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By Mark Lundegren
I would like to have a conversation with you about sex – that is, our human sexuality.
You may think this subject has been covered sufficiently elsewhere, or uncovered all too sufficiently everywhere and often far too scandalously. From my perspective, though, there are pressing signs around us that our sexuality still manages to be widely misunderstood and insufficiently covered, or uncovered. I just want to make sure you are not confused by all this confusion concerning our own sexuality.
We live in a time when there is more openness about sex than ever before, at least in modern times. We need only turn to any of our major media outlets – print, radio, television, web – to see this truth continuously and sometimes graphically underscored. Our media and commercial society seem bent on using our new sexual openness to titillate us at every opportunity with implicit and explicit appeals to our sexual instincts. This is manipulative and antisocial of course, though we all see through and turn away from such crassness whenever we encounter it (and yet curiously, it continues).
Today, we are also often encouraged, for a variety of reasons and sometimes for truly questionable ones, to treat the sexual taboos of our past as antiquated, as repressive and a sign of oppressive culture, and as irrelevant in the modern world and our life in it. Seemingly, almost anything goes for some of us when it comes to sex. The thinking is that if sex can be made safe and between adults, it can and should be unrestrained and shameless. Nothing should stand in the way of our happiness, even perhaps happiness itself.
This general unmasking of our sexual urges and modern attempts at their manipulation should be contradictory, the former trend undermining the latter. But sex somehow manages to retain much of its earlier mysteriousness and, in truth, sexual appeals are frequently and quite successfully used to influence our perspective and behavior. This must owe at least in part to a continued misunderstanding of our own sexuality, despite all the recent openness, and to the fact that our sexuality is a far more potent and pervasive force in our lives than most of us realize. Human sexuality, before and after our new openness, is always about more than the simple physical act of sex and reproduction (the making of babies was its original function, in case this was unclear from our modern coverage).
All might be well and good with the modern transfiguration of our sexuality, an unmitigated positive development for more open life and human liberation, were it not for two worrying phenomena of our modern sexual landscape. One is the now ubiquitous commercial offers of sexual assistance in our media – though not on par its propensity for sexual encouragement – including medicines, powders, pills, stimulants, and therapies to relieve us of poor sexual performance or weak sex drives. This fact suggests that many of us have trouble with one of our most basic and vital natural drives, which should be troubling to us all and a sign of lowered general health.
A second and still more disturbing phenomenon is the increasingly poor state of affairs between women and men today, which is a hushed undercurrent beneath the gratuitous and often quite unhealthy sexual hype of our time. This obvious decline in our sexual health is evidenced not just by the precipitous fall in birth rates and the instability of marriage in the modern world, it is also apparent in the rise of single and often sexless life, as well as the very high levels of sexual dissatisfaction among people today. Our dissatisfaction may be due to new and unnatural sexual expectations, our common but often unspoken and now quite taboo sexlessness, and because we are often apt to relieve our sexual frustrations in ways that are themselves ultimately frustrating.
For me, and maybe for you too, these signs of our times are a reminder that our human sexuality is indeed a powerful and pervasive force in our lives, and an important component and barometer of our overall health and well-being. In this article, I will suggest that we and our sexuality require more than freedom from restraint and titillation, and especially more than safe shamelessness, if we are to live in a healthy and fulfilled way. Our sexuality is mysterious in both its natural lure and consummation. It is an imperative of nature and of our human nature, one larger than our individual selves and personal ideologies. In truth, we misconstrue and abstract our human sexuality, and natural human life and ourselves, when we attempt to demystify our sexuality and ask it to become a fixture or tool of modern life.
In an important sense, our clear signs of both earlier and modern sexual misunderstanding and dysfunction are obvious and urgent symptoms of reduced human health, and signal our urgent need to consider and move to new forms of sexual health. For me, they are signs that we need to begin to see and understand our sexual health naturally, perhaps for the first time.
Our Natural Sexuality
Before we continue, we should stop for a reminder of what sex is, and is not, for humans in nature. As I quipped before, sex is of course how human adults make human children, an often overlooked and inconvenient or incidental detail amidst all the sexual ideology and propaganda of our time. But sex is ultimately about natural selection and creating a new generation of healthy babies – ones likely to prosper and reproduce themselves in a range of natural human conditions, whether life in cooperative communities, in competitive civilization, and even in conditions of brutality and hardship.
Because of selection forces at work on us, many of our sexual preferences and behaviors, not so coincidentally, are closely correlated with the successful production of babies, especially babies who in turn are apt to produce babies. This is why, controversially for many today, youthfulness is favored in women and maturity in men – both are signs of peak fertility (at least in traditional patriarchal society). By fertility, I do not mean sexual prowess, an easy confusion to have in our times, but simply the propensity to make successful babies. Not surprisingly, women of all ages seek to look younger and most men are content to be slightly aged and world-worn (why wrinkles are sexy for men and not for women) – a phenomenon that is unlikely simply a cultural stereotype as some would have us believe.
Importantly, human sex is also more than about babies themselves. It is also part of natural human bonding and love. It is about the emotions that allow couples to create and maintain families to care for their members, and that help families combine to form intermarrying and supportive communities (forms of human organization which ultimately promote and are reinforced by successful babyhood and reproductive adulthood). In humans, sexual intimacy keeps women and men, and families and communities, together for the long and even intergenerational process required for optimal human child-raising, in a way that does not occur, and need not occur, in most other species. Because of our requirement for protracted child rearing, humans have been selected to be especially prolific both sexually and emotionally, as are many other advanced primates and apes. Our pronounced sexuality and companion capacity for love are, in fact, inseparable parts of our humanness. It is how we create and maintain human order in the world.
On the other hand, while sex is used to naturally define and deepen human relationships, in nature at least sex is not a sport, except in its denigration and conditions of reduced community health. In nature, however prolific we may be sexually, sex is also not an instrument of commerce or a product feature, despite its reciprocal nature. Sex and our sexual partners have relevance in nature, and in life today still, requiring and engendering some of our strongest human emotions, emotions strong enough to form self-sustaining families and communities amidst the challenges of nature. When we have sex as an act of bonding and commitment, as a way of fostering healthy coupling and intimacy, and of creating the emotional conditions for making babies, our sexual relationships are far more apt to be healthy and fulfilling.
When we see sex regarded in modern times as sport or commerce, or in earlier times as something that was unhealthy and taboo (which remains part of its appeal to some today), a central dimension of our sexuality has been lost. That something is sex’s natural connection to promoting healthy human life. As such, when the health-promoting function of sex is misunderstood or disregarded, we should expect chronic human sexual dysfunction to ensue, as we see today and can see during much of our civilized history. We should anticipate feelings of sexual frustration and emotional despondency, for sex itself to become denigrated and even perverted, whenever our connection to our natural human sexuality is lost.
Three Levels Of Sexuality
As I have suggested, great sex, in our times and in all times, begins from a natural and healthy perspective on our sexuality, and from our health generally. This involves maintaining both our natural physical health, as well as our natural connection to the human emotions that support and are reinforced in healthy human sexual coupling.
With modern methods of birth control, and our modern freedom and cultural encouragement to think of sex apart from our natural health and social emotions, it is easy to forget this. It is easy for sex to be reduced to sport or commerce, for sex to be alienated from our underlying needs for natural health and natural life. It is easy for sex to be about individuals, rather than couples and families. And it is easy for sex to take place without the requirement or prospect of human love and bonding, which also occurred in nature but not amidst our healthiest conditions.
Many psychologists designate three levels of human sexuality, each a stage in our sexual and emotional maturation as people. The first is sex with oneself, the physical relieving of our sexual urges on our own, a topic I will not cover today and around which much of our contemporary pornographic industry has been built. The second level of human sexuality is to relieve our sexual urges with or through another person. This form of sex is thus physically different than the first, but is still essentially the same emotionally, in that it is about reducing physical and sexual tension rather than increasing commitment and true coupling. In this form of sex, the other person is an object for our sexual gratification, rather than for our love and adoration, just as we are for them.
It is only in the third expression of human sexuality that our sexuality finds its full, emotionally engaged, and most healthy and life-promoting form. This is when sex is used to communicate our love for another person, when sex is aimed primarily at the other person’s feelings and pleasure, and not simply our own, when sex is used amidst the emotions of commitment and intimacy, when sex is accompanied by bonding and committed coupling. In this sense, this third level of sex is an act of self-transcendence, and people often speak of it as the exploration a deeper aspect of themselves and higher state of relations between people. This is a higher domain of our sexuality, above the simple relief of physical urges, and where true sexual love resides. Unfortunately, it is often not the dominant form of human sexual behavior and encouragement we are apt to find in our media or among modern people today.
Great Sex for Couples
As with other species, sexual dysfunction was unlikely a significant part of our long human life in wild nature, but it is a persistent fact in society today, just as it was in pre-modern societies that preceded ours. In both cases, this is the inevitable result of unnatural general patterns of human living, and of reduced human health and well-being. We can know this because a return to natural health and more natural life, including the cultivation of our natural emotions, reduces sexual dysfunction and restores healthy, emotionally engaging and fulfilling, sexuality.
Helping people of both sexes reconnect to our natural physical and emotional health is of course the underlying work of HumanaNatura. Through a natural diet and natural exercise, and by adopting our core principles of natural living, adults of all ages can achieve and maintain natural levels of health throughout their lives, including their natural sexual health.
In thinking about optimizing our health, especially as it relates to our human sexuality, health can be seen naively as a physical state only. Common forms of this misunderstanding view health as freedom from disease and especially as ensuring that we are physically fit and have sexy body (paying no attention to the health and sexuality of our mind and heart). With our natural health, we generally have these natural physical characteristics of healthy life, but our health and sexual health require much more than this as I have suggested already.
When we are healthy, we are also in touch with our natural emotions and greater need for and sense of well-being. We naturally seek and promote caring, cooperative relationships in our lives. We pursue and foster interdependence and community with others. We pursue growth for ourselves and nurture it around us. We have and are great friends, family, and intimates. This is our natural human condition, even if it seems somehow strange to people living amidst modern society and its many unnatural imperatives and patterns of life. In our natural health, we are also capable of and inclined toward intense sexual love – deep, intimate, and loving sexual relationships that both foster and reflect our growth as people.
If you want a relationship that includes great sex, consider the idea that great sex comes from great living – from living in a way that is consistent with your natural health, your natural emotions, and your natural human sexuality. The foundation of our natural sexuality is both our physiological and emotional health. All of us can and should ensure our physiological health, so we are sexually attractive to others and can be sexually active when we need or want to be, throughout our lives, in the context of a healthy sexual relationship. But this idea of a healthy relationship implies that the foundation of our health must extend to our emotional health as well, to our examining and cultivating our natural social emotions so they are accessible to ourselves and others, and so that we can live in emotionally engaged and committed relationships.
Once our natural physical and emotional health is attended to, natural human sexuality is next about selecting a great partner. This is a complicated and mysterious human endeavor in practice, but one that can be simplified into a two-step process, even if both steps are a bit amorphous and entirely in the realm of emotion and feeling. While a simplification of the natural process of human coupling, we can see that when people often leave out one or both of these critical steps, their sexual relationships inevitably suffer in important and unhealthy ways. The first step to healthy coupling is assuring sexual attraction between two people. This is of course something that is very elemental, something that I will not attempt to describe here. Strong sexual attraction is always in the first-person, and is either there or not. We simply can’t pretend our way through this part of natural partnering and expect a healthy and fulfilling result over time.
We sometimes hear people talk about their connecting with another person sexually within the first few seconds of meeting them – of their both having strong sexual feelings and mutual arousal almost immediately after meeting. Such encounters are often described with the metaphors of fire, sparks, and fireworks. We all have these feelings at one time or another. They are a magical dimension of our natural sexuality, of natural human life and human experience, and are an essential part of natural selection in humans. In seeking a partner, please do look for this magical connection. Wait for it and don’t settle for less. If it is not there, be kind but keep looking for this special chemistry between two people. Such feelings of spontaneous and mutual arousal are supremely healthy, and the beginning and an essential part of healthy sexual love.
Past cultures often proscribed the search for these strong mutual feelings of attraction and sought their repression, for women and men. Through arranged marriages and other significant restraints on natural human bonding, both sexes were encouraged to be far less discriminating in this more spontaneous aspect of their partnering. This was a mistake, and still is today. Our primitive feelings of sexual arousal are a natural and essential part of happy coupling and part of the foundation for caring and attentive families. The often antagonistic history of sexual love in civilization, in and out of our literature, is in part testimony to the danger of suppressing or being untrue to our natural sexual feelings toward others.
Today, our past and long history of unhealthy sexual repression is why the topic of sexual taboos and rules is so taboo and so often seen as repressive. We often are reacting to centuries of sexual tyranny, but thereby may make a mistake in coupling of a different kind. So often, we overlook the second and equally important step in successful partnering, which occurs after natural, mutual, and spontaneous sexual arousal is apparent and certain.
This second part of natural human partnering and sexuality, also often frequently and historically overlooked, is assuring sustained emotional compatibility after the first rush of mutual sexual arousal. True compatibility between people takes much longer to confirm – weeks and months, rather than seconds and minutes – but is an equally magical feeling and experience, and the other essential step in our natural selection of a sexual partner. As in the case of mutual arousal, as humans, we must look for compatibility. It is also a primal phenomenon, and it is either there or it is not.
Plato suggested that compatibility involved equality, and this may be true, whether of intelligence or aptitudes, or other personal qualities, or some combination of them all. In any case, we naturally know compatibility and are evolved to sense it in our relationships with others, even if it takes time to gain this knowledge. In coupling, we must wait for compatibility and ensure it is clearly there before we partner with another person. We must not settle for less than true compatibility if we want natural and healthy coupling. We must be kind and keep looking if compatibility is not there, no matter how strong and seemingly enduring our arousal is. Such compatibility is just as essential a part of sexual love. It is a prerequisite to sustained human commitment and intimacy, and is what sustains relationships through the inevitable peaks and valleys of physical arousal and circumstances.
Most past cultures prevented immediate sexual activity between people so inclined, because they instinctively knew, or selection forces intervened to assert, that such compatibility was an essential part of healthy human sexuality and strong families and communities. However strong mutual arousal was, or however they might have downplayed such arousal, many cultures have understood that incompatibility would make for a long and poorer life, not just for the couple and their children, but for the extended families on both sides as well. Other societies from our past downplayed even the importance of compatibility, making for widespread loveless coupling or unstable coupling, which may have produced babies but not happy relations for women and men, and thus unlikely an optimal family environment for their children.
Today, we often do not wait to test for compatibility – we enter relationships based only on mutual arousal and only superficial knowledge of the other person, or perhaps worse, we enter relationships with nether arousal not the assurance of compatibility. The results, our modern sexual statistics and state of affairs, speak for themselves. Always, we must have both arousal and compatibility for successful coupling, ensuring that the conditions for strong relationships and mature love, for intimacy and the full depth of our natural human emotions, are present in and encouraged by one another. Without this, all human coupling is less than ideal, less than fully natural and healthy.
As I noted before, our often unnatural approach to sex and life more generally, in our time and before our time, has led to fairly widespread sexual dysfunction in the modern world. This has, in turn, produced a vast “sexual assistance” industry, some of it well-intentioned, but much of it exploitative and self-serving. Our modern sex industry is engendered by and even perpetuates compromised sexual health, and reflects our low general awareness of what sexual health and human fulfillment entail and how they can be reliably pursued.
Our sexual assistance industry includes providers of medicines, therapies, pornographic materials, and even surrogate partners. This industry often reduces sex to a sport or hobby, typically treats sex as a commodity or commercial service, and thereby works to turn people into the equivalent of sex machines (sexbots, in the parlance of technoculture today). In its extreme, the modern sex industry is the last bastion of human slavery, as children and woman especially are sold or stolen into this industry and then smuggled throughout the world to work as prostitutes.
The totality of this sexual enterprise inevitably robs us all of the natural richness, openness, and health that is our natural sexuality. It distracts us from our potential for the deeper and truly liberated individual life waiting for us in the requisites and practice of mature human sexual love. It is an industry that certainly is oblivious to and would be undermined by the two requirements for healthy sexual partnering we have discussed.
As I write this, one of American’s largest and wealthiest corporations is running a series of television commercials for sex pills that, for me, are extremely offensive and unhealthy in their portrayal of our human sexuality. These pills create the appearance of male sexual arousal, but in the genitalia only, without the necessity of the natural emotions that accompany and intensify physical arousal, and which both humanize and make more mysterious and intimate human sex itself. The characters in the commercials are mannequin-like and remote, reflecting at best the surface of natural people and our natural sexuality, and at worst encouraging sexuality attitudes that are only abstract approximations of real human life and our natural emotional complexity.
Needless to say, these commercials are deeply revealing about the commercialization of sex in our time, and our often jaded and ambivalent modern feelings about our sexuality, despite the seeming liberation and openness of sex in our time. Coming from a major corporation of the world’s largest industrial country, the commercials also show just how unfettered sex assistance and sexploitation now is, and how unseemly and fettering to us they both remain. But it most importantly belies a basic misunderstanding, and perpetuates a basic misrepresentation, of what healthy and satisfying human sexuality entails, of what healthy and satisfying sexual relationships between people are like in reality.
Restoring our natural health and well-being, including the pursuit and encouragement of healthy and emotionally rich sexual relationships, is of course the first and final natural remedy for sexual dysfunction. If you are experiencing sexual problems, at any age, please see your physician. It is likely a symptom of reduced overall health, perhaps a result of chronic stress and earlier health choices, and is usually treatable through lifestyle changes and supportive dialogue.
Sex In Your Relationships
If you or others around you are in a sexual relationship today, much of this discussion needs to be taken in the context of these existing relationships. Once coupling occurs, we must all of course actively manage our sexual relationship – as we would any other family relationship or intimate friendship – and yet in ways that are unique too, owing to the much stronger emotions involved in sex and the greater natural intimacy of sexual coupling. As I have suggested, our society does not always make managing our sexual relationships easy and, owing to our general misunderstanding of healthy human sexuality, our family and friends are not always especially helpful and instructive in making the most of our coupling.
I once heard sexual love described in a way that was immediately appealing to me, and that remains this way today, after many years. Sexual love was said to involve three things: passion, intimacy, and commitment. We have discussed the importance of ensuring passion and intimacy already, and might next turn to specific techniques for managing a healthy sexual relationship. But in many ways, it is instead this third facet of sexual love, commitment, that is most next needed. The solutions to any relationship’s many potential challenges can probably always be found within the couple, when both people are committed to the relationship and to ensuring that it is and remains a passionate and intimate one. Commitment is a natural part of human sexuality, even if we were committed to more than one partner at times in our natural history, and the foundation for the healthy management of all our intimate and family relationships. Without commitment, we really do not have sexual live – we do not have the foundation for healthy families and communities. Our passion and intimacy are made more fleeting and ephemeral, less likely to endure and mature into true human love.
Perhaps you or your partner needs or wants to change aspects of your sexual relationship as it is today. Candid, open dialogue about our sexuality and intimate feelings can take time to develop in a relationship, if it was not there from the start, and is almost always worth the effort it requires of us. To encourage or promote this dialogue, perhaps this idea of the relationship needing equal parts passion, intimacy, and commitment is a way to frame needed discussion and then to promote mutual action to improve the relationship. If the issues or concerns lie in one of these areas, they are likely easier to address than in cases where issues appear in more than one of the three areas. In the end, you may decide to use a family counselor to help move this dialogue forward, and again is likely worth the effort.
Your own sexual relationship may have begun without the two-step process I have described, but this does not mean that you cannot go through it now with one another, if you are willing to make the effort and modify the process a bit with the luxury of hindsight (and also recognizing that you each may not fully appreciate the totality of one another today, especially as you have grown and changed over time). Assuming you are both following a natural health program, you should be naturally attractive to one another and physiologically ready for sex. Perhaps there is something you or your partner can do, or stop doing, that would make sexual arousal stronger. Often, this is in the realm of promoting better emotional compatibility, but not always. Again, patient and committed dialogue will likely bring you both closer together and closer to the truth.
If you have pre-teenage children or young teenagers, assuring adequate and healthy sexual dialogue may be equally difficult but is also equally worthwhile. Young people today, even young children, are exposed to enormous amounts of sexual content and sexual misinformation – some of it implicit and thus likely misunderstood or accepted on its face – much more than parents may realize or want to believe. You can counter this trend of our time by helping your children form a healthy natural outlook on life, on their relationships with others, and on our natural human sexuality and its place in our lives. If your children are old enough, and certainly no later than the first onset of puberty, open and caring discussion with them about sex is needed, both for information sharing and to enable ongoing discussions as their sexual feelings increase. Perhaps the themes of this article and several follow-up conversations are the right next step if you have children in your care.
However easy or difficult the subject of sex is for you today, it is a natural one and a critical part of fostering healthy individual and family life. It is an area where we need to ensure clarity and understanding, for ourselves and those we love and care for, if we are to live truly healthy and open lives. Though our sexuality is today and has been manipulated in the past in important ways, a return to thinking of sex in terms of natural life yields a basic new appreciation of our sexuality, its natural requirements and its natural place in the healthy individual and community.
Returning to nature and natural thinking, as in so many other areas of our health, demystifies our sexually, even as it preserves and even deepens the mystery that is our natural human condition.
Mark Lundegren is the founder of HumanaNatura.
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