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ALL MANNER OF THINGS: perspectives for young people on Sex, Relationship, Self & Life




Most of us don't separate sex and sexual energy.

So why give sexual energy its own section?


In the chapter, Most Sex Has Nothing To Do With Making Babies, we talked a bit about how sexual energy gets turned on, what it feels like and how it affects us. We also talked about how powerful it is.


The energy is compelling, enlivening and vital. It has the capacity to alter our physical and emotional states, and if we let it, it can open us to experiences of ecstasy, connection, vulnerability, as well as deep stillness.

As with all things powerful, sexual energy also has another side. It can be manipulative, unpredictable and destructive. Even if we’re in clear relationship with ourselves and with life, if we don't have an understanding of the energy, for lots of us it's disorientating. Under it’s influence we can become obsessive, ignore red flags, and think or do things that normally we wouldn’t. Even if some part of us realizes we’re not ourselves, when sexual energy is running it can be super hard to realign.


So what kinds of conversations are we having about sexual energy?

We know conversations about sex are usually limited. Often they're embarrassing and aren't always helpful, but because reproductive sex and pregnancy are considered a part of life, sex is something that most of us—at some point—learn about.


Talking and learning about sexual energy—how to recognize it, what we do with it—is pretty limited.


A young woman remembers a conversation with her mother when she was around 9 or 10. In the conversation, her mum talked about reproductive sex, but sexual energy wasn't acknowledged as something that anyone felt. The young woman recalls how, at the time, she was experiencing sexual feelings. She said she couldn’t make them go away and she had no idea if they were normal or what they meant.


Because she thought sex was secretive and adult, when she felt the energy she'd get embarrassed and feel guilty. She was sure her parents, or whoever she was with, could tell what was going on with her, and she was sure they thought it was bad.


When the energy is turned on it affects our body, how we think, and how we feel.

If it's not talked about or understood, we're dealing with something powerful, that all of us experience and yet have barely any awareness or comprehension of. Walking around unaware, we're more vulnerable to its more destructive aspects.


When she was sixteen, a student remembers staying at a friend of a friend’s house for a night. He was much older, and she kind of knew him, but not really, and she wasn’t that comfortable around him. In the middle of the night she woke up feeling a lot of sexual energy in her body. He was touching her. The energy felt good even though she knew she didn’t like or trust him. As she woke up more and fully realized what was happening, it stopped feeling good but she continued to let him do things because she was too embarrassed to tell him to stop.


Afterwards she felt dirty. Like she'd betrayed herself. If she'd had more understanding of sexual energy, as well as more confidence in herself, she wouldn't have let it go on.


Where does the energy go?

The most obvious ways we've gotten used to expressing and experiencing it are when we link feeling the energy to liking someone, and when we link it to being sexual. These are the areas where, generally, we focus it.

When we focus the energy, it's almost like we plug that area of focus into an electrical current. With this in mind, let's take a look at liking people, and sex, and see what's going on with them.


Most of us have crushes on people from when we’re young.

And sexual energy is running in us from the time that we're born.

Unless we’ve been sexualized at a young age, which means we're aware of ourselves in a sexual way, if we have a crush on someone when we're young we’re not thinking about being sexual with them.

When he was around 6 or 7 a boy had a big crush on his older brother's girlfriend. When she was around he wasn't thinking about how to be sexual with her. He'd get really giddy and only want to be with her.


Similarly, when we feel sexual energy it usually has nothing to do with being in crush.


A teenager remembers a small bowl his parents had when he was young. On it was a painted picture of two children kissing. When he was 8 or 9 he showed it to a friend’s sister and asked her if she wanted to do that with him, as in kiss. He didn’t have a crush on her, but he was really interested in the feelings the picture turned on in his body.


Leading up to and during puberty, our sexual energy gets much stronger, it's usually when we start being aware of ourselves in a sexual way, and it's when liking people and having a boyfriend or girlfriend becomes a more expected and accepted part of what we do. Liking people and our sexual energy become linked.

When we have a crush on someone, it can feel like our whole world has become a wonderland. We're energized when we think about or see whoever has our attention. Our heart beats faster, we lose our breath. Being in crush can inspire us to get out of bed in the morning, work out, and carry us on a high throughout the day. It can also tip us the other way. When we really like someone, rock bottom lows and drama are expected parts of the terrain. We get anxious, obsessive, and rather than being a wonderland, it can feel like our world can break into pieces at any moment.

In Sophia Coppola's film Priscilla, we see the affect Elvis Presley has on the fourteen year old girl who, one day, will be his bride. Just after she's met him for the first time, she walks the long corridor at her school and sits through class in a lingering, rosy dream. Until she joins him at Graceland, she is barely able to function and can think only of him.


Like Priscilla's obsession, the drama of being in crush has roles that are really familiar.

If someone breaks up with us, the stage is set for drama; we think we can't live without them, try to recruit people onto our side, have a broken heart, or seek revenge. Trying to forget our ex, we party, get drunk, find someone else, or wallow and watch late night movies and eat tons of ice cream.


The big feelings we feel when we like people and the roles that often come with them have the potential to take us on journeys of self discovery.  We hit the heights or depths, and return to our center with new knowledge. However, most of us play our role with determination or relish. We wallow in it, or revisit it over and over again. What's more, if we don’t have the intensity of the drama—feeling wildly passionate, jealous, possessive, hurt, or the other person feeling that about us—we're sure something’s wrong with the relationship, or it’s not really love.


Do I notice it there are particular roles we tend to play? If so, what are they?

Have I taken on roles myself? If I have, do I linger in them, or revisit them and their feelings?


Clearly, how we think and behave changes when liking someone or being liked becomes part of our lives. One reason is because of the dominant ideas we have about love. Loads of us think it's the ultimate happily-ever-after. The notion has been around for ages and is something we see and hear in movies, shows, songs, and just about everywhere. It seems normal to think that being with someone will be this big, momentous thing and we'll finally be happy.

If we add in that most of us don't feel significant or secure, the idea that we'll be happy when we're with  someone becomes even more intense. Instead of appreciating ourselves, we hope to be noticed and made to feel special by them.




When I think about the ways I behave when I have a crush, do any of them come from not feeling good about myself? Do I try to change my behavior, or worry about how I look? Do I question myself, or beat myself up because I wish I could be more impressive? Do I get jealous? Do I obsess?



Because we think the behavior we associate with love is normal, we don't really question it. But what if we did?


When we focus on someone all the time, what happens?

Often we forget about our friends, and the things that interest or inspire us. Because we're wondering about that other person, or talking about or texting them a bunch, we don’t appreciate what we have or what we’re doing in the moment. We're not present. Also, when we spend so much time thinking about whoever we're thinking about, things also get pretty intense:









- We over-analyze, questioning what they did or didn’t do, and what they said or meant. Whatever our thoughts are telling us affects everything else.

- We assume or invent a bunch of stuff about who the person is and what’s going on between us—bad or good—so we set up a dynamic based on what we think rather than what we know through first hand experience. The last two lines of Sylvia Plath's poem Mad Girl's Love Song sums it up; I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead. / (I think I made you up inside my head.)

- Because we’ve been thinking about whoever we like a bunch, when we’re in person with them it's challenging to be present and authentic. Our thoughts and ideas shape our interaction.

- With time invested in thinking about them, if we do start to get to know them we’re more likely to ignore things that don’t sit right. We've launched a trajectory where we want things to work out.




•Am I less present to what’s around me?

•In the absence of that person, do I allow myself to miss out on opportunities to enjoy myself?

•How do I feel about school work or friendships? What about things I’ve been committed to or are interested in?

•Do I experience emotional highs and lows? Does what I’m thinking about the other person contribute to that?

Do I overreact to things the person does, or that I think they do?



What happens when we think being with someone is the gold at the end of our rainbow?

We put a ton of attention on finding and getting them. We’re more likely to say or do things we normally wouldn't: we'll laugh at things we don’t think are funny, be unkind because it seems cool, try to seem important, or agree to being sexual when we don't really want to be. The things we do when we're trying to impress someone tend to disconnect us from who we actually are.

In Donal Ryan's novel, The Queen of Dirt Island, the author describes the behavior of a group of teenage boys when a couple of girls arrive. "...the others talked nonstop, excited at the arrival of the girls, each of them vying to be the alpha, panicked at the imbalance in numbers, five boys to two girls, a slim chance of any action. Saoirse had seen this before, this lunatic dance that some boys did, this frantic peacocking. One of them started up the castle wall to the arch of the doorway...Two of them started to wrestle...while a fourth was telling Breedie how beautiful she looked..."

If we do get together with someone, rather than taking responsibility for our happiness, we rely on them. We place our sense of security in their hands and, as a result, every nuance of their behavior is weighted with significance. How we feel about ourselves, and about everything else, is affected by that person's moods, actions, and whims, and whatever we think those mean. If they do or don’t say hi at lunch, or text us back, or want to be sexual, it can make or break us.

With our happiness at stake, we turn a blind eye to things we'd normally recognize as red flags and go along with ideas and actions that don't feel right, and compromise our emotional and physical health. Alternatively, we scrutinize whoever we’re with to be sure we've made the right decision. Anxious and looking for problems, we'll find them: the person we’re with looks at us wrong; they look at someone else wrong; they’re too interested in us or not interested enough; they don’t spend time with us so we think we’re not important; they spend a lot of time with us so we think they don’t have a life.




•What do I think about the idea that being with someone is the happily-ever-after? Is it an idea I see expressed in things around me?

•If I like someone do I change? Do I try to be whoever I think they want me to be? If so, how? Do I do things just for the sake of impressing them? Do I become gossipy, tough, shy, do I start being unkind? How does that impact me? How does it impact the people who are usually close to me?

•If I'm with someone, do I think that I, or they, need to be perfect?

•If I’ve liked or been with someone, have I been hyper-aware of what they do, trying to figure out exactly what it means? If so, what’s that been like? Do I ignore possible problems? Do I look for them? Have I imagined things that, later, I’ve found out aren’t true?


When we really get into the drama of being in crush or relationship what happens?

It's easy to get caught in cycles of highs and lows, which can be addictive. Lots of us chase the feeling of liking or being liked, and go from one person to the next. Some of us will break up and get back together repeatedly with the unconscious goal to feel intensely. Much of the time, all we think and all we talk about is our drama. It becomes part of our identity



•What do I think relationship or love is, based on my own experience or the world around me?

•Do extremes and things like jealousy and suffering seem like they're normal?

If they do, how do they affect me? Can it seem like the drama is really important, or that is makes the relationship, or me, real? Is it something that gets me attention from my friends, or becomes the focus of conversations that seem significant?

•What do I think of the idea that relationship dynamics are opportunities for me to get to know myself? Could I discover where I'm on uncertain ground, where I stray, where I rely too heavily, allow or criticize too much?

•What's my experience with love that feels collaborative and inspiring?

With our sexual energy usually linked to the feeling of liking or loving someone or having a crush, we let it amplify whatever we have going on. Because most of us we don't take pause and observe our behavior, we can see that, often, what we have going on is self-defeating. It's not unusual to be insecure, obsessive, and distrustful, or do things that leave us feeling used or empty. We use the word love as a noun that describes a state of affairs—he loves me, we’re in love—and yet the action of being loving isn’t always a part of the picture.

We'll talk more about pausing and observing our behavior later. For now, let's look at what's going on with sexual energy and sex.

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