There was a time when I thought that sex was a drive. Sexuality as something that drives behavior is the pervasive understanding of sex in psychology and our culture. As a man, as most men, there was a time when I thought that sex was driving me too. Now I know that this simple idea is wrong and damaging to all of us. Sex is not a drive.
Many of the men I see do not question sexual desire or its function. To them it simply is, it simply exists – something that appears and disappears consistently. If it is not consistent, or if it’s consistently absent, they think there is something majorly wrong with them or their relationships.
If sex is a drive, a basic motivator of human behavior, a fundamental component of every day functioning, a necessity above all necessities, then it’s inconsistency, its absence, or its overdrive is mysterious, troubling, and terrible. If sex is a drive, it’s existence does not need to be questioned or understood outside of the acknowledgment of its existence. It simply is.
As a culture we have accepted sex as a drive for many reasons. The most important reason is that “sex drive” is often blamed for aggressive behavior. We look at (mostly) men and see the terrible things they sometimes do when they are sexually aroused. When we are extremely turned on, we experience the unique abandon of sense that leaves us powerless to reason and, if you’re emotionally unaware, sexual desire might often leave you in trouble. Sex drive has been used to explain inexplicable behavior for centuries. We see and experience the unique push in the midst of sexual desire that often urges us to cross boundaries and commit mistakes. To make sense of it, many smart people began to think that sexuality must be a powerful motivator of behavior so much so that it can push past boundaries with abandon – something to be controlled.
I see sexual desire as a multifaceted construct that pushes us to something else that is not necessarily behavior. It pushes us to abandon our cognitive walls. It asks us to consider, for a moment, that we are complex beings who have managed to evolve past their primitive origins and develop awe-inspiring defense mechanisms, emotions, and critical reasoning. But sometimes, in our struggles to become successful and survive, we lose a basic understanding of who we are, where we are, what we feel, what we need, and what matters most. We lose the ability to understand that we are animals first and humans second. Sexual desire asks us to consider that if we abandon all of the trappings of our cognitive brain, all of our defenses that are built to help us survive and thrive in the outside world, we can experience something amazing in the privacy of our sexual bonds. We can let go of ourselves.
“Stop seeing your sexual desire as something that just is, something that needs to be dumped onto or into another person. See it as an emotion or energy that can be expressed in several different ways and ask yourself to explore how that energy can be directed.”
So much of our lives is bound up in making sure we are someone. We feed our egos and our vanities in desperate efforts to make a difference, to matter, to mean something. Sexual desire invites us to let all of it go and just be.
This invitation is as dangerous as it is enticing. We have the ability to let go of ourselves and in so doing we become incredibly vulnerable, capable of extreme pleasure and extreme violence. In this way, sexual desire is much like creativity. Creativity is not something we consider a driver of human behavior, but highly creative people often express moments where they lose the ability to control their behavior. All they can think about or do is to create. Some of the most destructive people in history were brilliant creators, but we do not pathologize creativity as their problem. We know that they used their gifts to destroy for other reasons that have nothing to do with their ability to tap into the creative forces that all humans have access to.
Sexual desire is much the same, yet we blame it for our behavior or our lack of behavior. This is a mistake that must be corrected if we are to experience what sexuality has to offer us in our relationships and if we are to heal the wounds in our culture that sexuality is so often blamed for.
But why should this matter to you? If you or your partner are treating sexuality like a drive, you’re doing it wrong. You’re placing expectation on each other to feel something spontaneously that actually responds powerfully to context, to what is happening in the moment. Sexuality is not a drive. I think I describe it best when discussing sexual desire as an energy that can be tapped into. Sometimes that energy overtakes us. But it is something that can both be experienced and directed.
But because you’ve been taught that sex is a drive, you do not think that sexual desire is something that can be cultivated, directed, enhanced, decreased, or turned into something else. All of these are possible. I challenge you to understand how you’re treating sexual desire – as something that just is – and ask you to consider it as something that can be used to open a door to greater pleasure, greater intimacy, greater energy in life, greater creativity, greater understanding, greater compassion, greater empathy, greater awareness, greater being.
If you are struggling in your sex life, here is a good first step. Stop seeing your sexual desire as something that just is, something that needs to be dumped onto or into another person. See it as an emotion or energy that can be expressed in several different ways and ask yourself to explore how that energy can be directed. If you find that your sexual desire is asking you to cross boundaries and risk danger, consider that sexual desire is not the problem. You’re entering into a realm where you are extremely vulnerable, and the vulnerability you feel is showing you what you need. Maybe it’s time to change your circumstances and to take some risks to enhance your life and your sex.
For those who are struggling with out of control sexual behavior, you’ve also been lied to. What drives you to cross boundaries and risk yourself and others for sexual release is not sex drive. What you do, what you feel, what drives you to push past boundaries with the abandon of reason is what you feel when you do experience what sexual desire is inviting you to experience. What do you feel when you just sit with yourself? What do you feel when you can’t distract yourself with things and the trappings of every day life? If sexual desire is an invitation to just be, sometimes just being is really unpleasant, unhappy, painful, and lonely. These things must be addressed directly – your sexual desire is just a persistent and insistent reminder of how much you need.
For those who are struggling with sexuality in their relationships, so many men and women see male sexual desire as a problem. It is needy and persistent. It insists on being satisfied. And, so often men look to their partners to help them solve this problem. They use their partners for sexual release, because they see their desire as something to be dumped, something they cannot get rid of unless it is ejaculated. Instead, I hope you will consider that what you’ve been told about sexual desire is wrong. Perhaps your sexual desire is an invitation to enter into a state of being we so often forget exists. It is an opportunity to be, a chance to create connection and experience our basic humanity.
Dr. Kinsey’s series for men and those who love them is called Men in Love. In it, he chronicles the journey of understanding male sexuality and its challenges in the 21st century.
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