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Primal Upper: sex

Sex is one of the most intense primal uppers. In a famous Harvard study of the happiness provided by daily activities, most people rated sex at the top. Affective evolution explains why. People who enjoy sex will do it often, increasing their chances of reproduction. Sex-positive genes spread, while those of folks who don’t like sex will die out. We got the former DNA, which is why the majority of people say that sex feels good.

Sex has a distinctive effect on the mind. Perhaps more than any other experience it focuses attention away from symbols and thought and moves it into the body. This is one reason for the great pleasure in sex. As our erotic arousal rises, our thinking mind, which is normally dominant, takes a back seat to physical pleasure and emotional satisfaction. Orgasm is a very powerful thought-disrupter; hence the French call it “the little death”. So sex disrupts the hegemony of thought which is characteristic of civilized but not primal life.

In this sense, sexual activity is much like meditation, giving us a taste of the sensual and emotional primacy of our ancestor’s existence. So if you want to cultivate your primal nature, an effective practice in addition to meditation is to fully explore your sexuality. The positive, mind-altering effects of the libido were recognized long ago in India and China with the development of the erotic arts of Tantra and Taoism. The great erotic temples of Khajuraho and other places in India bear witness to these rare sex-positive traditions in civilized culture.

Rare, because from its early days civilization has mostly stigmatized sexuality. Why?

That is a complex and largely unexplored question, but I discuss it at length in my book The Politics of Lust. In short, sex-negativity is a byproduct of the social inequality that appeared in civilized culture and replaced the egalitarianism of our primal ancestors.

Because civilization as been so autocratic for so long, sexual anxiety has prevailed for thousands of years and is still strong today in most of the world. Even in most liberal modern democracies, autocracy is common in families, schools, religion, businesses, the military, police and government, so almost everyone alive today has internalized a certain amount of sexual shame.

Its main impact is on the quality of sex, not the quantity. The more sexual shame you harbor, the less you will surrender to the experience and deeply feel its pleasure. Shamed sex is mostly quick, a race to the endgame of orgasm without much sensual exploration. This is the erotic equivalent of eating nothing but meat and potatoes, with no pickles and sauces, no ethnic food, and no restaurants. A sex-positive culture would embrace erotic experience like it does the pleasures of the table.

Because sex is such a powerful primal upper, sex-negativity rarely erases all of the joy in the act. So even people with high levels of sexual shame, and a stunted sexuality, will report that they like sex and deny any anxiety about it. “I love sex,” is the common refrain I hear when I present the ideas I’ve just set out. So the idea that our culture is sex-negative strikes most people as dead wrong.

But it is easy to elicit sexual anxieties: when I ask people who claim no sexual shame to describe their last sexual fantasy or masturbation session, or how they educate their kids about sex, the blushing, stammering and anger that usually arises reveals their negative charge. But most us never get challenged in that way so never perceive our own sexual angst. I only discovered mine by accident, so I understand how easy it is to deny any sex-negativity lurking within.

Fortunately, in many of the most liberal cities in the world today, sex-positivity is breaking out. For example, you can see it in the rise of adult sex education. Offered mostly by upscale sex shops like the one I co-own, The Art of Loving, experts on subjects like oral sex, non-monogamy, bondage, and marital communication, give workshops (pre-Covid) to people who want to make their sex lives richer.

In the same cities, sexual micro communities are also growing quickly, where people with interests such as bisexuality, fetishes, and polyamory gather to learn from and support each other. These cities are also home to a new breed of sex professionals: mature men and women, usually with college degrees and advanced trainings in sexuality, communication and massage, who are willing to include touch – even genital touch – in their array of services.

As each generation in progressive communities raises their children more democratically — abstaining from corporal punishment, giving the child’s voice more respect, and adopting other primal-like child care practices — sex-negativity declines. So millennials tend to be more relaxed about sex than their baby-boom parents, who harbor less sexual anxiety than their parents born in the 1920s and 30s. But the modern trend towards authoritarianism all over the world could reverse the flowering of sex-positivity in the most liberal places.

If you want to nourish your primal heart, there can be no better project than enriching your sexuality. Learn how the sexual shame system works and its vital signs — my aforementioned book can help with that. Attend a sex-positive seminar or niche sexuality group, or patronize the services of an erotic bodywork professional. Either alone or with your lover(s), lots of shame-free sexual experience will help develop your primal essence.


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