The Reptilian Brain
Fearsomely Hot Sex
by Dr. Susan Block
Halloween is almost here, so let's consider sex and fear. Isn't that what it's all about? Forget the candy, the costumes. It's the fear you love. Fear is one of those feelings that makes you feel really alive, your heart beating like a time bomb, your temperature ris-ing, your senses on red alert. Fear can be an aphrodisiac, in part because whatever we fear, it all springs from fear of the unknown. And the unknown, the new, the unexpected surpise is one of life's great aphrodisiacs. On the other hand, fear has a way of freezing you up, and good sex tends to require that you loosen up.
Fear and sex have had an intertwined evolutionary history, since our amphibious ancestors first mated ecstatically in the midst of fearsome predators, up to our modern desire to expose our-selves in risky places, from the Internet to the Oval Office.
It's funny (and also sad), but we often fear the finest aspects of life: intimacy, sexuality, love. In my sex therapy practice, so many men want to know how to deal with women who fear sexual in-timacy. And most women want to know how to deal with men who fear emotional intimacy. The more I hear, the more I feel that if men and women ever hope to help each other, we must learn to calm each other's fears. That means lis-tening, and trying to understand.
Of course, the relationship between sex and fear isn't easy to understand, as it's all wrapped up in our reptile brain. However educated, sophisticated or cool we are, a part of our brain stalks the shadows of our consciousness, like a snake. Our reptile brain, the oldest part of us, makes us all--no matter how moral or in control we may be--driven by sex. In many cultures, sex is portrayed as a reptile--a serpent, dragon or the Devil, the most famous reptile of all time, scary and seductive.
Prehistoric sex often put lovers in dangerously vulnerable posi-tions. Our reptile brain, locked in that mindset, is excited by fear. As for the civilized brain, well, that also gives us plenty to fear when it comes to sex. In child-hood, almost as soon as we disco-ver sexual pleasures, through mas-turbating or playing with another child, we're caught by adults and punished or at least made to feel ashamed, that sex is something we should fear expressing openly.
This childhood blend of sex and fear has different effects on people. Some wind up fearing sex too much to even talk about it, or they go on Ken Starr-style witch-hunts, determined to punish any-one enjoying nontraditional sex. Others find themselves thrilling to the fantasy that they are caught or watched in the act of sex, or may-be caught watching the act of sex.
So, what about you? Have you tamed the reptile in your brain, or do you fight it like the Devil? Have you locked it in a dark cave of your soul, or do you tease it in-o playing like a snake charmer?
Fear and sex are deeply linked, even in the healthiest relation-ships. Even when sex is great, you fear it will end, that your lov-er will leave you, that one of you might die. That very fear can make you cling to each other passionately, heightening your desire.
But what about those fears at the bottom of the Battle of the Sexes, our fears of the opposite sex? According to my latest "fear polls," most men fear a woman's irrational side: the hysterical pre-menstrual woman, the witch, the bitch, the nag, the unreasonable ex, the false accuser, the fatal attraction. These have been figures of fear and loathing through-out patriarchal history. Perhaps even more than the blatantly ugly witch, men fear the beautiful sec-ret witch, the beauty who is really a bitch, the adorable angel with the devil inside, the Circe who se-duces men only to savage them (in the Odyssey, she turns them in-to pigs). Men fear being tricked, rejected, emasculated by women. And women? For us, it's simple: Most women fear male force, physical or mental brutality.
So, that's what the fear fueling the Battle of the Sexes ulti-mately comes down to: Brutes and Nuts. Women fear brutes. Men fear nuts. On the whole, of course. I am generalizing.
But to generalize further, aren't men excited by a woman's witchy wildness, her beguiling feminine mystery? And aren't women attracted to men's brute strength, fantasizing about being "swept away" by a powerful man? You bet your shivering booties.
So, are we attracted to what we fear? Or do we fear what attracts us? Both, my darling, it's inevitable, it's reptilian. And it can be dangerous. But, life is danger-ous, and so is sex. Best to let your conscience and intelligence steer your personal "fear fetish" away from real danger and into safe positive, non-violent directions.
For instance, if two people love and feel safe with each other, they can release their fears through fantasy. He can tie her up (con-sensually, of course) and domi-nate her with his power, his strength, his mind over her matter. Or she restrain him, and play the tantalizing witch, the dominatrix, the mad mistress, the wild woman. Don't just make fear your friend, make it your lover.
Eroticism is an outlaw energy. Society spends vast amounts of our resources to undermine, ridicule, distort and impeach it. We all pay the price in forfeited pleasure and peace of mind. We pay in the rage and shame we feel as we torment ourselves and others. Some go to jail for it, lose their jobs, marriages, even lives. Now our entire nation is suffering an agonizing, unconscionable "impeachment process" over it.
Based on three centuries of Puritanism at our foundation and Starr-driven hysteria topping the news, our culture is, to quote Dr. Marty Klein, "erotophobic," intensely afraid of sex. One conse-quence of erotophobia is the withholding of accurate informa-tion about sex. This is the single biggest influence shaping child-hood sexual development. Lack of sex information makes the typ-ical sexual events of childhood, such as masturbation and mens-truation, terrifying! "Normalcy-anxiety," fear of not being what society deems "normal," keeps us petrified of our own sexuality.
Chemically speaking, it's easy to mistake fear for desire, since both get your adrenaline pump-ing, your heart racing. A classic psychological study was done on two sets of men and their attrac-tion to one woman. The first set of men talked, one at a time, with the woman on a rickety bridge overlooking a steep rocky can-yon. The other set talked with the same woman on a modern stable bridge overlooking a short drop. The first set was measurably more attracted to the woman than the second, demonstrating that being in the fearful situation heightened sexual attraction. The moral of the story is: Never trust love--or lust--on a rickety bridge.
A pinch of fear can be sexy, like spice in your cuisine. But too much fear, nervousness, perfor-mance anxiety, insecurity or mis-trust can inhibit and virtually ruin you sexually, turning you into a hapless victim of your own fear. But it doesn't have to be that way. Just because you're scared doesn't mean you have to be a victim. You can make your fear work for you, sexually and otherwise.
In nature, fear often saves an animal from destruction, inspiring fight or flight. Physiologically, fear is a wave of energy pumped into a creature to help it deal with a crisis. If you think of fear as ex-tra energy, you can use it to en-hance your power, performing a kind of mental alchemy. As the old alchemists turned lead into gold, you can turn fear into ex-citement and power. Turn the fear that inspires "fight" (anger, frus-tration) into hot, dynamic power, the power of mastery. Turn fear that inspires "flight" (helpless-ness, inexperience) to cool, mag-netic power, the power of mys-tery. Fear can actually heighten your strength, sensitivity, and abi-lity to do what you have to do.
But don't forget to breathe. Get some oxygen to your brain, so you can think! Why do we hold our breath when we're afraid? Maybe because in the old days, the main reason for fear was a large predator, some T-Rex type looking for lunch. So, you'd hold your breath and not move; so T-Rex might not notice you. But there are no predators lurking at your bedroom window (are there?), and no good reason to hold your breath. So, breathe! This is particularly important for women who have trouble attain-ing orgasm during intercourse. Let your breath flow through your body and relax your vulva, and you'll be coming before you know where you're going.
Wherever you're going, have a Happy Halloween! Whether you dress up as Monica, Bill or the super-scary Judge Starr, Hallo-ween is the holiday of mastery and mystery, the mastery of the mystery, the night when the dark side rules, when the witches (wild women who have long been persecuted by the patriarchy for their renegade sexuality) com-mand the air. Throughout the world, dark nights of costumed revelry like Halloween, Carnaval, and Mardi Gras, are celebrations of bacchanalian passion, perfect times to do what you don't nor-mally do. This Halloween, or to-night, ask your lover to dress up as someone or something you're a little afraid of (though dressing as Linda Tripp might be going too far). Wear masks, and feel those tingling shivers of fear turn to passion in the flick of a tongue. Exposing your fears will, in many cases, scare the opposite sex away. On the other hand, exposing your fears can be almost as sexy as exposing yourself.
And remember, darling, you can always expose yourself to me and the other fine telephone sex thera-pists at the Dr. Susan Block Insti-tute. We'll be here for you through Halloween and all the coming holidays. And as those of you who know us know, we've got tricks and treats galore.
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