Mythology, particularly feminine mythology has been a life-long passion of mine. I have seen the mythological stories play out in my own life, and in the lives of clients, friends and family and I have been thankful for the insight that mythological story has helped me develop when living out my own tragedies and triumphs. As an educator, I found that the reading of stories to a group could elicit a completely different perspective when then discussing the topic of the day, with people's minds engaged not only on the doable, but the dreamable.
At a series of seminars I attended in the USA, facilitated by one of my favourite authors, Thomas Moore, I was re-introduced to some of these stories in ways which have helped me think anew about some issues we face today. One of these is the issue of sexualisation, or more importantly the hyper-sexualisation that our social world subjects children to in particular. It is difficult to walk down any street, or enter many stores without being exposed to overtly sexual imagery. While such exposure is less of an issue for most adults, there is evidence that early and pervasive exposure to sexual content can be harmful to children. Moore talked about the way in which the gods and goddesses of mythology will make their displeasure known if they are ignored, or their significance not given its due respect. In terms of sexuality, few surpass Aphrodite in significance.
If you know anything of Aphrodite, you may be familiar with some of the stories of her wrath when those around her failed to give her her due. As the Goddess of pleasure, beauty, love and procreation, Aphrodite brought a uniquely feminine power to sexuality, which she wielded without mercy when ignored. Interestingly, the punishments she dispensed to those who ignored her often reduced the act of sex to a functional, unwanted act that left those who were cursed often having or desiring lots of sex, but in ways that were considered distasteful or forbidden.
When Hippolytos scorned Aphrodite to live a life in worship of the less sexual Artemis, Aphrodite caused his step-mother to fall in love with and pursue him.
When the Princes of Rhodes drove Aphrodite away, it is said she inflamed them with unnatural passions which led them to commit a variety of sexual crimes and ultimately be killed.
Other mythological characters who scorned or rejected the beauty and sensuality offered by Aphrodite suffered a variety of fates, including being turned into prostitutes, developing unnatural affections for relatives or betraying those they loved.
She was a pretty vengeful Goddess.
It would appear on the surface today, that with sex everywhere we look; on our televisions, on billboards, in supermarkets, magazines, and of course the internet, that maybe we're getting a little too much of it. Looking through the lens of mythology, I wonder if we should consider that it isn't that we're getting too much sex, but that we're getting too little of what is important about it.
Today sexuality is often touted as simply a recreational activity, devoid of emotion, as much a 'need' as that for food or water. Many young people have bought this message. We have teenagers having sex at younger ages. We have rampant sexually transmitted infections. Unintended pregnancies lead to a very high number of abortions. Children are being exposed to sexual images in public and on the internet that their minds aren't yet ready to process and which give them an unrealistic and distorted view of sex and of each other.
Yet people don't seem to be much happier for being able to fulfill this 'necessary appetite' in this way. I've had several young women over the years attend my private practice who talk about the ways in which they have to act in order to fit into the social-sexual world of their peers. It is expected that if your girlfriend's boyfriend brings a mate along to a party, and your girlfriend goes off to have sex, that you would 'entertain' the mate in a similar fashion. If you don't, there is something very wrong with you. If you do, and you get pregnant, you're a total idiot who better fix it quickly. If you do and you get an STI, the stigma, even among those who push you down that pathway can be debilitating. Young women simply can't win. The expectation on young men to always be ready to perform is also great, and often comes with different risks as they navigate issues of consent in today's political climate of #metoo.
The fact is, that in most things relational, we are not just physical beings. Even food isn't just about feeding an appetite. We love to prepare it, to display it, to taste it. We have favourite foods. We love to eat in the company of people we care about. It isn't just functional. It engages our senses, reminds us of people, places, and things. Eating has an emotional and relational component that we don't ignore.
So does sex. Aphrodite punished those who scorned the kind of sexuality she offered, by forcing on them a sexuality that destroyed them. Yes, we are sexual beings. But this doesn't mean we should consider sex as simply a functional act, devoid of depth. Just as we lovingly prepare food, celebrate special occasions with food, share food with people we love in order to create beautiful memories, we should also honour sex. In fact, we should honour sex a great deal more, given that is with our bodies that we share it.
I would argue that while we appear to be over-exposed to sex, it is the wrong kind of sex that is more of the issue. We are teaching children that sex is purely physical. We teach men (and women) who are exposed to pornography that all you need is some over-sized physical equipment and a forceful nature and women (or men) will do your bidding without need for reward.
Yet the experience of sex for most is much more than this. It isn't just about our bodies. That's not to say sex can't be just plain fun in the context of something richer, but it is the something richer that is missing. As the Goddess of sexuality, Aphrodite didn't just demand lots of rampant sex. She was also the Goddess of beauty, of love, of passion, and of procreation. There is a depth to all of these things that is less likely to be met by random strangers.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but in a mythological sense, I wonder what would happen if we gave sex a higher place in the world and in our thinking, a greater honour for the beauty and passion it can offer?
As politically incorrect as it appears to have become, we could begin a new conversation that places the power of sexuality, of both the feminine and the masculine qualities on a bit more of a pedestal. Sexuality is powerful. It is innately feminine and masculine regardless of sexual inclinations. Perhaps we could learn to celebrate and honour that and teach our children something of passion, love and the richness of sensuality in a way that doesn't just need to be about myth, but about what they can truly aspire to.