Sex and Sexuality (1)

The sexual system is essentially a system built into the brain.  Each person has an internal timetable whereby the reproductive organs are set at birth to respond to various hormones the brain releases on schedule.  Inbuilt into this system are the primitive mechanical functions of the sexual system as well as drives, instincts and emotions that direct sexual activity.

When sex becomes the dominant form of sensual gratification, it becomes its own conditioning agent.  Sensations and objects an individual associates with sex, remain in his memory and subsequently influence his sexual behavior.  Because he is likely to try and repeat the pleasurable experiences, he finds his sexual response mechanisms have become conditioned to that particular experience, just as a baby is conditioned to his favourite food.  For instance, if he has been sexually aroused by a woman who wears a particular perfume, he may become aroused again whenever he smells that scent.  This happens particularly if the initial encounter was pleasurable, frequently repeated or especially memorable.

Occasionally an individual is so strongly conditioned by the circumstances surrounding his sexual experience that more and more his attention is directed towards them, rather than towards the sex act itself.  When this happens his desire for the provocative stimulation replaces his desire for natural sexual expression – this is a form of sexual deviation.  It is noted that deviation and perversion are steadily increasing and although these are disastrous from the point of view of relationships, we do not propose dealing with this aspect here.

Instead, let us look at the subject of so-called ‘free love’, which can also be disastrous, but which there is more hope of understanding.  First, let us say that nothing is less ‘free’, it comes at a high cost indeed.  The counseling of restraint for young women is not an outworn taboo, but a wise understanding of a woman’s deepest needs.

We have heard a great deal in the past decades about repression and inhibition.  The sexual frustration of unmarried young women has been made much of, not only by psychologists but also by philandering young men searching for complaisant sexual partners.  Under the spell of the current jargon, many young women need little additional persuasion for actions they have been influenced and even conditioned to feel are ‘only normal’ or ‘sophisticated’.

The mere satisfaction of curiosity may be a major factor.  When romance enters into this dilemma, the modern young woman can be made to feel almost more immoral if she withholds her virginity from the man she loves, than if she surrenders it.  Many women today are part of a ‘liberated’ generation for whom sex has become a matter of personal choice, virginity something to be relinquished or retained on a basis of volition rather than morality.  This attitude has led, in some cases, to an insecurity so great that breakdown has resulted.

For the ‘liberators’ approach contains a fallacy:  the supposition that male and female sexual behavior can be evaluated as if they were identical.  They are not.  Man’s role, sexually, is a single act:  the deposition of sperm where it can fertilise the ovum.  Woman’s role is a time-taking triple act in which accepting the sperm comes first, pregnancy and childbirth second and lactation and nursing third.

It is assumed in our society that the woman’s own cycle can be repressed and inhibited at will, so that she may concentrate exclusively on the part of it that involves impregnation.  This is a psychological masculinisation of her role, which, carried to its conclusion, would mean the discontinuation o f the human race.  Yet on this false basis much of our present-day sexual lore is founded.  In other societies other moral structures have evolved.  A few primitive communities permit indiscriminate intercourse, generally limiting it to a pre-marital, almost juvenile, ‘testing’ period, for the better selection of a mate.  In societies where uninhibited sexual intercourse is permitted beyond immaturity, the resulting children are accepted and cared for without feelings of ‘legitimacy’ or ‘illegitimacy’, thus in those cultures the role of the female is given full recognition.

However, in our society pre-marital experience forces a woman to limit her sexuality to what is, for her, only the introductory stage.  At no point does the male suggest that she fulfill her sexual role.  If he is at all thinking of the possibility of a baby, he is working out how to avoid any such unwanted finale.  That he should aim for the full expression of his own male sexuality is wholly understandable; when a male meets a female who charms him, this is a natural desire.  His needs for physical intimacy can be so great that anything less than complete communion may seem to him, almost a travesty of what men and women were created for.  The young woman may feel quite as impelled, emotionally.  However, she cannot know in advance just how totally this communion is going to influence her if she enters it outside marriage.  If she does surrender to his importuning, she is facing a situation of tremendous frustration, socially, spiritually, emotionally and sexually.  If she was frustrated before she is much more so now, for she has set in motion a compelling progression of events, and she is thwarting the deepest needs of her sexuality by concentrating on this initial, partial phase.  Moreover, it will probably take months of sexual intimacy, if not the complete cycle of pregnancy-childbirth and lactation (now thought to be a final maturing factor in developing woman’s full sexual sensitivity), before she can experience anything like the abandoned joy her lover may know almost immediately.

This in itself leads to disappointment, for she must pretend to an exaltation she is unlikely to feel and must maintain this fiction in the face of compounding pressures.  Despite the fact that non-virginity, matronhood, is the fairly common status of many unmarried young women nowadays, it is still unsanctioned morally, religiously or socially.  Today’s young woman may find less disapproval than existed a generation ago, but she is still forced to carry on any pre-marital affair in secrecy, under the ever-present threat of loss of reputation should she be discovered.  This is an undermining factor and force.  Instead of being ‘released’ she finds herself less secure than she has ever been in her life.

Perhaps the most severe of her moral and spiritual penalties will be the perversion of her sexuality by its frustration.  Instead of delighting in her female role and accepting its progress, she must disown it, refuse pregnancy, look on it (if it does happen) with dread.  Such inhibition makes deeper inroads on personality than is usually recognized.  Whether or not she uses contraceptives successfully, she is engaged in denying her own creativity, her very femininity.  This is a frustration many men would probably prefer to minimize, for it interferes with what might otherwise be a far less guilt-ridden situation for them.  Perhaps they do not realize that ‘sex’ is a considerably more straightforward act for them than it is for women.

The status of the unmarried lover is one of the most thwarting of all situations in which a woman’s emotions can entangle her.  She is deprived when she most wants to believe she is ‘liberated’.  This point is so little recognized in literature dealing with sexual matters, that the frustrated non-virgin gets far less attention than the less frustrated virgin.  Constituted as we are, the expression of sex via intercourse can do great harm to the unmarried woman.  To accept and deal successfully with unavoidable frustration is a mark of both balance and maturity.  However, to invite avoidable frustration is foolish and immature.

Fortunately, continence is not at all harmful, nor is it even impossibly frustrating.  Were it so Nature would indeed be unjust.  There are two sound ways for a young woman to deal with a man who is insistent:  she can marry him, or she can simply say ‘no’.  It is unfortunate that many modern women are so unsure of themselves that they dare not say ‘no’ for fear of being rejected.  These are the inadequate women who have no other means of holding on to a man, except by surrendering to his sexual demands.

For the first time in history we have the contraceptive pill, which has made possible a new attitude towards sex:  personal freedom to use sex, that most intimate of human relationships, without intimacy.  However, we must consider the implications this has in personal relationships.  Obviously sex without intimacy has been with us for a very long time.  One has only to mention prostitution, but something new has been added:  the elevation of this form of sex into an ideal, a virtue; this is unnatural and simply cannot be.  This so-called ideal is probably a form of narcissism, as well as a rationalization for fear of closeness in relationships.  True intimacy is the sharing between two people, not only of their bodies but also of their thoughts, fears and aspirations.  It is the little gestures and expressions that endear one to the other, a sensation blooming into emotions.

In some men we see a fear of intimacy, often stimulated by their general fear of women.  They may be afraid that too much responsibility will be heaped on them, afraid of enchainment to a woman’s emotions and needs.  Obviously women have similar fears:  fear that they will be enveloped by the man, lose their autonomy, be unable to express themselves or be subordinated to a ‘woman’s role’.  These fears are understandable.  The merging of two bodies is, physiologically and psychologically, the most intimate and encompassing of all human relationships.

People who function best in a system of sex without intimacy are generally those who have not developed their capacity for feeling, they are often compulsive and mechanical in their reactions.  The danger is that these detached persons will move towards a robot like experience, showing little emotion not only in sex but on all levels.  Current trends seem to arise out of a pervasive dissatisfaction with the quality of personal relations.  They teach people not to make too large an investment in love and friendship, to avoid excessive dependence on others and to live for the moment – the very conditions that created the crisis of personal relations in the first place.

Our society has made the achievement of deep and lasting friendships, tender love affairs and happy marriages, increasingly difficult.  Some of the new therapies even dignify this combat situation as ‘assertiveness’.  Others celebrate impermanent attachments under such formulas as ‘open marriage’.  Thus they intensify the disease they are pretending to cure.  Freud gave us some hints as to one of the causes of our present preoccupation with sex, when he wrote:

“In times in which there were no difficulties standing in the way of sexual satisfaction, such as perhaps during the decline of the ancient civilizations, love became worthless and life empty, and strong reaction-formations were required to restore indispensable affective values.  The ascetic current in Christianity created values for love which pagan antiquity was never able to confer on it.”

In the judgment of many, our great preoccupation with sex, like the ‘decline of the ancient civilisations’, is related to the disintegration of our mores and culture.  In our concern with our society’s innumerable problems, which we cannot solve, it is perhaps understandable that we turn to preoccupation with sex.  However, we should avoid making principles out of our own abnormal state.  Sex and the intimacy that goes with it are so basic a part of human existence that one cannot separate them from one’s values.  To treat sex and values as totally divorced from one another is not only to block the development of one’s freedom, but also to make the cultural problem of sex simply insoluble.  Moral concern in sex hinges on the acceptance of one’s responsibility for the other as well as for oneself.  Other people do matter and the celebration of this gives sexual intercourse its ecstasy, its meaning and its capacity to shake us to our depths.

As a way of life sex without intimacy is motivated by resentment.  Many of our contemporaries seem to carry a vengeance from infancy, an experience of having been deprived of love.  This often arises, as we have explained, because of an inadequate relationship between the two parents.  Many have never accepted, as one must accept, that no one ever gets enough love.  In fact it is this yearning for love that makes us human.  What the proponents of sexual freedom have grossly overlooked is that without a sense of responsibility there is no genuine freedom.  Our freedom in sex grows in proportion to our sensitivity to the needs and desires of the other.

That sexual stimuli can blossom into authentic intimacy and love, is one of the mysteries of life which can give lasting solace and joy, but as in all aspects of life there is risk.  If you have feelings you are bound to be vulnerable and sometimes the pain of miscarried love is almost more than we can bear, but accepting this risk is the price of true freedom.

Despite the tendencies towards uniformity, sex is one area where this just cannot be and it is different for women.  A growing number of experts now believe that what is sexually important to men may not be so important to women and vice versa.  Shortly after the modern phase of our culture said to women, “you may have orgasms”, it began saying “you must.”  However, contrary to current cultural ‘wisdom’ this is not an inevitable part of sex for women; indeed, for some women it is not even important, so it should not be judged by male standards.  Investigators in universities and clinics have concluded that males and females do not bring the same needs to sex, nor experience it in the same way.

Although it may be true, as some researchers have reported, that there is little physical difference between male and female orgasm, its meaning appears to be different for a woman than for a man.  For almost two decades women have been taught that they can and should have orgasms as easily as men, indeed more easily because they have the capacity for multiple orgasms, which men lack.  Yet many women have difficulty in achieving orgasm in intercourse.  Why should this be?  A number of researchers look to evolution.  As far as we know, in no other species of mammal do females experience orgasm.  This is probably because male orgasm is necessary for reproduction, while female orgasm is not.  According to one theory, human females began to evolve the capacity for orgasm for reasons not fully understood, but the development is still uneven, existing to a greater degree in some women than in others.

Whatever the reason, most women do have a higher ‘threshold’ of orgasmic response than men, that is to say it takes more to trigger it.  Unfortunately many women have come to believe that they could always be orgasmic during sex if they could only relax, try a different ‘technique’, or whatever.  As a result these women feel inadequate if they do not regularly have orgasms.  All this makes it sound as if women who have difficulty in achieving orgasm find sex frustrating.  In fact they do not and surveys have repeatedly shown that such women can usually do enjoy sex.  One study discovered that a high percentage of women who do not have orgasms felt complete relaxation following intercourse anyway.

If orgasm is not the central goal of intercourse for many women, then what is?  One thing, apparently, is a state which has been referred to as ‘arousal’.  As a result of a study at the University of California, Professor Uta Landy concludes that arousal is very important.  “Physiologically,” he says, “arousal seems to be a pulsing, a push, a throbbing throughout the entire pelvic region, which means a readiness for intercourse.  The feeling is spread much wider throughout the body than it is in men, where it is usually concentrated in the sex organ.”

What men fail to understand and find puzzling when they do, is that for many women this feeling of arousal is not just a stage on the road to orgasm, but an end in itself.  For some women, it is a pleasant, ‘tingly’ experience, for others it is almost ecstatic.  “It’s as if I were bursting with sunshine,” said one woman.  Moreover this feeling of arousal is not merely physical, for feelings of affection and closeness to the sex partner are also involved.  When most men achieve a certain level of arousal they are impelled to continue to orgasm.  This is not always so for women.  Indeed, arousal is more commonly experienced by women in petting or foreplay.  When the shift to intercourse comes, in many instances the woman’s arousal level may actually drop rather than rise.

Something long held by folk wisdom and now supported by the new studies, is that women are less promiscuous than men.  With the new freedoms of the past decade many women have felt that they ought to be at liberty to seek sex wherever they can find it.  Yet it turns out that most women are not interested in casual sex.  According to studies by Judith Bardwick, a professor of psychology, females still have fewer sex partners than do males, even though the rate of non-monogamous sexual relations among women is rising.

Researchers, such as sociobiologist Richard Dawkins of Oxford University and anthropologist Donald Symonds of the University of California, have an intriguing explanation for this phenomenon, based on the different ‘sexual strategies’ generally pursued by male and female animals throughout evolutionary history.  For a male, in order to reproduce himself most successfully and thus win the evolutionary competition with other males, the idea has been to mate with as many females as possible.  In a healthy society it is still the objective of the best human males to father the most offspring; unfortunately as our society declines less desirable types are proving more attractive to womankind.

This strategy has been possible because, for males, there is little energy involved in reproduction.  For females, however, a great deal of time and energy goes into producing an offspring.  So the human female strategy has been to make sure that the father of her child is sufficiently attached to her to help protect and feed the child.  Therefore she naturally prefers to have sex with a man who she believes, loves and cares for her, rather than with someone who will depart next morning.  Whether or not these explanations of male and female sexual behavior will be accepted by women, or men for that matter, one thing seems abundantly clear:  we must begin to rethink a lot of accepted notions about sex.  For men and women it is different and all the social pressures in the world cannot compress the two sexes into a uniform mould.

Read More

« The Problem of Parents | Sex and Sexuality (2) »