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Functional Perspectives

Body and Mind

Human Sexuality: The Force of Desire *

by John Lawson 2006

    While human sexuality may be discussed in terms of anatomy, physiology, comparative biology, psychology, and anthropology, the truth of the matter lies in the realm of human experience.  Sex is important to human beings not simply because it is a means of reproducing the species or because it provides a basis for understanding some significant aspects of social organization or history, but because it is the expression of a deep and abiding human urge.  In a world in which intense pressures are numerous and existence requires considerable struggle, one might think that sexuality would recede into the background of human concerns.  Yet this is not the case.  Indeed, even in the Victorian period, when the official mores of respectable, bourgeois society demanded that the importance of sex be obliterated from serious consideration - both in practice and in fantasy - sexual issues were an overriding preoccupation.  It was the recognition of the importance of sexuality in human experience and behavior that gave rise to psychoanalysis and prepared the soil, at one level, for the hedonistic reaction of the Roaring Twenties.  This was the beginning of the so-called "sexual revolution."  With that revolution came the promise of sexual fulfillment.  Has that promise been realized?  The answer must be "no."

    If one surveys the contemporary scene as it is reflected in the electronic communications media, the popular novels, the advertising slogans, and the behavior of men and women in public places, it is evident that there is much sexual ignorance, misery, and frustration.  Although times have changed greatly during the past century, the title of one of Wilhelm Reich's books - written over six decades ago - seems aptly to describe the predicament of many present-day individuals with respect to sexual matters - "People in Trouble." [1]  It seems that sexual behavior in many segments of society has passed through a stage of "sophistication" and entered an "impulsive" phase linked with pornography, violence, and abuse.  Despite the obsession with sex that characterizes much modern experience, genuine sexual feeling capable of providing real satisfaction seems generally lacking.  It may be that this is due to an incapacity on the part of the average person to feel the deep, elemental force of sexual desire.  D.H. Lawrence suggested as much in his novel The Virgin and the Gypsy.  In that work, the following passage may be read:

          "I think," said the major, taking his pipe from his mouth, "that desire is the most wonderful thing in life.  Anybody
            who can really feel it, is a king, and I envy nobody else!..."  
          "But Charles!' she cried.  "Every common low man in Halifax feels nothing else!"
          "That's merely appetite," he said. [2]

    If the necessary condition for genuine sexual satisfaction is desire, then desire itself can be understood as the product of an organismic tension and excitement that seek gratification and release in pleasurable merger with a member of the opposite sex.  Because of individual differences in temperament, personality, and developmental history, not simply anyone will do as a sexual partner.  One must discriminate on the basis of one's own experience of desire in order to find a suitable mate and to attain fulfillment.  But what is to be done if one experiences only appetite, at best? 

    The key to recovering one's lost desire - or discovering desire for the first time - lies in deepening one's experience of the body.  Machines, although they are capable of complex feats, do not possess feeling.  The spirit may long for what is divine, but "angels" are asexual.  Sexuality can be experienced only as a bodily state. 
Unfortunately, many people today are out of touch with their bodies.  They do not experience the pulsation, excitement, and emotional liveliness that spring from a deep identification with and surrender to their biological nature.  Preoccupied with performance and self-image, they are alienated from their feelings.  Alexander Lowen has discussed the dilemma faced by individuals in whom the striving for power and status has supplanted the need for human sexual contact.  In such a situation, a person may develop a self-image of being a great lover and engage in sexual relations with many partners; yet real contact, desire, and satisfaction are absent. [3] 

    Interestingly, D.H. Lawrence commented on this situation also.  He wrote: "Life is only bearable when the mind and the body are in harmony, and there is a natural balance between them, and each has a natural respect for the other.  And it is obvious there is no balance now.  The body is at best the tool of the mind, at worst the toy...  The body of men and women today is just a trained dog." [4]  Lawrence realized that this is an unnatural situation.   He added: "Men and women aren't really trained dogs: they only look like it and act like it.  Somewhere inside there is a great chagrin and a gnawing disappointment." [5]

    From the vantage point of Reichian Energetics, sex is seen as a central aspect of human experience; yet it is not the only aspect of experience, and it cannot be reasonably seperated from the fabric of life as a whole.  Sex and personality are interrelated.  One cannot expect to bring about significant changes in sexual experience and behavior in the absence of corresponding changes in overall functioning.  Deepening and expanding sexual experience must be part of a process of deepening and expanding personal functioning in general.  This means that improvements in the quality of respiration, affecting the energy level of the individual, will have positive repercussions on the sexuality of the person.  The same relationship holds between deepening sexual experience and reducing patterns of chronic muscular tension that impede and distort the natural movements integral to uninhibited sexual expression.  It is clear that an increase in personal energy and a decrease in chronic tensions - grounded in improved self-understanding - will provide a more potent quality to sexual functioning.  It follows that genuine improvement in individual functioning and authentic personal growth necessarily involve a sexual dimension.

    In his book The Function of the Orgasm, Wilhelm Reich argued that the smooth functioning of the human organism is dependent upon the accumulation and release of sexual tension.  The truth of this statement is experienced on an emotional level as a passion for life and an identification with one's sexual nature.  When this nature is undisturbed by the presence of chronic restrictions acquired during the course of a difficult personal development, one is free to surrender to desire. 

    If the depth of sexual functioning is expressed in the force of desire, it is also true that the meaning of sex, for human beings, is found in love, which is an expression of the need for closeness.   This is true because human beings are social animals who undergo a long dependency period during which the need for intimacy is fostered and nurtured.  For humans, sex, desire, and love are a fundamental part of life, reaching down into the core of one's being.  We love life, and in sex we find an expression of both our love and our life.  Likewise, our life was conceived in sex, and the sexual act in human beings is most meaningful as an expression of love.  Indeed, for human beings, sex, love, and life - at the deepest level - are functionally identical.   

  * This article is adapted from the concluding section of my monograph "Love and Sexuality in Human Functioning," available at the "Publications" page of this website (

Wilhelm Reich. People in Trouble, trans. Philip Schmitz (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976).
New York: Bantam Books, 1968, pp. 87-88.
3] Alexander Lowen. Narcissism: Denial of the True Self  (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1983).
"A Propos of Lady Chatterly's Lover," included as an appendix in Lady Chatterly's Lover (New York: Bantam Books, 1968), p. 335.
Ibid., p. 335.

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