Yoga Articles by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad
Transforming Sexuality: Changing the Context of Conquest (Page 1)
Diana Alstad and Joel Kramer
Diana: These times feel very unique for men and women. On the one hand, there is a chance for intimacy and understanding that can transform old modes into a new way of approaching life. Awareness of sex role conditioning, more space for women to define and support themselves, and men's increasing need and willingness to share some of their burdens and responsibilities, may offer us an opportunity to move out of the proverbial battle of the sexes. On the other hand, as you look around, there seems to be crisis everywhere, in couples and families, and tension, broken relationships, pain, and conflict.
Joel: The very crisis is a sign that old structures are breaking down, making a new way possible and indeed necessary. How can a species survive if its two parts are locked in conflict? If we are to survive, a new balance between men and women will have to be created. Right now the amount of energy locked in male-female problems is enormous, preventing us from facing other vital challenges freshly.
Diana: There is such pain and confusion because the problems we're facing are unprecedented and can only be solved through a transformation in the way we approach relationships. If men and women could learn how to be open and supportive with each other, we could meet this challenge and bring about a needed harmony. Our present problems are linked not only to obvious areas of tension, such as unequal power, but also to the very ways in which we attract each other. Love and sexuality are out of kilter. People who are "good for you" or "friends" are often not the ones who turn you on sexually; in fact, it seems hard to find a lover and a friend in the same person.
Joel: One of the main problems is that we don't seem willing to let go of the pleasures and seeming advantages of traditional ways of relating. If we look more closely at what attracts men and women, we can see that much of it is not related to love at all - nor to respect, care, and understanding.
Diana: Let's go into what sexual attraction is all about, where it comes from, and what keeps it going. Why does the great passion of a new romance later get lost in conflict, hurt, boredom, or merely comfort? The very nature of sexual desire and what we think of as "romance" often sets people up for failure before they have had a chance to create their own unique relationship.
Joel: Understanding how and why this occurs can change the way you approach relationship, and transform its internal dynamic. As we talk about this, it's important to keep in mind we're discussing a model or cultural prototype whose elements can be found in most relationships at some level, at some point. Part of what ignites sexual desire are conditionings which have both mechanical and self-centered aspects. Far from reducing sex to this, our interest is in freeing sexuality as much as possible from these deep programmings. The only way to free yourself is first to realize that you are operating "on automatic." Making unconscious programming conscious removes some of its power to move and determine you.
Diana: We're talking about patterns and tendencies, realizing that a model cannot exhaust the variety and complexity of encounters. People do break out of patterns and go beyond them, and it's easier to do so if each person can learn to recognize these tendencies in him or herself - to see them, not to judge or try to get rid of them.
Joel: Throughout history different groups - from Freud to feminism - have tried to analyze and understand sexuality and its conflicts. But by and large, men and women have not joined hands, without blame or self-justification, to look at how the "male-female dance" works and what each sex brings to it. Usually when they discuss the subject, each side tries to show how their own sex has it "worse" and the other is to blame. This attitude, due to anger and resentment between the sexes, is understandable, but it is important to recognize that it's not conducive to objectivity.
Diana: A big problem with romance and sexual desire is they are usually based on images that prevent you from seeing the other person as he or she is. It is the image that attracts you. Since the images are fairly one-dimensional, they don't hold up well over time or when the real "nitty-gritty" of living together starts. The less you face everyday issues, the longer romance lasts - hence the popularity of affairs, flings, et cetera. It's a shock when the pressures of reality start breaking down the images. If not much else was there, there's no support to hold the relationship together while it shifts to a new foundation. When images crack, a stronger glue is needed, such as care, openness, and common interests. Another element that makes communication difficult is that old saying, "Opposites attract." Each sex is attracted to what it lacks. A different age or lifestyle, a foreigner or different class or background can accentuate the difference by its seeming mystery.
Joel: Traditionally, beauty and power fed these images. Over the centuries, women's physical attributes are what have attracted men sexually. Women, on the other hand, have tended to respond more to men's power than to their looks. This power expresses itself in many ways: physical strength; dominance over other males; wealth; ability to mold the external environment through politics, art, and science; and even sometimes power in the relationship. (Though this is often a source of great conflict). Each sex subtly, or not so subtly, rewards the other for developing those qualities which attract it, and in so doing helps determine the ideals of masculinity and femininity.
Diana: At the same time men and women put each other down for those very differences: women for being "vain, overly emotional, weak and dependent" and men for being "competitive, domineering, aggressive, closed." This is just one of the many binds each sex puts the other in, one of the many ways each manages to feel superior to the other. The women's movement has been very critical of traditional sexuality based on beauty and power. Suspicious of romance, many feminists turned instead to friendship as a basis for love and became interested in how to infuse it with passion or sexuality. Friendship seemed closer to the new ideals, which involved getting rid of power plays and sex roles, so that there could be more equality and sharing. But the conditionings linked to sexual desire run very deep and don't change overnight merely because you don't like what's happening and postulate new values. In fact, these new values often make it even harder for you to look at how you function, because you will be judging, censoring, or disliking yourself according to the new ideals. You don't really give yourself a chance to understand, to see more clearly how and why you are that way and what you are getting out of it.