasise about and how common various fantasies are.

In the largest study of its kind, the American psychologist and author Justin Lehmiller asked more than 4,000 adults in the US about their sexual fantasies. He discovered that the most common sexual fantasies they listed fit into (at least one of) seven categories:

  1. Multipartner sex (eg, threesomes, orgies)
  2. Power, control and rough sex (bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism)
  3. Novelty, adventure and variety (something you don’t do that often, like a new position, or having sex in the kitchen if you normally do it in the bedroom)
  4. Taboo sex (anything that might be forbidden by your culture or society)
  5. Passion, romance and intimacy (eg, feeling desired and loved)
  6. Nonmonogamy (eg, swinging, open relationships, cuckolding)
  7. Gender bending and homoeroticism (pushing the boundaries of what is expected from your gender or sexual orientation, such as being with a person of the same sex if you’re heterosexual)

If you’re concerned that your fantasy or desire is unusual, chances are that other people – perhaps many other people – fantasise about similar things, and that you are not alone, nor ‘abnormal’, in what turns you on.

However, if you’re still wondering about your sexual fantasies, including what they mean, if they are ‘normal’, and whether it would be useful to share them with your partner, there are professionals who can help you navigate these questions. Sex therapists, sex educators and counsellors with a background in human sexuality can help you explore your sexual wants and needs in a confidential, safe and nonjudgmental environment. Additionally, some therapists – especially those who specialise in relationship dynamics, such as marriage and family therapists – can help structure a conversation between you and your partner about sexual desires and serve as a resource for handling any related challenges.NEED TO KNOWWHAT TO DOKEY POINTSLEARN MORELINKS & BOOKS

Links & books

As already mentioned, the book Tell Me What You Want (2018) by the social psychologist Justin Lehmiller presents his firsthand research on the most common sexual fantasies. His website includes blog posts that examine various sexual desires and fantasies.

The book Come As You Are (2015) by the American sex educator Emily Nagoski explores how women can better understand their sexuality and identify their sexual wants and needs. She has appeared on several podcasts to discuss her research, including the Better Sex Podcast. She also has a popular TED Talk about sexual arousal.

My bookNot Always in the Mood: The New Science of Men, Sex, and Relationships (2019), based on research and my clinical experience, is about the lesser-known side of men’s sexual desire and what many men really want from their sexual encounters. I also summarise my research whenever possible on my blog, Myths of Desire.

The book Mating in Captivity (2006) by the psychotherapist Esther Perel identifies the issues that many of us in long-term relationships face with regard to waning passion, and offers tips for how to increase sexual desire. Perel also has an engaging podcast – Where Should We Begin? – in which she helps real people navigate various sexual and intimate concerns.

The iconic relationship researchers (and married couple) John and Julie Gottman have a very helpful website that contains blogs, quizzes, links to their bestselling books, courses and numerous other resources to help couples communicate more effectively about all topics, including sex.

Friendship Buckles Under Strain Of Single Sincere Moment

Yesterday 7:00AM (theonion.com)

NASHUA, NH—Indicating that the unfortunate occurrence had done irreparable damage, sources confirmed Friday that the friendship between local men Ben Cowsill and Jared Leon had buckled under the strain of a single sincere moment. Reports maintained that despite knowing one another for nearly 20 years, Cowsill and Leon would never be able to return to the comfortable friendship they’d enjoyed following Cowsill’s momentary display of vulnerability, and it was likely that they would never be able to look each other in the face ever again. The friendship, established in middle school, had continued amiably until a tragic moment at the Barge Inn Wednesday night when sources overheard Cowsill tell Leon “Love you, man,” when they were less than two beers deep, the first single instance of true honesty and openness between the pair. It reportedly severed their camaraderie forever. Other members of the friend group, including Carl Daley and Lindsay Smith, confirmed that while the two had formed a tight bond since being seated next to each other in seventh-grade math class, which flourished through high school, their four years attending the University of New Hampshire, and then both moving back home, where they met up several times a week to play poker or watch basketball, the brutally earnest moment of genuine feeling was too much for the friendship to survive. At press time, sources close to Cowsill confirmed that his carefully crafted text reading “What’s up man, I was so trashed the other night I barely remember anything” had received no reply from Leon.

The Shortness of Life: Seneca on Busyness and the Art of Living Wide Rather Than Living Long

“The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today… The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.”

BY MARIA POPOVA (themarginalian.org)

The Shortness of Life: Seneca on Busyness and the Art of Living Wide Rather Than Living Long

“How we spend our days,” Annie Dillard memorably wrote in her soul-stretching meditation on the life of presence“is, of course, how we spend our lives.” And yet most of us spend our days in what Kierkegaard believed to be our greatest source of unhappiness — a refusal to recognize that “busy is a decision” and that presence is infinitely more rewarding than productivity. I frequently worry that being productive is the surest way to lull ourselves into a trance of passivity and busyness the greatest distraction from living, as we coast through our lives day after day, showing up for our obligations but being absent from our selves, mistaking the doing for the being.

Despite a steadily swelling human life expectancy, these concerns seem more urgent than ever — and yet they are hardly unique to our age. In fact, they go as far back as the record of human experience and endeavor. It is unsurprising, then, that the best treatment of the subject is also among the oldest: Roman philosopher Seneca’s spectacular 2,000-year-old treatise On the Shortness of Life (public library) — a poignant reminder of what we so deeply intuit yet so easily forget and so chronically fail to put into practice.

Seneca writes:

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.

Illustration by Lisbeth Zwerger for a special edition of Alice in Wonderland

Millennia before the now-tired adage that “time is money,” Seneca cautions that we fail to treat time as a valuable resource, even though it is arguably our most precious and least renewable one:

People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.

To those who so squander their time, he offers an unambiguous admonition:

You are living as if destined to live for ever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply — though all the while that very day which you are devoting to somebody or something may be your last. You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire… How late it is to begin really to live just when life must end! How stupid to forget our mortality, and put off sensible plans to our fiftieth and sixtieth years, aiming to begin life from a point at which few have arrived!

Nineteen centuries later, Bertrand Russell, another of humanity’s greatest minds, lamented rhetorically, “What will be the good of the conquest of leisure and health, if no one remembers how to use them?” But even Seneca, writing in the first century, saw busyness — that dual demon of distraction and preoccupation — as an addiction that stands in the way of mastering the art of living:

No activity can be successfully pursued by an individual who is preoccupied … since the mind when distracted absorbs nothing deeply, but rejects everything which is, so to speak, crammed into it. Living is the least important activity of the preoccupied man; yet there is nothing which is harder to learn… Learning how to live takes a whole life, and, which may surprise you more, it takes a whole life to learn how to die.

In our habitual compulsion to ensure that the next moment contains what this one lacks, Seneca suggests, we manage to become, as another wise man put it, “accomplished fugitives from ourselves.” Seneca writes:

Everyone hustles his life along, and is troubled by a longing for the future and weariness of the present. But the man who … organizes every day as though it were his last, neither longs for nor fears the next day… Nothing can be taken from this life, and you can only add to it as if giving to a man who is already full and satisfied food which he does not want but can hold. So you must not think a man has lived long because he has white hair and wrinkles: he has not lived long, just existed long. For suppose you should think that a man had had a long voyage who had been caught in a raging storm as he left harbor, and carried hither and thither and driven round and round in a circle by the rage of opposing winds? He did not have a long voyage, just a long tossing about.

Seneca is particularly skeptical of the double-edged sword of achievement and ambition — something David Foster Wallace would later eloquently censure — which causes us to steep in our cesspool of insecurity, dissatisfaction, and clinging:

It is inevitable that life will be not just very short but very miserable for those who acquire by great toil what they must keep by greater toil. They achieve what they want laboriously; they possess what they have achieved anxiously; and meanwhile they take no account of time that will never more return. New preoccupations take the place of the old, hope excites more hope and ambition more ambition. They do not look for an end to their misery, but simply change the reason for it.

Illustration by Gus Gordon from ‘Herman and Rosie.’ Click image for more.

This, Seneca cautions, is tenfold more toxic for the soul when one is working for the man, as it were, and toiling away toward goals laid out by another:

Indeed the state of all who are preoccupied is wretched, but the most wretched are those who are toiling not even at their own preoccupations, but must regulate their sleep by another’s, and their walk by another’s pace, and obey orders in those freest of all things, loving and hating. If such people want to know how short their lives are, let them reflect how small a portion is their own.

In one particularly prescient aside, Seneca makes a remark that crystallizes what is really at stake when a person asks, not to mention demands, another’s time — an admonition that applies with poignant precision to the modern malady of incessant meeting requests and the rather violating barrage of People Wanting Things:

All those who call you to themselves draw you away from yourself.


I am always surprised to see some people demanding the time of others and meeting a most obliging response. Both sides have in view the reason for which the time is asked and neither regards the time itself — as if nothing there is being asked for and nothing given. They are trifling with life’s most precious commodity, being deceived because it is an intangible thing, not open to inspection and therefore reckoned very cheap — in fact, almost without any value.

He suggests that protecting our time is essential self-care, and the opposite a dangerous form of self-neglect:

Nobody works out the value of time: men use it lavishly as if it cost nothing… We have to be more careful in preserving what will cease at an unknown point.

Illustration by Alessandro Sanna from ‘The River.’ Click image for more.

He captures what a perilous form of self-hypnosis our trance of busyness is:

No one will bring back the years; no one will restore you to yourself. Life will follow the path it began to take, and will neither reverse nor check its course. It will cause no commotion to remind you of its swiftness, but glide on quietly. It will not lengthen itself for a king’s command or a people’s favor. As it started out on its first day, so it will run on, nowhere pausing or turning aside. What will be the outcome? You have been preoccupied while life hastens on. Meanwhile death will arrive, and you have no choice in making yourself available for that.

But even “more idiotic,” to use his unambiguous language, than keeping ourselves busy is indulging the vice of procrastination — not the productivity-related kind, but the existential kind, that limiting longing for certainty and guarantees, which causes us to obsessively plan and chronically put off pursuing our greatest aspirations and living our greatest truths on the pretext that the future will somehow provide a more favorable backdrop:

Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.

Seneca reframes this with an apt metaphor:

You must match time’s swiftness with your speed in using it, and you must drink quickly as though from a rapid stream that will not always flow… Just as travelers are beguiled by conversation or reading or some profound meditation, and find they have arrived at their destination before they knew they were approaching it; so it is with this unceasing and extremely fast-moving journey of life, which waking or sleeping we make at the same pace — the preoccupied become aware of it only when it is over.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his own occupation, Seneca points to the study of philosophy as the only worthwhile occupation of the mind and spirit — an invaluable teacher that helps us learn how to inhabit our own selves fully in this “brief and transient spell” of existence and expands our short lives sideways, so that we may live wide rather than long. He writes:

Of all people only those are at leisure who make time for philosophy, only those are really alive. For they not only keep a good watch over their own lifetimes, but they annex every age to theirs. All the years that have passed before them are added to their own. Unless we are very ungrateful, all those distinguished founders of holy creeds were born for us and prepared for us a way of life. By the toil of others we are led into the presence of things which have been brought from darkness into light.


From them you can take whatever you wish: it will not be their fault if you do not take your fill from them. What happiness, what a fine old age awaits the man who has made himself a client of these! He will have friends whose advice he can ask on the most important or the most trivial matters, whom he can consult daily about himself, who will tell him the truth without insulting him and praise him without flattery, who will offer him a pattern on which to model himself.

One of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s original watercolors for The Little Prince. Click image for more.

Perhaps most poignantly, however, Seneca suggests that philosophy offers a kind of spiritual reparenting to those of us who didn’t win the lottery of existence and didn’t benefit from the kind of nurturing, sound, fully present parenting that is so essential to the cultivation of inner wholeness:

We are in the habit of saying that it was not in our power to choose the parents who were allotted to us, that they were given to us by chance. But we can choose whose children we would like to be. There are households of the noblest intellects: choose the one into which you wish to be adopted, and you will inherit not only their name but their property too. Nor will this property need to be guarded meanly or grudgingly: the more it is shared out, the greater it will become. These will offer you a path to immortality and raise you to a point from which no one is cast down. This is the only way to prolong mortality — even to convert it to immortality.

On the Shortness of Life is a sublime read in its pithy totality. Complement it with some Montaigne’s timeless lessons on the art of living and Alan Watts on how to live with presence.

A North Korean man who smuggled ‘Squid Game’ into the country is to be executed by firing squad


Huileng Tan  November 24, 2021 (businessinsider.com)

Squid Game
The character Kang Sae-byeok, a North Korean defector, in “Squid Game.” 
  • North Korea appears to have come down hard on people who distribute or watch “Squid Game.”
  • Citing unnamed sources, Radio Free Asia said a man there was sentenced to death for smuggling it.
  • Seven high-school students received harsh sentences for watching the show, RFA reported.

North Korea appears to have come down hard on people who distribute or watch Netflix‘s hit show “Squid Game.”

A report by Radio Free Asia cited unnamed sources inside North Korea as saying a man who smuggled and sold the dystopian drama had been sentenced to death by firing squad and a high schooler who bought a USB drive containing the show was sentenced to life in prison.

Another six high schoolers who watched the show were said to be sentenced to five years of hard labor, RFA reported. Their supervisors were also said to be punished, with teachers and school administrators fired, possibly to be banished to work in remote mines, RFA said.

RFA is a US government-funded nonprofit news service that serves audiences in Asia. It says its aim is to “provide accurate and timely news and information to Asian countries whose governments prohibit access to a free press.”https://1dfad006b2cf1181ef900bdd839eb52a.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

The South Korean television series “Squid Game” tells the story of 456 debt-laden people competing for 45.6 billion won, or $38.3 million, of prize money in brutal survival games.

A law-enforcement source in North Korea’s North Hamgyong province told RFA’s Korean service: “This all started last week when a high-school student secretly bought a USB flash drive containing the South Korean drama ‘Squid Game’ and watched it with one of his best friends in class. The friend told several other students, who became interested, and they shared the flash drive with them.” The students were caught by government censors after a tip-off, the source told RFA.

It’s the first time the North Korean government has punished minors under a law that penalizes the distribution, watching, or keeping of media from capitalist countries like South Korea and the US, RFA said.

“The government is taking this incident very seriously, saying that the students’ education was being neglected,” RFA’s source said.https://1dfad006b2cf1181ef900bdd839eb52a.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

A source told the outlet that one of the students got off the hook because they had rich parents who paid a $3,000 bribe.

Last month, a state-run North Korean propaganda website said the Netflix drama highlighted how South Korea was a place where “corruption and immoral scoundrels are commonplace.” One of the show’s characters was a North Korean defector whose story highlighted her arduous escape from the country.

Despite the threat of retribution, smuggled, illegal copies of “Squid Game” have been making their way into North Korea.

A previous article from Radio Free Asia noted that North Koreans found the financial struggles of the show’s characters “relatable.”

Netflix has said the massive hit had the highest first-month viewership of any of its originals.

Disclosure: Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Business Insider’s parent company, Axel Springer, is a Netflix board member.

(Contributed by William P. Chiles)

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