Sexual Needs Part 2: What are our sexual needs?
Posted April 7, 2020 | Reviewed by Matt Huston
What do we mean by the term "needs?" Many times, we use the word "need" to refer to "that which the organism requires in order to survive." This is totally legitimate when we're talking about surviving in the raft after the ship goes down or surviving in a time of plague.
But there's another legitimate use of the word need that our culture could employ in discussing sexuality—but we don't, at least not in that context. That alternate meaning of the word "need" refers to "that which the organism requires in order to thrive."
As humans, we routinely use the word "need" to discuss any of the myriad needs we experience in our lives as we consider the multi-dimensional reality of what it means to be human. We know that we all have needs related to our emotions, intellects, our social lives, recreation, our finances, nutrition, and our requirements for exercise. In fact, if you really contemplate this for just a moment, you'll realize that there exists no dimension of the human experience that is without its concomitant needs.
Why not use the term "need" in regard to our sexuality? Two reasons: the first and more immediate is that we simply don't know what our sexual needs are. The second reason for this reluctance to use the word "need" (with our children, our teens, our churches and ourselves) is that we've been carefully trained not to.
Here's why: If we were to refer to sexual needs as "needs" then they become legitimized and we have the right to expect that and to look for some reasonable accommodation or to expect that we at least have the right to try to get them met. That we don't teach one another to recognize how these needs might be met is likely because of one very bad sexual actor: religion.
My "Dear John" letter to religion's teachings on sexuality might begin something like this: "Sorry religion, I love you and all you've done for us, but in this area of life you have led us astray. You've taught us that we don't have any sexual needs—that we only have sexual desires. You've taught us that we can (and should) resist our sexual thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in order to conform. It's over between us. You're just too controlling."
In my office, I have had thousands of men and women who, in explaining the flawed decision-making that led them into their affair, their crime, or their public humiliation, referenced their notions of "trying to do the right thing." One example: "I knew divorce was wrong so I decided to stay in my sexless marriage." (The current record holder in my office did this for 37 years.)
And where did they all get their ideas of sexuality? You guessed it: their house of worship. This is not to say atheists and agnostics can't engage in bad behavior in their sexual lives—they can and they do. But for many, religion is about the only game in town when it comes to explaining how we should conduct ourselves in a moral manner. How else are we to explain the mother who scolded one of my clients when she found him as a 3-year-old showing a girl his penis and then poured Tabasco sauce over it to "teach him a lesson for being bad?" He said it burned for three days.
To understand the nature of the morality offered by our world's historic religions we must revisit ancient Greek mythology and the legend of Procrustes. Procrustes was a robber baron whose men would kidnap travelers and bring them to his stronghold. There, they were made to spend the night as his guest on his bed of iron. If they were too short for the bed, they were hammered or racked until they did fit. If they were too long, their legs were lopped off. The point here is that everyone fit the bed. The bed became a symbol of a rigid, unyielding standard where humanity comes second to the priority that we meet the standard.
Maybe these rules used to work for our ancestors in terms of tribal survival, but they are not working now. Thou shalt not lie with the same sex, thou shalt not have sex prior to getting married, no gays getting married, and so on... even sexual thoughts and fantasies may prove offensive to the gods.
We have no choice whatsoever about what our needs are, whether they are nutritional, intellectual, or yes, sexual. But think of this for a moment: Never, in many people's common experience (not in our families, our churches, or the military or our schools), has sex education taught us what our sexual needs are. It follows, then, that we have never been educated as to how we might successfully maximize the odds of getting those sexual needs met.
Our needs simply exist, whether we acknowledge them or remain ignorant of them. Our only choice, indeed our only hope, is whether or not we will manage our sexual needs intelligently.