Intimacy and sexuality are a fundamental part of life. We all experience, have a degree of understanding, come in to contact with sex and intimacy – it weaves through our social experiences, it permeates our whole culture, it can consume many of our thoughts, it determines much of our behaviour, and it influences how we feel about ourselves and our place in the world.
I’d been on my own personal journey of discovery and felt that in looking for others with whom I might share my story, there was something missing from the language, research and documentation of others’ experience, that didn’t quite capture what I wanted to say.
It struck me that through an exploration of my capacity to be intimate I’d been in such rich territory to develop so many aspects of myself and the positive consequences of this felt enormous. More importantly it wasn’t so much a focus on my individual growth, this is perhaps an obvious outcome, but I discovered an increased awareness, empathy and understanding of people and an expansiveness in my view of the world.
I grew ever more grateful for this enriched way of feeling so alive and wanted to be able to share it and to seek others for whom this was also true and yet the space and common language for this seemed quite absent. There was an abundance of communication and literature if I wanted to be part of the pleasure and titillation landscape, buying in to the commodification of our sexual selves, and although there is some value in these things I didn’t feel it was a representative way for people to develop an authentic awareness or expression of their sexual , intimate selves.
In 2007 I ran several voluntary groups in London for people exploring different aspects of their sexuality. Mostly these people had all experienced some kind of barrier ( wether personally, socially or culturally imposed ) in being able to live fully through this aspect of themselves. The provision of a space to be fully open in, without judgement and the opportunity to share experiences with others, dispersed many of these barriers and this enabled participants to flourish in other areas of their life. Even in these small groups that I ran for 18 months I was really struck by the value being able to communicate about intimacy was having on their lives and also how rare it seemed for people to more naturally do that.
Alongside this I started my MSc Psychology research in to the expression of our sexuality and it’s relationship to eudaimonic well-being, feeling increasingly certain that the restrictive ways we have to communicate about the richness, differing experiences, complexities, composition and development of our sexuality and intimate lives, also restricts the value that we are able to give to it. I wanted to see if value for it could be further recognised by linking sexual and intimate experience to the concept of eudaimonia and human flourishing, instead of, for example the hedonistic conception of happiness and pleasure with which it is more commonly aligned.
In my research I interviewed men and women from the ages of 19 to 72 and not one of them talked about penetrative sex, instead themes emerged of aliveness, wholeness and expansiveness ( amongst others ) and this strengthened my view of intimacy and sexual expression as being a value forming activity, not in an economic sense but in developing understanding of ourselves and others, building adaptive capacity, creating positive regard for differences and helping forge new values. This started to make links for me with my other work.
Working in Social Innovation I facilitate many conversations focussed on collaborating across every imaginable boundary, championing the practices and processes that support networks and change, all of which require people to abandon the familiar and the routine, to embrace risk and create different futures for ourselves. In particular, central to collaboration, bridges being built and knowledge being shared ( or co-creation, co-production, people-centered design ) are relationships, and the need to develop mutual trust and respect. In innovation we need co-operative relationships in order to achieve shared goals and outcomes and this requires an interdependence between those involved that can create vulnerabilities and requires skill to synthesis perspectives to invent an alternative.
Bringing my commitment to Social Innovation ( and witnessing the small steps and great leaps we are asking people to take in that area ) together with the themes on this site is in many ways a personal objective, perhaps not a widely shared one or an obvious link, but it has fueled my conviction that we really can learn and develop qualities through exploring intimacy and sexuality that will have a beneficial application across all areas of our lives.