Love is the opening door.
Love is what we came here for.
No one could offer you more.
Do you know what I mean?
Have your eyes really seen?
– Lesley Duncan
As we move forward in this new age of consciousness,
we are called to be aware of our self-transcendant desire for union in love.
– Ilia Delio
I was in high school in the late 1960’s and at that time both aware of and impacted by many of the social movements erupting in the United States: the ecology movement, the peace movement, the feminist movement, and the sexual revolution. All of them essentially were about coming to a new view of ourselves as humans.
We still struggle to enact many of the best dreams of these movements, but the ideal of sexual freedom seems not only to have been achieved but perhaps to have reached a point in our society where for many people “having sex” has become a form of recreation. In this recreational approach, entering into sexual activity with another person is viewed with no more significance than playing a video game together. It also has become equivalent with and the ultimate expression of “loving” someone, if not the goal of that “loving.”
I once had someone say to me, “Among the people I know, to say ‘I love you’ means ‘I want to have sex with you.’” The comment was disturbing to me, because for me, and among many of the people that I know, saying “I love you” means something so much more than finding a sexual partner. Perhaps that is because in my family, I experienced love from a young age as an unconditional acceptance, a deep recognition of the worth and worthiness of each person, and a strong bond that surpassed any errant behavior, personal quirk, or momentary stress. I experienced love as an allowing of each person’s individual freedom to be himself or herself, even if that was accompanied by a gentle and persistent challenge to be and do more.
The psychologist David Richo (1997) includes this experience of acceptance and allowing among his four primary activities of relationship. The other two are attention and affection. How we offer acceptance, attention, affection and allowing in relationships is critical to their survival and are about so much more than the physical activity associated today with “having sex.” As Richo points out, these four behaviors are key to our feeling loved safely and securely.
Engaging in the mutual process of attention, affection, acceptance and allowing create true intimacy. Richo writes:
Sex cannot create intimacy. We bring intimacy to sex when we let go of our fear of giving or receiving, of knowing and being known, of letting the chips fall where they may and picking them up when they do (p. 120)
Richo also notes that sexual activity before we have come to a level of self-awareness and knowledge of our own fears, needs, and desires as adults can also be unhealthy. He writes:
Authentic sex….happens best when we have stood alone long enough to find out who we are and be happy with the findings. The prerequisite of intimacy is personal differentiation. We are not one; we are two in one bond. The bond of adult intimacy does not dissolve our individuality. We can use this bond to store anger, to stave off fear, or to shore up love. Healthy partners are standing hand-in-hand and yet alone (p.120).
Among the people I know, there is also a sense of the sacredness of relationship; that somehow God (however you conceive of God) has brought us together for a purpose and that purpose is larger than sexual gratification. Yet, in our current society, this sacred sense of sex has been lost. As Richo notes, our society has come to “equate sex with performance, ego, and conquering” (p. 118).
More than reproduction
For some time now, based on my own experiences of relationship, I have come to believe that, contrary to what some would suggest, the sex act ought not to be considered primarily as a means of procreation. The God of the Universe I believe in intended much more in this intimate act of union than reproduction. In addition, conceiving of the sex act as primarily about procreation may be contributing to the notion of sex as recreation. From the stand point of the reductionist way of thinking, one can say, “As long as I have protected myself against causing pregnancy, I can safely engage in recreational sex.” As a result, all of the other elements of this profoundly intimate act are set aside.
While I do not pretend to have every aspect of human intimacy and sexual connection figured out, I do have a sense that placing our focus first on intimacy, and perhaps later, if at all, on sexual activity, is critical to our health and well being as individuals, as persons in relationship, and as a society. Otherwise, the full richness of what it means to be human is lost.
Richo. D. (1997). When love meets fear: How to become defense-less and resource-full. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist.