Between the subdivision where I lived in California and the high school I would eventually attend was a farm with a small stream and giant eucalyptus trees and a trail upon which it seemed okay to trespass. And it was there where I came across my first centerfold one afternoon on my way home. I think I was fourteen.
It wasn’t a Playboy centerfold, it was Penthouse, and I had heard in locker rooms and on baseball diamonds that Penthouse was the more desired of the two. It was just off the trail, unfolded, she was looking up at me, inviting me to take a closer look. And I did. She was stunning, my senses tingled with the way her body looked and all I could smell was eucalyptus.
I didn’t dare pick it up. Who knows what would’ve happened, especially after health class where it was drilled into our young minds that sex would lead to ghoneria, chlamydia, or herpes, that great American open sore.
And church, my goodness. Just looking I was already committed to seeking absolution, for I, for the first time, had lust in my heart.
So there she laid, waiting, beckoning with all the desire a woman like that has on a sexually terrified boy. I looked at her for a long time.
The heaviest sexual thing I ever did in high school was accidentally cup the breast of my girlfriend while we were taking a nap. In my drowsiness I thought she was facing me and that I had in my hand her shoulder blade. Once I realized we were spooning instead and the errant wandering of my hand I quickly removed it, only wishing that I had lingered a bit longer in my awakened and aroused state, check things out a little bit. Who confuses a breast with a shoulder blade? At eighteen?
That would be me. While the little criminals and drug addicts I had grown up with were scared straight, I was scared naive. Sexual intercourse, the only appropriate and allowable sex, was only available for those bound in the sacred bonds of marriage. Chastity was its replacement for the rest of us. Clean, chaste, moral, virgin were the words used to describe those who managed to abstain. Think of the antithesis of each of those adjectives and apply them to those who fell off the wagon.
In his book, The Mastery of Love, don Miguel Ruiz dedicates a chapter to sex. He calls it, “Sex, The Biggest Demon in Hell.” A must-read for anyone with a vagina or a penis. Sex certainly has been demonized, on so many levels and to so many extents, from the natural man being an enemy to god to an erection lasting four hours. Somebody call a doctor. For both.
I live in a state that has an extraordinarily high rate of suicide among young men. It’s been the second leading cause of death in young men from 14 to 25 years with numbers substantially higher than national comparisons. Statistically, around a third of these men were gay and much has been said and done to draw attention to this tragic trend. Nothing, though, has been done otherwise.
I have a theory. In this monotheistic culture, homosexual males are counseled to deny their sexuality and adhere to heterosexual influences that may “cure” their deviant attractions. How different, then, are young straight men (and women) who are counseled to deny their sexuality, to put away their “natural man” because he’s an enemy to god? Demonized. No drugs, no alcohol, no chemical influences are contributing here, just the notion that if you feel undeniable and unstoppable natural sexual urges there might just be something wrong with you.
Along comes marriage. The ceremony sanctifies the relationship and intent of the couple, and in front of god and witnesses these two souls have been legitimized for sex. And somehow everything’s going to work out just fine. Forget the psychological whiplash of going from believing that normal sexual tendencies and desires are verboten to it’s okay to consummate.
Such is the paradox of chastity and such is the demonization of a natural human condition, as natural as hunger and sleep.
Take that human condition and throw in unrealistic beliefs and undefined expectations, regulate it, glamorize it, prescribe it, perform it and seat it as the ultimate physical expression of love and it’s going to become a reason why marriages fail.
Which is sad. Really, it could be a substantial reason why relationships succeed.
Too much sex, not enough sex, you-want-me-to-do-what sex. Sex is a weapon, sex is a bargain, sex is a hold out, sex is a reward, sex is a comparison, sex is a performance, sex is power, sex is submission, sex is sex with everyone you have sex with, sex is what you think is in her head while she thinks it what’s in yours. And vice-versa.
What sex isn’t is talked about, early in relationships, because if we’ve taking that vow of chastity (remember where I live) and if we start talking about it… well, you know.
Sex is a basic human need. A need of the body. Ruiz says it’s the mind that’s taken over that need, like it’s done with hunger and the need to clothe yourself. Chances are an apple will satisfy hunger just as easily as cheesecake, but which makes your mouth water? Sears’ indestructible kids’ jeans will cover that bottom half just as easily as meterosexual low-ride, peg leg, designer ones. But which ones have more potential to embarrass you as a father?
Take the need away from the mind give it back to the body and sex is sex. The body is made for sex. It responds to possibilities for sex. Sounds amoral, I know, because it is. What would relationships be like if we could just leave sex alone, leave it just for what it is? Well, they’d be much like relationships in places where puritanical influences have dissolved over time, like Europe. Look at sex within any indigenous, ancient culture.
What the mind needs instead of sex, is love. When sex replaces love, it’s not enough to sustain a relationship. Can romantic love exist without sex? Only, apparently, if you sing a hymn. Both the body and the mind are the stakehoders in a relationship and when one or the other is constrained or exploited, if either loses the ballast of the other, the bond becomes vulnerable. Demonized sex has the power to do that.
My favorite place on this planet is a cove on the Pacific Ocean in the middle of California’s coastline, San Simeon. It’s lined with eucalyptus trees.