Sex is a fundamental socio-emotional function. Our identities and feelings of self-worth are tied tightly to it. If we feel “sexy” we tend to feel good about ourselves. When we don’t feel “desired” sexually, our overall self-confidence deflates.
I often think of someone like Marilyn Monroe as someone whose self-worth was inextricably connected to her sexuality. Others thought of her as a sex object, and as went other’s perceptions, so went Marilyn’s own sense of human value. As the old Carole King song says, “You're as beautiful as you feel.”
We all create a narrative in our head that defines who we think we are, and how others perceive us. Our self-worth exists on a sliding scale of self-confidence that varies from individual to individual. Sometimes it is close to the reality of others; sometimes it sits at a far distance from the truth.
A lack of self-confidence can manifest itself in a variety of ways. We feel better about ourselves if we see can define our core human value as being smart, or good looking; practical or intuitive; a compassionate listener or a good storyteller; or even strong, tall, skinny, blonde, willowy or athletic. All of these traits as positives help build our self-confidence. These traits become our “super powers” that make us stand out, and define us.
Sex is another powerful trait in defining our self-worth. If we feel “sexy,” we are perceived as desirable to others at an extremely core and fundamental level. Our bodies get “turned on” by those who we perceive as sexy.
Deeper still, there are those who define their core self-worth by how they perform in bed. They’ve been taught that if they can make others turned-on sexually, they are desirable as human beings. The most publicly discussed and obvious example of what I’m talking about is prostitutes. They are paid for their sexual performance—thus validating their value as human sexual beings. Many prostitutes were abused as children, and had their self-worth taken away in a sexual manner, so they are taught to retrieve it through sexual acts.
But it is not just prostitutes, and those who were sexually abused as children who see their human value in their sexual performance. There are those among us—perhaps a friend, or even a former date, who see their worth sexualized.
I have two friends whose self-identity is clearly gauged by their sexual performance skills—or at least their own personal perceptions of their “talents” in the bedroom. They have super powers in the bedroom—or so they think. One is a woman—Maggie. The other is a guy—Sam. They are
Maggie is a voluptuous redhead. Porcelain skin and large natural breasts, she always turns heads. She oozes sexuality in her walk, and her confidence. She knows precisely how her butt moves when she walks in just a certain way, and she knows how to squeal just perfectly when he’s just about to explode. Maggie has tried and tried to be monogamous in relationships. And each time her straying from the bedroom has caused her to break up with boyfriend after boyfriend. In each relationship she found the perfect guy—smart, charming, compassionate and sexy. But each time he simply wasn’t enough. Their sex was great, but only having one man tell her she was great in bed was simply not enough.
Sam too has had difficulties in relationships. In fact, he says he doesn’t want one. He prefers sex to relationships. He sees too much heartbreak in relationships. “Sex is simpler than dating. No muss no fuss. And no complaints.” He sees himself as a stallion in bed—able to satisfy anyone who comes across his path. He imagines himself as the perfect lover—slow and sensuous when he needs to be, aggressive and powerful when desired. His penis has tremendous power—at least in his own mind. Sam, like Maggie flirts with everyone he sees—women or men. He’s extremely proud of the fact that he can bed either sex—whether they are gay or straight. He says he is not sexually attracted to guys, but the fact that he can use his sexual powers to seduce them is all the incentive he needs for gay sex. As he says, “guys are easy pickin’s. Girls sometimes are harder to win over. So I’m game either way.”
When Maggie and Sam are in bed, they feel better looking, smarter, taller, skinnier, stronger—all of the things that define how they want to feel about themselves. Having sex makes Maggie feel feminine and special and girly. Sex for Sam allows him to show off his masculine-side—his power over others in his ability to satisfy. If they have self-doubt about their sexual performance, they feel doubt about everything. They believe sexual performance is their super power. They have sexualized their self-identity.
They are the extremes—the outliers in our society, but don’t we all have a bit of Maggie and Sam in us?