2012-12-20

Sexuality, further.

I'd like to go a little bit further into one particular idea expressed in my previous post on sexuality. That is the idea of repression. I think the idea of repression in our society goes far beyond sexuality, but it is very applicable here, as well. Keep in mind that I will be speaking in generalizations somewhat here, in order to actually be able to begin to get my mind around all of this, and present it as something you might get your mind around, and I can think of exceptions to many of the things I'll be writing; but I do feel they hold as general principles.

I suppose first I had better say something about my views of what sex is, and how physical touch and sex factor into a relationship. I feel like touch is one aspect of communication. Sex is a form of intimate communication. I stated this to some extent in my previous post, but I wanted to say it more explicitly. Touch is an aspect of communication, one of the many that humans have at their disposal. Having sex with someone is conversing intimately, similarly to how having a deep discussion about your personal fears or beliefs or desires is. It's a means of relating to each other.

As I said in the previous post, our body is simply one aspect of our selves. Therefore, relating to each other physically is one aspect of human relationship. We do (or should do) this more or less intimately based on the intimacy of our relationships, as a general rule, but we often tend to remove touch from non-romantic relationships, because we believe touch only means sexual interest.

Ok, on to repression. I'm not a U.S. history buff, and I haven't taken the time to study the question of why, but the U.S. as a general rule has a very difficult time with physical affection. Perhaps it comes, still surviving, from the puritanical roots of the early settlers (see The Scarlet Letter and other similar writings). Perhaps it comes, still surviving from the puritanical belief (which I heartily disagree with) that the body is the impure vessel of the pure spirit, and must be purified through discipline and denial. In any case, wherever it comes from, it is clear that we are uncomfortable with our bodies in many, many ways.

We don't like being touched, we don't like seeing people touch affectionately. Our friends from Lithuania who came to Portland to work a couple of summers thought it was hilarious that people would apologize profusely for just brushing against them lightly in a grocery store or on the street. We feel uncomfortable showing any physical affection in public, and for good reason, because we often scorn, insult and degrade those who do it.

Men, especially, often view physical affection as suggesting anything from weakness to homosexuality (again, see my thoughts in the previous post about our bodies, and particularly women's bodies being seen only as sexual objects, and therefore conveying only the desire/need for sex). We see, I think, physical affection as being overtly sexual, and therefore feminine, and therefore, to some, weak and not 'manly'.

In the same way, seeing physical affection as only implying sexual attraction, many people are afraid to touch a person who is married or in a relationship, afraid they will imply to the other person's spouse/partner that they are cheating or would like to be.

In this way, we are encouraged to repress our communication through physical touch, which is and should be just as natural as our communication through voice or any other medium.

Wherever it comes from, the undercurrent that physical relations with another human are bad, forbidden, or inappropriate has many effects on our other means of communication.

For one thing, we simply miss a dimension of intimacy in our friendships that should be completely natural. In much of the world, it is completely normal for friends and family members to kiss each other at greeting and parting, to convey that they are important to each other. In much of the world, it is common for friends, even multiple male friends, to hold hands or link arms while walking along, as a sign of connection, togetherness, and friendship, nothing more. We miss this whole physical dimension of relationship by being afraid that we are being 'bad' by touching other people - and usually we don't even really have any rational reason behind it, it is simply a strong undercurrent, a general uneasiness, a feeling that we're somehow disobeying someone.

In terms of less-platonic relationships, we are often embarrassed to be physically attracted to another person, we are embarrassed to and feel guilty about wanting to have sex, and therefore we often have significant trouble vocalizing anything we think and feel about it.

This often begins very early in life, but can often last much later in life, once a person is in a committed, steady relationship. For many people, it is very difficult to talk about what they want in terms of a physical relationship, and that means inevitable misunderstanding, and as a result, a lack of fulfillment. If you can't express to someone your wants or needs, how can they fulfill them? We all know where an extended lack of fulfillment can lead, even if it is somewhat subconscious - maybe even especially if it is subconscious, because you don't have the rational understanding to curb it. It leads to 'outbursts,' so to speak. You will feel that you are unfulfilled even if you don't consciously realize it, and if you are unable or unwilling to bring that to the table with someone and hash it out together, it will only get worse over time.

Repression follows us into relationships as well, and discourages us doing certain things with our partners, because they are viewed as dirty or perverted or inappropriate (sometimes making us afraid or adverse to having sex at all unless it's for the purpose of procreation). But here's the thing with communication - given two or more people as adults, capable of making responsible decisions for themselves, why should physical intimacy, or some particular sub-categories of physical intimacy, be forbidden, given everyone involved is making the decision to participate of their own free will? Do we tell adults "now, don't be honest and forthcoming with each other in this discussion, because you might deepen your relationship."? No, of course we don't. Do we say that to a married couple, or committed partners? Even less so. So, why do we feel, even in a committed partnership or marriage, that some forms of physical intimacy are dirty, inappropriate, or forbidden?

Note that I said everyone involved. I feel like many people, when you suggest that sex is ok, also assume you mean promiscuity is ok. That is not necessarily what I'm saying. If you are in a romantic relationship with another person, you have to work out the boundaries of your physical interactions with other people, just like you have to figure out all the other boundaries of your life, which become somewhat smaller by way of your relationship with this one person to whom you are committed. This varies on a case-by-case basis, depending on what each person is ok with, and it can change over time as those people change. Or you can give up the relationship in favor of expanded boundaries. That is your choice to make.

You are free to talk with the people you are in relationship with, at a point if/when you feel it is appropriate, about what you feel you want or need physically, and if you are both willing, to try it out. Just like any other experience (eating, shopping, entertainment), you may find either one or both of you doesn't like certain things, and that's ok; you then agree not to do them, or you agree to lay off and try them again in the future sometime, or, if you feel that thing is essential to you, you can again choose to abandon the relationship. You are free to be specific, both in casual discussion, and in the heat of the moment, about what you want. The other person is free, both in casual discussion and in the heat of the moment to either agree, or disagree, to indulge you or refuse to do so; just as with any other aspect of your relationship. You have to find the boundaries you both are ok with, the things that bring you closer, and the things that drive you apart. It's a natural process feeling out your boundaries with another person by trial and error, this is just one aspect of that.

I feel like this is really important, because in much the same way that relationships often waver and fall apart, or can even simply not be as strong as they could be because the emotional and/or verbal connection is weak, relationships can waver and fall, or can simply not be as strong as they could be because the physical connection is weak. In any relationship with any person, the way you interact physically is a part of that relationship, and therefore working out the boundaries that are appropriate for that relationship is important, in order for you to be able to fully relate to that person. Explore the boundaries as far as you need to in order to discover the end, just as you would in sharing activities, thoughts and feelings with that person, and don't be afraid any more than you would be making an emotional or intellectual connection with a person. The process of forming a relationship with another person is a process of developing connection, respect, care and dependence, to varying degrees depending on the type of relationship. We all need these things to be fulfilled, and we do ourselves no favors by intentionally denying ourselves and others out of some vague sense of guilt which we can't even explain.

Anyway, thanks for sticking around for Part II, hope you found it insightful, or at least interesting.

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