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|Journey to the In-Between|
Journey to the In-Between
Adventures in the Realm of the Senses
by Michael Ventura
—Pop song by Bob Davie, 1956
Today, sexuality still seems to be a territory as private and filled with fear as ever it was. You might argue the opposite, because so much about sexuality these days is fearlessly public—and that's true, if by "public" you mean the merely visible. But privately, we haven't advanced far in our ability to talk of our own sexuality, one with another.
As in days of yore, we embark on our individual sexual journeys with minimal guidance—zip, really. There's scant discussion about being a sexual being: how it feels, what we do, who we are sexually, and what that means to us as we go about our lives. We don't have much idea of what sex is for, even. (If it were only for reproduction, wouldn't we rut seasonally like other mammals?) Rarely can couples in long-term relationships expand the scope of their shared sensuality. Psychotherapy has gone from viewing sex almost mystically, like Freud, to making sex something so clinical it's almost boring, in the tradition of Masters & Johnson and their many descendants. Much of contemporary psychotherapy seems to have minimized sexuality to something that's no more than an element of relationship, rather than a force in itself, a realm all its own.
That's part of what makes sexuality scary: it is a force in itself, a realm all its own: one in which the rational and the measured are overwhelmed and subsumed. It's this "realm of the senses" (from the title of Nagisa Oshima's controversial 1976 movie) that ignites a relationship during that first buoyant period, when lovers experience intoxicating sensuality, and being irrational, overwhelmed, and subsumed is thrilling. But, if they last, relationships tend to settle down into a sexual sameness, or even not much sex at all. That's a familiar complaint from couples who find it necessary to enter a therapist's consulting room, when overfamiliarity can be a delicate dilemma.
What if "overfamiliarity" is a cover for something else? What if that "something else" is fear? Fear of the power that lies waiting in the dangerous places you may go in the realm of your senses, where you've been keeping secrets not only from your world and your lover, but from yourself?
To begin a relationship is, by definition, to change's one life, and an initially intoxicating sensuality is often the fuel the drives that change—for don't we discover each other's bodies before, somewhere down the line, we truly discover each other? That early stage of sensual intoxication opens many passageways for mutual discoveries that, on the surface, have little to do with sex. But once a relationship settles in, once it's firmly woven into the fabric of one's life, change becomes threatening. We start to prefer a pleasurable, domesticated fuck, not too high or low on the scale of intensity, as a comfort and a release, although a limited repertoire risks boredom.
Wandering off into the realm of the senses, which is always uncharted—a place where the unexpected always happens—isn't what most settled couples are eager to experience, however much they miss their initial sexual adventure and indulge secretly in titillating fantasies that remain firmly in the fantasist's control. (Some turn to pornography to expand their sexuality, only to confine it further, imprisoning their desires within the limits of pornographic imagery. Pornography is, paradoxically, disembodied sex—an oxymoronic enterprise.)
What is it, then, that lurks, awaiting discovery, deep in the senses, and why, for so many, is it feared more than desired?