Linda: Lust is a powerful force that needs to be modulated so it doesn’t get us in trouble. In the process of cultivating more control over our physical desires, we develop greater inner strength, deepening our sense of self-worth and self-respect. We become less dependent upon input from others and become more emotionally self-sufficient. When it comes to the passions of the body, for many it’s a matter of either indulgence or abstinence. The key to liberation from sexual compulsivity lies in our ability to practice what Buddhists refer to as the “middle path”, that is the one between the extremes of total denial and compulsive gratification.
While there may be circumstances where total abstinence and complete self-denial are the only viable means of managing self-destructive impulses, for the most part, the real work has to do with learning to relate to our desires more consciously. It’s actually easier for most of us to swing back and forth between the extremes of bingeing and fasting, whether that is in reference to food, drugs, alcohol, or sex, than it is to learn to cultivate the ability to be moderate in regard to the kind of relationship that we have with these substances and experiences.
Until we’ve become more conscious in regard to our sexual impulses, we’re likely to feel ourselves to be completely at their mercy. Consequently we’ll probably do whatever we need to in order to experience satisfaction, regardless of the cost. If we don’t learn to work with these desires to not be enslaved by them, the possibility of experiencing true intimacy is lost. The more we sacrifice integrity in favor of sex, the less gratifying the sex is. Consequently we seek more sexual quantity to compensate for a deficiency in quality, and the more we do, the more the quality of sex is diminished.
If it sounds like a vicious cycle, that’s because it is. What’s needed isn’t more sex, but more genuine intimacy. Intimacy cannot occur in an environment in which compulsivity, coercion, manipulation, or attachment is present. Intimacy is not about getting somewhere. It has to do with our ability to be fully present and open to each unfolding moment that occurs between two people and to receive whatever it brings without protection, resistance or attachment. The more authentically intimate connectedness we experience, the less compulsive our sexuality becomes.
Having a desire to be sexual during a moment of connectedness does not interfere with intimacy, and may be enhanced. By the same token sex doesn’t necessarily diminish intimacy. What influences the quality of our connectedness isn’t whether or not it is sexual, it’s the degree to which our hearts are open to each other. Anything that closes the heart closes down the quality of intimacy. That includes anything that involves any degree of dishonesty, attachment, or fear.
Because sex is such a compelling experience, it can be difficult to resist the temptation to become consumed by the heat of our physical connection. The experience of intense physical stimulation can override the subtle sweetness of two hearts embracing each other. It’s hard to appreciate the subtle flavor of a fresh wild strawberry, no matter how delightful it is when it is buried under mounds of ice cream and syrup.
Particularly for those whose attachments include stimulation, saying no to sex in order to enjoy the subtle flavor of intimacy is no easy thing to do. It requires that we develop a certain degree of mastery over our physical impulses by resisting the strong internal forces that we are accustomed to accommodating. When we are used to having certain desires fulfilled as soon as they are felt, saying “not right now” rather than “OK” to the desire can be quite challening. We’re talking about breaking a habit that is, for most of us, far more compelling than we realize. Unless we remove the compulsive elements from our relationship with our own sexuality, our capacity for genuine intimacy is limited.
We usually don’t notice how compelling our attachment to sex is until we decide to get free from it. Often it’s not our own idea. It’s our partner who let us know how unhappy they are becoming with the quality of either sexual or non-sexual intimacy, or both. Even if the concerns are expressed in a highly respectful, non-blaming manner, it is commonplace to become wildly defensive and immediately counter-attack. “What do you MEAN I’m not a good lover? How dare you even suggest that?”
Our sense of self-worth has been tied to our performance at work, at home, and in bed. A failing or even an average grade is threatening since it makes us feel insecure. When we become reactive, we aren’t able to even hear the content of our partner’s concerns. The underlying insecurity that is activated sometimes pushes us to invalidate the message by discrediting the messenger. Fortunately, the lack of fulfillment presses our partner to bring the issue up again and again.
The feeling of unhappiness with the quality of the non-sexual or sexual intimacy in the relationship is the pain that motivates change. During those times we become physically intimate with each other, and things become sexual, the option exists to expand our repertoire to include more tender non-sexual intimacy. The challenge becomes moving the focus from physical sensation, stimulation, orgasm, and performance, to a warm soul-connection.