… and is it best for the children?
In the courting days of my youth I once made love with a woman who completely passed out in the aftermath. I, of course, attributed it to my unparalleled lovemaking prowess (as if such a thing were an actual possibility in a 20th century ADHD nineteen year old!). What my lovemaking was actually the catalyst for was a full blown dissociative episode: Lara had been profoundly sexually abused as a young girl and it hovered like a ghost over every sexual encounter in her adult life. And sometimes she would fully dissociate and revisit the ghosts from her past without taking her physical body along.
Hysterical Penis Envy
One day it occurred to me that, like Freud, women with a traumatic sexual history seemed to somehow be drawn to me. Unlike Freud however, when I uncovered statistics of reported sexual abuse of women under age 18, I didn’t immediately attribute it to hysteria or penis envy. Harvard psychiatrist Judith Herman rightfully takes Freud to task for this silliness in her books,Trauma and Recovery and Father-Daughter Incest. So, unlike Freud, what I did instead was think of the many women in my personal circle who were physically, sexually and emotionally abused before and after age 18 who never reported it. They numbered several dozen. When I add that multiple to reported statistics, I come up with a distressingly high number. Official estimates are that 60% of all sexual assaults are never reported. It’s a number that’s clearly points away from any sexual trauma magnetism I might have: the simple fact is that many women in the culture have been deliberately, unconsciously and unskillfully preyed upon as young girls, most often by someone they know.
Now, the most powerful sexual organ in the human body is the brain. As I’ve mentioned previously, if we think of the brain as a collection of roughly 52 endocrine glands whose primary function is to process energy and information, it stands to reason that the more energy and information a brain can process, not only in the area of lovemaking, but in all areas, the more expansive, interconnected and dynamic our life experience will be.
Increasing Wet-RAM to Unregiment Love and Unlearning
Depending upon the circumstances (and every traumatic incident is unique), experiences of sexual abuse become stored in the brain as memories often associated with high levels of stress-fear-anxiety glucocorticoids. Early abuse – sexual, physical or emotional – destroys children’s smiles. Significant abuse of any kind can lock up traumatic memories within the network, taking up valuable neurological real estate, thus reducing the brain’s ability to process energy and information. Stored traumatic memories reduce the flow of energy and information processing in many areas – impulse control, immune function, clear thinking ability, etc – especially in the face of internally or externally induced stress.
Sex needs access to love’s subtlest energies to really be good. Apprehending subtle energies requires uncommon processing power. It requires trust, vulnerability and a pulsating capacity for surrender. Love (not sex) is also one of the most powerful energies for totally remodeling the brain. It’s one of the reasons, in some corners of the world, love is more precious than gold, I suspect. If sex first takes place in connection with an emotionally significant relationship, loving or abusive, most of us end up being able to recall details of The First Time 20, 50, 75 years later. Why do you think that might be? (Appropriately enough, mine was in a boat in a secluded alcove near “The Wishing Well,” a crystal clear pool of sparkling water on Lake Mead outside Las Vegas. That has thankfully set the stage for most every experience that has followed).
Refining as We Go
But as more than a few of us know, the trust, vulnerability and surrender of new love is more than a little difficult to sustain over a multi-year relationship, especially if one has an early history of abuse. Still, this transcendent impulse, in my experience, is irrepressible, and it seems to arise in the heart. The heart is like a seed that sends out “energetic roots” hoping to connect with other hearts that will try to help move early abuse experiences in the direction of healing. Unfortunately, what happens more often than not is both hearts will collaborate and trigger implicit traumatic memories that often unconsciously work to recreate and reenact and overlay the early experiences on the present. It’s often one of the reasons “good girls” are frequently drawn to “bad boys.” And one of the reasons “good boys” morph into “bad boys” over time – our old friend, the compulsion to repeat the trauma. From a brain perspective, the compulsion to reenact happens in hopes of resolution, which more often than not, fails to happen. This adds trauma on top of trauma (I have no research to support it, but I suspect reenacted and unresolved trauma piled on top of trauma adds to significant neurological difficulties in later life. A study modeled on the ACE study could easily confirm a correlation).
So, while the sexual satisfaction in a relationship might be one barometer of how Brobdingnagian (monstrously wonderful) it is, a more useful one might be: to what degree are we able to use any of our relationships to help us heal, increase our processing power and access love unlimitedly? And, might there be an energy and information processing threshold beyond which … sexual energy ends up actually being a bringdown!?