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Sex As A Human Desire

Sex and Other Appetites

In essence, we are looking at the nature of one appetite as it occurs in women: sexual drive and the ability to reach orgasm. How far can the findings be generalized to other appetites such as dating, drinking, seeking of new experience, and so forth? This is difficult to say. But it might prove to be an interesting and profitable exercise to assume that they are of wider significance and to follow their implications through. What are some of these implications?

1. First, if one considers that no consistent correlations were obtained between most of the major sex behavior indices and those measuring other appetites (for example, interest in eating, amount of drinking), it seems logical to conjecture that the various appetites represent fairly distinct, independent systems.

2. If one further considers that most of the major indices of sexual behavior were not consistently correlated with each other, it is also possible to conclude that each appetite system is organized in complex ways with many inconsistent and even contradictory elements being simultaneously present.

The same overall conclusion has been arrived at by others who have examined need systems (for example, Allport, 1949; Murray, 1938). Simple models based on the idea that an individual is consistently high or low in his use of, or enjoyment from, the multiple possible channels available for satisfying a specific appetite have turned out not to fit the facts.

3. Since several of the sexual measures were linked with attitudes toward parents, it is logical to generalize that other appetites will, at least in part, be influenced by early socialization experiences. Certain patterns of interaction with one’s parents will tend to energize or inhibit specific appetites. There is already a fair amount of evidence in the literature that the intensity and modes of expression of various appetites are detectably influenced by childhood experiences (Jones, 1968; Murray, 1938; Whiting and Child, 1953).

4. A number of the sexual measures turned out to be correlated with personality attributes. By analogy, then, one would expect other appetites and their modes of expression to be linked with personality parameters. Moderate support for this formulation may be found in the existing literature (for example, Jones, 1968; Murray, 1938; Miller and Swanson, 1960).

5. In view of the fact that the measures of sexual behavior did not relate significantly to the state of a woman’s “mental health,” it might be logical to expect that other appetite systems would not reflect maladjustment. It is doubtful, for example, that most aspects of eating behavior are linked to indices of anxiety or personal disturbance. However, a moment of reflection suggests that such a generalization may not hold up empirically for such appetites as consumption of alcohol or drugs.

6. Although some instances were observed in which amount of sexual imagery and fantasy (as defined, for example, by number of references to sex themes in inkblot responses) or sensitivity to stimuli with sexual connotations were correlated with measures of sexual satisfaction and orgasm consistency, these were few and irregular. There do not seem to be direct or compensatory relationships between habitual modes of sexual satisfaction and preoccupation with sexual fantasies or themes.

Although this is surprising, it may simply be another example of the fact that the individual learns to adapt to and accept long prevailing conditions. It should be added, though, that all of the women studied were married and were receiving at least some amount of regular sexual experience leading to orgasm.

It is possible that if women were studied who were extremely deprived of sexual interaction, evidence would be found for the presence of compensatory sexual imagery. One should note, apropos of the whole issue of the relationship between appetite satisfaction and imagery pertaining to the appetite, that studies that have looked at the results of relatively brief periods of deprivation (for example, of food or sleep) upon fantasy have found them to be very complex and inconsistent (Saugstad, 1966). Both with reference to short and long-term appetite satisfaction it seems premature to posit any simple pattern of fantasy or perceptual sensitivity effects.

7. Finally, attention should be called to the importance that was deductively assigned to change in state of consciousness (or perceptual sensitivity) as a factor in orgasm attainment. It seemed as if concern about the perceptual fading of objects was significant in inhibiting orgasmic excitement. The question arises whether the perceptual changes arising from the processes linked with other appetites may not have important feedback effects.

For example, do some persons find their enjoyment of food inhibited because of the sleepy, less aroused state produced by filling up of the stomach? They may have a need to remain alert, and the soporific effects of the food may be experienced as incongruent and unpleasant. Or do some individuals avoid their appetite for new experiences because in the process they become so aroused and alert that they cannot maintain their shutting out attitude toward certain classes of stimuli?

These generalizations represent only rough analogies. It is not clear that they articulate much in the way of new thought, but they are offered in the spirit of seeking maximum systematization of the results that were obtained.

Practical Implications

If one takes the liberty of projecting from the results and generalizations presented in this book, a number of practical implications can be derived. These implications, which are offered in a tentative way, go beyond the actual facts and should be approached with caution.

Pathways to Sexual Adequacy

One of the prime deductions to be made from the findings is that many pathways are open to a woman in the process of becoming a sexually adequate person. She need not grow up with any special set of traits in order to be sexually responsive and able to reach orgasm. Likewise, she need not conform to any fixed stereotype of what is feminine. Perhaps even more importantly, her sexual responsiveness does not depend upon her achieving a certain fixed amount of practice in dating or heterosexual contacts as she grows up. Many different kinds of women with many different kinds of dating patterns have been found to be equally orgasmic.

An immediate implication of these findings is that parents, psychiatrists, and others who are involved in the guidance or treatment of girls should be modest in their assertions about how any specific girl needs to behave in order to grow up to be a sexually adequate person and orgasmic.

Perhaps only the most extreme kinds of deviance in sexual behavior should be viewed as indicating a “defect” in sexual development. There would seem to be little rationale in assuming that the developing girl is headed for disaster in her future sex role simply because she is shy with boys or does not easily wear certain of the standard trappings of femininity.

Of course, it is still possible that the girl who is troubled with shyness and difficulties in relating to male peers may be headed for other kinds of adjustment difficulties. A condition that can be regarded as a signal for potential future sexual difficulties is the existence of a distant, non-involved relationship with the father. It will be recalled that it was found that if a woman perceives her father as not having invested serious interest in her she tends to experience orgasmic difficulties.

Therefore, if a girl has a father who is absent from home for long periods of time or whose work absorbs too great a part of his energies or who is psychologically difficult to relate to because of his own symptomatology (for example, alcoholism), serious thought. ought to be given to the impact it will have upon her future sexual adaptation. Perhaps with an awareness of such potential complications, special remedial measures might be undertaken.

Sex Education

Debate has raged interminably about the role of formal sex education in the child’s long-term sexual development. Also, there have been conflicting opinions about how important it is for the parents as compared to other agents to supply the child with information about sexual matters. If one uses as a criterion the adult sexual adequacy of a woman, the overall scientific findings indicate that the nature of formal sex education is relatively unimportant.

Neither in the writer’s studies nor in those of others (Terman, 1938, 1951) has a woman’s ability to enjoy sexual intercourse turned out to be related to the manner in which she received her early sex education. It made no difference whether she obtained her information from her mother or books or friends or a formal course in school.

This is not to argue against giving accurate sexual information to children. Such information could in many instances help to correct inaccurate concepts of sexuality and relieve the individual of the need to go through a lot of unnecessary anxiety provoking trial and error learning on his own. That is, sex education would help to clarify cognitively the essential nature of the sexual act and its relationship to reproduction.

The benefit would be informational at an intellectual level. It is doubtful that formal sex education does much in terms of the individual’s “emotional” sexual development.

It will be recalled that in the writer’s data there were no consistent relationships between a woman’s sexual responsiveness and her recall of how openly her parents talked about sex or were comfortable with nudity. This suggests that much of what parents do that is directly concerned with sexual matters may have little to do with how comfortable their children will eventually be with sexual excitement.

One would speculate that this is so because there are so many different reasons why parents may be open and explicit as opposed to closed and communicative about sex. In some instances the difference may actually reflect degree of comfort with sexuality. But in other instances, facade or compensatory behavior is probably involved.

A parent may be very “open” about sexual matters simply because he has read a book that insists that it is important to do so. Or he may be “open” about sex as a way of forcefully denying real anxiety and insecurity in this area.

On the other hand, the parent may be “closed” about sex not because he is specifically ashamed of it but rather because he is restrained in communicating about any matters with personal or intimate connotations. One gets the impression from the available data that the really important things that a girl learns about sex from her parents are only minimally contained in those communications and behaviors that are clearly about sex. Probably much more is learned from those aspects of their behavior indicating how much they are capable of intimacy, trust, and dependability.