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The Meaning of Sex

By Dr. Marty Klein Expert
 
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Sex has no intrinsic meaning. Almost everyone wishes it did.

The desire to give sex meaning is an understandable, important enterprise. Honestly approached, it can be a valuable exercise; disguised as the righteous desire to simply appreciate the meaning sex has, or as the pursuit of restoring sex's "true" meaning, it is a common source of conflict for both individuals and society.

Sex only has meaning insofar as we experience it. Its meaning is emergent, not objective. We discover the meaning of sex each time we have it, meaning that only resides in our experience. The meaning of sex changes--is reinvented--each time we participate in it.

Most people need sex to have meaning because the alternative is too frightening: having sex in an existential vacuum. Sex without meaning would require participants to float freely in sexual experience, rather than being snugly anchored in a cognitive framework, an explanation.

This is scary because of our indoctrination that sex is bad. We learn that we need protection from our sexuality: its non-linear, open-ended nature, its cacophony of impulses and feelings, its transcendent possibility of taking us away from ourselves. We might not, after all, make it back.

Because sex is ultimately grounded in the body, it is a right-brain, non-linear experience, not a left-brain, cognitive one. Of course, sex can be analyzed, evaluated, and so on, but not as part of the experience. Having sex and understanding sex are two separate activities, much like eating and understanding nutrition are two separate activities. Trying to understand nutrition or digestion while eating undermines the sensuality and enjoyment offered by the experience of dining.

"Sex" is not limited to intercourse; not even limited, in fact, to genital activities. In reality, "sex" describes a huge range of activities. This is half of a dialectic: many things can be sex because sex has whatever meaning we experience moment by moment; and sex has an infinite range of meanings because the scope of activities that can properly be called sexual is so vast.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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