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Let’s talk about sex

The place of sexuality in society and in relationships has puzzled thinkers, theologians and cultures throughout recorded history, bringing the modern conundrum: how important is sex in a loving relationship? This is just the most recent of a long line of questions about the purpose, value and reasons for sexual intimacy.

A sexual history

Much of what is known about the attitudes towards sex in ancient societies is derived from modern interpretation of historical marriage and religious law as well as cultural doctrines around conception or contraception.

In the beginning, sex was for procreation. First century Jewish law reflected the enduring Christian doctrines of the same era, where sex was sanctioned only within the bounds of marriage (defined as being between a man and woman) and then only in an attempt to create offspring. Conception was so important in ancient Babylon that their marriage laws included the tenet that, if a man’s wife was legally barren, the onus fell to her to find a suitably fertile child-bearer for her husband.

Today, the Western world accepts sex as part of a functional relationship, regardless of a couple’s marital status. In some first world countries, sexual relations between homosexual couples are accepted, too. It’s now socially acceptable for all couples to enjoy sex, regardless of their intentions regarding children. While nowadays sex is considered part of a monogamous partnership, in her book Sex in History Raey Tannahill writes that for the better part of recorded history, “Polygamy was far more widespread.”

Historical attitudes towards sexuality cover the full spectrum, from ascetic to hedonistic. Ascetics abstain from all kinds of pleasure, including sex, often for the higher love of philosophical or divine devotions. Traditional Christian views on sex are closely aligned with this mindset. Hedonists take the opposite route, devoting themselves to the pursuit of all kinds of pleasure, including sexual and other physical pleasures. Aspects of ancient Eastern, Greek and Roman practices reflect a hedonistic approach. Tantra, emerging from India, takes the middle path through both extremes, encouraging sexual pleasure without making it the sole focus. Here, sex is promoted as an integral experience on one’s self-realisation journey.

Sex has become the source of the greatest joys and most confronting experiences in modern relationships. Whole industries have emerged to guide those seeking to maintain sexual satisfaction in long-term relationships. “Sexpos” now occur annually around Australia, New Zealand and the world, attracting thousands of attendees each time, all presumably looking for something more to satisfy physical, and perhaps emotional, desire.

Sex and marriage

The early Christian Church, while accepting that it could not possibly eradicate the human desire for a mate and family (especially as parts of the Old Testament explicitly encourage procreation), did as much as it could to minimise the ways in which one could enjoy sexual contact, even within the bounds of legally and religiously sanctioned marriage.

Between 7 and 12 CE, the Church explored many arguments about the definition of marriage, questioning whether it even needed to be consummated and refusing to “regard sex as an integral part of marriage”. Ultimately, the Church Father’s decision settled on consent rather consummation being the defining quality of marriage, further reducing the place of sex in relationships at the time. This is in contrast to earlier Hebrew and Mesopotamian practices, where, through the first millennium BCE (1000 BCE to 0 CE), marriages were consummated sometimes with brides as young as age six.

While marriage through the first decade CE provided men the right to have sex, it was not considered a duty. With many days of abstinence required based on important days of the week (ie Fridays for the memory of Christ’s death) or during Lent, there were few days on which the devout Christian was actually permitted to have sex. When they did, the “natural” position was the only permissible one — the man on top, facing the woman (known as “missionary position” and sometimes referred to as “vanilla sex” for its conventionality).

In fact, the ability to have sex face to face is unique to humans and a symbol of how vulnerable we are during intercourse. Most primates couple with a male rear-entry position, with intercourse’s sole purpose procreation.

Uniting sexually face to face also opens up nerve endings, connection between sensitive tissue and differing angles of penetration that make female orgasm possible. Some historians even think that, while we’d evolved to lose most of our hair, in response to the emerging frontal style of intercourse we strategically grew some back to avoid uncomfortable friction in this position. This theory may paint the modern trend of the “Brazilian” — total removal of female pubic hair — in a new light!

The Christian Church considered a number of sex positions and acts, including oral and anal sex, to be “unnatural”. If you were found to have participated in any unnatural act you could incur up to 15 years’ penance, perhaps of total abstinence. The power of the Catholic Church over marriage and what it entailed grew in the 12th century when marriage first became a sacrament. These stringent Christian doctrines made sexual experimentation itself a fantasy, creating no room for a couple to grow by exploring or discovering each other’s bodies, as is today so often encouraged as a means of enhancing sexual connection and deepening the relationship bond.

If you were getting married in India in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE you might be paired up with your potential spouse based on age. At that time, the best ages for marriage were thought to be when the woman was one-third of a man’s age; for example, when the bride was eight and the husband 24. Her age and inexperience were considered, with the bride only going to live with her husband after puberty. Physical contact was slowly introduced so as not to turn her against sexual pleasure or men. Again, the importance of child bearing within marriage can be seen in the first millennium Indian custom that allowed infertile men the ability to temporarily transfer their conjugal rights in the hopes of their wives getting pregnant, thus gaining themselves a family without the need to dissolve the marriage.

Love and sexuality

In 1976, Anais Nin, a respected writer, commented that the wider publication of her erotica (originally ghost-written for a private client), would “show that women have never separated sex from feeling, from love of the whole man”.

It is in the Kama Sutra, published in India between the 3rd and 5th centuries CE, that we see some of the first references to the connections between love and sex. Both the Kama Sutra and especially Tantra (also emerging from India) highlighted the concept of sacred sensuality. The Kama Sutra, with all its rules about different kinds of love, sex positions and pleasure and energy techniques, also states that such “rules do not apply for people who are truly in love”, as if to say that when deeply in love with another, rules and techniques for sex are unnecessary. Many in the first throes of modern love would probably agree. It’s when the glow of the initial lust/love connection wears off that practices designed to enhance intimacy and sexual pleasure can be of use, and it was these that Tantra and the Kama Sutra offered in abundance.

Tantra is described as a “mystic sexual cult”, the premise of which was sacred sexuality, which involved bringing awareness into love making to enhance pleasure and to cultivate the sexual energies (including semen), which were believed to be restorative and energetically supportive. A man’s semen, or essence, was considered especially sacred and too much expulsion of it was said to deplete him and contribute to a shorter, less healthy life.

If you’ve been in a longer-term relationship (anything over the two-year mark), you’ve probably noticed how the sexual energy between you and your partner shifts in relation to the length of your partnership. Trying to work out how to keep things fresh and exciting keeps self help, medical and other supportive industries afloat.

In his book Journey of the Heart: The Path of Conscious Love, John Welwood writes, “Who has ever heard a musician ask how to stay interested in music, or a poet complain about being bored by poetry? If a musician does not need to keep changing instruments to stay interested in music, why do we imagine we need a succession of new bodies [to keep sex interesting]?” If you are able to consider sex as a form of music making, and perhaps take to your partner’s body like the musician takes to their instrument, sex becomes an act of discovery, which, like any creative pursuit, serves up its best delights when expectation or rules are left at the door.

In love

Sexuality and love are not necessarily intimate bedmates; one can be in love and not feel sexual and one can feel sexual without being in love. The idea of being in love with your spouse is relatively modern, first emerging in the European courts in the past 300 years. However, the power of sex and love combined is a force like no other and, under its influence, men and women have risked everything for it.

In 1936, King Edward VIII of England, gave up his throne and title for the love of a woman he couldn’t be without. This was a relatively short couple of hundred years after changes within the Protestant faith evolved to permit sex within marriage for reasons other than contraception, including “to lighten and ease the cares and sadness of household affairs, or to endear each other”. In the 11th century Ibn Hazm, an Arabic poet, said, “The union of souls is a thousand times more beautiful than the union of bodies”, indicating the desire for love and emotional connection is one that’s informed relationship and sexual choices for at least several hundred years.

What may stand in the way of bringing sex and love into a harmonious relationship is the assumption that sex equals orgasm. If the Eastern approach to sex tells us anything it’s that sexual intimacy represents a treasure trove of tools for pleasure and, in fact, suggests that delaying or conserving orgasm is the ultimate experience. Creating an understanding that sexuality can be defined broadly and individually is a key step towards finding a combination between sexuality and love that satisfies personal needs.

Welwood also comments on society’s narrow regard for sex as a means to a physical end, “rather than as a transformative energy that connects us with larger cosmic energies”. This spiritual interpretation encapsulates Eastern sexual premises: that sex is a way of creating and sharing a special kind of energy, the practice of which can help bind two people together deeply and intimately, enhancing the love they share.

Creating sensual connection

In The Essential Tantra: A Modern Guide to Sacred Sexuality, Kenneth Ray Stubbs PhD discusses four limitations to creating sensual connection:

Spectator/performing: When you focus on whether you are doing things right or wrong. It removes your attention from the experience, leaving you disconnected, limiting spontaneity. Shows your focus is on “shoulds” rather than physical sensations or emotions.

Judgement: Perceiving something as not being done to your standard. Stubbs states, “You can have intimacy to the extent you are willing to let go of your judgements.”

Comparing present to past: Comparing what’s happening now to what’s happened before invalidates what is happening, often by defining it as less than a past experience.

Future expectations: Anticipating what will happen in the future means you are both disconnected from what is happening in the present and likely to be disappointed when the future arrives and does not meet your expectations.

According to Tantra, letting go of these limitations, mostly through cultivating receptivity, relaxation and present-time experience, significantly increases your ability to connect intimately and sexually — and to enjoy it.

While it’s commonly accepted that for much of history sex and sacredness were divorced, these beliefs express predominantly Christian traditions. In a variety of cultures, the two were intimately joined. The historical sacredness of sex can be seen in the respect given to temple prostitutes, whose role was believed to be that of a mediator between man and the deities they served. This role was considered a duty to the goddess and, through the 8th century BCE, Greek women were all expected to devote themselves as divine courtesans at least once in their lifetimes. The enduring popularity of both the Karma Sutra and Tantric practices shows that, through India, there existed at least an attempt to create a sacredness within sexual practices.

The medical industry and sex

The use of medicine to treat sexual dysfunction may be a reflection of a mainstream or popular view that sex is purely physical. However, counselling, massage and other healing arts can also improve sexual dysfunction and their growing use in treating sexual dysfunction suggests emerging new understandings around the emotional and energetic nature of sex.

From the first prototype dildos, condoms and rudimentary attempts at managing conception, medical and technological advances have led to the creation of a whole industry designed to enhance sexual pleasure. Developments in medical science have also revealed the links between infection, disease and libido.

Medical developments have led to the dismissal of beliefs about sexuality that seem absurd to the modern mind, including the ancient Chinese belief that bisexual fathers produced hermaphrodite children. Modern diagnostic tools have also allowed the process of orgasm to be studied in detail, highlighting scientifically what many cultures accepted as a given: that sexual experiences between consenting adults have powerful healing effects, both emotionally and physically.

One of the best-known drugs for male erectile dysfunction was discovered by accident. Between 1991 and 1994, in the Pfizer Pharmaceuticals research department in Kent, England, a team of researchers were developing a new heart medication. As their product (already named Viagra) developed, further studies showed that, not only did the drug improve cardiac blood flow but that it also improved blood flow to the penis and, when combined with other sexual stimulation, temporarily helped men overcome problems with attaining or maintaining an erection. The drug was approved by the US FDA in March 1998 as a drug for impotence.

Contraception

While contraception has been considered a major sex crime by the Catholic Church, ancient cultures explored a variety of methods of contraception. The early Egyptians knew nothing of the integral role semen played in conception (not discovered until the 17th century) but their attempts to prevent conception by blocking seminal fluid entering the body (they used early versions of a sponge, diaphragm and cervical cap) were on track. They also began to experiment with herbs, plants and potions in an attempt to control conception orally, a process finally perfected in the 1960s with the release of the contraceptive pill. Through the 10th and 11th centuries, the Arabs led the way in contraception, conducting operations to remove ovaries. Avicenna’s medical books set the standard from then until further developments in the medical field through the 17th and 18th centuries (which included widespread availability and use of the condom).

The Kama Sutra, India’s main handbook on sex, ostensibly avoided discussion of contraception. The Hindus believed preventing conception interfered with karmic patterns and negatively affected the cycle of reincarnation, on which many of their beliefs were based. Certain exceptions were allowed, one of them being for courtesans, whose main role was to provide physical pleasure (which childbirth would necessarily interrupt).

One of the most radical medical developments affecting sexuality in modern times was the contraceptive pill. First approved for use in America in 1960 (though it took until 1972 for all women, regardless of relationship status, in all American states to have the right to use it), the pill is thought to have revolutionised sex, particularly for women. Outside America, Australia was the first country to introduce an oral contraceptive, in January 1961, with New Zealand embracing it later the same year. In Italy, a similar drug was available for regulating periods from the mid-1960s but it remained illegal to market products for contraception until 1971. Comparatively, Italy has a lower use of the pill relative to other first world nations, often attributed to the strong influence of the Catholic Church and its opposition to contraception. In Japan, concerns that wide use of the pill would lead to less condom use (and therefore more STIs) meant it wasn’t until June 1999 that the pill was finally approved.

As the pill was taken at the same time each day, women gained not only more control over their bodies in terms of conception but also the possibility of greater freedom and spontaneity in sexual encounters. Outside of the sexual arena, the pill is also attributed with providing greater economic and educational choices for women. The availability of the pill may also have contributed to the popularity of practices such as Tantra, or sacred sex, especially in the West. With pregnancy now a less likely outcome of sexual relations, sex could be seen as a vehicle purely for pleasure.

Your views, beliefs and experiences around sex reflect a combination of the influences of history as well as the freedom of choice offered by modern medicine through protection against disease and contraception. Sex does lead to procreation but it can also be for pleasure. As we approach the second decade of the third millennium CE, your choices in the sexual arena are greater than ever before. Letting go of the limitations mentioned above may be just the key to helping you throw off the unconscious shackles of any ascetic remnants and find a way to enjoy, as humans have done for thousands of years, sacred sex.

References available on request

 

Kelly Surtees is passionate about writing, astrology and anything esoteric. An expat Aussie, Kelly divides her time between homes in Sydney, Australia, and Toronto, Canada. Kelly has been published in magazines and journals around the globe and is an in-demand presenter on astrology, spirituality and writing for healing. You can find her online at www.kellysurtees.com or email kelly@kellysurtees.com.

Kelly Surtees

Kelly Surtees

With more than 14 years in private practice, Kelly Surtees is experienced, warm and insightful. She loves exploring astrology’s history as well as escaping into the ocean. Kelly’s passion for astrology is infectious, and her specialty areas include career and life direction, health and fertility, love, health and happiness. Kelly is an expat Aussie who lives in Canada most of the year.

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Let’s talk about sex

“LET’S TALK ABOUT SEX” – Welcome to my new Sexual Health blog

Before we do, my name is Matty Silver and I have been in private practice in Sydney for a number of years helping people with a wide variety of sexual health issues.

Some people can easily talk about their sex lives and some of the challenges that it presents, after all, its not all about heavy breathing and orgasms. It may be held in conversation with close friends, but rarely at a dinner party where if the subject of sex does arise, pardon the pun, it is usually about other people, exploits and jokes.

People are often uncomfortable about airing their difficulties such as, mismatched libidos, impotence, performance anxiety, internet and porn addiction or confusion about sexual orientation. They don’t want their friends or family to know that the relationship they are in is marred by their sex life. For instance you can’t announce at a dinner party “my partner and I have not had sex for months” it has been so difficult that we tend to avoid it. That is only one scenario.

For example I am constantly amazed how uninformed many men, both younger and older men, are about sexual functioning and intimacy particularly in relation to erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. Most of the time they suffer from performance anxiety and all they need is the right information, education and reassurance. Sometimes these worries can lead to depression or a breakdown of relationships. In addition sexual dysfunction may be an early indicator of heart disease, high cholesterol or diabetes.

I started my counselling career as a telephone counsellor for Lifeline many years ago and made the decision to get my counselling credentials and I found that the area I was most interested in was sexual health. As odd as this may sound, it is my passion mostly because I became conscious that so much of people’s relationship problems stem from not only their sexual issues but also their discomfort in discussing it with each other as there is still a lot of embarrassment about the subject. For me, it’s very rewarding when I can help individuals and couples work through it and help them find back the joy in their relationships and releasing their personal sexual discomforts.

Many of my clients are either geographically or initially reticent to face a counsellor so it is easier and less confronting to use telephone counselling which is, after all, an area of therapeutic help that I am very experienced in. For those in the country and remote areas the chance to discuss such issues is even rarer.

I therefore decided to specialise in National telephone counselling. It is anonymous and provides a safe, supportive and confidential environment. Talking over the phone can be less threatening and being at home is more relaxing. It is easier to fit in a telephone appointment, no travel, transport or parking problems.

There is much to talk about sex and yes, we can share the laughs that the humour around it brings but only when we feel comfortable within ourselves and the people we relate to, then, we can relax, enjoy and gain the wonderful benefits of what nature has intended.

Matty Silver

Matty Silver

Matty Silver is a relationship counsellor and sexual health therapist with a private practice in Sydney, who works with people to identify and overcome a range of physical and mental sexual health problems.

She specialises in telephone counselling all over Australia as another option to access advice or therapy. Telephone counselling provides a safe, supportive and confidential environment. It is anonymous and gives clients the freedom to talk about sexual issues without feeling embarrassed.

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Let’s talk about sex

Every caring parent knows that parenting is an endless cycle of decisions fraught with peril. Of all the parenting challenges “timing” is perhaps the greatest; when to introduce solid food, when to toilet train, when to wash the favourite clothing item and when to have “the sex talk”. If you believe the results of this latest survey then you might be wanting to have that chat about sexuality sooner rather than later. In a series of surveys with parents and their teen-aged children the researchers found that more than 40 per cent of the teenagers had sexual intercourse before any talk with their parents about sexually transmitted disease, condom use, contraception or what to do if a partner refuses a condom. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends educating children about sexuality early in life. It will be an awkward conversation, but an important one.Meanwhile if you visit Meijer Ad that contains mostly likewise discounts with Winn Dixie Ad you surely have a range like ALDI Ad.

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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