Recently I was talking to a friend who, in the context of finding a monogamous relationship, was comparing two people she was attracted to. She told me “I am way more sexually drawn to Jamie [names changed] than I am to Alex, but Alex is much better for me in terms of having a healthy relationship.” She then added that, despite her sometimes very intense desires for physical intimacy, she thinks that “it’s better to be with someone that you’re not so sexually obsessed about.”
This was something I hadn’t thought about. After all, mainstream sex-positive thought generally extols the virtues of abundant orgasms. Everything is going extremely well if you are tapping into that explosion of sexual passion… right? People complain of too little sexual pleasure, not too much… right? And really, the only people who want less sexual gratification to happen are those prudish, traditionalist moralists who see exuberant episodes of ecstasy as being sinful… right?
Well, not always. We all know that there are folks out there who… just don’t care quite so much about getting off all the time. And plenty of folks, as they change, get older, undergo different stages of life, etc., still have sex sometimes, but not voraciously. And there are also those who pretty much stop altogether.
Sex-positive culture generally is good at accepting when somebody doesn’t feel like doing it all the time. It’s “whatever floats your boat.” But this friend of mine was actually encouraging a modicum of sexual restraint in the face of desire for the purpose of seeing the big picture more clearly – without any traditional, moral, or religious subtext, and still maintaining that some kind of sexual consistency is very important.
For my friend, as well as a good few other people I know, sex is not at the top of the list. It’s important, but not crucial. Less than mind-blowing sex is not a deal-breaker, and great sex does not by itself imply a higher likelihood of a better relationship. “Good enough” works out quite well, rather than searching for sexual greatness; intimate greatness, greatness of trust, of bonding, of partnership – these are the things my friend pursues most – and in her experience, too high a dose of sex often gets in the way of that.
Even if you are not of this thinking (that a more controlled, stable sex life is better than a wild, rockin’ awesome one), it’s still quite often advantageous to remember that sometimes, less is more. There was an online discussion some time ago in which a woman spoke of having too many orgasms too quickly when getting sexy with her boyfriend. Most of the people in that discussion pretty much told her “be thankful, this is the best problem you could ever ask for,” as if hyperorgasmia could never be problematic. But this woman wasn’t saying she didn’t like orgasms. She was merely saying that the fact that she was having so many of them in a row was becoming a bit too much, that’s all – and that she might have liked them spaced out a bit more.
Key point: Do not confuse orgasms with enjoyment. They are two separate things, even though 99% of the time they tend to coincide. But there are times when I really want to physically feel the company of somebody that I love, without the pressure of orgasms involved. Maybe as time passes, I may change my mind about the sex. But maybe not, also.
I’ve noticed that much of the time, it is when people are insecure with sex that they seem to seek it out most. If you aren’t getting that sexual release, the desire to have sex can feel overwhelming, and every other desire can feel subordinated to sex. But once somebody is secure in their sex life, priorities tend to change. In fact, people go the other way, so far as to claim that sex really isn’t that important – rather, that love, compassion, intimacy, and companionship are the most valuable elements of a deep connection, and often the hardest elements to find.
Sex may indeed be very important to you. Some people were put on this earth with very high sex drives, and there is nothing wrong with that! But I also suspect that a whole lot of us are using sex is a substitute for these other things (intimacy, compassion, companionship, etc.). But why?
Sex as shortcut to passion / intimacy / vulnerability
My friend who does not need sex all the time is also a very deep person. She tells me she can’t understand why it is that people will do all sorts of ridiculous things – dress up in lascivious and uncomfortable garments, show off their wealth, drink and get others drunk, dance dirty, and psychologically manipulate others – all just to get laid! “It seems like so much for so little,” she told me. To her, getting laid can indeed be nice – but so can watching a deep, touching movie together, or having an intimate chat about the things or people that mean the most to you, or any other intimate activity.
The thing about my friend is, she is almost always immersed in a deep space – a space of intense empathy, joy, hurt, excitement, sadness, anger, etc. She is an intense feeler by nature – so sex by comparison is not particularly extraordinary. It’s only recently that she has seen just how different she is from most of the people around her.
In modern society, most people value stability and predictability over constant intensity. The problem is, if you have no color in your life, life itself begins to feel dull and, well, lifeless. Many of us who work as many or more hours than we sleep spend a great deal of our non-sleeping leisure time trying to make life exciting and colorful. And sometimes, you wanna get exciting and colorful real quick.
Sex quickly taps into a huge spectrum of color and excitement: touching and being touched in rarefied, private areas, feeling good, letting go of “presentation” and being passionate (whose vocabulary IQ doesn’t go way down when having sex?), the taboo, the unknown / the possible danger, and most important of all – the vulnerability. That last one is really key – because so much of the daily struggle that folks in modern societies go through has to do with preventing vulnerability. Making enough money so you won’t ever go sick/hungry. Locking your house/car/valuables so no one will steal anything. Buying insurance just in case something adverse happens. Getting vaccinated for certain viruses. It’s all part of the vulnerability-prevention strategy.
Even on the road to a sexual encounter, we often hide behind games, masks, acts, and images just so that we can prevent others from seeing how high our actual level of desire is – because that would make us vulnerable. But a life without vulnerability is a life without color. And that’s boring to most of us.
So – how do you quickly tap into that vulnerability needed to color things up?? SEX, of course!! Just dip into the lemon zest of sex and it’ll give you just the right “spice of life” to keep things interesting! Right?? Well yeah, if you haven’t been getting any physically intimate companionship for a while, “getting lucky” can be quite a shot in the arm – I certainly don’t disagree with that! BUT… just like anything else, your return on investment gets lower if you push the magic excitement button too often.
And that’s where intimacy and companionship and deeper connection comes in. Sex can mix in wonderfully with these things, solely sex over and over again is no substitute for the deeper things – things like intimacy, which require you to level up in vulnerability. In fact, many of the reasons people have sex instead of looking for deeper connection have to do with having been hurt in the past, and thus not wanting to revisit the level of vulnerability needed for more intimate sharing. Just another arm of the vulnerability-prevention strategy.
Very often, we like to subconsciously deceive ourselves into thinking that we can pack the broad, prolonged intimacy of a longer-lasting connection into a flash of sexual ecstasy. It allows us to feel like “we did what it took to get deep” – the bare minimum. But it is illusory to think that mere bouts of sex alone are going to satisfy our need to be loved and valued for who we are. Even if the sex is good and we momentarily feel uplifted, the feeling doesn’t stick around once it’s apparent that the world does not look upon you any more favorably now that you’ve proven yourself to be good in bed (even if some people look upon your sexual skills more favorably). The whole “sex is really really important” state of mind allows us the illusion of thinking that we’ve got it together in life if we can keep it together sexually (e.g., “I can easily get any girl to have sex with me,” or “I know how to keep a man” or any other arbitrary benchmark of sexual “togetherness”).
By believing these illusions, we are often missing out on a whole lot. One of the reasons that many people who faithfully practice some sort of religion or spiritual practice are able to go without sex for years and years is because of their belief in having found something better: a sense of unconditional love, a peaceful mindset that replaces the nervous buzz of constant self-questioning, a connection with their purpose in life. The power of this kind of constant, reassuring fulfillment far outweighs the power of a romp in the hay.
I’d be the last person to tell you that sex and spirituality are a one-or-the-other deal (I’m of the opinion that some of life’s awesomest moments are when you can feel the two combining… oh YEAH!). But just because you may not subscribe to a faith or spirituality that would curb your sexlife does not mean you cannot learn lessons from those who have felt benefits from voluntarily scaling back their sexual activity. That includes people like that completely non-religious friend of mine I was mentioning before.
So, to conclude, I will rephrase the question: instead of “how important is sex?” I will now ask, “how is sex important?” Because as a very sexual being myself (I kind of write about it all the time on this blog), though I may sometimes turn down more sex, I’ll definitely never turn down better sex. 🙂