It seems that we have grown so accustomed to news about sexual scandals that we now respond to them with a routine ho-hum, “What’s new” reaction. Certainly it makes good fodder for the gossip sections of news outlets when the latest Hollywood star, sports personality, or politician gets busted for indiscretions. We, the public, can’t seem to get enough of the seamy details each time a big name falls to sexual misbehaviors. I think part of our fascination with celebrity scandals comes from the relief that even “successful” people can prove to have feet of clay.
It’s not just the well known, however, who are vulnerable to misdeeds. The average Joe or Jane can struggle just as mightily. Statistics can vary regarding the frequency of marital affairs, but my best reading of the studies tells me that about 40% of men and 33% of women will at some point cheat on their spouses. Upwards to 80% of males and 67% of females will engage in sexual intercourse prior to the age of 20. I have not found the statistics for promiscuity among single people between ages 20 and 60, but based on conversations I have had with many, it would be safe to say that there is plenty of sexual activity among this population that is not ideal. And then there is the flood of common folks (reportedly over 50% of males) who find themselves hooked on internet porn and other such materials. What is worse, 20-25% of women can report being victimized by sexual abuse during their developmental years.
Have you taken the time to ponder why it is so easy for so many people to succumb to sexual temptations? How is it that sex can gain such a foothold in so many lives?
We could attribute the volume of sexual indiscretions to the blast of media attention given to it…television shows, movies, romance novels, tabloid speculations, and the like. But that would provide only a partial explanation since sexual acting out has been engrained in the human experience long before the printing press or electronics were invented.
As I consider why sex can have such a grip on individuals, I focus on two primary ingredients in human nature that are at play in virtually every incident of sexual misconduct: (1) self absorption, and (2) emotional neediness. To gain mastery over our sexual impulses, these two traits need careful understanding and monitoring.
First, each of us is naturally selfish. We can cling readily to a spirit of entitlement just as we can obsess over personal cravings and desires of all sorts. No one needs lessons about how to feed self preoccupations. Second, we each have a need for love and significance, prompting us to look for ways to be affirmed. We feel satisfied when we receive positive affirmation and we become disgruntled, even panicked, when we do not experience enough of that affirmation.
Combining these two ingredients, we can have a yearning for connection that overlooks the long term consequences for our choices, emphasizing instead immediate gains. Lost in that yearning can be empathy, genuine respect, and servitude.
To approach sexuality in a truly healthy way, it would be beneficial to employ the opposites of selfishness and neediness. Clean sexuality is an outflow of humility and inner stability. Those who have good sexual boundaries are more likely to see themselves not as takers who are using the other to satisfy short term needs, but as servants who want to emphasize commitment, kindness, and relationship integrity.
Sex is a powerful force in human relations and it can be used for purposes that bring harm and shame to its participants. But when managed in the context of healthy motives it can be a wonderful means of bringing stability to a relationship.
Which approach to sexuality do you live with?