In The Politics of Experience, psychologist R.D. Laing writes: “When our personal worlds are rediscovered… we discover first a shambles… genitals dissociated from heart; heart severed from head; heads dissociated from genitals.”
The first is the well-recognised trek from the head to the heart. The second, barely acknowledged even by experienced voyagers in our personal worlds, is much longer, more arduous, more hazardous, and trodden by far less travellers than that from the head to the heart: the journey from the genitals to the heart.
The stages of this journey relate to our understanding of the purpose of sex:
- Sharing love in a relationship
- Sharing pleasure in a relationship
- Sharing pleasure outside a relationship
The journey from the genitals to the heart goes from a masculine- to a feminine-centric paradigm, from a narrow focus on penetrative sex towards embracing sexuality in its widest sense.
This ultimately converges with the journey from the head to the heart to create an integrated human being with both intellect and genitals in service to the heart.
We begin our journey with the default patriarchal view that the sole legitimate purpose of sex is procreation. This is the view that has been banged into us by organised religion and ‘decent society’ over the last few millennia.
This view originates in the drought, desertification and famine that created patriarchy. Geographer James DeMeo writes in Saharasia that famine creates “a general intolerance and anxious aggressivity [sic] towards the basic biological expressions of… touching and body contact… Prolonged famine and starvation produce profound disturbances in the capacity for… sexual expression.”
In the quest for survival, famine deeply skews the human psyche away from its feminine, right brain, nurturing aspects towards masculine, left-brain, hunter-killer functioning. This skews sexuality into a masculine paradigm based on ownership (sexual slavery), violence and rage against the absent mother figure.
As I write in A brief history of shame, this profound emotional shift created psychological armouring that prevents people from feeling their natural sexual impulses and expressing them healthily.
As a result, sex was reduced to its minimum possible social extent: for procreation only. This view migrated into monotheistic religion and became society’s default position until fairly recent times.
Sex became inherently transgressive, creating anxiety and neuroses. Porn addiction, erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation are just the most obvious of these neuroses.
“In the male… we find either the inability to achieve an erection or apprehensive hyper-excitability resulting in premature ejaculation.”
— Wilhelm Reich
As I write in Sex in Patriarchy, the cornerstone of this paradigm is the 3 M’s—married, monogamous, missionary. Because of the shame surrounding sex, further unconscious beliefs include the need for sex to be shut away in bedrooms, with doors closed and curtains drawn, at night. Sex is too shameful for us to even observe ourselves at it.
This stage, with sex and nudity as too shameful to be displayed in any public form, is society’s default position today. The truth of this can be seen in opposition to public breastfeeding and social media’s inability to handle sex/nudity with even a lick of common sense.
This has led to the rise of campaigns by brave women demanding the right to unashamedly reveal their bodies, including ‘slut walks’ and the #underboob and #freethenipple Twitter campaigns.
Despite thundering religious imprecations, over time a few brave souls sensed there was more to sex than just procreation.
2. Sharing love in a relationship
If I had to date it, I’d suggest this view blossomed during the Romantic Age in the first half of the 19th century. It was the age of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, and the ageing William Blake—all authors impelled by deep feelings.
In William Blake’s Sexual Path to Spiritual Vision, Marsha Keith Schuchard describes how a spiritual longing to infuse love with sex—and vice-versa—fires Blake’s poetry and paintings.
Wordsworth spoke of “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” He was referring to poetry, but an orgasmic exuberance characterises the Romantic Age. It led to the belief in marriage based on mutual love between two equals. Sex was one way of expressing that love.
This is the stage that many relationships—particularly among older couples—are currently at. While the notion of sex being pleasurable may exist as an abstract concept, too much unconscious shame means that any pleasure is tinged with guilt and shame.
The result is stagnant sexual relations characterised by similarity, brevity, and emotional disconnection during and after sex.
“The Latin saying, “Omne animal post coitum triste,” has become a scientific axiom.”
— Wilhelm Reich
In Character Analysis, psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich references this post-coital guilt, shame and disconnection in the Latin phrase, “after intercourse every animal is sad.”
Partners experience an inability to fully ‘show up’ emotionally during or after sex, often leading to sex being dumped in the ‘too hard’ bin. Without a word being spoken, long-term relationships descend into platonic friendships with the underlying chasm left uncrossed.
A friend of mine refers to this chasm as ‘the zone of mutually agreed non-negotiation’—a hidden hole at the heart of relationships where partners are too afraid to reveal their deepest emotional and sexual selves to each other, for fear of disgusting the one they love.
Click here for Stage 3.