- Our idealistic expectations of sex may be hurting our sex lives.
- The critical point we often discount is that exciting sex is primal—not politically correct, clean, or tidy.
- It's time to channel at least some of the primal energy we express with sex tech back into human sexual relationships.
We are witnessing a fascinating irony. Western cultures are making unprecedented, magnificent strides in support of gender equality and diversity. We are destroying sexual stereotypes, empowering everyone—regardless of biology or identity—in the bedroom. Shouldn’t we be having the best sex ever?
Curiously, we are not. The evidence indicates that people are having less sex, and I’m aware of no data suggesting that sexual satisfaction is increasing for even a subset of the population. In fact, all the research crossing my desk suggests otherwise. People are connecting less both inside and outside of the bedroom—feeling increasingly isolated and alone. These trends were exacerbated by COVID, of course, but in no way originated there.
We pride ourselves, deservedly so, in becoming more understanding and supportive of sexual diversity. But at the same time, there is increasing intolerance for the messiness of life, intimacy, and sex. Idealistic expectations that sexual relationships can fit neatly into a clean and orderly politically correct framework are impractical. Implying that exciting sex can and should be achieved in such a nice, neat package is, in my opinion, irresponsible. The critical point we are discounting is that exciting sex is primal—it’s not politically correct, or clean, or controlled.
Sex feels captivating primarily when it originates from someplace deep within us—someplace less tidy than our conscious minds. To use a food analogy, those late-night binges are impulsive, but they are powerfully compelling. We greedily and recklessly take what we feel like eating. Some food just tastes better eaten with our fingers while standing at the kitchen counter. Making an orderly, civilized place setting at the dining room table, and eating with a fork, doesn’t always cut it at 11 p.m. Similarly, civilized sex, like civilized snacking, isn’t that enticing. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why people aren’t consuming as much of it anymore. At least, not with each other.
Instead, it’s become more convenient to express our more potent, primal sexual instincts with technology. In fact, unlike the cultural messages of today, tech actually encourages us to engage our more animalistic sexual sides. Sex tech is so appealing precisely because it's designed to gratify our primal urges. It endorses our watching the stuff that we are not supposed to be watching, to think the things we aren’t supposed to be thinking. All while not having to feel vulnerable or risk the judgment of a human partner. The creators of sex tech know that our primal sexual drives can be denied and even suppressed as a culture, but they can’t be destroyed. As any therapist will tell you, eventually the unconscious finds a way to express what we repress. Sex tech is succeeding as an outlet for our more potent, but politically incorrect, animalistic urges. This is a problem, because sex in trusting, long-term intimate relationships becomes boring when there is no longer a sense of danger or mystery. Channeling our primal, messy sexual urges from sex with a partner to sex with porn will decrease sexual intensity within a couple—while at the same time making sex with porn more enticing. As a result, we are all bystanders to the cleansing of intimacy.
This is not an argument against sex tech—certainly, tech can be used to enhance intimate connection. This is an argument for acknowledging the critical importance of raw, uncivilized sexuality to a satisfying long-term relationship, and for people to direct some of that primal energy we are expressing with tech back into human sexual relationships.
Unfortunately, this is a tall order, and requires courage. It’s a challenging task because feeling and expressing raw desire in the presence of another person feels vulnerable—especially with a long-term partner. Ironically, it feels less risky with someone we don’t know that well—someone with whom we haven’t developed the civilized aspects of life and romance. That’s because Mother Nature never intended for us to be in lifelong romances in the first place. So, our more primal sexual drives become dampened in the structure of a safe relationship unless a couple makes a deliberate effort to intensify it. Yet sex tech is poised to fill the void, to facilitate expression of all that potent sexual energy that long-term relationships are starving for. I see this in my therapy room all the time (and this is one way I work with it). People love and trust each other, but are afraid to access their more vulnerable, animalistic sexual selves in the safety of that relationship.
These difficulties are real and challenging, but are well worth conquering. Otherwise, what I can envision is the slow and steady transformation of intimate connection shared not between two humans, but to one human and their technology.
Let’s be brave and bring messiness back to sex.
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