Is Sex Always A Power Struggle?
In many relationship models, probably
About a year ago, I “broke” sex for myself
I am fortunate to enjoy a healthy sex life and a positive relationship with my own sexuality. I like myself and my body, am comfortable in my own skin, at ease with my pleasure, and care about my partner’s. And that’s like 99% of all it takes. In short, I enjoy sex.
But early last year, I “broke” sex for myself, and for a brief time, I didn’t know “how” to have it anymore.
I dumped my boyfriend of two years a few months before and, as part of “never doing that again!,” started reading up on all things “bad relationship” and then “codependent” (pro tip: many of us are one and don’t realize it, because much of what is touted as “love and romance” is actually codependency.)
I was trying to understand what a healthy relationship was, and mid-way through my second or third bell hooks book, I realized that many of us enter into romantic relationships that are just effectively modeled as parent:child interactions — because that’s the first (and often only) model most of us know.
Wanting to be “the parent” means wanting to be in charge, in control, or in power of infantilized partners who are permitted (even encouraged or socialized) to busy themselves with subservience — almost always packaged as being “good.”
Wanting to be “the child” means looking for a partner who is ever-supporting, ever-appreciative, ever-impressed, devoid of emotions apart from “warmth,” nurturing, decisive and takes care of shit.
So many of us enter into relationships seeking security — either having control, or being reassured that it’s all being taken care of.
And I began to wonder:
Is it even possible to have a truly balanced, eye to eye relationship?
Or are people not much better than dogs or hens or any number of other animals who will always find and arrange themselves into a “pecking order” — or else endure incapacitating anxiety.
And I absolutely do not mean “separate but equal” — like, “they have their domain; I have mine.” I also do not mean pseudo-balanced, like letting one partner pick the restaurant or vacation destination while bigger decisions, like whether to move to a different state or what you both do for a living, fall under the other partner’s domain.
I hear even small businesses owned by two people will often legally split the business 51/49% — so that, in the event of a standoff, someone (always the same someone) has the tie-breaking say.
So: if we can’t make it work in many businesses, can we make it work with people?
I mean real balanced — exactly 50/50.
I also wonder the same of sex
I’m in my 30s and still have mixed feelings on porn.
On the one hand: I watch it.
On the other: I can see it for what it is — a tragically unrealistic portrayal of sexuality that’s so grossly off-base that it’s ruining people’s abilities not only as lovers (on more than one level) but also as human beings who interact with other human beings.
Porn is not good to women. Obviously. But upon closer inspection, it seems porn is actually just not that good to human beings. Men included.
It feeds into insecurities; makes obscene caricatures of fantasies based in low self esteem; anybody who derives their sexual satisfaction and sense of power from some of these acts is someone who is scrapping the bottom of the barrel for wellbeing. (Which is, I’m sure, part of why people get addicted. And again, I say this as someone who watches it.) Porn is terrible for people in the way that self-help seminars and donuts are; sure, it feels good, but only in the worst kind of ways.
Even “female-dominant” porn is terrible, the stakes simply flipped and the viewers invited into a world where everyone is still being mistreated, someone getting off on the “doing” while the other, we’re asked to believe, gets off on relinquishing control.
If we do not care about and respect each other in bed, when we are at our most intimate, then we do not care about and respect each other at all. If we are selfish with each other when we are both at our most vulnerable, then we are selfish in our love overall.
And yet: porn.
And not even “porn” because porn isn’t the real problem; the mindset that makes porn appealing is the problem. That same mindset that’s a part of our real selves — the version we have with our partners in bed.
And that’s how I hit a wall and didn’t know “how” to have sex anymore.
There Are Only So Many Ways To Have Sex
And at their core, most of our approaches to it are “fucking” — some variation of domination vs. dominated.
- In a heteronormative couple, it’s typically “male dominant,” with the dude actively “fucking” while the woman is passively “fucked.”
- There is, of course, also “female dominant,” dude passive, and a whole slew of themes around this.
- Then there’s reproduction — a purely biological model of procreation. You can even play around with this as a model, and there are tons of fetishes for it.
- Then there’s love-making.
But if you a.) take away “fucking,” b.) aren’t interested in reproduction and c.) haven’t yet hit the echelon for love-making, then… how do you even have sex?
I felt like Gigi from He’s Just Not That Into You:
Gigi: So what now I’m just supposed to run from every guy who doesn’t like me?
Alex: Uh. Yeah!
Gigi: There’s not gonna be anybody left.
There’s not gonna be any more sex. How do we even approach it from here?
Is there any even-ground sex? Is it even possible to have a truly balanced, eye to eye fuck? With neither emotion, nor reproduction, nor subjugation?
Healthy sex is the same as healthy love
Healthy love largely hinges on where we gain our self-esteem, and whether it’s through ourselves or the subjugation of others.
And if that’s true for love, then it’s true for sex too, because both love and sex starts in our head, and our head is only one us. What we do for one, we drag into the other.
Four thinkers agree:
In The Heart of the Soul, Zukav and Francis write,
“Intimacy and the pursuit of external power — the ability to manipulate and control — are incompatible.”
In The Will to Change bell hooks writes,
“Love cannot exist in any relationship that is based on domination and coercion.”
In How Can I Get Through to You? Terrence Real writes,
“Sustaining relationships with others requires a good relationship with ourselves… [and] healthy self-esteem means being neither one up nor own down.”
Similarly, the Dalai Lama says, of selfless love:
“It is not a question of neglecting oneself for others’ benefit. In fact, when you benefit others, you benefit yourself because of the principle of interdependence…
The greatest and highest love… benefits the recipient as well as the person who gives love, since we are all connected and interdependent.”
And the thing is:
If this is true for the relationship overall, it also has to be true for sex.
We can’t use sex as an arena to boost our self esteem. We can’t subjugate, dominate, coerce, manipulate, control, hurt or abuse. We can’t use sex to appease or negotiate or power-play. Not even if we both do it and “balance it out.” Because each time we are selfish in sex we undermine love, and each time is one more tiny cut among countless invisible wounds.
The Dalai Lama addresses the question of “how to approach sex,” saying,
“[Sexual intercourse] causes a strong focusing of consciousness if the practitioner has firm compassion and wisdom. Its purpose is to manifest and prolong the deeper levels of mind.”
And all that really means is:
Or, in the words of Tenacious D: fuck softly
Maybe not always literally, physically, but certainly emotionally, honoring that our partner is a whole other person separate from us.
not always about sex, but plenty of “fucking”