by Travis Wing
Preface: ManUp does not take a stance against premarital sex. We are not an anti-sex group. We do think that sex is serious and powerful and that all people ought to treat it as such. Our hope is that the following might help you consider some ideas that might help you understand how sexual relationships can contribute to amazing relationships and ultimately in authentic joy.
Humor me for a minute and imagine yourself as an ancient desert explorer (weird right?). You are wandering great lengths in search of wealth or treasure that will change your life’s trajectory forever. Heat, sun and dry conditions make this exploration excruciatingly painful. It can be long, it can be tiring and it can seem endless. If ever you found yourself walking in the desert, in search of an oasis, you would occasionally experience an optical phenomenon called a mirage. A mirage is an optical illusion that results in the projection of a false image. A mirage is different than a hallucination. Hallucinations are subconscious, irrational and invisible to the rest of the world. Conversely, while mirages do not in fact exist, people do actually physically see them. Interestingly, if you found yourself wandering this desert with a few friends, they would also see the same mirage. Even more interesting is the fact that these false images can even be caught on camera. Anyone else seeing the photo would also believe and testify that this false image was in fact part of this world (bare with me I am going somewhere with this).
If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I am comparing your adolescent pursuit of romantic relationship and intimacy to the experience of desert exploration. Both can be long, grueling and trying exercises. Both are endeavors aimed to bring great joy, value and pleasure to life. Sadly, both often end poorly for the explorer. In both cases, travelers are in search of is an Oasis. An Oasis is a unique life giving spring. In the middle of a desert, an Oasis can give life to everything in the vicinity and can bring incredible beauty and sustainable provision. Romantic relationships are like that. In fact, healthy relationships are some of the most life changing / life giving experiences anyone on earth can ever hope to experience.
While there are distinct parallels in the search and the prize, it’s the dangers of the mirage which I find most fascinating and most important in this analogy. Let’s explore the mirage a little deeper. A mirage is an optical phenomenon caused by a conflict between an actual image and a second image that has been distorted by reflected or refracted sunlight. As young men, most of us feel a deep longing for romantic relationship … Oasis. Our deep desire for an “oasis” is driven by biological urges, sexual desires and innate human need for intimacy and relationship. Like the explorers of old, many of us come across mirage like experiences in our conquest for relationship. Just like mirages, these contorted perceptions of sexuality present false hope that our longings and desires might be satisfied. Sadly, like the bending light in the desert, social constructs like pornography, sexting, nude photos, and objectifying mass and social mediums are contorting our ability to see and discern a mirage from an oasis.
Consider the social and environmental factors that might be contorting our view of sexual relationship. What constructs exist that might impact our natural urge for sexual relationship, our emotional desire for connectedness and our innate need for genuine intimacy? Each of these is real and powerful and each needs to be fulfilled for us to experience healthy relationship. In my experience working on the ManUp project, I have observed some dangerous mindsets that seem to perpetuate a false concept of hypermasculinity. These are the forces that are glorifying promiscuity, toughness and emotionless male traits by overemphasizing sexual urges and undervaluing needs around intimacy and emotional connectivity. These forces are subconsciously built into the our role models, our movies and our school’s hallways. They are the subtle lies that suggest our value lies in strength, toughness, sexual conquest or financial affluence. TED talk legend Ran Gavrieli describes the essence of toxic masculinity as a man’s ability to control people and use them for personal gain. The problem is that the pursuit of such traits can often lead to the extinction of critical traits like, humility, honesty, vulnerability, sensitivity and kindness. Don’t pursue mirages at the expense of these traits.
The end result is that we find ourselves chasing false promises that stimulate our senses, fulfill urges and give us pleasure. Problem is, these experiences leave us with feelings of emptiness and unfulfillment. When explorers pursue mirages, they can often take them off the original course and cost them critical energy and resources. Sometimes, so much so that they are driven far enough from their course that they never reach their destination. This is my fear for you. I fear the potential harm, that a distorted view of sexuality creates, in our life and our experiences. I fear that the pleasures and false promises presented by pornography and objectified sexual imagery in your world will ultimately distance you from the intimacy and relationship that you need. My fear is that this will cause you to become isolated, lonely and desperate. Above all else, we should be working to avoid feelings of desperation.
QUESTIONS FROM THE TEAM..
Are there influences in your life that are clouding your ideals and visions of what a healthy relationship looks like?
What people or experiences are you experiencing that are teaching you about what a healthy sexual relationship should look like?
What negative influences exist in your school or club community that we might be able to help expose and counteract?