Closed hearts Open beds

I knew the Queen was extraordinary when I didn’t want to sleep with her. As those first days turned into weeks and then months my compulsion to bed her was overridden by a desire to know her despite the urges that continued cascading through my nether regions.

Unsurprisingly, I haven’t always been such the honorable Boy Scout. From my deflowering, through college, and then for several years after my divorce I immortalized the role of single-minded virility.  My separation in 2004 happened just about the time on-line dating went from being a single’s embarrassing confession to the modus operandi for finding new love. I pounced on this new social experiment like it was catnip. For someone who admittedly had zero ‘game’, trolling behind a computer monitor was the perfect steroid for my feeble social skills.

But any hope I might have had in finding new romance amid all the dated photos and subtly exaggerated profiles was quickly dashed.  In short order I learned, as has since become conventional wisdom, online dating is good for many things – finding true love is rarely one of them.

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The prevalence of casual sex, hook-ups, and no strings attached affairs has become social orthodoxy. Try this; think of the last movie you saw depicting a couple having sex where the characters portrayed are married or at the least committed? In every movie I’ve watched this year – every one – any sex scenes were always of the casual, one-night-stand variety. It seems committed relationships in general and marital intimacy in particular has become far too mundane and ancestral for Hollywood tastes. In fact casual sex is so completely mainstream, research now suggests that the most pressing concern in retirement homes and over fifty communities isn’t ample supplies of colostomy bags or bingo cards, but the spread of STD’s and the apprehension of Paw-Paw’s Viagra dealer.

Sociologists cite numerous reasons for this new found desire to be intimate without intimacy. Some reference the sexual revolution of the 60’s, others quote readily available birth control, and still many say it’s just another logical corollary of a rapidly approaching gender balance. Regardless, one chief outcome is clear, more and more women today view sex in the same manner men historically have been known for. Those same men, it should be noted, that the pillars of feminism voiced such outrage against a mere quarter century ago. This upside means, for the man so inclined, there is possibly no better time to be alive. Unlike his forebears who relied on false promises, the woman he’s lying next to really doesn’t want to be called tomorrow.

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Words are vitally important. Lets take the phrase ‘casual sex’. It’s used in general terms to describe a physical relationship that is temporary and irregular.  But does it carry the same appeal if the name were changed to ‘indifferent sex’?  Suddenly the feelings evoked are a bit more unsettling, no? Yet if we are to try and understand the basis for this new social outlook regarding ‘casual sex’ or sex that is not only temporary and irregular but emotionless to the point of indifference we must see it for what it truly is.

Minus any element of love, warmth, and devotion, sex out of a need for release reduces us to animalism. We become nothing more than creatures operating on impulse, like beasts in the wilderness, unable to control our urges. And like that animal we come to be emotionally indifferent in the pursuit to scratch our itch. Is this really where evolution has led us – grunts of animal passion wrapped up in hot and kinky bows? Is there such a low premium on physical intimacy now that it has really become ‘just sex’?

And if this is the signal of our arrival is any of it a consequence of broken glass ceilings and women who can pay their own way? Women who are not only assuming the career roles once held by men but the sexual ones as well? Or have women simply tired of the ancient double standard and decided that if they must play the game they may as well rewrite rules? I speak of women because, and in this there is absolutely no doubt, they have been and will forever remain the gatekeepers to the bedchamber.  It would be hypocritical to think women are just the innocent victims in our faster and looser sexual culture, because in any heterosexual relationship the woman’s views on sex will ultimately dictate its boundaries.

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Casual sex takes an enormous amount of preparation and understanding.  Without clear ground rules among the participants and level setting of expectations bad things happen, feelings get trampled, and hearts get broken. I find it interesting that so much forethought is required, that agreements and planning are necessary, and that boundaries must be established. But it speaks to the fact that, by nature, emotions are a fundamental component of sex, which applies as much to men as to women. I can rattle off names of men who were burned when they got too deep in what was otherwise a friend with benefits arrangement. This essential due diligence then begs the question, are we kidding ourselves by thinking it’s possible to keep our beds open and our hearts closed?

To answer that one need look no further than the perpetual problem that runs rampant with casual sex. Why amid its social acceptance and aggrandizement, when every magazine, book, and movie categorically condones it, do we still suffer from guilt, shame, and confusion around it? Why when driving home the next morning from a one night stand whose name has been forgotten do we still feel strange, dirty, and somehow less of a person; why does that voice deep within whisper this isn’t how it is supposed to be!? Why do we feel as if a piece of our soul was left back there under the covers?

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And what does all this say about our ability to enjoy the inherent benefits of healthy romantic relationships? Does turning on and off our emotions like a switch bring with it unintended side effects? Do we actually believe we can spend years shutting off our natural emotions to one meaningless unemotional liaison after another and expect not to bring any of that confusion into a honorable relationship or marriage? Are we so arrogant to believe we can live at the extremes unabated?

And what of those who claim that casual sex is better than having our feelings trampled on? If casual sex is the preferable alternative to opening our hearts to the natural emotions of love and devotion, why do even the most hardcore players eventually grow tired of keeping those feelings on a shelf? Why do we find ourselves inherently drawn towards the direction of monogamy? Why don’t we all choose to remain indefinitely indifferent? The reason is, and I can say this with perfect sincerity, one sexual encounter after another deprived of any devotion and emotional attachment will eventually lead to complete and utter darkness. It will rip away our dignity and self-respect and in the wound will grow the scar tissue of regret and remorse that has the potential to leave us psychologically damaged and spiritually bankrupt. Like drinking too much alcohol, eventually the buzz stops being worth the hangover.

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And one final note that must be mentioned, any parent is forced to take this notion of casual sex one step farther, ‘would you want that kind of life your children?’ Could I ever wish my children to experience the pain and loss that is virtually guaranteed to surface from sex outside the bonds of an honorable, healthy, mature relationship? How a single mother or father answers that question should be the standard by which they approach their own sex lives.

At 42 years old, the greatest benefit in getting older is the capacity to see outside my own universe, to reflect back on my past and point to those times when, had I known better, I would have acted differently.  The best thing about maturity is learning from those mistakes then choosing to do things differently next time.

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