Thursday, June 15, 2006

Thoughts on Sex

Sex is a vitally important topic for society to discuss in a thoughtful way. The generally held view is that sex is a powerful event. By having sex with someone, it can move a relationship to its next level. It can also destroy a relationship, because one seeks it outside the bond. It can create bonds and destroy them; what a powerful force for something that we are biologically driven to do. It seems that humanity is in a predicament: we want sex, often from multiple different people at different times, and yet sex is the key to creating and destroying our most profound relationships.

I am willing to go out on a limb here and say that this view of sex is completely wrong, for several reasons. For one, sex does not always create or destroy a relationship; we can all think of examples of meaningless sex. Thus sex must need something else to affect people’s lives in such a profound way. It is also possible for us to examine love relationships where the act of sex is not the creator of the “next level.” Many people today have sex early in their relationships, long before they are willing to “take the plunge” and “be committed.” The example of the Sex and the City ladies who constantly engage in sex, but are always talking about searching for deeper meaning, comes to mind. They have separated sex from profound relationships. Some other act, usually a sacrifice or giving of some sort, is always required for one to show true love.

On a more concrete, non-television, example, we can look to conservative Christians who are “saving themselves for marriage.” Very few people are foolish enough to get married without having some sort of knowledge that it is a profound relationship, that it is “true love.” Therefore, they must come up with some non-sex solution to expressing their profound feelings.

So, in analyzing the situation, we can find that sex in and of itself has no meaning. It is a physical act between two people that feels good and meets emotional and physical needs. However, we can also recognize that it can mean something more in a particular context. The truth is, that when we say that two people are bound to one another because of sex, what we are actually saying is that these two people have developed strong feelings outside of sex and then chose to express their commitment to each other through the symbolic act of sex.

Which brings up the question, why sex? Sex in America has several powerful qualities that make it a powerful symbolic statement. For one, it is an act that shows, in America, complete trust and vulnerability. We strip off all of our protections, symbolized by our clothing, and show our true selves to one another in a way that very few others can see us. We bare our animal nature to one another. Secondly the act of coitus itself has incredible psychological and emotional strength, even if it is viewed from a purely biochemical role. Therefore any time sex is used to reinforce a bond, it brings biology into the scheme in a way that other acts usually can’t. Lastly, its cultural baggage is overwhelming. We have valued sex in the English-speaking world as a meaningful exchange of vows for millennia; this can best be seen in the fact that, traditionally, a marriage was not real until it was consummated. This is a cross-cultural phenomenon.

So, why can this type of symbolic act also break apart relationships? Once again it is not the act in and of itself. The strength of the “swinger” movement, where married couples swap spouses for sexual adventures, shows that people can remain in a relationship and commit what is usually considered infidelity. Likewise, many people can sympathize with the spouse of someone who can no longer perform sexually finding gratification elsewhere. The example of a paraplegic’s spouse who has a lover, but continues to serve as a faithful spouse in other ways comes to mind. These people have found other ways to express and re-express their bonds that has nothing to do with sex.

The power that sex has to destroy a relationship is well documented; however there is another way to view this. After a bond has been established through sex, it can be broken through sex because: if we assume that there is an emotional and biological need for sex in most human beings, and we assume that both partners can perform with adequate competence, then if one partner is receiving sex from another source, its not to meet an unfulfilled need, but instead a symbolic statement about that person’s position and bond with the other person. It is the act of betrayal of the bond, not the act of coitus that shatters relationships. And for a relationship that is built upon a non-sexual symbolic act, betrayal can be just as painful; one can be cheated on regardless of whether one has had sex or not.

In the end we see that sex of this profound sort is the symbolic representation of a bond that exists independently of the act. It is the act of stripping one’s self bare, physically and symbolically, uniting one’s pure, unadorned self to another person, and, finally, culminating the act in a powerful release of emotional, physical and psychological energy. The strength and commitment of the relationship has nothing to do with sex, its symbolic statement.

-By Jesse