“There’s only one rule about sex: there are going to be rules about sex.” – Robert Anton Wilson | Prometheus Rising
Policing the bedroom is the source of a lot of hot button political issues.
Should we as a society allow same-sex marriage?
Embryonic stem cell research?
These may not seem like ‘bedroom’ issues, but fundamentally all three are rooted in acts of sexuality and they impact our identity on a macrocosmic level. Are we “the kind of people” that allow or don’t allow these things, and why or why not?
Regardless of your position on any or all of these three issues, the fact that they exist as “issues” is nothing new. Were they to be resolved tomorrow, they would only create a vacuum to be filled by other “issues” of a para-sexual nature.
Humans have been hard at work creating sexual rules from the beginning of recorded civilization. As far back as the earliest known codes and rules of social conduct there have been intricate laws about who gets to have sex with whom and live to tell about it. Clerical celibacy has come in and out of vogue, but either way there were qualifying laws for priests which stated they had to or could not marry depending upon the time period. In Egyptian society royalty were required to marry their siblings (to keep the godlike line pure), whereas it’s illegal in the country I live in to marry a sibling.
Five thousand years and five thousand miles separate me from Egyptian royalty, and yet we’re linked by societal rules which we Disobey at Our Own Risk.
No matter which culture or time period we live in, there have been and will always be rules and laws around sex. Some of them seem like ‘no brainers’ (outlawing pederasty, for example), but for the most part the rules we implement can be pretty arbitrary. A ‘well turned ankle’ was the height of naughtiness during one of our more conservative time periods in history, while polyamory is enough of a modern option that books are written to help people navigate the world of Poly (e.g. The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships and Other Adventures by Dossie Easton, illustrating that even ‘scandalous’ lifestyles recommend rules to the game).
The rules change, and sometimes spectacularly contradict each other, but the only staid rule about sex is that there are going to be rules about sex.
Why are we so insistent about creating rules around sex?
There are two etymological reasons, one which reflects the wiring of our minds and the other which reflects the nature of our entire being. The first I’ll be borrowing from the work of psychologist and psychonaut Timothy Leary, the second an understanding from evolutionary psychology.
Sometime in the 1970’s Leary developed a theory of eight circuits of information that operate within the human nervous system, each corresponding to its own layer of the direct experience of reality. He called it the Eight Circuit Model of Consciousness. I became familiar with it because his friend (and one of my heroes) Robert Anton Wilson expanded on it greatly in his book Prometheus Rising, a book everyone should read even if it sounds fishy and you’re not into that kind of thing.
The basic theory is that our minds are biologically pre-programmed to absorb an understanding of reality at a certain time period in life, aka ‘development’. These are called ‘imprinting’ periods, when a circuit is ready to imprint.
For example, the first circuit (called the Oral Bio-Survival Circuit) is a time period (during breast feeding) when our mind ‘imprints’ whether the world is a friendly or a hostile place. Wilson calls these infophobic or infophiliac imprints. If we’re infophobic we’ve imprinted that the world is hostile and we shouldn’t trust anything new, whereas if we have a more infophiliac imprint we’ll see the world as friendly and be open to newness of all kinds.
I’ll do a full article on the Eight Circuit model soon. This article is meant to focus on the fourth circuit, the one called the Socio-Sexual Circuit.
The Socio-Sexual Circuit of Consciousness
The Socio-Sexual circuit opens up around puberty, and is generally linked to one’s first orgasmic experience (though it does not require orgasm to imprint). It is interested in and concerned with orgasm and sexual pleasure while simultaneously being concerned with cultural definitions of “moral” and “immoral.” These two concerns intersect when considering reproduction, child rearing, cultural values and social networks.
Sexuality is an extremely complex thing, and the number of different styles of imprint is truly staggering. An easy illustration of this is Rule 34 – a generally accepted internet rule that states that pornography or sexually related material exists for any conceivable subject. The imagination is the limit for possible sexual imprints, from furries to crush fetishist to emetophiliacs. (NSFW – Don’t click on those links if you want to keep your childhood.)
On the flip side, there is almost always one macrocosmic ‘imprint’ each society has which is almost always much, much more neutered (no pun intended). And in the world of macrocosmic sexual imprinting versus microcosmic sexual imprint, “neither the twain shall meet.” Which is why our
sexual imprinting is intrinsically linked with our social imprinting. There’s one acceptable form of sexuality each of us have been taught. About 1% of the population is lucky enough to share this imprint. The rest of us 99% go through life pretending we share it while secretly fearing we’re dirty, dirty perverts.
If I want to marry my cousin in 2015 I’m a horrible human being destined to have mutated children, but if I’m British royalty about 800 years ago I best marry my cousin or off with my ungrateful head.
Our imprints are almost always out of our control, and we seem to understand this on some instinctive level as humans. This is why we have such strong opinions on sex education and what we’ll expose our children to.
What if Johnny learns what a vagina is while having to go to the bathroom during fourth period health class? Will he forever associate a full bladder with gettin’ it on?! Oh, the humanity.
The disconnect between our societal imprints and our individual imprints is the basis for a whole slew of neuroses. Traditionally, the more pressure we feel that our imprints are socially unacceptable, the more we’ll keep our “perversions” to ourselves and in the world of fantasies.
With the advent of the internet (and things like Rule 34) we don’t feel as alone in our preferences, but only because we’re running into other people typically hiding these shared appetites. Everything is done in the shadows, and desires that start pretty harmless can become increasingly less harmless over time.
Wanting to be urinated on may get censure from your neighbors, but only your 800 count Egyptian cotton sheets are the victims in that transaction. Feeling a compulsion to force someone into the act against their will because you can’t find an obliging partner will always on the wrong side of the law (hopefully).
Many people would never reveal their fetishes and paraphilias, even to their most intimate partner. I’ve heard some say that even drunk they wouldn’t spill, indicating they are still on high alert when their minds are most vulnerable.
We are fundamentally aware how our sexuality impacts our social image, and we won’t threaten something so important as our reputation. We can’t control our sexual imprinting, but we can attempt to control how others see our status. One half of the equation gets sacrificed to preserve the second half.
Why is our social image more important to us than our sexuality?
This is a really interesting question. Both subjects are linked to our very survival.
In terms of sexuality, the ability for our genes to be propagated is pretty important to us as individuals and as a species. In order to propagate as individuals, however, we need to get someone else to have sex with us. And that’s based on our social value.
The ‘sexual’ part of our Socio-Sexual imprinting is also focused on pleasure, the strategy we use to get to orgasm. Most of the time we can forgo our optimized orgasmic experience in order to procreate, and if we’re women we can get impregnated without orgasming at all. (Stupid evolution. Hate that guy.)
Our social value then becomes far more important to us than our sexual imprint, as long as that imprint isn’t an exclusive paraphilia (otherwise known as ‘the only way in which I can get off’).
And so we pretend we’re not into the “kinky” stuff we’re into, have vanilla sex, raise a family and die always wondering what it would have been like to step on a Cheeto at the moment of climax.
What’s the point of this awareness?
First of all, if we know that “the only rule about sex is that there’s going to be rules about sex” then it’s easy to see how our ‘rules about sex’ have ebb and flowed and fluxed throughout history. It’s very likely that the thing you’re into has been shared by a huge number of people over the centuries, so don’t beat yourself up too much about it.
Second, what you’re into is an ‘imprint’ in a ‘circuit’ housed within your brain. It’s wiring. It’s not intrinsically “you,” it’s a part of how you’ve been impacted by your environment. Just like it’s healthy not to over-identify with our social image, we shouldn’t over-identify with our sexual imprint.
Third, sexuality is extraordinarily complex. Is a person straight or gay because they’re born that way or because of their environment? We don’t actually know. Evidence indicates that it’s probably nature (i.e. ‘born that way’), but it could also be circuitry imprinting (nurture). Or maybe it’s nature in some and nurture in others, and a combination in still others. The real question (for those of us who aren’t geneticists or sociological anthropologists) is: how am I going to overcome my belief that society gets to dictate my sexual identity (and vice-versa) while at the same time honoring that society is there to keep me from being a predator?
It seems clear to me that procreation is the core value of all living organic tissue. The desire to live is why any of us exist. “Keep on keepin’ on” is the name of the evolutionary game, and sexuality is at the heart of it.
There’s also a collective desire to police that “lizard brain” programming at the heart of our social identity, which is where it intersects with our sexual identity. What does that mean? If we only care about procreation we can commit pretty much whatever atrocities we want to in its name. But if we want to keep going as a species we need to show an element of self-restraint. The more consciousness we evolve the more we don’t really want to be a society of rapists because those communities stop being communities. In this respect, the desires of the tribe need to become the desires of the individual.
That is, until the tribe stops using the strategy for collective good. Controlling sexuality is crazy powerful. This is illustrated by a history of celibate priests who, unable to marry and have children of their own, handed over their inheritance to the Church instead. Telling people who they can have sex with, when and how strikes at the very heart of our humanity. Since it’s difficult to remember Point #2 (“we’re not our sexual imprint”) we’ll hand over our mind with our sex organs. To control behavior, control the mind. To control the mind, control the testicles/ovaries.
If you’re wondering if society should be able to tell you that you’re a pervert, ask yourself if the goal is to keep everyone safe or to keep everyone in line.
If the tribe is telling you not to have sex with children, that’s an effort to keep everyone safe. If they tell you that you can’t dress up as My Little Pony characters with consenting partners, then that’s mind control.
Personal Development and Sexuality
Personal development means accepting ourselves as we are first and foremost. No actual work gets done in denial. We do personal development work on both an individual level and as whole societies. Once we accept reality as it is (not as it ‘should’ be) we can then focus on things that need to be addressed, changed, optimized and finally modified for happiness (keeping in mind the principle of win/wins).
Even if our Socio-Sexual imprint is one that encourages us to harm others, feeling demonized by society and nursing fantasies in the shadows only exacerbates the problem. As a society we’re ever evolving to a point where we can take a look at serious issues without having to throw rotten fruit at them. We can accept that dangerous imprints exist and then ask ourselves what we can do to focus on re-imprinting.
Turning away from imprints that disgust our personal principles does no good, nor does demonizing perfectly acceptable imprints – the ones where people aren’t being victimized. If you’re confused about ‘victimization’, the ability to consent is a pretty strong litmus test.
At the very least, understanding the Socio-Sexual circuit should help us start a dialog and encourage self-acceptance. Not in a ‘it’s not your fault!’ sort of way, but in a ‘it is what it is and am I okay with that?’ sort of way.