Several years ago I published a book called The Soul of Sex, based on the premise that in our society we are so obsessed with sex, not because we are too sexual, but because we are not sexual enough. The excessive and perhaps offensive sexuality you see on the Internet and in movies doesn't represent a highly sexed culture, but one that has gone through a childhood and adolescence of prudery. Its preoccupation with sex shows that it hasn't come to grips with its fear of whatever it is that sex represents.
A more psychological way of putting this is that the sexuality we so often we see displayed in the media is neurotic. It's an expression of the difficulty we have of honoring our sexuality and dealing with the prudish history that is part of our identity. Preoccupation with sex is a symptom of our failure to accept and fully appreciate our sexuality. We are always trying to give in to our sexual interests and at the same time preserve our innocence.
I fully believe that it's important to be innocent, but it's a matter of degree. As the years go by, life seems to chip away at our innocence. How could we be as naïve as we were in our early years? The events of life, especially sexual experiences, complicate our innocence and mature it. We remain innocent, but not nearly as purely as in previous years. As we grow older, we become more complicated, in a good way, mixing many competing values. Sex helps us grow up.
Why do we crave the sight of the human body? Why do men especially need to look at breasts and that part of the woman's body that not only has to do with intercourse but also with birth? It's a great mystery that probably shouldn't be explained, but I think we can say this much: Men have identified with the hero. We have to be adventurous, fight and conquer. We have no time for the mysteries of nature.
Fully occupied with their heroic quests, men haven't had an opportunity to consider the great deep mysteries of sex, life and death. But a woman's body forces us to consider them. We try to turn our eyes away from it, but we can't. Over and over again we want to see those objects that say so much about our sheer existence: breasts and vaginas, nurturance and continuing existence.
Beneath all the display of nipples and crotches lies a desperate search for self-understanding. Where do I really come from and where am I headed? Men devote their lives to achieving a position at work, a decent bank account and the reputation of responsibility, and yet, as we have seen so many times, they risk it all on the sight of a woman's body or an hour of foreplay.
Is there a solution to this tension that seems to affect every aspect of society from the Internet to politics and that threatens women with objectification and harassment? I see a possible solution in two directions.
First, we could become more reflective people and take seriously our need to meditate on the human condition. We need to pause in all our activity to ask ourselves who and what we are. We need religion and spirituality in a deep sense, as guides to asking the deepest and most important questions. Living from a deeper place, we might be able to deal with our sexuality more effectively.
Second, we need to allow ourselves to explore our sexual curiosity without guilt. Present a piece of pornography, and what do you get? Moralistic responses, for the most part. No thoughtful considerations. Few open-minded explorations into an obvious need.
We may need to expand our sexuality rather than contract it. I mean, we could more explicitly be erotic people, people interested in sexual matters, giving life a sheen of eroticism rather than covering over deep sexual interests with a puritan veneer. We could eroticize public life rather than make it appear too chaste. More thoughtful, artistically interesting sexual imagery might help. But the eroticism could be more subtle: signs of comfort, joy, pleasure and gratification at work and at home, in public life and in private.
Certainly, sex asks for a measure of privacy, but there is a difference between privacy and prudery. We should explore that difference and deal with our sexual preoccupations by going with the symptom, rather than against it. We could use our issues with sex as the starting point for a more luxurious, embodied, pleasurable and sensual society.