- Gender and Relationships
The Power of Sexual Intimacy
This essay began as a comment on another hub, and when it grew over 500 words, I decided to craft it into a hub of my own. The piece I read is titled “The Truth About Abortions,” by James Watkins, a hub not surprisingly about abortion. I found my own thoughts quickly tied into larger issues of the place of sexuality in life. So this hub does start off talking about the issue of abortion, but the prevalence of abortion is just a symptom in what I feel is the real problem for our society: our treatment of sexuality is all about the flash, while ignoring the power. In particular, I think we suffer from this with female sexuality. Modern women are sexualized to a truly astounding extent, yet the power of female sexuality to shape and direct the lives of both men and women is left more and more untapped. And that is a shame. I think it harms both the cause of equality between men and women, and the potential for intimacy between romantic partners and within families. To follow my argument, stick with me here.
Abortion and gender equality
"Abortion is the miserable, necessary price of heterosexual autonomy."
The above quote is from Naomi Wolf’s 1993 book Fire with Fire. Ms. Wolf (who I admire as an intellectual and a writer) is paraphrasing another writer here, and saying that freedom to engage in sexual activity without commitment to a partner, and without the consequence of pregnancy, is necessary to “heterosexual autonomy.” In other words, men and women can’t be equal until women are as free to walk away from the consequences of casual sex as men are. This solution requires less out of people, and as such it is the easiest way to solve the problem. Now we can both walk away, instead of one of us having the freedom, and one of us stuck with the consequences. But I would like to propose another solution to the problematic goal of gender equality. Both men and women could face the responsibilities inherent in sexual activity. All of us could take sex seriously, as something that can make or break our lives, something that can either give us focus, or lead us to scatter our best energies to the winds.
Sex and freedom
While many argue that gender equality means more freedom for sexual activity, I look at this from another angle. I think the only path to equality is more responsibility, and responsibility has a way of intruding on personal freedoms. Being responsible, I'm afraid, is a great limiter of freedom. To take sex seriously, we have to reconnect it in our brains and in our culture to both reproduction and long term bonding. We see sex everywhere, from advertisements featuring dolled up models, to stylized scenes of lovemaking in movies. How often is pregnancy an element in these visual images and storylines? How often lifetime commitment? Almost never. If anything, pregnant women and expectant fathers, and brides and grooms, are portrayed as desexualized, sweet, wide eyed and innocent. It’s an ironic attitude. We seem to see sex as the most fascinating of activities, but devoid of larger implications in life. Sort of like a really really great concert, or an amazing new drink. A great experience, but not exactly meaningful. Not in any sense moral, or deeply involved with our identity. Sex, as presented by our culture, is recreational, fun, a way to express ourselves, perhaps even artistic. But the foundation of our family? The driver of our lives? Our culture doesn’t see sexuality that way.
The power of sexuality
Pop culture has one thing right: women’s sexuality is powerful. But I think they underestimate it. While feminine sexuality is accepted for hawking consumer products, flummoxing salesmen into giving out discounts, and getting an edge over the guys in the social scene, who thinks much about how a woman’s sexuality can transform a man’s life? Much is said about how women are the emotional gender, driven by their feelings, craving romance, while men are emotionally shallow. But I am middle aged, and I haven’t seen this in the real world. Men are deeply changed by falling in love with a woman and sexually bonding with her. A man’s love is deep. It goes to his core. It drives him to work a job he may or may not like, then spend his paycheck taking care of his woman and the children he made with her. He buys insurance so that even in his death he serves them. A man bonded to a woman is in harness. But he seems contented: he reports greater levels of happiness, is healthier and lives longer.
Some say “women use sex to get love, men use love to get sex.” But what if love and sexuality are so intertwined that one can’t be separated from the other? What if we treat these so that they are not opposing goals, but part of the same prize?
Few things have the power to transform us. Sexual love is one of them. The young always seem to think the world of sex belongs to them, but my experience is the older you get the more important sex becomes. It is a lifelong source of physical and emotional release, pleasure and comfort. And it is a great equalizer. You can be rich or you can be bankrupt, privileged or oppressed, but when you go into your room with the one you love, the world fades away. The longer your beloved shares your life, the better sex can be: it has the potential to be a reaffirmation of the emotions, decisions, and work of years of your life. How many experiences can do this?
Our overtly sexualized culture claims to celebrate sexuality. I think the opposite is happening. The power of sexual bonding is ignored in favor of quick sexual fixes. It’s all sparks flying, with the furnace never roaring to life. People can’t handle sex this way while at the same time channeling sexual energy into building a life. To return for a moment to where I started this essay, a high abortion rate (a high pregnancy outside of a committed relationship rate) is the sign of a society that leaves the power of sexuality to run loose, instead of taming it to live along with us, serve us, love us and be loved. Wild sexuality cannot be our companion and friend. Many claim this is our sexuality’s “true nature,” and domestication does it a disservice. I disagree. Allowed to remain feral, human sexuality becomes a threat and a burden. Socialized and habituated to life alongside other human needs, it can become a treasured inhabitant of our homes.
A chemist explains the neurotransmiters, hormones, and brain activity involved in the experience of romantic love.
A study of couples who report high levels of marital satisfaction.
Title pretty much says it all.
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