Today Diane Rehm interviewed an author and a social scientist talking about how young women deal with sex and relationships these days. Though interesting, much of it wasn’t personally relevant to me. There was one exception. There was a common theme of people engaging in sexual acts but with no real sexual pleasure to be gained from it. The example they used was young women giving oral sex and receiving nothing, not pleasure nor positive emotions, in return. Again, this at first seemed not relevant. Then I realized that as a teenager and young college student my own pursuit of sexual experience also had little or nothing to do with my pleasure nor positive emotions.
In my case, at that time, sex was an attempt to exorcise feelings of inadequacy. I felt inadequate for all sorts of reasons: being physically small, not being athletic, not fitting in with the religious majority in the community, conversely not being allowed to associate freely with people outside the religious community, being awkward around the opposite sex, not being satisfied with my physical appearance, and perhaps other reasons too. I used all those indicators as measuring sticks to determine my success, or lack thereof, as a human being. I saw sex as just another such measuring stick. I thought sexual experiences would make me feel more successful as a person. I didn’t even really want an orgasm for the enjoyment of it. It was just another way of keeping score. Later, first in a long-term relationship with a girlfriend, and then with TL, I even treated sex with them as a way of keeping score. It wasn’t about love, physical pleasure, or even the enjoyment of an orgasm as much as it was about wanting to feel successful at sex, wanting to feel wanted.
Sex was also about control, for me. I don’t mean that I wanted to control women. I wanted to control my life. For the first two decades of my life I was very frustrated by the feeling that my mother controlled every aspect of my life. Sex also became an attempt to exert control of my own life. But, this was discouraged and criticized. Both sex and control of my own life were things my mother painted as wicked and shameful. Perhaps this is part of how I developed the tendency of being secretive about sex. I had to hide my own free will from my mother. I also had to hide any hint of my own sexuality. Both of those things became like forbidden fruits. Whenever I came across them, I overindulged, binging as though I might never see those things again. Last night our dog got a new beef-flavored dog food. Being so eager for it, and not feeling she had any ability to affect whether she got the tasty dog food or the bland dog food the next day, our dog binged and ate it all very quickly. She promptly vomited. I ate up sex and self-determination in the same irrational, self-destructive manner that the dog inhaled her food.
Maybe the moral of this story is that in order for me to maintain self-control regarding sex, I need to remember that sex is not a proxy for success as a person. I also need to remember that I am not deprived of self-determination. I can choose how to live my life. So, I don’t need to overindulge on sex, or anything else, as though its availability is as random to me as the tasty dog food was to our dog.