Updated: Apr 14, 2022
*TRIGGER WARNING: HEALING-SPACE ABUSE, SEX WORK TRAUMA*
Each story of sexual exploitation in the quest for healing is not unique, and that’s what makes them so alarming and important to tell.
As an entheogen facilitator, a womb wellness practitioner and matriarch in my community, I am charged with remaining balanced in the power dynamics I maintain.
This is the responsibility of any facilitator.
Yet within this new paradigm (and grey area) of entheogen and psycho-somatic practitioners, people seeking help are far removed from traditional systems of conflict resolution, restorative justice and have nowhere to turn when things go wrong.
Because of these disconnections, the psychedelic healing community is facing the sad reality that without trauma informed care and healing space accountability, thousands of people are being led into the hands of practitioners who are sexually exploitative.
This rise in intimate violence within the healing space is now visible, not because instances have increased, but because people are finally telling their stories.
This is my story. I urge anyone reading, to follow the red flags 🚩
Who I Was When I Found "My Teacher"
It was 2013, I was 19 and settling into my sophomore year of college, living in a house with girlfriends who were supportive stoner types. We shared a peaceful life in our place, an artistic headquarters existing adjacent to severe substance abuse and rape culture disguised as college socializing. Despite the beauty, some of us were still suffering, I certainly was.
In my teen years, I’d lived an isolated life and struggled to form friendship bonds. My social anxiety was painful to be in, so to cope I retreated into codependent relationships or spent hours on the internet where I met people I could be vulnerable with. Because opening up to strangers felt safer than relating to my peers.
During these online wanderings, 🚩 I ran into an ad on Craigslist. It read, “tantric massage teacher looking for an apprentice”. After studying the teacher’s website, I felt like learning tantra could give my life meaning and be the way to resolve my sexual trauma.
A Piece About My Specific Sexual Trauma
Relationships with adult male figures were always confusing and hard to navigate. I was molested by my grandfather from age 6 - 10 and grew up in an addicted, authoritarian and financially unstable household. Even before my father died when I was 14, I gravitated towards predatory behavior, seeking something that maybe I lost a long time ago. And these folks were seeking some things in me too: someone trusting, impressionable and generous with their energy. I’d sneak out to meet them, get hurt and somehow make it home.
Whenever I mustered the nerve to say anything about how popular guys from school and even grown men acted, the response was usually “slut” or just silence, so I stopped talking about it.
🚩 HE led women's empowerment circles.
The man from craigslist invited me to his “women’s empowerment circle”. That day, my girlfriend and I rolled up to a simple but nicely decorated house in the Inland Empire. A white woman in her mid-20s smudged us with white sage at the door. I thought she was teaching the class but her body language was reading subservient and she barely made eye contact.
After we found open seats, the teacher, a 40-year-old white man with long pin straight hair tied back in traditional Chinese queue style, opened the circle and the woman, sat silent at his side. He led us through Chi-Gong practices and taught us how to feel energy. He emphasized the importance of activating divine feminine essence through the chakra system – new age spirituality 101. I ate it up.
After the class, I eagerly signed up for the apprenticeship. He looked sincerely into my eyes and said, “You’re very spiritually advanced for your age and would make a great student.” I was filled with hope.
🚩 Having physical contact was a requirement of his training.
As part of my training as a “tiger cub” in his program, I needed to undergo a tantric massage session with him. In his view, healing the chakras and clearing sexual blockages could be done by somatic means, manually building orgasms and channeling them through the body. My teacher administered these tantric energy orgasms to women in his home studio in 3-hour sessions, priced at $220.
This was my initiation: low light, Enya-type new age music, boy oil, heated massage table, crystals and lots of heavy breathing – the whole 3 hour offering. I cried, I shook, I had a peak experience and I melted into trust and appreciation. Something real was happening and I thought, maybe this is the truth, this is how I could repair my sexual trauma and heal from suffering and shit, maybe help other people.
🚩 He welcomed & encouraged ongoing sexual contact.
It wasn’t long after my initiation that we began a sexual relationship. Honestly, I thought having sex with him was healing me. Wasn’t this the way of the tantric teachings? Don’t you fuck your teacher, learn a few things, read a book or two and basically follow the path they lay out for you? How could I know? There was no road map, no guidebook, no governing body for western tantra teachers and student relationships. No checks and balances or ethics specialists.
So we went through intense BDSM sessions, anal play, threesome experiences, rope tying, enemas and regular sleepovers, all in the name of what he called “healing through ‘Red Tantra’”.
One day, I ate mushrooms at his house and he guided me into an intense spanking session which led me to a childhood memory of being bent over my dad’s knee and being slapped continuously on my bare ass – it shook me to my core and left me crying. These were real psychological portals opening up and it was hard to tell whether or not this was the right space to be working through them.
🚩 The other women in his studio warned me about him.
There were two other women who frequented the house, both white, late 20-somethings, who were always seeing clients when I went in for training. They both drank red wine and folded linens when they weren’t in the treatment rooms. One of them was a mom whose husband didn’t know she was doing “tantra work”; the other one was a fire spinner with blue hair from the Burning Man scene. Their behavior towards our teacher was very odd to me, it didn’t look like they were learning, it looked like they were just working and leaving with as little contact with him as possible.
Once, the girls took me aside and said, “he’s not who he says he is”.
Even though, this is what his website read.
🚩 He encouraged me to start taking clients after three months of study.
It’d been 3 months of studying as his apprentice, outside of the Red Tantra healing, I was working on different people, learning massage techniques, and performing lingam (sanskrit word for penis) massages mostly on men who answered his Craigslist ads. At that point, he thought I was ready and was eager for me to get started seeing clients since it would “bring me abundance” and be good for my feminine essence.
Once I committed to beginning as a “tantrika” in his home spa, the training program pretty much stopped. He helped me set up a basic website: a bio, a gallery of photos, a price list and contact form. Once the Craigslist and Backpage ads were up, it was just a matter of time. I started taking clients that same day.
🚩 He used new age spiritual ideas like "poverty mindset" to bypass any discussion about racism within the practice.
My teacher was convinced that black women didn't do well because they’re always in a ‘poverty mindset’ (he said this to me a number of times). It became evident quickly that it wasn't a ‘poverty mindset’ that set black people apart in this space. There are extremely racist beliefs within the underground, new age tantric sex world, especially where I was operating in Redlands, CA. Some sensual massage ads would read, “No black men”, I’m not even kidding. I saw this as an opportunity and took the men other therapists wouldn't.
🚩 There were no checks and balances, for our teacher or our clients.
Things were very intense in the early days. I was facing physically intimidating male clients who were coercive and abusive in every way.
Things were happening in my massage room and during outcalls that I couldn’t talk about to anyone: not to my friends, definitely not to my family, especially not to the police and sadly, not even to my college therapist.
It was as if the black market sex worker scene was developed to employ people with nuances just like mine: people with a predisposition towards isolation, emotionally trusting and in need of financial support.
After weeding through new-comers and establishing a body of regular clients, these occurrences were less frequent. This is what happens when a relatively new person is thrust into a dangerous position -- they do not possess the skills to handle what was being put in front of them or have the understanding for proper self care.
🚩 His home became a place of monetary exchange, rather than learning or spiritual growth like it was promoted to be.
I’d see six clients in a day and for a person as fragmented and lost as I still was, that’s a lot of energy to exchange. I’d walk around with my clients’ baggage for weeks before cutting chords or doing energetic maintenance. It was rocking my system, but I was addicted. I was getting the sexual attention I had always dreamed of. Older men doted on me regularly, bringing flowers and outfits. The money became a focal point.
🚩 When I started evolving my practice and paving my own path, he became hyper-critical.
Through this process, I learned the basic business skills of being a sacred hoe. I marketed myself, created an intake process, deepened my knowledge base and practice through self study.
I honestly began to see how important the position I was holding in the community truly was. The art of the sacred hoe was not lost to me. Being in that position, falling head first into it turned on some hidden faculties I didn’t even know were already programmed inside me.
I’m here to shed light on this, because many folks have this sacred hoe living inside them, as I do. Most societies of the world have a position in place for this person – some were protected and even held in reverence.
These intimacy priestesses/ sacred hoes can be forged in a special combination of
childhood sexual trauma,
a strict religious or authoritarian upbringing,
one or two addicted parents,
lack of grounded women role models and finally,
an introduction to temple arts or intimacy work.
The real healing work started when I began claiming my power and expanding my skill set into modalities that are culturally relevant. When I finally began feeling confident in my body and my practice, he began telling me things like,
"Your dreadlocks might be unattractive to customers."
"Maybe if you'd shave your body hair, you'd be busier."
"Why don't you put on some perfume? you smell like curry."
"You shouldn't offer womb services too, it will confuse people."
🚩 There was no other "empowered women" leading the space or sticking around. We were isolated.
I kept watching women therapists leave, and at certain points there were no feminine anchors I could hold onto and learn from, making his studio very uncomfortable to be in.
I started to see the personas of “Holistic Healthcare Practitioner”, “Traditional Chinese Medicine”, “Past Life Native Medicine Man” and “Tantric Massage Yoni Healer” fall away. This man was just as fragmented and broken as I was.
At this point, I'll say his name. His name is Daniel. Well, Daniel was actually married to a woman who thought he was a therapeutic-only massage therapist. He was lying to his wife about his entire enterprise. I learned in my self study, that one of the first tenants of sacred sex is TRUST - lying to his wife about our relationship and this whole tantra brothel was in deep breech of that trust.
🚩 He asked me to recruits my friends to keep business coming in.
This underground tantra brothel relied on a steady flow of fresh young and attractive girls willing to give handjobs in a dimly lit room at an 80/20 profit split. In desperation for new tantrikas, he started to tap into my friend group. We started organizing training days for people I cared about and I helped train them, showing them the level and the depth I had come to and the online marketing tricks I’d learned to begin their path.
We ran two of my good girlfriends through the same system as I went through. Although it was fun working alongside familiar people, there was a good deal of shame in bringing them into this world. With them there, working in that big, messy vortex of a house felt safer, until the day my relationship with my teacher hit rock bottom.
🚩 He finally forced himself on me.
I was preparing for an upcoming client in one of our treatment rooms. Daniel let himself in and kept pleading with me about how long it’d been since I let him “worship my yoni”. He was “overcome with kundalini energy” and proceeded to come onto me, heavily. I was pressed into the massage table, he got on me and started pushing his head down into my crouch. I squirmed and fought internally with myself as survivors of sexual violence often do and then, there was a knock at the door.
It was my next client. Daniel pulled away, I gathered myself, walked down the hall and opened the door with a warm greeting, “Hi, sorry for the wait. Please come in!” After I finished with my client, I was broken. I curled. It finally struck me that this was not at all helping me, it was hurting me.
I was disgusted with myself, with him, and with what this 3-year tantra apprenticeship had become. This remained on his website for years after I left.
What Happens After Realizing You've Been Spiritually Pimped
In 2022, it’s been almost 6 years since leaving that place. Looking back at my time working in the tantra brothel, it’s obvious that I was treading the slippery slope we’re now seeing become more and more visible as the new age, plant medicine, spiritual guru, psychedelic clinician gone power hungry story continues unfolding.
I was an extremely wounded young woman navigating a complex intersection of substance abuse, financial insecurity and childhood sexual trauma, looking for someone to show her the way. Healing still needed to happen. Now even more so following the three years of traumatic experiences at the studio.
Thankfully, that healing did find me, not in the new age tantra flim-flam Daniel taught me or the energy orgasms he swore would cure me – it was in the sister circle I accidentally formed while knowing him that brought me into the healing path I walk today.
Why Tell a Story Like This?
We need to make more space for stories like this. It's our role as ethical facilitators and leaders in the psychedelic movement that these stories don’t vanish into the vacuum of silence or be dismissed with the “you deserved it” type of attitude we’ve seen in our rape culture world.
These stories need to be shared, so people can look for what’s true in it for them, to know that there is shared experience and we do not sit alone with shame, relegated to the shadows.