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The Need to Think Sexual Thoughts

Sexual Needs Part 7: It's the nature of sexual beings to have sexual thoughts.

Photo by Polina Zimmerman from Pexels
Source: Photo by Polina Zimmerman from Pexels

If talking about managing our sexuality intelligently means we need to bring up automobile seatbelts, then maybe we're not talking about the same thing. But then again, maybe it does.

The modern seat belt was introduced in the 1950s (by Volvo, of course). It wasn't until the mid-1960s that the law mandated manufacturers to install them.

Those who grew up with our now near-universal use of seatbelts might be surprised to find out that their proven advantage in reducing horrific human injury wasn't accepted for decades. The takeaway? It sometimes takes people a long time to accept logical, scientifically verifiable ideas that will help them have better lives.

And this brings us to the idea of intelligent management of sexuality. You won't hear about this idea at school. Or from your family. Or from your church, but, like seatbelts, it's an idea that makes sense and that will catch on.

Yes, all the smart kids know they have to intelligently manage their finances, their education, their careers, and even their diets and their workouts. Now consider this: Would any of us even try to manage these aspects of our lives without considering our needs relevant to each part of our lives? Of course not.

So it is with our sexuality. We cannot manage our sexuality without some idea of our sexual needs. Regular readers of this series will recall that we've taken advantage of a very legit use of the word "need"— that is, "that which the organism requires in order to thrive."

But then, years after we're born, we become sexually mature during what we call puberty. This sexual maturity doesn't mean we're emotionally or intellectually mature enough to make serious sexual decisions that could affect us for decades afterward. It does mean that we're different than we were before puberty and the differences are not limited to Adam's apples, new curves, or hair down there. Puberty's profound developmental changes mean that we are faced with new sexual needs that we'd never experienced in our young lifetime prior to puberty.

This later development is seen by some as the end of sexual innocence. It is not. None of us are ready for the complete and utter end of our innocence. Such an experience would hurt us. Our childhood sexual needs evolve—but they endure as well in that they never go away. It's just that, with puberty, things get understandably more complicated.

Children, for example, need sexual conversations at their level. Once sexually mature, those conversations are going to become more complex because we ourselves are becoming more complex. Boys and girls who experience puberty have feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that they never had before. We need to help them navigate these experiences and, in the process, help ourselves to be more intelligent as we manage our sexual needs.

Let's start with a simple need: the need to think sexual thoughts. One minute, we're playing make-believe games with our friends, and then suddenly we're very aware of just how really good-looking the person sitting across the class really is. Never had that thought before. If you think this need is no big deal, consider what happens when the need is denied to us.

Someone notices us staring with our lovesick look all over our face. They make fun or otherwise try to shame us, saying, "What's your problem?" This is an example of how we learn early on to stop sharing our sexual thoughts.

Another is when we actually try to share our sexual thoughts with someone we trust (perhaps even a parent) and we get a "You're too young to be thinking about that." This is a relatively benign example of sexual shaming, and it can get a whole lot worse. For example, we could internalize sexual shame and become our own thought police, censoring from our awareness the sexual thoughts we believe we should be able to have.

But the need to think sexual thoughts is accompanied by the need to be aware of our sexual selves. Thoughts precede action. But because thoughts don't cause action, knowing and accepting our thoughts for what they are is a precious part of managing our sexuality. As adults, knowing we're having sexual thoughts about someone we definitely shouldn't become sexually involved with is a form of early warning radar. This radar helps us to avoid situations where our temptations may be really different from our thoughtfully made goals.

It is our nature as sexual beings to have sexual thoughts. Some people's nature requires them to punish those who have "wrong" thoughts with guilt trips or shame. Let's not help them with this job because none of us need to be punished for simply thinking—even if our thoughts are kind of sexy.