Let’s talk about sex, because, well, why not? Conversations about sex are part of therapy, and, even more; intimacy and finding that ideal connection to self — so that we might find that mutually sexual and intimate connection with another is — of course — a large part of why people seek therapy as well.
One of the things I find most common in my work (and this is a commonality regardless of age or gender, really) is that so many people out there are confused about the differences between sex and intimacy. In a fully embodied and healthy romantic partnership; of course sex and intimacy can be wholly aligned and two, separate humans who love each other can become one. But in the search for that, so many of us become separated from our true selves and completely and utterly confused.
Sex is just that. It is sex. Without emotional knowledge, history, connection and even challenges between two people, sex may just be an act of pleasure for two adult (we are hoping) people who choose to share their time and space in a moment in time. Other times, sex is a way to use our bodies as an escape and even a way to shame oneself in order to get the high of a pretend connection; where in reality, connection doesn’t actually exist between the parties involved on a very deep level at all. And, then, of course, there is sex for fun and sex for self-hate and sex for filling a void and sex for re-enacting trauma history and ….the list goes on and on and on.
Everyone says that they want a truly deep, truly evolved and truly stunning romantic partnership, when in reality, most people are not interested in investing the time, challenges and work that go into that (and that includes internal work to be able to feel healthy and worthy enough to receive a high level of love and connection from another person). So, as a quick and dirty “getting down to business” way of throwing some over-arching themes at you today related to the confusion between sex/intimacy, I’ve decided to share about three dangers in assuming the two are the same thing.
If you are interested in evolving a bit in the love department (whether you are single or in a long-term relationship), then hopefully these three dangers will, at the very least, get you thinking about your own relationship to the whole sex vs. intimacy deal.
Three Dangers in Assuming Sex and Intimacy are the Same Thing:
1. PUTTING THE INTENSITY OF SEX/FALSE PASSION FIRST LEADS TO PAIN IN THE LONG RUN:
So many people — especially people who grew up with any sort of dysfunction at all; are accustomed to diving headfirst into a “relationship” with someone they just met — and assuming not only that they discovered the “eureka” in humans, but that they actually know anything at all about the other person. Essentially, when we first meet someone, the person is a stranger. It is SO EASY to go..oh my, this person is pretty or handsome and they gave me attention and “OMG, this MUST BE LOVE!!!!” As a sage mentor of mine once quoted “Blythe, attention and love are NOT the same thing(s).” And, you know what, they are absolutely not. It is absolutely easy to give a stranger “all of yourself” and to give false attention to a person with whom you know nothing about. In that scenario, both parties are essentially projecting templates of reality onto the other person and convincing themselves that this person is whom they have designed them to be. Sure, the sex is fun early on; and sure it is fun to fantasize and pretend to be in this deep and remarkably intense relationship. But, in reality, there is no true or authentic vulnerability in these situations.
This kind of “insta” relationship between people who met on Tinder or met at a bar or have never even been on a few proper dates is just objectification of another human being at its most base level. Now, there is nothing wrong with two consenting adults having sex for pleasure or fun; but that is not what I’m referring to in this situation. What I am referring to here is where two people trick themselves into believing an immediate and intense sexual connection means that they get to skip the actual intimacy part and immediately get ALL the things that come with hard-earned and truly intimate relationships.
You don’t lose weight without eating less and exercising more and you don’t get true intimacy by having insta-sex and not taking the time to know another person.
The feelings are fun for a minute; until they aren’t. And the sex is great, until it becomes clear that this was just two people, operating from their internal-child centers pretending to play adult house and potentially harming themselves and the other person in the long run.
True connection to another person is earned. There is a reason that, statistically speaking, people who are friends first tend to be in longer, more satisfying, more romantic and more abundant relationships over time. It is because they had intimacy first and then learned that they actually fell in love with the embodiment of a person’s essence and THEN decided to jump in the sack and have a good time.
There is no substitute for that depth of connection and until we learn (through trial and error and often a lot of pain) that insta-relationships aren’t real, we continue to put ourselves (and the people we drag into this cycle with us) in for a whole bunch of confusion, disappointment and pain.
2. SKIPPING VULNERABILITY NOW MEANS EMOTIONAL TORTURE LATER ON:
When we assume sex and love are the same thing, or we assume those insta-connections require no work or sacrifice, we are deluding ourselves. And like all feature-film fantasies, eventually the credits must roll again. Vulnerability with another person is a deep sense of sharing, a deep sense of learning..slowly and over time..to trust another person with the deepest parts of one’s self and learning, again, slowly and over time…that you can feel safe in that other human being’s wake. True trust of another human being is the ultimate form of intimacy, and, conversely, trusting oneself with someone else’s heart is equally remarkable.
True intimacy can happen in all kinds of relationships, as can safe vulnerability. It can seem like it takes forever to develop deep connections to other people, but that time is so worth it — especially when it comes to the long-term trajectory of life. The time will pass whether you are being patient or not; but what is NOT easy to reverse is the intense pain that comes with trusting someone too quickly and too easily with your body, mind, heart and soul. When we let a virtual stranger too quickly into our deepest fears, feelings and needs — we are essentially not vetting the people who come near us to the extent that we are worthy.
While there are a ton of great people on this planet, there are also a ton of really wounded and potentially hurtful ones — and if we rush into assuming that we get to have house without the foundation, we literally put our truest, most exquisite and vulnerable selves on the Russian Roulette firing line. Sure, we may get a blank and have an okay relationship, but we also may accidentally get that bullet and, boy, when we get hit on the deepest level by someone we thought we knew, but didn’t take the time to actually know…the pain can take months, years, and even decades to heal.
Grasping onto a stranger and expecting them to be all that you assume they should be without taking the time to get to know them isn’t fair. It isn’t fair to you or them — and it also may be keeping you from finding the deeper intimacy, connection and truly intense sexual experience you say that you are actually craving.
3. RUSHING INTO SEX CAN ACTUALLY PUSH THE RIGHT PERSON AWAY
Everyone thinks they are absolutely okay with sex without strings. Some of us are, some of us aren’t; but what is true is that not everyone is. I think this idea is just a thing people say so that they can look like they are super evolved. Sure — and again, there are some people who can just go out have sex, enjoy themselves and not feel any romantic attachment to another human being. More power to those people. There is also a whole host of people who can’t and keep trying to make that work. And, then there are people, like most human beings, who go through phases and ebb and change in this area over time.
True maturity is knowing oneself to the point that you can go out into the world and harm the least amount of people possible (I mean, I totally made that definition up just now, but I think that sounds about right, and I’m sticking to it — well that, and being able to say we are sorry when we mess up). When we meet a person, and we have an idea in our minds of this having to go a certain way right from the get go, we really aren’t listening now are we? We are going after “what we want” rather than listening to what we both want (meaning the other person actually matters here too) and we are then not in a position to receive the information we need to receive to make conscious and mutually involved decisions.
So many people will just go with the flow; we can just push for something we insist upon having and then forget that maybe we didn’t even stop to ask what the other person felt, wanted or even needed. We can push to enter into an immediate sexual relationship with another person who may (because we don’t know them) have a history of sexual trauma or abuse or confusion about sex or challenges with their body; and we can say all the right things and maybe they will actually end up also convincing themselves they are fine with the way things are going. Technically this is a mutual decision; but it is still dangerous territory when it comes to the desire to develop a long-term relationship.
People with sexual trauma histories do not need to be pressured. What they also do not need is to have any more negative associations with sex than they already have. And even people without sexual trauma who are just people who have experienced hurt in this life already (so basically every person) don’t need more of it to rack onto their list.
Hurt people hurt people — and the best thing you can do to do the least amount of damage to yourself as well as to others is to take it slow. Breathe it out. Give yourself and the other person the gift of slowly unraveling all of who you are. Have sex if you want to, but know, then, that sex before intimacy doesn’t necessarily translate into long-term love and intimacy and that not having sex right away doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t eventually translate into long-term love.
Of course as it goes there are all kinds of exceptions to all of these rules; but in order to have the best life possible, with the most abundant romantic experiences, it is a good general rule of thumb that things that are worth waiting for, well; they may actually be worth waiting for.
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