My abdomen and legs began to tremble in convulsions. It was as if I were receiving jolts of electricity through my limbs. It was a pulsating sensation that multiplied through my body. I thought I was going to explode, so I immediately stopped what I was doing. Overwhelmed and a little scared, I caught my breath from under the covers, relieved to have avoided something unknown and out of control.
I was 13 years old and was lying in my bed in my teenage room. I had tried masturbating a couple of times before, but hadn’t got the hang of it. For the first time I had decided to keep going until something happened. And now something really happened! Something completely different from what I had previously experienced.
It was the first time I experienced a bodily sexual experience. A few years would pass before I shared the experience with another person, but I could sense why people seemed to be so preoccupied with this act. The longing to satisfy my sexual desire has since then been a source of both satisfaction and suffering. For the most part of my adulthood I have been satisfied with my sex life. But especially in my youth, I experienced a lot of frustration and unfulfilled needs around the need for sexual expression.
A basic evolutionary drive
When I think of sex as a need, the first thing that comes to my mind is human evolution. That sex is something pleasurable is of course a big advantage for our survival as a species. The foundation of sex is that we can reproduce, even though most people don’t have sex primarily to get children. Neither is human the only species that has sex for pleasure. Among many species, sex occurs between individuals of the same sex, so sex as an evolutionary drive does not seem to only be related to reproduction.
Shame and guilt
It’s a bit strange that such a basic need is so much associated with shame and guilt. This is the 32nd need I’m writing about. And although I want to stay relaxed and cool writing about this topic, there is still a certain tension and thoughts about what others will think. For example, about my opening story. In our society we are very fixated around sex and at the same time we surround it with a lot of tabus. In the Western world – as well as in many other cultures – sex is present in the public space in many ways. At the same time most people keep the details about their own sex lives private.
The background to seeing sex as something dirty and sinful may have to do with purity. The groups that practiced abstinence and monogamy may have protected themselves against sexually transmitted diseases. Members of these groups probably stayed healthy longer and probably had more success in passing on their genes and behaviour to the next generation.
It is also very difficult to determine what “natural” sex is (is it even desirable to define this?). With so much shame, cultural beliefs and various functional and dysfunctional conventions and practicies, it’s difficult to discern the natural expression of our sexual drive.
Sex amoung our relatives
If we look at our two closest relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, we see completely different sexual behaviours. Chimpanzees live in a strict patriarchal structure. Sex is primarily reproductive and the alpha male is most successful in spreading his genes. Bonobos, on the other hand, live in a matriarchy. They are the most promiscuous of all hominids. Everyone has sex with everyone and sex is not primarily an act to produce offspring – it seems to be used primarily for communication about social relationships.
Sex as strategy
I also think about similarities and differences between needs such as touch, intimacy and sex. There are fluid boundaries between these needs. Looking back at my life as an adult man, I can sense that sex has been a strategy to satisfy both the need for intimacy and touch. In a culture with traditional values, the approved path to intimacy and touch is almost exclusively associated with a sexually monogamous relationship with someone of the opposite sex. Therefore, needs linked to closeness can express themselves in sexual acts.
Sex as a non-physical activity
I strongly associate sex with a physical activity between two people and their genitals. This strong association, I believe, limits my repertoire of how this need can be met. One thing I’m interested in exploring more is how I can experience sex and desire in ways other than physical. I am thinking about how I can nourish my need for sexual expression both in a lighthearted and fun way as well as the opportunity for maturity, deep exploration and development.
In what ways do you experience the need for sexual expression satisfied?
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Joachim Berggren (CNVC Certified Trainer)
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On 12 August at 13:00-13:45 CEST, you can participate in a Zoom Talk with me and Monica Reu & Ian Peatey. We will talk about the need for sexual expression.
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