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Screen Shot 2013-07-21 at 3.31.40 PMThis is one of the most crazy-making statements that parents (and others) deliver to their children. Is it any wonder why so many people have conflicts around sexual issues? It simply does not make any sense. It illustrates the ambivalence our culture has in relation to sexuality. On the one hand, the Puritan ethic says that sex is base, dirty, vulgar, and should only be engaged in for the sake of having children. On the other hand, the secular world says that sex is pleasurable, erotic, and even beautiful, but only in the context of love.

In order to reconcile these diametrically opposed attitudes, societies came up with the notion that sex, when done outside of marriage, is sinful, dirty, and bad. But when in the context of love and marriage, it can be beautiful.  The problem is that after years of being trained that sex is bad, dirty, and should be kept hidden, people find it difficult to make the 180 degree turnaround just because they are in a long-term relationship or married. They often find that after years of keeping their sexuality hidden, participating in sexual activities only in the shadows, they are not able to engage in intimate sex; they crave the excitement of doing something in a clandestine, secretive, or naughty way. They cannot make the transition from dirty to beautiful. They often think “how can I do something so dirty and vulgar with someone I love?” And in the case of marriage, “how can I do the nasty with a member of my family?”

The desire for sex is biologically based. It is no different than the desire for food. Just as the individual needs to eat to survive, the human species needs to engage in sexual activity in order to reproduce and survive. However, we encourage people to eat, we encourage them to experiment with foods, and we become concerned when our children don’t eat. But when it comes to sexual activity, we react with condemnation, punishment, and scorn. Crazy, huh?

One of the main perpetrators of this negative attitude toward sexual activity has been religion. Religions have made sexual behavior sinful, laden with guilt and shame. Cultures and families have adopted these attitudes and passed them on from generation to generation. In permissive cultures, where the attitude toward sex is more accepting and even encouraged, there are far fewer sexual dysfunctions and sexual discontent.

Sexually restrictive cultures make learning about healthy, pleasurable, satisfying, and intimate sex difficult to come by. There are no lessons in sexual behavior. People are taught the etiquette of dining and the delights of creating tasteful foods. But when it comes to sexuality, we have to learn by trial and error. We don’t talk about it, we do not teach our young, and we rarely learn from our elders or from others through open dialogue. It is all kept rather hush-hush and we fumble along doing the best we can trying to overcome cultural beliefs, admonitions, and negative experiences. At best, sexual behavior becomes mechanical with an emphasis on performance and technique.

Some people, realizing they are having a problem experiencing sexual relations as fulfilling and connecting, seek professional help. When they do, they are encouraged to talk openly about their values, beliefs, experiences, attitudes, and sexual history. It is through this exploration that they can gain insight into the foundation from which sexual behavior emerges.

The process can open up the possibility of dispelling negative attitudes and develop new ways of thinking about sexuality.  Once they are open to thinking about sexuality differently and begin to see it as a natural human activity, they can begin to see it as a way to connect with another person emotionally, physically, and spiritually rather than as a mechanical, technical and performance based activity.

 

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[Dr. Dreyfus is a nationally recognized clinical psychologist, relationship counselor, sex therapist, and life coach in the Santa Monica – Los Angeles. The profits from his latest book, LIVING LIFE FROM THE INSIDE OUT along with his other five books, are being donated to charity through the website Book Royalties for Charity and can be purchased through Amazon.com. Please become a fan on his Facebook Fan Page by indicating “like” on the page by clicking here. You can also find more tools to help you experience a more fulfilling life by clicking here to visit his website.]