Can we allow ourselves to admit that sex just isn’t as important as we make it out to be?
This weekend we lost some friends.
The news came in the form of a phone call from one of the parties involved. It was a sad goodbye, letting us know that our couples’/family friendship, which we both enjoyed, was no longer. Their marriage was over. The culprit, of course, was sex.
I won’t pretend to empathize with either party. The pain they both must be going through is beyond my frame of reference. I won’t belittle it by offering platitudes. All I could do was offer condolences, reaffirm the “you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do”, and re-emphasize that although the nature of our friendship will never be the same, my love will still be there, unchanged.
The totality of the news, taken in all its context, left me feeling ugly and defeated. Couple friends where the moms, dads and kids all get along simultaneously are hard to come by, and that loss was enough to put a damper on the day. But it was also a blow against faithful, committed relationships in a way that makes you feel sad and dirty at the same time.
What is this grip that sex has over us? Yes, I’m a scientist. I understand the evolutionary importance and the irresistible limbic-system drive to procreate. I understand the biological rationale for sprinkling sexual implications into every aspect of our lives. I understand the neurochemical rewards we receive for having sex — how it feels so damn good it incentivizes more of the same behavior later. I appreciate that it is such a primitive, bare-bones, evolutionary drive that it sits right at the center of the collective psyche of our species, and for that reason it’s a really easy place for all the broken bits of our lives to manifest themselves and express themselves in our sexual behavior.
But for crying out loud, it’s just sex.
How much time in our lives do we spend actually performing sex, compared with everything else? Even a p0rn-actor who goes to work and has sex from 9-5 spends only 40 hours a week (assuming no overtime) which boils down to less than 25% of all the hours in a week. To spend even 1% of all the hours in your life you’d have to spend roughly 90 minutes a week in the act of lovemaking. Though it’s certainly within the realm of possibility, married couples with kids will tell you (with a wink and a smile) that 90 minutes a week is a good week.
For something that takes up such a small fraction of the totality of what we do with our lives, how do we let it have such a grip over the rest? Entire industries revolve around sex. Those that don’t are infected by it whether they admit it or not. It’s everywhere. It’s inescapable; and yet, the success of my day has more to do with what the traffic on the freeway is like, rather than whether or not I had sex the night before. The emotional implications, the domestic implications and the health implications of our sexual practices seem ridiculously out of balance given everything else our lives require of us.
There are a thousand things necessary for a successful day and a successful life. Balancing the checkbook. Reading to the kids. Visiting your parents. Maintenance on the house. Laughing. Resting. Playing. Growing. Learning. These are the things of life. These are the things that determine whether we are fulfilled, whether we are successful in life. None of them require intercourse. And yet still we venerate sex as the ultimate goal in life, as if everything else is just a way of occupying time between sexual interludes. We high-five our friends when they “got lucky” or “got some” or “got some action” as if to say “Well done. You got that taken care of. Now you can move on to all the other stuff.”
Granted, there is no better way to foster intimacy with your partner than sex. It connects you and makes you vulnerable and draws you together with another person like no other way can. But when considering intimacy, it isn’t even necessary for that (blasphemy, I know). Imagine the potency of your partner gently running her fingers through your hair, or down your back. Picture those moments when you’re lost, looking into your partner’s eyes, and neither of you has to say anything. Think for a moment on the lasting rewards of gently holding hands, or on the way you can totally lose yourself in a deep, committed kiss. These too are the things of intimacy. Because of them, even if you never knew sex, surely you could still know intimacy.
To be cold and clinical, the only thing sex is absolutely *REQUIRED* for is baby making—and even in that case there are exceptions.
Last night lying in bed, after more than 10 years of marriage, I asked my wife “Do you trust me? I mean do you *REALLY* trust me?”
“Of course I do” she replied. “I wouldn’t have had three kids with you if I didn’t.”
She’s no dummy. The idea of me stepping out on her is laughable. First of all, even if I wanted to, there is no opportunity. I work from 7am – 6pm and I’m home within minutes for dinner. There are no real “nights out with the guys” or “business trips” which could be a cover for a clandestine meet-up with someone else. She’s all up in my life in a way that doesn’t allow for secrets. That’s just the way it is. Add to that the fact that in real life, guys like me just don’t get girls like her. She’s WAY above my station. She’s smarter than me. She’s more thoughtful than me. She’s a better parent than me. She’s more likeable than me. She’s infinitely better looking than me. She would have no problem finding a replacement for me. I, on the other hand, could never recover from losing her. Finally there’s also the fact that I am totally in love with her. She fills my cup completely. I look across the table at her and I can not imagine a better life.
And then she went and had my babies, and with each one I fell in love with her even more.
To lose all that for the fleeting, momentary, primitive, physical gratification of an extramarital tryst would be the height of insanity—even if I had the desire.
Which I don’t.
It serves no purpose to play the pious blogger, and I’m conscientious about coming across that way. I don’t think I’m any better than anyone else. I am a relativist at heart and I can appreciate that it takes two people to be in a relationship. You can never know what’s going on behind the curtain in a relationship you aren’t part of, or what’s going on under the hood in a life you haven’t lived. But I will say this:
If somehow the act of sex was cleanly extracted from my life leaving everything else intact, although it would be incredibly disappointing, as laughable as it may sound, my life in its entirety would be relatively unaffected. Everything that I need to get through my day would still be there. The love, the intimacy, the laughter, the living of life—I’d just have to find some other way to fill that 1% of my time.
This article originally appeared on Dork Daddy.
Photo by Porchelinn.