Can A New Outlook on Sex Save the World?

Can A New Outlook on Sex Save the World?

And you thought we’d never ask.

We know that sex, at its most basic function, perpetuates us—or at least, creatures that sort of look like us. Aside from peopling, we enjoy sex for other reasons, none more popular of course than the fact that it feels, really, really good. Whether alone, with a loved one, or with several people, a healthy sexual encounter makes us feel instantly better—even somewhat renewed and more confident. It’s a soul reset button. And the big question some are asking: can it also save the human race?

There have been many credible scientific studies done on sex and its effects on the human brain and body. We know it can improve immune function, improve sleep, help keep weight off, boost mood, make us happier and nicer. It can even make us look younger, too. During the intensity of orgasm, we experience complete opulence, freedom from pain, and a temporary loss of awareness of our ego. These are important things, not just for our own personal health and relationships, but they also effect how we interact with the world around us.

Bonobos, those lesser-known chimpanzee-looking distant cousins of ours are renowned for their use of sex to reduce tension and conflict. They explore homosexuality with reckless abandon. Vanessa Woods, author of “Bonobo Handshake” says the animals “hold the key to a world without war.”

While humans are more frequently compared to the more violent chimpanzee, Woods says we also share nearly 99 percent of the same DNA with bonobos. “Their physiology, biochemistry, and psychology is set up to avoid violence. The fact that sex is their mechanism to reduce tension is irrelevant. We need to study the hell out of bonobos and use our big fat brains to find our own mechanism so we can live peacefully,” says Woods.

So, why don’t we?

In our fast-moving modern world, many seekers are eschewing the “old” paradigm of relationships: one man, one woman, until death. They’re exploring multiple partners, regardless of gender or sexual preference. Author and philosopher Daniel Pinchbeck writes, “Doesn’t it seem, sometimes, that we have not yet explored even a fraction of our erotic potential? It still feels that life as we live it today continues under tremendous constraint and suppression of instinct.” And he’s not alone. The polyamorous movement is growing. (Don’t confuse polyamory with polygamy. It’s not, like the television show “Big Love” portrays, one man with several wives. That’s still patriarchal–where the man may be free to have multiple partners, but women are more or less, subservient. )

Polyamory, also known as “open relationships,” allows for open sexual exploration, without jealousy and possessiveness. In theory, anyway. How that differs from, say, your college partying years is that adult polyamorous relationships are a bit more transparent, and may overlap. And regardless of whether or not having multiple partners seems to be too cumbersome, it’s what’s beyond that layer of judgement that’s getting the most attention. Pinchbeck asks: “What if loving someone meant you trusted them completely and wanted them to have any non-harmful experience they truly desired, without any judgment at all? Is there a way to explore this authentically and vulnerably, without setting off society’s alarm bells so immediately, without setting one’s self up for personal attacks?”

Pinchbeck cites visits to Portugal’s Tamera community and books written by the founders that focus on the importance of the tribe rather than the isolated family, “a sharing-based and non-possessive model of love and sexuality is possible within a community that is exploring this as a spiritual practice and with a deeper intention to create peace on earth.”

We live in a country where homosexuality is still seen as a defect (or worse, a “sin”) by millions. That gay marriage is an issue speaks to an even bigger issue with regard to our fears and judgments about sex. And heaven forbid someone brings up transgender…Like Pinchbeck says, what if we loved and trusted each other enough to allow each other to have whatever non-harmful erotic experiences we desired?

If our sexual suppression and misguided exploitations (I’m talking to you, beer commercials and Republicans who think women can “auto-abort”) were to be replaced by healthy encouragement and support, what kind of world would we be living in? This is not an invitation to lewd and outlandish orgies where disrespect and force play dominant roles. But it can involve multiple partners and homosexual encounters. Healthy sexual encouragement can also happen in monogamous relationships, too (my personal preference). Regular intimacy between two people can be deeply satisfying. But as a culture, there’s clearly a disconnect from our  sexuality, and an opportunity for us to heal through shared intimacy. Which may be why Pinchbeck and others are so curious about exploring open relationships. It’s panacea to the depraved and deeply unsatisfying sexual culture we’ve cultivated both in private and in public.

We’re at our most vulnerable and empowered during sex—naked, letting go, giving in to pure feeling and connection. It’s scary and thrilling, and the deeper we go without judging, the better it feels. And perhaps, the faster we can heal our wounds around sexuality. Says Pinchbeck, “this can only be done on an authentic and transparent basis where our desires are not repressed or hidden… they can be mastered, rather than controlled.” Perhaps it’s clarified best by someone who doesn’t even have sex, Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who said: You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.”

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.