I don’t think it is possible to communicate about sex for long without running into the word love. I really like to have some studies supporting things I’m saying, or other opinions from people considered experts, but this time I’ll be telling my opinions. Any links will be to sources that have got me thinking or that I feel communicate an idea better than I can.
I should be starting with a definition of love, or perhaps what type of love I want to talk about. I’m going to leave that until later.
Let me explain my motivation a bit. With the holiday season upon us my wife and I like to watch a number of movies again. We haven’t added to our disc collection for a few years so they are all more than 10 years old. Two that have gotten me thinking about love are “The Holiday” and “Love Actually.” I don’t know that these are necessarily Christmas movies but they are set at this holiday time of year.
“Love Actually” portrays things in a way that used to make my think there are different types of love. If this were the case, wouldn’t we be making up different words to differentiate things more easily? I know I have a somewhat different feeling for my wife than I do my children and grandchildren. Does that mean I love her and not them? I think it means the amount of the love is different. I’ll explain that later.
Both movies show how love can cause pain and pleasure depending on the circumstances. So is love good or bad? I have seen reports of studies that people that have a pet or do not live alone tend to live longer. It seems love can be a good thing.
A few days ago Ginger Bentham (@GingerBentham on Twitter) was asking about romantic love in terms of her multiple partner lifestyle. This got me really thinking about love.
So here are my ideas. We use that term love for these feelings for different people, and perhaps pets and houseplants, because at the heart of it they are the same emotion. I think (this is an opinion) that as more is understood about the chemistry of the body it will be found that the same chemicals are being released when these people are present or being thought about. These chemicals really make us feel good so we want more. I’m not sure how complex the body is so I don’t dare say if it is the same chemical or combination of chemicals but when I do something the makes anyone feel good I get a feeling similar to those I feel when with someone I would say I love. I feel best when I’ve done something that has gotten a positive response from someone I love. It could be an extra large dose of those chemicals or a cocktail of feel good things going on inside of me. Certain people cause a larger release. Doing something good for one of my children feels better than helping a stranger. They both feel good but one is stronger.
So where does romantic love fit into this. I think there are two things involved with what we call romantic love. One is the strongest form of the love I have been describing. You want to be with the person and make them happy in the strongest way. If the model I’ve been using of chemicals is the case, then these people cause the strongest release of them. It could be possible for this to happen with more than one person. This type of romantic love is inclusive, not exclusive. This is the romantic love that wants to do things to make the loved one feel wanted and happy.
The other kind of romantic love is exclusive and selfish. This is where really strong jealousy comes from. The other form may have been where giving yourself to a mate comes from but making it exclusive could be from the men in power insisting women be exclusive to that one man. That was how things were done before it was both the man and the woman being exclusive. It could be that romantic stories of someone pining away for the one (think of young Sam in “Love Actually”) began with a woman wishing she had the same exclusive promise she had given.
What I have experienced is a person can feel that romantic level of love for more than one person at a time. I haven’t experienced that personally but a woman I loved did. Had she told me she was going to be exclusive with another I would have been disappointed but the love I felt would have been stronger than the disappointment and make me happy for her. When it looked like I might lose her to illness it really broke me up. Losing her to someone else I knew she would still be experiencing good things and hopefully be happy. Losing her to the illness would have meant just the opposite.
I think the cultural norm of giving ownership to each other is one of the biggest threats to real romantic love there is. That really strong romantic love is selfless. If two people freely give a promise to be exclusive without any cultural pressures, then it is an expression of selflessness. On the other hand, seeking that promise, whether due to cultural norms or just wanting it, is an expression of selfishness.
I think the concept of a soul mate is a harmful myth. I won’t say that it never happens, but to seek it, or worse, demand it, is toxic to having a happy life. Love should be given to as many as possible.
Sex isn’t love. Sex can be an expression of love, it can be a form of play between consenting adults, or it can be toxic when one partner takes power over another using sex. This isn’t the role play of some kinksters, this is the taking without consent from someone that doesn’t know they can give consent or are denied the opportunity.
I think American culture, as are many others in the world, is harmful to real romantic love by teaching unrealistic expectations rather than teaching good communication so each relationship can define itself in ways that are good for those involved. This is a process that sexual relationships need to go through as well. I think the aim of some of those pushing to keep the culture toxic to openly choosing sexual activities are encouraging ideas toxic to romantic love thinking they are building it. Others just want power over both. I think promoting being sex positive is also promoting a positive form of romantic love by taking the idea of owning a partner out of the picture and replacing it with respecting the partner as a human being.