Sex is For the Selfish (You Read that Right)

“I Waited Until My Wedding Night To Lose My Virginity And I Wish I Hadn’t.” So reads the title of an interesting article published recently at, by Samantha Pugsley.

The article details the hazards, at least for this woman, of waiting until her wedding night to have her first sexual experience.

The goal of wedding night virginity is rarely practiced or intended by anyone any longer, assuming it ever really was; but the article nevertheless offers some fascinating insights into the psychology of sex, potentially for men and women of all outlooks.

Once I got married [writes Pugsley], it would be my duty to fulfill my husband’s sexual needs.

This view, I find, is internalized by many people — not just fundamentalist Christian women seeking to remain virgins prior to marriage.

The basis for the view is that sex is selfless. For women, this often manifests as the false belief, “Sex is to please my man.” Going along with this false belief is the emotion, “If I don’t please him, there’s something wrong with me.”

Men can internalize this view, as well. Some men whom I have counseled for sexual dysfunction have told me they feel it’s their job to please the woman, and they feel like they’re “less of a man” if they don’t. As a result, they become plagued with fear and anxiety when it comes time to do their “sexual duty” or “prove that I’m the man” they feel they’re supposed to be. Sex therapists and others have talked and written for years about male “performance anxiety” as a basis for impotence / erectile dysfunction when no known biological or pharmaceutical explanation exists.

This is the point in the counseling session where I’ll usually ask the man (or woman), “What’s the purpose of sex? For example, is sex about the giving and receiving of pleasure and emotional fulfillment? Or is sex about performing or proving something?”

Philosophically, Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff and like-minded thinkers have written about sex as a celebration of self and existence. This strikes me as a marvelous and accurate expression of what sex is, or at least might and should be, at its best. It’s not inconsistent with talking about sex as the giving and receiving of pleasure, rationally and mutually defined. It cuts to the heart of it.

In a meaningful sexual relationship, it’s hard for deeper conclusions about human nature, life and existence (we all have them, at least implicitly) not to come out. If you view life and existence as a wonderful, uplifting and fundamentally comprehensible place to be — not clouded by guilt, remorse, angst or regret — then you will tend to seek out sexual fulfillment, pleasure and excitement as part of the overall package of life. (Nor will you “need” a state of intoxication via substances to endure it.) You’ll want to please both yourself, and your partner, at the same time. You’re actually “selfish” in the sense that self-gratification is your goal, and you’re not ashamed of it; you likewise want and desire gratification of equal intensity in your partner, for his or her own selfish sake.

In this sense, sex is for the selfish — those with authentic self-esteem and uninhibited love of life and existence. That’s why people who are severely depressed, chronically anxious, or physically ill cannot fully appreciate or participate in sex. To be sexually fulfilled, you have to be capable of living in the moment as an emotionally unconflicted soul in charge of his or her own destiny. Attempting to find a shortcut to such emotions or qualities by using sex as a means to this end will not work, any more than similar shortcuts attempted through substance abuse.

In her article, Pugsley — the now recovering Baptist fundamentalist — writes:

As I started to heal, I realized that I couldn’t figure out how to be both religious and sexual at the same time. I chose sex. Every single day is a battle to remember that my body belongs to me and not to the church of my childhood.

Just as life — the choice to really live, not just exist — is a choice, so too is sex. Sex, in the sense of a celebration of self and existence, is not about procreation (although that’s an option), and it’s not about social duty (there’s no such thing). It’s about affirming your own sense of self, your values, and merging your physical and emotional/mental/intellectual ideas, experiences and values in one unique and special context.

Rationally speaking, sex is selfish; and this is one reason why sex is sometimes such a ferocious topic. People fight about homosexuality and birth control, in particular, because these topics are reminders that — by one standard, the standard I’m advocating here — sex is really about personal fulfillment and actualization, and not about external duties unrelated to the interests and needs of the parties involved. To some, this is a maddening and frightening proposition. But it’s really the truth, and it’s part of what makes life worth living.

Those who feel otherwise would do well to challenge their idea that selflessness is virtue, and allow themselves to enjoy sex — and the many other fulfilling things life has to offer — in the spirit of celebration that their rational human nature permits and requires.

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