In the following six articles I intend to address the issue of adult sexuality. The first contains some very brief summaries which will provide a global vision of how this aspect of human existence has evolved in different cultures throughout history. In the second I will focus on the first half of the 20th century. In the third we will consider the second half of the 20th century until the present. The fourth and fifth will be dedicated to the deconstruction of the myth of orgasm, and I will try to share some practical reflections, which I consider very important for a new vision of both female and male sexuality, The sixth and last will probably be titled Adult Sexuality: Integration of Sexuality and Spirituality. I will share some knowledge on the subject, distilled over a long and intense experience of practical work with Holistic Sexuality, as we understand it within the Holistic Transformation approach. We propose that this could be the basis for a sexuality that is truly “making love”, that is, facilitating the incarnation of LIFE and LOVE within us, transcending us, “contagiously spreading” life and love to our environment, and linking us to the INFINITE. This could be a real path for us to find our way HOME.
ADULT SEXUALITY Part 1: Historical data
Reflecting on human sexuality and how it has evolved throughout history opens up our perspective on this vital aspect of humanity as a reproductive function, as an erotic act, and as a consequence of the satisfaction of sexual desire. However, the terms sex and sexuality evoke different things, despite the fact that in everyday language the two tend to be used interchangeably.
On the one hand, sex has a merely procreative function. It leads to the reproduction of the species, perpetuating its existence. This behaviour can also be observed in different species of the animal kingdom. On the other hand, sexuality is a characteristic of the human being that implies, in addition to its reproductive function, other aspects such as gender, sexual orientation, sexual identity, emotional issues and, above all, cultural aspects defined by the society and the era.
I will present this topic as a psychosocial phenomenon, and will quote some of the most significant references about the culture of sexuality, and our way of understanding and living it from ancient societies to the present day, starting from the prehistoric era.
Throughout history there have been different manifestations of sexuality as part of human behaviour. This behaviour was surely already present in prehistoric times. At this time, the practice consisted mainly of intercourse as a reproductive function, ignoring pleasure as a consistent aspect. It is possible that thanks to the discovery of agriculture, the first human beings had more time on their hands, which would facilitate the exploration of aspects of sex related to pleasure. Some of the evidence of the manifestations of sexuality of this time are found in cave paintings and carved genital figures made by the first rational human beings.
When we consider the earliest human societies in history, we find that not all of them were repressed in their diverse sexual practices and preferences. Evidence can be found from Ancient Egypt which indicates that the sexual act was understood in an egalitarian and permissive way. Sexuality was represented in association with creation and was considered an essential aspect. There is also no evidence of repression regarding homosexuality. There was a different approach to prostitution, which could have been considered as a sacred act at. Fellatio was also a form of prostitution in which women offered oral sex for remuneration. Incest and adultery were socially accepted practices. Divorce was common, while only women were punished for infidelity.
The characteristics of the Ancient Greek culture are of such relevance that they endure and are still studied today, in areas as diverse as philosophy, literature, music, education, medicine, and even sexuality. Since the times of Ancient Greece, sexuality has been considered an educational topic. In this culture, sexual practice has not only been considered for its aspect of reproduction of the species; pleasure, hedonism and eroticism are also relevant. Infidelity and homosexuality were fully tolerated. Orgies were allowed and the beauty of the human body was a matter worthy of admiration for the Greeks.
Some experts on the subject affirm that the Greek sculptures called the Bronzes of Riace were endowed with a small sexual member because it was considered an appreciated aesthetic element, and as a concept of beauty that represented moderation, typical of the alpha male. In addition, virginity or the Vestals were worshipped and admired.
Perhaps one of the most popularized facts about this society was its permissiveness and “Roman orgies.” However, it must be remembered that many of the witnesses to those acts come from Christian authors, who possibly censured and highlighted the depravity of the Romans. There is also research that argues that homosexuality was frowned upon, and that Roman culture was characterized by an idea of sexuality as a manifestation of control. They therefore considered that a penetrated or prostituted man had no control and therefore lost this value. Masculinity took a special role in the history of sexuality in Ancient Rome, and the role of women in that society was very limited. Adultery was also frowned upon, depending on its severity and implications.
With all the above, we can affirm that Roman society lived with taboos and prohibitions regarding the practice of sexuality. The reason for the idea of a promiscuous and liberal Rome is a negative interpretation of its artefacts and expressions such as paintings and texts.
In ancient Babylon, as in other cultures, there was an idea of sexuality as something sacred. Wwoman was a symbol of fertility and a sexual symbol. On the other hand, we also find a society with certain prohibitions, such as the rejection of female infidelity. In this sense, the woman who conducted sexual behaviour outside of socially accepted parameters was repressed and punished. Men, however, were allowed to have more than one partner or concubine.
Geisha are a characteristic element of this culture. They were originally only men, and were considered to be entertainment professionals. In addition to eroticism, their talents also drew on aspects of Japanese culture and art. Shunga were graphic representations of both heterosexual and homosexual sexual scenes, and also orgies. These vignettes went beyond pornography, since in addition to being explicit scenes, they were popular between the 16th and 18th centuries, used as educational tools for those who had not yet had their first sexual encounter. These vignettes are now considered artistic representations and a sample of what sexual perception was at that time, through their erotic connotations.
Islam is characterized by a notorious interest in sexuality. There are many literary references in which the exploration and understanding of carnal pleasure stands out. Although there are many holy books on sex, perhaps the most representative work is the Kama Sutra, from Islamic India. As well as showing sixty-four sexual positions and eight main ones, this work also touches on other subjects such as the choice of a wife, attraction, and courtesans, among other content. However, despite the openness of Islamic society with issues of sexuality, it was also characterized by the repression of the female figure and by a marked machismo.
Until the arrival of the Spanish, expressions of sexuality were widely accepted. There was a spiritual and cosmic perception of the sexual act, as well as the concept of sexuality closely linked to fertility. There were also sophisticated techniques for the carnal act. Sexual acts were not viewed with censorship nor were they a source of shame.
In pre-Columbian Mexico, sexuality was also considered to be a huge pleasure. It was considered natural, and sexual practices were also possibly carried out under the influence of hallucinogens and aphrodisiacs. Sexuality was considered important for reproduction, adultery could be punished, and sexual relations occurred within marriage and could become polygamous.
In these societies, deities related to love were given much importance. Homosexuality was not frowned upon, since even among the Maya there was the cult of the moon as a goddess of creation, of either sex or bisexual. For the Maya there were therefore no distinctions between heterosexuals and homosexuals.
Although Judaism was the first culture to repress sexuality, it has not been the only one. However, this repression still continues to hold an influence today in many societies. The prohibition of sexual practices as an act of pleasure came from the institutionalization of the Catholic religion. Only procreative sex was allowed, since this aspect of human life was considered vulgar and distanced from God. This idea of sexuality marked many European societies, and later, with colonization, also reached America. This territory was also influenced by its repressive political force, in which women were considered to be sexual objects.
In medieval Europe this censorships of free sexual practice was also preserved, with its moralistic connotations. Woman was still seen as an evil being that corrupts man, and eroticism, homosexuality and the nude were severely punished. Chastity was considered a virtue, and the virgin woman was synonymous with respect and great virtue. Chastity belts arose as utensils that helped preserve virginity until reaching “holy marriage”, where the carnal act between spouses was allowed only for procreation.
In the Renaissance the Theo-centrist philosophy lost prominence and, as a consequence, there was an ideological revolution that was reflected in its artistic expressions, such as painting, music and literature. The human figure and beauty was extolled, sexuality gained value and was admired, and woman was considered a figure or icon of sexuality. Interest and knowledge of sexuality increased, and traditional ideas established by the Catholic Church were abandoned.
One of the most relevant aspects is the influence of religious ideas, morality and the repression of carnal practices in the Victorian era. It is here that a series of taboos and myths regarding sexuality were generated, instilling fear and guilt around the carnal act. Sex was considered a repulsive but necessary act. There was a “sexual double standard”, where sexual relations and eroticism were censored. However, despite puritanical customs and political correctness, the phenomenon of prostitution had its place and was very widespread in this society. So were sexual behaviours such as homosexuality, child abuse and orgies that were practiced secretly.
A curious fact from the Victorian era was so-called female hysteria, a subject of medical interest intended to solve the ills that affected woman and her symptoms. The method consisted of a pelvic massage that tried to bring the woman to a hysterical paroxysm, that is, to orgasm. The first latex condoms appeared in the UK, made with materials such as leather and animal guts.
In much of the West and in some Eastern cultures it is possible to find a revolution in sexuality. Many factors and social movements have contributed to a new vision of this aspect of human life. Since the second half of the last century and to this day, there have been fewer and fewer taboos regarding this topic. With the incorporation of new technologies and, mainly, with the arrival of the internet, it is possible to find a great abundance of information, opinions and perspectives on sexuality.
Beyond the popularization of pornographic content online, there is wide dissemination of information and discussion about gender equality, sexual orientation, eroticism, fetishism, educational content, stories and erotic literature, information and data from scientific studies and new discoveries of psychological and physiological implications of sexuality. Easy access to all of this content results in new ways of seeing the world of sexuality.
The phenomenon of sexuality has an increasingly significant place in modern societies, which manifests itself in current lifestyles in many cultures. Polyamorous families, open couples, homosexuality, bisexuality, orgasm for both genders, etc. are subjects that arouse more and more collective interest in today’s society, leading to wide acceptance of eroticism and sexuality as part of the human essence.
In conclusion, we can affirm that throughout history and in different cultures there has been a spectrum of very diverse positions, ranging from repression to total permissiveness. This means that the true meaning and function of sexuality, beyond procreation, still remains a virgin terrain, to be discovered. It is the same feeling that I had, regarding spirituality, when I breathed in the energy in Northern Israel. I intuitively perceived that the true message of Jesus has not yet been captured in its novelty, purity, and authenticity.
Ramon V. Albareda
Theologian, Psychologist and Sexologist
Creator and consultant of ESTEL, Centre for Personal Growth and
School of Integral Studies
Co-creator of the Holistic Transformation approach
and one of its applications, Holistic Sexuality