FEAR & SEX
Fear and sex have had a complex, intertwined evolutionary history, ever since our amphibious ancestors first mated ecstatically in the midst of fearsome predators, up to our modern desire to expose ourselves in risky places, from the Internet to the Oval Office. Hot sex and a touch of fear--risk, danger, taboo--seem to go together. Why is this?
It's funny (and sad), but we often fear the finest aspects of life - intimacy, sexuality, love - even as we rush headlong into war and less grandiose forms of brawling. In my sex therapy practice, so many men want to know how to deal with women who fear sexual intimacy. And so many women want to know how to deal with men who fear emotional intimacy. And the more I hear, the more I feel that if men and women ever hope to help each other, we must learn to calm each other's fears. That means listening, and trying to understand.
Of course, the relationship between sex and fear isn’t easy to understand, as it’s all wrapped up in the prehistoric workings of our Reptile Brain. However educated or sophisticated we think we are, a part of our brain slithers through the shadows of our consciousness, like a snake. Our Reptile Brain is one of the older, more basic parts of us, making us all--no matter how moral or dignified we may think we are--driven by sex. In many cultures, sex is portrayed as a reptile--a serpent or dragon. Most famously, sex is personified by The Devil, the scariest and most seductive reptile of all.
Prehistoric sex often put lovers in dangerously vulnerable positions, in the midst of predators ready to pounce on them. Our Reptile Brain, locked in that mindset, often associates sex with fear. As for the civilized brain, well, that also gives us plenty to fear when it comes to sex. In childhood, almost as soon as we discover sexual pleasures, through masturbating or playing with another child, we're caught by adults and punished or at least made to feel ashamed, that sex is something we should fear expressing openly.
This childhood blend of sex and fear has different effects on people. Some wind up fearing sex too much even to talk about it, or they go on anti-porn, anti-vice, Family Values-style witch-hunts, determined to punish anyone enjoying nontraditional sex. Others find themselves thrilling to the fantasy that they are caught or watched in the act of sex, or maybe caught watching the act of sex.
So, what about you? Have you tamed the reptile in your brain, or do you fight it like the Devil? Have you locked it up in a dark cave of your soul, or do you tease it into playing like a snake charmer?
Fear and sex are deeply linked, even in the healthiest relationships. Even when sex is great and love is strong, you fear it will end, that your lover will leave you, or that one of you will die. That very fear can make you cling to each other passionately, heightening your desire. It's no coincidence that in times of war and terror, people crave sex.
But what about those fears at the bottom of the Battle of the Sexes, our fears of the opposite sex? Everyone fears being hurt, of course. Men aren't from Mars, and women aren't from Venus. We both have the same down-to-earth fears of pain, failure, rejection, exploitation, abandonment and destruction.
But, if you don’t mind generalizing, there are a few interesting differences. Most men seem to fear a woman’s irrational side: the hysterical premenstrual woman, the witch, the bitch, the nag, the unreasonable ex, the false accuser, the fatal attractor. These have been figures of fear and loathing throughout patriarchal history. Perhaps even more than the blatantly ugly witch, men fear the beautiful secret witch, the beauty who is really a bitch, the adorable angel with the devil inside, the Circe who seduces men only to savage them. Men fear being tricked, rejected, and emasculated by women. Whole societies of men fear women’s sexuality so much that they demand that all fertile females in their communities cover their bodies from head to toe, and/or surrender their reproductive rights to the state.
So, that's what the fear fueling the Battle of the Sexes ultimately comes down to: Brutes and Nuts. Women fear brutes. Men fear nuts.
And women? For us, it's quite simple: Most women fear male force, rape, physical or mental brutality. Women also fear the more chronic form of male brutality: oppression.
So, that's what the fear fueling the Battle of the Sexes ultimately comes down to: Brutes and Nuts. Women fear brutes. Men fear nuts. On the whole, of course. We are generalizing. But to generalize just a bit further, aren't men excited by a woman's witchy wildness, her beguiling feminine mystery? And aren't women attracted to men's brute strength, fantasizing about being "swept away" by the irresistible force of a powerful man? And don’t we all do foolish risky things in the name of love? You bet your shivering bootie, baby.
So, are we attracted to what we fear? Or do we fear what attracts us? Both, my darling, it's inevitable. It's reptilian. And it can be dangerous. But, life is dangerous, and so is sex. Best to let your conscience and intelligence steer your personal "fear fetish" away from real danger and into safe, positive, nonviolent directions. It’s too bad America’s current crop of leaders don’t practice such safe smart sex, instead of channeling their fear fetishes into chickenhawk wars and torture fests. But that doesn’t mean we should let our personal relationships sink into the same rattling snakepit as our government.
There are many relatively harmless ways to channel fear through sex. If a couple feels safe with each other, they can release their fears through fantasy. He can tie her up (consensually, of course; this isn’t Abu Ghraib, darling) and dominate her with his power, his strength, his mind over her matter. Or she can restrain him, and play the tantalizing witch, the dominatrix, the mad mistress, the wild woman. One could put the other on a leash or in a hood, though asphyxiation games and waterboarding are inadvisable.
Or you could forget the props and just whisper frightening but exciting fantasies, like that you're both doing it in a hot air balloon soaring over a crowd, while actually in the safety and comfort of your own bed. Or she's doing a soccer team, or he's got a harem. Or maybe she's got the harem, and he's doing the soccer team. Fantasy has no limits, especially when you combine a pinch of fear with a serving of sex. In other words, don't just make fear your friend, make it your lover.
is, in part, an outlaw energy. Society spends vast amounts of our taxes
and other resources to undermine, ridicule, distort and impeach it.
There are reasons for this, and some of them are not unreasonable. But
many are based on superstition, prejudice and cold manipulation. We
all pay a price for society's irrational fears of sex. We pay in forfeited
pleasure and peace of mind. We pay in death and loss through the endless
wars our leaders wage, wars we “support” because they excite
our repressed libidos. We pay in the rage and shame we feel as we torment
others and ourselves. Some of us go to jail for it, some lose jobs,
marriages, dreams, lives.
Another consequence of erotophobia is the withholding of accurate information about sex. This is the single biggest influence shaping childhood sexual development. Lack of sex information makes the typical sexual events of childhood and teenage – masturbation, menstruation, desire - terrifying! Normalcy-anxiety, fear of not being what society deems "normal," keeps us petrified of our own sexuality. The most frequent sex question I get, both on my show and in my private sex therapy practice, is "Am I normal?" There is a deep desire to be seen as normal, and yet to experience something “special,” maybe even a little kinky. So many of us are so afraid...and so horny at the same time!
pinch of fear is good for sex,