Thursday, October 29, 2009

Copernican Revolution in Sexuality Based on the Person

What Is Sexual Freedom?

Mary R. Joyce

"Sexual freedom is the liberty to act out erotic impulses as you choose without restraint as long as you don't hurt anyone." So say many insistent voices today.

The liberty they champion is the springboard of the so-called sexual revolution. From its very beginning, the main motivating force for this revolution and its version of sexual freedom has been an intense fear of sexual repression.

But what kind of freedom is motivated by fear? Is it even freedom at all? Is the liberty to be impulsive the true meaning of human freedom, including sexual freedom?

The "sexual revolution" seemed to liberate sex from its connection with procreation. As a result, women have felt freer to engage in sex activity without having babies, and to seek personal fulfillment in other achievements. At the same time, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, unmarried pregnancies, and abortions have become part of our way of life.

This situation is especially distressing for teenage girls. Many do not feel free to say no to a boyfriend. What reason can they give for saying no when contraceptives and abortions are so readily available? The girl who resists is labeled "frigid" or "abnormal" or "homosexual." She feels trapped into sex activity.

Under the guise of liberation, sex has become virtually compulsory. "Maximum copulation frequency" was once declared by some "experts" to be the ideal for human health and well-being. And many believed, and still believe, this propaganda without asking at least one good question about it.

What kind of freedom is compulsory sex? Is sexual impulsiveness the only alternative to sexual repression? Is the playboy philosophy the only option available to those who do not accept the Puritan-Victorian denial of sexual feelings? Isn't there a healthy middle ground in human sexuality between the torments of repression and the distressing consequences of impulsive expression?

Is There a Center Between These Extremes?

If there is no genuine, healthy middle ground, we will be forced to conclude that sex is not so good after all, and that it is really some kind of disease afflicting human nature.

All depends on what we see from our point of view. Do we think sexuality is the same as genitality? Do we really think there is only one way of being sexually active, that is, genitally active? Even if we think sexuality is broader in meaning than genitality, do we insist that genital sex is the center of our sexuality? Or do we sense that the center is deeper within?

If sexuality is the same as genitality, there can be no middle area between the extremes of repression and impulsive expression. We are clearly locked into one way of being sexually active. If we fear the results of repressing our sexual feelings, then we are forced to express them impulsively.

If there is a difference between sexuality and genitality, but if genitality remains the center, there still is no significant middle area between the two extremes. Sexual feelings are still directed primarily toward genital expression. Secondarily, these feelings may be suppressed or sublimated.

Suppression is a conscious form of restraint. For example, we spontaneously feel something, and decide whether we will or will not feel it any further at this time. If not, we stop the feeling, or suppress it. This conscious control can be healthy and good. It is often confused with repression, an unconscious denial that one even has certain kinds of feelings. Unlike suppression, repression is negative and harmful.

Sublimation is a process of redirecting genital-erotic feelings into other activities besides genital activity. Some of these other activities are sports and the creative arts.

But neither suppression nor sublimation are fully positive ways of being sexually active. Sigmund Freud, the founder of modem psychology, saw them as ways of resolving conflicts, and as adjustments to social demands for proper behavior. As such, suppression and sublimation are both negative and positive at once. They cannot be fully positive as long as human sexuality is seen as basically genital.

While the genital-centered version of suppression and sublimation offers a kind of middle ground between the extremes of repression and impulsive expression, their motivating force remains the restricting influence of social norms. When these norms are loosened or weakened by society, the motivating element collapses. The middle ground vanishes. As a result, impulsive expression tends to become a way of life.

If there is a solid, stable middle ground between the extremes of repression and impulsive expression, it cannot be based mainly on social norms. This central area must originate basically within the very structure of human sexuality itself. Yet this is not possible if genitality is, indeed, the center and primary purpose of human sexuality.

We need to inquire, then, about the structure underlying human sexuality, that is, the very nature of the human person.

What is a Person?

Clearly, genital sex is the primary purpose of sex in animals. But do we understand sufficiently our difference from animals, as well as our likeness?

Obviously, we are like animals. Does that mean we are animals? Obviously, too, we are like plants. We grow and reproduce like them. Does that mean we are plants? We can occupy space and can fall like rocks. Are we rocks? Likeness cannot become identity except by a falsifying leap of the mind.

We are not animals in any sense. We are persons in every sense. We differ from other persons (God and angels) by being bodily persons, which they are not. But every aspect of our body is person-al (person-all). Though animal-like, our eating, breathing, and sleeping are life processes of persons, not of animals.

Centuries of civilization have come and gone, yet we still have a biology-based concept of human personhood and consequently of human sexuality. But this view is really as archaic as the earth-centered view of Ptolemy which prevailed until Copernicus discovered that the sun, not the earth, is the center of the planetary system.

Copernicus started a revolution in astronomy. An entirely new way of thinking about the world began to develop.

Similarly, we still need a revolution in our way of seeing ourselves. We still need an entirely new way of thinking about our personhood and our sexuality. Our "Ptolemaic" viewpoint is regressive and outmoded.

We are not beings with a biology-based personhood, but beings with a person-based biology. The soul does not so much exist within the body; rather, the body exists within the soul (within the depths of the person). The soul's powers for knowing and loving include (assimilate) its bodily powers for digesting, growing, sensing, and the rest. [See endnote]

Just as it seems obvious to the naked eye that the earth is the center of the solar system (it surely looks and feels that way), it seems obvious that we are basically animals: that we are biology-based. But the obvious is not always true. We are person-based. And the center of our personhood is in our capacity for a receptive, affirming kind of human awareness that is deeply connected with the human heart (the core of our being).

A True Sexual Revolution

Because it surely looks and feels that way, people have always thought that the center of their sexuality is genital sex. But the center, like an inner sun, is their capacity for a receptive, affirming kind of sexual awareness that is deeply connected with the human heart.

Consider, for a moment, how everything uniquely human in genital sex originates in consciousness. Love, feelings of affection and desire, freedom and conimuni- cation, responsibility and decision, caring and sharing, perception and imagination are qualities of conscious- ness that make sex personal and interpersonal.

Human sexuality permeates all aspects of human consciousness. A man is a man not only in his anatomy and physiology, but also in his feelings, thought, and attitudes. These are not neuter. All powers of his consciousness express his sexual energy as an intimate aspect of his basically human energy. The same, of course, is true for a woman.

Human sexual energy, centered in powers of consciousness, is meant to be expressed basically, not in genital intercourse, but in mental and emotional intercourse. The intercourse of feelings, thoughts, and values between a man and woman is no more neuter than genital intercourse, and is much more essential for human sexual development. This deeper sharing involves their most basic way of being sexually active. Genital intercourse is meant to be an optional expression of the primary intercourse of persons: the intimate sharings of mind and heart.

Sex (genital intercourse) is neither biologically nor psychologically necessary for personal health. It is essentially free. We are free to choose, or not to choose, marriage and the genital expression of man-woman friendship and love. This version of sexual freedom is the new discovery of the true sexual revolution.

The absence of a commonly supposed necessity for genital expression leaves a man and woman free for mental-emotional intercourse that does not lead necessarily to genital intercourse.

The bodily organ for mental-emotional intercourse is the brain. Though the brain is not a genital organ, it is the organ of consciousness at the center of human sexuality.

For the most part, the main organ of manhood and womanhood, the brain, has yet to be sexually activated. The absence of really significant thought about the meanings and values of man-woman existence, about their co-creative as well as their procreative purpose, has left many people sexually inactive no matter how genitally active their lives have become. Too much reflex and not enough reflection leaves the person sexually undeveloped, fixated, and retarded.

Activating the Center

Between the extremes of repression and impulsive expression is the true center of human sexuality with its main sexual organ the brain. By re-centering our awareness of our sexuality, and by activating this center, we strengthen the middle ground between the destructive extremes of our "Ptolemaic" self-concept. By developing a new "Copernican" self-concept, we become able to experience and to live our true sexual freedom.

The center of our sexuality, like the sun, radiates energy, light, and warmth. Before this "sun" rises in our self-awareness, however, our inner "sky" remains dark. And the darkness prevails as long as we think of ourselves as biology-based persons rather than as beings with a person-based biology. The night will persist as long as we think consciously or unconsciously that our sexuality is centered in genitality.

But when we begin to realize that our inner universe is centered in the "sun" of awareness, this "sun" will rise and radiate its energy, light, and warmth into our lives.

First, we need to discover and activate this "sun," this center within us.

By letting our feelings just be in our awareness without arousing them, and by welcoming them as energy for developing our whole manhood or womanhood, we activate the center. By thinking about the meaning and value of our sexual feelings, and by developing love and friendship in our hearts, we become sexually active in the first and most important way.

Clearly, this inner reception of sexual feelings into an affirming kind of awareness is radically different from both repressively burying them alive and from impulsively expressing them in outward behavior.

Sexual feelings that are freely received and affirmed are expressed within us before they can be freely expressed to another. This inner expression sensitizes and humanizes them, and develops their capacity for a fully interpersonal genital expression, authentic only in the context of marriage.

Erotic impulses, though they seem to want immediate, external expression, really want internal expression in the radiant center of human sexuality. In this way, erotic feelings and impulses are re-centered: from their biological component to their personal core. Due to this re-centering, sexual feelings and impulses act as stimulators of 1) self-awareness, 2) sexual development, and 3) self-and-sexual integration.

Erotic urges and impulses are needed to stimulate the main sexual organ, the brain, for the development of sexuality awareness. These feelings are needed also to stimulate the secondary sexual organ, the heart, for the development of sexual friendship and love. Only then are sexual feelings ready for genital expression in marriage.

Impulsive expression of sexual feelings leaves the center of human sexuality (its brain and heart) unstimulated and undeveloped. Marriage does not change this truth about impulsive expression. Thus, the inner kind of non-genital sexual life needs to be developed before the beginning of marriage and genital expression.

Three Kinds of Sexual Life

The inner kind of sexual life (the first kind) belongs to everyone, married or not. Every person is meant to receive (into an affirming kind of awareness) their sexual feelings as energy for developing their manhood or womanhood without genital activity. The person expands and deepens his/her inner space between feelings and actions so that feelings have plenty of room in which to develop without moving necessarily into actions.

Next, within leads to with.

Emotional and mental intercourse between male and female friends (without sex activity) expresses the second kind of sexual life. This second kind may be premarital, marital, or unconnected with marriage.

Finally, the third kind of sexual life is marriage, sex, and parenthood. Without considerable development in the first and second kinds of sexual life, the third is like trying to swim in a pool without water.

True Sexual Freedom

Sexual freedom is the ability to receive sexual feelings and impulses positively as energy for inner sexual development without resorting to repression or impulsive expression. The person's inner space between feeling and acting increases this freedom and makes it secure.

In the expanding and deepening inner space between feelings and actions, both suppression and sublimation become more positive. Their primary motivator is not outside pressure from social norms, but the need for inner sexual development of the person as a person, and as a man or woman.

Suppression, once it begins to serve inner sexual development, is more clearly understood as a means to a fully positive purpose. Sublimation becomes a conscious assimilation of sexual feelings as energy for developing one's manhood or womanhood. It acts by letting feelings just be without having to do anything. This new form of sublimation is basically different from the old form that makes feelings do something by redirecting energy from genital to cultural activities.

In the new perspective, the whole dynamic of sexuality becomes more open, more expansive, more human, and freer.

The first kind of sexual life increases true sexual freedom. A person who is sexually active in the first way no longer experiences "necessity" in genital sexuality. This person feels equally free to choose or not to choose marriage and genital expression. He or she experiences as much sexual fulfillment in one choice as in the other. Thus, genital intercourse, regarded entirely as an option, not as a bio-psychic necessity, even in marriage, becomes an expression of true sexual freedom.

In the context of this fully human freedom, coital union is liberated from driving urgency and elevated in meaning and value. Permanent or temporary abstinence is intolerable only to persons suffering from a "Ptolemaic" sense of self. Genital sex is an urgent necessity only when, through our main sexual organ, we think it is necessary.

When a man and woman learn to think more truly about themselves as sexual persons, they can experience for each other profound tenderness of perception and feeling with their bodies, emotions, and imaginations relaxed. They can discover that genital intercourse is not the only path to deep sexual intimacy. They become able to hold each other lovingly without necessarily getting involved in sex.

Young people need to know this truth about their sexuality. They need to understand that the delaying of genital expression is necessary for their personal and sexual development.

Those who experience the process of true sexual liberation become more vibrant, sensitive, loving, and creative people. They are able to sustain the wonderful human paradox of restraint in spontaneity. They become like the disciplined pianist who is able to play a Mozart concerto with genuine spontaneity. An unrestrained, undisciplined, undeveloped sexuality is like a child impulsively, though gleefully, pounding the keyboard.

The current plague of sexually transmitted diseases, unmarried pregnancies, and teen abortions ravaging the young is not a hopeless situation. By letting the "sun" rise, by re-centering our sense of our sexuality, by activating its center, and by communicating this deeper freedom effectively, we can change our impulsive culture. A real sexual revolution with its true meaning for sexual freedom can begin and develop in many people.



Note: A person-based biology elevates and increases the meaning and value, as well as the moral integrity, of the human body.

Copyright (c) 1991 by Mary Rosera Joyce


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