The Psychology and Institutions of Intimacy and Sexuality

The first notions of the psyche’s development were theorized with reference to ‘libido’, the formative spontaneity of an organism as it extends itself into surroundings, grappling with environments in order to meet its needs, primarily those of nutrition, reproduction and aptness of perception-driven response, for which processes the nervous system and especially the brain are the body’s control center.  Psychical libido was conceived before researchers had performed much modeling of the nervous system as physiological and biochemical structure, initially derived from analyzing correlations of behavior and introspective communication with perception and conception, which psychological practitioners such as Freud and his contemporaries were the first to systematically observe while conversing with patients.  They noted the way reactions of gesture, speech, emotion and thinking unfold in one-on-one psychoanalytic sessions, and began to construct a picture of the human mind’s functionality, a flowing and morphing interactivity and adaptivity that is nonetheless highly modular.

Since psychologists had committed to an intuition that the mind is a subsidiary of biological purpose, it was believed to be closely linked with physiological structures most essential for these purposes.  Freud in particular began by theorizing that the mouth’s role in feeding and communication as well as the anus and male genitalia’s part in excretion make these regions of the body focal points of infant psychical growth, a nascent set of mind/body behavioral complexes where sensations, decision-making and motor skills first coordinate most intricately.  The general model has been corroborated by neuroscience, which reveals that neurons are densely packed at anatomical loci of core behaviors, and more brain matter is devoted to control of these bodily locations.  With this encouragement, Freud’s paradigm was expanded by Jacques Lacan et al to visual and aural modules of the psyche, and we can add by way of increases in knowledge of nervous system anatomy our tactile, olfactory and gustatory experiences, also collected effects in the brain of internal organs and organ systems – for example, the lymph system, stomach, or adrenal glands – known as ‘interoception’.           

Upon birth, pleasure and pain are almost exclusively a product of simple nerve stimulation; sensations of hunger and thirst as well as their satiation, touch, sickness, and everything else experienced by a newborn elicit almost automatic responses, first smiling, crying and suckling, then giggling, yelling or gibberish vocalizations.  From classical conditioning a tiny baby learns to associate indicators such as an adult with linkages between phenomena, for instance acquisition of a meal and the quelling of hunger, just as Pavlov’s dogs connected bell ringing with arrival of food, so that both cognitive and bodily behavior are honed by social contexts into strategies for exploiting cause and effect as the first primitive inferencing.  Cognition quickly matures and these social contexts elaborate into a forum for the exercise of complex meanings, with youngsters forming relationships, experiencing positive and negative reinforcement in reply to intentions rather than merely from material benefits proximal to personal contacts.  Approval or disapproval of adults and peers shapes physiology of behavior more and more until children are utterly dependent on social consequences as they seek to engage with the environment.

While psyches of the young grow, so do their reasoning faculties, and they are continually making all kinds of creative inferences, defining surroundings via an increasingly involute conceptualizing.  Nascent consciousness is lodged in a body with causal relationships to the outside world that upon leaving the womb are at first totally alien, and body and brain functions of course change in major ways as an individual develops, so the mind must combine sensations with memories and observings to fashion a malleable concept of its own self, figuring out what its transforming needs are and how to meet them in an expanding agglomeration of contexts.  This self-concept is a human being’s identity, an integration of beliefs about the nature of material desiderata, variously intimate acquaintances and abstract information, which combine with a fluctuating plethora of interoceptions, perceptions and observations to progress as the individual cultivates a persona, enters into adult life, and copes with the stresses of full-fledged responsibility.  

Maturing human beings interact to an ever greater extent with society at large, and culture comes into play as a sculptive force upon the psyche.  Attitudes and opinions of those that youths observe influence beliefs and behaviors, one of many domains within which the conditioning of sensory stimulation takes effect: visual, aural and further cues, with their personal and collective significances.  Art has profound impact, shaping young individuals’ likes and dislikes, accustoming them to motifs by repeated exposure so that they seek out a narrow set of familiar experiences, then indoctrinating various kinds of imagery as signs activating interpretive concepts, actuating a culture’s convictions about behavior, intention and reality in general, which makes thought processes and the meaning of environments fall in line with convention.  This cultural template as a collection of social norms molds mind and behavior by influencing the experience of pleasure and pain, inclining humans towards a particular self-image – the perceived identity that constitutes one’s worth in relation to collective values – and casting views about authority, social status and much more.

So a physique that is both innate and elastic changes as a result of intrinsic impetus and interactivity with environments, a course of development concentrated around centers of functionality, the organism’s behavioral units.  Nervous systems thicken and diversify at interfaces between the body and external milieus as well as locations regulating homeostasis, all intersecting by various routes with a cognition that is the long-term strategizer and executive decision maker.  After parturition, social conditions almost immediately start selecting, extinguishing and channeling behaviors.  This initially happens in the context of personal relationships between infants and caregivers dictated by the need for simple, immediate results such as acquisition of food and drink, cleansing of the body and response to illness, then, as cognitive awareness deepens, affected by concepts imposed from out of increasingly wide social spheres – family, community, then culture – so that the body subsists in an ocean of memes manipulating and motivating the mind, the most important factor in a human’s fate, especially for civilized living.  All of these ingredients converge to fixate physiological structures as forms carrying out particular functions, a solidification that obstructs adaptability even as it streamlines behavior on both an unconscious and conscious level for effective response to stimuli.  A stomach can never compensate for heart failure, a spinal cord never takes over the former role of a damaged frontal lobe, and a mind conditioned for long-term survival in a war zone or transmuted chemically by long-term drug exposure often does not fully return to its untraumatized form, though the brain has more resilience than most features of the human body.

Like libido, the original concept of ‘fixation’ arose in a psychoanalytic context, with practitioners observing behaviors of patients, in particular their speech, to document how concepts coalesce in cognition as stable complexes.  It was noticed that conceptual fixation often involves irrational associations and behaviors, for instance Freud’s exclamation of a “hair-brained” idea peripheral to the conversationalists inducing in a female patient a moment of self-consciousness about her hair, or a neurosis in which the presence of a male acquaintance rendered a female patient mute until once again in the company of her psychoanalyst Freud.  It also became apparent from evaluation of his notes and recollections that patients’ pauses and slips of the tongue during conversational sessions had unintentional meanings, revealing how processes of association with import for understanding a subject’s psyche take place below the threshold of self-awareness, recognized only by psychologists via reflection upon subtle patterns evinced over the course of multiple appointments.  This provided support for Freud’s intuition that the mouth as locus of verbal communication, a main interface between the most complex and profound thinking of human individuals, exists as a conduit to workings of the mind submerged below language and the subject’s own considered purposes, the outer layer in a deeply rooted congregate of symbolic, conscious and unconscious structures.

Freud was convinced that affection between human beings as relational bonding, which involves instinctual stimulations such as the sight of a smile, the sound of a laugh, a mother’s touch, a hug, a kiss, is closely linked to the physiology of sexuality along with its development.  The sex drive is largely interoceptive, a result of hormonal and neurotransmitter effects that well up from the unconscious core of the body, and the conscious mind must learn to interpret, regulate and socialize these impulsions just as it must gain comprehension of that which is perceived as external.  Furthermore, whenever hormonal or structural changes contributing to sensual experience take place, the most obvious example being puberty, the mind is thrown into disarray and must recalibrate towards a new equilibrium.

Autostimulation is of course wrapped up with intimate relationships, as the experience of one’s own ego temporarily blurs or seems to blend with another individual, and someone else’s pleasure momentarily becomes equivalent to or substituted for our own.  The psyche not only hybridizes conceptual meanings with perceptual or erogenous phenomena occurring throughout the body and one’s egoistic, emotional and social identity, but also seeks to actualize other psyches in an often bewildering combination of noncognitive immediacy and physicality, emotional and intellectual self-fulfillment, as well as sometimes intense empathy.  Humans not only befriend and love, but transgress boundaries, take possession of and responsibility for the needs of other individuals as the psyche construes its own self-image to depend on successes, failures, opinions of romantic partners, family and friends, a small circle of especially devoted individuals.  Consequently, there is close adjacency between solicitude, sex and power: care, submission and domination are all rolled into one labyrinthine whole, quite unconscious and irrational even for the relatively intellectualized psyche of humans.

The biological basis for social relations is superlatively intricate in most vertebrate species; field biologists are well-acquainted with this fact, but the amazing details exceed common knowledge.  Like humans, other animals spend their lives working out the stratification of populations, distinctions of status that govern privileges, territorial claims and the parameters of interaction, influencing food accessibility, mating opportunities and the prospects of juveniles, all the essentials of individual and collective conduct honed by evolution that enable species to ensure hereditary success, transmitting genes to the next generation, which propagates facilitating traits, physiological and behavioral profiles of stunning variety.  Sexual activity usually occurs during specific phases in the lifecycle that can last for only a couple hours of a whole lifespan in many species to decades of all-encompassing impact in humans, a range of possibility scarcely believable to the uninitiated.

Cichlids, a type of small fish, have three genders that all play a role in mating.  The masculine males, of larger and stouter body plan, iron out their territories by aggression, chasing away rival males so that once it is time for reproduction, boundaries have been demarcated by which females can indicate interest via proximity.  These keyed up males also spend most of the time chasing away females that will be their reproductive partners.  However, there is an intermediate gender, a more slender male with whom the macho males cannot reproduce, but which establishes an intimate male-male relationship: the two males take part in courtship rituals, a slow, undulating swim while their bodies are parallel and in contact.  This relationship between fish with male sex organs plays an important part in actual mating, as the slender male is a mediator between females and territorial males: when it comes time for coitus, a female accompanies the slender male into territory, with the three fish gradually spending more time together until finally mating, a group effort during which the female and large male do the characteristic slow, undulating swim while discharging eggs and sperm, but with the slender male also participating, sandwiched between them.  Ability of males to make these intrasex bonds is key in determining whether they reproduce, as sexual interest depends on the slender male liaison.

Hummingbirds have four genders, a masculine male, a feminine male, a masculine female, and a feminine female.  Masculine males are stocky and aggressive with the shortest beaks.  Feminine males are slender and unaggressive with the longest beaks; they spend almost all their time exclusively with each other, behavior organized around divergent feeding habits, for they can access nectar from more kinds of flowers.  Masculine females are closer in body type to males with intermediately sized beaks, and feminine females are the smallest in body size but with the second longest beaks.  As of the early 2000’s, field biologists had not observed hummingbirds extensively enough to know how this gender complexity plays out in socializing, courtship and mating, but further discoveries would no doubt be fascinating.

Bowerbird females roost in densely packed nests, but mate with males in groups called “leks” outside their home territory.  Males mate with both males and females, and the raising of young is an amusing chaos of communality, with eggs shifted around between nests while residents are away and nestlings furtively fed by birds other than even nonbiological parents.  Male mountain goats live most of their lives in single sex groups and frequently mate with each other, while an effeminate minority of males live with the females.  In some snake species, males and females congregate upon emerging from hibernation, writhing together in coiled up balls, what appears to be group sex.  Some fish species have as many as five genders.  Roughly one thousand obviously gender-bending species have been documented, and there is probably much more variety not yet accounted for.  Most of this involves refined behaviors, not just social but probably conceptual as well, and hopefully scientists will one day be able to account for what some of these animals are perceiving and thinking when left to their own devices.

The entire spectrum of anthropoid species – gibbons, baboons, orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and humans – is well-known for the centrality of sexual behavior to their lifecycles, with long-term intimacy being the norm.  Sexual liberality has also been documented, as promiscuity and homosexuality are universal to this taxonomical family.  Power relations are integral to their socializing, complex distributions of status along with social climbing, especially in Homo sapiens and the great apes.  

The psychology responsible for these characteristics probably bears resemblance to humans, a flexibility in cognition that produces tractability in concepts of self, others and general causality, a multifaceted and transformational identity.  With nonhuman anthropoids, it is difficult to discern exactly what spontaneous socialization involving reproduction-related meaning consists in, but despite some clear similarities human libido seems to differ considerably, at the least due to culture and the unique pacing of our maturation.

As children grow into their social context, developing bodies and brains calibrate to surroundings.  First, control of eating, drinking and excreting functions is achieved, then motor coordination advances to picking up objects and moving them around with purpose, walking and running.  Next, grammatical speech and accurately articulated vocabulary start to take shape, with well-constructed sentences as well as awareness of a culture’s colloquialisms and additional idiosyncrasies of expression.  Cognitively, the very young practice organizing objects spatially and categorizing by type as well as figuring out or imaginatively concocting functions and meanings during play, all the while matching up their concepts to linguistic capabilities.  

Adults are key in expediting adaption of children to their environments; the more supportive, empathetically patient, rational, reliable and fair caregivers are as they interact with impressionable babies, toddlers and young kids, the faster and more competently youngsters make progress towards well-adjusted behavior and mastery of thought patterns.  Every preteen has a different timetable for reaching hormonal and cognitive equilibrium where body and mind can handle everything ordinarily in the vicinity.  Rates of maturation depend on personal temperament, changing physical and mental aptitudes, and a confidence derived from healthy relationships, adequate guidance and culture.  Despite the many obstacles that must be overcome, skillfully raised youngsters will by late grade school usually be a pleasure to spend time with, probably, aside from any sibling clashes, the least neurotic stage of a human being’s life.

All of this changes with puberty as hormonal and physical features of the body metamorphosize, and the conscious mind spends the entirety of its teenage years struggling to readjust.  An unfamiliar, mercurial physique and chemistry out of sync with the psyche cause cognitive and behavioral awkwardness, with a substantial amount of emotional stress as social status is reconstituted upon emergence of every pubescent’s new personal characteristics.  An average girl can become an alpha female if her breasts develop early; if a boy matures quickly, he becomes one of the top athletes and can gravitate towards jock subculture, sometimes neglecting academics.  Teens cope with challenges of puberty by diving into a hobby, engrossing themselves in excelling at a musical instrument or the technicalities of some intellectual field, pursuits which can become integral to their self-image and prepare them for a career.  Many kids, lacking extraordinary achievement, jump on a subcultural bandwagon around which friendships and recreation revolve, distinguishing themselves with fashion, adopting the role of fan, engaging in subversive behaviors and bonding over thrills involved, and sometimes finding themselves adrift, teased or bullied until the onset of adulthood provides relief from teenage difficulties, often as an opportunity to completely remake their standing in society.

Sexual attraction becomes a primary concern; hormones are suddenly raging, but the psyche lags behind these compulsions, needing to learn its new nature and arrive at strategies for managing sexuality as well as sustaining a romantic relationship.  Some youths end up battling through tumultuous dating drama with their reputations on the line, some experiment sexually without much seriousness, and rarely teenagers find long-term romance that leads seamlessly to adult marriage or somewhat more often skip introductory dating rotations altogether and proceed directly to a marriagelike arrangement as an adult.  The chief test is in working out how to avoid or navigate breakups, tolerating any anguish, self-doubt, distrust, jealousy, shame, insult and infamy from the roller coaster that is intimacy.

Domestic violence can be a problem as early as the teenage years, for males surpass most females in muscularity, anger from hormonal changes and social tensions boils over, and images of violence in the media grow increasingly influential as parents begin to relinquish their monitoring role, so that youths not only access more graphic material but are alone with each other for longer stretches, at times giving the ability or inability to exercise self-control free reign.  Romantic relationships are signs of status in addition to a source of pleasure, and many feel that their egos have been violated when conflict or rejection occur, which in the immature teenage years can make individuals possessively domineering.  Verbal abuse is inevitable in any relationship, and is capable of escalating into physical confrontation.  According to many studies, domestic violence and worse are epidemic in American society.  The main method of prevention has been threat of legal repercussions intended to deter with fear in addition to striking out offenders socially, though sometimes with potential for reform, but countervailing media conditioning is a strong opposing pressure, making the modern mind the battleground in a war for relational harmony, waged against memetic forces inflaming immaturity, which are synergized by emotional isolation and mass cruelty in our huge, impersonal civilization, putting immense strain on willpower.

Once an individual reaches adulthood, sex and romance become less experimental, with practical consideration of what a lifelong relationship will look like.  Still, the emotional and logistical twists and turns of a decades long marriage cannot be entirely planned for, and most modern couples fight through major conflict to stay together.  The institution of marriage has been around since distant prehistory, as all indigenous tribes have rituals symbolic of the culturally binding commitment that converts a sexual, political or economic relationship into a familial one.  Marriage has always been an agreement to share material resources and usually cooperate in bringing children into the world, raising them to be competent adults, an arrangement which, as a result of eons of tradition, solidified into clear division of labor within heterosexual couples.  Tasks assigned to each sex in reproduction-centric relationships vary widely between hunter-gatherer tribes due to different circumstances and beliefs, but each of these societies imposed in the past and sometimes still today an ancient set of work expectations that children are brought up into and to which they conform upon attaining connubial status.  Rigid occupational roles made marriages extremely stable, and divorce was less common than in modern times despite any personality incompatibilities.  Husband and wife were lifelong partners in what can be likened to business, forms of companionship that had existed nonnegotiably for tens of thousands of years, coerced upon adult life with psychological pressures exacted by communities and impressed upon children from birth.

There is of course much divergence from the basic template.  Young, unmarried women were often offered to travelers in sexual diplomacy, and much record has been made of this practice by European explorers of the Americas, Africa and Asia.  Many cultures live in extended families with three or more generations housed under a single roof; usually it is the oldest son’s responsibility to support aging parents.  Polygamy is acceptable in some cultures and subcultures, one male having multiple wives.  For the upper class, especially autocratic rulers, economic barons and otherwise rich, famous or eminent individuals, extramarital promiscuity is often tolerated, and in some cultures those with superior status maintain harems at their discretion, a prerogative of power.  Prostitution has existed throughout history, and though typically of ill-repute, societies assent to it at some times and in some places or at least turn a blind eye towards its countercultural presence.  

In modern Europeanized cultures, nuclear families are the standard, a husband and wife living with no more than a few children, usually less.  This form of household entered the 1950’s U.S. mainstream when independent farming became less profitable due to competition from corporate food producers and the citizenry began a migration from rural to urban areas.  Cost of living was higher and a large family was not necessary to supply the labor required in maintaining expansive land holdings, hundreds of acres of crops and pasture.  City occupations did not demand the same level of communality as farming, where anticipation of inclement weather could force towns to sow or harvest at maximum speed regardless of who owned which field, and there was neither paid leave for illness nor insurance, only relatives and neighbors to pick up the slack for each other when adversity struck.  Families populating suburbs springing up everywhere did not have a multigenerational history of mutuality, nor was this any more regarded as of much importance, so culture drifted away from close-knit environments and towards valuing self-sufficiency.  The trend was reinforced by heightened dangers of poverty in urban settings where access to food depends on wages rather than one’s own produce, and also due to the consumerist mentality of laissez faire capitalism that obsesses over elevating one’s status via accumulating possessions.  Corporate interests are trying to disperse these values around the world from out of a lucrative business model providing the shortest distance between current bottom lines and still more profit increase.  It is for expert sociologists and economists to discover exactly what the effects are outside the United States.

Due to plasticity in human cognition, our conceptualizing of intimate relationships spans a broad spectrum that can change considerably from era to era.  There are expressions of sexuality in any age that the majority of moderns would consider deviant, reaching all the way back to Roman orgies, ancient Greek homosexuality and earlier.  Sex and the emotions with which it has close kinship gain spiritual significance as peak experience; they usually mean something sentimental, and even when this is not the case, a connection is made to our resilient but also vulnerable identities as we partake of them, whether or not this is wanted.  

Intersection of sex with reproduction, power, livelihood, intense emotion, spirituality, and the familial contexts thus far vital to human development, essentially the fate of our species’ members in all individual and collective spheres, puts its cultural corollaries at the nexus of feeling, thought, belief and institution-building.  There are copious examples, of which only a few will be mentioned.  In the Medieval Christian tradition, some female mystics were known for ecstatic visions, with institutions formed that allowed them to live cloistered as a “bride of Christ”.  Medieval chivalry was a tradition of gentle manners in the courting of a lady by a knight, from which may have evolved premarital rituals of courtship performed by gentlemen, devolving somewhat into the dating scene that has such a prominent place in modern culture.  Expressions of erotic love have diversified, ranging all the way from intellectualized sonnets of Shakespeare and those influenced by him, to innocent and simple love songs, to explicit or vulgar innuendo in all art forms, to the pornography of modern media as a multibillion dollar business reaching vast clienteles.  

In Christianized Europe, the church placed stringent regulations on marriage, regarding fornication, infidelity and divorce as punishable by excommunication and eternal damnation to hell in the afterlife.  Even in modern times, Christian leaders advocate for the sacredness of family, against both infidelity and premarital sex as evils, and spend millions of dollars in the U.S. on political lobbying for pro-life legislation and restrictions on birth control, considering abortion and contraception a violation to the sanctity of God’s righteous will as manifest in unimpeded reproduction.  Corporations crack down on sexuality to eradicate tension, misunderstanding and offense from the workplace.  Almost every company has policies against sexual harassment backed by national legislation that result in immediate firing and sometimes legal action for vulgarity, innuendo or sexual advances on the job.  Employees can report their own incidents and also those of coworkers, putting everyone in a straitjacket of vigilance.

This contrasts with conditions beyond employment, where culture is hypersexualized.  Entertainment mediums such as acting, music and literature have always utilized romantic and sexual content to attract the public’s attention, probably the most prevalent subject matter next to trepidations of imminent death and thrills of life-threatening violence.  Suggestion of eroticism generates strong emotions, some of the most memorable experiences, and all types of media induce this desire, then satiate it voyeuristically.  Modern entertainment media has thoroughly incorporated themes of intimacy, earning hundreds of billions of dollars per year promoting sexually attractive performers who are paid huge sums because of their economic value and in order to fuel even further hype, putting these employees as celebrities at the fulcrum of culture.  Famous entertainers advertise products, do publicity tours with busy interview schedules, coyly reveal details of their personal lives, become sensationalized for the beauty, sensuality, romance, charisma, independence and wealth they represent.

At the same time as business models utilize sex and intimacy to drum up interest, an observation has been made by production companies that children are the most remunerative audience.  Kids are easier to excite, parents and grandparents are often willing to spend more on youths than themselves while attempting to make those in their care happy, and adults will often be paying their own way as well when they chaperone or otherwise try to be involved.  Unless parents are willing to give curious young children extensive access and risk psychological damage, these two marketing strategies do not hybridize until the teenage years, at which time youths become strongly attracted to sexual material and strive to liberate themselves from parental control.  The entertainment industry assails the fragility of this developmental stage in order to maximize its profits from out of some misguided rationale, encroaching upon innocence in early relationships by relentlessly portraying idealized, stylized and unabashedly physical romances between teenaged or young adult idols, finding ways to make shocking or disturbing material come off as funny, having pushed the envelope over multiple generations until pubescent immorality of not only a sexual kind became normal, the graphic content that in its cathartic subversion captures adult imaginations and makes youthful naivete feel mature.

It is clear that violent imagery is of some detriment to behavior of the young, though how and to what extent is debatable, a topic well worth addressing, but for current purposes the impact of representing idealized intimacy will be the focus.  Media content is meant for evoking powerful emotions, and as such it consists in plots that string together a series of dramatic experiences.  In romantic fare these are the climactic moments of relationships: getting together, dates, making out, sex, arguing and breaking up.  Observation of histrionic intimacy shapes the young psyche, so that instead of settling into an even-keeled, stable relationship that takes occasional friction over practical matters in stride, teenagers seek a constant train of intense pleasures, an outlook that is impatient, demanding and unrealistic.  It can require a lot of personal trial and error to overcome this pleasure-seeking mentality, and an intimate relationship between inexperienced participants that encounters trying circumstances, frequent aggravations or a period of malaise wants to become an emotional rollercoaster instead of a delegative, joint, recalibrative effort.  Simply put, it requires more maturity to stay together in modern society’s environment of high-octane stimulus.

Couples that marry are making a pledge of commitment, counting on fidelity, deferential treatment and protectiveness, whatever a culture’s criteria are for spousal fairness, respect and trust.  As civilization developed and local rituals of spirituality synthesized into the standardized practices of world religions, these institutions often assumed the role of obligating large populations to ethical precedents, including groundrules for conjugal behavior.  The potential for intense love in a new relationship is of course intrinsic to the psyche, but any long-term commitment must transition into a financial arrangement where partners consent to a division of labor for management of a household and family, with romance occurring sporadically if at all, and cultures reinforce their norms, which can grow onerous, by sometimes harsh conventional attitudes and even prosecutional authority.

In Christianized civilization, the division of labor between heterosexual couples developed into a framework applied with near universality and supported by religious doctrine: the husband’s responsibility was to earn the majority of the family’s income as a professional “breadwinner”, and the wife’s role was to back her spouse, tend the house, supervise children, cook, clean, and supplement finances only if necessary.  At least in the U.S., by the 1950’s most Caucasian couples conformed to this outline: the man commuted to work and earned a wage while the woman acted as homemaker whenever fiscally possible.  Businesses paid women less, many vocations were unavailable to them, there were no husbands with subsidiary income, and male unemployment was disreputable, a social ill.

This began to change in the 1960’s as movements that had sought equal standing for disadvantaged demographics gelled into a progressive paradigm advocating liberation from all oppression.  Activism launched a feministic revolution with the goal of ending submissiveness and gaining economic parity by countering traditions of male chauvinism with art, literature and media.  The Christian church’s paternalistic stance on heterosexual relationships seemed increasingly out of date, and females trended towards revolt against not only economic but religious conventions.  Women who wanted financial independence often adopted a contrasexual lifestyle of romantic self-determination, insisting on more control in their intimate relationships and sexuality, an equivalence to male partners.  As espousal of these values acquired momentum, diffusing over the course of decades into mainstream culture, new job opportunities came available to females, unmarried and divorced women no longer faced financial ruin or disgrace, and Western marriage transformed from a spiritual concept sanctioned by religion to a juristic concept adjudicated by the court system, a kind of financial contract defined primarily in connection to its legal parameters, with the morality of sexual relationships, while still sometimes considered important, being secondary and more subculturally diverse.  

Financial emancipation of the female sex is nearing completion, a commendable step in the minds of those who value egalitarianism, but life is by no means getting easier for anyone.  Cost of living has increased in the U.S., and together with inflation, a couple in which only one individual works is typically no longer an option.  Some need their relationship to merely stay solvent and must fight tooth and nail during divorces.  When both partners work, allocation of earnings is more complex; they are both footing substantial costs and must negotiate compromises over spending that can cause recurring disagreements and power struggles.  U.S. citizens must work longer hours with every passing year, which gives couples less recreational time for each other and any children they may have, a more frantically paced lifestyle of higher stress.  Add in ideals of starry-eyed romance and erotic beauty foisted on individuals from childhood by media and marketing, which make the path to realistic visions of what a long-term relationship entails almost impossible for some to attain without first fighting through colossal failures, and the chances of satisfaction are minimal.  When couples egress from the passionate initial phase of a relationship, with romance become rare, their deep-seated cravings for peak emotion no longer consummated, even minor hardships added to already demoralizing pressure can quickly push them to the breaking point.

More than half of all U.S. marriages end in divorce, with tensions so tremendous that most couples begin with a trial period of cohabitation before tying the financial and cultural knot that entwines their fates.  Average age of a first marriage is rising as romantic relationships usually do not prove sustainable in the long-term, with many individuals getting sexual satisfaction from temporary, low commitment hooking up.  Those who do manage to make it past the stage where ideals of romantic love are sometimes realized often get these pleasures that are so difficult to obtain in the real world vicariously from media, a happiness-starved desperation plugged into the mainframe.  Many citizens of the contemporary world are lost without media to keep their spirits up, an institution to substitute for and profit from the decline of natural socializing in a self-amplifying feedback blasting our cultural heritages to dust, the “dustbin of history”, a trend so obscured by the swirling cloud of memetic debris that our deluded psyches can only stagger in the dark.

A free download of the book Standards for Behavioral Commitments: Philosophy of Humanism, also available for preview below.  Topics covered include chemistry, biology, genetics, neuroscience, epistemology, the history of Western philosophy, cultural evolution, theory of cognition, ethics and much more.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s