THREE MORE STORIES FROM ESTHER PEREL

Ratu: Sex is dirty

Ratu is a twenty-two-year old college student at an Ivy League university who says the ideal college relationship is “friends-with-benefits”, which develops when you and a close friend get drunk one night, go home together, have sex (great or not) and then pretend nothing happened.  This pattern continues, without the need to get drunk, calling him/her when you feel like hooking up or you’re just bored.  Perel, who does not disparage casual or recreational sex, sees this this scenario as more about acting out one’s anxiety about the commitment of marriage than an expression of sexual freedom.

Ratu seemed to agree with this interpretation and when asked about love and marriage, replied, “We see commitment as a life sentence.”  She said many of her male friends are terrified of the thought of having the same sexual partner for more than a week, let alone for a life-time.  For young women who may want commitment, it means sacrificing your own goals and ambition for something you can’t control and that you could fail at.   Gender equality has an ironic consequence; both men and women now have the right to be terrified of commitment.  Better to engage in risky sex than to succumb to the perceived risks of a long-term commitment.

The sexual excitement that comes with changing partners frequently will work so long as the next one is available.  However, this pattern will be of no help in meeting the challenge of sustaining sexual vitality with one person over time.

Steven:  Tell me how you were loved, and I’ll tell you how you make love.

Steven’s father abandoned his mother who then devoted herself to caring for her children, and swore to never let anyone hurt her like that again.

Steven has been married to Rita for 6 years and finds himself passively ducking her sexual advances.  He is baffled by his lack of interest and his unreliable erections. The more he loves Rita and the more he depends on her, the more he inhibited he is sexually.

For Steven, emotional safety and security requires monitoring of his selfish and aggressive inclinations; requires guarding against becoming an “asshole” like his father.  The more he loves Rita, the closer he gets, the greater the need for caution and the more inhibited he is sexually.

Dylan: All feelings are a sign of weakness.

Dylan finds emotional security altogether impossible, with or without sexual excitement.  At his mother’s funeral when he was twelve, his eyes filled with tears over his great loss.  His father said, “I hope you’re not going to fall apart on me.”  Out of fear of rejection by his father, Dylan had to suppress his entire emotional life.  For Dylan, “All feelings were a sign of weakness in our house.”  When Dylan starts to have feelings for someone, he feels self-loathing in the hope of controlling unwanted feelings.

Twice a week, Dylan goes to clubs to pick up men he does not know and who will never know him.  There are no feelings in anonymous sex; he is protected from repeating the humiliations of his childhood.  What he gets is the thrill of being wanted and chosen by many men at once.

 

 

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