Living in a material world is pussifying our powerful sexuality.
In 1973 Chögyam Trungpa wrote the confronting text Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. He saw eastern religions such as Buddhism becoming increasingly popular in western countries but being adopted with superficial and inferior intentions. He saw converts grasping spirituality as a solid construct, seeking to own it, improve it and display it to the world. Almost 50 years later, his words ring true for the physical manifestation of our spirituality – our sexuality.
When Trungpa wrote about spiritual materialism, the sexual revolution was in full swing. Bras were being burnt, contraception was widely available, and sexual freedom was declared. But really, has anything changed? I would argue that the last fifty years have seen a new form of sexual oppression for both women and men. This oppression (dare I call it pussification) is driven by the modern religion of materialism. Both men and women are constantly objectifying each other and subjectifying themselves. In doing so, they have lost connection to our powerful sexuality and its ability to connect us with our higher selves.
So What Is Sexuality?
In the previous post, I presented my model of sexuality. Yes, I am still looking for a name – the Sexuality Circle is still a bit problematic in conversation! Here’s my definition:
Sexuality is the relationship between our physical bodies and the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that we use to form intimate connections.
There are two fundamental elements to our sexuality being:
- Sexual agency – the set of things that are true to us, representing who we really are.
- Physical connection – how our sexual agency is expressed in intimate relationships with others.
The individual elements of sexuality are shown in the diagram below. While this model may be overly simplistic, we need a common ground to understand what we mean when discussing sexuality. We need a shared language to discuss who we are sexually and have critical conversations to deepen and enhance intimate relationships. I know this model is far from perfect, but it is a start.
This is all well and good, but where does spirituality fit in?
What is Spirituality?
Spirituality is our sense of meaning and purpose in this world. Just like sexuality, it is very difficult to find an agreed definition of spirituality. Given the individual nature of both concepts, I do understand the hesitancy. Still, it is impossible to progress with this discussion without a working definition. Here is my definition of spirituality:
Spirituality is our sense of meaning and purpose in this world.
And just like sexuality, spirituality has two main elements:
- Being true to ourselves – coming to know and connect with our authentic spirit, our internal sources of wisdom and power.
- Being true to something bigger than ourselves – awareness of and uniting with a greater strength, be it in community, nature, a higher power or the universal divine.
These elements of spirituality are shown in the following diagram.
So, both spirituality and sexuality have components within us and beyond us. They both have elements that represent our intrinsic and unique nature and become manifest when connected with something or someone outside ourselves. In terms of sexuality, our internal elements of sexuality meet others in intimate physical relationships. In terms of spirituality, our sense of purpose is manifest in what we do, how we do it and how we contribute to something greater than our happiness.
Spirituality ≠ Religion
The word religion also has many variations in use. In this model, religion is a set of designated beliefs, behaviours, and practices. They are doctrines provided by someone else and founded upon the notion that someone or something has power over your success and happiness.
Religion may or may not be a part of your spiritual circle. You may despise organised religion and so reject all external spiritual teachings. Alternatively, you may find great peace and inspiration in religions such as Christianity and Islam and honour the teachings in all you do. The point is people choose (consciously or otherwise) how much of their spiritual circle is taken up by external dogma and how much is taken up with their uniquely defined individual purpose. Some people may not subscribe to any religion and find their own way in the world. For others, all they know or have contemplated has been dictated to them by religious authorities. In this case, their religious circle takes up the whole spiritual space. There is no right or wrong when it comes to the element of religion. Each individual has their own level of awareness, motivation, intelligence and curiosity to bring to this element of their lives.
Materialism As A Religion
Given this definition of religion, I posit that materialism has become the religion of the modern world. Materialism is defined as a value system preoccupied with material possessions and the social image they project. It places overwhelming importance on physical objects and believes that these, and their inherent statements about identity, are the most important things in life.
Materialism fits the definition of a religion in that it is:
- A set of beliefs, behaviours and practices. Materialists believe that the right phone, shirt or car or skincare product will make them happy and show success. So they watch people who appear successful and happy, find out what phone, shirt, care or skincare they use, and then set about replicating these possessions in their own life.
- An externally driven dogma. These beliefs and behaviours are founded on the prime concerns of appearance, image and what others think of you. They are based on the tangible world of being seen to have and do the right things. A person’s sense of worth is established through objects and possessions, being merely the superficial layer of their full existence.
Ultimately, the materialist religion is based on fear – the fear of never having enough, never being enough, of being ridiculed and rejected. It is also a clear indicator of insecurity. When a person does not feel that they are inherently worthy, they will continually try and put on layers of protection, to convince themselves and others that they are ok.
And while we all like to think of ourselves as strong and independent adults, there are gods in this religion dictating standards of what makes a great life. These gods disguise themselves as marketers and politicians. Marketers manipulate your greatest fears and your deepest desires to make you buy stuff. Politicians pull the policy strings to ensure all the economic indicators are moving in their favour – employment, GDP, business confidence, consumer spending. Growth is good, and growth is fuelled by people buying stuff! Growth will get them re-elected and preserve their power.
Don’t get me wrong; if anyone wanted to give me a trinket from Tiffany & Co or an auto from Audi, I would quite happily take it! I like beautiful things just as much as the next YouTube Influencer. Appreciating and celebrating magnificence is life-affirming, whatever the object may be. The danger comes when appearance and possessions turn inwards and become to define your sense of identity and worth.
With the religion of materialism, what you have becomes more important than who you are. The true, full and beautiful you tend to get lost in the fuss around maintaining facades. The dangers of a materialistic preoccupation are real and were foretold by the 18th Century poet Lucien Jacqu:
“Humans are nourished by the invisible. We are nourished by that which is beyond the personal. We die by preferring its opposite.” ~ Lucien Jacque
Materialism creates death and destruction in all aspects of our lives. It reduces our sense of wellbeing.[i] and reduces the amount of attention we have to give to our relationships. The research shows that when the materialistic values increase, life satisfaction, self-image and contentment with romantic relationships decrease.[ii]. People are also more likely to pay for cosmetic surgery when they place the greatest importance on the tangible and material appearance of things, especially themselves.
Moreover, rather than having us feel part of a tribe, materialism breeds a sense of loneliness and isolation. In turn, this loneliness promotes more consumption, as more things are sought to fill the emotional void.[iii].
It seems that being a material girl (or a material boy) is a sure way to end up sad, anxious, and alone.
When your sense of purpose is rooted in having stuff, you will never be content. There will always be something more to have. In this way, when you are a materialist, your life is driven by the dictates and dogma of what other things you should have or should be. You lose your sense of autonomy and an individual sense of purpose. You lose your ability to understand and share your unique gifts with the world. You lose, your community loses, and the whole of humanity loses.
More than the impact on the individual, materialists are not activating the important second element of spirituality – being true to something bigger than yourself – and so are sacrificing their great contribution to a broader community. Whether it be their family, neighbours, profession, humanity or all creatures on the earth, they all lose out because the materialist is obsessed with their aims for possession. This loss of greater meaning is devastating and is shown in the continual increasing prevalence of violence, addiction, depression, and our planet’s destruction.
The Link Between Spirituality and Sexuality
So, what the hell has all of this mayhem around materialism got to do with sex? Well, there is an inextricable connection between our spirituality and our sexuality. Our fundamental beliefs inform our thoughts around gender, attraction and pleasure. Our views about our life purpose and importance also impinge upon our motivations and goals for intimate relationships. This connection also works the other way, as so beautifully put by Alice Walker.
“Sexuality Is one of the ways we become enlightened, actually, because it leads us to self-knowledge.”
Here is a diagrammatic version of the spirit and sex link.
AHA! – Sexual Materialism
Now we get to the juicy bit. If you are willing to agree that the modern religion is materialism, then for most people, their driving purpose is material success, with all of the associated trappings of tangible goods and acknowledged identity. Their values revolve around possessing more “best things” and having the right appearance. They are fundamentally afraid and insecure but plaster these doubts over with possessions – of goods and labels. So, it is inevitable that these values and behaviours will feed into how they understand and express their sexuality.
They will not define their own gender identity – they will have it defined for them by what is trending on TikTok that day. They will not be true to what they feel is attractive – they will be driven by what they are told is crackin’. They will aim to own the best labels (sexy, hot, tight, thick, smokin’) and seek to rid themselves of the inferior labels (slut, whore, loose, cheap, nasty, skinny, wanker). They will desire to have the best boobs, butt or biceps possible and work to acquire the “right” boyfriend or girlfriend. Concerning pleasure, they will allow the sex marketplace to define this for them – allowing porn in all its forms to dictate what they should enjoy. And when it comes to intimate connections, they will focus on the most tangible of artefacts – sex. In fact, other people’s desire to have sex with them will signify their level of worth in the world. Sex becomes a commodity sold with a promise of status, pleasure, success and happiness. It is something to get, not something to share.
Sexual materialism then is how a materialistic philosophy is played out through our sexuality. It is a state of mind that believes our sexuality and intimate connections are there to relieve us from superficial suffering and bring us nothing but happiness. Instead of our sexuality enabling greater self-knowledge and a connection to our higher selves, we possess and use it to gain recognition, acceptance, and as a yardstick of success. And instead of our sexuality enabling full, mutual and meaningful connections with others, it turns others into achievements and trophies.
The Opportunity Cost
We are given this amazing life and a wealth of gifts to share with the world. We have the opportunity to look deep within, understand our true and unique selves, and through our bodies and relationships, share our matchless spirit with others. We can appreciate the openness of our femininity or the drive of our masculinity and use this to love ourselves and others honestly. We can treasure what brings us pleasure and use this to celebrate life and cultivate pure joy. We can feel our desire and use this to create things that respect, unite and elevate. But these opportunities are lost if we focus on our lives’ superficial and tangible aspects. The things that truly sustain us – being true to ourselves and something greater than ourselves – are lost, and so is the chance to grow into our incredible potential.
Our sexuality is an incredibly powerful resource, but the pull of materialism is pussifying it. While we are distracted with our busy lives, it is stolen, smashed, mangled and sullied, and then sold back to us in pretty packaging at an exorbitant profit. It is not just our debt levels that are suffering as a result. The preoccupation with sexual materialism is repressing our whole human evolution.
Why Is This So?
Why do we allow this to happen? Why have we let sexual materialism become the norm? We have seen how destructive materialism is. So why are we letting our children follow this painful path and let their bodies and relationships become part of the global sexual marketplace? I believe there are three main reasons:
1. We have forgotten about spirituality and its life-sustaining power – perhaps because we confuse it with the concept of religion? Or perhaps we think we have become so smart that we don’t need spirituality anymore?
2. We have lost the courage to talk openly about the core aspects of our humanity, for example, sexuality.
3. The void created by 1 and 2 has allowed those preying on fear and insecurity to march straight in unchallenged.
As my friend Missy Jubilee says in her amazing film Weapons – “It’s never good stuff that fills a vacuum.” And in this case, her wise words ring true.
It is time to get brave and reclaim the power and privilege of our sacred sexuality.
Belinda is the Series Executive Producer of the Future Sex Love Art Project
[i] Tim Kasser et al., 2013. Changes in materialism, changes in psychological wellbeing: Evidence from three longitudinal studies and an intervention experiment.
Motivation and Emotion. DOI 10.1007/s11031-013-9371-4
[ii] Leavitt, Chelom & Dew, Jeffrey & Allsop, David & Runyan, Samuel & Hill, Edward. (2019). Relational and Sexual Costs of Materialism in Couple Relationships: An Actor–Partner Longitudinal Study. Journal of Family and Economic Issues. 40. 10.1007/s10834-019-09617-3.