Self-doubt is what kills desire. Which ultimately, can destroy your sex life. It is self-doubt that keeps us from an absolute surrender to another. Self-doubt is that nagging voice inside that says “You cannot wear this; you look ridiculous—look at those love handles!” Self-doubt says: “You cannot start trying new things at 36! You are too old.” Self- doubt says: “She won’t like this, so why would I even suggest it”!?
Self-Doubt is a Noxious Weed
Self-doubt is also a deadly poison for our partner. Self-doubt in ourselves causes us to project and with such projections, we can end up harming our partners. The self-doubt we feel, especially in the erotic space, can frustrate us so deeply that we hurl insults and attacks at our partners. We can end up shaming them.
Self-doubt is the burdock that takes root in the strawberry patch and spreads like a wild-fire. It continues to reseed with each rainfall, and before you know it, your strawberries have been smothered out altogether. No more will you feel the warm gush of the strawberry juices dripping off of your lips. No more will you taste the delectable sweetness of that first bite of that red, plump, malleable fruit on your tongue. You can make yourself a nice bitter tea out of the burdock leaves, however.
The self-doubt that lurks into your erotic space creates a bitterness as well. It chokes out curiosity and creativity. It feels like a comfortable blanket, hiding all of our flaws and scars- but it’s also blocking out all the potentiality and possibility of reaping the rewards of the labor of love. Self-doubt infects our state of mind and it’s not just sex and desire that suffer as a consequence. It effects all of our relationships and all of our connections. It grows, like a weed, and takes over our truest self.
We don’t work as hard as we do in our relationships to back down at the first tinge of doubt, yet, we don’t hesitate for a moment to toss in the garden gloves and call it quits when it pertains to sex. That is not to say that we are all filing for divorce when there are sexual issues. A lot of couples remain complacent. “It is what it is” is the mantra applied to justify the bitterness, the isolation, and the separation that comes as a result.
Save the Strawberry Patch
If there is to be a reconciliation of the sexual discrepancies, it’s going to require some serious tools.
In order to save the strawberry patch, one has to spend painstaking time digging out the roots one by one. The root systems are very deep—you can’t just pull it out like a dandelion. Careful attention must be paid to the patch. Weeds creep up over-night and must be removed immediately, otherwise, you go through the same routine over and over.
Self-doubt has deep roots in the subconscious. To dig these roots up, one has to be willing to take an introspective look and ask themselves one primary question: “What am I afraid of?”
Sex is Scary
Sex itself is scary! For thousands of years we have been cautioned against sex. We have been told that sex is dirty until you are married, but then it is glorious. No one ever helps us figure out how to make it glorious and it’s incredibly difficult to shift mindsets so quickly. First, it’s dirty. It’s sinful, it’s diseased. It’s disrespectful to even think about engaging in before you are married. Porn is bad. Nudity is bad. It’s all bad, bad, bad.
Until you sign a piece of paper, that is. Then, there are a plethora of other concepts to consider: it’s only for procreation; it’s only for one man and one woman; it’s only to be done in missionary position; it’s only to be done behind closed doors; it’s not something you talk about with friends or family. The list goes on and on. Once you have decided how you will use sex, then it’s great! It’s allowable, permissible.
We use sex. Sometimes, sex uses us. Nonetheless, it’s used. Maybe that is part of the problem? It’s used, it’s not infused. It’s acted out, it’s not experienced. It’s mechanical and robotic, used as a means to an end. Perhaps that’s why we all suffer so tremendously as we do. We use sex as an act instead of realizing that we are our sexuality. Maybe that’s why we also insist upon these silly norms of what marriage ought to be—between one man and one woman. We see sex as separate from everything else in our lives and with that, logic demands that by such standards, sex has to remain a binary equation.
How simple are we to think that sex is anything like math or logic? Sex operates in the erotic space. The erotic phenomena that we experience doesn’t follow the laws or rules of our worldly sciences. Civilizations were worshiping Goddesses and accepting sex as a divine gift long before we were introduced to Pythagoras’s theorem. Love and sex were never intended to be a formulaic equation to solve. Love operates in its own space and within its own logic. The erotic, too, operates within such a space—with the same logic that is sometimes as ineffable as explaining an orgasm. But love and the erotic were severed and while love was granted its own philosophy, eros was left to the wayside. Eros was relegated to a secondary form of love which couldn’t compare or compete with the love of God, otherwise known as agape.
A concept of love which included eros was viable for much of civilization until religious thought interceded to define love, sex, and the parameters of both—from a good Christian perspective, that is. Clement of Alexandria developed views, found in previous Stoic and Greek apologist philosophies, that sexual relations exist for reproduction only. Clement offered that intending to have intercourse without fruition- you know, having sex for the fun of sex- was comparable to violating the laws of nature. He went so far as to write that, “For if people do not marry and produce children, they contribute to the scarcity of human beings and destroy both the cities and the world that is composed of them.” Apparently, holding animosity and judgement for one who does not (or cannot) procreate is justifiable within early Christianity. Oddly, however, this thought is still prevalent in today’s society. Clement created and helped us enable the continuance of shaming those who opt not to, or who cannot have, children.
It was also rumored that Origen, one of the most influential “Church Fathers” of our history; performed a self-castration in an effort to sever the sin from his loins. A small bit of gossip that was articulated in Ecclesiastical History, written by Eusebius; it relates a story that suggests in order to avoid suspicion while teaching girls, Origen severed his, uh, manhood, to become a Eunuch. It’s all speculation, but it adds weight to similar views held by the late Billy Graham and current Vice-President Mike Pence; in which the effort to remove suspicion around other women requires not being alone with a woman at all. Taken to this extreme, it can perpetuate the idea that it should be considered inappropriate or shameful for a woman and man to be alone together unless they are married. For many, this practice comes in through not only a place of privilege, but from patriarchy. Many people are not afforded the luxury to maintain similar standards within their working or social lives.
Encratites – or the “Chaste Ones”, were Christians that held the view that; “Only by rejecting marital intercourse and procreation could people be restored to their original, spiritual condition intended by God the Creator”. This kind of thought borders the idea that sex itself is some kind of curse of the Fall. But also, echoes Pauline preaching in that one should marry only if they cannot control themselves. Marriage ought not be seen as a concession to a failure of self-control, but more so as a redirection of energy. It is after all, energy that we expend, both in worship and in sexual intercourse. Instead of viewing sex as some kind of mutation and curse of original sin, we ought to see sex as a way to deeply unite and penetrate our spiritual essence into another. This is how we “increase and multiply”- we increase the energy in another by giving our own energy, and we multiply the energy by giving and receiving back and forth until we are fulfilled.
Finally, the sophist of Abdera once referred to sexual intercourse as a “minor epilepsy, and considered it to be an incurable disease. Clearly, this individual did not experience sex in the way I have— sex is not an epilepsy, but it surely seizes your body. Having these kinds of views, however, despite the ethical reasons behind them, produced for society, more shame than salvation. I mention these absurd and acetic practices and positions simply to remind you how far we have come. And, while Augustine may have been responsible for creating a sex-negative culture, we have only imitated such antiseptic and stringent expectations by forming parameters around the morality of sex, and essentially, creating within Christianity, a new culture- a culture of shame.
A New Concept?
Fortunately, modernity has provided us with new ideas and new concepts that break down these separatist views society has attached to sexuality. French philosopher Jen-Luc Marion attaches a unique distinction to the understanding of erotic love; “Love falls under an erotic rationality.” Essentially, love, and most specifically, sexual love, operates by a “greater rationality.”Operating within a logic that doesn’t fit into the calculations of worldly analysis and deductions, the erotic is misunderstood, and therefore, leads to self-doubt. For if we were led to believe that sex is so intimate that we cannot discuss it out loud when we are presented with new erotic ideals, how could we not have feelings of hesitation, uncertainty, and doubt? Sex has been so scary that enlightened theologians took to castrating themselves and living as hypocrites to thwart the potential of sexuality ever being misunderstood and manipulated. That’s not to say that their intentions were necessarily deceptive, but rather that good intentions can still compromise the sanctity they had hoped to protect. All good intentions pave the way to hell when the possibility for exploitation lingers around the corner.
You don’t need to journey too far back into history to know that sex can be used to cause pain as much as pleasure. Sex is used as a tool for status, power, and control. And while sex can bring about an experience that is an expression of love, too often, individuals are used as objects for perverse methods for others to express evil. There are very real dangers in sexual exploitation that I wouldn’t dare ask you to dismiss. Our bodies are meant to be temples that are honored and praised and revered. Bur there are real present evils in the world that only see the flesh as a means to satisfy some cruel and lurid fantasy. Adding these worries to the equation makes understanding the erotic even more perplexing. But, it is solvable. Even though there are very real threats to sexuality, we must remember that, for now, the threats have been eliminated. Hopefully, you are in a safe, trusting, monogamous relationship. Hopefully, you are not being exploited. Hopefully, you are not the victim of someone’s cruel, sick fantasies. Hopefully, you are merely struggling with this concept that erotic love operates within a logic that appears irrational to mathematicians. The only threat facing your sexuality, right now, is the threat of self-doubt.
Back to the Burdock
Remember my story about burdock root and strawberries? Here’s the thing; I really like burdock root. It’s a beneficial plant. It has amazing antiseptic and anti-bacterial qualities that make a rural, unconventional, holistic girl giddy. It sequesters carbon, it creates an awesome soil system for the ecosystem, and it’s really great at preventing other, more noxious weeds, from spreading. My cows are particularly fond of the plant as well. It’s a nutrient-dense plant that is like a treat for my livestock. It’s not necessarily a “bad” plant to have in your yard. But it doesn’t belong in the strawberry patch.
Self-doubt is not necessarily bad all the time. I look at it as an alarm that tells our brains things might get a little challenging. Self-doubt tells me to expect the unexpected. But if I allow the self-doubt to take hold of me, I will never try anything new. Self-doubt doesn’t belong in the bedroom. Self-doubt is a tool of the ego and we know that the ego doesn’t like change. But the erotic space is all about change and newness! The ego and eros are like strawberries and burdock roots.
The ego uses self-doubt in the same way that society uses sex—as an equation. The ego must maintain certainty and so, self-doubt is discharged so that this newness that is presented doesn’t interrupt the status quo of the ego. Self-doubt assures us that we won’t be rejected or let down. It’s a defense mechanism to prevent us from failing. The ego wants us to just remain as we are, unchanged, safe, and surviving. But surviving is not thriving, and it does nothing to help our sex lives.
To pluck out the seeds of this sexual self-doubt, we will need to examine eros on a deeper level, through the scope of a new lens—a lens that doesn’t focus on a separate image of eros from agape, but one that incorporates eros with agape.
Excerpt from Enfleshed: Making Monogamous Relationships Real