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Imagining everybody in their underwear, that confidence-building technique for sweaty-palmed public speakers, might work reverse wonders for the meek attending the upcoming Celebrating the Body Erotic workshop in Cleveland. The two-day seminar is a clothes-off affair for men who are willing to "touch and be touched" all over--and reach a higher spiritual plane through orgasm.

"We establish a sense of comfort pretty quickly," says Gregg Langjahr, the Cleveland coordinator for the Oakland, California-based Body Electric massage and erotic spirituality school, which hosts this weekend's workshop. The school also offers a course in lovemaking skills called "Skydancing Tantra" and has a gender fluid sex activist--who deals in sexual ambiguity, not hard-ons--on its staff.

The Body Erotic workshop covers stretching, breathing, and touching techniques, like rubbing the belly to reach the "fire energy field," or getting a buzz by stroking the feet. "It's not masturbation, in the sense that we separate the high you get with orgasm from the high you get from ejaculation," says Langjahr. "We don't focus on one particular stroke."

Most of the participants are gay or bisexual, but straight guys are allowed too, and some actually show up--although they don't always stay for the hands-on graduation exercise, a full-body interpersonal touching session which requires each student to lie down on a table naked. "Some say, 'I don't think that I can continue' . . . It brings up stuff that's way too much for them," says Langjahr.

The workshop is popular with men with HIV. "It's a safe-sex sort of way of staying alive," says Langjahr. Others come to learn to be better lovers or please themselves without feeling cheap and dirty afterward.

Getting naked generally hasn't been a big hang-up for modern man--his ideal world a cross between a transcontinental nudist colony and a Russ Meyer film. But after spending their formative years watching scrambled Cinemax, guys have lost their "erotic spirit" somewhere in that bowl of stale beer nuts.

"Emotional connections are as important as food," Langjahr says. "So many men come to the realization that the erotic portion of their life is not very fulfilling, and that they are feeling more and more isolated."

Langjahr says that the benefits for heterosexual men are far more lasting than a hand job: "Some of the most ecstatic people are the wives who often can't believe what better lovers their husbands have become."

--Tim Piai

Celebrating the Body Erotic will be held in Willoughby on Friday and Saturday, May 21 and 22, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. The cost is $295 for the two-day workshop. For more information, call 216-556-3481.

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