Sexual relations in our culture are often decried as severely crippled and even dysfunctional. On one side we hear about the decline of the family while on the other about the impossibility of sustaining a long-term mutual interest between a man and a woman. Yet from other quarters we hear about the decline of community as a result of domination of the market systems in which we objectively function. We plan our future rationally and when that plan rules our life we quite often see no important point of intimate engagement with others. Or others outside of the family which has congealed into a social object of our sexual life. Then we hear about the horrors of rape and other sexual abuse both weighing on those who have suffered it and those who have been accused. And all the while the cultural productions are assailing our imagination with provocations to enjoy more sexual pleasure.
Sexual relation is in its essence an expression of desire to be with, to be together with another human, group of humans, or thing, animal or just oneself. The desire to loosen certain boundaries that constrain our being while we function in society. The sexual desire is at its core a desire for intimacy where certain things do not need to be talked about, do not need to be communicated but can arise. In this sense the closeness of mother and child is realization of sexual desire as is keeping and caring for a pet at home. And of course a powerful and traumatic realization of sexual desire is genital intercourse for which men and women are just wonderfully built. So why the crisis? The crux of the problem is in the transition from communication to intimacy and it's complicated.
There is an unbridgeable gap between men and women - at least this is how it would be stated if we believed that men are made of masculine and women of feminine substance or essence. It has been mythologized in this manner and the proponents of this view make it more acceptable by allowing for example that each of us can assume one or the other substance for a while or for a duration of a certain sexual interaction. Interaction is only properly sexual if there is a good polarization between these substances among the participants. I don't believe that. My views come from psychoanalysis as pioneered by Freud and later formulated by Lacan. Their science of the subjective is very much alive and developing along with support that it receives from clinical practice as well as from philosophy and even mathematics.
The masculine and feminine are certain subjective mental formations into which we are brought up rather than essential substances poured into us in the process of creation. We call these formations genders. Gender is not determined by biological sex although it is a major factor in how the social and family environment guides gender formation. Each individual is different and his/hers gender is not purely masculine or feminine although the individual will typically strongly identify with one. The masculine and feminine are more like two ideal directions or dimensions in space while any particular realization will be a more or less balanced mix of the two. Let us talk about the self-identified feminine as a woman and self-identified masculine as a man. Between such two individuals the sexual impulse is strongest.
Woman has the life, the goods, she feels the fullness of it. Man knows that he does not have that, but knows that he can furnish something that opens up the enjoyment of life. To begin with this is his penis that he protects and is anxious about losing. What does the woman want? What is she lacking? She will first deny that she is lacking anything because she is fullness but then also admit that she does not know what she wants. Actually woman asks to know what she wants, she asks for knowledge that she perceives can be obtained from a man. She needs a man to be herself complete.
Man knows what he does not have. He does have knowledge which is essentially crippled. He seeks to confront the knowledge with the reality of life. He seeks the goods carrying as his gift a stunted version of the knowledge of her gifts. He seeks life that glimmers among the gifts of a woman. In a way man and woman offer each other something they don't really have.
As far as the gifts offered go they unconsciously lie to each other. But as a result they become to each other what they really seek. The having (or not having) is converted into being. The semantic web of communications between man and woman is fraught with lies - for the most part unconsciously produced - because conscious knowledge is partial. The goal of this communication is again paradoxically an overcoming of the communication and stepping up to intimacy - where the gift of life and the gift of knowledge flow together.
This convergence of life and knowledge is love, just that. At that point we are at great altitude and might dispense with investigations of past lies and untruths. Love is what woman demands and man knows he enables.
The crisis in sexual relations is happening along the path toward love between the people who attract each other. The woman asking to know what she wants needs to be properly confronted. She is asking to be seduced and ought to be open to seduction. Judging who should be allowed to seduce her is a difficult judgment call that she can develop only with experience. The man cannot apologize for his attempts to seduce. He will speak to her in terms of her fullness representing to her a fantasy of love that she invariably has. To start with his words and signals cannot be possibly true because - how could he know? Yet speaking and interacting with her he will grow his knowledge specifically of and for her which will ground the possibility of love. He need not apologize for his seductive lies as much as woman does not apologize for her provocative sexual fullness. He need not apologize as long as he is leading her to place where according to his knowledge she wants to be. Being fit to navigate this field of seductive maneuvering is the erotic capacity - and that is where people tend to fail in our culture.
Where does the genital act fit in the course of the process of seduction? Everywhere. A woman should be open to be sexual with an erotically worthy partner. A man should be ready to be sexual with a woman who appears as a map of his knowledge. People should be available to each other.
I was moved to write this article in response to posts complaining about rape being blamed on seemingly nice guys, who got close with girls, became trusted friends and then during some sneaky opportunity, lying down sleepy or drunk, felt entitled to put the penis in the vagina. To me this is a failure of seduction, lack of erotic fitness. A guy who is proceeding along the lines of being a nice guy and a woman's friend and trusted helper is not seducing her into love. He is not presenting himself as the potential bearer of the knowledge - he is being a child and asks her to become a mother. A woman will throw herself at a fulfilling chance of being a mother, but then she treats the "man" not as an erotically worthy partner but as someone who has already fulfilled his sexual role - like a son has to a mother.
Concluding I would say that much of the crisis of sexual relations is due to the failure of openness to seduction, lack of erotic fitness. Seduction is the process of communications, much unconscious and fraught with lies and misperceptions, yet creating the hope for love.