Sexuality in Community

If you prefer, read the following not necessarily as what you might want for yourself, but rather what you might support for future generations, and why or why not. Are the difficulties with it inherent in human nature, or human-created? Have we not "adjusted" or worked around many instincts and traditions that got in our way before? Admittedly it usually takes a long time.

The problems

In most people's lives, sexuality seems to be the area with the most hang-ups, inhibitions and restrictions. Our sexual lifestyle has a lot to do with intimacy, and therefore with our relationship to the greater community. With whom, and with how many we share our bed helps to determine how we share living space and belongings. The "couple" spends much more time together than with anyone else, and becomes a major entity in itself. The conventional nuclear family is a cult that seems to have developed a monopoly in our society. The results are not always the best, and our almost total commitment to this one lifestyle, married or otherwise, isn't the optimum compromise between individualism and conformity. The lack of role models in the sexual area also often leads to destructive sexual behavior. Diversity is great, but limits are also needed.

Each relationship that we form, of any kind, with one or more people, becomes a new entity in the context of the greater community. Some say it's their most basic right to relate to each other as they see fit, and whatever path people take is right for them. But "Everything's connected to everything else (in many ways). Whatever I do does affect others.

We depend on the community to protect the physically weaker individual from the physically stronger, perhaps because we recognize that strength of mind does more for the whole. So how is civilization or community served by the institution of the nuclear family - one physically stronger person and one or more weaker people living somewhat isolated from the larger community?

In a small "closed" social system, whoever has greater strength (or physical power) will gain higher authority, like it or not. (Yes, I know, women may have greater endurance - for better or worse - but power at a critical moment counts for more.) Consider the extreme of a pioneering couple going to live in the wilderness. They are sometimes faced with survival situations. Suppose he says "we must do this in order to survive" and she says "we must do that", when there isn't time for conflict resolution and these are the only viable alternatives. Would/should he yield rather than use his extra vote of his greater strength? When they go with his decision and they survive, his superior logic is "proven". When she was actually right but they go with his decision, they die (survival situation remember) and we don't hear about the difference of opinion. Less critical decisions have the same effect, in lesser ways.

In modern society we create our own isolation - small communities with walls, fences and customs. When we get together in separate men's and women's groups, both groups tend to reinforce these views. Our culture has come to accept these traditions.

An intimate relationship may inhibit individuality and may become a stronger entity than the individuals who make it up. A certain amount of inhibition of individualism, or socialization, is necessary in order to form a community, but too much conformity makes it a boring community. We must each find our own optimum compromise between individualism and conformity on various levels. If we all come to the same compromise point, then it's still a kind of conformity.

There seems to be an assumption by the mainstream that touching between possible sex partners automatically leads to need for more intimate touching, to sex, to exclusive lifetime commitment. I don't feel this to be true in my own life. Each of these (except, for me, exclusiveness) has value in itself. In terms of supply and demand, I look for more friendly, intimate, but not necessarily sexual touching more than I look for more sex. Sex is often mostly an excuse for touching. Instead of finding that one special person that I can't be happy without, I try to identify those few people whose problems I'm not yet ready to deal with and consider all others my "lovers".

I think the communal movement (and "new age" in general) has suffered from the attitude of letting everything happen spontaneously rather than planning and organizing. It often follows the example of couple formation, where two people fall in love, get married, then look to see if they're compatible. Then they may decide they want to expand to include others. Often one of the two isn't enthusiastic about this. Even if they both are, they've already started off in the mode of putting most of their emotional energy into one other person. Perhaps they can stretch this to include one more, but beyond that, they seldom last. There are many more people in threesomes than in foursomes and moresomes. I think it needs to start with at least seven interested people, perhaps held together by a joint industry, who choose to live together and all grow closer to each other. (Maybe start with 20 and self-select to seven or more. Six may be enough to avoid getting in a rut of playing one set of games. An extra person reduces the tendency to fall back to previous familiar and more socially acceptable patterns and couple up.

One major feature of static communities and pseudo-communities (a term popularized by M. Scott Peck in The Different Drum) is comfortable, secure, but stagnating relationships. Never having experienced real community, we put our faith in one-to-one relationships with other individuals. We try to say only safe, "nice" things. We develop expectations about each other, and try to live by others' expectations, in order to insure the security of the relationship. We create "mutual admiration societies".

The Solutions

In a larger, real community, we get our security from the group. We're willing to risk any one relationship more, and by doing so, allow it to grow, or disintegrate if it must. No one is devastated by one person leaving the group, or distancing within the group, while they have the support and companionship of others, especially if they aren't used to investing all their emotional energy in that one relationship. Hopefully the person leaving can find another community that suits them better. Also, few are very threatened by one new person in the group.

Living in California, I'm associated with some sexually liberated groups. (Maybe it's the other way around. That's why I live here.) Some talk a lot about the ideal of a sex-positive environment (as opposed to the traditional sex negative environment of hiding it and limiting it). I'd prefer a sex-neutral environment. I don't want sex to be seen as the most important part of a relationship. There are other forms of intimacy that have greater potential. But also, I want to de-fuse sexuality, to have friends with whom I can sometimes include sexuality in our relationships, rather than "lovers" in the usual sense.

I don't want to have to hide from anyone that I am a partly sexual person. Beyond pleasure, I consider touching, and sex as an extension of touching, to be very important forms of communication, one of the many ways of making love, giving a sense of connectedness and community, trust and caring.

Rather than living in an APARTment by myself, or with one other person, or people related only by genes and "responsibilities" (not chosen by me) I would prefer a "TOGETHERment" lifestyle. My personal (untested, extreme) ideal would be a household of at least seven people (in a compatible community, hopefully in a compatible world) with most rooms specialized for each of the various activities in life. These include eating, elimination, sleep, conversation, meditation, reading, music, sex, study, exercise, craft work, computing, gym etc. Some different but compatible activities could be combined in one room. There would be temporary private space for solitude (or whatever), with inside locks, but no keys, but little permanently assigned private space. Those who lasted would quickly learn to respect others' need for privacy. Major private belongings would be carefully identified but most would be generally available to all. Rather than trying to get all our needs for companionship and security met by one person, they would be met by the group. Some people would leave for one reason or another, and others would join, but the security of the group would remain.

I doubt that many others would be enthusiastic about this. I don't know if I could live there very long myself, but I feel that the nuclear family, privacy, secrets and pretended secrets are opposed to concepts of community and communication, which I consider to be close to my highest priorities.

We would need to learn to "normalize" sex, to treat our sexual and emotional needs and concerns as we presently do our intellectual ones, to divide our energies between several people rather than concentrating it all on one. In a sane, non-judgmental community (rather with judgements based only on valid criteria), there would be no embarrassment or shame resulting from bodies or non-destructive activities. There is no "rational" reason that sexual relationships should lead to jealousy. Each relationship should be as intense as fits all parties to the degree they are involved.

The Oneida Community

Consider the Oneida Community which lasted about twenty-five years in the 1800s and successfully manufacturer fine silverware. They were quite advanced for their time (at least according to my values). They had no couple marriages. With the approval of the leadership committee, most (hetero) couples who desired could sleep together, though pregnancies required special approval. They used "coitus interruptus" (withdrawal) for birth control, apparently successfully. Three major factors were seen as leading to their final break-up. The young men were not able to control themselves adequately to withdraw at the proper time, so they were only allowed to sleep with women past menopause. They didn't care for this. Second, children were raised communally and some mothers and children didn't like this. And last but not least, there was hostility from the surrounding communities. As is often the case, when the one strong leader moved out, the rest gave up and formed the Oneida Corporation.

Today in such a group, the mothers would at least have a choice of how to raise their children. More modern methods of birth control make that problem insignificant, or at least more easily tolerated. Of course leadership today would be less centralized, but I think most such groups have failed because they were too anarchic. We are still looking for the optimum compromise between central and dispersed leadership.

In order to reduce jealousies, I think members of an intimate community should be bisexual, or at least bisensual, hopefully in the extreme.

As a sexually liberated person, I support more drastic measures to eliminate AIDS.


Send me your thoughts.
Dan Robinson, danrob@efn.org, Eugene, Oregon
My home page: http://www.efn.org/~danrob/