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The Myth of “Sexual Needs” (Demystifying The Thirst Trap)

the myth of Jason and the Argonauts; on the difference between sexual needs and desires.
Many dubious beliefs have seeped their way into the culture. (Photo: Jason And The Argonauts)

Human beings have physical needs: food, water, air, and shelter. Without these, it is only a matter of time before we die or get seriously hurt. Human beings also have psychological needs. Psychologists have cited four of the most foundational of these: security; self-esteem; autonomy; and connection (Sex And Our Psychological Needs). Just as physical health depends on meeting physical needs, psychological health depends on meeting psychological needs. Many people classify sex, and sexual release, as a “need.” Obviously, sexual activity involves both physical and psychological processes, but is this categorization accurate or helpful?

Sex Is Not A Physical Or Psychological Need

In “Sex And Our Psychological needs,” best-selling author Mark Manson distinguishes between needs that we as people have, and strategies that we employ to fulfill them. Manson contends that sex belongs that to the latter category.

Sex is a strategy we use to meet our psychological needs and not a need itself. . .

How do we know this? Because there is no evidence that celibacy or asexuality is actually physically or psychologically unhealthy. You don’t die from not having enough sex. In fact, there are many health risks because of sex. One could even argue that there are psychological and health benefits from not having sex.

Mark Manson

Manson goes on to list some of the powerful benefits of sex, like procreation, recreation, connection, and health; and also many of the physical risk factors and downsides, like unwanted pregnancies, STDs, and health complications (let alone trauma and non-resourceful emotional attachments).

To be sure, the fact that sex is not a need does not subtract from its importance. The sex drive is a fundamental human drive, arguably second in power behind only the drive to eat. (Napoleon Hill described sex desire as “the most powerful of human desires.”). The stakes of sex, and sexual activity, both positively and negatively, are quite high.

However, understanding that sex is a strategy to fulfill other needs, not a need itself, frees us up think outside the box, especially in situations where no healthy sexual outlet is present. While the right sexual activity can add to feelings of security, self-esteem, autonomy, and connection, so, too, can many other habits and activities. When we struggle to control our sexual impulses, it is typically because we are lacking in one of these areas and are trying to overcompensate.

PMO is obviously not sex, but it is a form of sexual release. Many people consciously or subconsciously believe that they need PMO, because it ministers to their psychology in the short-term–despite its depressive, isolating, relationship-killing powers in the medium and long-terms.

In 7 Toxic Beliefs That Keep People From Quitting Pornography, I push back against the belief that “I need porn.”

Human beings are wired to seek out and satisfy their needs. If you think you need something, you will go out of your way to get it. You will not make sacrifices to avoid something that you think is serving you or benefiting you. The truth is humans need food. Humans need love. Humans need connection. Humans do not need porn.

Walk In Integrity

Today, if we have a problem with sex, pornography, or any other form of sexual activity, we need to identify which unfulfilled psychological need(s) are driving us to take short-term action that conflicts with our medium and long-term well-being. For example, in the past I could identify my present need for feelings of “security “and “connection” as contributing factors.. even when in reality it made both of these worse.

The next step is to take action to address these needs. No one size fits all, but I am, for starters, trying to better my relationships with other people (link). Relationships, physical activity, eating well, spending time outdoors, hobbies, and an active prayer/spiritual life are all time-tested, research-backed ways of meeting human needs for a large number of people.

In sum, we do not need sex. Nothing bad will happen if we do not engage in sexual activity. However, if we do not meet our physical and psychological needs as people, then all bets are off.

For more, see How Do I Find A Wife? You can also check out the complete archive of articles on integrity.

An intellectually curious millennial passionate about seeing people make healthy, informed choices about the moral direction of our lives. I got my B.S. from Georgetown University and my M.A. from The Ohio State University.

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