Shelter, Sustenance and Sex
I’ve been thinking about sex a lot lately. And before you roll your eyes and say, “duh, Alyssa, we all know that,” let me clarify that I have been thinking about sex from an almost academic perspective. Not the act or acts that each of us do – or wish we did – in our own sex lives, but the role that sex plays in the life of our society as a whole.
First, let’s be very clear about something. We have to have sex. If we don’t have sex, the species will cease to exist. We are hard-wired to have sex. To want it. To do it. To do it a lot. We are also hardwired to enjoy it, presumably so that we will keep doing it. Sex is as elemental to our beings and survival as shelter and sustenance. We need shelter to protect ourselves from the elements and predators. We need sustenance to keep our bodies alive. We need sex to perpetuate the species. If you remove any one of those things, our survival is quickly called into question.
But sex, elemental and necessary though it may be, is treated fundamentally differently than shelter and sustenance.
- Magazines about homes and about food are sold by the hundreds of thousands at grocery stores. Magazines about sex are relegated to specialized shops, and their covers are hidden from view.
- Architects and chefs can achieve celebrity status in the mainstream, their new ideas are discussed on television and copied in homes across the country. Porn stars can only rise to the top of their subculture, and the adult industry mostly socializes and celebrates their achievements amongst their own kind because they are looked down on by the rest of society.
- It is considered polite, even “intellectual” conversation to discuss openly a new dish you prepared, or your latest remodel. But if you were to discuss a new sexual position at your average cocktail party, the room would get quiet and you may not get invited back.
- In cities around the world, emergency services are set up for people who don’t have enough food or shelter. When’s the last time you saw “emergency sex” being offered to people who aren’t getting enough? (Obviously, there is a black-market for these services, but it’s illegal everywhere except a few counties in Nevada.)
Okay, I know there’s a difference. One night on the streets in a blizzard can kill you, and I have survived at least one night without sex and been fine. Likewise, not eating for a long period of time can kill you, and we’ve all gone long stretches without getting laid and are here to tell the story. But that doesn’t change the fact that sex is as elemental as eating and seeking shelter, yet we approach it with shame, guilt, fear and a secrecy that strikes me as, at best, unnecessary and, at worst, corrosive.
So why do we do it? Why do we single out this one thing as something that should be treated with shame and secrecy?
I wondered if it had to do with the wide variety of ways that people have sex? But then, we don’t discuss people’s food habits with secrecy and shame? “Oh my god, Sheri is a vegan, I hope the neighbor kids don’t find out, who knows what it would do to them!” Nor do we discuss people’s various shelters with shame, “Did you hear? The Jones’ installed shag carpeting, you know that means that they’re going turn you into one of them.” So why would it be scandalous to find out that the Smith’s were into bondage? It has no more bearing on us than our neighbor’s diets or carpets?
Then I wondered if it had to do with the innate, personal and illogical nature of sexual impulses. But that doesn’t explain it either, because there are people with innate and illogical impulses to do things like extreme sports or bonsai gardening, and we don’t shame them for their personal proclivities in those arenas. It’s just what they’re “into,” and we accept it without batting an eye – much less casting an aspersion.
Is it that we’ve all bought, hook, line and sinker all the rhetoric that we’ve been fed by organized religion or the social mythology of generations before us? If it’s that simple, surely we can shed the shame with the same logic that has helped us realize that 76 virgins are not waiting for you in heaven if you blow up a building, or that the promise of food with a long shelf-life is more like a threat than a promise.
Nope, there has to be more to it than that. Maybe it has to do with the fact that sex, unlike food and shelter, can’t really be done alone. Sure, you can masturbate, but that’s not sex, really. That’s an orgasm. Sex, at it’s biological core – and it’s entertaining ideal – is something we do with other people. That may mean that someone wants to do it with us. That our bodies, which we are very protective of, may be a desirable tool for someone else to use. And because we all do it differently, that someone may want to use our body in a way that we don’t want it used. Or, conversely, that someone we may want to do it with may not want to do it with us. Or do it how we want to do it. So we could be rejected as undesirable, and or our innate drives could be rejected as wrong. When I start to look at it that way, I can see how people could take someone else’s sex-life personally.
Hmmmmm. We all want to fit in, to belong, to be accepted, appreciated – even wanted. So fear of being “rejected” and “wrong” might be a problem.
I also think that people are innately a tad xenophobic. We tend to, at least initially, see things that are different as a threat. “Different” means that our worldview has to expand to incorporate it, and that’s not always easy for people.
But here’s the conundrum I see… That can all be addressed, and maybe ameliorated, by talking about it. If we can get to the point that we understand that sex is elemental to our beings, then we can talk about it openly and without shame, and find new and healthy ways to approach our own sexuality. We can add it into our criteria for “partners,” and lessen the chance of being sexually unfulfilled. If we can talk about the wide variety of ways that people have sex, then those ways would seem less threatening. If we could stop taking other people’s hobbies and habits personally, then we wouldn’t feel rejected or threatened by their hobbies and habits. The boogeyman in the closet is only scary until you turn the light on and realize it’s just an old coat thrown over the broom handle.
‘Cuz here’s the deal. Everyone that I know either has, or wishes they were having, sex. Most of them wish they were having more of it, and a wider variety of it. Will it kill them if they don’t have it? Probably not. Will it sadden them? Yes. Will it make them a little insecure? Yes. Will it distract them? Yes, just like when you’re hungry and can’t think straight. Will it make them feel guilty, bad, shameful that they want something they think their partner won’t approve of? Yes. Will that lead to relationship problems that will have repercussions outside the bedroom? Probably. Hell, there’s even research to show that not having enough sex leads to increased risks of some cancers, and that having good sex can reduce the effects of stress in other areas of your life.
So what am I missing? We have to eat. We have to have shelter. We have to fuck. What are we ashamed of? What are we afraid of?
Look, I don’t want to hear the nitty-gritty details of people’s sex lives at every cocktail party that I go to. Then again, I don’t want to hear how gluten gives people diarrhea, and I feel like I hear that all the time. But What I do want is a world in which we understand that sex is natural, that there are as many varieties of it as there are types of breakfast cereal in the supermarket, and that having a healthy sex life that nourishes your soul is every bit as important as having a safe place to live and a diet that nourishes your body.
And yes, I’d like to not have to go long stretches without it, because it’s sad, and distracting. And I’m not afraid to admit that much, publicly.