Chips, Queso, & Sex Drive

One reader asked me to write about the male sex drive. Since I’m not male… take this with a very large grain of salt. Perhaps even a block of salt, or an entire salt mine. This is my take based on my non-scientific observations. Because you have to start somewhere… (I’m not even going to try to address gender identity or any of that. I think my brain would explode. Maybe another day.)

I wrote recently about how we often use sex to address loneliness. I honestly think a big part of our sexual culture (from any perspective—oversexed, undersexed, the rules we make, the rules we break) is not about sex, but driven by or shaped to address problems of loneliness and isolation. I think this is a bigger issue for men than for women, for two reasons. The first is that women are taught from an early age to solve problems socially, even problems that aren’t social in nature. Give us an engineering problem, and we’ll address it by building a team and talking about it. Men (for better or worse) are taught to be more independent. I don’t think either is necessarily bad—they both have advantages and disadvantages. However, when it comes to addressing problems related to social isolation, we women seem to be more well-equipped. If nothing else, we seem to be more aware when we’re lonely.

The second factor in difference between male and female sex drives is the fact that boys typically discover sexual self-satisfaction earlier in their lives and more easily. It’s just… out there and easy to find. I don’t have kids, but I’ve heard from many moms of boys how young they are when they figure out self-soothing. Disappointed? Sad? Lonely? Angry? There’s a quick fix that will make you feel great for awhile even if the problem hasn’t gone away. Again, I’m not going to say that’s good or bad. Just different. What it does, though, is open an opportunity for boys to learn to use sex hormones to address problems that could be handled differently. Girls may develop a bigger toolkit for dealing with disappointment because we typically figure out that mechanism for releasing our own pleasure hormones later in life (if ever). We have to solve social-emotional problems creatively.

Here’s another food comparison. (I make so many food-sex comparisons, I’m starting to wonder if my sexual preferences are more kitchen thank kink.) I eat emotionally because it’s worked for me my whole life. Sometime in my formative years, I learned that chips and queso make me feel better, even if they’re not solving my emotional problems. Eating gives me a shortcut to achieving my end goal of feeling better, even if it doesn’t last. It’s not the best, but it’s effective enough that I keep doing it (and I probably will until I find a more powerful alternative). I learned to do that from a very young age—it’s deeply engrained in my habits and very hard to overcome. You may laugh when I say that I NEED chips and queso, but it sure feels that way sometimes.

This is controversial, but based on my own experience I’m going to say that sex isn’t a critical need. We can live without it. People do it all the time. I’ve spent most of my thirties celibate, the majority of that time out of a choice to be faithful rather than a choice to be celibate. That was hard. I remember describing myself as a starving animal at one point. I wouldn’t have chosen the sexless years of my marriage, but I grew through them. I grew even more by keeping a celibate lifestyle by choice later on. Personal growth is not what happens when you are deprived of something you need. If you’re deprived of something you need, you don’t become a more complete person, you eventually go crazy or you die. Was it right for my ex-husband to deprive me of sex for years? No. I wasn’t happy about it, but I was ok.

Celibacy isn’t some magic that you either have or you don’t—it’s an acquired skill. I think sex feels like an urgent biological need because we’re using it to biochemically patch deficiencies in the things we DO need to survive, like love and help and relationship. That’s why, even if we’re getting sex, it can feel like a compulsion. The more sex I have and the less emotional connection, the more I’m going to feel like I need sex, regardless of how much sex I’m actually getting.

So you have a society that’s relationally starved, you have boys growing up with one powerful tool for self-soothing that is well-developed and other tools underdeveloped. Throw in porn, and discovering sex at a time when we’re just learning to function socially as adults, and it’s easy to see how sex can become a panacea for problems it may not actually be the best tool to solve. I’d be sex-crazed too if I thought it was the only way I could fill certain needs. Oh wait, I have been.

I think we (men and women) sometimes use sex as a patch for relational problems. My thought is that there may be reasons men seem to lean more heavily on it. It’s powerfully effective temporarily. So is cocaine, for that matter. But when the hormones wear off, the problem is still there. I don’t think that’s what sex is meant for. (Or, not the ONLY or even primary thing it’s meant for.) Like emotional eating, it’s incredibly painful to remove it unless it’s already been replaced with something else that will fill the same need. Don’t take away my chips and queso if I have no other way to feel better after a crummy day at work. Don’t take away sex if when it’s gone I find myself desperately, irremediably alone.

Sex & Candy (Part 2): The Desire… Monster?

Although eating is a good thing (and obviously necessary), it seems possible that it in some way distracts me from the deep, soul-shaking desires of my heart that I wrote about in my last post in the series. My heart and my body are meant to be unified, in sync, but if my body is satisfied, it can trick my heart into thinking it is, too. I’ve been eating my entire life… How long have those desires been there? How long have I been hiding them from myself with a daily routine of eating—not just to fuel my body, but eating just a little too much each time to help keep the demons at bay? A little thing repeated three times a day for years can be an incredibly powerful force. It’s possible I’ve spent my entire life conditioning my heart to think it’s satisfied when my body eats a quesadilla or a spoonful of peanut butter.

Then I think about how much more satisfying an orgasm is—that will top peanut butter or quesadillas any day of the week. It’s a beautiful thing, but it may also be a thing I’ve conditioned myself since puberty to use for comfort. A security blanket. Something to hide those deeper longings from my conscious mind. If I did use it that way, it would be powerfully effective, wouldn’t it?

I don’t think those deep desires I’ve uncovered by removing distractions are wrong in and of themselves. You may think that goes without saying, but I’m not sure that’s the case. I’ve seen so many articles and books that hint at or say explicitly that all of our heart’s desires are sinful. The heart is “deceitful” and “desperately wicked,” after all (Jeremiah 17:9). If we follow our desires without guidance, sure, they can REALLY take us down the wrong path. But I don’t think the longing of the heart for companionship, the desire to be known and loved and to know and love in return is at all bad. It’s what we’re made for. And because we live in a fallen world, we’re not getting it the way we’re built to. So we long, deeply and desperately. I don’t think those desires themselves are The Flesh that the Bible warns about. I mean, if the Bible talks about fasting as an activity related to longing for the return of Christ (Matthew 9:14-15), longing for companionship in general isn’t likely to be a bad thing. He’s Emmanuel, God With Us, the king of companionship. A big part of that deep longing is a longing for Him—the longing is not going to go away until He comes back. The rest of it is longing for companionship with other people that knowing Him helps enable. I think The Flesh that we’re not supposed to allow to guide us is that conditioning of our heart to be satisfied because our body is. It’s the breaking of that unity between heart and body, the dominance of physical pleasure to mask emotional pain.

There’s a verse that comes up often when people talk about The Flesh, James 1:14-15: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard that interpreted to say that our desires are bad and should be quashed. It’s so deeply ingrained in the meaning of that verse for me that it’s hard to read it another way. But it doesn’t actually say the desire is bad, just that it’s bad for us to be lured and enticed by it. I think using shame to cover the desire to be known and loved is as bad as (if not worse than) covering it with quesadillas and peanut butter. Cultural shame uses social forces that are meant to unite us—meant to enable us to help each other—and divides us instead. Shame addresses the longing for love underlying our fleshly pursuits and starves it more by isolating the people longing.

Read the verses before and after:

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘Im an being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” (James 1:13) Interesting… when Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness, he was tempted. But this says He can’t be tempted by evil. If fasting uncovered His desires the way it does for me… The last temptation Jesus faced in the desert was to give Jesus the kingdoms of the world if Jesus worshipped him. “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). Jesus came for people, and Satan was offering people to Him. He was taking a strike at the unfathomable love Jesus has for us—His longing to be unified with us—trying to lure that desire into impatience, to complete the great work then and there without the years Jesus spent wandering in the dust healing crowds, without the death on the cross. But Jesus did not let his desire conceive… he went through with the painful plan because it was the best way. He acted on His desire in a world-changing way. He died to unify us with Him and with each other.

Next in James comes one of my favorite verses of all time: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:16) Real, deep companionship is a good and perfect gift. Why would the desire for it be bad? Loneliness—our longing to be known and loved—is not something to cover or to be ashamed of. Our need is part of how God made us. “It is not good… to be alone.” We need God, and we need other people. It doesn’t do us any good to cover that need and longing with sex and candy, and it REALLY doesn’t do us any good to cover it with shame.

Sex & Candy (Part 1): The Desire Monster

Quick note to you, my reader: I originally set out to post about sex every day for a month. Posting every day was too much. I couldn’t keep up, and I have readers telling me they’re not keeping up, either. I’m going to pare back to 1 post per week, maybe more if it works out. The easiest way to follow is to subscribe to my email list. There’s an email signup form at the bottom of this page. I send weekly updates with a summary of the posts for the week.

Last night I binged on amaretto and maraschino cherries before I went to bed. It seems like a good day to write about… The Flesh. [Cue scary music.]

I’m a very sensual person. And (in spite of the title of this post) I don’t just meant that in the sexy way. A well-placed, well-timed beam of sunshine can take my breath away, distract me to the point of losing my train of thought. Food is something I particularly enjoy. I read cookbooks for fun. I recently told a friend to stop talking in the middle of dinner so I could focus on savoring an amazing piece of bread. (Yes, I’m gluten free. Yes, the bread was more than worth the weeks of intestinal discomfort that followed. It was that good. So buttery and light and… mmm….Anyway…)

I’m probably the last person you would expect to fast. I used to think that fasting was something that gave me extra time to focus on God. “I can use the time I’m not eating to pray.” Nope. Not at all. I usually spend most of my extra thought time working hard not to bite people’s heads off because I’m hangry. What’s the point, then? The point is that there’s a core me inside that speaks louder when I take away the usual methods I use to fill my day-to-day needs. There are desires buried so deeply under my normal, daily activities that I can’t even recognize them without drastic measures like not eating.

When I fast, my main emotional response has been… loneliness. Wait, what? Yeah, when I don’t eat I feel lonely. And I’m not talking about a passing, “Gee wouldn’t it be nice to go see a movie with some friends tonight?” loneliness. It is longing for companionship so deep and so visceral that it sometimes scares me with its intensity. It is a need so strong I feel like it threatens to consume me. I actually stopped fasting for awhile because it was too much for me. And that was fasting a day or two at a time. I used to read the story of Jesus fasting for 40 days and be amazed that He could go that long without food. Now I think the real miracle is that He survived that long alone in the wilderness with the uncovered longings of His human heart.

What’s scarier is that most of the time, that desire doesn’t even register in my brain. Something so deep and so strong, and I don’t even know it’s there most of the time. When I fast, I uncover intense desires and longing that have been hanging out just outside of my consciousness, influencing my decisions moment by moment. If not eating it uncovers it, it must be what drives me to do things like binge on amaretto and maraschino cherries, right? If not eating for a day uncovers those desires a little—and if even that is sometimes too much to handle—I really hate to think what it looks like at full strength. What is really under there?? That incredibly potent desire lurking just below surface—is that what the Bible calls The Flesh?

“And those who belong to Jesus Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24)

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” (Romans 8:5)

Is this desire that fasting awakens like the Balrog in Lord of the Rings? Did I “delve… too deep” like the dwarves, awakening something in the darkness? Do I need to Gandalf it away? “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” Is that what it means to “crucify the flesh with its passions and desires”?