It was Sigmund Freud, at the beginning of the last century, who stressed the importance of sexuality in human lives. His notion was that we are driven by our instinctual sexual energy (libido) that is organised around seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.
In the sixties, inspired by Freud students like Wilhelm Reich, a “sexual revolution” was proclaimed whose goal was the liberation of the individual from sexual repression and suppression. Mutual sexual satisfaction was equated with love and seen as a base for a loving relationship. An array of sexual techniques was developed.
In the eighties and nineties, we observed two trends: the intimate model of sex and the “piece-of-meat” model of sex (David Schnarch). The intimate model of sex concerns itself with meaningful sex, with personal development, with letting ourselves be known to each other, with feelings, and with facing unresolved emotional issues (hate, shame, guilt, resentment, fear), which affect our physical responsiveness. It concerns itself with maturation rather than infatuation, with connection rather than stimulation. The “piece-of-meat” model of sex is preoccupied with image, equating youth, flawless bodies, and sexual performance, with eroticism, sexual attraction and success; – a shallow approach that leaves many people feeling inadequate, bored, in a state of searching and disillusioned. In that culture, addictions thrive, be they sexual, diet, exercise, or consumption addiction.
In our times, when “Viagra” is proclaimed as a solution to sexual problems, our sexual needs can be experienced as sexual pressure to perform and prove one’s virility, attraction to one’s partner, or general well-being. However, as you introduce pressure, sexual pleasures are diminished. Instead of the flowing of love, both are tensed with fear and anxieties.
The many faces of sexuality are everywhere. Sexuality has gained a dominant place in the media, as in movies, on the internet, in advertising and literature. Sex sells and is being used to attract attention and stimulate interest. At schools, we now have sex-education. What used to be taboo is now openly talked about.
Does this mean that in terms of our sexuality we are better off than previous generations?
Our experience in working with couples shows us, that the area of sexuality is often problematic. If sexuality is not the problem, it is the area in which difficulties between partners become obvious. Sexuality serves as a window into the relationship. It can be an area of tension and conflict, an escape route or avoided all together.
The area of sexuality is quite complex, and multi-leveled. When we talk about sexual needs, a variety of aspects can be meant by that:
- the need to be connected intimately with another human being;
- the need for togetherness and meaningful contact;
- the need for sensual touch;
- the need to feel loved and wanted;
- the need to express one’s love and desire for one’s partner;
- the need for sexual healing;
- the need for play, exploration, intensity, depth and passion;
- the need for release of sexual tension;
- the “desire for union between the masculine and feminine poles” (Fromm)
- the wish to co-create a child.
We feel sexual if we are with a partner or not. First of all it is helpful to distinguish between having a sexual need and wanting a partner to satisfy that, on one hand, and wanting that particular partner sexually on the other. One is aimed at achieving sexual gratification with the partner’s help, the other is the expression of love and admiration of one’s partner sexually. Both are valid needs and it is helpful to recognize the difference and to communicate.
There seems to be confusion and frustration for men and women in how to be with each other sexually. Generally speaking, just as a woman has a hard time being instantly present for a man sexually, so a man finds it difficult to be instantly present for a woman emotionally. Acknowledging those differences invites both partners to explore with compassion, their assumptions, expectations, feelings and desires, and how these impact on each other. “Do I want my partner?” or “Do I want sex?” are important questions to explore. What stops us from wanting sex and my partner?
Meaningful sexuality has a lot to do with our ability to love and less with the right technique. As Erich Fromm puts it, “sexual desire is one manifestation of the need for love and union” . In a long-term emotionally committed relationship, what develops through exploration, through commitment to personal development, is a sense of connection, that deepens with time and allows for variety, spirituality, depth and passion.
Mirjam Busch & Rudolf Jarosewitsch
Copyright © 4/2000 by Rumijabu | Originally published in Southshore Beacon #116, Apr2000