I don’t recall the context, but some years ago a fellow I was involved with in a business deal took me aback when he said, “I think sex is the most overrated thing in life.” It was one of those comments that catches you off guard and leaves you mentally thrashing about for a response.
But I’ve thought about his comment many times over the years, and since I can never be certain as to exactly what he meant by sex being overrated, my conclusions are based on my arbitrary interpretation of his words.
My take is that, notwithstanding the fact that sex is arguably the most gratifying physical activity known to mankind, when it ends (and it does so relatively quickly, except in the case of liars), the enjoyment is not only gone but the activity has contributed nothing quantifiable to the participants’ lives.
There’s a reason why the moment before sex ends is referred to as a climax. It happens abruptly, and then, suddenly — nothing. Some might be tempted to call sexual gratification an illusion, an illusion that it’s more important than it really is. I think that’s probably what my business acquaintance meant when he caught me off guard with his surprising comment.
So, yes, sex is overrated if you look at it in that light. But, as they say, when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. And another way of looking at sex is that you can pretty much say the same thing about most everything in life.
For example, you can work for years training for the Olympics, come in first in your event, and then — the climax — stand in front of a billion people worldwide and receive a gold medal. What a high that must be.
But what happens when you go back home and return to real life? How do you ever equal the high you felt standing on that platform and receiving your gold medal? Sure, some athletes win gold medals at two or three Olympics, but each event comes to an end with the medals ceremony, after which the high dissipates into everyday life.
The same can be said of graduating from medical school, getting married, closing a big financial deal, or any other big achievement in your life. The moment you’re handed your degree … or the clergyman pronounces you man and wife … or the check is dispersed to you at the closing … whatever it may be, that’s the moment of climax. And in each and every case, the next day it’s back to everyday life.
So when you get right down to it, everything you work toward has a climax if you accomplish your objective, a climax that is followed by a return to normal life. If every day of a person’s life was a climax, there really would be no such thing as a climax, because every day would be the same.
I’ve never been addicted to anything, but I’ve heard that sex addicts don’t really enjoy sex, because they’re chasing something that doesn’t exist — a perpetual climax. The more a person seeks sexual pleasure just for the sake of proving his sexuality, the more he fails to find pleasure and the more miserable he is. Ditto with alcoholics, drug addicts, and compulsive gamblers.
Viktor Frankl referred to this phenomenon as “paradoxical intention” — the more you make something your aim, the more likely you are to miss it. It’s a matter of manifesting your destiny without becoming so attached to a specific outcome that your happiness depends upon your achieving that exact outcome. Real happiness ensues as a side effect of having a day-to-day purpose in life.
My point is that even though experiencing a climactic moment — in any area of life — is a wonderful feeling, it’s not what life is about. That’s why being totally focused on every moment — living in the moment — is so rewarding.
There are 604,800 seconds in a week, and to me it makes sense to try to make each and every one of those seconds as rewarding as possible in instead of obsessing over the next high that you hope will be coming down the road.
Or, as Andy Rooney once put it, “You better enjoy the little things in life, because the big ones don’t come around very often.” Amen. It’s why so much has been written about the importance of living a meaningful life and enjoying the day-to-day struggles that move you toward your goals. Actually reaching a major goal is always a high, but, like sex, even though it’s a wonderful feeling, it’s a short-lived high.
Achieving goals is a positive aspect of life, but it’s a bad idea to become obsessed by them. I have a hunch that when someone is nearing the end, the most important thing he takes with him are not the goals he achieved during his lifetime, but his memories.
So perhaps, when all is said and done, the most meaningful thing we do during our short stay here on the secular side of life is create memories. Memories have no climax. Memories are forever.