It’s a strange circumstance to have arrived at what some might call a golden age of cultural sexual freedom when, in fact, this freedom to choose any relationship style and engage in sex freely in or out of a relationship has not driven up our connection, but the reverse. Despite the veneer of the revolutionary sexual positivity of our time, something is profoundly not working for us. We are facing a moment of intimate breakdown, with rates of sexual activity, partnership, and marriage at a 30-year low. This statistic is even more troubling as it is being driven by young people, 50 percent of whom are not interested in dating or a relationship. In fact, dating and sexual relationships are now viewed as a threat to one’s safety, with frequent reports of pornographic sexual behaviors being randomly practiced in transactional sex.
It turns out that sexual consent and freedoms are not enough to keep our intimate relationships safe and positive. Without safety, people are leaving the game. I have been writing about sustainable sexual relationships for decades. Early on – during the advent of Tinder, when popular sex had become transactional – I held fast to the unpopular notion that the giving of our sexual selves is a sacred act. Further, I advocated for putting in the time to create a safe container where sexual impulses, natural curiosity, and passionate exploration could be held with intimate care.
We have lost the critical skills required of intimate interaction, the kind of connection we are hungry for while creating a space to discover the sex we long for. Set in a time of digital proliferation compounded by the isolation of pandemic policy, many of us have forgotten how to meet each other and court a romantic flame, how to offer the undivided attention needed to fall in love, and how to listen to what someone is trying to express behind their words. Worst of all, we’ve forgotten how to believe that love is real. Perhaps this time will not be remembered for the revolutionary sexual freedoms we boast, but as a reckoning with our consequent loneliness. Perhaps we will agree that we need less sexual freedom and more emotional courage to share our whole selves with others.
Building the skills to be more connected with friends and romantic interests is actually less for other people than it is for us. The skills required to connect with others can turn us into the best version of ourselves. Deciding to witness your sexuality as a sacred offering promises both more self-respect and a deeper connection to the other people graced to share it with you. Consent is nothing without the courage to speak about your own needs and pleasure. Demanding to be seen and held in the mysterious space of orgasm is the only path to finding it.
Truly consider what qualities you want to bring to a relationship and those that you want to find in one. This is a powerful act – envisioning the kind of love that’s worth the sacrifices and what that feels like for you. Relationships are the hardest work we have the privilege of doing in this life. They are worth the sacrifices we make for them because being loved, even imperfectly loved, is the most fortunate of all life’s circumstances.