He started his current practice in 2004, and finds clients any number of ways, from word of mouth to converting women he’s met on Tinder into believers.
Photo of Barney the purple dinosaur via Getty Images
A full session with tantra massage specialist and spiritual healer David Joyner lasts three to four hours and costs $350. For that price, female clients—the only kind he accepts—can expect to receive a ritual bath, chakra balancing, and a massage. Also on the menu: cosmic, mind-blowing orgasms.
The latter can be achieved through massage alone. But the goal of a session is to fully release a woman’s blocked energy.
“When the lingam [penis] and the yoni [vagina] meet, there’s a certain energy that takes place that hands on the body alone cannot create,” says Joyner, 54, whose yogi-like presence is often accompanied by a warm smile when we meet for the first of several interviews. “Even through G-spot massage, it’s still not the same energy that flows.”
Today Joyner’s tantric massage practice boasts 30 clients—or “goddesses,” as he calls them—and he unblocks the energy of two to four women a week, he says. It’s a tad different than his work as a software analyst at Texas Instruments, a job he held for six years and landed shortly after graduating from ITT Technical Institute. But, Joyner says, his current work in tantra does share many similarities to another job he held from 1991 to 2001, that of Barney, the beloved purple dinosaur on the hit PBS children's show Barney & Friends.
“The energy I brought up [while] in the costume is based on the foundation of tantra, which is love,” he explains. “Everything stems, grows, and evolves from love. Even when you have emotionally blocked energy, the best way to remove it is to remove it with love, and then replace it with God’s divine love. Love heals and allows you to continue to grow.”
Barney, of course, radiated pure, joyful love. It was part of what children, still full of innocence, found so appealing about him. And it’s what many parents, beaten down to various degrees by the sobering realities of the world, found so goddamn cloying. Joyner gave expression to that love through his physical portrayal of the exuberant T-Rex. (During his stint, it was mostly actor Bob West who gave voice to the character.)
“Before I got into the [Barney] costume, I would pray and ask God to allow his loving divine spirit to flow through me through the costume and let that draw the kids. That energy would always draw them in,” Joyner says. “Children are more connected spiritually than [adults]. A lot of times when I see infants and I’m out and about at the grocery store or whatever, they start staring at me. I make the joke, ‘You know who I am.’”
Joyner says he also used his tantra training to maintain his energy during long days on the set where he wore the hot (temps could reach 120 degrees inside it), 70-pound costume for several hours and numerous takes for various scenes. Tantra helped him "maintain an abundance of joy during the process,” he says.
For many in the West, the word "tantra" conjures up images of Sting engaging in seven-hour marathon sex, but the practice has roots in both Buddhism and Hinduism going back thousands of years, and contains many facets.
“Tantra is a spiritual science of consciousness. Its goal is to liberate us from the unconscious programming that keeps us from recognizing the divinity in ourselves and all beings,” says Matthias Rose, a certified tantra educator with the Source School of Tantra and founder of the Moksha Tantra Center in Seattle. Classical tantra included sexuality as one practice among many designed to help us expand our consciousness beyond the ordinary reality of the “ego” self, says Rose. He adds, “If there is corruption, it came about in the marketing of books, videos, and ultimately escort services that all began to use the word tantra as a shorthand for 'mindful sexuality.' Sex sells, so... there you have it."
“When you go down on a woman (orally), it should be just like you’re saying grace, like blessing the food you’re about to receive." — David Joyner
How Joyner speaks about tantra today won't help clear up any confusion. He's the type of guy prone to spitting out a quote like this: “When you go down on a woman (orally), it should be just like you’re saying grace, like blessing the food you’re about to receive. No food in the world can compare to goddess nectar because spirit is involved. Before you taste the goddess nectar, give thanks. Say grace. I would love women to understand how powerful that energy is.” And the mission statement on his website tantraharmony.com reads: “Connecting your mind, body and spirit together as one, in perfect harmony. Achieving a higher and more blissful state of awareness to your sexuality, and who you are as a spiritual being.”
For clients, this "higher and more blissful state of awareness" is often best achieved through penetrative, ideally unprotected sex, according to Joyner. Condoms "block the energy,” he says, and he prefers not to use them. Joyner provides his STD test results to prospective clients, who are asked to disclose any STDs in a signed consent form prior to their first session. These methods, according to other tantra coaches, are highly unorthodox.
Kaya Kwan Yin is a tantra life coach with more than 100 hours training and a full-time tantra business that sees her working primarily with male clients. She says the idea that condoms could “block energy” sounds “shady” and “ridiculous." “Tantric sex can happen with your clothes on. What typically looks like penis and vagina penetration is often referred to as 'full union' in contemporary practice. Sexual energy penetrates clothes, condoms, countries, and beyond. Having sex with clients in the world of tantra is more of an anomaly than the norm,” Yin said via Skype from her home in Tokyo.
But Joyner very much believes in his practice. “Once the lingam is inside the yoni, there’s a technique where you don’t even move. You’re harmonizing spiritually and consciously, as you’re looking into each other’s eyes, and you’re feeling each other’s energy take place. This is about energy moving up.” This goes beyond the realm of the merely physical, says Joyner, and into the spiritual. “A lot of women have never really had spiritual sex.”
“I strongly disagree with this," says Rose. "I can’t say there’s never a place for intercourse; it’s part of the tantric tool set, but in a client/practitioner relationship, it’s almost always never needed—particularly for healing purposes." Rose goes on to say that, energetically, everything you can do for a client can be done with the hands. For aligning chakras, you don’t even need touch. Touch is necessary for releasing trauma the body holds, but that touch is best done with hands, because "our heart energy is in our hands," Rose says. "Beyond that, there’s so much risk to adding trauma when intercourse is involved."
Kimberly Resnick Anderson, a sex therapist and professor of psychiatry at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, says she’s all for people luxuriating in their sexual experiences, but shares Rose's concerns about Joyner’s practice of having intercourse with clients—especially unprotected.
"Even porn stars in California use a condom," she says. "It’s the law. For him not to use condoms is medically unethical and irresponsible. This is outrageous and far outside the standard of care.”
Joyner began his current practice in 2004, and finds clients any number of ways, from word of mouth to converting women he’s met on Tinder into believers. He sees clients in their homes all over LA, from Brentwood to Long Beach to deep in the Valley—and even out of state. His website contains several “Goddess Testimonials,” each more breathless than the last in its effusive praise of Joyner and the benefits of sessions with him. Joyner says that before or during his initial consultation with a client, if he feels they’re not ready for, or can’t handle the spiritual experience—or are simply looking for a physical release—he will not take them on.
One client, Lisa, 50, who like Joyner’s other clients preferred to use a pseudonym to maintain privacy, said by phone that she found Joyner through Tinder. She had intercourse with him around the third session and described it as a “spiritual awakening.” She's now been a client for three years. She says it took her a few sessions before she was comfortable enough with Joyner to have intercourse. “It wasn’t as if I felt like I had to have a full session to get there, but then again it was like, maybe I do,” she says. Lisa has also occasionally insisted that Joyner wear a condom when they have sex.
Another client, Indigo, 53, works as a nurse. She spends her life caring for others, she told VICE by phone, and considers her sessions with Joyner time to focus on herself. “I didn’t go all the way the first time, because he could feel my hesitation," she says. "But after the first few sessions, I started to really let go."
None of the three clients VICE spoke to, provided through Joyner, say they felt pressured or coerced into sex with Joyner, who also vehemently denies anything of the sort. Joyner has no claims filed against him for sexual harassment or coercion for sex in Los Angeles, according to a statement provided to VICE by the Los Angeles Police Department.
Still, the power dynamic at play here between practitioner and client, healer and student, is hard to square for some. Laura Palumbo is the communications director with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. She says a tantra session like Joyner’s that includes intercourse can muddy the waters of consent. “I think when we are looking at a scenario like this the goal is to not be sex negative," Palumbo tells VICE by phone. "But, taking a deeper look, it does seem like there are dynamics here that make it a little more complicated and less straightforward than two consenting adults."
“There’s always a consideration that an individual could be using their notoriety to in some way pressure or coerce someone into a sexual behavior that maybe is not something they are comfortable with," Palumbo adds. "And the fact that there’s a spiritual component makes this even more complex, because the terms of engagement may have really been influenced by the participant’s desire to be compliant with spiritual standards—especially if they’re looking to that individual for guidance or leadership. It’s not a level playing field.”
It might also be illegal. In the state of California, massage with the intent of causing arousal is considered solicitation. To protect himself, Joyner says he had a police officer friend help him write a contract that he has all potential clients sign during the consultation process stating they’re not law enforcement or part of a sting operation. He says that the first session is free, and, without money exchanged, the session is legal consent. This, he contends, is his legal loophole.
Not so, according to California defense attorney Jonathan Kelman. The fact that Joyner charges for subsequent sessions, Kelman says, means if a client of Joyner's happened to complain to authorities, Joyner could be charged with the act of prostitution, if said session did indeed include intercourse or massage with the intent of causing arousal. “You can’t legally have sex with someone in exchange for money," Kelman says. "If I have a client who gets arrested for exchanging a Big Mac for sex, that’s, by definition, prostitution."
“If I had sex with a patient, it would be criminal, and I would be prosecuted and lose my license," says Anderson for sake of comparison.
“Not all of my sessions have sex or ‘spiritual intimacy.’ It’s only in the full-sessions, when someone is ready to take the sexual energy to a higher level," says Joyner. "Because then it’s about understanding that when the lingam and the yoni connect there’s a spiritual exchange that takes place, not physical pleasure. It’s not about sex or trying to coerce someone into have sex. It’s about removing emotionally blocked energy."
Joyner discovered tantra and spiritual sexuality in the 1980s at age 20 while training in Swedish massage, which he took up as a way to make extra money while at ITT. He began connecting the two when, while practicing massage on the side of his main gig at TI, clients began telling him his touch aroused them, he says.
He continued deeper into his studies, and shared his love of tantra openly until he was asked to put a lid on it upon being cast as Barney in '91. According to Joyner, attorneys for the show told him he was not allowed to teach, practice, or talk about tantra while under contract playing the character—he was told it was a lawsuit waiting to happen. Still, he practiced covertly throughout his decade in the purple suit and says his devotion to tantra remained a secret he'd share with some members of the crew. But all who worked on the show, he maintains, could sense a certain energy about him. “They knew I was spiritual, and that I meditated.”
“I often shared with the crew that the energy I brought up in the costume is based on the foundation of tantra—love,” he says.
Stephen White was the head writer of the Barney franchise from 1992 to 2005, and says he just found out about Joyner’s life in tantra a few years ago. He can see how the pieces fit. "I did know David was a very spiritual guy, very positive guy—he radiated energy,” he says. “He was a positive person to be around.”
"When I found out the detail of what’s involved in tantra, I was surprised,” White continues. “I thought it was an interesting transition for Barney. It’s kind of still the ‘I love you, you love me’ deal, but different. I don’t judge or anything, but that’s a side of David I didn’t know.”
"David was eccentric and wonderful and into things that I wouldn’t have been privy to given my age at the time," says Leah Montes, now 39, who played “Luci” from age 9 to 15 on Barney & Friends (credited in all her appearances under her maiden name) for much of the time Joyner was in the costume. “He was a normal, funny, really energetic, and happy guy.”
Joyner says he wants to spread the word of tantra and the power of the goddess energy. He does it now as a tantra massage specialist. For a decade, he did it across TV screens all over the nation as Barney the purple dinosaur. He sees many similarities between the two.
“I always said it was never an accident, and that I was meant to do this character,” he says. "Because a lot of the elements of Barney were a lot of the things I was training with in tantra."
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