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The Intimate Achievement

Thomas Moore, Best-Selling Author and Diviner of the Soul, Meditates on Sex and True Closeness in the Context of a Healthy, Spiritual Life

July 14, 1998|MARY ROURKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A husband has affair after affair; a wife still toys with a past lover. A celibate wants to live a sexual life; a married person wants to make chastity part of the relationship.

Author Thomas Moore wades into such murky pools on his latest expedition. By now we know him, the explorer who hunts for the lost civilization of the soul and writes book after book from the found artifacts. "Care of the Soul" (HarperCollins, 1992) made him famous. "Soul Mates" (HarperCollins, 1994) broadened his audience, and now "The Soul of Sex" (HarperCollins) could make him a household name. Think of this one as a sex manual for those who already know the mechanics, commonly described in the most clinical terms. Sex is flirtation, foreplay, penetration. None of these is on Moore's list. He writes of desire, intimacy, pleasure, the body, sensuousness, beauty.

"It's the difference between taking sex seriously and taking it literally," he said during a recent tour across the country. "You can be sexually active five times a day and these qualities of intimacy can still be nonexistent. That's when you're taking sex literally."

That voice, mellow as Christmas port, is familiar to his followers. Along with books, he now has about a dozen books on audiotape. The looks follow. He has the understanding eyes and soft features that seem made to order for his work as a psychotherapist. He lives in New England with his wife and two children and continues in private practice.

The doctor has been in for a day or so at a time in one city after another from New York to California. On the phone from Seattle, he described the view from his hotel window. There was the cement office building and the freeway. Call it overcompensation for the sterile view, his immediate reaction was that a sexy life makes for a good sex life.

"We tend to eliminate anything erotic from our work environment," he began, tacking toward his point. He talks as he writes, in spirals.

"Look at our buildings: They're cold. In other countries, the buildings are so sensual you want to go up and touch them. If you're comfortable with your own sexuality, you can bring that sensuousness to work. We eliminate anything erotic from our work environment. Our office buildings are clinical.

"Roads can be very sexy." He sometimes drives the Merritt Parkway that winds through green hills from New York to Connecticut and thinks of it in unique ways. "It has curves. It's like a body. Most roads are just links to someplace else, built to let us go fast. There's no intimacy. That's not sexy."

Listening to Moore, it sounds as though we worry too much about the material side of attraction. Clothes, shoes, cars, hair, muscles, makeup. He scrapes them off, looking for simpler, more natural things underneath.

"We don't have sex woven into our lives yet," he says. "If we'd spend some time cooking, eating, being at home with family and friends, appreciating children and nature, we'd be on our way to a joyous sex life.

"If you're spending your days in a job that's killing you and you eat your meals apart, not together, you won't spend your nights very well."

A Thomas Moore guide to the techniques of lovemaking hints at '90s counterculture. None of his tips are meant to be practiced in a mirror. He writes about moral sex and the power of celibacy, and the place for chastity in a sexual life.

"I was in a religious community for 12 years," he recalled of his time as a Benedictine monk, starting at age 13. He left cloistered life in the mid-1960s. "I took a vow of celibacy but never felt I was denying my sexuality. Later, when I moved into a different kind of sexual life as a married man, I didn't feel that now I was sexual and before I wasn't.

"We're afraid of celibacy; we think there's something weird about it. I have friends who are without a partner. They live very sensuous lives filled with desires and struggles. They haven't abandoned their sexuality. It permeates their lives.

"Even in marriage, to be apart for a time can be a very healthy thing. Abstaining from sex can serve a marriage. At times, you might feel a need to be with yourself, to get away from sex for a while. It can be an aggressive act against a partner, but a mature person can tell the difference."

He doesn't write about infidelity, sex outside marriage, gay unions or sex scandals--even the obvious ones that smolder in public. He refers, instead, to conversations with his patients, which tell him most people make mistakes in their sexual relationships and have some regrets. Was it too much sex for one lifetime, or too little? Homoerotic relationships, physically violent sex, jealous love, passive, angry sex? All the same to him, in one sense.

"I think we need to be able to say, 'This is the way it was, but it's the past,' " Moore suggested. "What you did in your 20s you might not believe you did by the time you reach your 40s."

And after that?

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