Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sex Is Sacred

I should be in bed, but a rant is bubbling and I want to post it before heading to the land of nod. This is what currently disturbs me in our Sex In The City society: Sex is treated with contempt.

The change occurred back when birth control became ubiquitous. Women could have sex as easily and without consequence as men and so women took on the behavior of the most hound-doggish men. It has not been good for either men or women.

Oh, usually, when this topic comes up, the discussion turns toward STDs or unwanted pregnancies or abortion. And those are important discussions and a terrible side-effect of sexual promiscuity. But there is a more day-to-day effect of promiscuity: the devaluing of sex itself to the point that it's purpose beyond reproduction is distorted beyond recognition.

Sex is not just to make babies. Sex is not just for physical pleasure. Sex is a sacred gift between two people.

Here's an irony that I've noticed: the women who put out the most seem to like sex the least. You read that right. Because sex matters so little to them, they use sex as a tool to get a man to like them or they use sex to have physical touch or they use sex for attention. The point is, they use sex. And then, when there is no more use for sex, they stop giving it up. That's right. They don't like it or value it that much anyway. They give it to anyone and everyone. And, imagine their eventual husband's shock when it stops being given. "But we had so much sex before we got married!" Uh huh. I have a newsflash. She didn't like it then, either. She was using sex to use you. And, it worked.

No one values anything that comes cheap. Why do men and women give away the gift of their body and soul as if it is worth nothing?

Sexual intercourse is more than a physical coupling. It is a powerful union, a special gift. DNA is exchanged during sex. Both people are literally changed by the experience. And this is awesome. When someone has multiple partners, gives the gift too soon and to a stranger even, a barrier goes up emotionally. How can it not? A person has to divest himself of emotional vulnerability in an act that succeeds based on making oneself vulnerable. Long term, I believe that this behavior is incredibly damaging to the heart and spirit of a person. The emotional distance becomes a habit. This is not so easy to turn off once in a loving, committed relationship.

A guy friend of mine told me that he couldn't understand why a woman would give up sex soon. He could see absolutely no benefit to her by doing that. And yet, women do this all the time these days. They are lonely or horny or believe that to "get" or "keep" a man, that's what is necessary. But what kind of man does this woman want to "get" or "keep"?

Maybe it seems like I'm being too hard on women and not holding men responsible. Maybe. But let's face it, women are the gatekeepers. And when they keep the gates swung wide open for anyone and everyone, it devalues the commodity. And that's where were at societally. When something becomes cheap and ubiquitous, it loses it's value. Loose women are a dime a dozen. Why do women complain about men not committing again?

Men are responsible, too. By treating every woman as a two-bit whore, they value all women less. And eventually, they bring that attitude to the woman they eventually commit to. How can they not? It used to be that hound dog men were looked down upon. But now, a man who views sex as something special and is choosy about how he shares it is scorned as prudish and backward. Or, his sexuality is questioned.

The gender wars keep waging in part because sex is so misused and abused. A lifetime of intimate betrayals causes a man or woman to distrust and despise the opposite sex. These hurts and wounds scar a person's soul. And like a physical scar, the person's heart becomes less flexible, less functional and rather ugly. A person may even get to the point of forgiveness for past sexual hurts, but the memories will affect the present. And very often, the person saddles his or her true love with side-effects of those memories.

I guess I just wish, very much, that people would consider their ways and keep, ever present in their minds, the partner of the future that they will love with their whole heart. Eventually, hopefully, a soul mate will come along. This person will be so special and wonderful and incredible that anything less than everything will feel like not enough. The problem will be that along the way, too much was given away, treated with contempt and diminished. A tentative, self-protective barrier will have to be either broken down or navigated around in the relationship. Sex will have been a tool used by and against a person instead of being a sacred gift to give someone.

Does this sound old-fashioned? Probably so. It certainly isn't third-wave feminist ideology. And it certainly isn't a modern notion. That's really too bad. Sex can be used as a sacred power to bind. Today, too often, it's being used as a power to destroy.


Chango said...

Right on! I have been thinking the same way for some time now even though I grew up in the late 60's. I still see the damage done to our society and relaionships by the degradation of this gift and I've seen beautiful women become ugly becuase of it.

Sister Honey Bunch said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Great post.

Anonymous said...

An excellent essay, as usual.

One caveat: I'm not sure how much good the "soul mate" talk does. One of the biggest contributions to the collapse of sexual ethics and restraint was, I believe, an overemphasis on an impossible ideal of romantic happiness that gives young couples the impression that if the blissful haze of the first few weeks doesn't last (and it never does), the "love" is "gone" - and that they have the right to move on to find it with someone else.

The shock of discovering that even the sexual intimacy you treasured so fervently can't sustain a relationship on its own is part of what drives people to swing too far in the other direction. "We were told sex meant *everything*," people complain, "but if it means everything, why wasn't it enough? Maybe it means much less than people say it does. Maybe it doesn't mean *anything*."

The idea of "necessary but not sufficient" is a difficult one for people today to grasp, it seems.

Melissa Clouthier said...

Stephen J,

Just because sex is something doesn't mean it's everything.

And no, I don't subscribe to the romantic notions of a white knight, but I do subscribe to the notion that there is a continuum--that is, there are some people that are better matches than other people. So a person dates, sleeps around, and then meets a person who is more compelling on the continuum, but they have all the accumulated misery from people who they knew, in their hearts, were not good for them. That does affect their more desired relationship.

Anonymous said...

" . . . the women who put out the most enjoy sex the least."

I'm a single, middle-aged male, not anything like a Don Juan but with my share of experience; and I have never found that to be the case. In my experience, the reverse is true.

doctorfixit said...

I've never encountered anyone like the characters on S&TC. They might exist, but not in my world. This "sacredness" bit is really overdone. Over-romanticizing leads to unrealistic expectations, which is why so many women give up on the idea entirely. There is no real man who can live up to the Handsome Prince myth. Kiss this frog, and the best you are going to get on a GOOD day is a horny toad. My respect or judgement of a woman has never depended on how much she enjoys, except that I try to avoid those who are obviously anti- for whatever reason, and I avoid those who use it as a trading commodity. Let's get our heads out of the clouds and recognize it's a basic function with very practical and prosaic applications, and leave the morality and romanticism out of it.

Anonymous said...

There's a huge range of grays between "only have sex with the one true love of your life" and "screw everyone you meet, especially when under the influence of alcohol." If a person has sex with several individuals each of whom he/she loves, or at least knows well and is strongly attracted, I don't think it's likely to do him/her any psychological damage. OTOH, if he/she does it mainly because everyone else is doing it, with people who are nothing special, then that's another matter.

And for whatever reason, women seem more invluenced by social pressure...I suspect that in a puritanical age, most women are less sexual than they would really like, and in a libertine age, more sexual.

Regarding the past hurts & bad memories, remember that people can have their hearts broken without having had sex with the person. It used to happen quite regularly.

rick said...

I never really could participate in sex until I overcame my shyness and began making finding a mate a joke and then things started to happen for me. I even used a ridiculous but fun web site novelty known as www.commuterspeeddating.com. It is a hoot!

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with anon.11:36. I know a lot of women that so enjoy sex. They are also the ones who had a number of partners before marriage. They suffer no ounce of shame, heart break, etc... and it makes you wonder if it simply has to do with the kind of teachings, especially religious teachings that a girl grows up with.

Anonymous said...

"Just because sex is something doesn't mean it's everything."

Oh, I agree 100%. I'm just pointing out that your initial essay seemed to be leaning a bit too far in the direction of waiting for the Perfect Soul Mate, and that it's precisely that investment in the idea of the "perfect mate" that can cause the overreaction in the other direction. If we want to encourage sexual restraint and self-discipline, a slightly more pragmatic approach may be a good idea.

If you've been told over and over again the best way to carry your eggs is to put them all in one basket, and then when you finally do, the basket breaks, it's not surprising to me that some people give up entirely on the notion of eggs, if you follow my rather scrambled metaphor.

Anonymous said...

My wife and several women I know were virgins when they got married (as was I) and they treat sex as a weapon as best and something to be completely avoided at worse. I'm just waiting for my youngest to turn 18 to escape this hell.

Melissa Clouthier said...

Anon 10:11,

You haven't married or cared enough for someone to marry them. How will things be once or if you ever decide to marry? Does the wild sex continue in a relationship? That's what I'm talking about.

Jay said...

" Let's get our heads out of the clouds and recognize it's a basic function with very practical and prosaic applications, and leave the morality and romanticism out of it."

How boring! You often hear sex education types or social pundits say that their goal is to teach people that sex is just an ordinary part of life, like eating or breathing. What a sad goal. I would much rather live in a world where sex is viewed as something so breath-takingly exciting and special that it must be treated very carefully and reverently so as not to ruin it.

Who do you think enjoys his food more: The glutton or the gourmet? I've had plenty of times I've been in a hurry and I've shoved some food in my mouth without even thinking about it. Did I enjoy that? Not at all. On the other hand, I've had times I've gone to a nice restaurant and slowly and deliberately enjoyed a meal. That is an experience to savor.

I saw an interview with Hugh Hefner once where the reporter made the surprisingly insightful comment -- not an exact quote but best I remember -- "Now that Playboy has largely succeeded in convincing Americans to separate love from sex, they are now working to separate sex from eroticism." It's true, isn't it? In the 60's and 70's Americans "learned" that they can have sex with no emotional commitment, purely for the physical pleasure and excitement. Now they're working to take away even that, and turn sex into something bland and mundane. First we drain off all the deep inner meaning and leave only a pale physical experience; then we take away even that and leave a boring mechanical act.

Anonymous said...

I am a man who has been married for nearly 30 years and our sex life has had many ups and downs, but we have never had sex with anyone else. As Christians we have learned about the true meaning of intimacy and sex's role in that. Only as a part of a deeply spiritual and monogamous relationship can sexuality become what it is meant to be. We believe the fairy tale because deep down inside we know it is true, cynicism is what's left when we give up and make it simply a bodily function.

Sex is better than I ever dreamed it could be, but it does not stand alone. It is great because of the intimacy, communication and depth that we share. It takes time and work and choices. and most of all it takes an honesty and vulnerability that cannot be achieved outside of a committed marriage.

If you are promiscuous you will be impacted for life, hopefully you can heal but it will be difficult and painful. It's a little like smoking:no one with a 2 pack a day habit says,"man I'm glad I took that first puff". Choices have consequences.

Anonymous said...

"Aon 10.11" here!

To answer your question, MC: I don't know. For one thing, I don't know if I've had that much "wild" sex as a single. On the one hand, I still haven't participated in an orgy or a threesome. (Hope, however, springs eternal . . .) On the other hand, having been raised with the Irish-Catholic guilt complex about sex, pretty much all sex is "wild" sex to me! (I pretty much agree with James Woods, who said that the Catholic sense of sin made even garden-variety sex seem unbelievably naughty and therefore unbelievably fun! I also agree with Jay Leno, who, commenting on a COSMO article on "How to Drive Your Man Wild in Bed!" said, "Ladies, you want to drive a man wild in bed? Just get IN the bed!" Or Richard Burton who, when asked, "What makes a woman good in bed?" answered, "That she's there." (Although I would add that enthusiastic fellatio helps, too.)

I've never married a variety of reasons, including an adult life in which survival issues (both emotional and physical) took precedence over dating-and-mating, coupled with a greater-than-average need for solitude. Make of that what you will.

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