Oliver James: Slaves to love

People often talk of themselves or others as being 'highly sexed', meaning it's a purely physical thing, as in 'just born that way'. The hidden assumption is that testosterone or oestrogen build up to intolerable levels and can only be released by a shag. This is almost certainly completely untrue, as is the idea that sexual motivations differ for physical reasons.

A robust series of studies done in the past decade prove that a key factor is how secure we are in our pattern of relationships. About half of adults have insecure ones and this strongly predicts both sexual behaviour and motives.

All of us seek sex as a way of getting emotionally close, feeling reassured, increasing self-esteem and reducing stress. But this is truer for the insecure.

Among them, the contrasting Clinger and Avoidant patterns predict different uses of sex as ways to feel secure. Clingers fear abandonment (because of their early care) and cling for dear life. Avoidants fear rejection (because they were rejected as toddlers) and are cold and rejecting (see chapter four of my book, They F*** You Up). When made to feel anxious, Clingers find themselves flooded by passion, whereas it dampens the Avoidants' ardour.

Clingers are much more likely to seek sex with a partner if they see a competitor heave into view or fear being dumped. Manipulations, like getting flirty or wearing sexy clothes, are more common if they want to feel loved or if they fear a partner is going to turn nasty. They enjoy feeling a partner's power over them through sex, are keener to get babies from it and to use it as a way of feeling nurtured themselves. Kissing and cuddling are particularly appreciated; genitals, less so. Women Clingers may like exhibitionism, voyeurism or bondage, while Clinger men are prone to sexual reticence.

Avoidants differ in all these respects. If feeling insecure, getting close is a turn-off. Rather, they see sex as a way to get what they want ('get their end away') and to feel powerful. One-night stands, sex without love and partners who are already spoken for appeal. They favour oral and masturbatory action, sex that involves minimal emotional contact and intimacy.

Powerful further support for this account comes from studies which show that a girl whose father leaves the family home before she reaches the age of 10 comes into puberty six months earlier than a girl from an intact family. Following on from this, departing dads make a girl much more likely to start having sex young, to have many partners and to get pregnant as a teenager.

The electro-chemistry of our bodies, including levels of sex hormones, is profoundly influenced by the way we are cared for in early childhood. The next time you are about to declare someone 'highly sexed', meaning it's a physical destiny, pause for thought. These things are not written in stone by genetic inheritance, they arise from our past and present relationships.


The mental block

Estimates of rates of stalking vary considerably, with 12 to 32 per cent of women reporting it having happened to them, and 4 to 17 per cent of men. To obtain more rigorous figures, a sample of 679 Germans were surveyed (British Journal of Psychiatry). Twelve per cent had suffered the problem, seven times more of them being women than men. Three-quarters of the stalkers were known to the victim - 32 per cent were rejected ex-lovers, 20 per cent a friend/acquaintance, 9 per cent a colleague. The most common pestilential behaviour was unwanted telephone calls (78 per cent), then dodgy loitering (63 per cent) and undesired letters, emails or faxes (50 per cent). In 42 per cent of cases, sexual harassment occurred, and physical assault happened in 31 per cent. A quarter of the victims sought professional help, with anxiety (44 per cent) and depression (28 per cent) as prominent symptoms. Implication: stalking is both common and has lasting ill-effects.

Does hot weather increase the likelihood of violence? Uncomfortably high temperatures definitely have a negative effect. Some studies suggest that once it gets beyond a certain temperature (around 90C) people are too soporific to get annoyed. However, they fail to take into account the time of day, which is crucial, because most violence happens between 9pm and 2am. A study in Minneapolis (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) shows that even extreme heat does not cut violence in the evening. Implication: learn self-defence before global warming gets any worse.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.


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