The ALCHEMY of SCARY SEX
Halloween is almost here…So let’s talk about sex and fear.
Isn’t that what it’s all about? Forget the candy, the costumes, the silly tricks and treats. It’s the fear that captivates your soul.
Fear and sex have had a complex, intertwined evolutionary history, ever since our prehistoric ancestors first mated ecstatically in the midst of fearsome predators, right through to our modern desire to expose ourselves in risky places, from Twitter to the Oval Office. Hot sex and a touch of fear—found in risk, danger and the taboo— just seem to go together.
Fear is one of those feelings that makes you feel really alive: your heart beating like a time bomb, your temperature rising, your senses on red alert… Fear can be erotic, in part because, whatever we fear, all fear springs from fear of the unknown and confronting unknown, uncharted, exotic territory is one of life’s great aphrodisiacs.
At the same time, fear has a way of freezing you up. And good sex tends to require that you loosen up.
Fear can be the opposite of sexy. It’s funny, and kind of sad, but we often fear the finest aspects of life—intimacy, sexuality, love—even as we rush headlong into war and less grand-scale forms of brawling. In my sex therapy practice, I talk to so many men who fear emotional intimacy, and so many women who fear sexual intimacy. And the more I hear, the more I feel that, if men and women ever hope to help each other, we must learn to calm each other’s fears. That means listening, and trying to understand.
The Reptile Brain
Of course, the relationship between sex and fear isn’t easy to understand, wrapped up, as it is, in the prehistoric workings of our “reptile brain.” However educated, sophisticated, moral or dignified we think we are, a part of our brain slithers through the shadows of our consciousness, like a snake. In many cultures, sex is portrayed as a reptile—a serpent or dragon. Most famously, sex is personified by the Devil, the scariest and most seductive reptile of all.
Prehistoric sex often put lovers in dangerously vulnerable positions, surrounded by predators ready to pounce on them, so our reptile brain often associates sex with fear. On a more positive note, human sexual desire may have evolved to be drawn to the exotic, the unknown and the mildly scary—possibly as an instinctual “incest deterrent” so we wouldn’t just stay safe at home, mating with our brothers, sisters and first cousins.
As for the “civilized” brain: that also gives us plenty to fear when it comes to sex. In childhood, almost as soon as we discover sexual pleasures, through masturbating or playing with another child, we’re inevitably caught by adults, punished—sometimes severely—and typically encouraged to feel ashamed. We’re taught that sex is something that we should fear expressing openly.
This childhood blend of sex and fear has different effects on people. Some wind up fearing sex too much to even discuss it. Others go on anti-porn, anti-vice witch-hunts, determined to punish anyone enjoying nontraditional sex. Still others find themselves thrilling to the fantasy that they are caught or watched in the act of sex, or maybe caught watching the act of sex.
So, what about you? Have you tamed the reptile in your brain…or do you fight it like the devil? Have you locked it up in a dark cave of your soul…or do you coax it into playing like a snake charmer?
Battle of the Sexes: Brutes and Nuts
Fear and sex are deeply linked, even in the healthiest relationships. Even when sex is great and love is strong, you fear it will end, that your lover will leave you, or that one of you will die. That very fear can make you cling to each other passionately, heightening your desire, increasing affection and deepening orgasm. It’s no coincidence that in times of war and terror, people crave sex.
But what about those fears at the bottom of the Battle of the Sexes—our fears of the so-called “opposite” sex? Everyone fears being hurt, of course. Men aren’t from Mars, and women aren’t from Venus; we’re both from the planet Earth and we both have essentially the same fears of pain, failure, rejection, exploitation, abandonment and destruction.
But we also have a few gender-oriented fears. Most men fear a woman’s irrational side: the hysterical premenstrual woman, the witch, the bitch, the nag, the unreasonable ex, the false accuser, the fatal attractor—figures of fear and loathing throughout patriarchal history. Perhaps even more than the blatantly ugly witch (whom most guys feel they can safely ignore), men fear the beautiful secret witch—the beauty who is really a bitch, the adorable angel with the devil inside, the Circe who seduces men only to savage them, turning strong sailors into helpless grunting pigs. Men fear being tricked, rejected, and emasculated by women. Whole societies of men around the world fear women’s sexuality so much that they demand all fertile females in their communities cover their bodies from head to toe, and/or surrender their personal reproductive rights to the state.
And women? On the whole, it’s quite simple: most women fear male force, rape and physical or mental brutality. Women also fear the more chronic form of male brutality: oppression.
So, that’s what the fear fueling the Battle of the Sexes ultimately comes down to: Brutes and Nuts. Women fear brutes. Men fear nuts. (On the whole, of course; we are generalizing.) To generalize just a bit further, aren’t men also excited by a woman’s witchy wildness, her beguiling feminine mystery? And aren’t women attracted to men’s brute strength, fantasizing about being “swept away” by the irresistible force of a powerful man? And don’t we all do foolish risky things in the name of love? You bet your shivering bootie.
Mixing Fear and Sex for Fun
So, are we attracted to what we fear? Do we fear what attracts us? Both, my darling; it’s inevitable. It’s reptilian. And it can be dangerous. Best to let your conscience and intelligence—and possibly your therapist—steer your personal “fear fetish” or taboo desires away from real danger and into safe, positive, nonviolent directions.
There are many relatively harmless ways to channel fear through sex. If a couple feels safe with each other, they can release their fears through fantasy. He can tie her up (consensually, of course; this isn’t Abu Ghraib) and dominate her with his power, his strength, his mind over her matter. Or she can restrain him and play the tantalizing witch, the dominatrix, the mad mistress, the wild woman. Or they can just watch horror movies together, clinging to each other in lustful fear.
Or they can just whisper frightening erotic fantasies into each other’s ears. Perhaps they’ll pretend to be having sex in a glass-bottomed hot air balloon soaring over a crowd, while actually in the safety and comfort of a familiar bed. Or say she’s doing a soccer team and he’s got a harem. Or maybe she’s got the harem and he’s doing the soccer team. Or he’s kidnapping her. Or she’s raping him. Remember, this is not real life; no one wants to be raped in real life. But “being raped” or ravished is one of the most popular fantasies for both women and men, and some lovers enjoy role-playing this sort of thing, perhaps with a few props, such as comfortable handcuffs and a blindfold. Or maybe a bondage cross. Fantasy has no limits, especially when you combine a pinch of fear with a serving of sex on a bed of trust. In other words, don’t just make fear your friend, make it your lover.
Eroticism is an outlaw energy. Society spends vast amounts of our taxes and other resources to undermine, ridicule, distort and impeach it. There are reasons for this, and some of them are not unreasonable, but many are based on superstition, prejudice and cold manipulation. We all pay a price for society’s irrational, often hysterical fears of sex. We pay in forfeited pleasure and peace of mind. We pay in death and loss, through the endless wars our leaders wage—wars we “support” because they excite our repressed libidos. We pay in the rage and shame that we feel as we torment others and ourselves. Some of us go to jail for it, some lose jobs, marriages, dreams, lives.
Based on three pre-existing centuries of Puritanism at our nation’s foundation and a religion-driven hysteria that continues to lead most of our leaders by the cajones, our culture is, to quote Dr. Marty Klein, “erotophobic,” afraid of sex. We are intensely afraid, and yet (therefore?), we are intensely curious, attracted, obsessed.
One consequence of erotophobia is the withholding of accurate information about sex, making the typical sexual events of childhood and adolescence—masturbation, menstruation, desire, discovery—terrifying.
Another consequence is “normalcy-anxiety,” fear of not being what society deems “normal.” This fear keeps us petrified of our own sexuality. The most frequent sex question I get, both on my show and in my private sex therapy practice, is: “Am I normal?” There is a deep desire to be considered normal, and yet to experience something “special,” something very personal, maybe even something a little kinky. So many of us are so afraid…and so horny at the same time!
Chemically speaking, it’s easy to mistake fear for desire, since both get your adrenaline pumping. A classic psychological study was done on two sets of men and their attraction to one woman. The first set of men talked, one at a time, with the woman on a rickety bridge overlooking a steep rocky canyon. The other set talked with the same woman on a modern, stable bridge overlooking a short drop. The first set was measurably more attracted to the woman than the second, demonstrating that being in the fearful situation heightened sexual attraction. The moral is: Never trust love—or lust—on a rickety bridge.
Mastery & Mystery
And remember my own favorite Fear-and-Sex recipe: A pinch of fear is good for sex, like salsa in your enchilada. Too much spoils the meat.
Nervousness, performance anxiety, insecurity, terror or mistrust can inhibit and virtually ruin you sexually, turning you into a hapless victim of your own fear. But the fact that you’re scared doesn’t mean that you have to be a victim. You can make your fear work for you, sexually and otherwise. In nature, feeling afraid is what often saves an animal from destruction, inspiring a fight or flight response. Physiologically, fear is a wave of excess energy pumped into a creature to help it deal with a crisis. If you think of fear as extra energy, you can use it to enhance your power, performing a kind of mental alchemy.
As the old alchemists turned lead into gold, “brave” people turn fear into focus, excitement and power. This may get you killed—or rejected—of course, but it’s your chance to go for the gold. You can turn the fear that inspires fight (anger, frustration) into hot, dynamic power: the power of mastery. You can turn the fear that inspires flight (helplessness, inexperience) into cool, magnetic power: the power of mystery.
And don’t forget to breathe! Why do we hold our breath when we’re afraid? Maybe because in the old days, the most likely reason for fear was a large predator, some T-Rex type looking for lunch. If you held your breath and didn’t move, perhaps T-Rex wouldn’t notice you. But today, there are no predators lurking at your bedroom window (unless you’ve got warrants or stalkers), and there’s no good reason to hold your breath. So, breathe! This is particularly important for women who have trouble attaining orgasm during intercourse. Let your breath flow through your body and relax your pelvis, and you’ll find yourself coming before you know where you’re going.
Wherever you’re going this Halloween season, have a sexy-scary one! Halloween is the holiday of mastery and mystery, the mastery of the mystery, the night when the dark side rules, when the witches—wild women who have long been persecuted by the patriarchy for their renegade sexuality—command the air, sweeping their oppressors aside with their magic brooms.
Exposing Your Fears
Throughout the world, dark nights of costumed revelry like Halloween, Carnaval and Mardi Gras, are celebrations of bacchanalian passion—perfect times to do what you don’t normally do, especially in the realm of sex. This Halloween, ask your lover to dress up as someone or something you’re a little afraid of—a pirate, a priest, a gangster, a vampire or Christine O’Donnell. Roleplay away, and feel those tingling shivers of fear turn to passion and pleasure in the flick of a tongue.
Should you expose your fears? To your partner? To the world? That is a question with no simple answer. Exposing your fears—especially your sexual fears—will, without a doubt, scare some people away. At the same time, exposing your fears can be almost as sexy as exposing yourself.
Well, whatever you’re into—or afraid of—you can always expose yourself to me. As must be apparent by now, one of my fetishes is helping people to deal with their fears and fantasies. So don’t be afraid to call me. I won’t hurt you…unless you really want me to.
Have Fun with Fear! Join DrSusanBlock.tv
If you need to talk with us about your sexual fears, taboo fantasies, fetishes and desires, call the telephone sex therapists of the Dr. Susan Block Institute 213.670.0066. We’re available seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and we’ll be here for you through Halloween and all the coming holidays and all possible terrors and wars. And as those of you who know us know, we’ve got tricks and treats galore.