Hedonists have long argued that the path to happiness is the pursuit of pleasure – the more pleasurable activities you participate in, the happier you are likely to be. It seems somewhat self-evident too – pleasure makes you happy, albeit for a limited time, so if you bunch together a number of happy-inducing pleasure activities, you will ultimately be happy. However, evidence suggests the opposite. In a world where pleasure activities such as alcohol, drugs, sugar, sex, pornography, wealth like general populace has never seen before, even social media and smart phones are abound, we seem to be unhappier than ever. In a world of increased privilege, we are increasingly discontent, and that in itself has negative consequences we could never have foreseen. As we become addicted to the pursuit of pleasure, are we actually ruining our chances of genuine happiness? And could we potentially be sending ourselves to an early grave?
The Increase of Pleasure Activities
The strive for pleasure is evident within our culture, and it's becoming easier and easier to grasp at as our lives become less fraught with worries such as war and famine. The average American now consumes 94 grams of sugar per day – almost double the government's recommended limit of 50 grams per day. This has increased from 87 grams per day in 1970. Not only is the availability of this 'feel good food' increasing, the desire for it is sky-rocketing too, suggesting an addictive tendency of this pleasure-seeking habit. It's not just sugar either. Drug use has increased by almost six per cent since 2007 and the use of smart phones has shot up from approximately 62 million people in 2010 to 224 million people in 2017. Pornography, narcotics, social media use, and alcohol intake are all on the rise too. What's more, the average annual household income has increased from $49,354 in 2007 (ranging from $36,338 in Mississippi to $62,369 in New Hampshire) to $57,856 in 2015 (ranging from $40,037 to $75,675), meaning that we can now pursue pleasure quicker and easier than ever before.
Transgender Americans and their struggles have become much more prominent in recent times. Last year, an article about the transgender rights movement focusing on actress Laverne Cox made the cover of TIME magazine;[i] and earlier this year, Caitlyn Jenner made her transition from male to female public, discussing it in interviews with 20/20[ii] and Vanity Fair.[iii] It would be fair to say, then, that there is a fair amount of public interest and discussion on the subject of transgender people and the life they experience at present. However, most of the public discourse appears to focus on a clearly delineated change: male to female, female to male. But for many people, gender can actually a much more complicated issue than simply being one or the other.
People who do not feel they fit in the world as either male or female will often refer to themselves as “genderqueer” or “nonbinary” rather than simply transgender.[iv] Both are umbrella terms used to cover many ranges of gender expression. Some people will use both terms interchangeably; others feel they have slightly different connotations. For the purposes of this article, I will be using the term “nonbinary” to refer to this group of people, as it came into use for this purpose more recently than “genderqueer,” and I have seen it used more often in recent discussions of gender. The word nonbinary refers to the fact that these people consider themselves as living outside of the gender binary, which is to say, the male/female dichotomy we usually think of when describing a person’s gender.
Many pregnant couples have a lot of questions when it comes to their sexual relationship during the pregnancy. There are many different ways that a pregnant woman will experience her sexuality during pregnancy and it can sometimes differ greatly from how she felt about her sexuality before and after pregnancy. Couples want to know if having sex is safe for the baby, how their sexual desire might change throughout the pregnancy, different positions, and various other questions.
Is having sex safe during pregnancy?
This is one of the top questions that couples have. The simple answer is yes, it is safe. Your baby is protected within the amniotic sac, the uterus and the surrounding muscles. Apart from that, the mucus plug in your cervix will protect the baby from any infections (although if you have concerns about sexually transmitted infections, you should always use protection). Unless a doctor has specifically told you that you can’t have sex because of some kind of complication with your pregnancy it will be safe to have sex right up until you go into labor. Such complications can include placenta previa, premature labor, unexplained vaginal bleeding or abnormal discharge, cervical insufficiency, a dilated cervix, when your water has broken, if you or your partner have or feel an outbreak of genital herpes coming on, or have other sexually transmitted infections. If you ever have any doubts about whether or not it’s safe to have sex during your pregnancy, your safest bet is to check with your doctor. If your doctor says that sex is off limits for you, make sure to have him or her define what sex is. You might still be able to have oral sex, engage in mutual masturbation or other forms of intimacy even if vaginal intercourse is off the table for the time being.
Our society tends to make quite the stink when it comes to sex. Sex is a basic human experience, yet we treat it as something other than what it is. We put it up on a pedestal. We judge it. We repress it. We exploit it. We label it as sinful or taboo. But we rarely accept it exactly as it is, as a normal, everyday thing. It begs the question, why is sex still such a taboo subject when industries like fashion and entertainment exploit it on a daily basis? Why are we, as a society, accepting of oversexed images everywhere we look, but we can’t be supportive of talking about sexuality in an open, honest, and real way? Anthropologist, Ava Mir-Ausziehen, says, "Sex isn't some strange, ethereal construct. It's as normal and necessary as eating and sleeping...when we regard sex as something apart from the mundane, we're causing anxiety, fear, and dysfunction." Could this be the answer to why our society struggles to have a healthy, positive relationship with sexuality?
Stress, Depression, and Sex
“Sexual dysfunction” can be a scary term that brings up visuals of pill bottles and medical tests, but in reality, sexual dysfunction is defined simply as disturbances in sexual desire or functioning (Laumann, Paik, & Rosen, 1999), which is something that many people experience at one point or another in their sexual lives. People who experience emotional problems, like depression, or stress-related problems are much more likely to experience some kind of sexual dysfunction or disturbance in their sexual desire. That’s not to say that everyone who has a stressful lifestyle will have low desire or some other sexual dysfunction, but stress and/or depression are often a factor when it comes to low desire.
Sex is an important part of keeping your romantic relationship healthy, both emotionally and physically. Many people suffer from stress related to jobs, family, children and a number of other factors. Not surprisingly, we aren’t able to compartmentalize our problems, and stress has a way of seeping into all areas of our lives. Stress can affect hormones in the body, which are related to the sexual libido (Castellanos, 2013). It also affects our general mood and how we interact within our relationship on a day to day basis. If you’re stressed, you often aren’t able to relax and enjoy your partner, in or out of the bedroom.
Depression is also associated with impaired sexual functioning and satisfaction. People who are depressed experience a loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed, a reduction in energy, low self-esteem, and difficulties experiencing pleasure (Baldwin, 2001). Considering these symptoms, it’s not difficult to imagine why depressed individuals may also experience problems in their sexual relationships.