Human Sexuality, Part 1
Copyright © Dorian Scott Cole, 2002
This article series explores:
Part 1 - The basic role of sex
- The impact of sexuality today
- Risks, concerns, and disease
- Is sex strictly a biological and procreative experience?
- Is sex necessary? What are the consequences and benefits?
- What types of sexual activities are there?
- What about exploring sexual identity?
- What about sexual dysfunction?
- What about fantasy?
- What about really kinky sex?
- What about myths?
- What about sexual satisfaction?
Part 1 - The basic role of sex
The impact of sexuality today
What do people think about today? Sex! It is a cliché, but it's true. If we aren't naturally thinking about sex, our environment is saturated with it, keeping sex constantly on our minds. I was standing by a magazine rack in a grocery store waiting, looked over at the rack, and staring back at me from six magazines for women, were 6 beautiful women in various states of undress, all with seductive looks and poses. The word "sex" was prominent on every cover.
Where is this leading? In recent news, a tennis shoe company, with a parent company that engages in risqué features, is using a porn star in its tennis shoe commercials. Sex sells. Also in recent news, the UK educational system in the A Pause initiative, funded by health and education authorities (not the educational system), to reduce teen pregnancy, is recommending to young adults ages 14 to 16 to use oral sex as an alternative to penetration. The UK has the highest teen pregnancy rate in Europe, and this program is the first to be effective in reducing the rate; but it has raised a lot of eyebrows in the UK and elsewhere.
A recent study of the human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted disease that causes 50% of the cervical cancer in women, demonstrated that in only 18 months in a group of sexually active women, 5% (41 of 765) got cervical cancer, while those inoculated with a new vaccine did not contract the virus. (The risk category that these women were in isn't known to me.) This is just one of a long series of sexually transmitted diseases.
I had stopped writing this article, in view of the large amount of quality information available on the Internet and TV. But the news in the days cited, and my increasing awareness of the impact of sexual dysfunction, compelled me to complete it. The impact of sex on our world is dramatic... and always has been. Yet we have many misconceptions about the actual role of sex in our lives. We tend to stereotype the young, whom we see as driven by raging hormones, or think about the male and female peaks in sexual desire. We don't think about the importance of sex. According to a survey in a February 2003 Readers Digest article, for most men and women (~75%) the importance of sex peaks, not as we might think between age 18 and 29, but at around age 50 (44 to 56), beyond the "procreative" childbearing years.
But sex isn't without problems. Sexual dysfunction in both men and women begins to weigh heavily on many marriages beginning in their 40s, and affects a large percentage by age 60. Only in the 60s does the role of sex begin to diminish, and it remains important to many couples as the years continue to advance. So given its impact, and life-long importance, sex is a part of the human condition that is worth considering and understanding more deeply. Stereotypical thinking just won't relate to various age groups. For those who are interested, this article contains very compressed subject matter, of which any topic of interest, and the questions that follow each article, are likely to send a writer off in days to weeks of research.
These articles are an overview of sexuality, discussed sensitively, and those who potentially might be offended by open discussion of the topic should simply not read them. Access is restricted by standard ratings filters for parental control, and by blocking techniques.
I'm not a sexologist or other qualified professional; I don't represent the medical community; and no advice is intended in these articles. While references are given for some things, and some things are very accurately reported, some (such as fantasy) are my opinion based on the study that I do, and should be taken with skepticism. This is a platform to encourage writers to further research and discovery.
How do we view sexuality in our world?
Commonly people today define sex in different ways. I regard sexuality as a life encompassing influence that includes the unique mental perspectives and physical characteristics of male and female, differences in sexual anatomy, sex targets (what people find sexually arousing), and sex acts (sexual behaviors). This article will cover only part of these, at least that is my plan for now - I have no desire to use sex to increase visits to this Web site. But sexuality is a major part of the human condition, so avoiding writing knowledgeably about it is disservice.
In a changing world, our views of important issues like sexuality can change, and change brings clashes with other traditional views. The recent murderous rioting in Nigeria regarding the Miss World pageant is one example of what can happen when views clash. This article attempts to look critically and circumspectly at some of the issues raised by changing points of view. Following are some of my comments from various perspectives:
Biology. While sex is a biological function that has been around longer than mankind, it is a concept whose meaning to mankind is interpreted and reinterpreted. In recent history, primate studies of sexuality are often presented as guides to understanding human sexuality - but given the significant sexual differences between humans and other primates, I question the validity of implying social and relationship constructs from primate studies.
One thing is certain from biology. From a biological point of view, sex is essential to the continuation of mankind. If extinction of mankind is ever threatened by catastrophic events, sex may be reduced to its primal biological meaning. We have knowledge of nature, and of society, that says that catastrophe is a certain enough event for which nature requires a survival plan.
Morals. Morally, sex is a function that is controlled by society to fit practices that are beneficial to society. For example, in Western and many other cultures, it is typically regarded as better, in a society where the male is charged with supporting a family, for sex partners to be restricted to one, so that the man has only one family to support both financially and emotionally. Similarly, limiting sex to one partner eliminates the spread of sexually transmitted infectious diseases.
Religions often step into the moral arena to influence the beliefs, mores, and even the laws of society about sexual conduct. Religion seems to change its view in this respect depending on the changing needs of the culture and society. The Judeo/Christian/Muslim tradition once accepted having multiple wives, and even advocated that a surviving brother take his dead brother's family as his own, probably as a survival move. The Church also discouraged but tolerated divorce.
Today multiple wives are discouraged (and this practice is against the law in many Western countries), divorce today is rampant but accepted. In contrast to all views, the Catholic Church once excommunicated those who divorced and remarried. It has softened its views, and the Pope recently confirmed the Catholic Church ban on certain religious sacraments for those who divorce and remarry. All religions have shown some adaptability in the past, and this leaves open the question regarding which direction religion will take in moral leadership.
Psychology.From a psychological (and religious) point of view, good sexual intercourse (a satisfying sex life) is typically (not always) cast as the outcome of a healthy relationship. I support this view. But while I have psychological and religious views, I am not going to impose these views on this subject, as I do believe that sexual mores are in a process of necessary exploration and change, and currently lack culmination.
Anthropology. Cultures often make their own rules, and shroud them with religious authority that doesn't exist. For example, wearing head coverings into religious services, female circumcision, restrictions on masturbation, avoiding looking at the opposite sex, and the wearing of veils and garments that cover the entire body, are rules that are prescribed by various Western and Eastern cultures, but are not prescribed by religion.
Ethics. From an ethical point of view, sexual behavior is discouraged in business and many other organizational settings. Experience indicates that sexually oriented behavior can be disruptive and can leave the organization vulnerable to unwelcome influence. For example, exploiting sexual vulnerabilities to gain information, influence, and leverage, is a common tactic of spies because it works.
Another ethical problem, that is usually cast as a moral problem, is the lack of responsibility that some people demonstrate when they have unprotected sex, risking bringing a child into the world, and having no significant way of supporting the child.
History. People's response to sexuality has an interesting history. The television specialized channels, such as TLC, History, Lifetime, and other channels, often have very interesting programs on these, and I find them welcome additions to my learning in college and elsewhere.
In the Western world, positioned between the Elizabethan sexual mores with the sexual repression of the 18th. Century, and the sexual liberation of the late 20th. Century, were the days of questioning, tension, and inevitable change. Two World Wars disrupted normal roles, raising questions. The role of sex was becoming recognized, and some sexually frustrated women were even treated in physician's offices with vibrators to a "relieving" climax that was considered essential to their mental health.
Later, the fifties became regarded by many as the "ideal" time. The rules in the '50s were regarded as simple, which was a good coping mechanism for ignoring the change going on around you. In the US, there were sexually related life roles for both male and female, and sexual conduct rules to follow. "Good girls don't..." As a result of romanticism (regarding love and marriage), male pressure, and undercurrents of sexual acceptability, unwanted pregnancy rates began to soar in the US in the 1960s, followed by ultimately unwanted marriages. Ideal? Reality and the ideal age were not reflections of each other. Much about sex was simply kept hidden, which provided excellent fodder for rumor mills.
Briefly, the sexual revolution started much earlier in the late 18th. Century, as repression of sexual desire was unmasked for the damage it created in false expectations about sexual desire, and the resulting neurotic coping behaviors. Women's ever-growing position in the workplace questioned the validity of life roles. Hollywood began to feature nudity in films. And then a strong backlash occurred when Western society couldn't cope with the lack of rules and rapid change. Enter censorship, just in time for family TV. The religious Emirs in 1990s Iran could not have done a better job of "censoring" US entertainment.
Hollywood's venture into more sexually explicit movies was forced to end, and then later on TV, people could not be shown unclothed or even in bed together. In TV, in scenes on the bed, one foot of each person had to be on the floor. In an idealized reflection of life in the entertainment media, devoid of the mirror of reality, romanticism flourished and raised many false expectations of love and marriage. The world finally began to catch up in the strain of reality against the ideal. But the 1960s brought readily available birth control for women, and easier divorce, and as the 1970s drew to a close, sex came out of the closet to find its place in a new world, and romanticism was steadily replaced by more realistic expectations about marriage and relationships... not that there isn't still a mismatch in role expectations in marriage, and there are many unrealistic expectations still about sex.
The situation today. What we have today, in the early days of the 21st. Century, are many competing claims about the role of sexuality, with no clear direction. We are in what I call a PostModern limbo. The world has changed, calling into question the belief structures which influence our behavior. What is good? What is not? We don't know and are struggling for answers... we are in limbo. Until we answer these questions, our beliefs and our behavior are in chaos. The comfort of the status quo is an obstacle to finding answers, while lack of good information and experience leads people to uncomfortable places and decisions that are overly restrictive. Fear dominates. Confronting issues puts us in the uncomfortable position of seeing how little we know, and places us in confrontation with our own traditions.
We have not fully evaluated the past and come to a consensus about what is good. We are surrounded by information, experience... and fear. We are restricted in our evaluation by tradition, cultural mores, religious teaching, and the fear of challenging these. We have surveys about actual sexual practices (Kinsey report, etc.). We have knowledge about sexual activity from sex researchers. We have the mind-stretching spectacles of unusual practices. We have the Internet with abundant information about every conceivable sexual practice. We have a culture that respects the right of consenting adults to do as they wish regarding sexual conduct. But we don't have much of a consensus regarding what is good for us, and what is harmful, and religious and cultural tradition are mired in unquestioning support of the past. When we are led only by avoiding discomfort, we are then confronted by the discomfort of admitting that we don't know. On the other hand, if we face these issues, we have the discomfort of personally confronting issues that attack us through the reality of our family and world.
We are seeing various types of sexual activity around us, and we stare, sometimes in disbelief, sometimes with tolerance, but we haven't evaluated many of these experiences and fit them into a collective scheme of things, or even a personal construct of belief. These questions are not within the purview of sex researchers, who are mostly interested in "the how" and whose research is unencumbered by cultural mores.
Newer generations have a very different and more open attitude about sex. We have become a sexually saturated culture, with sexual attraction and performance often taking the primary seat in relationships, as commercials, daytime TV soap operas and talk shows, and magazines, overwhelmingly use sex to sell product. Have we simply transformed from a culture that had unrealistic romantic notions about marriage to a society that places an unrealistic sexual fulfillment expectation about marriage to the exclusion of other values?
In contrast, the movie industry seems to be placing somewhat less emphasis on sex than it did previously. "G" rated films sell better to wide audiences. As art reflects life, is this a harbinger of Western culture's new direction? Those who want to see more can easily resort to "soft porn" films, porn films, and instructional videos.
What will be the outcome? For all of the availability of birth control and practical information, there is still a high percentage of teen pregnancy. Many young adults bring children into this world and take no responsibility for the consequences. What kind of world are we creating for ourselves? Will there be a blind (uninformed) backlash that creates simplistic but stringent rules of sexual conduct? Will there be a further loosening of sexual conduct - will our attitudes remain in chaos? Perhaps the current situation is signified most accurately by President Bill Clinton's "denial" of "having sex." Confusion and lack of responsibility reign.
Additionally, despite the proliferation of information, there are significant knowledge gaps in practical information. I often listen to discussions within the media, and within the medical community of physicians, urologists, and patients, and am aware of many differences of opinion and lack of knowledge among professionals, as well as a lack of general knowledge among people who are suffering sexual dysfunction.
Risks, concerns, and disease
Sexuality is an issue that every person must face - especially their own sexuality. Everyone will be pulled in many directions about sex during their life. Sex is one of the most popular topics on the Web, and adults and youth have access to every type of sexual information. People want to know about sex. Young people continually impress me with their lack of any reserve in discussing sex. Despite access to information, many continue to suffer sexual problems unnecessarily, and young people get into unsafe practices. Whether rejected or embraced, sexuality has an effect on everyone's future, and is a major player in the human condition that writers explore. In a world with tremendous emphasis on sex, it is impossible to ignore.
Usually I talk about sex as "making love," but for the broader purpose of this article, am not using this term.
Why does sex remain a veiled topic? Sex is a very complicated issue culturally, religiously, and in its variety of expressions. Sex is a fear-laden topic, veiled by taboos and cultural conventions, and is overshadowed by interpretations in religious belief. Some commonly accepted sexual practices are still outlawed in some States of the US, and are typically only changed when the issue is forced into court. It is difficult to isolate the predominant beliefs about sex within Western culture from predominant religious beliefs.
Sex creates a lot of risks in our world. The effects of beliefs about sex vary from one extreme to another. At one extreme, various cultural beliefs lead some in certain countries to mutilate (fully or partially remove) the genitals of women to prevent them from desiring sex (as if this would uniformly work), or cultural and religious customs lead men to mutilate their own genitals to assure spiritual devotion.
Away from the extremes and positioned in the middle, are first, the effects of repression of sexual feelings and all the problems that repression leads to, and second, the effects of women being coerced into having sex because of believing that it is a peer expectation or that genital pain can occur for the man who is unrelieved of sexual tension, and third, the compelling statistics on the lack of female sexual satisfaction.
At the other extreme are those whose beliefs about sex give them license to have sex in every way possible, with everyone, with no responsibility for consequences - totally unrestrained.
Religion creates tension and a difficult climate. Many religious fundamentalists are very disturbed by the disparity in sexual practices. In some countries, women are not allowed to go to the beach, have contact with men, and can't go to the market without being fully covered from the top of their head to the toes of their feet. This even applies to tourists and US military personnel in the area. Those who hide female sexuality behind a veil, regard the Western culture which exposes skin and sexuality, as lascivious and without morals. Some (a few) US religious fundamentalists find other ways to hide sexuality with various versions of not seeing the opposite sex. Their concerns may have some validity, although their "cure" may not. Changing any of these beliefs about specific sexual practices is not the objective of this article. Promoting understanding, and stimulating informational exploration are the objectives.
Additionally there are risks in using information sources. Most information sources are very specialized and don't deal with the entire topic of sexuality. Medical, rape, therapy, sex, and religious sources seldom go far out of their area of specialty. Statistics are often presented in very misleading ways to promote an author's or group's cause, especially if the cause has an activist or commercial interest.
This Web site is free of commercial interests and also free from the pressure to say something whether it is worthy or not. I look at the topic of human sexuality in some depth occasionally, I have somewhat privileged contact with the medical community, and I hope that the information presented here will encourage people to seek additional resources. Don't read just this article. There are many excellent resources in libraries, bookstores, and on the Web which can help people become informed, lead them to a comfortable or challenged place with their sexuality, and help them make wise decisions about their sex lives.
The religious effect. As a pastor in the '80s, I was confronted by one uncompromising fact. Young people who are religious, often believe that they won't have sex before marriage. As a result, most of them have sex, but are unprepared for it. Their risk of pregnancy and disease is even higher. Religion tends not to realistically prepare adolescents for reality. The more fundamentalist the religion, the more likely it will take a pedantic view, completely divorced from what actually happens in life, and the less likely those adolescents will get instruction that is helpful from their parents.
Similarly, studies today indicate that those who do pledge abstinance are typically involved in sexual activities that do not include penetration, so their risk of disease is also high.
Studies also show that there is very little correlation between religion and sexual activity. Religion has very little influence. The only thing that can be shown is that for women who attend religious services regularly at the age of 14, the age of first sexual contact is delayed.
Creating even greater risks for young people today is that in most colleges, sex is treated by students as a recreational activity that everyone participates in regularly, without any emotional attachment whatsoever.
Are you or your child at risk of sexual contact that is too early, abusive, or of getting sexually transmitted diseases? The risks are alarming, and so are the risks that people knowingly take. For example, sexual contact can easily lead to disease. Condoms prevent pregnancy and disease, but young people tend to shun them. The religious usually remain least prepared, and teen pregnancy and disease rates are often higher among them.
Pregnancy occurs easily. During the three plus days of the month that a woman can become pregnant, and a woman's sexual desire is higher, the chances are over 10% that pregnancy will occur from just one session of sexual intercourse. Additionally, 5% of sexually active women in one study got cervical cancer from the HPV virus. Cervical cancer is only one disease of many that can occur because of sex. AIDs, genital and oral herpes, genital warts, and various venereal diseases are some of the others. Most of these diseases can't be seen most of the time on the other person. Abstinence has its merits, yet reliance on abstinence too often fails to protect against pregnancy and disease.
Diseases aren't the only things that destroy and last for years or a lifetime. So does abuse. While statistics are often misquoted to support particular causes, inaccuracy can't be used to dismiss abuse. There is reason for concern for everyone. Statistics:
- Leadership UTeen Sex and Pregnancy, Alan Guttmacher Institute
- Sex Offenders Statistics and Research
- HIV/AIDS Statistics
- Prevent Abuse Now
- Sexual Exploitation of Children
- The very conservative point of view
- Definitions, Scope, and Effects of Child Sexual Abuse, National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect
1. Is sex strictly a biological and procreative experience?
The sexual response in humans is first a basic biological response of the autonomic (parasympathetic and sympathetic) nervous systems. The response can be caused involuntarily, even when the spinal cord is blocked or severed. The sexual response can be caused in men and women even when the gonads (testes or ovaries) have been removed. It is primarily a response to tactile stimulation. (Tactile stimulation means touch.)
The sexual response is secondly a mental response that can fully override the biological response. It is controlled by the brain, and is influenced by emotion, sexual fantasy, sexual preference, bodily reaction, and the reaction of the other person. In total, sex is a physiological response.
In lower animals, the response appears to be strictly procreative and rather inevitable. I'm using the word "inevitable" in this article descriptively, not scientifically. By inevitable, I mean that given the right combination of circumstances and selection, the act of sexual intercourse will occur without any governing mental restraint, and in a way that is procreative.
In higher animals, intimacy and bonding are affected, and there may be social controls, but the response is still largely procreative and mostly inevitable. Humans are singularly different, leaving open the question of "Why?" In humans, the physical layout, construction, and responsiveness of sexual organs and the control by the mind indicate that the sexual response has a much wider potential range than just procreation. (If interested in anatomical differences, for one convenient source, watch the programs on the documentary channels on these topics.) People are quite capable of having sex individually and with others without procreation being involved in any way. This variety of sexual practices are not frequently occurring in animals.
The physiological pleasure from sex, while greatly impacted by emotional response, is produced primarily through the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that causes the release of endorphins. Endorphins are Opioid Peptides which are analgesic - notably painkillers - that have a similar action to opium and other drugs, and this gives the person a "high" and an overall sense of well-being. Chocolate even has similar properties, but not as intense. Of course the physical response is enhanced in the mind by the relationship and by mental images, which can release neurotransmitters, and through other things like the release of oxytosin and serotonin from skin contact. (Oxytosin is another Opioid Peptide that contributes to the pleasure of sex.) Physiologically, sex is a very complicated activity.
Biologically, men are consistently more easily aroused, more focused on tactile stimulation, and not so in need of hours of togetherness before having sex. Not all men are the same in this regard. Some research indicates that most men tend to be monogamous, their sexual urges are subject to emotion, and many men need intimate relationships and togetherness to pursue sexual activity. That their sexual urges are typically more urgent is without debate.
Are women really physiologically different from men in their sexual needs and response? Painting a picture of women being entirely different from men in their sexual response is a gross oversimplification. Fluctuating hormones during different parts of a woman's monthly cycle are responsible for the ovulation and menstrual cycles, headaches, PMS, response to pain, response to stress, mood, fluctuating blood sugar levels (related to energy, mood, irritability), and for varying levels of sex drive during which a woman may want foreplay, or may be sexually aggressive and want immediate penetration, or may want romance prior to sex, or may want cuddling and no direct sexual stimulation at all. Additionally women's mental attitude toward sex may be restrained by cultural expectations, self image, etc.
Actually women's desire for chocolate is probably more consistent than their fluctuating sexual desires, or sometimes follow it, probably because it creates a satisfying biochemical response that may be more consistently satisfying than what they get from men. Ouch! OK, that was unfair, and was meant in jest.
Many researchers suspect that men go through similar cycles as women, although less pronounced. Sexual drive definitely varies in both sexes from time to time, may reach peaks or be completely lacking due to biorythm cycles, and is also related to physical exercise, health, age, obesity, esteem, stress, diet, mood, medications, conflict with their mate, mental preoccupation, and a myriad of other factors. It's a wicked brew.
Biorythms have been researched and documented. While biorythms have also been incorporated in more doubtful areas, you can find good information on the Web or in books. The following link is simply a fun introduction: Biorythm Love Meter.
Many biological factors, as mentioned above, influence sexuality in both sexes, many of which will be covered later. Some are being researched and their role isn't fully understood. As an example, fat cells make estrogen in women. The number of fat cells is thought to be present at birth. So women with more fat cells have more estrogen, which causes more hormonal fluctuation, and may cause more serious PMS type symptoms. This is an example of one potential influence - but be skeptical.
For humans, a sexual act is not a biological inevitability; the response can be fully overridden and controlled, and the sex act can be done without a procreative purpose. Even influence or control of the parasympathetic and sympathetic responses can be attained through Tantric sex training or sex therapy. A sexual act is always a choice. It is never "not" a choice, even though some convince themselves that they don't have a choice.
Is sex necessary? What are the consequences and benefits?
Sex is necessary to the survival of a species, but sexual activity is not necessary to any individual. Sexual activity is a choice. Some people abstain from sex for various reasons for most of their lives. They are generally happy with their choice and satisfied with their lives. A minority of people choose this course.
Many people do lose sexual desire, which can be for a number of reasons. They either don't want sexual activity, participating infrequently, or they don't participate in it at all. The consequences of abstinence are possible sexual frustration in some, missing that occasional good feeling, missing the potential enhancements of your health that sexual activity can bring, and not enhancing a relationship.
Sexuality is part of the human relationship experience. Abstaining from a persistent biological and mental urge faces similar difficulties as quitting smoking, and reducing weight through not eating. Many people, religious or not, find sexual abstinence difficult to do (although perhaps not as difficult as smoking cessation or restricting eating).
Additionally, sexual conduct is imprinted into the social fabric in a myriad of ways. Before that first sexual encounter, the young person has this biting question, "Am I sexy? Am I accepted in 'that way' that seems essential to relationships in this world?" Many people put so much emphasis on this aspect of a relationship that they are determined to make sure that the other person is sexually compatible and satisfying before marriage. But marriage isn't just about sex, and trial sex before marriage is still a choice.
Engaging in regular sexual activity is beneficial in a number of ways. Sex is regarded as a preventive and healing medicine." Sex can bolster the immune system, relieve pain, help regulate hormones, and be therapeutic for psychological problems. Married couples actually live longer. 1
Having sex regularly, even without an orgasm, stimulates the endocrine system to make hormones. Higher levels of the hormone estrogen exercises the cardiovascular system, improves skin texture, more closely regulates the menstrual cycle, helps maintain bone density, boosts dopamine levels which may increase sexual desire, maintains vaginal lubrication, eases cramping (by reducing bloat), reduces stress (releases tension and adrenalin from body tissue, and raises endorphin levels, both which boost immunity), and prevents depression. Plus having sex makes us hungry for more.1
Sexual activity also lowers anxiety, violence, and hostility levels. It also can transform personality, making people happier, more self reliant, decisive, and better able to understand the needs of others and work with them. Additionally, it is just as good an exercise as running, and even burns the same amount of calories. 1
Sexual response, while it can be simply tactile, is more often a complicated series of physiological responses to various physical, mental, and emotional stimuli, and the positive effects linger well beyond the moment of orgasm.
Questions worth thinking and writing about:
How can young adults be steered away from sexual activity that risks pregnancy? Is teaching young adults about other sexual practices an acceptable direction, or do these practices have their own risks? Can abstinence be effectively advocated? Can morals be influential? Are parent's own confusion and stand on sexual behavior a free pass for young people to experiment? How influential are peers, versus parents, regarding sex? How much social and relationship pressure is there really? What do we know about the real consequences of these choices?
Is there too much attention given to sex by the various communications media? Are advertisers the cause of this emphasis? Is this the kind of world that we want? Does the open emphasis cause a too early interest in sex in children? What do we know about the real consequences of these choices?
Sexual conduct has been the purview of religion in the past. Should religion, a moral authority, continue to take a leading role regarding sexual conduct, or should it gracefully change or back out while continuing to uphold other standards of conduct? Will the tension created by religions that are stuck on ancient ideas in an evolving world, create havoc and destroy the influence of religion? Or are the ancient ideas prima facie, or based on historically observed characteristics of human nature and consequences, that aren't affected by technology or the modern world? Was the sexual revolution that has taken place for over 100 years a good thing, or a harmful thing? What are the real consequences of these choices?
What should society encourage and discourage regarding sexual conduct? Are sex inside and outside of relationships two different things that should have two different moral codes and two different views of sexual conduct and practices? What do we know about the real consequences of these choices?
Do studies regarding sexuality that are based on other primates besides humans, have any validity when applied to human sexual conduct, given the differences in potential sexual activity?
Since many special interest and research groups, including many government sponsored, religious, and university groups, seem to slant research and research findings to support their own beliefs and agenda, who are qualified and believable candidates to do research on the consequences of sexual conduct?
1. The listed benefits of sex in the three notated paragraphs were based on the excellent magazine article Sexual Healing, by Kristin Von Kreisler, Redbook, April 1993.
2. Mental models.
Our brain (which is a different concept than a "mind"), has various ways of representing things. This is not yet well understood, but research is advancing along the lines of multiple theories. Objects and mapping are two of the ways that the mind represents things. I commonly write in these series about "objects," which to me are structures in the mind that reflect what we know about some outside reality. For example, a chair is both an object and a category. We have some notion of what chairs are all about, and include everything that looks like a chair in that category. A specific chair, an object, has attributes that we use to flesh out our picture of that chair. An object might be a mystery, or question, represented by an empty space that we fill in. An object might be a word, and the word's experiential attributes, such as experiences and emotions, and definition by other words, flesh out the mental picture that we have of the word.
Mapping is another thing that I often write about. Our minds map things to create mental models of our world (See: http://www.ted.ie/psychology/neuro_cog/index.html. We map spaces, we might map the interface elements of software, a group of words, a picture, a narrative... I think that a mental map shows the relationships between things, allowing us to project thoughts, feelings, and meaning into it. I think of maps as coming from basic patterns, a locus of connectivity and continuity. When we map objects in a space, our brain automatically defines the relationship as position and distance. When we map other things, we determine what the relationship is.
We purposefully manipulate mental models of things in the theoritician's laboratory, in scientific and creative thinking. (See: http://www.cc.gatech.edu/aimosaic/faculty/neressian/papers/in-the-theoreticians-laboratory.pdf We take what is known, and ask, "What if?" How would changing this or that change our model?
I think that sexual desire is a mental model, and fantasy is the creative "what if?" that modifies the map of our sexual experience.
Notice and disclaimer:
I'm not a sexologist or other qualified professional; I don't represent the medical community; and no advice is intended in this article. While references are given for some things, and some things are very accurately reported, some (such as fantasy) are my opinion based on the study that I do, and should be taken with skepticism. This is a platform to encourage writers to further research and discovery.