Sexual Self-Actualization

I still find it amazing that Abraham Maslow thought only 1% of people would actually self-actualize. He had a name for our underperformance: “the psychopathology of normality,” that is, the fact that “most of us function most of the time on a level lower than that of self-actualization.” I think most people want to see themselves as self-actualized. They don’t want to look back at their life and feel like they didn’t fully live it. Yet so many people do. I want to look pretty critically at what it means to be truly self-actualized, because most people are kidding themselves if they think they are. It’s also not a place where you arrive; It’s a way of being. I want to really speak to it in this way.

Sexual energy is the energy of MORE LIFE – it is the energy of potential itself! It is literally the energy that has created the natural world around you and every living thing on the planet, including you. Since our self-actualization is about living our full potential, utilizing our sexual energy to fully experience oneself and one’s life is essential. I am surprised that Maslow did not include sexuality in his definition of self-actualization specifically, although he alludes to parts of sexuality which I will point out.

If self-actualization is a desire to become one’s full potential, to express your full capabilities, what might that look like sexually? I believe it would have to include being openminded and willing to explore fully and wholly. In his studies, Maslow found that self-actualizers share certain distinct characteristics. Whether famous or unknown, educated or not, rich or poor, self-actualizers tend to fit the following profile:

Autonomy: Self-actualizers are free from reliance on external authorities or other people. They tend to be resourceful and independent. Sexually, we can consider this as accepting your desires for what they are and not beating yourself up or holding yourself against a false measuring stick of “what’s normal.” Sexual autonomy is also about developing the self-knowledge to make decisions that are truly right for you, and not about impressing anyone else, people-pleasing or prescribing to someone else’s standards of how you should be a sexual being.

Profound interpersonal relationships: Maslow describes self-actualizers as having deep and important relationships with other people. In the realm of sexuality, these kinds of relationships require a great deal of self-knowledge and skilled communication.

Comfort with solitude: Sexually, I see this play out with people who are in touch with their sexual energy enough to know that they do not need a partner to be a vibrant erotic being. People who are sexually self-actualized understand that their sexual energy comes from within them and they do not rely on other people to constantly validate their sexual worth.

The ability to laugh at oneself: This is essential in sex! We take ourselves so damn seriously. Worrying about what other people think of us keeps us small and unfulfilled. Being able to laugh when (not if–when) funny/silly/embarrassing things happen in sex goes a long way. ‘Cause sex is funny.

Continued freshness of appreciation: The self-actualizer seems to constantly renew appreciation of life’s basic goods; a sunset or a flower will be experienced as intensely time after time as it was at first. This is vital for people who are sexually self-actualized. They sustain themselves by constantly engaging with beauty and with experiences that fulfill them on a sensual level. They recognize that this is a necessary part of their sexual life when the average person might not see how admiring a beautiful piece of art or music might be nourishing on an erotic level.

Desire for self-fulfillment: A person who is sexually self-actualized has the ability to explore sex and be as creative as possible. They have sex outside of the box in a way that fulfills them, regardless of what other people think. They prioritize their sexual growth and know that kinds of experiences they want–then they pursue them actively and make them happen. In my experience, few people actually do that—most go on autopilot with sex.

Efficient perceptions of reality: Self-actualizers are able to judge situations correctly and honestly. They are very sensitive to the fake and dishonest, and are free to see reality ‘as it is’. In the realm of sexuality, these people can’t or won’t “fake it” and can see through it if someone else is phoning it in. They know what real pleasure and real sexual satisfaction feel like and don’t waste time on anything they don’t really want.

Comfortable acceptance of self, others, nature: Self-actualizers accept their own human nature with all its flaws. The shortcomings of others and the contradictions of the human condition are accepted with humor and tolerance. That will make sex more interesting, if you can see the humor in it and accept the imperfections of sex. You stop comparing yourself to other people and start being present to what’s actually going on.

Spontaneity: Maslow’s subjects extended their creativity into everyday activities. Actualizers tend to be unusually alive, engaged, and spontaneous. We can hope that would translate to a pretty fun, creative sex life!

Peak experiences: All of Maslow’s subjects reported the frequent occurrence of peak experiences (temporary moments of self-actualization). These occasions were marked by feelings of ecstasy, harmony, and deep meaning. Self-actualizers reported feeling at one with the universe, stronger and calmer than ever before, filled with light, beautiful and good, and so forth. I believe this describes our sexual energy or erotic ecstasy at work. We can funnel it into all sorts of things, it’s our core energy being fully engaged and expressed. Too bad Maslow didn’t have the concept of sexuality I have in 2013…he would have surely named it!

To me that is the connection of sexual energy and spiritual energy, like St Theresa and other mystics who had deeply erotic relationships with Spirit, whom he thought were self-actualized.

In summary, self-actualizers feel themselves safe and cared for, not anxious, accepted, loved, loving, and alive–certainly living a fulfilling life.

That would obviously set someone up to have a great sex life and to really make clear choices about how to funnel their sexual energy—not seeing it as limited to the sexual act, but as part of the experience of everyday life. If a self-actualized person chose not to have sex, but to use their energy in other ways, they would be perfectly at peace with that choice understanding that it would not mean there was something lacking in them. The key is that “self-actualization is growth-motivated rather than deficiency-motivated.” So whatever direction a person goes, they are growing. However their sexuality develops, it’s growing. And they would be able to accept with grace the changes in their sexuality and their sexual energy and not see it as a deficiency.

According to Maslow, the necessary attitudes and/or attributes that need to be inside an individual as a pre-requisite for self-actualization are:

  •  a real wish to be themselves
  •  the desire to be fully human
  •  the desire to fulfill oneself
  •  the desire to be completely alive
  •  the willingness to risk being vulnerable, and to uncover more ‘painful’ aspects in order to grow.

That is all quite beautiful really. A fully engaged, expressed, fulfilled sexual life is absolutely possible within these characteristics. 

So does this mean that we all need to strive to be self-actualized around sex? Or that that is the “right” way to be with sex? No. I don’t think that’s everyone’s goal. But I think that most of the people I deal with and who come to my classes want more for themselves, want to grow and want to be the best person they can be. They know that this inherently must involve their sexual self, that they must include this fundamental part of who they are. This core energy must be alight, alive, and utilized for their greatest good. 

If you want more for your sexual life in 2014, please join me and 11 other sexuality/spirituality experts for FIRESTARTER — my all-day, complimentary virtual event on January 10th. We’ll be sharing some real gems on how you can be a more fully self-actualized person this year, and I can’t wait to share it with you!

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