One of the gifts of Malachi and I writing together is the significant difference in our ages. I was born as an early Boomer (1946) and he was born right in the middle of the Millennials (1988), so there are times when our histories, our experience, are very different from each other. At the same time, each of us is embodied, each of us likes sex, and each of us is a person of faith. So we have fabulous, energized, and stimulating conversations, and we enjoy writing here, and teaching together in the Third Thursday series (see the end of this week’s post for details).
This week is a clear example of our distinctive starting points (and as regular readers know it is more than our generations that are different).
I encountered an article about the sex habits of Millennials, “Too Stressed to F&*K?” and forwarded it to Malachi. Then, we talked about it. The article, on a blog I read called “Pleazure Seekers,” discussed studies that show Millennials, single and partnered, are having less sex than others of their age cohort in earlier generations. The blogger, the father of two Gen Z/Millennials, is interested in understanding why this is so.
First, I confess that I tuned into the article before realizing it was about Millennials. I thought it might be about me. I know I sometimes feel too stressed even to masturbate. Certainly, my husband and I have made plans for sex, only for one, or sometimes both, of us to feel too tired when the time arrives (he is 13 years my junior so it is not always about age). We have even gone for significant lengths of time without sex. All this feels normal to me.
I am aware that studies have been done about older folks like me, and generally they reveal that old folks still like sex. I know I do (I jerked off today, for example).
But there is something to this “too stressed” business. I am feeling somewhat overwhelmed these days by feeling I have too much writing to do on too many topics and in too many genres. If I were not writing this blog each week, I am not sure when I would find time even to think about sex (well except today).
My angst will end, I know. But a whole generation having less sex? That is a great concern to me. As a society, a world, we need more sex, not less.
The writer of the article says he thinks Millennials are too tired—they work long hours, they have to be available for their jobs all the time (the iPhone curse), they have long commutes, they volunteer a lot (both on principle but also as a way to have good credentials for employers), etc. When I think about the Millennials I know, I can see some accuracy in his observation.
The trouble, as I see it, is that the habits they are learning now will be hard to change later in life. At least, that is how it has been for me. I did not become a workaholic late in life, I learned it when I was the age Millennials are now. I did not put the demands of others for my time and energy before my own when I passed 50. I started doing that as a teen and then really perfected it in my 20s and 30s. I got really good at it-so good I lived in denial about my soul’s desire to write until I was in my late 60s.
But this is about more than individuals, this is about our society.
The blog writer is correct that Millennials and GenZ folks are far more open-minded about sex—sexual orientation and sexual practices—and gender and gender identity than earlier generations. We are better as a world for their openness, and I believe they will continue to push society away from judgmentalism and narrowness and toward acceptance and celebration of human diversity. This can only be good.
However, we really need people slowing down for intimacy, including but not limited to the two-by-two or multiple partners varieties in bed. We certainly need people to pleasure themselves and we need all the other varieties of consensual erotic connection that God makes possible and in which human beings find pleasure and deep and abiding joy. We need friends to just sit together—close I hope but even not close is good—perhaps holding hands or sitting with arms around each other or lying side by side, even spooning.
Why do I feel so strongly about this, and at this time?
Much attention has been focused on an OpEd on May 30 in the Wall Street Journal authored by the President’s National Security Advisor, Gen. H.R. McMaster ,and the Chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, Gary Cohn. They wrote, outlining the President’s “America First” vision of foreign policy, “the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.”
Their focus is on the activities of nations and other actors in the international sphere—and as many have pointed out, the Trump foreign policy, and this articulation of it by McMaster and Cohn, is a clear repudiation of post-World War 2 U.S. foreign policy conducted by every administration, Republican and Democrat, since President Truman.
However, this is not limited to foreign policy. In many ways, the current administration encourages competition over cooperation here at home, and the fact that many feel the loss of economic stability in their lives also contributes to this behavior. And this privileging of advantage is exemplified in Congress these days, where little compromise happens, where political opponents become enemies. It is exemplified by the President’s tweets that belittle people with whom he disagrees.
And, I submit, it is exemplified in what the blog author says about Millennials. They are too tired from competing to cooperate, to worn out to crawl into bed together, too distracted even to play with their own genitals or curl up with a good friend (and I am not meaning only “friends with benefits”).
Many speak of resistance to the President’s policies and even resistance to him personally. We do need to stand up in opposition to harmful, hurtful policies and government actions.
But we need to resist at deeper and more personal levels, too. Three days before the Presidential Inauguration, the Huffington Post ran a piece by Alex Garner, “Queer Sex Is Our Greatest Act of Resistance.” It is a brilliant evocation of why Queer folk need to stay focused on and in our bodies. I was exhilarated by its honesty and power. I cheered.
But queer sex is not enough. Here is Garner’s conclusion—and it applies to all of us, queer, not queer, vanilla, kinky, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, polyamorous and other forms of consensual non-monogamy, etc.—and certainly Millennials of every persuasion:
- Talk about sex. Our sexuality is at the core of our human experience. To not talk openly about it is to deny part of who we are. There is no shame in pleasure and intimate connections.
- Have sex and lots of it. Push boundaries and explore. Find pleasure in your sexuality in the midst of the chaos and the insanity. Think about what it means to choose queer [or not queer] sex and to value queer [or not queer] sex in a world that tells us it’s wrong. When we fuck we resist.
- Keep resisting. Fuck as if your life depends on it because with this new administration, it’s how we can fuck the status quo and upend the world we now find ourselves in.
Thus endeth my sermon for today. Go thou with other(s) or by yourself, and fuck, or whatever turns you on.
As much as sex can be a wonderfully joyous means of connecting with ourselves and our partners, it’s not always easy to make space to have a fulfilling sexual life. Work, day-to-day concerns (like getting the laundry and dishes done), kids, etc. all take time and energy, and sometimes, we find ourselves falling into bed next to our partners, worn out and too exhausted to intimately connect.
And that’s ok! Life can be stressful and exhausting sometimes, and it’s important to take time to make sure that we are getting enough rest and caring for ourselves. But it can be easy to slip into a pattern and suddenly weeks (or months) have gone by with no time to connect with our partner(s).
Sometimes, we address the situation by trying to create intentional time to be intimate. And that can be really effective- sometimes. But what happens when we have set aside time, and when that time comes, one (or both) partners aren’t feeling into it? Maybe it was a particularly hard day that’s difficult to shake off. Or perhaps the concept of “setting side time” makes sex feel more pressurized or obligatory…which never feels good, but certainly not when you’re trying to feel connected.
There are a lot of different ways that sex can feel pressurized. Feeling pressure to “perform”- particularly for those who were assigned male at birth and have a sexual connection to their penis- can lead to performance anxiety. I know personally, there have been times when I have been so aroused, it’s been difficult to reach orgasm. Other times, I have felt like if I didn’t have an orgasm, my partner would take it personally, which made it that much more difficult to relax and enjoy the sexual connection because there was an expectation of a certain outcome.
The ways that we put pressure, stress, and expectation on sex can be counterproductive.
Part of it comes from the ways that we define sex, intimacy, and connection. Sex and intimacy are often defined as a set of actions (e.g. penetration, orgasm, etc.), and we try to push ourselves to “go through the motions,” only to find that we don’t necessarily feel more connected to ourselves or to our partners afterward. This is a trap I have fallen into with my partner, and we both feel more drained after such encounters, rather than uplifted and connected. When sex is based on the actions, rather than the intention of connection, it can lead to feeling like another task on a to-do list, rather than a spiritual and intimate experience with someone we can about.
It’s a delicate balance. Sometimes, what we want is to experience a specific type of sexual intimacy and pleasure. Other times, what we want is to feel connected with ourselves and with our partner(s), and it’s not contingent on a specific sensation. In those cases, I wonder if we can find ways to make intimacy feel less pressurized so that we are able to relax and connect with one another even when life is busy and exhausting.
Small things, like intimate touch. Backrubs, foot rubs, facial massages are ways of helping your partner physically relax even when you’re both too exhausted for sex.
Mutual masturbation can be a way to achieve sexual release together. Laying naked together with no explicit sexual touching can also be very connective. These are a couple small ways to feel more intimately connected with our partner(s), but they really only address the symptoms, and not the deeper underlying problems.
The world we live in is fast-paced and stressful. Many people work multiple jobs just to make ends meet, and raising children, dealing with household tasks, etc. only add stress and pressure into already-hectic lives. Perhaps some of the issue is, “How do we connect sexually with ourselves and one another when we are exhausted and stressed out?” but I think it’s also important to think about, “How can we limit the amount of stress we
experience in our lives so that we don’t feel so worn out at the end of the day?”
I’m not sure there is an easy answer for this question. Small things, like making sure household tasks don’t pile up, can be immensely helpful, but only if all people involved are helping to keep that manageable- otherwise, it just adds one more task to one partner’s daily routine. The truth is, de-stressing our lives is a longer process of shifting our priorities, and shifting what things we have to make time for (like working and making sure bills get paid) and what things we choose to make time for. For many people who experience sexual attraction, maintaining a strong, intimate relationship is important… but sometimes, we choose to make time for other things, which cuts into the time we have for our partner(s).
When we see our sexual selves as a form of spiritual, physical, and emotional nourishment, it becomes a lot easier to make time for intimacy. It’s not something that depletes our resources, but helps them grow. While “in the moment” it can feel easier to succumb to the exhaustion, more often than not, we find that we are more rejuvenated and energized when our partnership(s) are strong, nourished, and sustained through sexual intimacy. I have experienced this several times with my partner- I have fallen into the “maybe tomorrow” rut, and found that, as that prolonged to another (and yet another) day, it became harder to instigate sex because it began to feel like a task that I was procrastinating doing. But when we were able to be connected and intimate with one another in ways that didn’t feel pressurized, I was able to recognize the ways in which that sexual relationship helped fulfill me as a whole person, rather than drain me with another thing I needed to do.
I speak, of course, as someone in my late twenties. There are certainly changing hormones as our bodies age that shift our physical needs and desires, but I believe that
our spiritual desire for sexual intimacy and connection remains, even when our bodies are not as responsive as we would always like. Then, more than ever, it is important to find ways to feel sexually connected without necessarily focusing on the “acts” of sex, and that comfort comes through a lifetime of practicing and reframing how we think about sex. I feel immensely lucky that I have had the opportunity to do some of this work as a younger person- although it’s difficult that the world we live in demands that young people have to learn these lessons in order to have and maintain healthy, sustainable sexual relationships.
Sex isn’t, of course, an obligation, and no one is entitled to our bodies without our consent. But sex also isn’t something to do because we haven’t done it in a while. Sex is something we can approach as a form of self-care, as a form of nourishment and fulfillment, to feel stronger and more connected with our partner(s). Sex can be something that helps us feel less stressed in our pressurized lives, if it doesn’t feel like another obligation on our already over-extended time.
We Want to Hear from You!
Help Make this a Conversation!
Are you having less sex than you want? Or are you too stressed to know? Do you make time for intimacy with your partner(s) and friends, or are you too busy? When was the last time you enjoyed a lazy afternoon with your body and/or with someone else’s body/bodies? Can you visualize the world as an erotic community, the earth as God’s gift of eros? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.
Join Us Third Thursdays!
Please join us in two weeks, THURSDAY, June 15th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components. If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.
Our focus will be “Creating Consent Culture in Our Churches.” Malachi and Robin will discuss how church leaders and members can foster an atmosphere of trust and exploration through mutual concern and consent while considering difficult topics such as various forms of sex, the spiritual ground of sex, and sexual attitudes and behaviors.
Previous month’s sessions can be watched here.