Updated: Sep 26
I am part of the problem of how culture handles problems of intimacy and sexuality. While problems with intimacy and sexuality are common, traditionally they have been set apart from other human activities. As if they could not be resolved within otherwise healthy lives. This is despite the positive recent advances in how culture represents intimacy and sexuality. I too have avoided talking, and writing, about my experience of intimacy and sexuality. My experience is unsurprisingly personal and emotional. My mistakes of intimacy, and sexuality, have been inaction, betrayal, intrusion and holding other people responsible for my feelings. The best apology, I can provide, is not to repeat my mistakes.
My feelings right now are anxiety at exposing my vulnerability, happiness at practising healthy human intimacy and sexuality and sadness at my mistakes. Feelings that communicate my experience of intimacy, and sexuality, is important to me. Also that it is necessary for me to be part of a change. To demonstrate that change, this article will end my avoidance, be true and limited to my experiences, give you a trigger warning and take personal responsibility for my actions. I begin with the mistakes I have made when my emotions have felt unbearable.
What do we do when our internal experience feels unbearable?
How much emotion we can bear determines how much of another person's emotion we can bear. If we can tolerate our emotions we do not have to retreat into fantasy or acting out with the other person. This is significant because intimacy, and sexuality, can create both healthy and unhealthy containers for excess emotions. Effective, or problematic, ways to regulate emotions which do not feel containable by language or objects.
At different times I have felt too happy, too anxious, too sad and/or too angry. Feelings which I have experienced as unbearable. One mistake, I have made, in these situations is to intrude into someone else's experience with my experience. When someone puts too much of their unregulated emotion on someone else in the form of intimacy, or sexuality, it can be distressing. Oscar Wilde said ‘Everything is about sex apart from sex. Sex is about power.’ An over simplification but it highlights the potential for distress through our use of intimacy, and sexuality, to manage our emotions. Mistakes, of intimacy and sexuality, can also occur when we escape too far from our and/or other peoples emotions.
What do we do when we totally disconnect from our and/or other people’s emotions?
'Who has done that? Why did I do that? Why didn't I do that?'
These questions have occurred to me when I have made mistakes, of intimacy and sexuality, without it being a conscious decision. My actions can be understood as partially the result of a dissociation. Dissociation is when we disconnect from part of our experience and/or the experience of other people. Dissociation provides an escape when it feels like there is no other escape. It may be driven by a desire to escape from feelings. It is more likely to happen when we experience feelings we do not want to identify with. One example for me has been when I feel helpless. Feeling this way has lead me to act in ways, intimately and sexually, that consciously I do not want to but I still have gone ahead and done so to stop feeling helpless.
Another way we can, and I have, made mistakes is by splitting of our attachments to people from our sexuality. This could be a vain attempt to preserve an attachment we are scared of losing. In these situations neither our attachments nor our experiences of sexuality may be sufficient to contain our emotions because they are not interactive with each other. So possibly requiring more and more attachments, or sexual experiences, to contain us. In my experience if I am are aware of these possibilities in me, I am more likely to act as I would consciously wish and enjoy healthy intimacy and sexuality.
In my experience healthy intimacy, and sexuality, can also be gained through play, talking and restraint. Marking a safe enough relationship by negotiating boundaries. Reflecting on the fear of excess emotion together. Being present without overwhelming each other. Acknowledging and apologising for our mistakes through the temporary overwhelming of our mind by experience. In summary, to help us to relate safely we can consciously provide ways for each other to tolerate seemingly unbearable feelings without breaching each others boundaries.
Reflecting on my experience of intimacy and sexuality has been both difficult and rewarding for me. I hope I have provided, for you, a useful insight into one person's experience in handling these tasks of maturation. It has been my experience that talking and writing about these issues thoughtfully allows us to behave in ways which are more healthy for both parties. Enabling a move towards a healthy integration of our intimate/non intimate and sexual/nonsexual experiences. Thank you for sharing my experience. I am curious about yours.
Benjamin, J., (2017). 'Another take on the riddle of sex,' in Beyond the doer and the done too., (chp 4,) Routeledge.