Sexual Repression and Sexual Enjoyment: Now and Then


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Sexual Repression and Sexual Enjoyment: Now and Then
Those who visit primate exhibits at zoos are often amazed at the speed by which the sex act takes place:in some instances, less than 30 seconds from start to finish. I understand this varies somewhat by primate species, with the sex act taking considerably more time (more "monkey play") in some species than in others. The idea to drag out the sexual act into something that lasts much longer than a few minutes is uncommon among living things and is part of what makes us human.

I've often thought about the concept of "sexual enjoyment" in various societies and for those who grew up in various families which have either quite restrictive attitudes or quite liberal-minded attitudes toward sexuality and sexual activities. I also like to think about this issue as societal values change over time, from the restrictive views of the immediate post World War II era, to the free-love era of the early 70s, to the more conservative know-your-partner views increasingly favored in an era marked by AIDS and other STD's.

An interesting question, I believe, is under what conditions do humans secure the greatest enjoyment from their sexuality. Consider first a family with very restrictive religious or other views toward sexuality. Are those living in such families actually experiencing less "enjoyment" from their sexuality. Those living in such families likely have less opportunity to date, engage in sexual intercourse and other forms of "partner sex may not be available at all." But under such conditions, whatever sexual activity does take place acquires a new meaning in terms of its importance. In addition, the "delicious frustration" of not being able to have an orgasm whenever one wishes in itself becomes a source of sexual pleasure.

Or consider sexual attitudes during the 1950s versus currently with respect to the role of sex in dating behavior. In the 1950s, I gather, pre-marital sex was considered quite "wild" and not something "good" young men and women engaged in. By the 1980s, sexual intercourse was common after the second or third date. The attitude of the 80s seemed to be "sex first, we will get to know each other later on."

Does this new set of attitudes mean that the Generation Xers are enjoying their sexuality more than those living in the 1950s. Somehow I doubt it. The attitude in which sex after the second date is expected puts enormous pressure on he psychological relationship between the two people. Women reach adulthood believing "that's what men are after." Men begin to think that "If I don't offer to have sex with her after the second date, she will think there is something wrong with me" (that is, she will think I must be gay or something!). It's no wonder men and women stumble into relationships they don't really want, and find out only much later (often after marriage) that they are "psychologically incompatible". Many of the ills of current society, illegitimate births, high divorce rates, spouse abuse, are linked to these so-called "modern liberal attitudes" with respect to the role of sex in a relationship. This idea goes right along with the "orgasm centered" attitudes many men have about their sexuality.

Or consider the free love of the 70s, a period of time when young adults experimented a lot with promiscuous sex, drugs and on and on. Did sex somehow acquire more meaning because of the then-new liberal views that prevailed in this time period? Did the young people who became adults during this period really get more enjoyment out of their sexuality than did their parents? Again somehow, I doubt it. The freedom to do anything you want in the sex department does not automatically mean that the sexual pleasure quotient has increased. Could it be that men living in societies where intercourse is less free and frequent are actually getting more out of their sexuality than those men living in societies where sex is more readily available? The quantity versus quality issue thus reappears. These issues are certainly worthy of pondering.

If our response to the AIDS epidemic has accomplished anything positive, it has focused our attention on the importance of a relationship in partner sex. It is not at all sad that humanity once again focuses on the importance of knowing very well the partner you have sex with. If this delays intercourse a few dates longer, so be it.

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