Musings on Sex, Sexuality, and the Results Thereof

Sex is a pretty important thing in the life of any vertebrate (and in the lives of many invertebrate species, as well, but I won’t get into that just now).  For many species, the biological drive to create the next generation is all-consuming.  No surprise, then, that humans are pretty much obsessed with sex.  We love it, hate it, fear it, desire it, and above all else: we do it.  According to a 2005 survey by condom manufacturer Durex, the average person has sex about 127 times per year (about 2 and a half times every week).  The Kinsey Institute‘s numbers are a bit more conservative, but still indicate that your average person has sex between one and two times per week, with frequency dropping off somewhat once you’ve passed your prime breeding years.

Eep!  Penises are Scary!

While those claims you heard in high school about how men think about sex every seven seconds are almost certainly false (although in a high school environment it sometimes seems pretty believable), we do spend a lot of time fantasizing.  A U.S. survey from 1994 indicates that:

54% of men think about sex everyday or several times a day, 43% a few times per month or a few times per week, and 4% less than once a month, while 19% of women think about sex everyday or several times a day, 67% a few times per month or a few times per week, and 14% less than once a month.

Of course, honest statistics about sex and sexuality are notoriously difficult to collect.  Because sex is such an obsession for us, it has always been entwined with some pretty serious taboos.  Asking questions about someone’s sex life can make them feel incredibly violated, as though you’re questioning their entire existence.  Some people will brag and exaggerate, others will minimize, and still others will simply not answer, preferring to say nothing at all.

Particularly difficult to collect is data about homosexuality and/or bisexuality.  Beginning with the now-famous Kinsey reports of the late 40s and early 50s, many studies have attempted to pinpoint exactly what percentage of the population is homosexual, with varying results.

Part of this difficulty results, of course, from the truly variable nature of sexual desire.  What we want can change from day to day — to borrow a term from BDSM lingo, most of us are “switches” to some degree or another.  One day we might want to be directing the action, the next we might want to be passively accepting the direction of another.  One day we might want something rough and passionate, while the next we might want something slow and intimate.  In the case of bisexuals like me: one day we might want a woman, the next we might want a man.  Dealing with the changeable nature of our own desires can be challenging, and many people will simply repress those desires that they cannot easily understand or reconcile.  A simple label like “straight”, “gay”, or “bi” might not completely encompass your sexual experience (I used to resist the simplistic “bi” as being an insult to my personal complexities), but you’re likely to choose one anyways for the sake of expediency — I gave up the pretension of trying to explain a more convoluted terminology quite a while ago.

The Kinsey Scale is probably the most famous example of an attempt to go beyond such simple definitions of sexual orientation, with people being rated from 0 (exclusively straight) to 6 (exclusively gay), with a rating of X being given for asexuality.  At the time it was a revolutionary idea, although today it is often criticized for being overly simplistic and not accounting for enough factors.  It’s now generally believed that our sexual desires and orientation are quite changeable, and that the same person might rank a 1 on the Kinsey scale one day, and a 5 on another day, and yet still self-identify as “straight” simply because they’ve never acted on their homosexual desires.

Given all of this, it’s amazing how much emphasis we put on the importance of “sexual compatibility” in relationships.  Obviously there are some differences that are too great to bridge (ie, a person who only wants sex once a month and a person who wants sex every single day will likely never find a happy compromise without involving a third party in the relationship to sate the desires of the more lustful partner), but smaller differences should not cause us nearly as much consternation as they do.  You’re into rough sex, but your boyfriend prefers sweet & slow & cuddly?  Just change it up — start off rough, then cuddle afterwards, or have rough, violent sex one night, and soft, cuddly sex the next while you both nurse your bruises.  If each one makes a small sacrifice, you can both enjoy yourselves.  And you might even find yourself discovering new sides to your own sexuality, and finding fetishes that you never knew you possessed.

Even more difficult chasms of difference can be bridged as long as there is openness, communication, understanding, and most of all patience and trust.  A former abuse victim might have serious difficulties with performing certain sex acts, but that doesn’t mean they’re “sexually incompatible”.  It just means that the bridge you’re trying to cross is a particularly long one.  The same goes for more unconventional fetishes — given time and patience, a compromise can usually be found.  Something that totally disgusts you at first mention might, with further investigation, turn out to be not so bad at all … especially if you can find a tame, non-threatening way to slowly introduce it into the bedroom.  More extreme forms of BDSM involving body modifications, for example, could be experimented with by simply going and getting ear piercings or small tattoos together.  No need to immediately jump into scarification, corset piercings, branding, etc. when there are much safer and more “friendly” ways to begin.

Of course, most people aren’t nearly so pragmatic about it.  The slightest variation on your standard, comfortable, “vanilla” sex technique is often seen as a threat — or at the very least, an indication that you’re not satisfactory all on your own, and need a little “spicing up”.  Depending on your culture, age, religion, etc., different sex acts may be considered taboo — or even sinful, evil, etc.  Fetishes are given an almost universally negative connotation, considered unnatural and depraved when really all the evidence points to them being natural and even healthy things to have.  Marriages are ended and families broken up, never to see each other again, over something as simple as whether oral sex is an acceptable activity, or whether birth control is allowable in the eyes of god.

And then, of course, the Internet gets involved.  Here we have the ability to instantly share our innermost thoughts and feelings in a very anonymous way, connecting with people all over the world.  There’s no censorship, no judgment, no consequences to what you post.  Fetish communities form and thrive, suddenly everything and anything has a place where it’s considered “normal” (even things that should never, ever be considered normal, like pedophilia and bestiality).  Rule 34 takes effect.

Combine this with a world where Westerners already have all these romantic notions about there being some absolute, perfect “one” out there for them, and suddenly you’ve got a whole lot of people who are very in touch with their own fetishes, searching desperately for someone else who shares not only these, but also your political views, religious leanings, life goals, general intelligence level, and about a million other factors that we’ve decided as a society are important for making a functional relationship happen.  And as soon as we discover that this supposedly perfect person happens to also like something that we DON’T like, we’re up in arms — horrified, and completely unable to learn and grow and compromise.  Instead we go to dating sites, seeking that “perfect 10” compatibility rating instead of the mere 9.6 that we’d found before.  It’s like some bizarre game of musical chairs, with 7 billion participants and a totally uneven number of seating arrangements.

Sex is scary.  Socializing is scary.  Leaving your house and sharing information about yourself and going to unfamiliar places and doing unfamiliar things … it’s all scary.  And when you combine all of those terrifying things, you’ve got dating (and let’s not even get into the extra levels of scary that are involved with marriage, childbirth, getting a dog, and going on vacation together).

For all that we’ve been doing it for millions of years, we’re still not very good at this whole thing just yet.  But it’s a little bit difficult to say that we should just sit back, relax, and get over it.  After all, it’s sex!  Without it, we wouldn’t even be here right now.

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3 Responses to “Musings on Sex, Sexuality, and the Results Thereof”

  1. Sex is the greatest thing we have, nothing is better!

    • It’s hard to argue with that, but I think I have to add a caveat: sex has *the potential* to be the greatest thing we have. It also has the potential to be one of the most horrifying, terrible things in the world.

      Sex where there is trust, compassion and openness — that’s amazing stuff. When you trust and care about someone, you can do almost anything with and/or to them, without shame or fear.

      When that trust is broken, though, sex has the potential to physically and emotionally scar you beyond repair. As any person who’s been in an abusive relationship can attest, there’s nothing more horrible than being fucked by someone who you are afraid of and who you don’t trust to not kill you for their own pleasures or whims.

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