Why do people get so upset about sex?! Why do people care so much about who has sex with who, and so eager to shame them? We answer.
Excuse me, but I have an unfortunate desire to reproduce myself, would you please accommodate me…No, instincts are not something that pushes me around, it is me.
– Alan Watts
Sex is a funny thing, isn’t it? It’s completely natural, it’s been instrumental in the proliferation of our great species, which I feel like we all need to appreciate…
and it just makes us feel so good!
So I have to admit, people have some confusing reactions to sex, and sometimes the way we approach the subject doesn’t perhaps make as much sense as it could.
I’ve given this a lot of thought, particularly from the perspective of sex workers, and I have some important (yet very reasonable I think) questions about sex.
Why is there so much shame around sex work? Why are some people murdered because of who they shagged? Why are governments so interested in people’s bodies and sex lives? Why do people (and many animals!) get so upset about sex?
This last question is all over the internet.
The answer, of course, is that our big evolved brains create elaborate fantasies in order to sooth ancient, millions of years old, biological anxieties! Phew. Hopefully that will become more clear in the next thousand words of wisdom!
Linking Meaning to Nothingness
Okay. Imagine you eat pork in front of a Jewish person, wipe your feet on an image of the Buddha, rip up an American flag, or place a large but harmless spider in the middle of a group of people.
What happens? Strong instant emotion.
Each of these events in and of themselves are harmless and meaningless. Eating pork, wiping your feet, ripping up some cloth, looking at a harmless insect. None cause any direct harm. Yet it’s a trigger in the deeply wired depths of our brains that creates the emotion, and therefore our ‘reality’!
Sex and shame is the same.
The iOS/Android Operating System
So how is all this comparable to the iOS/Android Operating Systems? It’s simple.
When you’re born, you’re like a brand new smartphone: you are a basic structure that is all ready to learn about its environment (and download hundreds of apps!). So you’re wired, or ready, or prepared to accept whatever your ‘owners’ download into your mind. But there are, like operating systems, built-in processes the you arrive with.
These are known as Fixed Action Patterns (Your O.S.).
These are behaviours that you are born with. A classic FAP would be humping! Notice how the action of humping exists in so many species. You just pump your hips, it’s a process that’s wired into the system. And of course as you get older, loads of hormones get released at puberty that really make you want to gyrate and hump something!
The problem is though: with who, when, where, and why? That’s where society comes swooping in to the rescue, creating answers to those who, when, where, and why questions.
All you need to know is in the relevant religious/legal text!
Conflict is often created because everybody is trying to hump everybody else! So both animals and humans create rules in their societies to try to limit this.
Some make sense, such as: no pre-pubescent sex, incest, or sexual assault. Clearly these things all create harm, so setting them as off-limits is a no-brainer.
But then there are all the other rules.
You know them- they involve nudity, sex work, homosexuality, fixed roles of the sexes, blurred gender identity, monogamy, and that’s just to name a few. Why then do people get so upset about these ones, when by themselves they cause no harm?
Because they, like the previous linking of meaning to nothing, all trigger biologically wired patterns of emotion. The problem is, whether you agree with them or not, you are…
Wired To Learn Conventions!
“Shame is a primitive, evolutionarily preserved response to the loss of one’s place in the group.”
Sex is ancient; the dinosaurs were humping away! We know this because if they weren’t, there wouldn’t have been any new dinosaurs. For anyone curious about what dinosaurs shagging looks like, there are some fantastic images of dinosaurs shagging here!
Social rules are enforced through shame; the group rejecting you because you’re not following the rules. It is so important to learn these rules to get along, that we are actually wired to learn them, and this makes them very powerful! Biologically, it’s comparable to being wired to be afraid of snakes, and possibly spiders.
It’s a fear that’s just ready and waiting to be activated. So because, evolutionarily speaking, sex is very serious business, we’re designed to get stressed about it!
Sex In The Brain
There is a place in the brain for shame, that’s how important this all is. It’s designed to be painful as well, because it’s role is the policeman in the mind. When we’re triggered in this way our bodies become flooded with activating/arousing hormones, which take anywhere from five minutes to days to clear out, depending on how we react to them. So we’re going to feel shitty for a while, but it will pass.
The downside here is that while you’re in this state, being able to think clearly is more difficult.
So just focus on breathing, and calming, and distract yourself; don’t dwell on it, until you’ve calmed down, or you will reactivate yourself.
How did we get here?
The prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain that has evolved over time, giving us a greater ability to develop creative thinking; and some of what is created here is fantasy, as in it has no basis in reality!
For example, one of nature’s biggest taboos is incest, and all cultures on the planet agree.
However, people at times, using this new-found superpower of fantasy, have overridden these laws of nature with new, unnatural laws: created, made real, and sold as true!
This is what has happened to numerous incestuous royals through history. All decided that royal blood was superior, and so it must not be diluted. This led to massive inbreeding, which of course led to lots of genetic disorders. So wonderful when large egos destroy themselves, with their large egos! Doh.
This human re-creation of the laws of nature, which were not based on any logic, reason, or science, means we have ended up with a whole bunch of the aforementioned fantasy laws: monogamy, anti-homosexuality, anti-sex work, anti-nudity, fixed roles of the sexes, anti-blurring gender, etc. These social ideas were created for different reasons at different times, but all were designed to trigger, or soothe, our fears around the management of sexual urges and behaviours.
Making up rules, and then calling them the laws of nature!
When people do this, it triggers parts of the brain that create feelings that are so overwhelming that these fantasies feel real and so become ‘real’.
And Isn’t it Ironic?
That those that say anyone that who breaks many of society’s sex related rules are committing unnatural acts, when it is many of the rules themselves that are actually unnatural! Don’t you think?
So next time someone is freaking out because you decided to have sex with the wrong person, or you wore the wrong clothes, or thought the wrong kind of person was attractive, remember… that person has just regressed to a very early un-evolved brain state, and their higher functioning brain has left the building. You may as well have just thrown a snake at them! And they will be there for the next while, until all the arousal hormones are out of their body.
It’s ancient programming linked to new thinking.
So What Can I Do?
When you feel judged or shamed, try to engage your prefrontal cortex! In other words, apply your creative thinking, reason and thought. Think through what you think, not others. By activating thought, you are cutting off the wired physical reaction.
Also, remind yourself that the sensations you’re feeling are just sensations, physical reactions, not necessarily truth. Breath, distract yourself for a few minutes, at least long enough for the hormones to clear out, then when you calm, go back and have a think.
Finally, if the stigma is too much which it can be, find someone to talk to. We have some very excellent counsellors who know a lot about shame.
And that’s why people get so upset!