This was published in the Tulsa World today. A fitting conversation to have on Mother’s Day!
How many of you celebrated Valentine’s Day by telling your child, your grandchild, your friend or your parent that you love them? I know there are others of you who spent time yesterday feeling lonely or grieving for someone who is gone. I want to acknowledge that the Hallmark Holidays are difficult for many people and I want you to know that I hold you in my heart.
Now, my blog today is going to be aimed at intimate relationships, but everything I share is true for all of our relationships with family members and friends. So I think everyone will find it both valuable and useful. So let’s start by recognizing that many people do find Valentine’s to be a time of celebrating romantic love. In fact, it is estimated that 6 million people expect to get engaged on Valentine’s Day. Last year one of those couples of Jim and Jan.
On their wedding night, they were getting ready for bed when Jim took off his pants and tossed them to Jan. Then he told her to put them on. She said, “I can’t wear these. Their much too big.” And he said, “That’s right. And let that be the first lesson of our marriage. I wear the pants in this family.” Jan nodded then took off her pants and tossed them to Jim. She said, “Put these on.” And he said, “I’ll never get into these.” To which she responded, “That’s right mister, and until you change your attitude you never will!”
Would you Choose to Accomplish Your Goals or Experience a Meaningful Relationship
So here’s my question today. If you had to choose, would you rather die having accomplished all of your goals but never having had a deeply meaningful relationship? OR Having experiencing the most deep and meaningful relationship possible but not having accomplished a single goal?
You can’t have both. You have to choose one or the other. And don’t worry. There are no wrong answer. Both answers are right. Here’s another way to look at it. Would you rather ravish your partner or be ravished by your partner?
The answer to these questions indicates your dominant sexual energy – either masculine or feminine. And it has nothing to do with your gender or your sexual orientation. Whether we are heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or even asexual, it is helpful to leave behind stereotypical definitions of male and female and to think instead of masculine and feminine energy. Both the masculine and the feminine move within each of us. And at the same time, one or the other dominates nearly all of us.
Together feminine and masculine are represented in the Yin Yang symbol of Taoism. The Yin Yang is the concept of two halves or two dualities that together represent wholeness and completion. Yin energy is feminine. It is the black portion of the symbol. Yang is masculine and it is represented in the white portion of the symbol.
Neither Yin nor Yang are absolute. Nothing and no one is completely Yin or completely Yang. Yin and Yang are all about balance. Each trait contains the beginning point for the other trait. Yin and Yang are interdependent on each other so that the definition of one requires the definition of the other to be complete.
Yin or Yang
If you answered yes to the first question, that you would rather meet your goals, then you tend to operate primarily out of masculine energy, no matter what your gender or sexual orientation. If you answered yes to the second question, that you would rather have a deep relationship, then you tend to operate out of feminine energy.
Men and women who are in their masculine essence are goal oriented and purposeful. They want to get things accomplished. Men and women in their feminine essence are nurturing and creative. They are willing to go with the flow. The masculine drive is for freedom; the feminine drive is for fullness. Both paths, that of freedom and of fullness, lead to spiritual bliss.
But masculine and feminine tend to be drawn to different spiritual practices. Think about meditation. In meditation we sit in solitude and expand our awareness, allowing ourselves to leave the boundaries of our physical existence. It is a freeing experience – a very masculine practice.
Contrast that to the spiritual practice of service. In service we interact with others by visiting, feeding, clothing, helping other people. We experience a sense of loving fullness – a very feminine practice.
I am a woman fully engaged in a heterosexual relationship. While I am very good at fulfilling the nurturing role of a mom and “wife” I am also self-employed and highly driven. I am happiest when I am in control and making the decisions. I need security (feminine) and I crave freedom (masculine).
My partner Leif works for the Park system. He is charged with enforcing the rules and he values needs solitude (masculine). But he is also a primary caregiver for his 19 year old niece. When she was born with Down Syndrome her own father went away, and Lief stepped in to provide her with nurturing care, love and support (feminine).
Escaping the Box
Understanding that we all have both feminine and masculine energy allows us to escape the man box and the woman box. The man box defines men as domineering, aggressive, competitive, achievement oriented, and controlling. The woman box defines women as nurturing, supportive, passive, sacrificial, giving, and vulnerable.
Our society incorrectly dictates that if we move out of the appropriate man or woman box, we will be negatively labeled. For instance, men who move out of the man box risk being seen as weak and ineffective, of being called a “pussy.” Women risk being seen as threatening and unattractive, of being told they have “balls.” The truth is, each one of us can express both attributes of masculine and feminine in different aspects of our lives and that’s ok.
When we claim our whole identity and give others permission to be the whole human beings they are, we can celebrate all of our strengths and recognize that the traits we exhibit are present in both men and women alike. Escaping the man box and the woman box offers us liberation from that which oppresses, binds, and enslaves. It allows us to become more vulnerable with each other and more open to accepting people as they are.
Changing Our Energy Field
Now, it’s also important to realize that we are not frozen or static in our energy field. We can and do move back and forth between masculine and feminine energy all the time as we are comfortable and as the situation requires.
I am in my masculine mode when I work. I have to take control and make a lot of decisions. I have to organize people and situations in order to accomplish specific results. Sometimes after a hard day of work, I don’t want to make any more decisions. I just want to bask in my feminine energy. I want someone take care of me. Let’s face it. By the end of the day I’m ready to be ravished.
Let’s Talk About Sex
There will always be a mystery as to why we are attracted to someone else, but one aspect of the spark of sexual attraction is sexual polarity. In this case opposites attract. Masculine energy attracts feminine energy and vice versa.
If you and your partner are operating in different energies (and it doesn’t matter which is in the masculine and which is in the feminine) you can expect a sexual arc of attraction. But if you are both operating in the same sexual energy field, there will most likely NOT be a spark of sexual attraction. If both of you are in your feminine and willing to do whatever and just go with the flow, you might end up doing nothing at all and not feeling very well taken care of. On the other hand, if you are both in your masculine mode you may end up in a power struggle about who gets to decide where you go and what you will do. Or you may both agree on all the requirements of a romantic evening without experiencing any of the desire.
The cool thing is, you can change your energy field! Just by being aware of it, you can consciously choose to switch from your current energy to the opposite – and then watch the sparks fly! That energy can even change within the sex act itself as we move from submission to dominance and back to submission again. As long as we operate in the opposite energy as our partner, we find connection and excitement.
In our sexual relationships, the joy is that we connect with each other in a really profound way. However, we cannot maintain that connection indefinitely. We cannot lay total claim to each other. There is a sacredness of the other, untouchable and inaccessible which plunges us into a kind of powerlessness.
Fear and Anxiety
We can celebrate that powerlessness and the gift of being unique and independent people, or we can respond with fear and anxiety. When we become anxious, masculine and feminine react in opposite ways. The natural posture for the feminine is to move toward greater attachment and increasing interconnectedness, even to the point of enmeshment. The natural posture for the masculine is to move into more separation and distance, even to the point of detachment and cut off. When these patterns continue, the masculine feels suffocated and the feminine feels abandoned and lonely.
Picture this scenario. Adam and Steve have a fight. Adam operates primarily in masculine energy and Steve operates in feminine energy. Adam tells Steve that he has to be alone to think about things and goes to the family room. Steve becomes even more upset, marches into the family room and demands that they talk. Adam walks away, grabs his coat and tells Steve that he’s going for a ride to clear his mind. Steve is devastated and starts begging Adam not to leave, pleading with him even as he pulls out of the driveway.
In this case we see that stress brings out Adam’s masculine energy and Steve’s feminine energy. The masculine drive is for freedom, the feminine drive is for fullness. The masculine fear is losing one’s self; the feminine fear is losing the other. So Adam feels suffocated and responds by needing to get away. Steve feels abandoned and afraid of being left alone.
The story ends much differently when Steve is able to give Adam space and Adam is able to reassure Steve that he isn’t going to leave him. Despite the messages on Hallmark Valentine cards, two people never become one person. When we can contain our anxiety and celebrate the uniqueness of our partner as a separate person, then we can dance between identifying who we are as individuals and the joy of connecting with each other. Then we don’t have to worry about losing our “self” or losing the “other.” We celebrate love and experience intimate communication with each other by relaxing into each other and spontaneously offering our deepest gifts.
Today’s Blog is Very Personal
Think about the times you felt either suffocated or abandoned. What did you do? The next time you are feeling suffocated, ask for the space you need while also offering reassurance that you are still in the relationship, and that you love and care for your partner. Challenge yourself to stay connected knowing that the masculine grows spiritually by learning to live as freedom, rather than by struggling for it.
The next time you are feeling abandoned, ask for the reassurance that you need and then do something for yourself while allowing your partner the space they need for their own self-care. Challenge yourself to accept the anxiety of being in your own company, recognizing that the feminine grows spiritually by learning to live as love rather than hoping for it.
When we relax into the Yin and Yang of the Tao we see that everything is ultimately interconnected and whole. The Taoists note that nature itself is interactive and full of creative, life-giving sexual energy. Rain penetrates the earth, giving birth to trees and flowers; rivers caress rocks; the ocean plunges into the sand; and the sunshine is absorbed into the womb of the earth, giving birth to all life. Sexual energy is the creative force that permeates the universe.
The goal isn’t to separate, organize and label every detail of our lives or to create unnecessary dualities, but to use it as a lens for recognizing patterns — in nature, in our relationships and in our own quest for self development and growth.
I want to close with a quote for Valentine’s Day that I hope we can all appreciate, no matter what our relationship status might current be. It’s from Charles M. Schulz who once said, “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
Sadly, another NFL player is in the headlines, facing charges of rape. The NFL, after a series of inappropriate and criminal behaviors on the part of some of its star athletes, has taken a bold and decisive stand toward ending domestic violence and sexual assault. This is a courageous move and the NFL needs to be applauded for bringing to the light those shadows of our culture that have been largely ignored and cast aside.
PSAs and promotions such as the “Speechless” campaign are powerful in their ability to bring attention to this national epidemic, and they need to be supplemented with realistic training for men who so often find themselves in the midst of conflicting cultural messages. Sexuality itself is a difficult conversation for us to have in our culture.
The No More Campaign is groundbreaking in its insistence that domestic violence and sexual assault are inexcusable, and that to stay silent about such actions is to contribute to the problem. But it is not enough.
While the NFL is sending a clear message about what not to do, there needs to be follow up conversation that recognizes what men and women should do when it comes to healthy decisions about relationships and sexual activity. We need to provide the information and tools for people to make wise decisions about being sexual in the today’s culture.
Conversation is the beginning, but without providing clear direction, actions are unlikely to significantly change. Men and women must be empowered to make wise decisions regarding their own sexual choices. Empowerment begins by having the right information and the right skill set to use that information. It means celebrating sex while treating it with moral integrity: Sextegrity.
It is a confusing terrain to maneuver in. One minute our culture is seeking to exploit sex, demean it and turn it into a sport. The next minute our society is trying to repress it, even vilify it. How do we find our own way through the confusing and contradictory messages of our time? Negotiating our sex lives can be incredibly difficult. In our encounters with desire, we might entrust ourselves to someone who is not careful with our bodies or our spirits. Bad sexual experience is so wounding, so difficult to recover from.
Hence, it is long overdue that we develop and live by a sexual ethic. Crafting a sexual ethic requires us to bring intentionality and discernment to our sexual decisions. We cannot create a sexual ethic in the heat of the moment. We need to take time to reflect on how we will be sexual beings in this world. We need to create a sexual ethic that takes seriously the desires, needs and pains of our bodies.
Defining a sexual ethic is the purpose of Sacred Sex: Replacing the Marriage Ethic with a Sexual Ethic. This creates a platform for starting the conversation and then moving from conversation to making healthy sexual decisions. The book and information on workshops is available at http://www.thesexminister.com
Sexuality is normal. Human beings need to be touched. All human beings. Yet for some reason we tend to think of people with disabilities as being asexual. We decide they aren’t interested in sex and if they are, it’s probably an unhealthy interest.
Sexuality is the same basic drive for everyone. It is emotional, it is social, and it is physical. Our sexuality involves how we feel about ourselves, our understanding of ourselves as men and women, and what we feel we have to share with others. Our sexuality is an aspect of our relationship with other people. It includes feelings of affection and approval. And it includes the whole panorama of physical sensations and desires, of which genital activity is just a part.
Depending on the disability, some people are very vulnerable to manipulation and abuse and need particular help developing a sexual ethic that protects them while also giving them the opportunity to experience the fullness of human sexuality. Contradictory messages about sex can be particularly confusing to those who have cognitive and emotional barriers to understanding.
I have met women and men who thought that the fact that they were having sex with their partner meant they would always be together and were heart broken when their partner moved on to a different relationship. I worked with one man who was overly warm and complimentary to women. He believed he was “just being nice” and needed a lot of redirection to understand appropriate social interactions in public and in the work place. I have encountered both men and women who were desperately searching for an intimate relationship in which they could share their most vulnerable self, just like most of the abled bodied people I have encountered in our society.
Everyone is a sexual being with sexual desires and sexual needs. All of us, disabled or not, need to know and abide by appropriate boundaries. Different relationships include different levels and kinds of touch.
One of the ways in which we experience the gift of sex is in the act of self-touch. Masturbation is a perfectly natural and normal way of learning about our bodies and giving ourselves pleasure. This is no less true for those who have emotional, cognitive, or physical barriers. Unfortunately, there are still places where the differently abled are shamed and punished if they are discovered to be masturbating, even in the privacy of their own rooms. To punish someone for expressing their sexuality this way is an assault to that person. There is no reason not to welcome masturbation as a healthy part of any of our lives, particularly those with barriers that might prohibit them from engaging in a healthy sexual relationship with a partner.
Sometimes those barriers are purely physical. Through genetics, accident, or injury, there are many people in this world today that carry physical scars that affect their sexual abilities. The recent movie The Sessions illustrates this reality when a man in an iron lung seeks out a sexual surrogate in order to feel the sensational height of orgasm with a partner, an experience that many of us take for granted.
Most people with physical disabilities still need to experience the joy of sexuality, even if they are not able to achieve orgasm. This can involve something as simple as the feel of skin against skin and can include the ability to give the gift of orgasm to another.
The good news is that stigma and stereotype are lessening, and many people with disabilities are experiencing the joy of an intimate relationship with another. Those who are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation need us to help them define healthy relationships and to guide them on appropriate private and public expressions of intimacy and self-touch. And they need us to help them work through their own sexual ethic so that they, too, are making wise choices about how they will express their sexuality in a way that is joyful and life giving to them, and to their partners.
I welcome your comments and feedback!