The Secret Life of Desire

January 23, 2012

The chatrooms are full of men looking for NSA, no-strings-attached, sex. But is there such a beast? Once upon a time, in the boyish days of puberty, sex was a solo act and purely a physical sensation. Then over the years other, more complicated needs crept silently into sex, bloating it into something big and important. This change occurred so secretly that we did not even notice, not until it was too late anyways.

At some point in our journey through adolescence we began to contemplate sex more and more often. We imagined creative new scenarios, began to anticipate them, plan for them. It is said young men think about sex every four minutes. What started as entertainment grew into a hobby that perhaps came close to an obsession. Have you noticed that with sexual desire, more than any other, it feels pleasurable merely anticipating it? This may sound harmless enough, but there’s a serious catch. We each experience the world through the colors of our thinking and not objectively. For example, a musician hears rhythms in city sounds, a politician sees voters. Spend too much time thinking about sex and soon people are either ‘attractive’ or ‘not attractive’. You may have observed with your friends that when they are with those whom they find attractive, they are at their charming best. Conversely, when with those whom they find unattractive they make no effort to behave well, as though the undesirable are invisible to them. May I suggest that if sex becomes a thing of importance in our lives we may begin to confuse admiration, respect, even friendship with sexual desire. It is easy to forget that love for another human need not involve sexual attraction at all. Of course, when people are viewed through the prism of sex, they can easily turn into labels: tops, bottoms, femm, butch, chubs, twinks, Rice queens, curry queens and on and on. Then where is their humanity?

Then there are the complication that come with the secondary pleasures of sex: approval and acceptance. One reason cruising for sex is so addictive is because of the buzz of being ‘selected’. The chase is more thrilling sometimes than the win. Although this thrill too comes with a hefty price: any man who subjects himself to the gaze of others soon hits the gym, dresses a certain way, preens endlessly. It is as though more efforts are put forth toward getting sex than enjoying sex.

Perhaps because being considered attractive by strangers is so pleasurable, we forget its shadow – rejection. In bar rooms, chat rooms, clubs, baths, men size each other up in a matter of seconds. Judgements are quick and harsh. We reject others at a glance but don’t forget others also reject us in an instant. Handling rejection is never easy at any age. Add to this the narrow societal ideals of desirability with regards to masculinity, race, height, weight, facial features and its no wonder many men find themselves feeling inadequate in ways they cannot change. Naturally their self worth and confidence pay the price. As if the fear of rejection was not enough,along come other fears. We could catch something, something possibly incurable that may kill us. We have to be ‘careful’, be ‘safe’. Sex, once a pleasant distraction, has now become dangerous. We could meet the wrong person and we could be robbed, beaten perhaps, even killed.

As a man matures he may come to believe that being in a committed relationship is the way to enjoy fearless sex. After all, cultural norms, religious upbringing, peer expectations all point to this ideal. But now the committed man finds that sex takes on yet another layer of significance: as a communication of love. And in the bargain he enjoys a sense of security for companionship in his old age and illness, perhaps even financial security. Sounds like a good deal, but hang on there: what about the jealousy if other men flirt with his partner? Then there is the partner’s jealousy about other men also. If a man strays he fears losing the companionship and the security of his relationship. There are even men who are lonely within a relationship, they feel unloved and unappreciated. Suddenly not having sex now has as many consequences attached to it  as having sex used to.

Is there some way to strip away all these add-ons and restore sex to the innocent pleasure it once was? There are men, either because of illness or because of age, who no longer crave sex, their minds no longer lust. If such men are at all self-aware, if they are sensitive to their desires and interested in their own well being, they will discover this fact about sexual desire. It coagulates, it co-mingles with other unrelated urges till it becomes big enough to dictate whether we are happy or miserable. By skillful observation, we can segregate and hence discover new ways to satisfy all those other needs ( security, companionship, approval, acceptance, love) without ever using sex. By cultivating the habit of honest observation, awareness without judgement or condemnation, we can free sex of with its cultural, religious, political and social trappings. It requires one to be highly sensitive, to be keenly aware of what is going in the mind, in the body, in life itself.  We might then discover a new kind of freedom. We might then be free to observe other desires also gang up against us and similarly dictate to us joy and sorrow. This alertness then opens the gateway to freedom. The freedom to choose which desire to indulge and which to ignore.

Marie Antionette’s attempt at good rest.

Millions of people purchase lottery tickets in the hopes of striking it rich. We dream of all the new possibilities open to us should we beat the odds. We expect our problems with financial insecurity, debt, unhappiness to just melt away should we win. But have we ever thought about the opposite? What in my life will remain unchanged if I were to  win $10 million?

Health: The expensive pleasures of life cannot be enjoyed without good health. Travel etc. can be made more comfortable with money but it cannot end physical pain, a bad heart, laboured breathing or a tumor. Money may buy better medical care but it is a poor substitute for good health.

Sleep: A good night’s sleep is not more restful with money in the bank. If one has financial worries, one may have difficulty falling into sleep. We see that people who are content with their behavior during the day are able to drop everything and get a good night’s rest. Both rich and poor who behave badly are haunted by their unskilful behavior and thus cannot sleep. And the state of dreamless sleep, once achieved,  is the same for all,the rich and the poor.

Connectivity: We have a deep-rooted need to belong, to connect meaningfully with others. A lottery win will not diminish this need. You may attract more friends if you have more money but are they real friends? Long-term true friendships, unconditional lovers, nurturing families, all require a lifetime’s work to build and maintain. If you do not have the skills to relate to people before your win, you will not have after.

Problem Solving: The ability to deal with life’s challenges appropriately and effectively is a learned skill. Money may help you avoid some challenges (such as having to wait at the check out of the grocery store) but it brings with it a new set of challenges (physical  safety, for example). If you had a tendency to over react or under react before, this will not change with money.

Communication Skills: Communication is about how you express yourself as well as what you put out. In the old days of computers the phrase used was “garbage in, garbage out”. Many rich people bungle through life saying the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time.

Emotional Well-Being: Many of us feel emotionally scarred by life’s unfair treatment. Having pots of money will do nothing to heal this hurt. Deep and honest inquiry is the only cure for emotion pain.

Being Comfortable in Your Skin: I would say the majority of people are made to feel that they were cheated in the genetic lottery. Those with huge disposable incomes sometimes attempt to correct this by paying for expensive cosmetic surgery. But does injecting your body with silicone, Botox and breaking cartilage or sewing up loose skin really make a person comfortable in his skin? We see that such people repeatedly find faults with their bodies and have more and more surgeries. If anything they are more uncomfortable in their skins. If you don’t like being short, dark or old, $10 million will not change that.

Self Worth: Another basic human need is being recognized and feeling appreciated for some quality, some unique talent. A sense of self-worth is never measured by dollars. It is a personal feeling that comes from having added value to the lives of others. Sure, Bill Gates may give in generously in charity but I suspect his sense of self worth comes from being recognized for his contribution to the spread of the internet. Being able to generate wealth itself is a talent that will contribute to self worth, but a lottery windfall will not.

Fear of Death: Will having lots of cash erase your fear of death? Of course it cannot. And the fear of death is the root of many other fears in life. Fear of old age, being alone and neglected are seen in the very rich also. Some super-rich, like Howard Hughes,  turn recluse because they fear the world itself. Fear is a great impediment to happiness and money only solves the fear of immediate financial disaster.

All of these things add up to a significant chunk of what constitutes a happy life. They say the odds of winning the lottery are astronomical. However, the odds of being happy because of the win are even worse.

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