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Let it be known that I really like Philly. Like, like-like. The friends I have there are the most genuine and open and loving that I’ve encountered and I truly admire and respect and adore them for that. That’s why when a couple of my close friends decided they wanted to organize a community discussion on sexuality* and self expression I fell that much more in like. I’d really love to tell you all about that event but first I’d like to step back. I want to explain why a couple of the fundamental concepts it assumed are important to me and how they have positively affected my life and relationships. I also hope to encourage you to start internalizing those concepts and start having interesting discussions with yourselves and with the people around you.

After talking with one of the organizers I found out that the main catalyst for starting the discussion was watching the following TEDTalk** by Esther Perel on desire (and, ultimately, sexual fulfillment) in long term relationships:

If you don’t have the time to watch it now, PLEASE watch it sometime soon! Seriously, it will really open your mind on how we view our long term partners and how some of the expectations we place on them are not only unrealistic but in many ways at odds with each other.

Esther’s main thesis is that there is a fundamental conflict between the feelings of “love” and “desire”. On the one hand you have Love, which we associate with security, dependability, safety, permanence, reliability, etc. and on the other hand we have Desire, which we associate with adventure, novelty, mystery, risk, etc. How do we reconcile these two competing ideas in our long term relationships? Can we want what we already have? We associate love with selflessness and desire with selfishness, how can we have both? I’ll let her start to answer those questions for you but what I find most interesting, and what the event was focused on, is becoming more aware of what our desires are, how we identify and define ourselves, and becoming comfortable discussing those things openly with each other. Here are the two most fundamental questions I’ve asked myself:

1) Why do I want to know more about myself?

This mostly comes down to being able to make informed decisions about all things that are important to me. My entire life has been an inundation of societal expectation and demand that cares little about my personal desires or beliefs. For someone who desires acceptance and inclusion after a childhood of peer exclusion and emotional abuse, it’s a challenge to recognize or fearlessly embody individuality or actual personal desire. In many of the questions I’ve asked myself in my quest for greater self-awareness I’ve had to ask myself “how much of this belief that I carry is influenced by societal norms and expectations and how much of it is what I actually believe?” Making the choice to believe what is most societally acceptable may or may not be the most satisfying or fulfilling. The only way to know that is to question that belief with an open mind and see where you fall.

I feel a sense of relief when I finally understand something about myself more fully. It gives me a feeling of uniqueness and individual meaning and I feel like I can experience my life and my interactions with people in a more complete and satisfying way. I can use my knowledge of myself to actively build and nurture my relationships so that they are balanced and they enrich my life and that is a powerful and affirmative feeling! I also have the option to go along with a cultural expectation if it suits my needs but in that moment I know I’m making the choice to conform and that is also powerful.

Personal growth is definitely not easy. Questioning really fundamental things about myself has been frustrating, terrifying, and exhausting. But I know that ultimately what I get out of it is a better understanding of how to most lovingly relate to myself and more effectively relate to others.

2) Why is it important and useful to tell others my needs and desires?

We live in a society that expects everyone to be a mind reader.

I’ve had to actively accept that unless I communicate my needs and desires to people then they likely don’t know what they are. This is not a simple task but by getting into the habit I’m able to actively shape my relationships and more readily identify sources of compatibility and incompatibility. And that has led to much more balanced and fulfilling relationships!

Use your words, people!

I’ve historically viewed my own selfishness in relationships as somehow wrong but how can I expect to maintain desire when I’m constantly feeling responsible for my partner’s needs and desires? Communication and enthusiastic interest in both my and my partner’s individuality and personhood has helped nurture desire and adventure in a way that doesn’t exclude security and safety. By not assuming what each other’s desires are it allows us space to communicate our own desires and brainstorm ways to meet them, and even make the decision of whether we’re the best people to meet a given desire. This has definitely led to a much more mutually satisfying and supportive relationship.

The Challenge

What new things can you discover about yourself? What previously held belief can you think of to find new perspectives on? If you need a start, just check out yesterday’s open thread on defining masculinity. What about your definition of femininity? Do you have any kinks and are you harboring shame or embarrassment about them (I know I did for a long time)? How will radical self-honesty change how you interact with your friends, lovers, and long term partners? I can’t guarantee your experiences will always be positive – nothing in life is – but you will be empowered as the architect of your own experience and I encourage you to start finding out where that life leads!

Stay tuned for more on The Discussion on Sexuality and Self-Expression…

* Asexuality is included here under the umbrella-term “sexuality”
** TEDTalks are [typically] 10-20min videos where people talk about an idea that they feel is revolutionary in some way to the way we live our lives, relate to each other, or view the world. You should get lost in their amazingness.