EXCERPTS FROM ALL MANNER OF THINGS: perspectives for young people on Sex, Self, Relationship, & Life
CHAPTER SIX: OUR CHANGING BODIES, SEXUAL ENERGY, & SEX
PART TWO: WHAT WE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEXUAL ENERGY
Most of us don't separate sex and sexual energy.
·Why does sexual energy get its own section?
In the chapter, Most Sex Isn’t About Making Babies, we talked a bit about sexual energy; what turns it on, what it feels like, how it affects us. We also talked about how powerful it is.
To know just how powerful...sexual energy is the sole commodity in the sex industry, a business that generates billions of dollars every year.
·Why is this power relevant?
As well as being compelling, enlivening, and vital, it can be manipulative and manipulated, unpredictable, and destructive. Suppose we’re in clear relationship with ourselves and with life, the energy can easily make us lose track. Under it’s influence we can,
. get unbalanced, become obsessive
. ignore red flags or things that don’t feel right
. think or do things that, normally, we wouldn’t
Even if some part of us realizes we’re not ourselves, it’s hard to realign. Sexual energy can be disorientating and addictive.
·What kinds of conversations are we having about sexual energy?
We know conversations about sex are usually limited, embarrassing, or unhelpful, but because reproductive sex and having babies is a part of life, sex is something that most of us—at some point—learn about.
Talking and learning about sexual energy—how it makes us feel, what we should do with it—doesn’t happen at all.
My mother told me what reproductive sex was. Neither she, nor I, nor anyone else I knew acknowledged sexual energy as something that happened, or that anyone felt.
As I got older, all I knew was I was feeling these increasingly strong sexual feelings. I couldn’t make them go away, and I had no idea if they were normal or what they meant.
Because I thought sex was secretive and adult, when I felt the energy I’d get embarrassed and feel guilty. I was sure my parents, or whoever I was with, could tell what was going on with me, and I was sure they thought it was bad.
·If we’re not talking about sexual energy, what does it matter?
When the energy is turned on it affects our whole body, how we think, and how we feel.
If it's not talked about, integrated, or understood, we walk through life unaware, which means we're more vulnerable to its chaotic aspects.
When I was sixteen I was staying at a friend of a friend’s house for a night. I kind of knew him, but not really. He was much older and I wasn’t that comfortable around him.
In the middle of the night I woke up feeling a lot of sexual energy in my body. He was touching me. The energy felt good, even though I knew I didn’t like or trust him.
Then, as I woke up more and fully realized what was happening, it stopped feeling good but I continued to let him do things because I was too embarrassed to tell him to stop.
Afterwards I felt dirty, like I’d betrayed myself. If I’d had more understanding of sexual energy, as well as of myself, I wouldn't have let it go on.
·Knowing the energy is something we have little intentional awareness of, what do we end up doing with it?
Within the narrative’s framework of ideas, the ways sexual energy is expressed and experienced are fairly specific. Our feeling of the energy is linked to liking someone, or to sex, and these are the areas where we focus it.
When we focus the energy on these areas—liking someone and / or sex—they become magnified. This being the case, let's take a look at what's going on with them, and what we're actually intensifying.
SEXUAL ENERGY & LIKING SOMEONE & BEING IN CRUSH
· Do most of us have crushes on people from when we’re young?
·Do most of us feel sexual energy from when we’re young as well?
We feel it from when we’re born.
·When we’re young, how do we experience crush and sexual energy?
Unless we’ve been sexualized and we're aware of our sexuality at a young age, if we have a crush on someone, we’re not thinking about being sexual with them. We just feel we like them a lot.
I remember having a big crush on my best friend’s cousin when I was around 6 or 7.
I’d find any opportunity to just be around him.
Similarly, when we feel sexual energy, it usually has nothing to do with being in crush.
My parents had a small bowl which had a hand painted picture of two Dutch children kissing on it. When I was around 8 or 9, I remember showing it to a friend’s brother and asking him if he wanted to do that with me, as in kiss.
I didn’t have a crush on him, but I was really interested in the feelings the picture turned on in my body.
·Leading up to and during puberty, what changes?
We know sexual energy gets much stronger.
Usually it's also when we're sexualized, and when liking people, being sexual, and having a boyfriend or girlfriend becomes a more accepted part of what we do.
·When we start liking people because we’re ‘old enough’, does it change how we think or behave?
Yes. Most of us start,
. feeling we want to like and be liked by someone
. wanting to get whoever we like's attention
. wanting to impress
. feeling we need to change who we are, how we look
. getting obsessed with people we like and forgetting about everything else
. feeling uncomfortable or awkward
. doing things we wouldn’t normally do if someone we like asks us to do them
. feeling powerful or special when someone likes us
. feeling like angst and drama are a normal part of life
WHEN I, OR SOMEONE I KNOW LIKES SOMEONE OR HAS A CRUSH,
DOES IT AFFECT ME / THEM?
When it comes to liking people or having crushes, what do I notice happens to me or other people? Does my / their behavior change? If so, how?
What do I think about how being in crush feels? Do I like it? Is it something I seek out and want to feel again?
·Why does how we think and behave change so much when liking someone or being liked becomes part of our lives?
It seems there are a few reasons.
First there’s the idea that,
the ultimate happily-ever-after is to find and be in love.
The idea is familiar and has been around for ages. It’s in classic myths and fairy tales, and is something we see and hear over and over again in movies, shows, songs, and just about everywhere.
when we like someone there are established patterns of behavior that are accepted, and even expected.
Being in crush, or being in what we call love, comes with familiar roles; we’re over the moon, obsessive, hurt, jealous, giddy, anxious, agreeing to things we wouldn’t normally agree to, being fragile, cocky, needy, resentful, etc. The roles are loaded with drama, yet we don’t question them.
At a dance performance in Los Angeles, one of the pieces was called ‘Love’. One dancer was male and the other female, and throughout the piece they fluctuated from being intimate and ‘in love’ to being in conflict. They’d fight, be heartbroken, make up, fight, and make up again.
The piece showed what most of us think love is; filled with ups and downs and drama. If we don’t have the intensity of the drama—feeling wildly passionate, jealous, possessive, hurt, or the other person feeling that about us—most of us are sure something’s wrong with the relationship, or it’s not really love.
Across the board, we think of this as normal:
. in stories and films love is an ecstatic high or a rock bottom low. On one hand, there’s the elation of the end-of-the-rainbow getting together with someone. On the other, there’s the idea that love involves suffering, or tragedy, or comes with a price
. the angst of losing love, or thinking we can’t live without someone, or having a broken heart, are part of the anticipated, and even celebrated terrain. The roles around break up are familiar. Often we play them out with determination or relish; we try to forget by partying, or getting drunk, or finding someone else, or wallowing and watching late night movies and eating tons of ice cream.
there’s the factor of our insecurity. Instead of,
. appreciating ourselves, we're desperate to be noticed and made to feel special by someone else. We'll do what we can to impress them, and try to be who we think they want us to be
. seeking a sense of purpose from within, we focus our attention on whoever we like. We're thinking about when we’re going to see them, and what they think of us, and the ways we can contort ourselves to make them like us
. taking responsibility for our own well being, we rely on someone else for our happiness. With our sense of security in the hands of another, every nuance of what they do or don't do is weighted with significance. As a result, we become doubtful, judgmental, jealous, and obsessed
WHEN I LIKE SOMEONE, ARE MY BEHAVIOR & INSECURITY RELATED?
Looking back on 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 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?
· Is the behavior when we're in crush or in what we call love helpful?
Let’s break it down.
1. When we think it’s okay and normal to think about someone all the time,
. we forget about friends, work, school, and things that interest or inspire us. Often it’s as if we were one person before we liked someone, and someone else after
. we’re in our heads a lot, which means things get pretty intense:
. we’re wondering about that other person, or talking about or texting them a bunch, so we're not present;
- we over-analyze, thinking about what they did or didn’t do, what they said or meant, and whether they’re thinking about us. Depending on what our thoughts are telling us, we get jealous or infatuated or think the whole thing is over. Those feelings then further our thoughts, and vice versa, which affects how we interact with the world around us
- we assume or invent a bunch of stuff about who the person is and what’s going on between us—good or bad—so we set up a dynamic based on what we think, rather than what we know through first hand, one-on-one experience. The last two lines of Sylvia Plath's villanelle 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. All our thoughts and ideas are shaping our interaction
- because we’ve already invested time thinking about them, if we do start to get to know them we’re more likely to be okay with, or ignore things that don’t sit right. We've launched a trajectory where we want things to work out
- we don’t appreciate what we have or what we’re doing in the moment. We let a lot of good stuff pass us by
- if the people we’re around try to interact with us, we get impatient, or irritated
- if others point out our obsession, we get defensive
- at some point, others just don't want to be around us
WHAT DO I NOTICE WHEN I SPEND A LOT OF TIME
THINKING ABOUT SOMEONE I LIKE?
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 do things just for the sake of impressing the person I like?
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?
2. As well as being a fun ride, sexual energy's high is altering and addictive. It makes us ungrounded, and most of us seek out or encourage the rush without knowing how to navigate it. It’s easy to,
. lose our footing and forget who we are
. look for people to like or crush on
. imagine things and get excited about someone we may not really know, or who may not be on the same page
. think we want to be sexual, and rush ahead
. want to sweep others up in our crush. Whoever we're talking to usually feels the rush of the energy, and their involvement amplifies and validates our own. Together we concoct ideas for the future that, most likely, are unhelpful
When lots of us are together, it’s easy to lose track:
Girls at concerts and events where lots of sexual energy prevails often get crazy. As with Elvis, The Beetles, or Harry Styles.
When boys are together and feel the energy, they’re adrenalized and are far more likely to do things that could be dangerous.
DOES LIKING SOMEONE EVER FEEL LIKE A RUSH?
Do I know what the rush of sexual energy feels like? If I do, how does it affect me? Do I get overly excited about someone I don’t necessarily know that well?
Does the high make it harder for me to get to know whoever I like in a way that’s authentic?
Does it make me feel like I want to be sexual?
When I talk to other people about whoever I like, do I notice if the rush is infectious? If it is, what are the affects? Does the crush seem more significant? Do we project ideas onto the future? Do we revisit the topic again and again?
What do I think of the idea that the feeling can be addictive?
3. When we think being with someone is the gold at the end of our rainbow, we put a ton of focus on finding someone. Then, when we do find them, we directly connect them to our happiness. In other words, we put our sense of well-being in the hands of someone else.
As a result, we have a pretty fragile existence. Still, we don’t think twice about it. Here's why it's a pretty big deal:
. how we feel about ourselves and everything else rests upon that one person—their moods, behavior, feelings, whims, and what we think those mean. If they do or don’t say hi at lunch, or text us back, or want or don't want to be sexual, it can make or break us
. with our happiness at stake, and looking to find The One, we want whoever we're with to be that. We turn a blind eye to things that would normally make us doubt, and agree with things that don’t feel right. We compromise our physical and emotional safety, which corrodes our sense of worth. The less worthwhile we feel, the easier it is to compromise, and the cycle continues
. with our happiness at stake, and looking to find The One, we’re likely to scrutinize whoever we’re with to be sure we made the right decision. Anxious and looking for problems, we'll find them. For instance,
. with our happiness at stake, and looking to find The One, we monitor all aspects of the relationship. Who our person spends time with, who their friends are, how they look and act. We search through their phone, and need proof of where they are. Our need for control becomes suffocating and overwhelming
When we think happiness is about finding and being with someone else, drama and upset inevitably come with the territory.
- the person we’re with looks at us wrong; they’re too interested, or not interested enough, or seem dismissive, jealous, doting, or controlling, so we’re filled with doubt
- they look at someone else wrong, so we’re filled with doubt
- they have too many friends so we think we aren’t enough for them, and we're filled with doubt
- they don’t have enough friends so we think they’re not popular, and we’re filled with doubt
- they spend a lot of time with us so we think they don’t have a life, and we're filled with doubt
- they don’t spend much time with us so we think we’re not important to them, and we’re filled with doubt
DOES THE IDEA THAT I'LL ATTAIN ULTIMATE HAPPINESS
WHEN I FIND SOMEONE AFFECT ME?
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?
Can liking or being with someone make me feel unbalanced? Does how they’re feeling affect how I feel? Does what they’re doing affect what I’m doing?
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?
4. When we're trying to get someone to like us, we’re more likely to say or do things we might not normally do.
. if we’re a girl, as we know, the ideas that come with the narrative mean we’re more likely to try to seem sexy to be attractive, or weak and like we want to be looked after, or we’ll gossip to seem like we’re popular or have exclusive information, or laugh at things we don’t think are funny, or be unkind because it seems cool. We’re also more likely to agree to being sexual when we don't really want to be
. if we’re a boy, expectations mean we’re more likely to try to seem tough, or strong, or dangerous, or better than others, or like we know about stuff that’s important, or have lots of sex, or that we’re in charge, or don't care, or have money
Boy or girl, often the things we do when we're trying to impress disconnect us from our values and who we actually are.
DO I FEEL LIKE I NEED TO IMPRESS?
If there’s someone I like, do I change? Do I try to be whoever I think they want me to be?
Do I become gossipy, or tough, do I start being unkind? How does that impact me? How does it impact the people who are usually close to me?
5. When we accept drama as part of being in crush or relationship, we're caught in cycles of highs and lows. Whether it feels good or not, the intensity is addictive. For instance,
. we chase the feeling of liking or being liked by someone, going from one person to the next. We don't allow time for discovering our interests, self reflection, or developing independently
. in relationships, endings and beginnings hold a lot of intensity. Often we'll break up and get back together repeatedly with the unconscious goal to feel intensely. The emotional gymnastics all-consuming
. much of the time, all we think and all we talk about is our drama. It becomes part of our identity
WHERE AM I AT WITH THE IDEAS AROUND LOVE?
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 normal parts of the terrain?
If they do, how do they affect me? Can it seem like the drama is really important, or makes things 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? Where I'm on uncertain ground, where I stray, where I lean in or criticize too much. What about the idea they can feel collaborative and inspiring?
·How does sexual energy relate?
We already mentioned how the areas where we focus our sexual energy become intensified.
Given our discussion, it's safe to conclude that the roles and the feelings around liking someone have destructive elements. Rather than keeping us aligned, often they make us insecure, obsessive, or distrustful, or leave us feeling used, empty, or that we can't find the right fit. 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.
When we combine our sexual energy with these ways of feeling and behaving, we’re adding fuel to an already precarious fire.