Goal: To grow your Sexual Core Area, which includes your thoughts, feelings, behavior, and experiences about engaging in actions that stimulate and facilitate connection, sensuality, sexual pleasure and spiritual intimacy.
The Importance of this Core Area: There aren’t many things in life that could rival the significance of this core area and if there’s any row in the garden of your life that deserves attention, boundaries, nurturing and respect each day and for the remainder of your life it’s this one, because if cared for and prized for its potential, it’ll produce a harvest of sweet and nutritious fruit in your garden commencing during your teen years and continuing well into your senior years if not through to the end of your life!
If valued and cared for your Sexual Core Area could provide you with frequent and ecstatic encounters, bonds that are strengthened and reinforced and succulent memories that simultaneously generate unquenchable desire. Sexual health in this row could produce a synergistic effect with the other areas/rows in your garden (especially the Social/Relational one) as your healthy sexual experiences breathes life into your spirituality, creates positive feelings and cognitions about yourself and your partner and could result in the birth of children, who bring joy, contentment, happiness and fulfillment to your life.
But to maximize your “harvest” and potential in your Sexual Core Area, consider wisdom not from a sexologist but from Neo-Freudian Erik Erikson, author of the Eight Stages of Psychosocial Growth. Let’s take a brief look at three of the Stages from which we gain important insight: Stage Five (Identity vs. Role Confusion; age 12 – 25); Stage Six (Intimacy vs. Isolation; age 26 – 40) and Stage Seven (Generativity vs. Stagnation; age 40 – 65). As you could see these stages cover a period of 50+ years in your life, and from Erikson we learn if you focus on developing the “virtue” of these stages versus the “pathological tendency” you position yourself to obtain better versus dubious outcomes, especially when you consider your sexuality and your sexual experiences.
In Stage Five (Identity vs. Role Confusion), the virtue is “Fidelity” to your identified and developing values, mores, principles, ethics and practices which are characteristics of your identity that you choose to live by, versus the pathological tendency of “Repudiation” where values are dismissed and the slogan “if you stand for nothing you may fall for anything” could yield pain, frustration and possible devastation.
In Stage Six (Intimacy vs. Isolation), the virtue is “Love,” which is achieved by skillfully learning what love means and what behavior creates and reciprocally benefits your partner with all of the intimacies (spiritual, intellectual, emotional, conflict and genital to name a few), versus the pathological tendency of “Promiscuity,” where the lyrics “looking for love in all the wrong places” sums up a nomadic person and process where meaningful and longed for connection in a relationship is not matured or worse, contaminated by self-sabotage.
In Stage Seven (Generativity vs. Stagnation), the virtue is “Care,” as evidenced by the presence of creativity, productivity, quality, and consistency in your 7 Core Areas during the prime of your life, especially in your Sexual Core Area where care, nurture, and renewal are experienced vs. the pathological tendency of “Overextension,” which means distracted, undeveloped and diluted efforts could result in malnourished or severely impaired sexual experiences.
So, what are the wise takeaways here which if applied, could prove beneficial to your sexual potential over 50 years of your life? First, in Stage Five, identifying who you are, what you stand for and what prosocial values you endeavor to live by, even when mistakes are and will be made, will yield better outcomes with your sexuality versus having no compass at all. Second, in Stage Six, developing a basic knowledge of or working to become skilled and proficient in all thing’s intimacy will fertilize and yield better outcomes versus living a life marked by misplaced passion. Finally, in Stage Seven, learning how to garden with intention over the seasons of your life will produce fruitful, mature, sweeter and wise outcomes in your Sexual Core Area versus neglected, deprived or tasteless experiences.
The Fruit and Wisdom in this Core Area: Let’s normalize one thing about your sexuality: no matter how you describe the state or condition of your sexual life, please know there is always room for you to change, heal, grow and enjoy your sexual experiences! How? Consider this example and parallel that we share with nature.
There are many climate zones on Earth that tend to support three if not four seasons worth of food from a garden or farm in a twelve-month period. The parallel here is in the garden of your life, if you’re in your late teens or early 20’s and you live to be 75 years old, you’ll have 220 seasons (4 x 55 years = 220) to work on and produce sweet, mature, nutritious and healthy sexual experiences throughout the remainder of your life! Even if there are contaminants in your life experience, remember the phytoremediation principle: When you are actively learning about, planting and protecting functional, dependable and life-giving strategies, values and processes (that is, integrating them into your brain, mind, body and relationship) with the goal being the production and enjoyment of positive sexual experiences, you’re simultaneously displacing if not downright eliminating unhealthy and antagonistic behaviors in this specific core area. We’ll certainly talk more about those strategies in the remainder of the book, but for now, a word about some contaminants to this core area of your existence.
Contaminants in this Core Area: As with any domain or core area of your life, neglect or trauma impedes your ability to fully function and produce the best of all possible outcomes with your sexuality. As mentioned earlier in the book, this is never about throwing our caregivers under the bus, but during the critical and formative years of infancy and early childhood some of you may not have had the most attentive or nurturing people or environments to facilitate healthy and strong “attachments” which could leave a person at a disadvantage when it comes to entering, establishing, or maintaining a healthy relationship with oneself or one’s partner. Equally, being exposed to sexualized environments or being the victim of sexual trauma as a child or adult profoundly impacts one’s ability to self-regulate, produce, enjoy and maintain positive sexual experiences with oneself or others at any age in life.
I’ve often shared that the impact of sexual abuse or trauma is like having the integrity and boundary of your person and heart broke into shards of glass (which need to be handled carefully), where repeated abuse pulverizes the shards into a fine but painful powder. In this fragmented and painful state, it could be difficult to recognize the strength and beauty of the original container (the person), and it may feel downright impossible to conceive of then engage in processes to not only manage the indescribable fear, hurt or rage pain from the trauma(s) much less “pull yourself together.”
When the heart is in this condition, it makes sense one might pull away from and distance theirself from working in the soil of their own heart due to the prickly or painful shards of glass caused by sexual trauma. When sexual trauma has been experienced, I hope it makes sense to all that each person is on their own personal journey that hopefully, with time, work and assistance, they’ll be encouraged to open up to a process that could result in some form of healing experience(s) regarding their sexuality. Some may try and experience progress, however, others, no matter how hard they try and due to no fault of their own, may not experience progress toward their own noteworthy goals in this core area of their life. This could be where the “misery stabilizers” are accessed to medicate, escape or numb one’s pain, as my colleague Dr. Alex Katehakis and her co-author Tom Bliss have stated in their book “The Mirror of Intimacy” (2014) that addictions are attempts to regulate oneself primarily because of one’s unprocessed trauma.
Again, to all who have had this sacred row in the garden of their life contaminated by neglect, trauma, abuse or addiction, I’ll encourage you to reconsider the phytoremediation process. By engaging in trauma and healing treatment to learn about, work through, make sense of then resolve, reclaim, redefine and become resilient regarding what healthy sexuality looks like for you, (which is never easy) you afford yourself with opportunities to extract the shards out of the soil of your heart. When this is done, your empowered actions done over multiple seasons of your life, are akin to removing, fusing and transforming the shards of glass into beautiful pieces of stained glass, as learned experiences lead to the development of basic secure attachments and devastating and debilitating traumatic experiences are replaced with courageous, meaningful, resilient and enjoyable sexual experiences, brought on by your willingness to do the deep work of transformation in this sacred core area of your life.
Suggested Activity: If you have experienced any form of trauma in this core area then when you’re ready, think about creating a Self-Discovery – Trauma Egg Instructions and Templates. This reflective and cathartic exercise is designed to assist you to think about, catalog and work through sexual (and other) traumatic experiences in your life, initially to be shared with your Psychotherapist or Counselor, then with other safe people whom you consider ‘teammates” in your life who are on your side to champion your progress. Envision then talk about what healthy sexuality means and looks like to you then commit to processes to reclaim, create and enjoy positive, loving and if in a relationship connected sexual experiences you’d like to develop, mature and protect.
If you deem you may not need to do the above-mentioned exercise and you’re in a relationship, I encourage you to discuss with your partner your thoughts, feelings, hopes and concerns you have as you consider your sexual experiences. Be curious about your mutual needs then discuss and create sexual experiences that portray the healthy narrative you’d like to plant, develop, take care of and continually harvest and enjoy over the seasons of your life. Don’t apologize for aiming high in this core area because at times your work will be aspirational, as you work to convert your vision into a reality that gets sweeter with each subsequent season of your existence. Know that any shared work you do in this core area reflects your desire to become skilled at living, especially when relationship repair is needed but your overall goal is to cultivate and enjoy healthy sex and love!
Skill to develop: The ability to consistently grow and deliver the appropriate behavior that your life situation deserves, and to feel encouraged about your ability to become resilient beyond challenging life circumstances.
Next: Defining your 7 Core Areas (Your Social/Relational Core Area) or return to the Table of Contents.
Thanks for reading this excerpt from Cultivating Love: Wisdom for Life. As time permits, please visit the other blogs written by Dr. Ken McGill: Daily Bread for Life and “3 – 2 – 5 – 4 – 24″ for additional information that could be helpful.
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