I often think about sex, more specifically the complicated way we come to understand ourselves as sexual beings. I think about all the ways that we, as a society, and fellow human beings, talk about sex trivially even as it is sensationalized. Most people are comfortable discussing sex in terms of numbers, timing, and measurements, but rarely in terms of emotions and meaning. However, we must discuss the emotion and meaning of sex if we are ever to think honestly about sex.
There are many ways that a person can run away from examining their sexual nature. A person can let their partner(s) decide what it is they sexually want and will do. A person can refrain from sex altogether and not address their sexual nature. A person can lose themselves in multiple partners without regard for their emotional well-being or of their partner(s). Conversations can be avoided. Topics can be deemed too private to be discussed. Too adult. Too personal. Too emotional.
Concurrently, thoughts on sex can be overvalued, overemphasized, compulsively sought after, and hyped too far in some ideals of monogamy and matrimony. On the other end, sex can be conceptually undervalued, mechanized, sanitized, carelessly sought after to appease boredom, called meaningless, and thoughtlessly dismissed, as if to say sex is but a distraction when one acts promiscuously. These aforementioned thoughts on sex, whether undervalued or overvalued, are all too often the lived experience of people, which is not to say they aren’t true. It is to say that one’s thoughts and value of sex impacts the sex that one has and the relationship that one has with oneself as a sexual being.
Truly understanding one’s own sexual wants and needs, and the values therein, is a difficult task. What makes it all the more difficult are the many thoughts that are other’s or society’s that cloud the ability to understand what is true for a person. The divide, I see, between over and under valuing is in finding one’s own value of sex outside of societal or relational pressures. That personal acknowledgement of what sex means, outside of external forces, is part of the divide; the divide between what I want and what others want of me, the divide between the sex I have and the sex I want. Coming to an understanding of that divide and lessening it happens through an honest conversation with oneself, asking those questions, and living with those answers.
Avoiding the questions do not make the questions go away.
Figuring out one’s own ideas and values of sex is a complicated and deeply emotional process. It often involves thinking about and talking about the oftentimes unspoken aspects of sex; what emotions you and your partner(s) feel during the arc of sex, how wants are discussed and mutually acknowledged, when sex feels intimate or hollow, where one’s thoughts go during sex, why sex occurs at all, and who we are when we do have sex and are at our most vulnerable with another. These are very telling questions, and questions that deserve time and careful attention. I regularly ask these frank and earnest questions about sex of myself and of others, because, I find it necessary to examine one’s life, especially in regards to an aspect of one’s life and identity that is vital as it is integral.
In becoming honest with oneself about the value of sex, the personal meaning of sex, and the ability to be present during sex, a person can be more able to experience the breadth of sexual experience. I’m not talking about gimmicks, techniques, or variegated costumes and candles. I’m talking about a whole range of human connection that is possible during sex when one is fully willing to examine oneself as a sexual being and fully willing to express themselves as a sexual being. Discussing and coming to an understanding of what sex truly means for each of us is a deeply adult process, and one that allows us to act honestly.
Coming to a personal meaning of sex is a kind of sex education that doesn’t happen in structured school-based curriculum, and rarely happens in conversations between parents and children, or between sexual partners. It is a conversation that must happen, even if we have it only with ourselves.