Recently, an article at The Good Men Project caught my attention, as they sometimes do. Their site often has very good relationship advice and authors with a positive understanding of the potential of masculine love. In other cases, I find the pieces to be more like a lot of other articles: short on facts, long on ideology, empty of deep thought, and full of errors of reasoning. Occasionally their articles on sex are quite astute, so I thought it worth reading.
The article is a review of Slow Sex: The Art and Craft of the Female Orgasm, a book written by Nicole Daedone, the topic of which probably doesn’t need a lot of explanation based on the title. It turns out that, after her exposure to Buddhism, she was introduced to a technique called orgasmic meditation by a man who claimed to be into something called “contemplative sexuality” and showed her exactly what he meant.
To be fair, it’s hardly the worst pick-up line anyone has ever used. Nonetheless, I’m too familiar with the Buddha’s teaching to imagine that he wouldn’t classify it under his specific rubric of sexual misconduct and under his more general rubric of clinging to desire, warning people against it because it would hinder their liberation by fostering an attachment to pleasure.
That said, there were a few concepts that I thought for very useful from the book. One was that orgasm isn’t just the climax of our sexual pleasure, but rather a larger experience of compassionate intimacy. By definition (if you consult a dictionary) orgasm is indeed the climactic bit of the sexual experience, so by definition she’s wrong. But Nicole Daedone rightly thinks that our laser-like focus on the climax tends to obscure many other good and necessary things about sex.
Our culture tends to confuse the orgasm with the person and confuse care for a person’s orgasm with genuine care for the person. The great height of the intimacy of the experience gets lost as we set our sights on reaching the smaller heights of climactic pleasure. What we lose (true intimacy) is far more than we gain when temporary pleasure is our final goal in life, and this is a lesson well worth taking from Daedone.
Another is that we all have a deep “hunger” for intimacy, and that we will do almost anything to find it if we think it can be found. This hunger for intimacy often drives us to marry people who are not compatible with us at all, to treat people fondly as objects for our pleasure in casual sexual encounters, to get a boyfriend or girlfriend for the sake of having one rather than because we will their good in the profound way we should.
We are hungry for something outsides ourselves, something that transcends the self to which we are so attached, something that isn’t a thing, but rather a person who knows us fully and loves us nonetheless after having that knowledge. We are looking for God in sex, and finding mostly the brief thrill of orgasm and an intimacy which is not quite like intimacy with the divine and so is all the more painful because we know that what intimacy we have is less than what is possible.
For Daedone, the compass we can use to find this intimacy is desire itself. The author of the review quotes the following passage approvingly:
“Whatever you do, make sure you’re doing it out of desire. It’s the only compass you’ve been given in this world, and you can trust it. It may not lead you where you thought you were going, but it will never lead you astray.”
The problem is precisely that desire does lead us astray. That desire for intimacy leads us right back to marrying people who are not compatible with us at all, to treating people fondly as objects for our pleasure, to getting a boyfriend or girlfriend for the sake of having one. For many people the God of Sex is desire; it rules over sex, it judges what kinds of sex are good and what kinds are bad, and it leads us to our final liberation from our insecurities and failings.
For such people, to embrace desire is to embrace the highest and best thing there is, something which can guide us truly and authoritatively, though the paths it leads us on are mysterious and we suffer often along the way. In the end, they believe that desire will lead them to everything worth having, to a life of bliss in which the hunger that so haunted them is ended.
But the hunger grows and cannot be satisfied without eating more and more at the table of desire. Sexual intimacy is addictive, and the addicts are slaves to their cravings for it. Thus hunger is perpetuated and enhanced rather than being satisfied and ended for the good of all people. Desire, the God of Sex, is a god who leads us out of the land of milk and honey and into the desert where we will always hunger and thirst.