"The only victory lies in surrender to oneself."
- Sheldon Kopp -
Sexuality is the key to understanding yourself. Because we see it as the essence of a person's life, we recognize the need to address it, and offer some of our insights.
Sexuality is about living the self and the body fully, and is intimately related to feeling, being and doing. It is a life force, a feeling, and an expression of a feeling. In its essence, it is energy. It seems to be the key to the being of a person - the key to understanding the personality.
As we began to explore further, we realized that we were entering a jungle filled with shadowy misconceptions, great historical contradictions, taboos and sacred cows, and most problematical of all, a disinclination to confront the basic concepts because of issues of shame and repression. However, these obstacles also make it a challenging and exciting safari through that jungle.
We agreed that the first order of business was to clarify some of the basic terms. What is sexuality anyway? When are you in it, and when are you not? Does sexual preference have anything to do with sexuality? We want to present this subject without the fetters of role assignment and mass media brainwashing that has, and continues to obscure our understanding of sexuality. We want to approach the subject from the view-point of exploration of the experience of sexuality from within, not as defined by something or someone outside of ourselves.
In order to understand this, one has to separate sexuality from sexual activity, which is just one expression of it. There seems to be a great difference between sexual feeling and genital arousal. Sexual feeling seems to encompass the entire body, beginning in the heart as a warm, pulsating sensation, or feeling of excitation. When the ego or self can tolerate this feeling as non-threatening to the organism, it radiates throughout the body, and a sense of aliveness is felt.
Humans are sexually differentiated in every cell of the body. Females have two Y chromosomes, whereas males have an X and Y chromosome. While sexuality is about the differences between men and women, it is also about the balancing of those differences. It is the emergence of a whole sexual person regardless of sexual preference. Sexuality is the integration within an individual of the male and the female. A mature relationship comes to a harmonic balance when each person claims their male and female aspects.
Developmentally, a newborn is a sexual being. This theory, first proposed by Freud, was greeted by universal ridicule. Now it is generally accepted throughout the social sciences. The developmental cycle is subdivided into stages, differing in term. The first stage, from the first to the third year, is known as the Pregenital Stage. The pleasure a baby gets from nursing, or sucking its thumb, can be considered sexual in nature. Infantile sexuality is a broadly pleasurable experience, rather than merely genital. It is focused on excitation rather than discharge, as in adulthood. Normally, by the age of three, the child has become conscious of its genitals. This is normal development. The Psychoanalysts refer to this Genital Stage as the Oedipal Stage. Stephan Johnson, in his book, "Characterological Transformation: The Hard Work Miracle," refers to the Oedipal period as a time "when a child realizes his/her own separateness at a deep level, and begins to reach out in a loving, infantile sexual way toward the parent of the opposite sex. He or she may meet various combinations of frustrations in response to this sexual and loving reach."
How the parent reacts to this budding sexuality will determine, to a large extent, how the child feels about his/her own genitalia, body and sexuality. From this first experience, the child will tend to perceive his/her body to be either beautiful, sensual, appreciated, valued, and good, or ugly, shameful, disgusting, and bad. Consequently, the child will learn to trust the body, or to distrust it. There are many possible ways for parents to respond to this outreach. They may smile and give messages of appreciation, be understanding, and be responsive in an appropriate manner. They may be aroused and cross over boundaries. They may become confused. They may be seductive. A parent might seduce, and then reject. A parent may accept the advances kindly and openly, but the other parent becomes threatened. This parent then punishes the child, etc.
The possible combinations are innumerable. If the first possibility is elicited, then the following scenario is very likely to occur in the case of a girl: This little girl is four years old. She has discovered her genitals and notices that her mommy is just like her. Her daddy is different. She also notices, maybe for the first time, how attractive her father is. She now begins to want him all to herself. This, in turn, causes her to find demonstrations of affection between her parents to be annoying. She tries to get rid of her mother so that she can have her daddy all to herself. She might even wish that her mother would die or go away for a long time to visit grandma. She wants to he with daddy every available minute. She dresses up or she picks up a hammer. She flirts - she does whatever it takes to be noticed. She is noticed. Her daddy smiles and compliments her. Her mother smiles and compliments her - how pretty, how smart, how nice she is. Sometimes she even goes to places with daddy without mom. Once her mom saw her touching her genitals, and was very understanding about it. Her mother says she has good taste to love her daddy because she loves him too. She reaches out to dad, and dad reaches back. She smiles - he smiles back. She is loved. She also sees that dad loves mom, compliments her, and they touch each other. She is learning about competition in a healthy way. When she gets older, this will help her to know her strengths and capabilities. She competes with her mom, but her mom does not compete with her.
As she grows, she is confident about herself and how she looks. She knows herself, and is not afraid. When she feels strongly, she feels it in every cell of her body, even in her pelvis. She cares about herself. There is a twinkle in her eye, and a dance in her step. People are drawn to her. They can sense her creativity and her aliveness. They too have feelings in their genitals and their hearts when they are near her. Now, she is not like this every moment. She is only human. But when she is feeling alive, she is feeling alive everywhere. She is capable of feeling great joy and love, but also great grief and anger. She is not afraid of sex, but she does not abuse it. She considers it a gift, and she cherishes it. When she enters into an adult sexual relationship she has orgasms that are not just felt in and around the pelvis, but throughout her body. She has evolved into this mature state because her parents accepted her pelvic feelings just like they accepted her legs, her arms or her smile. They were just another part of her - a part necessary to feel whole.
The above scenario represents an ideal situation. This girl grew up in an environment in which her connectedness to her sexuality could develop without hindrance. Unfortunately, childhood does not always go so well. In particular not in a culture that gives its members so many confusing and conflicting messages about sexuality. There are too many ways in which a parent may interfere with a child's sexual development, ranging from minor guilt trips to rape and incest. It is necessary for parents to honor and applaud their children's essence and being. To do this, they must first appreciate their own sexuality. This is difficult because sex can become full of pain and shame rather than a source of pleasure. As Freud explained, there are many techniques that we use to defend ourselves from emotional assaults and psychic damage. These all usually have a physical correlation. For example, a woman may habitually pull up and contract the pelvis in an attempt to protect the genital area. This tension may become so habitual that she is not even aware of it, and she does not understand why sex is not pleasurable to her.
Even in a society as sexually permissive as ours, many people are afraid of sex. Marital sex frequently diminishes to once in a while, and very often one partner complains that sexual activity is too infrequent. Married individuals experiencing this might deny that they are afraid of sex, but that is too often true. Sex can be frightening. It is unpredictable, beyond ego control, explosive, intimate and creates great vulnerability. The orgasm is not just a flow of feeling, but a climax as well. If a woman is tightening various muscles, she will cut off the flow and may experience a culminating peak feeling, but not an orgasm. The orgasmic response may involve too much of a loss of control for some to handle, so instead the feeling is flattened. Many have observed that there is a close connection between sex and death. The ego, and external awareness, is obliterated at the time of orgasm, and it resembles a "little death." Many are frightened by such a complete loss of control. However, if the discharge is held back, the full release is never experienced, and the act loses its power and joy.
While some cannot fully participate in the act physically, others cannot fully participate with their hearts. And so for them also, the act of sex remains just that, and never becomes an expression of love.
In addition to family centered problems and abuses of sex, there is also cultural conditioning to contend with. We live in an achievement and success oriented society. Materialism and consumption dominate our everyday lives. Before the "sexual revolution" the repression of sexuality from early childhood served to control the childhood urges, which led to a repressed adult populace. But now sexuality has become part of the world of achievement and consumption. By objectifying it and putting so much emphasis upon bodily conditioning and appearance, we have degraded and trivialized sex, and so there is still no real experience of true sexuality.
Commercializing and stereotyping sexuality degrades it, and makes it into a simple act. By making the achieving of an orgasm a goal, we rob it of its power, and we rob the the person of the experience of freedom and autonomy. The more someone identifies with an image or an idea of who they are supposed to be, the less he/she experiences sexuality. The sexual act becomes a matter of achievement and performance, and the individual becomes more and more "empty" and fails to find what he/she is looking for in life. This creates a fertile soil for sexual addiction. Moving from relationship to relationship, from job to job, never finding anything permanent, and always looking outside for fulfillment instead of inside, this type of person never finds happiness.
To appreciate our own and others' energy, spontaneity, and self-expression is to embrace aliveness. We need to turn inward towards our aliveness. This will inevitably lead to the opening up of sexuality, which in turn brings about our own sense of spontaneity and autonomy, and a new freedom.
Many people are alive but don't touch the miracle of being alive.
- Thich Nhat Hanh -