This is a topic I have given some thought to; more than most probably, not as much as some. I have wanted to write about it for some time, but some vague sense of respectability and Puritanism has stayed my hand. Anyway after Anja hit the ball out the ballpark with her last post, I thought what the hell- I’ll up the ante (no pun intended).
The Tension of Opposites
Sex is possibly the perfect metaphor for the opposites we carry in our being. For Jung the act of bringing these opposites face to face in full consciousness is the birth of wisdom.
Sex is both terrifying, as so brilliantly portrayed in the movie Shame, and wonderful. Well so much more than wonderful really, divine, awesome, the most fun you can have without smiling, a good reason for being alive, worth suffering through infinite bullshit and angst to get to, numinous…
Sex is simultaneously the thing which, more than anything else in the modern world, reminds us of our animal nature. I really think it’s hard to take yourself too seriously, to hold high fluted ideas about yourself whilst simultaneously being aware of the ridiculousness of the sexual act that you frequently participate in (assuming you are one of the lucky ones who actually have sex ).
At the same time the sexual act is capable of bringing you into a transcendent state, as recognised by the Tantric practitioners. The sexual act can, and frequently does, invoke the most tremendous sense of joy, of happiness, of desire and of passion. Sex is something we are quite happy to both kill and die for. And what is closer, after all, to the release of death than the orgasm, le petite mort – the little death.
Holding these opposites simultaneously in consciousness is a very uncomfortable condition. It is, possibly, one of the reasons that many people end up with a very one sided attitude towards sex.
When one considers the pornographic industry and the broad sex industry, possibly most visible in South Africa in the Strip Club phenomena, the sexual metaphor is reduced to its most basic element, to the physical, almost the biological. By contrast, with Puritanism and celibacy the sexualised body is completely disavowed. In both of these cases the psychological and spiritual dimensions of sexuality are lost.
Consciousness and the awareness of opposites, which is the dénouement of consciousness, is challenging. The ego needs to be strong not be torn apart by this tension. But when one considers it in this light the potential of sex to promote self-knowledge and consciousness becomes clear.
More about this later on…
My cousin recently told me that he and his wife had broken the news to their children, told them about the birds and the bees; let them in on the secret of the primal act, as Freud would say. Now my cousin, who I would describe as grounded and not really given to flights of imagination, said he couldn’t shake the impression that his son had grown up over night on hearing this news about the human condition.
That being human means having SEX with other people!
Can you still recall the first time you found out about sex? I can, I remember it as though it were yesterday, and that was around 35 years ago.
I asked my 15 year old daughter the other day when she had first found out about sex. I was fairly confident that she would say her mother broke it to her diplomatically when she was 12.
Her mom hadn’t said a word, or mum’s the word as they say .
She found out about ‘it’ when she was 8 years old. She couldn’t remember who told her, but she could vividly remember the moment she had found out, where she was and what she was doing. She said her and her friends had a code when referring to sex in those days, they would say “doing IT, can you imagine them doing IT.”
Anyway I took solace in the very detailed (bordering on graphic) sex education programme they had at the school, or at least so my wife told me.
No, my daughter said, the school had taught her nothing, but not to worry, her friends had filled her in, and she was up to speed .
The thing is, at least as I see it, once the child learns about sex, about the primal act, they are no longer a child in the sense they were before they found that out. A child as it exists pre carnal knowledge (and by knowledge here I’m not referring to experiential knowledge, but simply the act of knowing, of finding out) is predominantly a spiritual being, an angel in physical form, if you will, a cherub.
And I make this claim knowing only too well what Freud has to say about the sexualised infant. Still even if he is correct and there is little doubt he is, the infant’s sexuality is unconscious. Consciously they remain in the Garden of Eden, until rudely expelled by the discovery of the primal secret.
My own sexual journey (so far anyway)
In my own case I mourn the loss of my pre-sexualised self. I concede this is an outrageously narcissistic view; but frankly I don’t care, I’m simply telling you how I honestly feel. Now to quote the bard (well okay not the bard himself but Robbie Williams)
I’m not saying I’m special, but I’m a little bit special you know what I mean .
As I see it now, at age 45, I have lost the last 30 years of my life. These decades are a hazy fog drenched in testosterone and spent worshipping at the altar that is woman’s body. I won’t deny that I had fun, that there were sublime moments, but still overall what a fucking waste of time.
Except for one thing.
Well three really, my children, Kiva, Ruarc and Teague. They are what redeem those three decades of mindless rutting. And I can say, in all honesty, that I would go through it all again and not do a thing differently, because their existence is my ultimate redemption. That I should die so that they may live seems right and just to me. More than that, their existence is what gives my life meaning, makes it worth having lived this life.
Still as long as I’m alive I don’t doubt I will be under the spell of sex. I imagine I will be an incorrigibly dirty old man one day, gazing with lustful eyes on woman decades too young and worlds too good for me. But there is now, at least, a glimmer of light. I am able to get through consecutive days, even up to a week without that familiar friend my sexualised self wanting to come out and play.
I am no longer pre pubescent and God knows I’m no angel, but I feel like something has survived the descent into the Dionysian world; something good and something true, something worth caring about. And my understanding of myself is immeasurably deeper for having made that journey.
Sex as a path to Self-knowledge
My brother Michael is currently reading a book by a Jungian analyst Adolf Guggenbühl-Craig, titled Marriage: Dead or Alive wherein he writes of sex as a path to individuation. Whilst I haven’t read the book, I have had sex , and I must say the idea resonates. What I suspect Guggenbühl-Craig is suggesting in his book is that sex is a very direct route to self knowledge, possibly the most direct. I would put my money on the normal sexualised adult having greater self knowledge than a celibate monk any day.
One may choose to sidestep the messy, frequently painful and very confusing business that sex is, and many do. However to do so, is to deprive yourself not only of a significant portion of the human experience but also of very significant aspect of your own authentic self.
Sex and our sexual identities are so close to our essential self. Whilst sex may lead to the most outrageous dishonesties, in itself it is brutally honest. If you have any reason to doubt this ask a paedophile, or a sex change, or a closet homosexual; or a heterosexual man who is willing to do the impossible, to give every drop of life blood he has as long as his wife will have sex with him from time to time.
My mentor and teacher, Chatillon Coque, was a great believer in the psychological significance of sex. Three valuable insights he taught me I want to share with you.
1) The path to self-knowledge and individuation begins with understanding, accepting and assimilating your own sexuality. To the degree that you genuinely come to terms with yourself so too will the world accept you. It is unreasonable to expect others to accept in you what you yourself cannot.
Sexuality is rarely, maybe never, vanilla. Think about different people you have had sex with and how different each one was, how different each experience was. The idea of vanilla sexuality is the superego’s attempt at conformity. Sex like everything else is dangerous to the status quo when it is individual. The truth is though that it is very individual. Your sexuality is a unique expression of who you are, what you are about, what turns you on, what you are willing to do; it is a psychological fingerprint.
The broad classifications of hetro, homo and bi are woefully inadequate. Admittedly amongst those who study sexuality there is a far higher degree of differentiation of sexual typing, but for those of us out there actually “doing it” focus more on your own sexuality and less on any broad classifications.
- What do you enjoy, what don’t you enjoy?
- What do you want, what don’t you want?
- What turns you on? Why do certain things turn you on, what does this say about who you are?
- How do you relate to the other in the act of sex? Are you a giver or a taker? Dominant or submissive? Rigid or plastic (in your approach not your phallus fool ).
- How does the sexual act leave you feeling, satisfied and fulfilled or empty, desirous of more or repulsed?
- Does sex make you feel desirable, beautiful, guilty, sinful, or a combination of these?
- Do you think you are entitled to the sex you desire?
2) If you want to understand some one, understand them sexually. Where this is not going to happen physically (i.e. in most cases) allow your intuitive imagination to guide your understanding.
Consider for example what the short sexual biography I shared above says about me. What impression do you form of my sexuality and my attitude to sex? Do I seem comfortable with my sexuality, liberated or do you sense guilt and possibly repression? What do you think that it says about me in the world, how could you expect to encounter me, what would I be like, how would I behave?
Now whilst this isn’t a perfect metaphor, I would probably still have the ability to surprise you (or at least I hope so ), it does give you a valuable insight into who you are dealing with.
3) Whilst we must of necessity learn the art of sexual sublimation, when it comes to acting out our most passionate sexual imperative, sublimation is frequently a poor substitute for the real thing. Or, to put it simpler, you cannot, nor should you, always act on sexual desire, but where you can it’s probably for the good at least psychologically.
We get to know who we are, what we want and how we relate to others in a profound, real and honest sense when we consider how these aspects of ourselves are expressed sexually. It is a very direct path to self-knowledge and for the astute provides valuable insight into others. Sex becomes really interesting when viewed psychologically rather than biologically. The Erotic is a function of the mind, not of the body. Although of necessity it is the embodied mind.
Until next time, I bid you adieu,