Genco says part of her practice does involve helping clients "re-learn how to be sexual without trauma being triggered," but "I can't even imagine any kind of therapy that involves touching a victim," she says. "It should never involve directly touching a patient in a sexual way. That is exploitation."

A few days after New Times watched Wayne Clayton's prostate massage, he sent an e-mail stressing Phoenix Goddess Temple is not a massage parlor. "We do not do massage in any form," he wrote. "We don't even use the word massage."

Jamie Peachey
Erotic artwork fills Phoenix Goddess Temple.
Jamie Peachey
Erotic artwork fills Phoenix Goddess Temple.

But they do. As of this writing, on the temple's website under "General FAQs," they advertise "prostate massage." And the definition of "massage therapy" under Arizona law is pretty broad. It includes things like hydrotherapy, skin wraps, and the application of essential oils.

James Hays helped rewrite the city massage ordinance in 1989. He says avoiding the word "massage" means nothing. "They're using their narrow definition," he says. "You don't make up your own rules as to what massage is or isn't — the state does."

"Massage" may have a broad legal definition, but "prostitution" does not. According to Arizona law (Title 13), "prostitution" is defined as "engaging in or agreeing or offering to engage in sexual conduct under a fee arrangement with any person for money or any other valuable consideration."

New visitors to Phoenix Goddess Temple sign a form before their first session that states, "I acknowledge I will not receive any type of sexual gratification in exchange for money during my session." But that doesn't mean there's no sex.

"Some of our practitioners do operate with sacred union as part of what they offer, but it's never, ever guaranteed," Tracy Elise says. "You don't want to identify the people who sometimes have sex as people who always have sex, because they don't."

Practitioners at the temple do not receive "payments" but accept "donation only." That could give them some defense, Hays says, "But if it's really a donation, then I should be able to go in there and say, 'I don't feel like giving a donation. Give me the services for free,' and then if there's no services — that's not a donation. It's like a forced gratuity."

But Phoenix Goddess Temple is "really just a business modeled as something they're not, so they can get money," Hays says. "It happens all the time."

Last year, tantra practitioner Janae Thorne-Bird of Heartsong Healing Center in Salt Lake City was jailed on prostitution charges. In 2009, three goddess temples in Seattle — all run by Elise's former student, Rainbow Love — were raided on suspicion of being brothels. Love was charged with three counts of promoting prostitution and attempting to promote prostitution. Love claims authorities violated her civil rights; Thorne-Bird claims freedom of religion — a tricky defense, Hays says.

"The intersection between government regulation and religious expression is very complicated," Hays says. "I can't think of a case here where someone claims to offer sexual favors as part of their spiritual expression. It would be an interesting case, but I don't think it would work well for the church. The sex would be ancillary . . . you can do all your religious things without selling sex acts."

But freedom of religion has trumped the law before, Hays says, pointing out some Native Americans are legally protected in their religious use of peyote, an otherwise illegal substance. And in North Phoenix last spring, a federal judge ordered the city not to enforce its noise ordinance code against a church called Cathedral of Christ the King, which was ringing church bells several times a day. The judge ruled penalizing the church was a violation of their right to religious expression.

Hays says there might be some protections for Phoenix Goddess Temple if they claimed to be a private club, and points out many adult businesses — including theaters, cabarets, and escort services — are legal in Phoenix "if they operate in compliance with the law."

But despite the obvious eyebrow-raisers at the temple, Elise says she's doing nothing wrong. "The temple is really a church for us," she says. "We open ourselves with love as an empty channel, and that's the authority by which I heal. I don't get my credentials on the ground level. I get my calling and I am under the jurisdiction of the most high."

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