I was recently working with a client who sought out a way to better understand his sexual desires. Mainly, he wanted to know why he always thought about sex. It was on his mind constantly. Everything made him want it. Sure, his age could be a contributor to his incessant thoughts—remember when we were young and wanted sex all the time? And surely, the fact that he was in a new, sexual relationship could also be the case. At the beginning of any new relationship, we experience what some refer to as limerence. This is that phase and haze of a new love that makes us weak, addicted, and oblivious. It makes us want more and more of that person. It’s an urgent phase. However, I don’t think this was the case for him. I know it’s deeper than that. Nonetheless, after a bit of homework was given for him to reflect on his sexual appetite, I concluded that he, like many others, only ever registered sex as something to “do.”
When we use sex as entertainment— something to pass the time, fill the void of boredom— or even as a stress reducer or a substitute for a few melatonin capsules, we imprint a pattern of behavior that registers sex as a function. When we view it as a function, I believe it diminishes the fullness of the experience.
I ask clients to reflect on particular questions that I think will help them figure out their erotic themes. The idea of a core erotic theme (CET) comes from psycho-sex therapist Dr. Jack Morin. In his book, The Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Sexual Passion and Fulfillment, he proposes that “our most compelling turn-ons are shaped by one unifying scenario” that he refers to as the core erotic theme. This is the core “because it occupies a place at the heart of each individual’s eroticism. And it’s thematic in the sense that an infinite array of storylines, characters, and plot twists can all be inspired by a simple, yet profoundly meaningful dramatic concept.” (141)
Our erotic themes are “the deepest source of…eroticism.” This is what tends to “evoke your most forceful genital and psychic responses.” It’s powerful. And when we really reflect on our theme, we can come to understand why we are turned on by what we are turned on by. Dr. Morin adds that “it links today’s compelling turn-ons with crucial challenges and difficulties from your past.” The greatest benefit to this evolving erotic theme is that it helps us work out unhealed trauma from our past. “Hidden within your CET is a formula for transforming unfinished emotional business from childhood and adolescence into excitation and pleasure.” (141) This is just another way in which the energy of eros transforms. But before any transformation begins, we must ask ourselves questions about what turns us on and what sex means to us.
The questions I ask my clients who struggle with over-zealous sexual thoughts begin with an exploration into what sex means to that person and what they want it to mean. Often, individuals realize that how they use sex, think about sex, and interact with sexual discussions could use a bit of development and moderation. This means that they realize they are using sex at a lower frequency and want to elevate it. They want sex to mean something for them and for their partner.
One client revealed a pattern centered on pleasure. That’s not such a bad thing in itself. But if we only see sex as pleasure, a program is created. And we play that program like a videogame. Coincidentally, my client is also an avid gamer. Gaming is a pleasure for him, and, as his answers revealed, the pleasure was all that mattered. Love was secondary.
Sex most definitely can be a game. I have played many sex games in my time. My point is not to discredit the pleasure or game component of sex by any means. The game component is part of our wiring. The chase, the hunt, the wanting of what we don’t have. That seeking for something else to be an integral part of our pleasure is a bit of a game that we play over and over. Pleasure is important, we want it to feel good. If your focus on sex is on a higher frequency, pleasure becomes the byproduct. My aim when advising clients is always to help them see the spiritual and communal nature of sex. It’s a present-moment experience where attention oscillates between lover and beloved. Even in the flow of the activity, the in-and-out thrusting motions of the sexual organs imitate the spiritual self-emptying/ other-fulfilling component of a kenotic-kinetic exchange of energy. Sex is a dance similar to the Trinity. It’s not Fortnite.
Gamers are entertained by playing games on their PCs or game portal station things. And they want to be able to play whenever they want. They spend hours locked in a fantasy land fighting battles, working collaboratively with random players, in an effort to continue to entertain themselves. It must also be a pleasurable experience for them, otherwise, why would they continue? Games are both entertaining and pleasurable. For my client, so is sex.
“Sex is so entertaining that I’d just rather do it every time I think about it.” And really, who wouldn’t want to experience a little slice of that kind of reality? Unfortunately, we don’t live in a society that allows for that. Nor do we want to. When we use sex solely for satisfying our own desires and urges when we use sex as just a game, for entertainment, for pleasure, we diminish its relation to the erotic, and it becomes something else. C. S. Lewis refers to this as a “sexuality without Eros”, and therefore, “irrelevant to our purpose.” (The Four Loves, 119)
Lewis talks about a reduction of senses in eros, meaning that we go beyond just physicality, we enter the spiritual, transcendent realm. I similarly believe that when we focus our attention on the thicker layer of sex, we elevate ourselves to the space between feeling and unfeeling. That’s why I agree with Lewis that pleasure is the byproduct. And if done mindfully, it’s also a given. God designed the pleasure sensors. Obviously, the intention was there.
I love the idea of succumbing to pleasure at the drop of a hat. But just as an idea—as a fantasy. Most people are content with fantasy and many don’t dare tread that realm at all. And still, some expect that fantasy must somehow become reality. In those instances, the lines between fantasy and reality often become blurred.
We must ask ourselves how productive we could be to society if we just spent all our time having sex whenever we thought about it. Now, I am not one that thinks we are somehow validated based on the amount of productivity we achieve in our lives. But I do believe there’s a bit of truth behind that old adage: “Idle hands do the Devil’s work.” So, we need a balance of work and play. Purpose makes the pleasure more enjoyable. We need to hold ourselves accountable while also allowing ourselves to surrender to pleasure. This can be done, but we must change the way we view pleasure, rate pleasure, and enjoy it. All things in moderation.
This moderation begins by really sitting with ourselves and asking, “What does sex mean?” Write it down and reflect on it. The follow-up question to ask ourselves is “What do I want sex to mean for me?” Sometimes, we don’t recognize that we actually use sex in the way society tells us that it ought to be used instead of asking ourselves and our partners what we want it to mean. The constructs of society interfere with how we engage the erotic. It’s most helpful to set aside the messages of culture and society and to formulate our own definition of sex.
If sex is just a game or if sex is simply a means to experience pleasure and sensation, that’s all well and good. But does your partner feel the same? Have you ever asked your partner? Is that what your partner wants sex to be used for? Or is there a bit of development waiting for you to activate?