Friends with benefits — yay or yuck?

Friends with BenefitsOne positive feature of aging is the long-range perspective that it offers. You can see the birth of good ideas, and then watch their fate as society grabs it. With enough time, you can witness ideas pass in and out of social favor. Sometimes that time period isn’t very long.

Friends with benefits is one of these ideas. In my world, it began as something of a fun, optimistic, and cheery entity. Even the word usage felt zip-a-dee-doo-dah happy. Friends with benefits. How fun — like winning an unexpected bonus prize.

It meant that the bonds of friendship could open wide to embrace sharing sensual or sexual affection. You could give each other pleasure as a pure act of friendship. It was a variation on that mythological goddess called free love. Friendship seemed like a good enough reason to give each other some joy.

Traditionally, relationship commitments involve practical matters such as career concerns, finances, family ties, and so on. You based giving the green light for sex on your negotiations about creating a life as a couple. While dressed up in romantic imagery, it was, in essence, a business deal.

Friends with benefits, often written as FWB, stood in stark contrast to “just friends.” The latter was often heard as the sterile kiss of death for someone aspiring to break through the curse of an unrequited love. “Let’s just be friends” meant that an iron gate of rejection had been clanked shut against any possibility of romantic or erotic love. Forget about it. Ain’t happening.

To me, friends with benefits was comforting. It was mutually beneficial. In the most optimistic flavor of free love, it often led me to feeling good about humanity. When the joy of sex still meant something, it allowed me to feel joy.

Little did I realize then how pathetic it was going to get as time marched on.

FRIENDS WITH MEANINGLESS SEX

It wasn’t very long before the term friends with benefits was also being uttered for all of its negative implications. For many people it became synonymous with meaningless sex. It became more about benefits than friendship. The glimmer of warmth and fun from the original idea had worn away from its chafing with dumbed-down, pornographic versions of what sex was.  It morphed from a term of endearment into a term of shame.

There was a loud gong of implication that anyone who considered FWB as a positive lifestyle choice, even temporarily, was of less than stellar character. Males seeking FWB relationships were cast as sexual predators or immature playboys. Females were cast as sluts. Just as happened with the term swinger, FWB came to stand for “having a sexual relationship without being emotionally involved.” It also came to mean that people who didn’t have the balls to commit to a relationship would sit on the fence for awhile.

Originally for me, friends with benefits was something like a vitamin pill or medicine intended to bring comfort and joy. I loved my friends. I wanted the best for them. Friendship was the power concept and benefits was an add-on extra for an already thriving emotional connection. It was not sex without friendship, sex without caring, or even sex without love. For me it always felt like a gift in the power of now.

WORD HABITS

In heated discussions, words and phrases are often tossed about habitually without much thought given to the richness of their meaning. Sex is one of those words. Friends is one of those words. Sex with friends can be a double whammy.

Sex can mean anything from a loveless physical activity among strangers to a deeply fulfilling sacred encounter. Friends can mean anything from barely known casual acquaintance to  cherished soul mate. Sex with friends can mean anything from an act of desperation with an acquaintance (no time limit on friendship required) to a spiritually transformative encounter with a lifelong friend.

People who use FWB as a term to judge or insult are clearly defining their terms in the most negative way. Cheap sex, shallow friendships. People who have a happy relationship with FWB (and possibly with sex itself) define their terms in more complimentary ways.

Much of the terminology here is confusing. You have the previously mentioned “just friends” which is a red light to sex, red-light districts excepted. Then there is “more than friends,” which is supposed to imply green lights for sex but in a way that is beyond friends with benefits. More than friends implies lovers. Lovers implies an emotional bond.

I have noted that sex frequently does not get its due as something magnificent, a treasure for humanity. As an institution, marriage legitimizes sexual relationships, and yet it seems more like establishing property rights than holding sex as sacred. I don’t hear many people conceiving of marriage as entering the temple of exquisite beauty to share the ecstasy of God’s gifts to humanity.

With sex routinely trashed as a brainless activity, something for dickheads, predators, whores, and losers, it’s much more difficult to envision friends with benefits as sweetness and light. As the term comes more to imply loveless sex among relationship wimps, I often wonder exactly what the benefit of FWB is supposed to be.

Empty, vapid, mechanical sex? Oh, boy, where do I sign up?

FWB Scenarios

In my world, friends with benefits emphasized friendship. Sometimes circumstances made a marital commitment or a declared committed relationship unwise or impractical, but the desire to share pleasure was still very strong.

I was raised in a time and place where “free love” was idealized as joyous. I was around for the Summer of Love in San Francisco and the Northern California counter-culture of the 60s and 70s. Alternative lifestyles were common in my circle of friends in my neck of the woods. I grew up prizing intimacy, harmony, and creativity. I conceived of sexual sharing as a way for two people to connect more emotionally. A deeply felt sexual connection would inspire my desire for relationship-building.

In my case, I was a struggling artist for much of my life. As such, I was not a good bet for a woman seeking financial security in a mate. However, I made a loyal friend and was a sensitive lover. Swinging never appealed to me. I liked emotional involvement even when it did not include living together. I was a go-to person when someone wanted a good listener who gave honest feedback on hard-to-talk-about subjects.

In the world around me, I saw different FWB arrangements. Some situations created too much mobility for stabilizing a relationship. Students might attend different universities, often beyond commuting range. People in the military or those whose jobs involved extensive travel often had relationship difficulties because of it. Sometimes people were reluctant to “settle down” because their life was inherently unsettled.

After a brutal break-up or a lengthy period of loneliness, a FWB relationship could be a true blessing. I’ve had times where they were hugely healing, a positive morale boost for climbing out of the pit. If both people are on the same page that this is a gift of mutual affection and not a commitment to build a new relationship, they can help ease the pain of a troubled heart. (If they are not on the same page, it can be the beginning of bad day.)

Friends with benefits seemed to particularly benefit those of us who were not A-list specimens in looks, wealth, power, or other mainstream status markers. A-listers are more accustomed to getting what they want, and you could say they have more bargaining power in the competition for mates. As a B-lister, I was grateful for the intimate encounters I had with friends. We may not have had it all, but what we had felt special. I think B-listers excel at appreciation and innovation just because we have always had to find ways to feel loved in a world keen on sorting, ranking, and rejecting.

Aging also presents plenty of obstacles not encountered as much in youth. For example, singles in their later years often have to deal with where to live. Whose residence becomes the chosen one? Does that mean that one of them sells a house? Are there extended family issues with that, such as adult children of seniors who strongly object to Mom or Dad’s choice of a new partner? Or maybe after a couple of serious betrayals, someone does not want to immediately put a new love partner on-board as a co-owner or beneficiary. Friends with benefits is good enough, at least for now.

Sometimes medical conditions and other recovery scenarios make friends with benefits an attractive option. Life throws us many curves. Sometimes we find ourselves very alone in dealing with these curves, and it is a great blessing to find any semblance of love and support during these ordeals. FWB is not just about wild sex. It is also about more sedated forms of compassion and caring. Cuddling, hugging, empathizing, laughter, free speech, and energy exchanges are also benefits friends can share.

Alternative lifestyle scenarios also figure in here. While this is (fortunately) changing, GLBT people were legally forbidden from marrying, often creating the situation where what amounted to FWB relationships became the most practical choice. Then there are people who simply and unapologetically like being sex friendly and don’t buy the premise that making love with a friend is not emotionally meaningful.

People sometimes say that FWB relationships happen because people can’t make up their minds about committing. It’s also noted that sometimes people start off as casual bunkies and then unexpectedly fall in love. This could be a problem if one one of them wants a deeper involvement. The friendship portion could shatter if rejection or jealousy feelings rear their ugly heads.

A MORE INCLUSIVE WORLD

Having had some morale-saving FWB relationships over the years, I find it most irritating how the idea has been corrupted from when I first encountered it. I think that anything we can do to make life nicer for people, especially those needing a lift, is a good thing. I also hate to see the beauty of sex dragged down into the morass of shame, ridicule, and mainstream trivialization.

I have great empathy and also sorrow for people who suffer loneliness and rejection, feeling excluded from the good life. It’s not that they necessarily are excluded, but they feel that way, and that’s just as bad. Although it is definitely not a surefire answer, a sex-friendly friendship can be a blessing.  It has saved me on occasion.

I was and still am a sex-positive idealist. I thought that lovemaking was healthy for the body, mind, heart, and spirit. I thought that if we humans moved more toward loving intimacy regardless of the form relationships took, we would be better off as a species. For me, intimacy always inspired caring about the welfare of the person I was intimate with. I thought others would feel that way, too.  At least a few did.

Friends with benefits — yay or yuck? I still say yay, but I would ask more questions.

What makes sex sexy?

God-and-sexI have been toying with an idea that brings me delicious joy to contemplate.

To set the context right, I should point out that I am a sex-positive person. I think that sex — and by that I mean not only the physical engineering of our reproductive system but the whole enchilada of mind, heart, and spirit besides — is a remarkable, praise-worthy gift to humanity. I rejoice and am filled with gratitude for it.

I regret that this yummy gift is vastly under-appreciated and over-exploited. As we have done with so much in life, we humans have ripped sex from nature and turned it into a commercial enterprise. Once we segregated it from nature, wholesomeness, and God, we turned sex into a trivialized, often meaningless commodity. We lost that loving feeling.

Yet despite all that, sex is still wonderful and beautiful, especially for those who perceive and treat it as a precious gift from that which created us. Sex is highly creative, with or without procreation in the picture. Besides all the wonders it creates in consciousness, it can produce among the most delicious physical sensations available to humans.  A healthy, happy sex life provides a cornucopia of benefits to the body, mind, and soul.

THE GREAT IDEA

The idea that blows me away may require a few double-takes and mental replays from you before it can sink in. You may have to fiddle with it through your belief system, especially through your personal history with sex and religion. If you bristle at the term God or have a troubled relationship with sex, my great idea could fall flat (and you’ll probably quit reading anyway.)

It came to me one day as a flash from the blue, and from there the seed germinated and sprouted, particularly in the right hemisphere of my brain.

God makes sex sexy.

Granted that God is a multiplicity — some say God is everything — but here and now I am playing with the idea that the driving force behind our attraction for other people is the force of God in action. I am well aware that for many people, God is missing in action, especially in the bedroom, even among those who scream out, “Oh, God, oh, God!”

So let’s fiddle.

First of all, I am not talking about God as a personality, the omnipotent rulemeister, the left-brained super savant who notates every time you think or say the f-word. I am talking about God the force of nature. It’s the God you feel when interacting with nature, like how you respond to an awesome lightning strike, using the traditional meaning of awesome. True awe.

As for sex appeal, we are trained to think of it as person-based. She is hot. He is gorgeous. S/he is so sexy and picture perfect.

But as I age I have come to think of sexual attraction as the energy force that animates somebody. We may focus on our favorite jiggly or bulging body parts and attribute our passionate response to those things, using such advanced expression as “Look at the hooters on that one.” A popular social paradigm is that physicality is what’s sexy. We also have our personal list of behaviors we categorize as sexy, like how she twerks or how he struts.

But what if the juice, the current, the electricity of our attraction is actually God energy? What if God is the electricity that illuminates the light bulb of sex? What if it is God that makes those body parts we love so much come alive with sex appeal? What if sex appeal is God waving at me (or you) through someone else? “Hiya! How are ya?”

AND YOUR POINT IS?

The idea that God makes sex sexy does some amazing things, at least inside my psyche.

In the first place, so much religion pits God the personality against sex except under the condition of heterosexual matrimony. Even then, it’s more as if God allows those rule-followers to have sex, primarily for procreation, with maybe a slight nod to a little marital pleasure. In my youth, I was essentially offered the choice of going with God or going with sex — you must choose between them, religion seemed to say. In our sex-negative climate, very few voices proposed inviting God into the bedroom or taught that God is sexy.

And what is sexy? Feature films, porn, advertising, and books have all weighed in on this, usually trivializing the awe and wonder into tricks. But sexy to me means creative in the most profound sense. Sex makes babies, but it also symbolizes the best in a dance of co-creation between two lovers and the universe in which they dwell.

Then we have big ego. You can see this in action with celebrities, the Hollywood machine, and peeps in the porn industry. This is where “the beautiful people” are packaged as visual commodities. Big ego turns me off, especially when those who have it (along with a huge marketing support organization) project that their looks make them superior humans. Yet fast forward several generations. What if we were raised to perceive and symbolize sex appeal as God appeal? What if physical beauties owned the paradigm that they are channels for God? What if the media culture was onboard with the idea?

While some people crave the attention they get for being regarded as sexy-gorgeous, others hate attention like that, especially when focused on their body parts. It seems to me that a paradigm that merges God and beauty might serve to promote a more positive and respectful backdrop for how we embrace love and sex. It wouldn’t be so much me, me, me, I am so sexy. It would be more God is so sexy, and let’s enjoy.

Embracing God in lovemaking provides more of a celebration of life experience. It has shifted my perception. Now I see beauty less in physical terms and more in spiritual terms. Physical stunners lose appeal if they are not animated with non-physical delights such as wisdom, humor, sensitivity, creativity, and so on. I become more sexually attracted now to people I admire and respect who tune into the joy of sex, emphasis on joy. Personality is sexier to me than body beauty.

Sex itself takes on a more mystical, spiritual meaning then. It’s less about the paint-by-numbers mechanics of getting off. It’s more about savoring intimacy through interacting with each other. It becomes co-creating a delicious experience. That, in turn, adds more emotional joy to the tapestry, which then leads to a more powerful physical experience. Funny how that works!

GODS OF RELIGION

The notion that God makes sex sexy requires an overhaul in thinking about what God is and what sex is. I am not a religious scholar by any stretch, which means that my head has not been clogged with gobs of dogma. In my case, my love of lovemaking — and the moments of ecstasy it provided — inspired my spiritual curiosity. My logic was whatever created this bliss is worth my attention.

This is especially ironic considering that many religious organizations cast sex as the devil’s work and abstinence as the route to spiritual growth.

In my own view, much of religion has turned God into an ugly omnipotent torturer. And sex has been morphed into a friend of self-absorption and exploitation. But I don’t have to follow those paradigms. I can create my own new ones.

Putting God and sex in the same loving sanctuary gives both of them an opportunity to make beautiful music together. When I feel the intense lusciousness of sex beheld as sacred, I smile inwardly at the face of God.

SACRED MOO

This idea to attribute sexiness to Godliness plays wonderfully inside my head, but I realize that playing with sacred cows has the potential to offend people. I am not telling anyone what to believe. I am merely expressing an idea that brings me great joy.

What happens in the minds of lovers?

Minds-of-loversThe word itself has never much excited me, but I have always been raptly interested in consciousness for lovers. Yep, consciousness.

Whether I have written love stories or erotic stories, or just lived my life, the juiciest part of lovemaking for me is what happens within people’s minds. What motivates them to do what they do? What thrills them? What do they want? What thoughts do they have? What do they say to each other during one of nature’s most creative experiences?

Sharing consciousness is the stuff of intimacy.

INTIMACY — NO YAWNING

When I look at so many media portrayals of romance or erotica, the picture that emerges is that sex is what we do to someone or what someone does to us. It’s usually not depicted as a co-creation, as two people joining equally in a duet. The seducer seduces or the chaser takes charge and does something — usually a physical act. Mouths and other body parts crash into each other in hurricanes of passion.

Yet intimacy is not what we do to someone. It’s what we do with someone! Intimacy is equality in action. It’s a duet.

Intimacy is vastly underrated. It often sounds lame, especially to people trained to be intrepid, hot men or women of action. Intimacy often sounds as exciting as contemplating one’s navel. It’s usually portrayed in G-rated bunnies and duckies terms. Men are frequently taught to put up with intimacy as a step to “get to the good stuff.” Little do they know.

I think intimacy is top-drawer, the best. It makes the rest juicier, more meaningful. It’s where connection happens, friendship expands, love boils, lightning strikes. True intimacy is like a closely guarded secret, an out-of-bounds topic. Out of sight, out of mind.

Heavily exploited by porn but also distorted in mainstream depictions, sex has often become increasingly like stupid pet tricks. It’s about doing more outrageous activities, pushing the envelope on quirky-kinky. Be wild, be daring, be fearless. Show off better than the last person. It turns sex into a circus show like Buffalo Bill’s Wild West — thrills & spills and rootin-tootin fun. That’s exciting, but it’s not connecting.

Sex also often becomes much ado about playing roles. You are sub and I am dom. Or you are slut and I am lucky bastard. Or you are whatever and I am whatever. Roles can be very steamy to play for those with creative imaginations, but usually it’s much more mundane. This is especially true when playing roles does not create emotional connection to another human being.

GETTING REAL

Truly adventurous sex would be entering another’s mental and emotional world unarmed. That’s a place where all our memories dwell and all the emotional firing pins are hidden yet cocked.

Have you ever made love soul naked? Have you ever been able to shed all the cloaks and disguises of your real self and share love from that mental space? Yes, it can be exceedingly scary to be so open, but with the right partner, it can be incredibly profound and satisfying.

Nothing draws me closer to someone than sensing their realness. When I feel they’re meeting me with their true and uncensored self, I become most present. I listen respectfully as they share their fears or sadness or rants or (yes!) their joys and aspirations, too. And with all this input, we make love with more depth and caring. It changes everything.

Lovers as objects are supposed to play the right roles, say the right things, follow the expected scripts. Real lovers are not objects, they’re people, and real sex is about real feelings. Only lovers willing and able to be intimate with each other can feel the difference.

Lovers as objects have to look right in every way possible. Wear the right shoes, the right naughty fashions, the right do. There’s also a long list of skin and body conditions to avoid — to be cosmetically perfect is the ideal. I have read some blogs and have had some personal correspondence with women who feel more like hunks of furniture for their mate’s pleasure than they feel included in any co-creation of beautiful experiences.

Loving people see beauty in so many different ways. Many of those ways are nonphysical — intelligence, creativity, sensitivity, enthusiasm, passion, compassion, humor, spice, oh, so nice. Intimacy is an exploration of whole people co-creating. Yet where in our culture does anyone learn co-creation? I think long and hard to come up with examples.

HIGH ADVENTURE

It’s worth it to reflect for awhile on what mating really is (or could be.) We enter into love relationships as hunks of history, programmed with agonies and ecstasies. We could provide a healing sanctuary for one another, neutralizing emotional wounds from the past from our mutual love.

The minds of lovers are really dealing with more than the mechanics of sex, even if much is not conscious. Most of us yearn to be loved and accepted. We yearn to have someone care about us. Sex is a way people measure how they’re doing in life. A truly fulfilling sex life boosts happiness, especially when it generates loving feelings, self-esteem, and relationship health. When sex is unhappy, it’s often because it lacks intimacy.

For the sake of intimacy, I like to deliberately make love mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Making love mentally is sharing ideas without censorship. That means much more than talking dirty. Sex can provide a bonding experience rich with thought. Permission to shelve inhibitions often lets more good stuff surface. Unfortunately, many people feel too intimidated (for lots of reasons) to speak their truth even to their mate — sometimes especially to their mate. Most everybody has learned the hard way that sharing without editing can have dire consequences. It can also create peak experiences.

Making love emotionally is sharing feelings. Thoughts and feelings are different. Feelings often don’t have explanations or rationale. They may not be logical. They may be dreamlike. Sharing feelings freely and openly is relatively rare in a society that encourages secrecy, shame, guilt, and mistrust. One example is saying “I love you” spontaneously without running it by the analyst in your brain.

Making love spiritually is recognizing that people are much more than their bodies — that they are spirits inhabiting bodies. Spiritual awareness can have a surprisingly powerful affect on lovemaking including energy play, harmony with God/nature, a deeper appreciation for spiritual love, and transcendent sexual experiences (I’ll write about that sometime!) Spiritual lovemaking takes a great deal of emphasis off superficial beauty and re-focuses it onto cosmic beauty.

JUST THE BEGINNING

Becoming aware of how you might make love mentally, emotionally, and spiritually can be very enlightening. It can shift your focus in fascinating ways just to consider how you might do that.

Seed planted. Let me know what blooms!

Sexual respect

respectSomething I don’t see much in our culture and would like to change: respect for sexuality. Besides being the gift of creativity itself, no small feat, sex is a natural and free source of pleasure that, oh by the way, keeps us healthy, fit, and glowing.

So much about sex is awesome and wonderful, and yet our culture as a whole has trivialized it, demonized it, ridiculed it, dogmatized it, pornified it, and uglified it.

I have often wondered what the world would look and feel like if we truly respected sexuality. What if we beheld it as sacred from the get-go? What if we looked at sex as many of us look at a moonrise or sunrise or sunset or moonset? What if we looked at it with the reverence we hold for the natural world around us — the magnificent ocean vistas, the towering waterfalls, the beauteous alpine meadows? What if we honored sex as a spiritual interlude with our loved ones … and the divine?

I strongly believe that we should go back to the drawing board on this one and give it a re-think.

THE MEDIA CULTURE

When it comes to disrespecting sex, pornography is just a start, but a huge start. Supposedly porn shows us state-of-the-art sex — what we should aspire to. Yet it’s as if they never heard of or even imagined intimacy. Porn sex is usually not fun, loving, friendly, intelligent. It is grueling, mechanical, and often hard-hearted. It’s beyond what most people look like and what they are capable of doing. The platter of antics that porn serves up is not respectful of the natural magnificence of real-life sex. It’s a cheap imitation pandered as the sizzling best.

Porn, meanwhile, mirrors in a sexually graphic way what the other media suggest or allude to. Sex in mainstream Hollywood movies is usually depicted as a recreational conquest that often leads to problems or tragedies. It’s just for kicks or to prove someone’s coolness factor. Often someone seduces and then humiliates and abandons the victim. We see a bumper crop of horndog creeps in movies and plenty of acts of humanity against humanity. Rarely in movies do we see a depiction of sex as awesome, beautiful, empowering, and happily life-changing.

TV shows being even less explicit than movies often use dialogue to cheapen sex, to show it has no respect for sexual attraction. Sometimes the less explicit that sex is, the more harm it can do. Popular entertainment often reinforces stereotypes that keep many of us feeling ugly, ashamed, and unworthy. Look at all the people who become the butt of jokes about their various forms of “ugliness.” In drama sex is often tossed into the gutter, slime for crime. So-called factual TV has a field day with sexual deviancy and malice without presenting counterpoints of healthy sex. Think Jerry Springer’s ilk. When do you ever see sweet programs about the wonders of orgasm? Just sayin’.

Media turn sex into a cheap knock-off of what I came to know as its potential. Media turn sex into formulated physical interludes that have little mental, emotional, or spiritual impact — unless it’s painful or tragic. This usually translates into the message that the sex urge creates bullies and victims. Great message. Thanks, guys,

SOCIAL INSTITUTIONS

Most religions do not encourage us to respect and adore sexuality. We’re taught more to fear the devils who tempt our lustful desires. Outside of attempting to control behavior with fear, religions from what I can tell don’t do much Lord-praising and God-thanking for this wonderful gift. They portray sex as about flesh and weakness, not about holy merging and love.

In a similar vein, marriage is usually presented to the world as sanctifying a relationship after which sex is permitted, yet this institution does not portray sex itself as being sacred. Sex becomes a benefit of marriage; now it is legal and even God blesses it. Yet sex is not often held in reverence as a special bonding ritual. It devolves into “Not tonight Honey” and auto-pilot calisthenics.

As a condition of a committed relationship, monogamy means avoiding temptation from all others. Yet relationships often practice sex as an activity, not as a deep, special bond. It does not seem to occur to people that despite appearances. a sexual relationship is 24/7. Even when you’re not acting sexual, intimacy-building (or its opposite) happens with every interaction. The communicating, the shows of affection, the support in both sickness and in health, even the arguing and dealing with problems and disappointments affect all future interludes.

Non-monogamous lifestyles might appear to hold sex in higher regard — or maybe it’s just pretend. When people trash a lover’s feelings and avoid deep intimacy to feast on multiple partners, that isn’t respecting sex. I’ve seen it work ethically and happily, but it’s rare.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

What does sexual respect look like?

Sex itself is sometimes goofy, wild, gritty, wicked, intense, slobbery, ooey-gooey — anything but dignified. The fun of it is relishing the whirling, swirling mess. Offering each other a sacred space within which to be wild and free is a fabulous gift. It is like saying, “This is recess. Play all you want.” Protecting that playground with all your honor shows respect for it.

We seem to have made a cultural imperative to diminish the value of sex. To respect sex would be to participate in it with gratitude. It would mean honoring your partner who chose to share this experience with you. The play might get dirty and edgy. It may seem anything but sacred. Yet having had the thrill ride brings us back to the thankfulness for such play.

Respecting sex is also understanding that you make love to more than bodies. You make love to souls, to personalities with feeling, to people with emotional histories. When sex is about making love to souls, the intimacy goes deeper. The feelings penetrate farther. Even the pleasure is more intense.

There is a further layer of gratitude for me. It is to the deity that created this magnificent system — God, nature, the universe. Making love lets me love a mate and my deity at the same time. The more I love my mate with an open and free heart, the more pleasure flows through me from the design that the great infinite provided.

This is sex beyond ego. We’re taught to adore a person, conditioned to think someone is hot, sexy, and responsible for arousing our hunger. What we don’t often consider is that the very sex appeal we are driven by is an expression of God! The very energy of attraction that makes someone hot to you — and you hot to that person — is the force of nature or the force of God.

Respecting sex is like respecting the force that shaped Yosemite Valley or the Grand Canyon or that makes the mighty oceans. It’s the same force that makes flowers and trees bloom in the spring and dance magically during the harvest days of autumn. It’s the force that takes our breath away in all the ways it does.

LOST AND FOUND

As many people will attest, we don’t often appreciate what we have until we lose it. To make matters worse, often when we have something, we soon want more or we want different. If something may be lacking in our vision of perfection, we tend to forget the blessings of what we have. In my opinion, big mistake.

These days I memorialize gifts given to me long ago from people who have gone on. I lament how I took some gifts for granted, the times I didn’t try harder, the times I didn’t see farther than my immediate desires or limited perspective. In my current life, I have no partner, a situation which inspires much thought and perspective about the meaning and worth of happy sex.

If it were held as more sacred, perhaps we would not treat sex as an after-thought, a recreational diversion for when we get bored. Perhaps our lives would have more meaning if we conceived of sex in a more creative light.

Sexual dry spells

Dry-spellWhen I wrote a blog post about uninvited celibacy, it became freshly pressed and opened the floodgates on comments from men and women in similar situations.

A great time to think about the meaning of sex turns out to be when you aren’t distracted by having any! Whether celibacy is by choice or is a situational dry spell like the one I’m in, being sexually dormant offers an unusual window into what it means to be sexually engaged.

At least that’s what I tell myself. My dry spell is two years-old. After the death of my mother in 2011, I joined my elderly father 650 miles away from my house. My love life (and the rest of my life) has been in limbo ever since. I have intimate friendships but nothing physical. I suspect it’s like being an athlete sidelined by an injury. You want to get back into the game, but your situation is that you’re required to rest, so you spend hours thinking about your sport.

I’ve made some observations about sex during my dry spell:

MALE SEXUALITY’S GUTTER IMAGE

Male sexuality has taken a huge drubbing in our culture over the last few decades. It’s slumped in the gutter. Men are often depicted as jerks and losers whose primary interest is getting off. Sex is often portrayed as a mechanical romp without feeling or intimacy. It’s all about — and just about — bodies. Yawn.

There’s a serious shortage of truly interesting male lovers depicted in the media. Seriously. I can think of few examples of men who impress me as fabulously inspired lovers. Not just a hunky babe magnet, but someone who brings heightened consciousness to bed. A true love god. Men in porn are like bottom feeders. I cannot remember seeing one and thinking, “Wow, he’d make a great friend.”

As a man, I carry the legacy of my gender brothers. Being loverless ironically reminds me how lame the social blueprint of sex is. Our sexual standards are very low. Sex gets seriously dumbed down. We get just  a comic book version of its potential. I have heard women say something like, “When it comes to sex, men are like dogs.” When I look at how sex is portrayed in the media, I have to agree. Woof. That’s not the kind of sex I want.

Men have little sexual self-respect because it’s not something taught or nurtured in the culture. Men end up with very little pride in their contribution to making sexual magic. If men are perpetually depicted as using women for sex, that’s what men aspire to be unless through some personal miracle they learn a different way. Lacking positive male role models for sex, young men become robots. Dog robots.

REAL MEN HAVE REAL SEX

Real sex is so much more than, well, sex. It ‘s more than pornographic body play. It is a mixture of great treats for the mind and heart with sensual arousal. Great lovers know this instinctively. They know that it is all about connection, and they make love with ideas as much as they make love with kisses and caresses. They make mental and emotional connection with their mate. They are mindful more than habitual.

We’re taught in society to treat each other more as toys than as co-creators of a fabulous journey. This tendency we have to treat each other as roles and objects goes far beyond sex, of course, but in my world, lovemaking is one route out of being superficial. It is a gateway into the deep pool of intimacy. Sex puts me in touch with deep feelings, which makes it spiritually profound. A statement such as that sometimes brings up chuckles or a sarcastic retort, which I translate as another sign that we have trashed sex with our demeaning representations of it.

Many of us are taught to think that “I want you” really means “I want access to your flesh.” Many of us are not taught that it could mean, “I want to embrace your soul as you embrace mine.”

ENERGIZE

You don’t often hear it expressed this way, but I think that making love is about energy exchange. Thoughts and intentions you have express themselves in whatever you do physically. They flavor it like ingredients used in cooking. If you’re upset, stressed, resentful, or something like that, your lovemaking will feel much different than if you are happy, loving, giving, and truly excited.

You won’t truly understand “energy” until you are sensitized to feeling it for yourself. The only place I recall seeing this presented in any mainstream movie was in the 1997 film Bliss. The movie showed a maverick sex therapist who taught the bliss value of energy exchange over the habitual physical orgasm production that most of us are taught.

I have been fortunate enough to experience energy flow first hand. An overall feel-good sensation fills me. Moods swing up with heightened energy. Satisfaction pervades the spirit. With heightened energy, sensuous touch feels hotter and better leading to that swept-away feeling.

Grasping energy exchange changes everything. Even cuddling by itself can be surprisingly exquisite. The body feels incredible and the mind fills with juicy deliciousness. Sometimes I’ve experienced the energy pop being so intensely blissful that traditional sex paled by contrast. How is this so? Energy! Consciousness! I’ve never seen this described or depicted anywhere outside of my own life.

LETTING GO

Under the right conditions, sex provides the perfect climate for letting go emotionally like a wild wind storm. The freedom is incredible. When I am sexually free and spiritually naked, my mind fills with wonders — visions, memories, feelings, fantasies, the energy buzz. I can man up or boy down. I can make rational sense or with permission zone out into a creative wilderness.

Since I know how important this space is for me, I do everything I can to make sure my partner has the emotional freedom to let go, too. That could entail encouragement. It also includes not judging or criticizing, especially her fantasy life and turn-ons.

Giving good head is more than oral sex. Giving safe mind play is precious. More damage is done when the opposite happens, yet we’re taught in thousands of ways to keep people locked in boxes of controlled conformity, especially when it comes to sexual behavior.

THE GIFT OF GIVING

Having no lover reminds me how much I treasure giving intimate pleasure to someone special. Pleasure is a two-way street. I receive so much energy and joy from giving energy and joy. It is a palpable, primal connection when it happens naturally. Perhaps it is simply that I was raised to be a pleaser and support person, but I feel less fulfilled as a human when I cannot pursue this craving. I feel like a honey bee transported from a lush garden to a vast desert with no blooms in sight for miles.

My romanticizing is not about materialism — wining and dining, buying affection with gifts, artificially pumping up egos, seducing and deceiving. It is much more about spiritual romance, the God-rendered magic of mate attraction, natural (no drugs needed) ecstasy, and the compelling drive to know and be known.

So here I am stuck again in the paradox of today’s sexual consciousness. I yearn to deeply please a partner body, mind, heart, and soul … in a world where sex has become so devalued it is beheld with grave suspicion. “Men are dirty dogs. Of course they want sex. Woof.”

When I am without a lover, I find myself especially empathic to women who suffer from sexual neglect. They often feel hopeless and damaged. Loneliness is painful. Of course they mirror for me my limbo life. I project upon them my cravings for harmony and intimacy. I fantasize that I could touch them in a way beyond what they know. Not me doing them, not me having all the answers, but us opening to each other in a journey of mutually-supported exploration.

DRY SPELLS

We tell ourselves stories to make sense of our worlds. With the dry spell I tell myself stories about why I don’t pursue love, what my family obligations are, why past relationships dissolved and what I could have done differently. I wonder if at age 64 I am too old for new love, too old to sexually attract anyone, or too young to be thinking insipid thoughts like that.

What do you truly yearn for?

Waterfall-kissingThe subtitle of my blog Soul Embraces, as you can see, is “What do you truly yearn for?”

I think that some of us are terrified to fully answer that question for ourselves. To actually put a voice to those deep cravings and expose ourselves before a witness — whether that listener is a flesh person or a spirit being — makes us feel very uncomfortable.

I know this happens to me. Here I am this big advocate of creative visualization and writing out your goals and desires, and I often find keen ways to avoid noting my own yearnings in any way but what someone reading my mind could comprehend.

RESISTANCE IS FUTILE

I know that many people resist savoring positive pictures of a desired future — the whole enchilada or just the guacamole highlights — because they don’t want to face the disappointment of not receiving what they yearn for. They figure that if they openly hunger for something, it sets them up to have it denied. Not engaging with these deep wishes keeps them out of the doldrums. “Why wish for something I cannot have?”

In my own case, I recently had a new look at my childhood programming. My mom died in late 2011 and I have been hanging out with my 94 year-old dad in the family home, which has given me fresh insight into my personality development.

As the baby boy of the family, I was not encouraged to voice my wants. I was number 4 in the pack order. My conditioning was mostly to accept what the higher ups wanted. I learned how to be extremely flexible because I was neither taught nor encouraged to take charge, lead, make decisions, or be bold. I was taught to respectfully follow and support the pack. Unwittingly, I was also taught the fine art of passive aggression, or getting my way by quietly manipulating circumstances under the radar (like many women of the 1950-1960s learned how to do.)

As a result I became extremely flexible in dealing with life, such as in handling dull jobs. My hunger was to be a creative writer and exercise my brilliance all day, but economic reality set in and I had to earn a living or starve. I took on brain-numbing clerical jobs. My potent mind kept me personally entertained while many co-workers saw me as an under-achiever.

I also discovered (after a life of learning experiences) that I was programmed to be most egalitarian in love relationships. I strongly believed in partnerships and in supporting my partner. I liked strong women and was very flexible, even comfortable, in letting them take the lead with me singing back-up. My upbringing never featured heavy doses of male privilege consciousness; I was bred to respect and listen to women.

The problems I had occurred when women expected me to flat out take charge. I had little training for that. I was trained to be happy in fourth place.

Childhood also prepared me to be satisfied with not having much materially — not to want. We weren’t impoverished, but I heard the money doesn’t grow on trees lecture enough to constantly be conscious of curbing my yearnings. My parents were children of the Great Depression. Flexible as I had been taught to be, I grew up finding low-cost pleasures. I was trained to be content with what I had and not to dream big. Fourth place.

So with this background, I resist thinking deeply on what do I truly yearn for? I often even have trouble answering the simple question, “What do you want?”

I am programmed to sound a little like a Miss America candidate in my answers to that question. “Oh, I want for everyone to have something happy to smile about.”

A CLOSER LOOK

I’ve noticed that in pondering my yearnings, I rough sort them into two categories. First are the safe ones, the ones that could easily be spoken to anyone because they are universally acceptable. Yearning to establish a nice vegetable garden is not going to offend anyone. It might even draw praise. I can yearn to go walking in national parks or to get better at Photoshop or to improve my blogging skills or adopt a dog. I am decent enough at making lists like that.

Other yearnings are more problematic. Not as safe. Some require lengthy footnotes and disclaimers.

They’re the ones in the sorting bin that get marked private. Sometimes they’re so private I don’t reveal them even to myself. I discovered this tendency through my reluctance to include them in written visualizations about what I would like my life to look like. Yeah, what do I want?

Well, yummy sex.

MEET THE CRITIC

I am my biggest critic in the private yearnings category. I judge myself with great ferocity.

“Want sex? Yummy sex? Well, you can’t want it unless you have the committed relationship that goes with it. Jerk. You’re not in love so you shouldn’t want sex. Plain and simple. And make your desire sound more intelligent, will you? Geeze! How much respect are you prepared to lose?”

So in the voices of my inner committee of critics, I encounter the tsunami of pain that turned the bliss of sexual play into a Shakespearean tragedy of angst, rage, and grief. Sexual beauty has been uglified beyond belief in our world. Ironically, sex is farther out of the closet than it has ever been. It has invaded our homes through the Internet with a mere google. Yet I’m shocked at how stubbornly joyless it has become. Sex itself seems to be suffering from a bi-polar disorder.

With sad regularity, different visions of gourmet erotic play flash before my eyes. To me they are beautiful, magical, filled with natural and spiritual wonder. All you need is love. But in a world where the news covers pedophiles, rapists, predators, and other creeps with rapt attention, and we’re being taught to objectify each other as targets for our various lusts, admitting to having a healthy sexual appetite is becoming more dangerous — especially for an older guy like me.

By current pornographic standards, my yearning for intimate rapport would be considered unbearably vanilla — too blunt to showcase in a Hallmark card or to confess at the dinner table, but laughable to those who fancy themselves as erotic sophisticates. My vision of joy between the sheets comes inclusive with all the mental and emotional trimmings of fully engaged intimacy. But how to express it in tweet simplicity in this often-hostile world?

CONFRONTING FEAR

I have learned that admitting what I truly yearn for means confronting fear. Can I admit those precious desires and give fear the razzberry?

One of the better retorts I tell myself is that if I am afraid to give voice to my cravings for soul-filled sex, others are, too. And if everyone is afraid to express their desires, you know what will happen. Yawn. So putting it out there is better than putting it in the vault of secrets. It might actually lead to something.

Another retort is that I am responsible for creating my happiness. I am the author of my life. Waiting for others to create my life — even though being fourth place trained me to do that — doesn’t work very well. Part of creating the life I want is opening the energy doors to yes, I want that.

Why not turn stifling my outburst of desire into inviting and inventing fulfillment? So another retort is that even if so much of the world has turned sexuality into a garbage pit, does it mean that I am required to accept that downer vision as my own? Do I have to wait for the world to enlighten up before I savor the yum? Can I move up to first place now?

Yes! It’s time for me to write out what I truly yearn for, and to include the yummy parts.

Uninvited celibacy

Veggie-womanRelax, this is not a woe is me story. It’s more of a story of discovery of what it has been like to be loverless for the longest stretch in my life since I lost my virginity. (OK, I actually didn’t lose it. I know where it went.)

Not making love for so long has given me new insights about what the experience is all about.

Celibacy is more than not having sex, which is to say that not having sex is more than not engaging in sexual activity — which is to say that sexuality itself is more than mere orgasm production. It’s a cornucopia of body, mind, heart, and spirit.

SEX IS WHOLISTIC

Sex combines both physical/sensual and nonphysical ingredients. There are the words that flow before, during, and after. The tender words, the hottie words, the encouraging words, the silly words.

I dearly love my female platonic friends, but I have noticed that not being lovers limits communication to certain safe areas. Sexual relationships afford me a free pass to be more spontaneous. Being sexually uncensored appears to give me permission to be less controlled and sanitized in general. I don’t watch my words as carefully.

As Spock would say, “Fascinating.”

Many people raised in our culture of erotic cliches do not see sex as an energy exchange, but I do. I notice myself as being much more rigid, subdued, serious, and deliberate without the lover energy present. You could say I take on the persona of an English butler (too bad the domestic skill set doesn’t come with it.)

I have noted with some dismay that the removal of sex from my life has taken out a huge chunk of life’s fun. Sex frees us to be joyously undignified. We can let our emotions romp. We can soar out of the box. We do not have to be so unfucking appropriate. We can giggle, slobber, moan, coo, scream, cry, writhe, and in the most wondrous sense of the word, feel. We don’t have to be cooped up into our cages of conformity (unless that’s part of your schtick.)

I look at life as a flow of water from the spring to the river to the sea to the air. Being celibate is like the lazier section of the wide, slow-flowing river where nothing much happens. Sex is more like the grand rapids, the awesome waterfalls, even the happy babble of the nudge, nudge, wink, wink brook. I miss the wild water.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?

In our society with our social training, uninvited celibacy feels like a disease. It feels as if there must be something wrong with me. I feel abnormal. I harbor feelings of being rejected, even when I rationally know it’s not true. I feel less than complete, even broken. Part of the pain is the uncertainty about my future—is this it? Am I done?

Of course I have received friendly advice about being happy with myself, comfortable in being alone. I am my own best friend, companion, even lover. Then there is God and assorted cosmic buds. We are never truly alone, they say.

But I hate any idea that the answer to this drought is trying to find sexual opportunity, like popping aspirin for a headache. Sex to me is too precious a human experience to be downgraded as a commodity—as physical release, as it is often called.

I find a big irony here: if I just wanted to scratch an itch, it would be relatively easy to find physical release. The real full meal deal is more complex. It would require meeting a kindred spirit and a deeper conection.

SEEING WITH NEW EYES

Not having sex in so long has removed so many of the assumptions and habits of yesteryear. I have noticed within me a strange mixture of awe of sexual possibility and resignation of the passing years. Now everything seems so magical, starting with the most basic and usually taken-for-granted among sensual doings. Loving gazes seem magical. Kissing seems magical. Someone reaching for my hand seems magical. Petting seems magical.

Reminiscent of the trick parents of toddlers pull, simple erotic joys all seem hidden away in a shoebox stored on the top shelf of the closet, out of my reach. Like a little boy wondering what Santa will bring me for Christmas, I ponder and fantasize what lovemaking would be like if it ever shows up in my life again. Will I ever hear “I want you” again?

At the same time, as a social observer, I am saddened by the portrayals of sex I see in the media. It is so often mechanical, grim, rote, scarcely a shred of humanity in it. I often think, “if that’s what I am missing, I am not missing much.” I also concur with one of my favorite lines from It’s a Wonderful Life when the old guy on the front porch grumbles, “Aw, youth is wasted on the wrong people.”

Sex in the movies so often misses simpler joys such as the rapture of cuddling. (Really? Rapture? That’s my point. It sounds foreign because it doesn’t get star treatment. Cuddling is frequently dismissed as dull compared to wild woo-hoo!)

WATCH WHAT YOU WATCH

The other day I watched Hope Springs, a story of a married couple played by Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones. The Streep character was suffering dearly over her husband’s constant sexual neglect and denial of romantic affection. It was hard to watch as it reminded me of my own loneliness. Especially difficult is knowing that I would have treated her so much better, lavishing her with the love she craved, and yet the senior bad boy got the girl, not me. (OK, it’s just a movie. I get that. But we project ourselves into movies, and that’s what I was feeling.)

I also watched a BBC-produced documentary on grizzly bears. It had nothing to do with human love relationships. But watching these big male bears attempt to beat the crap out of each other to win mating rights (and mating rites) became an unintended reminder of my own nature. Involuntary celibacy is a stark reminder that some form of instinct and conditioning drive me into mate hunger.  Watching big bears growl and swipe at each other reminds me of the competition for love, and in scenes like this they usually show the beaten male limping and bloodied in retreat. Not helpful.

The Internet opens the door to insights and dialogues with strangers, and I have seen various blogs on the theme of sexless marriages. I have seen both sides. I have seen people express their deep sorrows and feelings of failure that uninvited celibacy brings. I have also seen people in sexless marriages ridiculed and demonized as shallow, needy, and immature, like if they simply pushed the right button everything would be fine. Sexual hunger is not taken seriously. Not helpful.

Regarding my own unexpected vacation from lovemaking, I like to say that it is what it is. It has given me new awareness and appreciation for what I had, and sometimes for what I took for granted. It has restored a sense of awe and wonder over the magic of it all. It is one of God’s greatest gifts — and someday we might treat it as such.

UPDATE

A subsequent post continues on this theme — Sexual Dry Spells.