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Sigmund Freud, the progenitor of psychotherapy as we know it, said that sex or libido was, along with aggression, a drive. That is, he thought that sex and aggression were the two primary motivators in life. I will grant that many people are driven by sexual goals, but I do not think that sex is actually a drive. The truth is, sex is a great motivator because it involves everything that is a drive. So, you might suggest, maybe sex is even more important than a drive. I don’t think so, but let’s cover a few other areas before we get to that.
A drive (for lack of a better term) is a primary motivator. It is inside us and makes us tick or go, but it connects to something on the outside by which it can be satisfied. In Freud’s view the two drives were sex and aggression. Aggression could be satisfied by becoming dominant and then occasionally, as it fits the fancy of the dominant one, someone or something around him could be given a beating to satisfy the aggressive urge. Thus, according to that view, everyone seeks dominance over someone or some thing. The sexual drive, on the other hand, could be satisfied by obtaining a sexual partner and planting a seed, and thus dissipating the restrained urge. But there is a much better explanation for how drives work than that, since there are so many situations in which a person clearly feels comfortable without being aggressive or dominant, and there are also so many situations in which a person manages to be okay without the pursuit and capture of sexual partners.
This alternate explanation involves the balance of three primary motivators. The first two are sustenance and self-protection. From the moment we are born (and perhaps before that, inside the womb), we attempt to find a balance between intake of food and being sated. On one extreme is starvation and on the other extreme would be eating till you pop (the second is rarely a real danger, but you know what I mean). Likewise, we attempt to find the balance of self-protection or safety and, from the time we’re born, we stand ready to shrink or bolt in fear, or on the other hand, attack with aggression. As a parent you can see how your baby gets you to protect him or her and how he or she can occasionally cry with such fury that it nearly knocks you out. These two drives become a part of everything we know so that we can thirst for knowledge or feel crammed with information; likewise, we can cream a baseball or fear the pitch.
The third drive, relatedness, includes sustenance and self-protection as they involve our relationships with other people. From the time we’re born (and perhaps before) we thirst for the human comfort of our mother, but can also be overwhelmed by her presence. We feel a need to protect ourselves from the aggression of others and either fear them or become aggressive in return. And when we come to develop an awareness of real safety with others, the knowledge that they will be there and will not overwhelm us or hurt us, or that we are capable of securing safety and sustenance independently through our own negotiations with the world around us, we begin to develop our sense of relatedness into true caring for others. When such confidence develops, we need to balance our desire to do for others with our need to care for ourselves. At the extremes, we need to avoid becoming isolated and alone in selfishness or, alternately, we need to avoid becoming responsibility fragmented with our desire to take care of everyone and be responsible for everything.
So, in life, the importance of everything is based on its relation to these three drives. Food is important only to the sustenance drive, even though we have all known people who use food to comfort themselves because it becomes associated with love (the relatedness drive). Shelter is important only to the extent that it protects us from the elements and unknown carnivorous beasts, even though there are many aspects of shelter that are akin to relatedness and even sustenance. Your mother is important because she is related to all of these needs and tensions. The point is that we are constantly trying to balance these needs and tensions with reality. Sometimes we want more, sometimes less. Sometimes we are afraid and sometimes we feel angry. Similarly, sometimes we want to be alone or selfish, and sometimes we want to be with others or give.
Why does sex seem like a drive? Because it is related to all three primary motivators or drives and helps us balance ourselves in these areas when it seems like there is no other way to balance. For example, did you know that most people who are attracted to being sexually dominated are relatively dominant in their daily lives? There can be no argument that sexuality involves aggression, fear, pursuit and capture, desire, emotional consumption, taking responsibility for the pleasure of another, hedonism, and relatedness. Sex feels driven because it involves all of the most basic human functions.
But we do not needsex. There are ways to balance all of these areas without sex...
Copyright 2010 Daniel A. Bochner, Ph.D. All rights reserved. Material provided on this web site is for educational and/or informational purposes only. This web site does not offer either online services or medical advice. No therapeutic relationship is established by use of this site.
322 Stephenson Avenue, Ste B
Savannah, GA 31405