We live in a highly sexual culture that also idolizes utility (i.e., a means to an end). We tend to value things only based on what they lead to in the future. This commerce morality often mistakes the means for the end and, therefore, misses the end. To judge joy and sexual affection as a means is a degradation. We cannot judge the end by the same standards as the means because ends lead to nothing else.
The immediate and transitory nature of Burning Man illuminates the value of things for their own sake. The beauty of art and the joy of the human experience and affections, including sexuality, can be ends unto themselves, part of a good life. Consider how the artist who creates a piece that intentionally burns impresses in some way upon the hearts and minds of others; that impression may be the only value and may not lead to anything else, like a spontaneous gathering of musicians playing and people begin to move, dance and smile in joy, nothing beyond that musical moment need come of the event for it to be beautiful and worthwhile. The same could be said of any kind of affection, including sexuality. Affection without deceit or destructiveness is an important part of a good life.
I hear clichés like ‘meaningless sex’ often used when discussing brief, sexual encounters. What this ‘meaningless’ judgment often misses is that the sex is for it’s own sake. Let’s not mistake sex as a means and only a means when the value also exists for us as an end; ends are the things that make LIFE WORTH LIVING. Any denigration of affection and joy as useless is misleading. This mistake is like judging art as ‘good’ only if it makes lots of money. When a partner catches a lover cheating and the lover excuses himself or herself by saying “It meant nothing,” then the cheater judges the sex as a means. However, the fact that the cheater is willing to risk things that DO have great value as means illuminates the blind spot in such an excuse. It would probably be more honest if the cheater said “I did it because it made me feel like I’m truly living.” That is, the sex became part of a good life. Unfortunately, in such a case that good thing is mixed with deceit and the fault lies with the deceit, not the sex.
“Our vulgarity is not a development of baseness, but a deficiency of higher development. Every form of degradation is the conversion of means into an end in itself, a limitation; every means tends to become an end and to bar the way to further outlook… Physical force, money, food, talent, scholarship, self preservation, [and] morality become ends in themselves, and development is thereupon arrested.
Robert Briffault, Psyche’s Lamp
What is living a life if the only thing in the universe is money and nothing else? Now, imagine a universe of only mutual affections. See the difference between those two kinds of existence? They have a different value. I’m trying to prove that it is easy to judge precious affections by the wrong standards and miss some of the best things in life.
Part of what I was doing at Burning Man 2017 besides an art display was giving seminars for the Bureau of Erotic Discourse (BED) on sexual consent to encourage safe, mutual, sexual interactions; normalize sexual rejections; and tell the public at large about what to do if problems arise. By chance, I substituted for someone in a pinch and spoke at a camp where I met a lovely woman and, later, we became lovers. She lives in another country and parting involved both gratitude to her and her husband for their open relationship, which made the affections possible, and tears because, in the midst this benign joy, we had to part. I never once tried to protect myself from those feelings because intimacy is part of a good life. This meeting involved many good things that, when combined, made it better. It involved risk, courage, honesty, being safe, sensual generosity, and patience, in the midst of our trial and error while discovering what brought us pleasure. Washing each other became tender affection. Fumbling with condoms and dental dams in a tent in dim light on an air mattress became adventures in what would work. If I lost an erection, we both looked to find it, and happily, we did. Tuning into a lover may happen quickly, slowly, or not at all. In this case, it, fortunately, happened quickly, but it still required patience, the courage to be in the unknown, and the courage to communicate without making any conclusions. These elements were important to the entire, beautiful meeting. Did we help each other in other ways? Yes, but holding the flashlight or sharing food was not the point, diving into the affection itself remained the real value because it made us glad to be alive.
This freedom to discover what’s best in life is not freedom from anything, including expectations, but, instead, is freedom in the midst of anything life offers us. Sharing this freedom is an invitation for all of us to ask what we value and why. What are we going to do with the time we have together and our freedom? Will we open ourselves to the good things that life by chance offers us including experiences that exist beyond our past expectations and beliefs? My answer is yes! What is your answer?
By Todd Vickers