Sexual R-Evolution - Investigating the Biology of Eros By Brock Noyes
I was teaching English at a Portland college when I first saw Hitomi. Streetlights started popping on Lovejoy Street, and sugarcane tripped on the Kundalini Express straight into my brain. For obligatory reasons of propriety, I kept a reserved distance from her inside and out of the classroom. A few terms later, sayonara, without a word she was gone. Entirely unbeknownst to me, Cupid had lodged a dart in her heart, and she plotted to return to America to marry me. It was sooooo unbelievably romantic I composed a song about it; “the smoke from Cupid’s torch writes our names across the sky.”
Ours was a passionate, tumultuous, incendiary dervish trance; reluctantly I agreed to marriage because I truly loved Hitomi, and she had exhausted all attempts to remain in America. Eventually marriage shifted our boyfriend/girlfriend status, (“it’s only a piece of paper Brock”) and the issue of a baby was born. I had two prior children and was into mid-night sleeping, not feeding; I respectfully declined. Our joyride on the love canal veered sharply into the house of horror. High-speed blowouts and emotional drive-byes left skid marks on our hearts. Inevitably, when the kamikaze attacks brought the Gajin to his knees but did not break him, Hitomi reverted to trench warfare, and the quarantine of “no sex” ensued. The whole earth started turning upon the rack!
Eventually, a deeply unexpected and curious transformation occurred. The emotional weather report shifted, and blues skies replaced the squalls and monsoons; harmony and friendship reigned in the kingdom. After quite a while, my wife grew weary of abstinence. She took off her armor, spread her wings, and we went bursting through the sky like an angel. Ironically of course, it was Icarus in disguise, and we were reeling like an aneurism on the Venus return. When Hitomi’s green card came through she kissed me goodbye. After the torch of anger eventually burned itself out, we have become lifelong friends.
How did this simple act of coitus, seemingly as natural to the species as breath, have such a critical impact upon our relationship? I realized there was a deep mystery to be unveiled here, but I could not decipher the riddle. The good AND bad news is that I now know the answer. In her landmark book, “Peace Between the Sheets,” Marnia Robinson states, “intense genital stimulation causes neurological changes that promote addiction.”
Pursuing the implications of Ms. Robinson’s argument, most of us will agree that the biological priority of every organism is survival of the species. At first glance it would seem sex should be simple to facilitate ease in the reproductive process. But no, no, no, no, no! Sex is frequently obsessive, neurotic, occasionally comic, and even the “best” relationships disband over discord in the bedroom.
I defer to Ms. Robinson for a detailed description, but in short, like dope, ejaculation has an inevitable biological hangover. The body floods with dopamine, climaxes with the bliss high, and then is followed by the “dope-a-mean crash.” There may be a significant grace period before the ennui ensues, but the French don’t call it the “petite mort” for nothing. If the dope/sex analogy seems off the wall to you, scan through the back pages of your local weekly or surf the web; metaphorically speaking, it does not seem so much different than the front page pictures we have seen on the ravages of meth. Like all addictions, sex can have an element of craving that is only cured by the fix of orgasm. Unfortunately, like all drugs, the high is temporary and has a downside; the road to the heart looks like needle tracks.
So here comes the million-dollar question! Is it possible that nature has hardwired long-term failure into this short-term act of sexual intimacy? For logic dictates that the more sperm there are swimming around in the various spawning harbors, the higher the rate of reproduction, and lack of monogamy protects against the downside of the randomly infertile. Now take a deep, deep breath, or flee like the Mongol hordes have been sighted on the outskirts of town; but please don’t kill the messenger. Ms. Robinson states the heretical position that at the core of the male/female union is a biological paradox, and the culprit of the inevitable disenchantment or aversion is the Holy Grail of Orgasm. This applies to any gender relationship so everyone can read it and weep. Before you dismiss it as preposterous, remember the faithful’s response to the “lunacy” of Galileo.
Marnia Robinson’s position is not entirely new. The ancient Taoist masters created an extensive scientific practice, theoretically spiritual in intention, on how to harbor and transform sexual energy. The legendary Taoist, Mantak Chia, in his classic book, “The Taoist Secrets of Love,” reveals that men lose vital life energy through ejaculation, and women through menstruation and childbirth. In the male’s case, post-ejaculatory triage diverts available energy from other organs to replenish the number one priority of reproduction. It’s like robbing Paul to pay Peter. The joke goes that a Taoist male washes his hands BEFORE going to the bathroom.
I learned these practices when I hit the roadblock of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (which I feel should be called Broken Heart Syndrome, as it is often systemically emotional) in my thirties and could not afford to disperse energy anywhere. Saving my sexual chi gave me more energy to heal. It was an indispensable factor in my climb out of that black hole and it brought life and joy in so many ways. Of critical importance was the understanding that orgasm and ejaculation were separate but inter-related acts: orgasm was surfing the wave while ejaculation was falling off and wiping out. I talk about this in public with genuine fear of ridicule, but this Taoist practice afforded far more thrills, (multiple orgasms) and happier dance partners (longevity, less post-coital disconnect). The surf was up! Ultimately the greatest gift of this practice was an extension of life vitality, and the potential to use that chi to awaken. If I failed to significantly enlighten myself that was my karma. With a smirk of self-mockery, I can say I harbored the extra energy to withstand the storms of relationships.
Regrettably, this focus on orgasm but foregoing ejaculation missed a key component of the erotic dance. My relationships were prone to bickering and disengagement, just like everybody else. Obviously there are a multitude of factors here: astrology, body types, karma, the size of the dowry, my parent’s marriage which was a six decade life sentence, the issue of pets, leaving the cap off the toothpaste, etc. I know the Taoists teach advanced esoteric practices to transform this sexual energy, but I have a daily two-hour yoga practice which I am deeply in love with, and my camel of enlightenment cannot take any more weight. Furthermore, I have never had a partner who wanted to do this type of samba, and my camel brays like an ass, anyways.
In the shrine of multi-orgasmic sex, even the Taoists may have missed something critical. It was my experience that even though I rode instead of crashing, I still wanted to surf every day. In retrospect it seems fair to raise the issue of biological addiction. Most of us in some way or another kneel to the golden cow of orgasm. How many of us are truly willing to consider that the worship of orgasm is a systemic source of our interpersonal malaise?
Like an extended forecast of flat ocean, this is seriously bad news for a surfer. For me, relinquishing ejaculation was brain dead easy; coming was fun, going was not. However, forgoing orgasm was like telling the fish not to flop back into the water. The biological overrides here are Himalayan. Consider salmon who climax their insane frantic journey home by ejaculating and then dying. Can you spell stoooopid? Sushi is my favorite food but eating salmon dims the wattage in the brain. That orgasm has a hardwired downside is a whole ocean to swallow; it’s like finding a horse’s head in the bed. Realistically, do we have anything to work with here?
In practical terms, if we accept the notion that traditional sexual intimacy has biological repercussions that destabilize relationships over the long run, it may afford us insight when our relationships plateau or falter. Specifically, in the morning after a long night of dance, when Romeo or Juliet looks a little haggard, and deep down we wish he/she was not there, we can chill out knowing these feelings are possibly the consequences of our own actions. In this instance, blaming our partners for aversion is analogous to the hungover drunk waking up (if you want to call it that) and yelling at the kids. Knowing the inherent forces at play allows us more compassion for our mutual human frailties: we are all just little kids from the same lost tribe.
Maybe the ultimate revolution is not the deserved freedom woman are wrenching from the patriarchal powers, but the freedom for both men and women from the biological repercussions of the reproduction ultimatum. Certainly it seems safe to say that the planet is in peril, and currently long-term relationships do not appear to be on solid ground either. I suppose we could surrender and say the epidemic disengagement of the modern couple is just a natural reflection of the ever-changing universe: this is one of my favorite rational-lies for serial monogamy. Ultimately, I have more hope that this. I truly believe, if human beings are going to continue to survive, we have a biological imperative to evolve as a species. What better place to start than with “peace between the sheets?”
After three decades of body/mind meditation and reflection, the information presented here is deemed accurate, if not necessarily guaranteed; there will inevitably be some pathology altering my perception of things. Truthfully the revelations here bring me little joy. It’s like hearing that the polar icecaps are alarmingly melting; it is what it is. It also reminds me of trekking in the Himalayas of Nepal; after three days of climbing through stone steps up into the mist, Annapurna emerged. It was like staring into the eye of God, and I knew I could not climb it. Overriding the orgasmic rush seems almost as daunting. It is almost like telling us not to breathe. It reminds me of that classic Dead line, “If I knew the way I would take you home.”
It’s possible that the getting together and falling apart of the orgasmic rush is truly in harmony with a universe that is always falling apart and getting back together again. Perhaps we cannot really do much more than surrender to these immutable forces, but we certainly do have control about how we respond to them. Understanding gives us something to work with. Pema Chodron suggests that, by understanding the universal law that things always fall apart, we can avoid getting hooked into a downward tailspin when they do. When Eros is at the wheel there is usually an inevitable road-burn; rather than freaking out and taking a pedal-to-the-metal U-turn to Vegas, or a high speed crash into someone else’s car, we can pull over to a rest area and try connecting from the heart.
Understanding “what is” gives us the space to create options rather than be a puppet of the shadow self.
It does seem that mutual attraction is a consideration that would be absurd to discard when we are making choices who to mate with; “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” On the other hand many of us wind up swinging at the end of a rope. I also realize that we are short on solutions. Sexual evolution is an embryonic field to most of us; we are seeking answers, and the questions have barely been raised.
I realize some of you will respond to what has been discussed here as simply a lunatic raving that the earth is flat or you will read it without hearing a word. Others may simply note that there may be biological factors that need to be considered when you are addressing the holistic health of your relationships. Hopefully at least this has been amusing. Zen seeks understanding, not bliss, and one thing seems certain: if Eros is all we pass, we will someday sleep in a bed of thorns.
My Buddhist teacher, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, said that the true student of enlightenment is as rare as a morning star. Most of us are evening stars at best. Personally, I have abandoned the search for transcendence, and am just trying to stay awake as much as possible in the tragic-comic soap opera of fleeting dreams. Sometimes I feel like a little boy with a balloon tied to his wrist; there is genuine wonderment here. I know my own path through the quagmire of relationships has been Quixotic.
A few days ago I picked up my teenage son at school. He is a highly spirited semi-rebellious kid, and certainly not immune from peer pressure. In this sea of teenagers emptying out of school, Shane came up to me and we just hugged. It was such a quintessential haiku moment it cracked my heart wide open. This is pretty much the way we consistently relate to each other; unreservedly connected, open heartedly, consistently forgivingly in-love. I am curious as to whether the biology of Eros has prevented me from having that same sort of bottomless eternal connection with the women who graced my life.
Most of us will not transcend the human condition; we will work with what is. I believe we are all like pack animals, and the needs to be touched, nurtured, loved, affirmed, are part of this tactile biology. I also contend that reproductive programming is something we need to be truly aware of; otherwise it is running the show rather than being a supporting actor. Ultimately, it is my experience that the more we open up, the more the vastness of universal love shows up, and this love is not erotic at the core. As we turn our tiny hands towards each other, we might do well to exchange olives branches instead of roses.
Brock Noyes has an active Ashtanga practice. He divides his time between being a father, his practice at Pathways to Well Being and working with Barton Realty. He can be reached at brocknoyes.com