In our society, getting sex in perspective is no small achievement. On the one hand, since childhood many of us have been subjected to repressive teachings that result in guilt and embarrassment where sex or almost anything to do with the body is concerned. In or out of marriage, few of us are able to overcome this unfortunate upbringing completely. On the other hand, we now live in a sex-obsessed culture that hard-sells sex in movies, TV, and magazines, on billboards and at the corner newsstand. (161)
Sex remains a titillating taboo topic: We don’t feel comfortable talking about it yet sexualized stuff is all around us. And while sex outside of marriage is becoming more accepted, sex outside of a serious conjugal relationship is still frowned upon. That makes sex a difficult topic for those of us not in conjugal relationships whether by choice or chance.
Obviously, sex is more than hormones and technique, which is to say that sexual maturity is clearly much more than a matter of puberty.
The purpose of this chapter is to look at some of the sexual problems inherent in the single life and to help you put sex in perspective. It is intended to help you become realistic about your own sexual feelings and needs, whatever they may be. Our thesis is that just as it is okay to be single, it is okay to have the sexual feelings and the sex life that you choose as best suited to you as a single. (162-3)
Edwards and Hoover start out the chapter with debunking the myth that singles are Don Juan’s and Donna Juanitas who have sex anywhere and everywhere we want to. According to them there are many factors that prevent such sexual freedom (or irresponsibility depending on your viewpoint).
Some of them are psychological – guilt about one’s sexual feelings and confusion over what one’s sex life should be like are two main ones. In addition, there are the simple facts and circumstances in life that keep people apart or make good relationships difficult to establish and maintain. Some of these are the pressures of time, work, and energy, isolated urban life styles, fears and apprehensions about getting involved and the inhibiting presence of children in the homes of many singles. (164)
This leads to a rather unpredictable sex life: Not enough when we’d like more or too much when we’d want less. All of that is overshadowed by a feeling of guilt – whether we want sex (and feel guilty for wanting it) or don’t want sex (and feel weird for not wanting it), it seems like we end up feeling inadequate.
Hoover and Edwards suggest that there are many reasons for wanting sex, the book lists more details on each (166-169):
- Sex for instant intimacy: Confusing physical and emotional intimacy
- Sex to bring love: Thinking that having sex will lead to falling in love
- Sex for reassurance: Someone wants sex with me therefore I am okay
- Sex for self-esteem: Wanting to become the best sex provider in the world
- Sex as an expression of hostility and contempt: If you don’t have sex with me, there’s something wrong with you
- Sex as a weapon: I can tell you want it, so I use it to have power over you
They point out that “none of these distortions of real sexuality is apt to bring true sexual fulfillment” (169). Toward the end of the chapter, a comment makes this statement clearer: “The confounding of sex with love still permeates our cultural milieu to a large extent” (190). It sounds like Edwards and Hoover suggest to decouple sex from love: Having sex does not (necessarily) mean that you’re in love with the person and you can have satisfying sex without being in love. Although they caution that “one-night stands” tend to be difficult and can be rather disappointing.
The consensus seems to be that brief encounters in a romantic setting or those that happen spontaneously have the best chance of being rewarding. Those that come out of a dogged search or out of pure frustration have the least chance of being worth the trouble. (173-4)
Well, so what brings sexual fulfillment? It depends. Instead of telling us what to do, which they can’t, Hoover and Edwards suggest some broad guidelines (169-172).
- Seek greater awareness of your own feelings: Take a look at the above list – are you using sex for any of those reasons?
- Decide what your sexual threshold is: Don’t allow others to tell you what normal sexual behavior is. Figure out what is normal for you.
- Be open and honest with the opposite sex: Talk about what you want (don’t want)
- Don’t let sex dominate your life: It’s not going to kill you not to have sex
Next, Hoover and Edwards discuss some common sexual problems for singles. I found the next sections more interesting, though, which discuss celibacy, masturbation, and cohabitation. Basically, they address the idea that celibacy leads to us drying up, which it doesn’t. Masturbation is even more a taboo than sex itself, partly because we’re associating it with being immature; a desire that should be overcome by having a handy sex-partner through marriage. The latter ignores the relatively high frequency of masturbation of married folks that Alfred Kinsey uncovered. Overall
Masturbation is recognizable as universal among both males and females, from the youngest child to the oldest adult, and should not be viewed, per se, as immature behavior. (186)
Despite Kinsey’s and Masters and Johnson’s work that shows that masturbation is normal and not harmful, the deep taboo persists partly because for centuries it was considered the most horrible sin in both Christianity and Judaism, sometimes punishable by death (182-3).
Reading Edwards and Hoover’s section on Living Together (186-191) is rather interesting because cohabitation is so much more common now. However, the perils remain the same: Most importantly the lack of legal protection for unmarried couples is still far less than marriage bestows on people. Of course, some organizations are fighting to change that but in our matrimanical society that remains an uphill battle.