Sexual Expectations

What should we expect from sex, and what should we give to it?

An obvious answer could be: we get as much as we put in. And while there is some truth in this, in that a person who is sexually repressed and inhibited will not experience the sexual joy and fulfillment that a sexually uninhibited and expressive person will, it is a rather dubious answer.

It encourages a cost-effective attitude to sex, considering it from the point of view of inputs and returns, or a moralistic attitude, regarding it in terms of rewards according to deserts.

Yet today many people are inclined to think of sex in terms of giving and getting orgasms, thus reducing one of the most vital experiences to quantifiable economics.

There is no denying that there is good sex and bad sex, in the sense that some experiences make people feel enriched, fulfilled and vital, and others make people feel degraded, spent, and joyless.

But studies in psychosexual pathology have shown that good and bad in this sense do not correlate with the moral equivalents. The most sadistic rapist may have intense and satisfying orgasms, but no personal enrichment.

From the standpoint of the glorification of the orgasm, it is more correct to say that people get out of sex what they demand of it.

Obviously to demand is not so commendable as to give, and there are a surprising number of men and women, particularly married men and women, who consider that they fulfill their sexual function by knowing how to manufacture a female orgasm although they themselves remain unsatisfied.

They are undemanding, and they will rationalize their conduct altruistically, even though they realize that it involves a degree of pretense and deception, which may sometimes include pretending to reach orgasm.

Before the sexual revolution many women took this line of conduct, being unaware of their sexual potential. But whether it is the man or the woman who acquiesces, the quality of the sexual experience for both partners will be diminished.

Over a period of time it diminishes so much that either or both may seek new sexual partners, or else both may become indifferent to sex, regarding it as a youthful activity that naturally declines with increasing age.

Growing up and growing older involves planning, predicting, and often settling for compromises. But this is a dangerous and destructive attitude when applied to sexual matters. For sex is not merely a mechanism of species reproduction which incidentally affords some pleasure, but an activity that enhances human beings’ enjoyment and understanding of life.

It contributes to personal growth and development for men and women, spiritual growth, sexual and emotional union, and it is conducive to a longer, healthier, and happier life. These are the rewards to expect from sex, but not as payment for services rendered.

The rewards come to the person who does not make compromises or does not accept second-best, and who demands sexual fulfillment for self and partner. If fulfillment is missing he or she does not accept the situation but seeks the reason for the lack. And how does this relate to love and sex?

These may not be characteristics generally considered as belonging to people in love, and those finding out about relationship, but they are characteristics of people who value remaining in love and understanding what love is, and they are not incompatible with tenderness, passion, and considerateness.

One of the problems of the sexual revolution is that many of its advocates have put more emphasis on the understanding of sexual pathology and on the cultivation of sexual positions and techniques than upon growth and understanding.

It may have given people more freedom to love, but it has not given them a profounder understanding of love, life and sex, and indeed in many ways it has confused such understanding and tended to give people an unbalanced view. Love, so wise men tell us, is the answer, but for many love is the problem.

Just what it is, how it happens and why it disappears, whether it can endure, and how, if at all, it relates to sex, are questions that have preoccupied generations. In their efforts to understand love, people have distinguished many different kinds: spiritual and carnal love, romantic and rational love, Eros and Agape, to mention but a few. Love has been equated with compassion, sexual desire, unselfishness, loyalty, admiration, altruism, communication, pleasure, surrender, and even sickness.

 The list is endless but no single term nor any combination of them can pin love down convincingly. It is as difficult to define love as it is deliberately to experience it. When we experience it we know, or think we know, but still we cannot define it, only convey what we are undergoing.

No subject has been written about so much, and none will oust it as the most important theme of painting, music, sculpture, and literature.  

Falling In Love

We speak of “falling in love,” and the phrase implies that the experience is unsought, accidental, and irresistible. The person who falls in love does not do so from choice, and probably did not expect a passionate involvement.

According to ancient mythology, the act of falling in love suspends consciousness, will, and judgment.

The mischievous little god Cupid shoots his dart and the victim becomes hopelessly infatuated. The object of the person’s love may be utterly inappropriate, like the donkey-headed Bottom that Titania dotes on in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, for love, they say, is blind.

“Love,” said Samuel Johnson, “is the wisdom of the fool and the folly of the wise.” The world’s literature and history bear witness that love and the pursuit of love have been major preoccupations and follies of mankind from time immemorial.

The Trojan wars were fought over rivalry for a woman’s love; Julius Caesar urged his armies into unpopular campaigns for Cleopatra, and Mark Antony sacrificed his career and his life for her. “The world,” says the poet John Dryden, “is well lost for love.”

Traditions, legends, folklore, and facts of history combine to show that prudence, sense, judgment, even the basic animal instinct for survival, can be overwhelmed by the passion called love.

Most of us do not have empires, kingdoms, or fortunes to sacrifice for love, and few of us are ever called upon to give our lives for it, but many come close to giving all they possess.

The man who in middle age leaves the house he has worked to buy, his children, and possibly his reputation for the freedom to go to another woman, and the person who commits suicide after being rejected by a lover, show that the legends and the literature do not exaggerate.

Love is a passion that can override all other considerations, and although falling in love can be a delightful experience it can also be a most inconvenient and even a disastrous one.

The metaphor of falling is also often used for the abrupt cessation of love. For a person to fall out of love can be as bewildering and distressing an experience as falling into it, but without any compensation.

Adolescents have their own terms for intense but ephemeral love; for instance they speak of “having a crush on” somebody. Often they wonder how they will be able to distinguish “true love” when it happens to them.

The best that they are told is that they will know when it happens, because the emotion of true love is quite unique, while the cynic would reply that there is no such thing, that love is a snare and a delusion.

The young of every generation have to find out the truths  about love for themselves, and very often this proves a disillusioning process.

“The joys of love,” says the popular song, “are but a moment long. The pains of love last a whole life through.” The fact that thousands of poems, songs, and stories convey the same melancholy message indicates how perplexed men and women are by the seeming capriciousness of the emotion that is the source of both their greatest joys and their greatest miseries.

In Plato’s Symposium, there is a parable. Humans were once spherical creatures so clever and energetic that the gods felt threatened.

So they cut each human being down the middle, making of it two halves which became male and female. Thereafter the creatures devoted all their energies to trying to become whole again, to unite male with female, and so they ceased to be a challenge to the gods.

The parable not only states that love is such a consuming passion in human beings that some impractical and metaphysical motivation must be assumed to be behind it but gives a reason for our sex and love drives being so powerful and compulsive.

It suggests that through the experience of sexual love people may attain a wholeness of being and a sense of expansion and transcendence that makes them feel godlike.

Certainly the best sex, free from sexual dysfunction such as premature ejaculation, when a man can easily last long enough in bed to ensure that he is able to completely sexually pleasure a woman, can be glorious and uplifting, transformative and transpersonal. Whether or not this is a subjective illusion or an objective fact is another question, of course!

Could this be why some lovers often behave as they do, rejecting prudence, wealth and success in their quest of a sexual experience that some would see as only an ephemeral and temporary joy?

And this joy exacts a heavy price: at best prolonged servitude and at worst distress and even death. And yet the same patterns repeat themselves generation after generation, and the reason must be deeper than a congenital deficiency in the makeup of man.