As youngsters with the stars of innocence in our eyes, we knew only what we had been told by a close friend, parent, or teacher. That was until we took health class and learnt about the mechanics around safe sex.
Sex is also one of the few topics that is greatly polarising. What one person considers sex, another doesn’t. Even open discussions about it can leave us feeling hurt, misunderstood or naive. Yet, there are something’s which many of us have never heard about in regards to sex, which our awkward health classes with bananas and condoms, maybe should have mentioned.
Sex is a natural thing. In fact, in terms of every human’s basic needs of food and water, reproduction is right up there. Sex is not only a place to reproduce, but like dolphins and monkeys, we too enjoy having it for pure pleasure. And, there’s nothing wrong with that.
It’s only when we’re not aware as to why. Sex is like politics. There’s a lot more to it then the basic physical action we see.
Far more research has been done, as of recent into what happens in the brain when we are about to have sex, during and after having sex. One area our sex talks forgot to mention was sexual desire and how it affects our brain.
Whether it be linked to men and crazy high sex drives where they’re always thinking about it, to an innocent women who could “never think of such a distasteful thing”, sexual desire can be seen as a taboo topic and has been misrepresented in many ways to make us categorise one sex from the other. Believe it or not there was once a time that sex was taught as being “simply for the reproduction of children and never for pleasure”.
This stereotypical thinking towards what sexual desire limits it to boxes, and actually undermines the beauty that is truly in sex and the desires around having it. By boxing in our desires it actually goes against what is biologically happening when we see our fine partner or potential partner across the room. When we are in the presence of something we desire, our brain releases dopamine. This dopamine is linked with the rewards system of our brain, it can light up when we desire food, just as much as sex. In fact, the sensation of that dopamine release can sometimes be as impactful as hit of a high class drug like cocaine. Interestingly enough, when we are in this cognitive state, parts of our brain shut off – the rational side. The further we go towards sexual climax the more the rational part of the brain shuts down.
Put simply, sexual desire is a biological reaction to something we find appealing and sexually attractive.
Sex is vulnerable, it’s exposing ourselves to someone else, and as we’ve just learnt when reaching climax it takes us into a mental space of being uncontrolled. It is intimate, regardless of whether we are associating emotions to it or not.
A common thing said in time after time in sex talks is, “respect yourself. It’s your choice. Only do what you’re comfortable with. Just say no.”
And that’s right… in theory.
Theoretically, we would each know how much we are worth (which is often far more than what we give ourselves credit for) and strongly uphold that value in moments where we are challenged to lower it. We think this challenge to lower our standards is like an alarm that goes “ALERT! ALERT! ALERT!” but in reality it’s like a whisper that gets silenced in the face of comfort. Which leads into moments where we find a tension arise.
The hot guy you have been eyeing up for months, the one you’ve secretly been telling your close girlfriends about, comes up to you one day. He’s just as charming as he appeared from afar, especially when his beautiful eyes stare straight back at yours. You’re smitten. Obviously being the vivacious bold woman you are, you play it cool. You don’t want to “fully” boost his ego. After a while you start to notice that he’s hanging around you more, texting you until unearthly hours in the morning. But you’re not complaining, I mean how could you? He’s beautiful! After a few weeks of flirting and enjoying one another’s company, he finally asks you on a date. You say yes, and before you know it the guy you’ve been admiring for ages is your new boyfriend.
Let’s say for argument’s sake, that sexually and physically all you want to do is making out. In your mind it is set. That is the sexual boundary that you want to uphold, and to do so means maintaining self-respect. Now imagine you decided that before you got into a relationship with “Mr Damn Boy You Fine.” However, after a while, as your feelings grow more for him, you start to feel the beginning of this new thing: tension.
The tension of self-respect and sexual desire.
Where your self-respect says “hey girl, you’re worth more than lowering your sexual standards just because this guy has abs sculpted by the gods,” whilst your sexual desire says “oh honey boo, go for it, because seriously?!? Only hand-holding, what were you even thinking?? That’s not even that realistic!”
You see, this is a position, that each of us will have been in at some point. Regardless of how far sexually we’ve gone or want to go, whether it be just holding hands, having sex, or anything else in between, it is undeniable that there is a time when this moment of sexual desire and self-respect will arise and clash.
Similar to how we deal with conflict when we come into this moment where we find the tension between desire and self-worth arise, it’s easy to adopt one of the first three solutions: avoid, accommodate, or compete.
Avoid the tension and push past it. Accommodate by emotionally switching off, even if we’re being taken beyond our comfort zone because we love this person and want to show them how much we love them. Then there’s compete, when we grow angry with the tension and try to address it directly internally, and the outworking of that can be lashing out on our partners or become defensive after physically engaging.
If we’re wanting to grow relationships that flourish, there’s a healthy alternative: collaborate. Sexual and physical interactions are intimate, they are personal, and they can make us vulnerable. When we are vulnerable two things can arise: shame or support. Unfortunately all too often, shame has the louder voice and can taint our thoughts towards relationships, and what it looks like to authentically express love. How do we push past the shame?
We create a space for open conversation with our partners. Where we can share the physical interactions where our desire and self-respect meet. This point doesn’t change to what we think our partner wants. It is a moment of self-care, where we will give ourselves the dignity of choice. By openly discussing, it gives both our partners and ourselves permission to show love in a new light: through honour.
Loving wholeheartedly is shown through honour
This is what the sex talks were getting at when they said “Respect yourself. It’s your choice.” It’s not easy, but we shouldn’t have to take on the weight and tension that arises by ourselves. When we openly express our physical limits, it gives opportunity for our partner to honour and show respect to us, and vice versa. And, isn’t that the most attractive quality we all desire – a partner that respects us for who we are, even when our choices may differ from theirs?
Read the rest of the article in the first issue of the Mainstream Detox Magazine here ›