Our culture has an interestingly bizarre, confusion-laden relationship with sex. While teens are expected to “just say no” the average adult struggles to come to a resolution and find a consistent understanding of what sex is and how it figures and fits into life.
The constant confusion experienced by our caregivers regarding sex is an heirloom, passed on from generation to generation. Teenage parents become parents of teenagers who want to protect their kids from “making the same mistakes” using control of sex education as a tool to prevent it from happening. Such good intentions are confusing to teens (it was okay for you to do it but not me?) and create a lot of disruptions within their identity. The ambivalence we feel toward sex brings with it a range of emotions including shame and guilt, which in turn prompt us to close ourselves in and ultimately attempt to repress our sexuality. When this happens, and without realizing it, other parts of our lives will become impacted as well: creativity gets blocked, relationships become tense, boring, or traumatic, and a general sense of anxiety ensues.
When sex is shameful, and even today lots agree that it should be, we become afraid of it, try to avoid it, or engage while remaining emotionally disconnected from it.
And while most people have a theoretical understanding of the fact that sex is a biological part of what makes us human, a necessity, or a chance to release pent-up energy, few agree that these same theories apply to them. It’s interesting how when I talk to my clients about sex, a large portion of them become visibly uncomfortable or start giggling.
Certainly, there are times when negative feelings and attitudes toward sex are born out of traumatic experiences, such as sexual abuse. In this situation, the issue of sex is much more complicated than slightly readjusting one’s perspective. Without a history of sexual trauma though, the average adult is able, at times with help, to reason with their sexual self and start taking advantage of the benefits sex has (helps the immune system, boosts libido, lowers blood pressure, lowers the risks of heart attacks, works as a workout, lessens pain, improve sleep, and decreasing stress).
How to start understanding your relationship with sex.
Lots of people carry their confusion and ambivalence toward sex throughout life and find themselves going around in circles, unable to find a solution to their problems. That is why it is a good idea to look at your sex life and figure out how or if there is a link to whatever you are dealing with. Before making any connections, it is important to explore and understand your relationship with sex.
Ask yourself a few questions:
1. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of sex?
2. What is your first emotional reaction to the idea of sex? Are you comfortable/uncomfortable with it? Embarrassed? Ashamed? At ease? Your main reaction is a good indicator and predictor of your general attitude toward sex. Knowing how you really feel about it will determine where you need to focus and what you might have to work on.
3. What was your caregivers’ attitude toward sex? Were they open about it, uncomfortable, or avoidant of the topic? If you are honest in your answers you might be surprised to notice that there are some commonalities between your answers to questions 2 and 3, and that is perfectly natural.
4. Can you think of any benefits you have experienced as a result of having sex? In answering this question avoid searching your memory for generic truths or facts; rather use only your personal experience. Answering this question will further clarify your attitude about sex and how it fits in your life.
5. Similar to the above but able to yield a different response, you might ask yourself: What do I get out of it? Is it merely a need that requires fulfillment or is it more? Be as specific as possible.
Start with these questions and see where they take you and what other questions might pop up. Try to determine if there are things that might require more attention or maybe resolve, in order to improve the other areas of your life that might be affected by your relationship with sex.