Note: This article and subsequent articles about various aspects of power dynamics and kink within relationships is not meant as specific suggestions or clinical advice and is only meant as a psychological examination of diverse sexual behaviors.
I’m sure that anyone reading this article has heard someone close to them say (or has said it him or herself) something like “I just need to let go.” As a therapist, I know that many of my clients can relate to that idea. Let’s face it though, in our modern society, it is very difficult to “just let go.” We are constantly driven by a myriad of pressures, both internal and external. The need to succeed, to compete with others for social status and gain, the need to pay bills, the need to save money, the need to raise kids, and so on and so on. It never ends.
But this constant need for striving has its own inherent risks and drawbacks. It leads to chronic anxiety, tension and depression. Success has its opportunity costs. Some of the most successful people in our society are also the ones with the most emotions and psychological difficulties.
I want to take a closer look at the concept of anxiety. At its root, there is a element of “holding on” that I think is a fundamental aspect of anxiety. When I ask highly anxious people about what they experience, they’ll often mention that their anxiety feels almost like a much-needed friend, as if it is their one last firm grasp on reality. That their anxiety helps them feel alive. And that if they abandoned the anxiety, they would just “fall apart.” In this way, anxiety, like glue, is the one thing that keeps them intact. For folks who are constantly “holding on,” learning to “let go” or “surrender” is a key component of mental health recovery.
Easier said than done. I think that a lot of social institutions exist at least in part as a means of providing individuals with a structured and safe means of “surrendering.” Think of religion, for example. For Evangelicals, it is not enough to believe in God, one must also accept Jesus as one’s savior. Let’s take a look at that for a moment. From a psychological standpoint, appointing a personal savior is akin to shifting responsibility, agency, and choice onto that other entity, the savior. In effect, it absolves the individual from the anxiety of living in a world predominately consisting of gray areas and self-agency. There is no longer a need to “hold on” when one has a savior– all of the angst is now on the shoulders of the savior– and the individual, by “surrendering” to the savior is able to finally now “let go.” I think this is a big aspect of the appeal of organized religion for many folks.
Same thing for 12-step groups. One of the first steps is to surrender to a higher power. Step #1 is to admit powerlessness; step #2 is to believe that a higher power can bring the individual to sanity; and step #3 is to turn one’s will and life over to the higher power. Sounds a lot like Surrender. There are no conclusive studies on the efficacy of 12-step groups, but it is very clear that many folks are highly drawn to these concepts and feel a tremendous sense of relief from going through these initial steps.
I think that these concepts of “holding on” and “surrender” are very instrumental in understanding the connection between sexuality and psychology. Folks who enter treatment with sexual difficulties such as erectile dysfunction or delayed ejaculation often have difficulty with letting go, especially in the presence of another person. I often explore concepts such as what does it mean to be vulnerable, to be exposed with another human being. These are the kinds of situations where behavioral exercises fail and a more psychodynamic exploration is called for.
In many ways, to enjoy sex and achieve orgasm, we have to be able to let go and surrender in the present moment. To surrender to whatever may come next. To surrender to another human being. It can bring up a lot of anxiety, but that’s something that needs to get worked through in therapy. Through role-play, some folks can mindfully explore these psychological elements through sexual exploration. For example, to liven things up, some couples may incorporate blindfolds or light bondage to play around with these areas which touch upon core issues of trust and vulnerability. When blindfolded or tied, we consensually place ourselves in a position of dependency from which we can explore the feelings that arise. How does it make one feel to depend on one’s partner? Does it feel thrilling? Terrifying? Are we able to let go in the moment?
Or for others, sexual surrender is not a means of experimentation, but a tried and true way to finally actually let go. Maybe it is their only way of letting go in the world. With bills, kids, relationships, and career all intruding on serenity, sexual submission may be the only way they readily have of surrendering to the moment and just letting go.
Just some things to think about. “Letting go” is a big issue for many. We all need to be able to sometimes “let go.” Sexual expression is one of the few areas that we can practice, experiment with and test our psychological limits. For many, it is a means of establishing mental equilibrium through the mindful exploration of consensual surrender.