The Two of Cups, Low Libidos, and Smoldering Men in Skirts

A brief look at the myths and expectations surrounding American sexuality.

It’s always kind of fun – and illuminating – to identify a cultural myth.  Cultural myths are strong beliefs and assumptions that we have about our societies or countries which are almost totally unsupported by facts.  But we still believe them.

I remember that my first experience in cultural, “myth busting,” concerned monogamy.  Most Americans hold a very strong faith in the notion that everyone has a Soul Mate, that we will eventually meet that Soul Mate, and that we will live happily ever after when that happens.  But, of course, our divorce rate has held steady at 45 to 50% for decades, so it’s pretty obvious that the standard monogamy model isn’t working out very well for at least half of us.  Nonetheless, we keep getting married.  And divorced.  And married.  And divorced.

It was such a liberating experience for me to finally get some perspective on that issue and be able to say, “Oh . . . it’s just bullshit.  I’m not a failure and all of my friends who’ve been divorced aren’t failures.  The model is flawed.  Happily Ever After Marriage for everyone is a cultural myth.”

Many cultural myths are relatively harmless exercises in ego.  Germans, for instance, have long considered themselves to be an extremely clean and fastidious people.  Yet, some polling in the 1970s found that they’re the least likely of all Europeans to change their underwear on a regular basis.  Italian men have always been seen as red hot lovers, but Italian women report that they have a dreadfully low rate of orgasm during sex.  The British think of themselves as wonderfully sophisticated but . . . you know . . . blood pudding and kidney pies?  Really?

Other cultural myths are darker and more disturbing.  Almost 50% of the Japanese identify as Buddhists, a religion which teaches the sacredness of all sentient beings.  That hasn’t prevented their culture from ruthlessly hunting down and slaughtering whales and dolphins, which are some of the most sentient beings on the earth.  A majority of Americans claim to follow the teachings of Jesus, which are all about love and compassion, but we’re one of the most violent societies in the world and half of us voted for Donald Trump.  In both cases, our cultural myths have allowed us to deny and rationalize our actual behavior.  “We’re not really like that.”

Yes, we are.

One of the most important things about cultural myths is that they carry with them a set of unconscious expectations.  We think of them, not just as the way things ARE, but as the way things OUGHT TO BE.   And when we feel that we haven’t lived up to those sets of expectations, we beat the hell out of ourselves psychologically.  In the example of monogamy, for instance, we have the expectation that our marriages OUGHT to succeed and, when they don’t, we feel like miserable failures.  If we can step back from that a little bit and realize that about half of all marriages DON’T last, then it removes the sense of personal failure.

It’s the expectations that are killing us, not the reality.

All of which is offered as an explanation for why my radar started pinging this week when I ran across this article about American sexuality.  Or, more specifically, American libido, also known as, “sex drive.”  Over 26% of American adults reported that they hadn’t had sex in the previous year.  Not even once.

The first thought, of course, is, “Oh, the damned pandemic.”  We’ve all been isolated so we couldn’t have as much sex.  Not true.  In 2018, the percentage of sexless Americans was 24% and in 2016 it was 23%.  So right around 1 in 4 of us are NOT getting any sugar and haven’t been for years. 

 It’s probably a higher number than that, simply because of the nature of the male ego.  If you ask a normal male if he’s gotten laid in the last year his immediate response is going to be, “Oh, yeah.  Lots of times.  Women are crazy about me.  Just can’t get enough.  I’m worn out from it, I tell ya.”

Not.

I’m tagging this as evidence of a cultural myth because Americans think of ourselves as being a HIGHLY sexual culture.  In so many ways we become obsessed with our bodies, not just to be healthy, but to make them more attractive sexually.  We spend millions of dollars every year on clothing and gym fees so that we can look as tight and sexy as possible.  Our pornography industry is booming.  Our movies and television shows and books are replete with sexual references and innuendo.  Our most popular comedians would be at a loss for words if they couldn’t rap about sex. 

Just looking at the surface of our culture, we’d have to conclude that Americans LOVE sex.  We think about it and talk about it and joke about it almost constantly.  We sell hundreds of books and videos on how to be better lovers and keep our partners so satisfied that they’ll melt into the mattress when we’re through making love.

But then we look at those statistics again.  One quarter of Americans aren’t having sex at all.  This isn’t some sexual blip that’s caused by the baby boomers getting older, either.  The people who aren’t having sex are young, middle aged, old, Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, the full spectrum.

Does it matter?  

It’s an interesting question because, as one sex researcher put it, “Low libido is only a problem if you think it’s a problem.”  The traditional approach has been to view it as a problem from the beginning and then look for the source of the problem, which is the real problem. What’s CAUSING your lack of libido?  Is it high blood pressure, low blood pressure, anxiety, depression, lack of exercise, obesity, sexual dysfunction, constant fatigue?  

But suppose it’s none of the above and a lot of Americans just don’t much like sex.  Is that a problem?

Not in and of itself.  If we can become dispassionate enough to look at having sex as merely a human activity, much like jogging or playing golf, then it’s no problem at all.  Some people like to get out and smack their balls around the old course and others don’t.  No problem.

It’s when we get into the expectations that go along with the cultural myth that we begin to encounter the, “problems.”  Historically, most of these libido studies have been aimed squarely at women.  There is a sort of an underlying assumption that all healthy, normal males like to fuck like bunnies under a full moon all the time and – if their wives and girlfriends aren’t willing to accommodate them –  that’s a problem.  The woman’s problem.

Realistically, yes, it is a problem when one romantic partner has a high sex drive and the other partner has a very low sex drive, but it has nothing to do with gender.  And it’s a problem that could be avoided by some honest discussion going into the relationship.  “Okay, I like sex a LOT and you don’t like it much at all.  What are we going to do about that?  Do we have an open marriage?  Is it okay for us to get our needs met outside of the relationship?  Is this a big enough problem that we just shouldn’t be together at all?”  

The basic expectation here is that all sex drives are created equal and that most of them are set on, “high.”  Therefore, if I like sex more than you like sex, then there’s obviously something wrong with you, like maybe you’re frigid.  Or, flipping that, maybe there’s something wrong with me, because I like sex too much and I must be some kind of a pervert.

There’s also a built in expectation that, somehow, everyone else must be having sex – really good sex – pretty much constantly and, since we’re not, there must be something dreadfully wrong with us.  We must be . . . uh, oh . . . sexually unattractive.  Or too fat.  Or too skinny.  Or too shy.  Or too outgoing.  Or too young.  Or too old.  Or our breasts aren’t perky enough or our dicks aren’t big enough.  Or maybe we’re just ugly and we dress funny.  

Again, if we can step back from that and realize that 1 out of every 4 people we meet apparently don’t have any sexual desire at all – or so little desire that it’s not even worth pursuing – then we can jettison all of those negative self images.  Perhaps, just perhaps, that person who doesn’t find us attractive doesn’t find ANYONE attractive.  

Hmmm . . .

The Two of Cups shows a couple staring deeply into each other’s eyes and the man’s hand reaching out to touch the woman.  A lion, the symbol of power and sensuality, hovers between them in the air and we can almost feel the sexual attraction smoldering like an ember that’s about to burst into flames.

Woof.  Smolder, smolder.

But suppose she’s looking at him and thinking, “What kind of a guy wears a skirt?”  Or he’s looking at her and thinking, “If she’s not going to drink her wine, maybe I could have it.”

Maybe they haven’t had sex in over a year and they don’t want to have it now.

As a society, we’ve made great strides in realizing that there’s nothing wrong with sex.  We pretty much accept it, in all of its amazing varieties, as perfectly normal and healthy, magical and fun.

We have a ways to go, though, in accepting that, while there’s nothing wrong with sex, there isn’t necessarily anything right with sex, either.  There’s no, “norm,” that we all have to meet, no perfect amount of sex that we’re supposed to have, no particular number of notches we’re supposed to cut into our bedposts to show that we’re, “healthy, well adjusted human beings.”  And judging our personal worth by the number of bed partners we have is insane.

If we have an extremely high sex drive, that’s okay.  If we have an extremely low sex drive, that’s okay, too.  It’s only a problem if we think it’s a problem. 

Everything else is just a myth.

Loneliness, Being Alone, and The Hermit Card

An exploration of loneliness as a perception.

There was a pretty amazing poll released recently which found that, post pandemic, over 67% of Americans report that they feel more alone than ever before.  62% said that they felt they had ABSOLUTELY NO ONE to talk to about their loneliness during the quarantine.

While it’s easy to blame that on the social consequences of COVID, another poll conducted a year before the pandemic found that about 47% of Americans felt lonely or isolated.  That means that right around half of the people we pass on the street feel seriously lonely.

I was particularly interested in the findings in these polls, because The Hermit archetype has been a prominent feature in my life over the last couple of years.  The Hermit represents a turning away from society and deliberately isolating ourselves from other people and social influences.  It involves a period of solitude, meditation, and contemplation, for the purposes of spiritual growth.  I’ve spent a lot of time in solitude and pondered quite a bit over the differences between being alone and being lonely.

And there ARE huge differences.  

Being alone is, obviously, just a physical state of being.  My body is by itself, with no other humans, in this room, or in this house, or on this trail, or in this campground.  Being lonely, on the other hand, is an interpretation, a perception, a psychological/emotional state and it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with whether you’re physically isolated.

About 29% of Americans live alone, which is an all time high.  Again, that means that almost one third of the people we pass on the street are living in some degree of physical isolation from other humans.  They are alone for a substantial period of their lives.  But, going back to this new polling, 67% of Americans feel lonely and isolated.  Even if you were to make the very radical assumption that every single person who lives by him or her self is de facto lonely, that still leaves around 38% of the population feeling very lonely while they’re living with other people.

So, first of all, we can see very plainly that feeling lonely doesn’t necessarily have a thing to do with being alone. We can feel every bit as lonely while we’re sharing a bed with another human as we can living out in the wilderness by ourselves.

Secondly, though, this points to a Great American Myth, which is that feeling lonely is somehow abnormal.  That, if we feel lonely, there’s something wrong with us, because, after all, other people don’t feel lonely.

But they do.  About 67% of us feel lonely and isolated which means that feeling that way is perfectly normal for a majority of people.  

Where it becomes emotionally painful is in the perception that we somehow shouldn’t feel that way.  Ever.  And if we do feel that way, we’re emotionally disturbed or mentally ill or social rejects or things just never work out for us the way that they do for other people.

Perhaps we can gain a little insight by looking at another Great American Myth, which is monogamy and living happily ever after.  We’re all programmed, from the time that we’re little children, to believe that someday we’re going to meet THE perfect person for us, fall deeply in love with them, and live happily ever after until we keel over in our matching rocking chairs at the age of 110.

The divorce statistics, however, tell a different story.  While the divorce rate has been dropping somewhat in recent years, the percentage of marriages that will end in divorce nearly always holds at 45 to 50 percent. Which means that for about half of Americans, monogamy just doesn’t work. 

Put another way, having our marriages end IS PERFECTLY NORMAL.

Despite that, having our marriages end is strongly associated with depression, hopelessness, and sometimes even domestic violence and suicide or murder.  And the reason for that is . . . expectations and perceptions.

We have been taught – all evidence to the contrary – to expect our marriages to last forever and if they don’t, we feel like losers and failures.  We have been culturally hypnotized – all evidence to the contrary – into the perception that everyone else’s marriages are working out just fine and it must somehow be our fault that our’s didn’t work.

Because our expectations for a, “successful,” marriage are so high (and so completely unrealistic) we are deeply hurt when they end.  Suppose we were to change the marriage vows to reflect reality, though?  Instead of saying, “until death do us part,” we could say, “I promise to love, honor and stay with you for six months, at which point we’ll renegotiate this contract and see if we want to exercise an option to renew it.”

Suppose, as Louise Hay suggests, we were able to simply end a relationship by saying, “I guess we’ve learned everything we’re supposed to learn from each other and it’s time to move on.”

That completely shifts the perception of what ending a relationship means.  Instead of feeling sad and thinking we’re failures, we can congratulate ourselves for, “graduating,” from that very important phase of our lives and moving on.

In the same sense, we can learn to shift our perceptions of what it means to, “feel lonely.”  Once we accept the fact that it’s a normal part of human existence, and that over half of the people we meet feel exactly the same way, we can actually start to look at what the feeling represents.  If we’re living with someone else and we feel lonely, is it time to, “graduate,” from that relationship and move on?  If we’re living by ourselves and we feel lonely, do we need to reach out more and spend more time with others?  Or do we feel lonely because we’ve lost touch with ourselves, with who we really are, and we need to spend a little more time meditating, reading, and thinking?

Most of all, though, we need to remove a lot of the hidden emotional stingers about loneliness.  Feeling lonely doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with us.  Feeling lonely isn’t the same as being depressed, nor should it trigger depression.  Being physically alone doesn’t mean that we automatically have to feel lonely.  Feeling lonely isn’t something that we need to hide or be ashamed of because – guess what? – a lot of other people feel just the same way.

Once we start making those perceptual shifts about loneliness, then the statistics from these polls cease being shocking.  They’re not, “alarming,” or, “a hidden mental health crisis,” or, “an epidemic of loneliness,”  or any of the other hyperbolic phrases we see.  

They’re just honest.

To be human is, to a certain extent, to be lonely.  We are thinking, extremely emotionally complex beings, who are constantly evolving.  It should come as no surprise that there are times when we feel that other people don’t understand us because there are times when we don’t understand ourselves.

And that’s okay.  Feeling lonely is okay.  Being alone is okay.  The only thing that needs to be fixed is our perceptions and expectations.

Dan Adair is the author of, “Just the Tarot,” available on Amazon.com at a very reasonable price.

The Lovers, The Goddess, and The Monogamy Model

Did you ever have a good friend just disappear on you when they became romantically involved with someone?  You know:  a friend you loved to hang out with, a person who was your go-to buddy for a cup of coffee or a drink, the first person you’d call when something really good (or really bad) happened to you?

And then they fall in love and suddenly you can’t reach them.  You ask if they’d like to have a cup of coffee and they reply, “I don’t know;  I’ll have to see what WE’RE doing.”  On the one hand, you’re happy for them to be in love, but on the other hand, you really kind of feel like you just got dumped.

The bottom line on it is that romantic love, as we currently practice it, tends to be very exclusionary.  We’re a decidedly monogamist society, so 99% of the time falling in love involves two people, period.  And, yes, there is a strong expectation that those two people will devote the majority of their loving and caring to each other and not to people who are outside of the relationship.  It’s very much as if your former best friend is saying, “Well, yeah, I loved you but that was what I was doing until I could find someone to fall IN love with and now I’m busy.  Bye!”

The Lovers tarot card beautifully illustrates the romantic model of love that the Victorians positively adored.  A man and a woman stand beside each other, nude, but not touching, not even making eye contact, while an angel hovers overhead, its wings spread protectively over the couple.  The message is loud and clear:  romantic love is holy and ethereal and, yes, we have bodies, but REAL love is about those heavenly emotions and not about . . . you know . . . S-E-X.

And, yes, it’s about two people and two people only.  You don’t see any best friends hanging out in this card.

Thic Nhat Hanh says that true love, as opposed to our normal idea of romantic love, includes four elements:  (1) loving/kindness which is the ability to offer happiness to the other person; (2) the energy of compassion, which removes suffering from you and the other person; (3) joy in loving; and (4) inclusiveness, which is removing the barriers between you and the other person.  BUT – and this is the kicker with our western concept of love – if it’s really true love then those energies will continue to expand, particularly the energy of inclusiveness. 

 In our romantic love model we draw a circle around ourselves and our partners and say, “Okay, we’re in love – go away.”  In this alternate model, romantic love becomes a spiritual practice that expands to include, rather than exclude, others. In other words, if it’s real love it grows your circle, it doesn’t contract it.

Which leads to a very sensitive and perhaps painful question:  Is monogamy really a healthy model for growing love in our lives?  

Unfortunately, the very question comes packed with a lot of poisonous images.  We think of the middle aged man cheating on his wife with the babysitter.  Or unhappy housewives having miserable affairs with the next door neighbor.  Or swingers, who basically just want to fuck anything that moves, proclaiming that they have, “an open marriage.”

In other words, there’s a large, built in, “Yuck,” factor when we try to visualize a model of love that doesn’t involve exclusive monogamy.  All of those images, though, are operating WITHIN the framework of a monogamist society.  Screwing around on your wife or husband is yucky because it involves lying, cheating, and deeply hurting people who love you, trust you, and expect that you’re going to be, “faithful.”   Sexual swingers probably have inordinately high sex drives and are non-monogamous by nature.  They just get yucky when they try to disguise their true nature within the framework of a traditional marriage.

It may help to think about this issue if we can actually step back a bit and ask ourselves, “Is monogamy natural?  Is this the natural state of human love or is this something that’s been imposed by society over many thousands of years?”

As Leonard Schlain points out in, “The Alphabet Versus the Goddess,”  the evidence is strong that most human societies were originally matriarchal.  And there are actually a few truly matriarchal societies left in the world.  So where do they stand on the issue of monogamy?  

The Mosuo women are China’s last surviving matriarchy.  They don’t marry.  The women choose and change partners as they wish, whenever they wish.

The Minangkabau people practice marriage to a limited extent but the women and children live in their own houses and the men live elsewhere.  

In the Khasi society, a matrilineal and matrilocal culture in the northeastern part of India, monogamy is the norm but women are free to divorce and remarry as frequently as they want to, with no social or economic consequences.

So, if the most ancient form of human society was the matriarchy, and if the current surviving matriarchies are examples of how those societies functioned, then we can conclude that monogamy is NOT a, “natural,” human norm.

Even more fascinating is the fact that these are WOMEN who are rejecting the monogamist model.  Remember, a large element of the argument for monogamy is that women, especially when they’re pregnant, are weak, helpless, and badly in need of male protection.  Apparently these societies think otherwise.

Is monogamy simply an artificial social construct that was foisted on humans by patriarchal societies that viewed women as property, as, “belonging,” to men?  And, as the Goddess archetype reemerges in the world, will we see a breakdown of the monogamistic model?

There may be signs of that, especially among older people.  Sociologists have already noted a new form of family structure they call, “living apart together,”  in which people who describe themselves as being in love still choose to maintain separate households.  Women in these relationships are very much maintaining their own individual identities rather than merging into a shared identity.

It’s fascinating to think of what new forms of romantic relationships may emerge in the coming few years.  Communes?  Group marriages?  Matriarchies?  The Lovers card may need to be a lot larger before it’s all over.