Generativity is one of my favorite sexual values. It directly relates to my joy in helping clients with their sexual issues and it is the value that I see most easily left behind as people try to navigate their relationships and their sexuality. By generativity, I am referring to the way that expressing sexuality, in acts or identities, generates joy that helps people be more loving, caring, and generous. In this sense, I am focusing on what happens when sexuality is going well.
This principle came to be on my list in college. I was a member of several campus religious groups and interfaith groups. In a discussion with a minister in one of those groups, she began to talk about her objection to the Catholic Bishops’ emphasis on the procreative nature of sexuality (see paragraph 2366) as the defining element of it. Her objection was that the vast majority of sex, even for very prolific couples, does not produce offspring. She identified that childbearing years are limited and yet that sexuality most often continues after menopause in heterosexual couples and often takes place during times of infertility. As I have continued to develop my expertise and experience as a sex therapist, I have continued to find that indeed, this value of sexual generativity seems to hold value to a wide array of sexual diversities. But if you agree or disagree, please post a comment. I welcome input.
The fountain of generativity.
There are a lot of perspectives that I could use to identify the source of generativity in sexuality but I will limit myself to four. First, from an attachment perspective, sexual behavior with a partner is one way of experiencing physical closeness, touch, and oxytocin (a bonding hormone) that can help increase attachment security between partners. Second, in joyful sexuality, though most of us are not lithe athletes or supermodels, we experience a partner who wants us and accepts us as we are. This acceptance can help us feel more confident but can also help us feel more caring, altruistic, and be accepting of others. Third, sexuality includes physical activity, the release of endorphins, includes aerobic exercise, stretching, and more. These physical health benefits reduce stress and can allow us to respond more clearly to other tasks throughout the day. Fourth, to engage in joyful sexual behavior we need to know ourselves, acknowledge our needs, be vulnerable, and maybe even open ourselves to someone else’s needs. In that way, sexual expression can encourage us to grow and develop as people.
The fruits of generative sexuality.
If a person feels more attachment security, more accepted, has had a workout, and is sensitive to their own ongoing development, who cares? What difference does that make in the world? From my perspective, everyone benefits. Children of a sexually generative person, have the benefit of a more securely attached parent, a parent with less stress, and a parent who has their needs more satisfied and who is, therefore, better able to consider the needs of their child. Family members may find the sexually generative family member more engaged, less emotionally dependent, and more generous. Friends of a sexually generative person may find more enjoyment, humor, and warmth. Coworkers of a sexually generative person may enjoy a work environment free of sexual tension from that person, and a coworker more at ease under pressure, more productive, and more creative. The community around a sexually generative person may find a welcome to diversity, a safety in community support, and permission to be exactly who they are.
The limits of time.
One of the core pieces of wisdom from the polyamory community for me is that love is infinite but time is not. Heeding that wisdom, I would not want to gloss over here that engaging in sexual expression to cultivate generativity requires an investment of time. Sexuality does not become generative just because you have it, or just because you orgasm, or just because it was a work-out. A lot of sex doesn’t necessarily lead to a never-ending virtuous cycle of productivity at work, community involvement, and engagement in interpersonal relationships. The energy used for sexual expression, like the energy for a workout does generate more energy, creativity, etc. but it is not an infinite resource. Exactly how much time you must invest in your sexual expression to make it generative, and exactly how much time to preserve for the rest of your life is a calculus only you can figure. Furthermore, which sexual activities to and not to engage in to maximize the generative value of your sexuality is also something only you can figure out. What great questions to be asking!
The use of generativity in sex therapy.
This value is useful in therapy because it can be a development inducing aspiration. I might inquire of a client about their sexual expression, “When you do that, does it give you a sense of joy and fulfillment afterward?” If the client experiences shame then something is amiss, if not with the behavior then maybe with the client’s sexual beliefs or with a partner or community response to the behavior. Generativity can also be helpful in removing a genital focus or an orgasm as goal orientation. For people with medical issues or medications interfering with sexual response, shifting to an orientation of cultivating generativity can really change the conversation. With generativity as the focus instead of trying to get somewhere in the sexual encounter, the conversation shifts to how to engage either alone or together in a way that makes the person more loving with others afterward. The conversation shifts from “What do I get out of sex?” to “How does sexuality support the rest of my life?”.
That is how this value brings me joy as a therapist. When an individual or a couple finds joyful sexual expression, they come back into the office beaming with a wide smile. They are not just happier in the sexual context but their joy spills over into other aspects of their lives as generativity. As a sex therapist, I get to play a small part in helping that cup overflow and that fills my cup too.
Other posts in this series:
- Sexual Values: One Therapist’s Provisional Set
- Values that didn’t make the cut
Call for a 15-minute consultation about therapy with me, 650-814-7823