Sex

The Most Important Thing You'll Ever Know About Sex

Sexual Needs Part I: Learning to manage sexuality intelligently.

Posted Mar 31, 2020

Steven Ing, Inc.
Source: Steven Ing, Inc.

We have only just now reached the inflection point in human history where we could even begin this conversation. Up until this very time, the conversation has been blocked twice over by (1) our need to address the problem of survival and (2) older cultural institutions that claimed this subject matter as theirs.  

In the universal struggle to meet our human needs, we've been mostly preoccupied with the struggle to survive. Much of the world is still at this level in that food, water, and shelter are not a given for billions of us. In the West, we've solved the food problem so well that our population is more afflicted with widespread obesity. Yes, we still struggle with shelter and on any given night, over half-a-million Americans are homeless. But over 329 million of us do have shelter. And, despite the water emergencies that make the news (such as the one in Flint, Michigan), the overwhelming majority of us take safe drinking water for granted.

Our preoccupation with the exceptions notwithstanding, we enjoy living longer and more safely—more free of predation, crime, and invasion—than people have at any other point in history. 

And this is where the sexual wheels fall off the bus. The inflection point at which we find ourselves is that we are getting our basal needs met while, just as Maslow predicted, consciousness about our higher needs is slipping into our awareness. 

Sure, the physical act of sex itself is not love. Nor is it belonging, self-esteem, or self-actualization. But once we're off the ground floor of merely surviving, we crave more.

I subscribe to a Christian worldview so I mean nothing pejorative about religion. However, just like when we're talking about natural history (Darwin), physics (Galileo), or even just lightning (Franklin), whenever any of us try having a conversation about sexuality and especially sexual needs, the response is usually a sermonette on morality. This is not part of a scientifically detached examination of anything in the natural and physical world that forms our sexuality. 

When Galileo's investigations supported the idea that Earth was not at the center of our solar system he was brought up on charges, arrested, and confined. The Vatican only apologized for this in 1992, a mere 350 years afterward. 

The Church of England only apologized to Charles Darwin for its overly defensive, overly emotional dismissal of his work in 2008, some 150 years later. 

And what about America's favorite genius Benjamin Franklin and his invention of the lightning rod? Although ferociously denounced as attempting to circumvent the Lord's will, the frequency with which the tallest church steeples were struck invariably led to a change of heart. And no, Franklin has never received an apology

Using religious teachings on sexual morality to comprehend human sexual needs is like using theology to interpret Galileo—not helpful in the least. This one (physics) has nothing to do with the other (theology). 

Religion, it appears, rarely learns from past mistakes. This is true for two reasons: (1) religion is based on revelation from on high and is never to be questioned and (2) no religion wants to give up the power to say what is OK. To admit that the Bible is not really a science book does not come easily to the religious. The Enlightened had to pry their fingers off of our understanding of the knowable world. Even with Franklin's lightning rod, it was unthinkable to those who opposed him that they might be mistaken in their certainty of God's thoughts.

The end result is that even in modern times, we have no collective understanding of what our sexual needs are. Even the idea of "sexual needs" is something of a mystery. Consider this simple observation: The vast majority of educated Americans know about how many hours of sleep are required for good health and adequate rest. The same group can give a good estimate of how many milligrams of vitamin C are needed daily. We have clear ideas about our financial needs, our recreational needs, and our kids' early intellectual needs.

But when it comes to sex... what? What are our legitimate and human needs? And just as important, how can we know our needs and then find a way to comfortably talk about them? 

My many years of talking to clients about their failures in managing their sexuality have helped me understand these needs. I've compiled a beginning understanding of sexual needs in a book called We're All Like This, which has been used as a text in human sexuality classes for years. In the posts that follow, we'll explore together how a simple-sounding phrase like "intelligent management of sexuality" (a phrase no one uses, by the way) is made possible only by our knowing what our needs are. 

Knowing and understanding our sexual needs will be as liberating as knowing any of the other needs in our human experience. We will become free to manage sexuality intelligently. We will become free of self-consciousness and delightfully free of self-judgment. We will begin to see human sexuality as a wonderful dimension of our lives (rather than a burden) and we will begin to build sexual lives that are sustainable and fulfilling. Knowing about our sexual needs is the most important thing we'll ever know about sexuality and because knowledge is power, so too is sexual knowledge power.