Comes Naturally #127 (September 20, 2002):
Surrendering to Sex

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Spectator Magazine -- September 20, 2002
Copyright © 2002 David Steinberg


Come night, be welcome.
Your peace speaks gentleness,
your closeness an inner warmth.
Come curl around my shoulders,
bring your fog if you like.
Together we'll sip moonlight,
listen to the wind, and follow
wherever the darkness may lead

Sometimes it's about the things they teach in the best sex ed classes, the things they talk about in knowledgeable sex manuals. About love and intimacy. About giving and receiving pleasure. About nerve endings and how to make them tingle. About orgasms and how to have them big and often. About knowing what your husband/wife/lover/partner likes best, how they most like to be touched, kissed, stroked, licked, squeezed, bitten, sucked or fucked. About knowing how they like to take or be taken, to lead or be led, knowing how best to invite them in or invite them out. About knowing in general. About the details of favorite fantasies and fetishes, theirs or yours. About details in general.

But sometimes it's not about the details at all, not about knowing at all. Sometimes what we know about sex, or what we think we know, positively gets in the way. Sometimes the details become distractions that take our attention away from something else -- something more general, more amorphous. Sometimes (maybe always) there are less well-defined, less specific entities and urges hanging around the sexual edges, ghost-like, waiting for an opportunity to come out of the shadows, waiting for a chance to take center stage, waiting for all the knowing and detailing and directing and thinking to quiet down so they can come out and play, so they can come out and fly, so they can come out and teach us something about flying. It may well be that the only way to invite these quieter, darker sexual entities into our lives is to take a break from leading sex around all the time, and make time instead to follow it wherever it may choose to take us.

Joseph Campbell -- the brilliant Jungian mythologist, author of "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" and "The Power of Myth," and the consultant whose i nput gave the first three Star Wars films their heart and soul before he died in 1995 and left George Lucas to flounder around on his own -- spoke about the importance of not thinking about the complex and convoluted dealings of the psyche in literal terms. His emphasis was on religion and dreams, but his perspective is equally relevant to the world of sex.

The real power and significance of dreams, Campbell noted, was not in their literal narratives, but in the transcendental, symbolic material that those narratives contain. This was nothing new. Freud began talking about dreams as important, symbolic communications from the unconscious fifty years earlier. But Campbell applied the same perspective to religion, insisting that the literal, superficial religious interpretations that preoccupy fundamentalists of all faiths miss the point and rob religion of its potential to address the subtle and complex matters of the psyche and soul on their own terms. We must, Campbell insisted, stop thinking of religion in superficial terms and allow it to teach us about the deeper mysteries of being alive.

The same is true of sex. If we expand our idea of sex beyond the literal description of specific acts and behaviors, we open up a rich realm that connects sex with some of the deepest, most fundamental, and most elusive issues of being alive.

These sexual possibilities -- perhaps because they are harder to see, perhaps because they run contrary to the go-get-what-you-want premise of aggressive American rationality -- never make their way onto tv talk shows or into the Cosmo-style how-to-please-your-man articles. These aspects of sex are not "how-to" at all, which may be why we pay so little attention to them. We are, after all, a nation of doers, and it seems we all -- men in particular, but increasingly women as well -- prefer to do than be done to, to lead rather than to follow, to be in charge and in control rather than serve ourselves up to whatever it is the universe has in mind for us if we dare to let our guard down. We'd rather do sex than let sex do us. But we lose a lot as a result.

It starts in the familiar realm of simply feeling good. Good to be together. Good to touch and be touched. Good to hold and be held. Good to feel the magic of skin against skin. But at some point -- maybe immediately, maybe not until after a good deal of time -- there is the sense of going beyond, going beyond what is happening on the surface, going beyond the world of ordinary reality.

Time slows. Colors and sounds become more vivid. Touch becomes surprisingly focused and acute. There is something electric in the air, indefinite and unmistakable at the same time. The skin of ordinary reality peels open, revealing something very different -- something wetter, warmer, more vibrant. There is a compelling call to cross over, whatever that means, to step out of some sense of Here into some very other sense of There.

Good to go There, to have the opportunity to go There. The sense of one reality, one part of the brain, receding, while another, very different, reality comes forward to take its place. The sense of stepping outside what is known and familiar for something else, something more ephemeral, yet something that feels more real in many ways than the world that is being left behind. Good to leave that world behind. Good to journey outside those limits.

The sense of being taken on a journey, of engaging something larger than self, larger than conscious intent. The shift from being on solid ground to being on a boat floating on a river. Complicated. Not so well-defined. There are currents here to be felt and attended to that didn't exist before. Or were they always here but escaping our notice? Boundaries, once clear, become vague or disappear entirely. Is this leading or being led? Doing or being done? The line between me and you is not as clear as it appeared, back in that world of definition and distance. I imagine that I can feel you, can feel what you feel. How can that be possible? And yet I feel it unmistakably. Is it your body that calls out so strongly? Is it mine? Or is it something else entirely? The Shona say the way to be happy is to listen to what your spirits tell you, even if you're surprised by what they say. It's true. When I give myself over to whatever it is that is calling out to me here, I am happy, almost painfully happy. Good to let go. Good to give myself over.

The rules of the other world fall away like worn out clothes, irrelevant here. I become people I do not know as me, act in ways that could not stand the scrutiny of reason and judgment. There is order here; everything is not permitted. But the parameters are different from the other world. Fortunately, no one from that world is watching, not even Ordinary Me and Ordinary You. The only people here are our transformed selves, surrounded for as long as we manage to stay aligned by what probably needs to be called sacred space -- by a sense of beauty and truth that deserves to be protected from violation.

Everything here happens as if in a language different from that of ordinary life. The translation is not unlike that of certain drugs, not unlike that of dreams. Things can be spoken here that would make no sense or sound ridiculous in the language of everyday life. Important things. Things that have been waiting since -- when? before, before -- for a chance to be heard with respect and without distortion. They do not sound ridiculous here. Here they sound beautiful, essential. Here they make impeccable sense. Something about what it means to be alone and to not be alone. Something about what it means to truly honor and fully inhabit our bodies. Something about the transformation that happens when we get to love and be loved. Something about healing all the times we have been abandoned and betrayed.

Good to wander wordlessly among these depths. Good to stir the thick soup, to see what rises from the bottom, discarding the crusts built of years of making compromises with a strange and non-comprehending world. Good to remember the roots, the beginnings, the essences, the lost yearnings.

How did we think that these things were unimportant? How did we think it was the other world that was most real, that this watery world was nothing but illusion? Will we remember something of this when we go back? Will we be different from how we were before for having been here?

If we come here often enough, certainly we will remember, certainly we will be changed. If we come here often enough, perhaps we will learn to call this place home.

[This column was originally published in Spectator Magazine (see Three books by David Steinberg -- "Photo Sex," "Erotic by Nature: A Celebration of Life, of Love, and of Our Wonderful Bodies," and "The Erotic Impulse: Honoring the Sensual Self," are available from David by mail order at If you would like to receive Comes Naturally columns, and other writing by David Steinberg, regularly via email, send your name and email address to David at Columns are sent as blind carbon copies, meaning that no one will have access to your name or email address.]

David Steinberg
P.O. Box 2992
Santa Cruz, CA 95063
(831) 426-7082
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