A listener emailed in and asked Ed and I to talk about sex and whether or not it was an overrated pastime. A very interesting question.
We live in a sexualised society
In a world that is dominated by sexual imagery in all ares of life from art to advertising it would be easy to assume that sexuality was at the forefront of all our minds. The news seems to be full of celebrities and others influential people who have performed sexual misdemeanours. To make sense of this I think we need to separate the emotional concepts of sex and love and dig a little deeper into how our sexual behaviour developed in our evolutionary past.
The sex contract
The study of evolutionary psychology suggests that sexual behaviour and practise developed specifically and if the theory is to believed was driven by women.
The difference between the human female and all other female primates is that human women are always on heat or in season, they are always sexually available even at times of the month when they are not fertile. Mammals come into season and are the sexually available.
The sex contract is this: A woman gave her self sexually and exclusively to one man in return for protection and food. She would be in the cave looking after the kids and the in-laws while he was out chasing the mammoth for dinner. In this are the seeds of the multi-tasking female and the mono-tasking male, they developed different brains.
For the man to be successful in his role the man would need to have fairly high levels of aggression that might include anger an violence. Now, something magical developed. When a woman has sex and orgasms she is energised and able to get up and get on with things. When a man ejaculates he releases hormones that make him sleepy and more docile. It is assumed that the woman controlled the man’s aggression by giving him a good sexual ‘seeing to’ and reducing his aggression.
The development of pleasure
The pleasure incentive that is created in either sexual activity or the visualisation of sexual activity is dopamine, which is known as the love drug. If you recall in other podcasts you will remember that dopamine is the endorphin associated with all forms of addiction. In this sense sex is addictive and that means ‘habit’. The man coming back from the hunt learns to expect sex as a reward for his efforts and build it into his system. Mother nature uses both the glans in male anatomy and the clitoris in female anatomy to create and enhance the pleasure in the sexual act of reproduction.
We now know that a large part of sexual attraction is pheromonal, that is to like the smell of each other. This can become confused when we meet someone in a club who is covered in perfumes and deodorants designed to make them smell attractive.
The following morning when the false perfumes have faded and the real body smell/odour appears they may lose all their former attractiveness. Research shows us that we are most attracted to people whose genome and therefore their smell is least like our own.
The closer their genotype the less attractive they appear to us. It is assumed that this is natures way of not messing with the gene pool and creating genetic abnormalities that happen in incestual relationships and is the basis of the taboo that you do not have sex with your relatives.
Sex and love
When we first meet someone we experience the frantic sex drive that is powered by dopamine. This first phase is the creation of the bond between a couple that leads to the exclusivity of “we are partners”. If the relationship is insecure so that the participants are not sure whether it is on or off then the levels of dopamine will remain high. This usually means that the need for continued sex remains high. As relationships become established and secure we developed relaxed sex that is powered by the endorphin oxytocin. This is the bonding chemical. Couples that are secure and well bonded have high levels of oxytocin in their systems.
Dopamine sex tends to be highly erotic and orgasmic and bouncing of the walls. Oxytocin sex is more prolonged and sensual involving higher levels of foreplay and after play, cuddle and kissing. Oxytocin couples touch more, hold hands and hug.
So, is sex overrated?
I reckon people have sex for different reasons. The old sex contract is no longer relevant women do not, in urbanised societies need the protection of rough tough men as they once did. So, I think that sex can have lots of functions…
- Physical, stress releasing and orgasmic/erotic
- Sensual warm and soft, re-affirming belonging and support
- Experimental, fun and variety
- Passionate loud and demanding
- Dutiful, sensible
- Deeply intuitive
- Inspirational, creative and Tantric
I guess that to be celibate is to also have a sexual identity and to engage in ‘sex for one’ as a lone activity is also sexual activity.
Sex, like most things is in the eye of the beholder and only truly becomes over-rated when we over rate it. Up to that point it is purposeful and meaningful and great fun.
If you are sexually active, then, enjoy your sexuality.