I recently had the incredible opportunity to interview Andres Cordero, Jr. Codrero Jr. is the Lead Patient Advocate at Kind Clinic San Antonio.
Cordero, Jr. is a sex educator, sexuality researcher, and sacred intimate. Supervising a team of patient advocates for sexual health, wellness, and gender-affirming care patients at the Kind Clinic in San Antonio, Texas, and he’s doing the work.
Cordero Jr. has delivered training on sexuality and embodiment practices for more than ten years, teaching gay men and others how to connect and integrate mind, body and spirit.
A graduate of Barbara Carrella’s Urban Tantra Professional Training Program, he previously served as director at the Institute for Mind Body Therapy and interim operations and administrative director for the Body Electric School. Currently a Ph.D. candidate in Sexuality Policy Leadership, Human Sexuality program at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. His dissertation is a phenomenological examination of sacred intimacy, a form of erotic healing and transformative practice taught by Body Electric.
Above: Andres Codero, Jr.
#GAYNRD SPOKE TO CODERO, JR. ABOUT OUR DEEPEST SECRETS.
What is a sacred healer and how can one become one? Woah. So, that is a HUGE question! The truth is, what you may consider a sacred healer depends on many factors, including what you consider sacred, and what you consider to be healing. Many sacred healers recognize the vital nature and interdependence of what we call mind, body, and spirit. They approach helping others by including all of these components of the human experience. If you approach a physician, they are focused on helping you heal your body. If you approach a counselor, they are focused on helping you heal your mind. If you have a minister, priest, or spiritual guide, they help you heal in spirit. A sacred healer often seeks to involve all of these dimensions when working with you.
What I have found through some of my research in a practice called sacred intimacy is that most sacred sex healers find themselves on this path as part of their life journey. More than just a profession or an occupation, sacred healing is often considered “a calling,” not unlike how people become priests, ministers, or spiritual guides. Often, these folks know they are different. They give up a large part of their life to be in service of others. They recognize that what they offer often has value and benefit for others. Many times they recognize this value because they have worked with a sacred healer themselves.
You may hear of sacred sex healers using different terms to describe themselves – sacred intimates, sex surrogates, tantric priests and priestesses, shaman, erotic priestesses, and even embodiment coaches and sex coaches—these are just some examples. Their paths to becoming healers are many. Some training exists, but you can’t get “formally trained” in many of these practices. Often, you may study these approaches and may work for many years in apprenticeship with elders who have many years of experience in the practice. Often, you may grow your practice by learning from other healers. Many of the modalities (modalities are ways of working with people), practices, and knowledge needed to be a sacred healer are communicated through regular practice and coaching, verbal communication, and mentoring. Depending on the type of healer, you may be able to find some reading material and or audio/video instruction material, although the value of that material varies considerably.
It can be difficult to find sacred sexual healers practicing openly because sex is stigmatized in our country. This is particularly the case if these healers include touch, intimacy, and erotic practices in their work. People can mistake this healing as a form of prostitution. Nevertheless, they exist. Many take on the work because they believe that healing is less likely or even impossible if we separate the body, spirit, and mind. They believe it should all be done together, in an integrated, orchestrated way. For example, you can easily find counselors and therapists who specialize in sex, sexual dysfunction, and sexuality, but often they cannot interact with you in a physical or spiritual way, because laws and ethics meant to protect patients and clients prohibit them from doing so.
Like any other practitioner, I suggest anyone who wants to see a sacred healer to do what they would do with any provider. Seek recommendations and referrals. Ask lots of questions. Ask about their training. Talk to others who have worked with them. Recognize that you always have agency— the right to act independently and make free choices.
One of the most comprehensive resources describing the history of sacred sexuality is a dissertation written by Loraine Hutchins, Ph.D. titled Erotic Rites: A Cultural Analysis of Contemporary U.S. Sacred Sexuality Traditions and Trends (2001).
Why does our country teach public sex ed so poorly? That’s another big question! But it is also a good one. There are many and varied reasons why sex education varies in content, quality, and perspective in the US. Much of our public education system struggles constantly with a lack of resources and the ability to deliver education in general. Education standards for curricula covering the topics of sexuality and sexual health also vary from state to state, and sometimes even city to city. All of this further complicates how information is delivered to youth. At every level of this process, different groups struggle with deciding what information is most important. Values and morality play a big role as well. As you know, we live in a conservative nation, and often we discourage conversations about sex in general. Many times, sex is also used to stigmatize others, by making people feel bad about their identity, their orientation, and their expressions. Sexuality also is a powerful political tool. It can be used to control populations and drive political agendas. And in addition, research into many non-medical aspects of sex is sorely lacking. Our lawmakers, leaders, and many public institutions refuse to provide adequate funding to help build knowledge on the subject.
What has happened historically and continues is the use of sex education for political purposes. Whoever is in charge gets to decide what you, as a member of the public, learns about sex. So, you may often hear nothing. Or, you may only hear about the “horrible” diseases you may get if you are sexually active, have sex outside of marriage, or have sex with multiple partners. Or you may learn that there are only a few “acceptable” ways you can be or identify, a limited number of ways you can be attracted to and show love to others, or very few ways to express your sexuality. All of this has a common theme. That theme is control. Information and knowledge about sexuality can be used quite effectively to control who you are through your body. Information about sex can be used to convince you that your body, and what you choose to do with it, is not your birthright. Used effectively, information, misinformation, or a lack of information about sexuality can influence you to conform to what those in control and power believe to be acceptable.
The good news is that those who choose to use sex education in nefarious and oppressive ways are losing the battle. There is more information about sex and sexuality out there than ever before, thanks to the internet, media, and the efforts of those who are sex positive and actively promoting frank and accurate information about sex.
If you notice, it has become safer than ever before for people who do not fit the traditional constructs of human sexuality to openly identify and express themselves. The LGBTQIA+ community is more visible than ever. Diverse sexual expressions are also becoming more acceptable. People are generally more free to share their sexuality – who they are, how they identify, who they are attracted to, and how they express themselves—without fear of retribution, so long as they are not hurting others. I expect that to continue as we come to recognize as a society and a culture that our sexuality is not to be feared, but instead be tolerated and at times even celebrated.
What’s the difference between a kink and a fetish? And which one is the bad one? In the simplest of terms, a kink is something that someone finds arouses them sexually that is not considered a sexual norm. A fetish is an object or an act that some people find is almost always necessary to become aroused so that they can enjoy sex. Both of these concepts are highly personal and subjective, so they aren’t necessarily applicable identically across all cultures or people.
To demonstrate by example, I can make this simple and fun. If I find being tickled as sexually arousing (And yes, there are people who find tickling to be a huge turn-on!) then it’s one of my kinks. Because not everyone finds getting tickled to be arousing, it’s considered a kink.
However, if I find I almost always have to be tickled to enjoy having sex, then it’s a fetish for me.
As far as all the kinds and types of kinks and fetishes that exist out there – there are LOTS of them. For those that are, or wish to, become more sexually adventurous, fetishes and kink can be a part of their journey to learning more about who they are as sexual beings. Not everyone is, or has to be, kinky. Not everyone has to have a fetish or fetishes.
I don’t necessarily feel that either are inherently bad as concepts. However, there may be some fetishes and kinks that are considered unethical, immoral, or unlawful in the culture we live in. They also may vary from culture to culture. If you are concerned that you may have a kink or a fetish that may fall into one of these realms, and it causes you some concern, you can always seek a physician, a mental health provider, or a spiritual guide for assistance and guidance. The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) offers a directory of kink-friendly providers, including counselors, therapists, doctors, and others. You can access the directory online here: https://www.kapprofessionals.org/
Sometimes kinks and fetishes may have origins in memories of experiences or ways of seeing the world, for example. Most often people may find their kinks and fetishes are simply different ways to enjoy their sexual expressions. I encourage anyone who feels they may have kinks or fetishes to explore them as they are comfortable. Often, these explorations can help people learn more about themselves and the world around them.
OnlyFans has provided a massive platform form for professional and ametuer pornography, but significantly it is also widely diverse from what the “Industry” does. Do you see the value in marginalized looks and identities (Fat, Black, Trans) getting empowered by the representation?
OnlyFans, and many other contemporary social media platforms, have created a new way for us to bypass major media and communicate directly with the public. For example, before the popularity of the internet, only a few very powerful organizations and individuals (like motion picture production companies, television networks, print media, and the like) controlled what many call “the narrative.” In the narrative, we were essentially told what to like and dislike, what was good and what was bad, what we wanted and didn’t want – and what we should and should not find sexually arousing.
These days, any “Joe or Jolene” on the street can tell their erotic, sensual, or sexual story to the world and be heard. This includes sharing your life and story in the realm of erotica and pornography. So now, rather than being told what is and is not desirable or attractive, people are being exposed to the incredibly diverse nature of the human sexual experience. Whether you are tall or short, fat or skinny, Caucasian or a person of color, hairy or smooth, into fetishes or not – there’s now more than likely a close representation of aspects of you out there. The reality now is that almost everyone can celebrate their sexuality. It’s not confined to a specific look or type.
So, is this empowerment? Most definitely. For those who enjoy sexually explicit content (or even just more information on how people identify, who they are attracted to, and how they express themselves), there is lots out there for everyone. Because of these very same reasons, however, our challenge has now shifted. Now, rather than promoting a narrow definition of what is considered attractive, some people are now falling into the practice of disrespecting others specifically because of the expansive diversity.
The challenge now – if there is one—is to honor and respect those communities, especially if you are not part of them. It’s quite easy to offend someone, for example, by expressing your sexual attraction based on attributes that can dehumanize them, unless they give you explicit consent to do so. So, telling someone they arouse you at all isn’t kosher. And telling someone they turn you on simply because of their gender identity or race, for example, is especially offensive. Objectifying someone you just met, or want to meet, is one of the most thoughtless ways to offend someone.
We’ve traded one challenge for another. The true goal now, I believe, is to stay focused on the complexity of our humanity, and not just literal or symbolic “parts” of our sexuality. We now may understand that there are many ways to be in this world. The key is to appreciate the whole person.
Is pornography damaging? What are the signs that pornography is adversely affecting you? What determines how you go from enjoyment to addiction? I am not an expert in porn addiction, but I can surely let you know my thoughts on this topic.
The general trend with more mental health experts and research has been to reframe what traditionally has been labeled as porn addiction. More and more mental health providers are recognizing that what is historically been named “porn addiction” is really more of a compulsive behavior. What’s the difference? Addiction implies a physiologically influenced limitation to control what you are doing. It is often based on biological factors. In other words, you crave it largely because of what is happening in your body, and often is next to impossible to control. Compulsion, on the other hand, is about behavior. So, rather than thinking of excessively using pornography for sexual pleasure and satisfaction because you can’t help yourself (we’ll get to the definition of “excessively” in a moment), many experts now believe that you have the ability to modify that behavior while under the care of a properly trained counselor or therapist.
So, what’s “excessive?” I believe that in and of itself, pornography is not “bad.” However, how you choose to use pornography can be unhealthy insofar that it is detrimental to having a normal life experience. So let’s just say that I enjoy porn. And I start by maybe watching it for a few minutes a few times a week. Even though I use pornography for sexual gratification, I still manage to have healthy relationships. I still have a romantic interest or lover, I still interact regularly with my family, and I still spend time with friends and coworkers. I still get to work on time. I still keep up taking care of my home, and I still pay my bills. That could be behavior that doesn’t imply I use pornography in a compulsive way.
Unwashed jocks make your lifts better and bates hotter pic.twitter.com/lgvBBYx3lB
— The Odder Otter (@The_OdderOtter) November 9, 2020
If, on the other hand, I spend every moment away from my porn collection thinking about what I want to watch next, or if I report late for work or leave early simply to get to watch my pornography, these behaviors may signal a compulsive behavior. And that’s a problem. If I break up with my boyfriend, or my family notices I’m never around, or if I start ignoring my home chores or stop paying my bills – or spending lots of money on pornographic material, that may be a signal as well. And if I’ve decided just to give up on finding real intimacy, relationship, and sexual experiences with other, and instead turn to pornography, then that’s most definitely a problem.
So, in my opinion, it’s a matter of awareness, and a matter of degree. Once anything starts taking over your life – whether it be porn, drugs, alcohol, food, gaming, binge television watching – then you may be dealing with a compulsive behavior. If you feel you may have a problem, it’s best to find a mental health provider to help. Generally, I would suggest you ask the provider how they would handle an issue like yours. Choose a provider you can trust. If a provider talks about “your addiction,” “treatment,” or “curing you,” you may be dealing with someone who stigmatizes pornography and considers it an addiction rather than a compulsive behavior.
There are many great sex positive mental health providers out there. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) certifies these professionals, so seek out AASECT-certified mental health specialists when possible (https://www.aasect.org/referral-directory).
Why do some genres (BDSM or just SM) have the veneer of violence and threat but are often cathartic for some people? I should probably start by stating that there are many paths that people can take, and many lineages that people can follow, when they venture into BDSM or just SM. Generally, BDSM and SM are sexual preferences and behaviors that allow folks to explore power relationships, physical restraints, and *pain by practicing bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, masochism and sadomasochism. I am familiar primarily with only one approach; one that focuses on basic practices of embodiment, or “ways of being” in our body. And this lineage of BDSM differs considerably from many others.
One of the fundamental ways that the path I learned differs from others is in the concept of what we call “pain.” Pain, in and of itself, can be cathartic, meaning that it can cause a release of emotions and tensions, often leading to alleviation or relief of some kind. In the path that I began and continue to pursue in my exploration, “pain” is reframed as “intense sensation.” Sensation can be subtle, even only slightly detectable, if it is gentle. Someone can lightly caress your arm, for example. Sensation can then be intensified. This may be by creating more skin-to-skin contact, rubbing, and increasing pressure. On the higher levels, tapping, patting, and even slapping creates more intense sensation. This way of introducing intense sensation is, along with breathing, movement, touching, and other practices, a way of experiencing BDSM through embodiment.
At its core, acts of violence often involve high levels of physicality and intense sensations, along with a dynamic that is framed around differences in relationship based on power or lack of power. However, in many of these practices, consent is always explicitly given. This means you clearly and fully give permission to be part of the experience. Negotiation is also a key factor in these explorations. This means you decide, and discuss fully and thoroughly with those involved, what you will do, and what will be done to you. Agency is another important factor. You are always ultimately in control of your experience, and you get to decide how to end it, and when it will end, even if it is not complete. It is for these reasons, and others, that BDSM activities are not considered violent.
The catharsis, for me, has been in using these explorations and experiences to examine and reframe who I am as a person, and how I relate to others. Some of these practices have allowed me to fall more fully into my feelings, elevate my physiological states, and release energy which can shift my mental and spiritual states. Exploring who I am in the framework of dominance of submission has helped me examine my life relationships, and how to move to more healthy states for myself and for others. Bondage has allowed me to understand, in a physical sense, what it can be like to have no control or power, and how to adjust to that. And role play has allowed me to understand who I have been, who I am, and who I can be in my life experience.
Although these practices aren’t for everyone, I certainly have found them powerful for many reasons in my own life.
While the incidence of HIV nationally has trended downward over the past decade, 40% of all new diagnoses are among 13-29 year-olds despite making up little more than 23% of the population. How does the work you do deploy harm reduction? Good question. I think the first thing to do is to let folks know what harm reduction means in the when we talk about sexual health, and more specifically, the prevention of HIV transmission.
Basically, harm reduction is a public health strategy that accepts that people are going to be people—in the case of sexual health and HIV, it means that we have to accept the fact that people are going to continue to have sex, and many may be choosing to do so with minimal or no barriers (we’re primarily talking about condoms here). Once we accept that reality, we can look for ways that people live to help them minimize the possibility of exposing themselves to STIs and HIV.
Secondly, I think it’s helpful to look at what’s called the intersectionality of populations in trying to figure out how to reduce the possibility of viral transmission. Intersectionality basically means that when we are trying to determine what to do to help people prevent HIV, we look at a variety of factors, like race, class, and gender, in relation to other factors like age, to help us understand how to create strategies to help prevent HIV.
It’s true that younger folks are an increasingly large portion of new HIV diagnoses, and when we look at youth of color, the rates are even higher, particularly among young cis Latino and Black males. There are many reasons for this. Youth POC (people of color) statistically have less access to adequate health care and information about sexual health and wellness, usually for financial reasons and reasons of sexual stigma. If these youth identify as other than cis or straight (LGBTQIA+), there are even more barriers. For example many LGBTQIA+ youth may not have a support network of family and friends, including doctors, to have access to the care they need. This would include access to PrEP, a pill that is taken once a day to prevent HIV, and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. Having an STI with symptoms can be a significant factor that raises a person’s risk of becoming infected with HIV.
So, how do you help young folks reduce their risk? One way is to make sure they are getting the best information and care they need. Offer them encouragement and support – don’t shame them or intimidate them with fear. In my work with Texas Health Action’s Kind Clinic, we are an inclusive, open, sex-positive space that welcomes all—regardless of gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, or sexual expression. We work daily to get patients the information they need to make their own decisions about their sexual health. We don’t focus on the don’ts of sex; we encourage them on the dos. This greatly improves their chances to stay healthy. With our younger patients, as with all our patients, we meet them where they are. That means we take interest in their lives, find ways to support them beyond their medical care, and empower them to recognize what being respected, accepted, and appreciated looks like—and that they deserve it just like everyone else. Our clinic staff represent the communities we serve. This means there is usually someone in clinic who can relate to almost any patient, to support them in their care. We also have a group of patient advocates. These folks help patients find ways to pay for their medications and find free or highly affordable resources to make it easier for them to stay healthy, happy, and productive.
That’s the Kind way, as we say – and I love what I do. You be you. We’ll be kind.
Is the proliferation of more and more interconnected smart technology and social and professional walls becoming transparent harmful to healthy emotional romantic relationships (i.e. You can know too much too easily…)? I’m going to assume that you are speaking of things like “hookup apps” and dating sites as interconnected smart technology, along with less sexually oriented sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, for example. Also, it’s important to remember that our sexuality extends beyond our behavior. It includes who we are, how we identify, and how we walk in the world. When we look at it from this angle, there’s a lot to talk about.
Generally, one of the first things I think about is how easy it is for us to objectify each other when we use apps and sites that make it super-easy to focus on a very small part of who we are. Some of the features on these apps and sites make it easier for casual sex encounters, but it also may limit our ability to find, start, or otherwise foster ongoing emotional romantic relationships. The moral of the story here is, if you are looking for a long-term partner, boyfriend, or girlfriend, you may be doing yourself a disservice if you are searching through a hookup app. Because I am sex-positive I don’t discourage people from using hookup apps. However, I do want others to understand what kinds of interactions are most likely if you use these tools.
When we look at more broad-use social media tools like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, for example, pay attention to what you post. What we post is mostly permanent and public, and mostly available to the world, regardless of whether you believe it to be private. Who you’re dating, where you’re going, who you’re friends with, and what your curiosities, dreams, and aspirations are may seem like great things to put out into the world. However, in the hands of someone who lacks social grace or someone who even may be pursuing you, this information can give them power you don’t want them to have. Even information you think you may be sharing “in confidence” with someone on these networks, or anywhere on the internet, isn’t really confidential. Don’t ever forget that.
A couple of things come to mind when I think about this. One huge factor is authenticity; that is, how “true” you are to others. It is possible, I believe, to participate actively on these sites if you clearly understand your authentic self and have an interest and desire to share that, and possibly be challenged on that, by others. I always tell my friends if you’re not comfortable having information you share to be potentially known by everyone you know, don’t post it. You truly have to be ok with whatever information gets to others if you make it available on social media. Not everyone is in a place to be ok with that, so tread carefully.
Another factor is vulnerability. If you post information regularly, be prepared to be vulnerable with it. What does that mean? It means that you have to be ready to defend yourself or tolerate if others try to use it against you. Because someone will try. Avoid posting information that you feel isn’t meant for everyone, or information that can be damaging to you, to your relationships, to your family, or to your career.
As humans, we are social creatures. We want everyone to know what we share, but often not everyone should know. And if you are truly trying to build close relationships with others, put down the technology, turn to your interests, and talk to them directly. You will be amazed how powerful that can be if you just give it a chance.
Are you concerned with how the up and coming generations will have trouble maintaining healthy stable relationships with so many new identities emerging and recognized? Or will it enhance what we think love can be and encompass?
One of the most important things I think anyone needs to consider when they are seeking relationship is to remember that identities are simply ways of describing ourselves. They are important tools because they help us understand ourselves, who we may be similar to, and what we believe. And also, identities can be narrow and limiting. In my instance, I may identify as a gay cis Latino male, but I am more than that. It is possible at some point in my future that I may find I am also other things, am attracted to other genders, or find other ways to express myself. Like the human experience, identities can be fluid, in flux, or may vary from time to time.
I don’t think people should be worried about identities making it more difficult to find and maintain healthy, stable relationships. It’s just one way we organize how we see each other. What is most important is to try to get to know people as best as you can. Spend time with them. Talk with them. Find out each other’s likes and dislikes. Figure out how you like (and don’t like) to spend time together. Stronger relationships tend to emerge if you stick around until after the identities melt away, and you find yourself engaging with a complete person. That’s when the real fun begins.
What is one thing you would change in this country around sexual health education that is not being addressed or something that many of us assume is conventional wisdom but is in fact harmful rhetoric or disinformation that must be stopped? I think eliminating fear can bring us a long way in healing our struggles with the sexual parts of our human sexuality. People fear what they don’t understand. Helping people to learn more about their bodies and to be supportive of others can change a lot in the world. Helping everyone to understand that there are many ways to be, many ways to experience attraction, and many ways to find ourselves attractive can be incredibly healthy. We don’t always like or dislike the same things, and that’s ok. We may think differently, feel differently, and worship differently. All of those ways are valid, so long as we are not hurting or damaging each other.
The most important thing I think everyone needs to understand is that each of us has a fundamental right to our own bodies. We should not fear them, we should not be discouraged from understanding them. Claiming your right to your own body, and by extension, to who you are, who you are attracted to, and how you express yourself, and be incredibly healing and empowering. It is our birth right. It is what we need to find love, compassion, and beauty in our world.
Check out his web site at andrescordero.com.