Ever feel ashamed of your sexual desires? Noah Brand talks about how to move past those feelings and trust your lust.
Long ago, I heard a legend of a Sunday School teacher who taught the kids in her class about Matthew 21:18-22, in which Jesus gets pissed off at a fig tree for basically no reason and kills it with the religious equivalent of a death ray.
So the Sunday School teacher asks the class “Do you understand why Jesus did that?” And the kids think it over, and admit that no, his killing that tree is a real stumper. So she asks “Do you think it was a nice thing to do?” And the kids mull that over, and decide that no, it wasn’t very nice.
“Okay then,” says the teacher. “You don’t understand everything Jesus did, and he wasn’t always nice. Good lesson. Who wants to play volleyball until it’s time for church?”
The point wasn’t that the kids should think that Jesus was an asshole, the point was that something can be mysterious and not always nice, and still be fundamentally good and worthy.
Obviously, this brings me to the subject of sex.
I tend to think of the kink community as the R&D department for cultural notions about sex. They develop models of consent that encompass rape play, they develop models of safety that encompass blood play, they develop models of respect that encompass slave play. They test ideas about sex and consent and desire under extreme conditions, and a lot of what they discover has profoundly useful applications for non-kinky people. Protocols and practices for negotiation, communication, boundaries and mutual understandings… these things can improve the sex lives of the most vanilla missionary-with-the-lights-out couple in the world.
What I want to focus on, though, is how kinky folks conceptualize libido. I address this because of all the guys I’ve known and talked to who feel confused or ashamed by their libidos. “Why the hell does that turn me on?” they wonder. “Does being into this make me a bad person?” “Why do I get off so hard fantasizing about that, of all things?” Especially when they play into cultural images of male sexuality as toxic, unwelcome, and dangerous, these feelings can be very destructive.
What the kink community is very good at is having an open, accepting attitude toward one’s own desires, no matter how weird they may be. An attitude that says that as long as your desires aren’t hurting anyone, including you, they’re fine. Where did they come from? Why do you have them? Doesn’t matter. They are what they are, and there’s no cause to beat yourself up over them. You might as well hate yourself for liking cream in your coffee or boxers over briefs.
Essentially, the idea is that only wrong way to express your libido is in a way that violates someone else’s boundaries or safety. Whatever weird, perverse thing you’re into, there’s someone else who’d love to share it with you. Knowing that helps a lot of people feel less alone, less weird or perverted or broken. It helps reduce the weight of shame that too many people, of all types, carry around with them.
There’s other aspects of kinky views of libido that apply well to everyone, such as the idea that it’s perfectly fine to fantasize about things you don’t want to actually do in reality. Learning to separate your fantasies from your actual intentions, without feeling guilty or ashamed about either, is a good start on developing a healthy attitude toward your own sexuality. Just because you enjoy thinking about something doesn’t mean you want to really do it, and in that distinction may lie self-acceptance.
Most of all, kink theorists think of libido as simply a part of oneself, like the color of one’s eyes. Too many people, especially men, think of their sexual desire as something apart from themselves. We’ve all heard the jokes about the penis having a mind of its own, possibly emotional holdovers from puberty and its unwanted erections, but it’s amazing how many guys take that seriously. They have a thing for feet, or spanking, or voyeurism, or whatever else gets them off, and they think of that kink as something other, something alien, something they can purge from themselves in some way. It never works, and all it does is hurt the poor guy in the meantime.
Accept that you have desires, whatever they may be, and they’ll always be part of your emotional makeup. They’re only harmful or dangerous if you do harmful and dangerous things, and that’s up to you.And if you do want to explore those desires in a safe and positive way, you will find them more freeing and welcome than you might believe. You may not understand your libido, and it may not always be nice, but that need not stop you being a good and a worthy man.
* This essay originally appeared on The Good Men Project.