Dear Fellow Traveler,IF YOU LOOK UP THE WORD COMPERSION in a slang dictionary, it will say that it’s the opposite of jealousy. That’s based on an incomplete understanding of both ideas.
In one sense, it’s true enough: a compersion experience is responding to a loved one’s love and pleasure with another person (or with themselves) with an affirmative response rather than a controlling one.
It would be more accurate to describe compersion as erotic empathy.
What the Ouija Board Said
The word, by the way, came out of a Ouija board session in the Kerista community in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco in the 1970s. People there were looking for a word to describe the feeling they were experiencing, and (as reported by C. T. Butler), that’s what came out.
The Keristans, according to Ryam Nearing, co-founder of Loving More (the magazine and the polyamory advocacy organization), “Believed it was important to have a word for this emotion, so people could talk about it more easily and even realize it was possible to feel this way.”
In other words, compersion was not developed in theory, but rather as a result of direct experience and personal observation. Kerista was a community devoted to open relationships, and many people there noticed they were having a pleasure response to their partners’ sexual and emotional joy.
Today, we need to be reminded that these things exist at all. Sexuality in nearly all of its forms — even the most sincere — has been politicized, and turned into a power play or a criminal act. We have so lost contact with ourselves that the very notion of loving, desirous and wholly consensual erotic experience is being disappeared. Many young people think that choking one another is a normal part of sex play.
The nature of politics is control. The nature of sexuality is surrender to one’s feelings. It would seem to most people impossible to experience delight at the sexual pleasure of another person, particularly someone you consider a partner, spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend or whatever. And by this, I mean with no control impulse at all. But it’s a real thing.
Some are Born This Way, Some Learn and Some Don’t
There are some who are born this way; others gradually learn to remove the blocks to their awareness of love’s presence. In exploring this territory with many people, I’ve seen those who seem to understand intuitively, and others who must learn like riding a bicycle.
As well, some people understand that their lover is not their property, and has feelings and desires that may not be about you. Your lover has a sexual history that did not include you; they have present thoughts and feelings that might not include you; and they may have a future that at some point does not include you.
The idea of compersion is to let it all be, and celebrate the erotic beauty of someone you care about in all of its forms. Ultimately you would expand that empathy to the whole universe.
Compersion is an experiment with a facet of unconditional love, where the condition of sexual exclusivity is not only removed, but where sharing is celebrated by everyone involved.
Not everyone is capable of this. Not everyone can go there. But if you can, I think it’s important to have relationships with other people who do. It’s a deep understanding of existence that you cannot deny once you arrive there. These may not be physically sexual partners, but they will be psychically sexual; and the sharing is in the spirit of no secrets whatsoever.
Cuckold Porn Offers a Clue
Many people get a glimpse of compersion when exploring what is called porn. Porn — in whatever form — is about celebrating someone else’s sexuality and sexual experiences. So it’s not really that unfamiliar.
Yet the difference when true compersion is experienced or felt, it would embrace those who are close to us as well as those who are anonymous and not actually in our space. Eventually it grows into an attitude toward “all my relations.”
There’s a rather popular form of porn called cuckold porn, which is generally about a man getting off to his wife fucking another man. She may do so right in front of him; she may go out and leave him home with himself, utterly out of control, with little choice but to either grieve the loss — or celebrate her pleasure. In some forms, the presentations are talk-only.
In some versions of the scenario, he must ‘clean up’ after her adventures, and perhaps be seen doing so by her other lover, swallowing the mixture of both of them. This opens the way to vicarious homosexuality. It is perhaps the ultimate surrender of perceived male privilege over women. The emotional pleasure involved comes from a blend of humility and humiliation — on the part of the voluntarily emasculated man.
Or is he? You might say, “What a simp!” However, this can also be seen as an expression of profound reverence for existence.
Something in the Male Psyche
Such a scenario gets us a little closer to compersion, though it’s still a fantasy. Though I would add, an extremely popular one, based on click counts. There is something in the archetypal male psyche that is willing to submit to the desire of Woman and all that she may want or need.
That same something is willing to relinquish any notion of “ownership” of a woman’s body, which is supposed to be the true essence of feminism.
Most people don’t have the courage or inclination to explore such an experience in reality. Some do, and they may find it was not what they were expecting.
And for others, it’s astonishing in its beauty and liberation; the gap can be crossed. It’s not very wide. But it takes a stable relationship within oneself by everyone involved.
Preparation is also required, and there are few places to get it. When more than two people have sex together, this is in the territory of what tantric teachers call the “secret dalliance.” Hearts must be open.
It is not a fantasy; it’s physical reality, with deep emotional vulnerability out in the open. And if you can get there, you may find it beautiful beyond what you’ve ever experienced or imagined.
Experimenting with Shared Masturbation
During my journey as a sexuality workshop presenter, I developed a method of teaching compersion to couples who might not be ready to experiment with a third party near the relationship, or any kind of threesome, or playing with another couple — or who might not want to. Yet the idea of compersion — cultivating erotic empathy — may sound appealing.
My suggestion is to take turns witnessing one another masturbate. (This can also be done among friends, if the relationship is open and trusting enough.)
The idea is to create a somewhat ritualistic experience: planned, with the time and space set up, and all else set aside.
There would be no touching except by oneself, and the non-masturbating partner would observe and possibly converse with the other. (Masturbating at the same time might happen a little later.)
Mainly, the idea is for one person to reveal who they are in their most private moment, and for the other to witness, listen, feel, love and possibly encourage. Whether words are used is at the discretion of the partner who is masturbating; whatever turns them on.
Many have experienced the beauty of orgasming into one another’s eyes when making love. The next time you do this, you may notice that you’re looking to them for a glimpse of your own reflection. It may be a little too much to see your own face, so you can look for resonance in their expressions and their witness.
You may feel better using your lover’s face as your mirror, though for some this depth of honesty is challenging. I have found that most people are not only willing but happy to hold space for you and anyone they love and desire. Open your eyes and be seen for this experience. Really let it happen.
To gaze on someone in their self-given orgasm is next-level — particularly if you witness them come into their own eyes into a mirror. That may make it easier for you to do so; or you may lead the way and go first.
A Conversation is Possible
There are a few possible variants on this. For example, the masturbating partner can share their fantasies and desires out loud. This may veer into territory that transgresses a monogamous agreement.
Yet everyone must eventually be confronted by the fact that their partner has sexual feelings for someone else, whether or not they act on them.
Getting them out into the open can be one of the most erotic experiences you’ve ever had.
There would not be a third person present for this particular experience; rather you would be experimenting with loving and appreciating the content of your partner’s mind and imagination. This is daring, and it’s also a test of trust — and a way to build trust.
But take notice:
The witness/listener must take a high degree of responsibility for their feelings in this zone. Your jealousy is yours alone. Likewise, your compersion is yours alone.
If anger or resentment enter this soft space, it can go deep, and cause real harm to the relationship. There must be open hearts and an atmosphere of trust. If your partner is going to open up, be ready to hear anything — this is the essence of the experience.
If you are going to open up, make sure you understand that your partner’s feelings are their own. You did not cause their feelings — no more than you are causing their self-given pleasure or the ecstasy they may feel sharing their deepest feelings (whether about themselves or someone else).
An Approach to Sexual Trauma
A great many women and men have been sexually traumatized. Yet as my friend Neal once said, every time he’s revealed this to a woman, it’s been used against him. There are many reasons we do not share, even with our most intimate partners, the details, the feelings involved, or any of the reality of what happened.
In a compersion environment, you may feel the desire to finally open up about this. You will know if it’s right. There is always a risk involved. The essence of the process is owning all of your feelings about what happened to you, which you may express by stating them out loud.
Pain, rage, guilt and all — and even the potential (guilty) pleasure of the experience. You can let it all out, offering it to the fires of compersion — of erotic empathy, which must include all of who we are and what we have been through.
Fun With Mirrors and Mirrorplay
Much of what happens in relationships is that “people hold the mirror to one another.”
In tantric practice, the mirror itself can be a physical metaphor. In learning compersion, mirrors can be a helpful tool.
For example, you can witness one another masturbating into a mirror. This is an edgy and delightful form of intimacy for those who want to go there. It might help if you do it alone first; or you may find that your lover’s presence might make it easier for you to explore.
This is all an experiment; hang loose.
After a few forays into solo territory, you can also masturbate together, face-to-face. If you have a big enough mirror, and are so inclined, you can face into it together, side-by-side, and explore and share your feelings.
Take it slowly — really slowly.
Imagine the experience is taking place in a slow-motion dream. If you’re into it, a little cannabis can help slow down time and enhance the sense of dreaminess. A little — not a lot.
You can experiment holding up a hand-held mirror to one another’s faces, and really, truly be present for your partner’s mirror experience.
The idea of all of this is to swim in erotic empathy, which is an invitation to take a bath in emotional water that washes away all inhibitions. Allow the core energy of orgasm — what is called orgone — to help you move through these spaces.
You might be thinking, gee, this is all pretty embarrassing! Yes, that is the idea. In tantric practice, embarrassment is an invitation to deeper pleasure. The idea is to go toward the embarrassment rather than away from it (which most people normally would).
Learning Compersion For Yourself
The ultimate compersion is for yourself. So too is the ultimate compassion.
Feeling true compassion toward yourself seems to be the most challenging kind of all, if experience is any teacher. Mirrorplay with a partner can help guide you there; you and your partner can take turns encouraging one another’s self-acceptance and self-forgiveness.
However, this is a kind of raft that must be discarded when we reach the other shore — that of self-to-self relating. It’s not that you would give up having partners, but rather about understanding that there are some places that are so deep, you can only go there with yourself.
One might ask why the exploration of self-compersion has to be sexual. The reason is that so much of what we hold against ourselves are sexual feelings and experiences, which may come with guilt, shame, regret, sense of injury, and/or longing for the past.
That these feelings are so often swept into the dustbin of consciousness (what astrologers call the 12th house) means that it’s lurking there, looking for expression. It is for this reason that any response to trauma that involves sequestering it will compound matters. What we call trauma, and all the surrounding feelings, are the substance of healing itself; and sexual trauma can only be accessed through sexual feelings — not by making them abstract.
Because both society and many individuals consider these feelings either taboo, inappropriate, or too embarrassing to address directly, we are left initially doing so ourselves. A lot of self-forgiveness is involved, and this is implied in both compassion and compersion.
This is About Death
Deep in the heart of any tantric practice is approaching the acceptance of death. While the ego can never really do this, we can dance with the idea of our own nonexistence. If we use sex as a metaphor for existence, you are the only one who will experience your death.
And you are the only one who can experience your orgasm and all of the intricate, complex feelings that surround how you feel about yourself.
Within a relationship, compersion is the exploration of the truth that your partner has a life and feelings apart from you.
Yet you may have the privilege of knowing, witnessing and to some extent understanding that truth.
Such awareness may have a profound effect on not just your ideas about your partner or your relationship, but also about yourself.
Within oneself, compersion is the experience of total surrender to your own existence, which embraces your potential lack of existence. Fully-expressed orgasm explores this territory in that it’s possible to forget who you are for a few brief, blissful moments. And when you get there, there is nowhere to go.
There is nothing you can do. Nothing you can say. It’s just you.
Postscript: CEI Porn
THERE IS ONE LAST TOPIC (for now) that I think qualifies as a modern form of compersion play, and that is a genre of porn called CEI, or cum-eating instructions. It falls within the FemDom genre (female-domination), and is a neighbor of Cuckold porn (mentioned above) for this reason.
The form of pleasure for which the model shares her erotic empathy is for a man’s desire to swallow his own semen. This is sensitive territory, rarely spoken about by men. It plays into the “women are unavailable” meme that has gone wild in the political realm, only it’s a perfect inversion.
The woman’s position is: I know you want me. I am the object of your desire. That’s OK. But you cannot have me. And I’m going to help you have something you may want even more, which is an experience of yourself.
Then she talks him through that experience in a way that meets his needs.
This talking through can range from gentle and supportive to taunting to degrading and ridiculing. Though there are many postures, in the role-play, the message could potentially come from wife, mother, stepmother, or sister or step-sister.
They might take the position that they are indifferent to what he’s feeling, turned on, disgusted, curious or many other possibilities. However, the mere presence of the conversation indicates awareness and tacit approval.
With this topic we are deep in the realm of the Secret Dalliance, though the videos can get hundreds of thousands, or even a million, views. There are also many live cam models on every platform who advertise this as one of their specialties. This whole concept is alive within the collective psyche, something that has emerged into the open over the past 15 years or so.
From the viewpoint of someone who has watched the crisis of feminism and sexuality develop since the early 1970s, I count this genre of porn as progress on a transcendent level.
First, it is women depicting themselves as taking up the power of no, the lack of which seems to be at the root of the “metoo” crisis and all its cousins.
In this genre, the power of ‘no’ is transmuted into a form of ecstatic surrender. It is considered a thing that is beautiful about women, rather than resented. ‘No’ is a source of pleasure for both parties, and on the woman’s part, there is no guilt for taking this position. Guilt about saying ‘no’ is one of the most serious problems of women’s sexuality and sexual conditioning.
Yet at the same time, there is the affirmation and embracing of the power of her own attractiveness and his being turned on. Then in way akin to martial arts, she directs his desire for her back to him. It’s also the woman taking up her role as sexual teacher of men, as the enforcer of boundaries and as the one who sets the terms of the relationship. All of these are essential to tantric practice.
The result is to guide her male counterpart into being self-contained. And it’s also to guide him to accept that she is not available in one sense (physically), but will be present for him (psychically). Though it is in fantasy form, this has the quality of tapping some deep erotic truth. Seen one way, that truth is that women do not need to be victims of their own attractiveness.
The combination of her approval of his desire for her (a form of compersion) is morphed with her seductive power. She is able to get him to do something that he secretly desires but cannot admit to anyone else.
It’s also something that could be profoundly embarrassing but deeply necessary (for one or both of them), set free by her presence, understanding, beauty and sexual authority.
He is able to receive himself — with her encouragement. The single most important quality we can look for and cultivate in a sexual partner is sexual self-acceptance. Here we have a model for that. And it may be easier explore this territory in person than most people think. Ask someone you know if they are interested. It’s that simple. It may be embarrassing territory, though in tantric practice, that’s almost always the direction to go: that is the unexplored wilderness.
This basic posture would seem to hold the keys to opening up many issues between women and men that are calling for healing. One of those is women holding the mirror to male self-acceptance. This includes mothers being present for the feelings of their sons as they mature, and reflecting positive feelings toward their nascent sexuality and sexual feelings for women.
Nowhere in the porn genre have I seen a video that gets underneath the nature of the shame, guilt or embarrassment that might result in his needing encouragement. That may be a lot to ask for something that is usually considered entertainment and not therapy or tantric practice. Instead, what happens is that his desire for her, and her awareness of her power, go through that space to a result without spending much time in the threshold itself.
What to do on the threshold is the topic for another article.
Here is an alternate take on compersion, from a polyamorous standpoint.