Yoga Articles by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad

Transforming Sexuality: Changing the Context of Conquest (Page 2)

Diana Alstad and Joel Kramer 

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Joel: No action is feedback-free: Everything we do fuels something - some pleasure, fear, security, or habit. Often our newly acquired values are reactions against aspects in ourselves which we don't like. But reactions don't free us, since we act out our conditioning in a new disguise. A real change of values comes from a deep place that is not reactive.

Diana: In spite of heightened awareness in the last ten years, I think men are still sexually turned on to beauty and women to power in very deep ways. What's new is that people are no longer satisfied with this way of relating and, out of their dissatisfaction, are experimenting more with their lives.

Joel: Another aspect of romance that people don't usually want to look at, even though it brings great conflict, is what role "conquest" plays in this. You know, it's what those "love" stories are about in novels and movies - the thing that comes before "The End," where they tack on "And they lived happily ever after." The "ever after" is, of course, real life. The stories stop just when their life together begins, because people are more interested in the romantic element that contains conquest and images. This is how I see it working: The lust or desire a man feels for a woman is not unlike the excitement of "the hunt." He sees something and he wants it, wants to possess it, take it, win it. And then, after getting it, he's no longer turned on in the same way, so he moves on to something else - another woman, business, or golf.

Diana: At first when the woman feels the power of his desire, this male energy being totally focused into her can turn her on tremendously, if the man interests her. It's hard not to feel flattered and special as the cause of this surge in him. This is a traditional source of female power. She might play hard to get if she has learned how to make the hunt more interesting. Yet, the game is itself often a source of great ambivalence, as power comes from withholding and passion from surrender. Playing hard to get often does in fact attract the man more.

Joel: Yes, it's more exciting to hunt tigers than rabbits. The woman, being the focal point of his desire, naturally assumes that she is the cause as well as the object of it; but the energy of that desire stems more from the play of it than from her as a person. He may not realize this either, and so he is not really lying to her, for these mechanisms often operate at unconscious levels. When involved in conquest, he is in one psychological space; afterwards he is in another. In fact, many men feel bad when they see this trend in themselves and understand how self-centered it is.

Diana: Both sexes are taught to play "conquest and surrender" from an early age. Girls learn very young, often from the way their fathers treat them, that men respond more to cutesy coyness than to directness. So they are rewarded for being manipulative and later criticized for it. This puts the woman in the double bind: She's forced to be gamy to keep the man's attention, but he puts her down severely for being a "tease" when she "leads him on without coming through." (This can be used to justify rape, because a tease deserves it, the logic goes.)

Joel: Men learn young that what counts in the world is what other men think of them, and that women can be useful insofar as they bolster adequacy or impress other men. It's important to see how much the need for adequacy affects men's relationships and sexuality. In romantic literature conquest referred mainly to sexual conquest, because it was assumed that when a woman gave herself sexually, she gave herself totally. The so-called sexual revolution, however, has shaken this up, now that playing hard to get is in many circles considered old-fashioned. Since sexuality is no longer symbolic of total commitment, much of the hunt has shifted its focus from the sexual act to winning the total being, the heart and mind, of the other person. There is still much play in the sexual field, but the serious hunt is at a deeper level and plays itself out in many ways, with sexuality as just one aspect of it. Conquest can even be played out in the confines of marriage or a couple relationship, until one person wins the other totally.

Diana: Conquest can string itself out for years now, because people are more reluctant to get involved. They may not be as hard to get sexually, but fear of being trapped and missing out makes the field of emotional conquest more challenging.

Joel: One way conquest works is that there's more power in denial than in giving in to the other - this holds true for both the man and the woman. So much of the power in relationship is linked to who wants whom more, which can shift back and forth. This leaves little room for love. When you open up to loving someone, you become vulnerable, which gives the other person a certain amount of control over you. But since men are conditioned to want to be in control, and women are attracted to men's strength, which they also associate with control, there's a tendency for both men and women to mistake love and vulnerability for weakness. In conquest the one who opens to love is often punished, for that very opening may cause the other to withdraw. If a woman wins a man's heart, he can seem less strong and interest her less, too. Now women are more into hunting, while some men are trying to open emotionally, so the dynamics are shifting.

Diana: Traditionally a woman's choice of man largely determined the life she would lead. Perhaps one reason women have been attracted to power is that they have not shared equally in institutional power; therefore they looked to men for survival and the quality of their lives. Self-interest can unconsciously condition one to act in ways that bring security and protection. Material dependency necessarily creates psychic dependency. If women were sharing material power, then they wouldn't need to hook onto men to survive. Naturally, all of this influences sexuality.

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