motivation: why it matters

Again, the story so far:

A drive is a system whose job is to make you do something that will return your body to balance.

With sex, there is no “balance” point to return to; therefore sex is not a drive.

Instead it’s an “incentive motivation system,” which means that rather being pushed by your internal imbalance to do something, you are PULLED by desirable things in the environment.

You have a mechanism in your central nervous system, called SES, that is responsible for noticing these desirable things in the environment and telling you to pursue in them. You have another mechanism in your central nervous sytem, called SIS, that is responsible for stopping for you from pursuing desirable things when it’s not safe or appropriate.

And people vary in both their proneness to both SIS and SES.

As a result of these differences, people have different thresholds for the point at which their sexually processing shifts into conscious awareness. In other words, different sensitivity to stimuli results in different amount of stimulation required for their brain’s processing of sexual information (which is happening ALL THE TIME) to cross from a low-level, subconscious process to a conscious experience.

Folks with spontaneous desire have a lower threshold. It takes less stimulation (noticing a sexy smell, sight, sound, thought, whatever) for their sexual processing to become conscious. Folks with responsive desire need more stimulation before their sexual desire becomes conscious.

Freud (who was, in many respect, totally full of shit) said that the mind is like an iceberg – most of it is deep and hidden, and just a tiny piece of it is on the surface. That’s an accurate metaphor for sexual information processing; most of it happens “under the water,” well below the level of consciousness.

So here you are, this person in the world with all this stuff happening in your brain. And what do you do about it? Why does it matter that it’s an incentive motivation system and not a drive? Why does it matter that lack of sex results not in an aversive hunger but in an increased sensitivity to appetitive stimuli?

I actually never asked myself why it mattered, until I started writing about it in the blog. It mattered to ME simply because it was true, because it’s how the sexual response mechanism works, because understanding is its own reward.

But then you all came along with your questions and thoughts and ideas, and I thought, “Why DOES it matter? What difference does it make? I know the knowledge makes ME feel powerful and in control of my sexuality… but… does it actually change anything?”

And there it was.

The reason it matters, the reason it’s important, is that knowledge is power.

Sex is not a drive. Therefore you can relax because nothing bad will happen to you if you don’t have sex. As Beach famously said in 1956, “No one has ever suffered tissue damage for lack of sex.”

Sex is an incentive motivation system. Therefore it’s ALL about the good things, the incentives, the pleasure. Happily, we have a brakes mechanism in place to prevent us from doing stupid things most of the time, and a gas mechanism to point us toward pleasure.

Sex is not a drive. Therefore desire is not a prerequisite to pleasure. If you’re not a high desire person, that’s not a sign of anything being broken or wrong; it could be that you just need to get into the nookie before your fire lights.

Sex is an incentive motivation system. Therefore arousal is dependent on the environment, on the context; even a guy who has just taken Viagra won’t get an erection if he spends the evening doing the dishes and watching the Red Sox game – unless that’s the kind of thing he’s into. Your SES will respond when (and only when) it notices sexually relevant stimuli.

Sex is not a drive, it’s an incentive motivation system. Therefore humans are complex, wildly unpredictable, vastly plastic, and as full of variety and wonder as any rainforest.

Why it matters is that when you let go of the idea of “drive,” you can let go of the idea of need, of the idea of being PUSHED by your sexuality. And in letting go of that, you create space for being PULLED by the lusciousness of the world, of celebrating sexuality as the most intimate connection that your inconvenient, messy, awkward body can make with the rest of the glorious teeming mass of the populace.

One (or maybe more) at a time, with mutual consent, we humans are drawn to each other, find beauty and ecstasy and peace in each other, and separate again, each enriched.

It’s not a drive. You’re not riding a roller coaster. You’re tuning in to the universe.

That’s why it matters.

Or anyway, I think so.