And people are starting to have sex younger and younger. This is partly because sexual maturity is coming earlier than it did in the middle of the nineteenth century. The average age then for menarche was 17. Now it is 13. That is a big fall statistically. Girls are becoming sexually mature as early as eight years old. There have been a lot of theories proposed as to the reason for this. Improved nutrition does seem to have an influence. But there are suggested theories about other contributing factors. One theory points to the chemicals in a modern industrial environment; another talks about the influence of the hormones found in meat and chicken; still another focuses on stressors in the family situation, and still another that we should consider all the sexual stimulation that comes from our sexualized modern culture: the shows on television, the lyrics to the songs on radio and on iTunes, the advertisements in all of the media. No definitive connection has been made between early sexual development and any specific chemical, hormone or stressor. As to the fourth theory, if one accepts it, one is forced to ask why has our modern culture become so sexualized. Why at this point in history was there a scientific push to develop birth control pills and IUD’s? Not simply because of overpopulation. There is not even a general consensus as to how threatening overpopulation is. Many people don’t take it seriously.
Perhaps one cause of early sexual development is precisely the fact that sex becomes the one opportunity to take advantage of a lot of other grounded organic surfaces in order to feel alive. One can enjoy sex outside of marriage with a lot of different partners without having babies. If this theory is correct, young people evolve into being biologically sexualized at an early age in order to be able to take advantage of the one kind of experience readily available today that allows for satisfactory organic communion. Sex is a sub-category of all the experiences that allow for organic connection to the external world. If other outlets for organic stimulation are diminished, the desire for sex - a form of stimulation not dependent on the larger field of experience - becomes that much more heightened.
At the other end of the period of life called adolescence, it becomes more and more difficult to enter the stage of life where a person is able to obtain economic independence - the stage of adulthood. This is partly because more and more jobs require more and more training to deal with increasingly computer-controlled machines. And more and more other jobs require advanced education to deal witht the increasingly complicated businesses and services required by a modern technological society. It becomes more difficult to contemplate marriage when one is unable to make enough money, even with one’s spouse, to meaningfully support them as a couple. Furthermore, one member of the couple may have to go to graduate school in one city for his professional development, while the other member of the couple may have to go to graduate school in another city for her professional development, thus putting an enormous strain on a committed relationship.
So the period of adolescence is pushed backwards into childhood because of precocious sexual development and forward into adulthood as a result of increasingly complex requirements for work. In today’s world, a person can be sexually ready more than twenty years before being economically ready for a long-term committed relationship. In such a situation, commitments in sexual relationships can be very tenuous, even for young adults. This is particularly true, because of all the individualizing experiences a young person is encouraged to have today in order to create a unique self definition for himself. It is a unique self definition that allows a person to truly transcend above his sensorily-distorted living environment and become competitive in his work, love, and community life.
Unfortunately, an overly sharply-defined sense of self makes it that much more difficult for someone to find another person who complements him. In some ways the other person fits, but then there are ways that they have developed in which they are truly incompatible. Less differentiated people are much more able to accommodate one another and complement one another in committed relationships.
In spite of all the obstacles I have listed, there are young people who succeed in today’s world in forming sustained intimate relationships, at least for a period of time. These are couples where, in spite of all the individualization, individuals are able to find their “other half”. And it is exactly that. Because there is little or no grounding in a template of organic community and a template of an organic living environment, people use their partner not only as a romantic and sexual partner, but as a point of secure grounding and a point of orientation to the world. People are drawn to one another with the impelling force that they are normally drawn to the ground with gravity. This is where you get into codependent relationships, where individuals have difficulty defining themselves apart from their partners. The paradox is that you have overly defined individuals in modern technological society who are craving for intimacy and emotional grounding and who then have difficulty separating themselves from their partners psychologically once they get it. And this is the problem that results when a person makes another person his only principal source of social groundedness.
In traditional society, individuals find emotional grounding in many different layers of family and community. This alleviates the emotional intensity on the romantic partners. But as families and communities crumble in modern technological society and couples find themselves without a support system, they cling to each other in the sensory distortion of the vacuum and static society.
Are there exceptions to this tendency towards codependency in intimate relationships today. Yes, there are couples where there are partners who maintain a healthier distance emotionally from one another. Usually, it is because they are capable of staying connected to larger families and communities that remain intact in spite of the sensory distortion in their environment. There are individuals and groups that are psychological survivors in spite of the sensory distortion.
This is in contrast to all the people who are incapable of finding even a pathological form of intimacy, because one person doesn’t provide enough sensory variety for them in an environment deprived of organic stimuli. And yet, for these people, it somehow works out perfectly on one level of survival. The period of adolescent sexual experimentation gets extended backward into childhood and forward into young adulthood and beyond. A person becomes a very young adolescent because of early sexual maturity and evolves into a very old adolescent because of increasing education and job training requirements. So the craving for sensory diversity is satisfied as a result of changed biological and educational circumstances. But the need to make, preserve and receive imprints remains increasingly unfulfilled, except, to some extent, among codependent couples, who lose their senses of self in the process of trying to make, preserve and receive imprints in an increasingly sensorily distorted living environment, and among some other couples who amazingly survive in healthy committed relationships.
c 2011 Laurence Mesirow