Monday, January 23, 2012

More on Sexual Intimacy In Modern Technological Society

The topic of the effects of modern technological environments on human sexuality is very complex.  I covered one angle of viewing the topic in my last essay.  In this essay, I want to focus more on the nature of emotional commitment in sexual relationships today.  I pointed out in the last essay how people look at a variety of sexual bodies as a substitute for the lack of organic sensory variety in a living environment relatively bereft of nature, natural phenomena and nature-inspired human creations such as traditional architecture and art rich in ornament and texture.  People hook up today not to make and receive imprints, but simply to feel a rush of sexual stimulation that will allow them to fight off sensory distortion and feel alive.

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sexual Intimacy in a Non-Intimate Living Environment

It is hard to believe that I have been doing in-depth analysis of the effects of modern technology on human living environments and the effects of those transformed living environments on human behavior without discussing in any significant way the topic of sex.  Sex is important for this analysis, because it has acted as an impetus for technological transformation, and technology has had a profound effect on the practice of sex.

It is possible that some of my discussions of sex may prove to be disturbing to some people.  I do not present these ideas to purposely shock people, but rather because they fit into the larger picture I am trying to create of the harmful effects of sensory distortion in our living environments today.  To my way of thinking, modern sexual behavior is one of many seemingly disparate types of behavior being displayed today that are being influenced by a common global situation.

For the purposes of our discussion today, I am going to focus on heterosexual sex.  When I use the word “sex” for purposes of brevity in this essay, I will be referring to hetersoexual sex.  Homosexuality will be discussed at a later time.

Heterosexual sex represents the perfect combination of a process that simultaneously makes and preserves imprints.  In the process of making love, a man and a woman make experiential and sometimes emotional imprints on each other.  Sometimes sex leads to infatuation, and sometimes it forms a component of true love which can endure over time.  Sometimes sex leads to pregnancy which, as a one-two combination, represents nature’s most fundamental example of a process where making an imprint leads to a substantive fixed imprint.

There have been certain patterns to the attitudes towards sex in traditional societies.  In many societies, it was thought that premarital sex was important as a way to enjoy sex without responsibility and to develop sexual confidence and sexual technique.  These were societies where people experienced the organic environments surrounding them as an embracing grounding component in their lives.  In most cases, they were societies where internal self coherence was more important than external self definition.  One’s strength came from how one held oneself together within rather than how one presented oneself in a unique way in the external world.  Strong self coherence leads to feeling comfortable blending with others and participating in a strong collective imprint in a society.  In such a society, it was a way to promote a bonding of the community in which interchanging partners participated.

So sex is a multi-layer imprint experience.  In other societies in the past, any experience of sex was thought to leave by itself a fixed imprint every bit as lasting for the lovers involved as the sometime result of a baby.   These societies were composed of people trying to define themselves as figures to stand against the strong impelling influences of an organic grounded environment that these people experienced as predisposed to decay, rot and general  perishability and as threatening to swallow them up both physically and psychologically.  Sex was viewed as an interpersonal extension of their larger organic environment.  To these conservative societies, multiple sexual partners were perceived as diverse multiple imprints that threatened to take away a person’s self definition and his capacity to commit to any one partner.    In these societies, the first experience was considered to be an important indelible experience.  So if a continuing relationship was to be encouraged, the first contact was to be done within the context of marriage.

Still other societies vacillated back and forth between the attitudes of these two sexual postures: formally espousing no sex before marriage and yet allowing discreet premarital and even extramarital relationships.  And this is because people have been torn through history between the desire for being stimulated by making and receiving imprints with different partners and the desire to preserve imprints by creating a sexual exclusivity within a committed married couple.

Today, however, we are experiencing something uniquely different in the world of sexuality.  Sex today has become a strategy for helping people to survive the sensory distortion of modern technological society.  Another person’s body is one of the few organic surfaces left to feel organically connected to the external world.  And in our overpopulated world, there are multiple other bodies available in order to get the diversity of organic stimulation one would get in a forest, on a lake, in a flower garden or on a mountain.  Sex becomes a vehicle for obtaining a substitute communion with a larger organic external environment.  Sex becomes a vehicle for breaking out of laminated surfaces.

This is no longer about the premarital sex that occurs in certain tribes and traditional communities and that leads to a bondedness among group members and participation in the collective imprint of a generation.  Today’s sex tends to be a more desperate sex to feel organically alive.

            The development of the birth control pill and IUD has mad it much easier to separate the making imprint aspect of sex and the preserving imprint aspect of sex.  Heterosexual sexual activity has become severed from pregnancy activity.  In addition, these improved forms of contraception, which can be used to allow committed lovers and spouses to have sex without pregnancy, create the opportunity for individuals to engage in a totally uncommitted and almost anonymous “free love“.  People “hook up” with another person in order to get a shot of organic stimulation to fight sensory distortion.  Even HIV hasn’t slowed  this hooking up sexual activity down, as many people have reverted back to the use of condoms in addition to birth control pills and IUD’s to protect themselves against contraction of the disease, and many people take their chances with unprotected sex.  Sex has become an important aspect of emotional survival.

As people try to find the means to deal with the harmful psychological effects of sensory distortion, sex becomes a means to try and maintain an internal equilibrium.  Sex becomes a means to shock people out of the effects of the numbness in a vacuum and to isolate people from the sensory disruption that occurs in overstimulating places in the environment: the tension pockets.  All different forms of kinky sex are used to light the fire of life in people who feel less and less alive from the sensory distortion in their living environments.

In today‘s world, for men who have become impotent, science has created new drugs.  However, younger men who have no problem with sexual performance use these drugs to “enhance” sexual performance.  They are really using these drugs to deal with a psychologically-based general numbness.

As people are increasingly surrounded by an environment defined by mechanical and electronic processes, even their sexuality becomes impinged by mechanisms.  More and more people are turning to electronic sex toys to satisfy themselves.  One can even find sex toys that can be manipulated by another person at a distance.  One might ask what is wrong with using these if they provide pleasure and nobody gets hurt.  Taken by themselves, there seems to be nothing wrong with using these sex toys.  But within the larger picture, they represent one more aspect of our lives where we place a machine surface between us and other potential organic surfaces.  And cumulatively, the mirroring and modeling and leaching and blending effects of all these complex machines can be dangerous.  

The next step will be virtual reality sex, so that people can pull themselves entirely out of the distorted effects of modern technological environments into a vacuumized version of sex.  People will attach themselves to a machine where they experience virtual sex.  It will become sex with a  pseudo other person where the only person one really has to satisfy is oneself.  No necessity to be involved with imprints.  In such an environment, one is truly free of preoccupation with hurt feelings or lack of commitment.  One walks away satisfied, away from a sex object that doesn’t exist apart from one’s desires.

In an environment of sensory distortion, sexual activity is increasingly unconcerned with making or preserving individual or collective imprints.  There is little bonding between people without an organic template, and that is shrinking in today‘s world.  One hooks up with another person for a basic isolating physical satisfaction.

I realize that I have been dealing rather abstractly and mechanically with a subject that one is accustomed to hearing dealt with in more feeling intimate terms.  But that is precisely the point.  Even as sex is used as a defense against sensory distortion, aspects of the sensory distortion start to leach into sex.  And real intimacy becomes increasingly difficult with a  template of organic grounding that is shrinking.  In other words, there is a reason that newlyweds go to romantic resorts in beautiful settings for their honeymoons.  Romantic love and intimacy are enhanced by organic grounded environments.  Lovers can more easily make imprints surrounded by palm trees and sandy beaches and a deep blue sea.

c 2012 Laurence Mesirow