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The Sources Of Sexual Dysfunction

September 28, 2013

Sex is the area of human experience that embraces the vastest possible range of proclivities.” — Cindy Gallop

Sex is not something to be afraid of, but one of the greatest perks life has to offer. It is also one of the greatest sources of confusion for us as a species. If natural, healthy sexual behavior even exists, it is hard to know what it looks like due to the veil of secrecy surrounding the subject, and each generation is left to discover its sexuality in isolation. One thing is for sure: there is a huge gap between what is “normal” and what is “natural”, and dysfunctional forms of sexual expression are so prevalent, or at least prominently displayed, as to render what is natural and healthy a source of intense speculation. These are just some of the forms in which our cultural neuroses manifest.

Adolescent Sexuality And The Generational Divide

A vast amount of confusion stems from the fact that we assign such a sharp contrast between the sexual freedoms of minors and adults, yet the transition between adolescence and adulthood is enormously fuzzy. With the lack of any distinct cultural demarcation point between minor and adult, the transition takes on an awkward, halting characteristic. We can drive at 16, join the military at 18, and buy alcohol at 21, and the transition point definitely falls somewhere within this window (a 15 year old is definitely not an adult, a 22 year old is definitely not a child), but our cultural has no ritualized recognition of this passage.

Most “children” are physically and sexually mature by age 16, and those who postpone their first sexual experience beyond age 21 are rare exceptions, yet the introduction to sexuality that usually takes place in this transition zone is both a precious formative opportunity and a taboo subject. The societal consensus about this seems to be that if it is going to happen anyway (which it is), we should at least keep it on the down low. In particular, any sexual mingling of individuals from either side of this divide is a priori perverse and exploitative, goes the cultural script, so a younger person couldn’t possibly benefit from the experience, wisdom, and love of an older person in such a significant and formative phase of psychological development. In any other area of life that requires discrimination and judgment to navigate potential risks, such as driving, it is considered natural for children to learn from adults, but when it comes to sexuality, children are forced to learn from other kids, or from porn (although there are some commendable efforts to address this).

And certainly not from their own parents; children are conditioned, through some bizarre quirk of cultural evolution, to stay as far away from their parents’ sex lives as possible, and the feeling is mutual. The range of parents’ attitudes towards their children’s sexuality varies from willful ignorance to gross negligence to active suppression, usually with the surface motive of keeping them “safe” and “healthy”. The result is a virtual moratorium on the transmission of wisdom regarding sex and relationships from one generation to the next. Part of the reason that sexual dysfunction is so persistent is that each generation has to reinvent the wheel for itself, with virtually no vertical transmission of experience.

Association Of Sexuality With Codependence

Art and culture reflect each other, and one of the most pervasive associations throughout modern media arts is that of sexuality with codependence. From song lyrics to movies, television, and the stories that get chosen as news, examples of healthy patterns of sexual relating are hard to find. Sexual dysfunction is not just a way of life for us, it is a source of entertainment. One of the most prominent manifestations of this is our utterly morbid and irrational fascination with the sex lives of politicians and celebrities. The self perpetuating cycle of repression and obsession plays itself out in our daily lives and is writ large by the media.

Aversion To The Naked Human Body

Closely related is our obsession with the naked human body, either as an object of lust or revulsion. One of the most curious things about our culture is our schizophrenic fixation with the naked body. Our insistence that it is “obscene” and must be covered up as a matter of “decency”, along with our apparent sense of disgust and aversion to it, stands in stark contrast to our urge to stare and our compulsion to titillate ourselves with the greatest amount of nudity socially acceptable in any given setting. The sight of a naked human body can be either hellish or heavenly, but it can not, apparently, be neutral.

Cindy Gallop, again: “We live in a puritanical, double-standard culture, where people believe that a teen abstinence campaign will actually work, where parents are too embarrassed to have conversations about sex with their children, and where educational institutions are terrified of being politically incorrect if they pick up those conversations. And so it’s not surprising that hard core pornography de facto has become sex education.

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