Deconstructing-Love, Sex, and Intimacy
As a student of life, I consider myself a novice when it comes to truly understanding the complexity of this topic, the scope of which would take volumes to do justice. Usually, my blog reflects my desire to teach and engage readers in a thoughtful invitation to explore their inner worlds. However, as I am humbled in this arena, I seek to share my questions, along with my experiences in the hope that you the reader will be inspired to reflect and explore your own understandings, confusions, and blind spots. As I age, I seem to know less and less, yet strive to remain curious. I first want to acknowledge the diversity of this topic from the numerous sexual orientations and gender is far from binary, as I write from my perspective as a white, herterosexual man.
Many years ago I wrote about men and sex, and it was the most read and responded to article to date. Sex has a way of getting people's attention, as advertisers will attest (I trust I have yours). Yet underneath the fascination and allure of sex, lies the shadows of; fear, confusion, cultural roles, taboos and misunderstandings.
I like what Bo Lozoff, founder of the Human Kindness Project said about sex, " There is not a bed made big enough to hold all the people with you when you and your partner are in bed." He was referring to each person bringing with him / her their history: parents, grandparents, clergy, society, previous lovers, teachers, as well as: mores, values, experiences, judgements, desires, fantasies and expectations.
Young men falsely assume and are taught by culture, advertising and other misinformed men, that they should not only instinctively know about women's bodies, they should be responsible for their partner's orgasm and pleasure. For many adolescent males, our education was hearsay, porn, and from other males who were trying to prove their manhood through stories laced with distortion and bravado. The blind leading the blind. Men are culturally trained to be valued based on their performance, whether that be in sales, management, sports or the bedroom. This performance mentality diminishes curiosity, partnership and vulnerability during love making. According to research- less than 25 % of women have orgasms through intercourse- contrary to what is presented via pornography.
Women on the other hand have been taught- till the feminist movement of the 60s- to be passive, submissive and to enjoy sex but not too much. In both cases men and women are put into roles of performance. My mentor often references one of Carl Roger's ( Founder of humanistic psychology) tenants," When you find yourself in a role, break it." Performance precludes presence.
Sex can range from a physical act to a deeply intimate expression of intimacy and love. I tend to conflate sex , love and intimacy without making distinctions between these three separate but interconnected expressions. One way I do this is by making up a story such as, since she went to bed with me and shared in this intimate act, she must therefore, have strong feelings, perhaps love for me. Perhaps a more destructive way I conflate sex and love is how my shadow gets triggered when my partner doesn't want to have sex. Without a mature distinction of love and sex, I can reactively make up a story that her choice means: I'm rejected, not wanted, she may not love me etc, which can trigger my wounded inner child, reflexively closing my heart. Not a healthy dynamic for deepening love or intimacy on a mature level.
Several years ago when preparing to co-lead a workshop at a men's gathering on The Lover Archetype, with my dear friend Paul Gemme, we began by distinguishing the seven different types of love, as defined by the early Greeks. These distinctions were new to most of the men in the room, including myself.
What is love? What does it mean to fall in love, or out of love? No, I will not attempt to answer what poets and song writers have pondered since the beginning. Yet realizing that love is comprised of seven distinct sub-categories is a beginning place to explore the depth of one of the deepest and mysterious of human emotions. Most people associate love with Eros- the archetypal presence of longing and attraction, yet what about the other six?
The 7 types of Love:
Eros: Love of the body. ...
Philia: Affectionate love. ...
Storge: Love of the Child. ...
Agape: Selfless Love. ...
Ludus: Playful Love. ...
Pragma: Long-lasting Love. ...
Philautia: Love of the Self.
I will however venture into unpacking some of the common references / beliefs that may lead the naive down a false path. For instance, the classic and often quoted line from the movie, Jeremy McGuire, "You complete me" directly implies that one is not whole, till they find their "other half." How often have you heard someone reference their spouse as, " My better half" or " I was lost till I met you."? All of these references reveal a person who doesn't own or take responsibility for their wholeness, but rather looks outwardly to find someone to fill a void- provide unconditional love to heal their wounded heart, thus saving them from experiencing the existential wound of aloneness. This is what Jungian analyst and author, James Hollis refers to as the search for, "The Magical Other." In this paradigm, this mostly unconscious expectation, is placed on your partner, creating a significant burden. Is this love? Or some infantile quest to find the unconditional love that, no matter how good ones parents were, was missing. Resentments, disappointments, and projections, are born from this expectation, all of which create suffering and inauthentic relationships. These shadow projections ( A Jungian term of repressed or unconscious complexes) erode or block intimacy.
So, what is intimacy? For me the qualities of intimacy include: Presence and self-awareness, clarity and ownership of communications-saying yes or no when that's what you mean rather than an avoidance of conflict or a veiled appeal to get something i.e. love, attention, affection, belonging. Further attributes include: authenticity, willingness to be vulnerable (seen), ability to express wants and desires , honor and holding healthy boundaries. In a recent conversation with Paul, he shared this about intimacy. "Intimacy is directly related to how important or significant the relationship is, and how willing I am to commit or invest in the relationship. Inevitably the unfinished baggage I bring to the relationship, (abandonment issues, trust, fear of being hurt etc ) and my willingness to engage with my partner in these areas is the litmus test for intimacy. In other words, I believe the depth of intimacy is in proportion to my ability to relinquish my masks or facades and to risk betrayal and deep hurt or pain." Although the risks are high, the rewards of sharing the depth of intimacy with another, is a worthy quest! I suggest that looking inward at what blocks our intimacy while acknowledging the self-imposed amor around our hearts, may bring us clarity about where our attention should go.
Sex can involve intimacy, yet how many couples maintain , develop and deepen intimacy in their sexual expression as the years go by ( Pragma)? Often, I hear from couples they've fallen into roles and patterns, while passion, spontaneity and exploration dwindles. Although I've been divorced now for some 9 years, I only started to date in the last several years. Experiencing the first kiss, is so sweet, as Eros is ignited, and the mystery and complexity of love and intimacy invite me in. I am equally aware of how quickly the: wants, needs, expectations, wounds, and hidden agendas surface.
At some point Eros dwildles, as Pragma- Long lasting love-increases. This can be the beginning, if it hasn't happened before, where each individual may deny their truthful expression about what they want or need. One partner may be more in Eros, while their partner may not. The multitude of life's demands, or the resentments of unexpressed communications-expectations, wants or needs, can all negatively impact love, sex and intimacy. How are you at asking for what you need and want? How open and effective is your communication with your partner so that each person is validated, appreciated and supported in the bedroom? Navigating your feelings of Eros and Philautia- love of self is just one of the many challenges where self- betrayal can muddy the waters of any love story. When this soulful, instinctive connection and compassion declines, people turn against each other.
What roles have you and your partner claimed that has limited your presence or full self expression? What authentic wants, needs, desires and fantasies have you withheld? What spontaneity, passion, and aliveness are you willing to bring into the bedroom? What actions will you take to create what you want? How do you conflate: love, sex and intimacy? Will you bring this conversation to your partner?