People pay a lot of money to go to sex therapy. And people spend a lot of time reading self-help books, blogs, and magazine articles, not to mention watching YouTube videos. It’s all to find out one or more of the following about sexuality:
* If they’re normal
* If their partner is normal
* How to get their body to do what they want it to
* How to get their partner’s body to do what they want it to
* What their partner wants in bed
* How to tell their partner what they want in bed
* How to tell if their partner is cheating
As it happens, getting answers to these questions doesn’t empower people to create the sex they actually want. The problem is that these are the wrong questions, so no matter what the answers, people still don’t have what they need.
Since not everyone can go to sex therapy, and since most self-help doesn’t actually help, here’s what I wish everyone with a sexual question knew. This would save a lot of heartache, encourage effective communication, and help people to define sexuality in a life-affirming way.
* “Men” and “women” are not helpful categories to better understand yourself or your partner.
These two categories each contain three billion people, of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. You and your partner are unique individuals. Understand your own and your partner’s uniqueness, not the ways in which you’re supposedly like everyone else.
* When people have conflict about sex, it usually isn’t about sex.
It may be about power, or about grief, anger, loneliness, guilt, shame, abandonment, or the terror of getting old. Next time you and your mate argue about sex, ask yourselves “what are we really upset about here?”
* Sex is meaningless unless we give it meaning.
To be satisfying, sex doesn’t need to be meaningful, but a lot of people want it to be. They say we shouldn’t “have sex like animals,” or use sex to distract ourselves from our problems, or have sex outside of “meaningful” relationships, or “have sex just for the sake of having sex.”
Why not? If both people agree on the reason they’re having sex, and both people enjoy their experience, and no unintended pregnancy is created, exactly why should sex have more meaning than anything else we do? Sex isn’t “supposed” to be intimate, meaningful, spiritual, or anything else. If people want to create sexual experiences with those features, they can go right ahead and do so.
Sex won’t mind.
* Intercourse is only “better” than other sexual activities if you want to conceive.
99% of the sex people will have tonight around the world is NOT intended for baby-making. Therefore there’s no reason for all that sex around the world to include intercourse. If we could get rid of the cultural prejudice that intercourse is “real sex,” we’d be less dependent on erections, vaginal lubrication, and fitting body parts together that might not want to fit together. That would leave more time and attention for enjoyable sex in whatever form it took.
* Orgasm is not the point of sex.
Orgasm usually only lasts five to ten seconds. If all of sex is just a buildup to that moment, you’ve just wasted a lot of time. That would be like depending on dessert to make your meal worthwhile. Orgasm doesn’t prove anything about you or your partner’s adequacy, and it doesn’t mean anything about your intimacy or connection.
The muscle contractions or orgasm may feel better than hiccups or sneezing—but they’re sometimes way more trouble than they’re worth. And no matter how enjoyable, no orgasm can redeem sex that was boring, annoying, painful, or anxiety laden.
* No one “needs” sex, and no one “needs” a certain amount of sex.
Many people want sex, and some people want it so much that they get very unhappy when they don’t have it. But no one dies or is traumatized from lack of sex. People who can’t control their upset when they don’t have “enough” sex don’t have a sex problem, they have an “I’m not really a grownup” problem.
* Contraception is not an intrusion–it’s part of intercourse.
If you can’t handle contraception, just have other kinds of sex. There’s a kind of sex for everything you might want—for example, pleasure, closeness, submission, feeling graceful, feeling competent. If you don’t want to mess with contraception, just find sexual activities that don’t require it that are satisfying. If you can’t find one, you don’t have a sex problem, you have an “I deserve to have every single thing I want” problem.
* Our genitals (penis, vulva) are just another body part.
Our genitalia don’t know that they’re “different” from every other body part. Like the rest, they have names, functions, and requirements to perform those functions (like don’t be drunk or anxious). They are exactly as clean and attractive (or dirty and unattractive) as the rest of your body.
Christian theologian Tertullian said that a woman’s body is “a temple built over a sewer,” but that seems both judgmental and overly idealized, doesn’t it?
* Whatever your faith tradition, you can find scriptural justification for any inhibition, prohibition, or enthusiastic participation you wish.
Don’t blame your religion if you’re uncomfortable with sex, or don’t enjoy it. Almost all adults discard parts of their religious upbringing. If you insist in believing in God or gods, just make it a deity who’s cool with sex and your body. If you believe in God, I think he/she/it/they are way too busy with climate change, overpopulation, L.A.’s freeways, and the Yankees’ desperate need for a left-handed relief pitcher to worry about which place you put which finger during sex.