Species Preservation through the Looking Glass: Love’s Odyssey
Attitudes about human sexuality vary considerably and may be influenced by the individual’s perceptions, culture and/or worldview. This issue is meaningful in the field of psychology and sexuality because it illustrates the power that perceptions have on making decisions including in how we regard human sexuality. Romantic love is often paired with sexual coupling, and is even less understood. Yet, as Diamond (2004) observes: “empirical evidence indicates that sexual desire is not a pre-requisite for romantic love, even in its earliest, romantic stages” (p.116). In my research, I also found gender disparities over the subject of love and sexuality, depending on the individual’s cultural and biological influences.
After extensively reviewing the literature on love and sex, it seems that these aspects can function independently of one another, and can have distinct purpose (Diamond, 2004; Fisher, 1998; Hatfield, 1987). Indeed it is common knowledge that more than half of marriages wind up in divorce court. To this researcher, the implication is that the current contractual promise of marriage does not necessarily address or reflect the reality and/or experience of the relationship. Interesting to note that marriage remains popular despite its likelihood of divorce, the consequences of which can be psychologically and fiscally draining on all parities, and on several less apparent, far-reaching levels.
My research has found empirical data indicating that romantic love is not exclusively sexual in nature (Tennov,1979; Hatfield, Cornelius & Rapson,1988). For the purposes of this research, I define romantic love in this way: Love is a verb. Contrary to love being described as a vague feeling, it is an action of witnessing and exposing, and being witnessed and being exposed without resistance. The giving and receiving occur by choice, with unconditional acceptance, and joy.
I began this research paper hoping to find empirical research on the question: Does romantic love have a role in human sexuality? If sexual intimacy and procreation are primary requisites to our evolutionary survival as a species, then in regards to human sexuality, what if anything is the purpose of love? What is the relationship of love to survival?
In his presidential address to the American Psychological Association in 1958, Harlow (as cited in Petrovic, 2010) declares: “So far as love and affection are concerned, psychologists have failed in their mission…the little we write about it has been written better by poets and novelists”(p.1). In my research, I found a scarcity in the literature of empirical data on the role of romantic love and/or a possible elusive sacred element to human sexuality. The language of the literature in regards to love, is dense with attachment theory, cognitive psychological systems, developmental personality, and is for the most part very flat, clinical, and missing most of the joy.
In truth, finding empirical, scientific research on romantic love has been suspiciously challenging. The rigors and instruments of the scientific community require empirical evidence. However, based on this protocol, unconditional romantic love is not measurable. Perhaps there is no valid and predictable way to empirically measure romantic love. Were it not for the omnipresence of lofty romantic, unconditional love throughout the annals of human history and sexuality in poetry, art, philosophy, and literature, it would be easy to doubt its validity from a scientific standpoint. However, its phenomenological insistence and persistence indicates otherwise. Thus a gap exists which suggests that further research, for the purpose of understanding the relationship if any, or the role of love in human sexuality is warranted.
Statement of the Issue
According to A Report of the Surgeon General, more than half of marriages end in divorce. I think it is interesting to note that divorce and separation are not as opposed to attachment theory, which is a fear based system, as might be thought. Needing to attach implies an inherent separation. In fact because one always needs the other, the feeling of not being safe will always undermine the attachment. Whether this is due one’s cultural beliefs and expectations or whether this understanding is taught on another level, couples may indeed be seeking attachment style relationships in marriage and relationships, without even knowing. Because of high rates of divorce and failed relationships, the question is whether attachment style relationships are efficacious to lasting relationships? Attachment theory implies there is a need to protect oneself from loss and instability.
Compassion, on the other hand is not associated in the literature with attachment theory. Practicing compassion is the same as making connections. This kind of connection may be even more powerfully felt when paired with unconditional acceptance. Instead of continually needing to reinforce the other’s sense of safety and stability, compassion accepts, and therefore removes the need for fear, and encourages intimacy. Intimacy may reinforce trust as one learns to openly give and receive. With attachment theory one is in continual fear of being let down by the other, which undermines the ability to feel safe.
Definition of terms
Attachment theory is presented by Bowlby,J. (1980) and refers to a system in which one learns to form and interact in relationships based on early interactions and experiences with caregivers.
Love & Romantic love according to Chopra, D (2002) refer to a self-sustaining exchange where witnessing and being witnessed occurs freely and completely.
Intimacy is union and can occur in either physical or sacred or sacred realms. Galindo and Cummings (2010) posit that intimacy informs and permeates human sexuality and provides something more than purely pleasure. Dr. Helen Singer Kaplan (as cited in Northrop, 2001) coined the phrase “”hot monogamy”, which is the potential for enduring sexual passion”(p. 289). Dr. Patricia Love (1994) cites intimacy as one ingredient that is responsible for maintaining that state of desire (p. 371). The literature on intimacy mainly focuses on sexual behavior and the physical union, which is codified by achieving a climax.
Human sexuality refers to human behavior that is physical, sexual, and reproductive. It is anything that expresses gender and gender specific body parts and or nakedness with another or by one’s self. Human sexuality is the act of reproduction and physical intimacy.
Sex refers to the physical act of touching and or being sexually touched by another or oneself.
Gender refers to whether one self identifies as a male, female or a transgendered individual.
The literature review I present in this paper is representative of what I found in terms of empirical studies on the interplay of sexual and romantic expressions in human sexuality. After extensive research on the relationship if any between sexuality and love, I found a profound gap exists in regards to research on individuals’ understanding of the function of love in regards to human sexuality, which is proving to be empirically elusive and highly suspect.
Buss (2002) reviews empirical research on love, sex, and mating strategies, and concludes: “people tend to become sexually involved with those with whom they are emotionally involved” (p.56), but he does not explain what exactly is the nature of the emotional involvement. Is it due to functional or dysfunctional origins? Additionally, Buss (2002) refers to dozens of empirical studies indicating men seek more variety of partners in their sex-lives than women; (I assume that the variety is with women so presumably the distinction here is that while men may seek out variety, women are in agreement.) that men value sexual fidelity (a double standard), youth, beauty, and generally, characteristics associated with fertility. On the other hand, women value emotional fidelity and material gain according to Buss (2002). Is it perception that allows us to assign the desire for variety mainly with men? How is this when the only possibility for this to be true is for the woman to also be present? Therefore, sexual partnering in this light is very often a function perceptual gains and advantages.
Bowlby (1982) links romantic love with attachment theory implying love is a reaction to unspoken neurotic agreements. These agreements concern themselves with abating feelings of separation anxiety, and of being unsafe, which are believed to stem from foundational interactions within early family relationships. This theory has been empirically studied and is considered valid stating that the care giving system is based on another’s needs instead of one’s own (Batson, 1991). Several empirical studies have been conducted examining the possible relationship between attachment and sexuality (Collins & B. Feeney, 2000; Kunce & Shaver, 1994; Schachner & Shaver, 2004). Bowlby (1982) claims that attachments can provide safety. However, does this not imply that without attachments one cannot be safe?
The necessity to draw a line between sexual desire (physical) and love (emotional), as observed by Middleton (2002) has been the focus of researchers, who “cognitively structure sexuality” (p.32). Chopra (1997) in a similar light observed: “Your consciousness is your contribution to reality. What you perceive as real becomes real” (p.304). Knowing that the empirical research is largely influenced by perception, which is subjective, and the fact that love is not well understood by our methods for assessing and evaluating, suggests something is missing. At best love has been presented as a form of “attachment” which leaves one feeling unfulfilled, alienated, and frustrated (Laing, 1976; Reich, 1972; Nagel, 1979; Hatfield, 1998; Goldenberg, Pyszczynski, & McCoy, 1999; Bus, 2002; Diamond, 2004; & Fisher, 2004).
Data from research on this subject reveals that most people package love and sex even though they are not empirically linked by cause and effect where human sexuality is concerned (Forster, 2009). Aris & Dupies, (as cited in Forster, 2002) suggest that culture, education, biology and environment determine the individual’s perception of whether love and sex co-occur, and to what extent. In the end, Forster (2009) concedes: “when the dust settles neuroscientists and psychologists seem to agree that all of the brain system for passionate love, sexual desire, and attachment do in fact communicate and coordinate” (p.1480).
Love and sexual desire have been examined from the perspective that they are different systems designed for different purposes and effects (Diamond, 2003, 2004; Gonzaga, Turner, Keltner, Campos, & Altemos, 2006). Two studies by Forster (2002) on love and sex involved students who were asked in one to imagine a romantic event or casual sex, and in the second group, the loving event or sexual act and memories of them were triggered by outside stimuli. The results indicate that a loving scenario encourages compassion for mankind at large, and creativity. The group that imagined sex, or were triggered to remember sex were found to demonstrate logical and analytic problem solving. In this study on 60 participants, love and sex were found to have different functions.
Evaluation and Critique
It could be that love is misunderstood simply because in general people are not willing to be open and honest about innermost needs, feelings and real experiences. Maybe the fact that many people seek psychological help because of feelings of being disconnected or lack of meaning is indicative of having accepted a form of partnering which fails to give meaning and purpose to sexual behavior outside of biological and evolutionary species preservation.
Based on the data from this research I believe it is entirely possible that love is not a function of safety and attachment, and does not stem from early relationships with caregivers. I think love is a choice. Choosing love as a way of being is a process, which unfolds over time and is not necessarily linked with sex, although both seek union in an other.
Instead, attachment style relationships co-dependently enable individuals to be complicit at avoiding personal exposure in favor of not being alone because it is dependency based. In attachment, sexual behavior has multiple purposes depending on one gender and culture, and can be used as leverage to procreate or to elevate social status. Attachment style love, which describes a system of coupling in order to abate fear of loss of personal safety, actually denies the fear of loss through control. It describes a form of bondage, and can also be used as leverage to stay in the relationship. There seems to be a wide gap between sexuality and love yet many people enter into these relationships with perhaps very little knowledge of what it is they are getting into which may explain why so many fail. People coexist in their separateness because intimacy does not guarantee union.
Of course, sexual procreation requires the physical intimacy of contact. I suggest that physical intimacy can personify desire for a deeper intimacy; however, it depends on what an individual believes. It seems that both kinds of intimacy are necessary components to some while perhaps not so much to others who prefer to remain disguised. In contrast, according to Galindo & Cummings (2010) the purpose of “intimacy is so vital to our well-being that its practice must not be conditional” (p. 3). In Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis, suggests that joy is completely dependent on the experience of intimacy. Joy, in this case, could be seen as a metaphor for the orgasm, which provides physical joy and pleasure that is brought about by the physical union. From an ancient text on sexuality, the Kama Sutra teaches that intimacy, which is a form of union, is “the blending of two separate people, whose sexual and physical energy are seen as one” (144). Here, intimacy is not just an aspect of sexuality. It is the state through which personal boundaries can be shed. Thus the Kama Sutra teaches its readers: “intimacy is defeated when two people are in bed as two people and succeeds when there is a release from boundaries” (p.144).
Summary and Future Directions
According to Mikulincer (2009), evidence shows that attachment processes “shape sexual motives, experiences and behaviors (p. 18). Fear is the motivator here because the implication is that one will not be safe if alone. A system like this is flawed. Fear and romantic love cannot co-exist, because fear kills romance. In spite of this recipe for failure, fear and believing in models, which are ineffective, are what many people find when they are looking for attachment style love.
I would like to see this view evolve to incorporate a more complex understanding of love. It is my belief that love is the opposite of fear because it involves acknowledging the other unconditionally and without bias and also, revealing one’s most vulnerable truths to the other to be witnessed. In conversation, in literature and in my recent research it appears there are many different ways to define the word love but for this research project love is defined in a specific way and as a verb, and not a feeling. Here the word love describes continuous, unconditional acceptance of another, and it is a joyful experience. This does not imply just settling for anything, and/or ignoring the faults of another. It means that the other’s truth, or being, is totally accepted as complete, and celebrated, at least in the moment of the witnessing. This is a form of allowing things to be what they are instead of always needing to turn them into what one needs them to be.
On the other hand, it is also an action of allowing another to fully witness oneself. It is like a measure of vulnerability and trust for the purpose of creating a sense of validity. Love is creative because through the act of revealing, accepting and acknowledging personal truth the other is created in the sense that through witnessing s/he is experienced. It is a spiritual union in the sense that it is an act of letting the other person in emotionally, where witnessing and experiencing creates and validates the other, the self and the union. It is spiritual (not religious) creativity/sex as opposed to evolutionary creativity/sex. This takes some courage but it is unconditional, bonding, honest and fully loving. It is not reflective of attachment theory, which to my mind is fear based and highly conditional.
The theory that the perception of human sexuality is relative to cultural conditioning is a powerful factor in the therapeutic process. Further research in the area of human sexuality is needed. For example, human sexuality can be experienced as a sacred experience that is symbolic of acceptance, union (freedom from the isolation of separation), and unconditional love. On the other hand, human sexuality can also be perceived in terms of physical lust.
What is needed in future research in this area of human sexuality is integration of mind and body and a deeper understanding of the role of duality. Are attitudes about human sexuality a function of script? If so, what is the experience of perception and choice, when it comes to human sexuality? Seeing is not just reacting to stimuli, it is also a function of the relationship between things and ourselves. Attitudes about human sexuality fluctuate, as do learned beliefs. This way of understanding human sexuality may provide clues as to how one can develop an appreciation for intimacy, on all levels: physical, emotional, and spiritual as part of marriage/couples counseling.
In the future, learning about and experiencing intimacy as a function of finding a path to the meaning of love may also hold some clues in the area of sexual addiction. I doubt the sex addict ever experiences intimacy simply because in addiction one seeks to acquires in order to reach gratification.
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