Today one of my sisters-in-law is expected to give birth to her first child.
I’ll write this post in honor of that momentous event.
Her words seeded my mind, and this post is a birth of verbal expression.
Sexuality isn’t a property exclusive to humans or even to biological life.
Sexuality is a property of the entire cosmos (and beyond, if indeed there are other universes…).
Sex isn’t something just humans or even livings in general do.
Sex is what the Cosmos does.
The Cosmos is having sex with itself, all the time, everywhere.
Human sexuality is a model and microcosm of cosmic sexuality. It is the densest, most concentrated instance of cosmic sexuality – and therefore has the most potential for orgasmic pleasure and paroxysmic pain. If we are students of human sexuality, we are students of cosmic sexuality, and since sexual beings are what we are, being students of ourselves as beings makes us students of the universe as a Being, and vice versa.
The word sex can be traced back to Latin sexus ‘the state of being either male or female’, which may be rooted in secare ‘to divide or cut (to section)’. Although the root of the word refers only to the split between sexes, our modern usage covers both the polar split and the rejoining of the two in union. With this etymology in mind, cosmic sexuality can be thought of as a primordial cutting into sections of an original Unity or Whole and the local and ultimately universal rejoining of the sections back into a new Whole. Thus our universe is a result of this process of dynamic splitting and sectioning of wholes into parts, and simultaneously, a dynamic joining and uniting of parts into new wholes.
Human sex and sexuality model this beautifully. From the whole organism which every man and woman constitute, a part of them is sectioned off in the form of an egg or sperm. These two minuscule parts join together to form a new whole: the zygote. The zygote then proceeds to split internally over and over again, multiplying its cells from within and differentiating into the organ tissues needed to build a whole human being.
The universe is scalar, fractal, and holarchical. 1) It is scalar in that what happens at one level is simultaneously a microcosm of what’s happening on higher levels and a macrocosm of what’s happening on lower levels. 2) It is fractal in that the entities at each level mirror the structure and function of a) lower entities of which it is made and b) higher entities which it goes to make up. And 3) it is holarchical in that the wholeness of a whole emerges spontaneously when parts come together in unity: every whole is made of parts, and every part is whole; every part is made of wholes, and every whole is a part. Parts (which are wholes) can join to form bigger wholes, and wholes (which are parts) can split into smaller parts (which are also wholes). All this is an attempt to express a truth both simple and profound: the universe contains every entity, and every entity contains the universe.
Sexuality illustrates this. Within the whole of a man, there are parts called ‘testicles’. These organs are both part of the man and whole organs on their own. Within the wholes of the testicles, parts are generated in the form of speramatozoa. Each sperm is a generated part of the testicle and yet a whole entity on its own. It is a seed, and a seed is the quintessential icon of a part-that-is-whole. When internal and external conditions are right – specifically when they match optimally – the man expels his seeds (parts-that-are-wholes) by ejaculating sperm-laden seminal fluid outside his body. If conditions favor it, one of those sperm will make its way to the female egg cell (ovum), penetrate its cellular wall, and join its genetic material to form a new whole (zygote). In reproduction, a man divides the whole of himself at a cellular level and joins himself to the whole of a woman, first at a bodily level and then potentially at the cellular level.
Likewise, within the whole of a woman, there are parts called ‘ovaries’. These organs are both parts of the woman and whole organs on their own. Within the wholes of the ovaries parts are generated in the form of oocytes (immature egg cells). Each oocyte is seed generated by the ovary. It is a part-that-is-whole, generated as a part of a whole. When internal conditions are right, oocytes mature into ova and during ovulation, one of them makes its way down the Fallopian tubes. If other internal and external conditions are right, part of the woman (egg) and part of a man will unite in fertilization and begin the process of forming a new whole (zygote) that will grow to become a whole human being. In short, the woman – made up of many parts – divides herself at the cellular level and joins herself to the whole of a man, first at the bodily level and then potentially at the cellular level. A possible natural result of joining these parts is the birth of a new whole (baby).
Further, just as a man seeds the woman by expelling his sperm, the woman seeds the world by expelling her child. A sperm is a seed: a tiny genetic microcosm of the whole man. It goes into the seedbed of the woman’s internal reproductive anatomy, and if all goes well, the seedbed – the womb – also seeded by an egg – is fertile and fosters the dual egg-sperm seed until it grows into a human fetus. A newborn child is also a seed: a tiny somatic microcosm of the temporary whole created by the copulation of its mother and father. It is birthed into the seedbed of the external world, and if all goes well, the seedbed of the world – seeded as it is by many other infant seeds – is fertile enough to foster the newborn baby seed until it grows into an adult human.
In the realm of plantlife, seeds are expelled and distributed from parent plants. Most seeds never achieve the goal of germinating but remain dormant or die. Like in the parable attributed to Jesus, where different seeds fall on different surfaces – rocky, hard, thorny, or soft and fertile – plant seeds find themselves in many different environments. Soil quality varies greatly across the board, so seeds may germinate in less-than-optimal soil and still yield a mature plant, even if a less-than-healthy one. On other occasions, seeds fall in fertile soil. The soil then becomes the seedbed or womb of the plant. The seed and seedbed join at a molecular and chemical level and together provide the necessary conditions for the cellular divisions to take place that result in a growing plant.
In the realm of animal life, in the testicles of a male human, for instance, hormonal and enzymatic ‘seeds’ work together with the host cells of the testicular tissue to produce mature sperm cells. The testicle acts as a seedbed or womb in which sperm cells can be generated and matured. When the time is right, the testicle ‘births’ millions of spermatic ‘children’ into the ‘birth canal’ of the spermatic cord and urethra and into the wider world of a woman’s cervix, uterus, and Fallopian tubes. The woman’s internal reproductive anatomy is the world into which sperm are born. It is the universe in which they live, reproduce if lucky, and eventually die.
Likewise, in the ovaries of a woman, hormonal and enzymatic ‘seeds’ find their way into the host cells of the ovarian tissue where they together produce oocytes which mature into ova. The ovaries act as a seedbed or womb in which egg cells can be generated and matured. When the time is right, the ovary ‘births’ a single egg into the ‘birth canal’ of the Fallopian tubes and into the wider world of the uterus. The uterus is the wider world into which egg cells are born. It is the universe in which they live and either reproduce or die.
And so it is clear from all this that seeding and being seeded occur in both males and females. Neither seeding nor being seeded is the exclusive property of either sex. The process of seeding occurs at different levels in both men and women, as does the process of being seeded. That said, however, I will make an argument that what differentiates men and women is the proportion of seeding-versus-being seeded that each sex embodies.
At a material level, women stereotypically embody a greater degree of seededness than of seedingness in at least two ways: 1) First, at a cellular level, the germ cell generated by a woman in her ovaries is the one that becomes the host or seedbed or womb for the incoming sperm with which together they eventually produce a whole organism called a child. By contrast, the germ cell that a man contributes to this process is the guest or seed or sperm that enters into the egg cell, donates its genetic material, and then ceases to exist as a separate entity. 2) Second, at a phenotypic (whole-body) level, a woman’s reproductive anatomy is structured so as to receive donations of genetic material from outside and transform it within itself into a whole organism called a child. By contrast, the reproductive anatomy of a man is designed so as to donate the man’s genetic material to a receptive location outside of himself, after which his role of cellular generation ceases to function (in this instance of reproduction). In sum, men and women can be stereotypically distinguished on the basis of the degree to which each embodies seededness versus seedingness.
What about at other levels of humanness besides the cellular and physical? Might cellular (microscopic) and physical (scopic) stereotypical femaleness and maleness give us an image of stereotypical femaleness and maleness at the emotional, psychological, and spiritual levels? Given that the universe is scalar, fractal, and holarchical as I suggested above, the answer seems like a probable ‘yes’. Let us explore this idea:
The feminine property I have called ‘seededness’ goes by many other names: receptiveness, receptivity, passivity, indirectness, openness, spaciousness, expansiveness, followership, gentleness, tenderness, softness, welcoming, circle energy, motherhood, matrix, matter, materiality, garden, fertility, soil, etc., etc. Throughout history and around the world, these qualities have often been associated with femaleness and femininity. Likewise, the masculine property I have called ‘seedingness’ also goes by many names: activeness, directness, direction, leadership, focus, concentration, pursuit, ambition, rigidness, structure, stricture, discipline, aggressiveness, assertiveness, hardness, line energy, fatherhood, generation, generativity, planting, sowing, seeding, seed, etc., etc.
Drawing from these many concepts, I would say that the difference between the Feminine and the Masculine at a very basic level is that the Feminine devotes more energy to receiving, transforming, and creating, while the Masculine channels more energy to pursuing, penetrating, and self-donating. Both clusters of traits are present in both sexes and both genders (and to a wonderfully diverse degree along the sex-and-gender spectrum). And once we become aware that each of us possesses all the traits to different degrees, then we can play with them and employ them however we wish!
One example of how both men and women can embody masculine and feminine qualities communication. Communication involves the sending and receiving of information and the co-creation of a shared meaning. Within the sender’s mind-body complex, a meaning arises through a multitude of neurochemical transmissions. When the time is right (or too often, wrong!), the sender converts those neurochemical signals into speech. Speech occurs when the sender’s articulatory anatomy (lungs, vocal chords, tongue, teeth, lips, etc.) imprints a pattern into the surrounding gaseous matter called ‘air’. The pattern is transmitted across space through perturbations among the air molecules carried along as wave energy. Once the waves reach the ears of the receiver, they are transformed by the auditory anatomy back into neurochemical signals that are interpreted as such and such cognitive information. If this exchange is successful, then the sender and receiving together build a shared mental model of the meaning they now are both supposed to have in their minds, and together they ‘birth’ this meaning into the world. Along with the audible dimension of speech comes the visual dimension: when the sender’s felt emotive-cognitive meaning arises in the mind, the sender transmits that meaning to various parts of the body where they are converted into body-language (facial expressions, gesticulations, etc.). These bodily movements reflect light in patterned ways that are picked up by the eyes the receiver, who then transforms the optical variations into neurochemical signals interpreted as having such-and-such a meaning. The audible and visible are integrated, as is another other sensory input (tactile or olfactory), into a more-or-less whole meaning.
Compare communication as I’ve described it with sexual reproduction. Although all sensory data can carry information, I’ll use speech as a paradigmatic example. Within the ‘testicles’ of a speaker’s mind, words are generated. When internal and external conditions are amenable, the speaker may ejaculate words in the form of speech. The speaker’s speech is the semen, laden with information, the seed of meaning. The speech is transmitted across space to the appropriate receptive organs of the hearer. If conditions allow, the hearer opens their aural ‘vulva’ to the incoming signals and receives them into the ‘uterus’ of the mind-body. There, in a ‘warm’ and ‘moist’ environment, the words donated by the speaker join with ideas and concepts already there and begin to gestate. In time, if conditions continue to be favorable, a new meaning grows in the hearer’s mind-body until it is ready to be birthed in the form of new feelings, new thoughts, new actions, and new perspectives.
Recall that the difference between an ejaculation of sperm/ovulation of egg, on the one hand, and a birth of a child on the other is one of scale: both a sperm/egg and a child are whole entities on their own terms. Comparing the biological with the psychological, then, the works of a human being – art, literature, business, action, speech, etc. – can take on a feminine or masculine aura depending on how they are viewed in terms of scale. For example, for many years I was being inseminated by the Ik language of Uganda. I took in the words, integrated them with my own concepts, and began to gestate a grammatical understanding of the whole language. I was linguistically impregnated. The grammar grew inside of me for a few years, and then it was time to give birth to it. Through much struggle, a struggle that was painful and wonderful, a full-grown book came into the world. For a great oeuvre like that, or for a sculpture, a business deal, a political campaign – you name it – the female reproductive metaphor may seem most apt. For lesser works, by contrast, male reproductive metaphor may seem better. For example, one of my fatherly responsibilities is to teach my daughters how to be wise. I do this by talking to them in shorter segments, sometimes a sentence or two, sometimes a lecture of ten minutes. I wouldn’t consider any of that a ‘birth’ of something great, but I would consider it a dissemination of information that in their minds can gestate and produce a skillfully lived life in the short and long term. So, in the case of the grammar book, I took a receptive, gestative, and birthing role vis-a-vis the external world. Something outside of me contributed seeds for the seedbed of my mind out of which a new plant grew. While in the case of teaching my children, I take on an active, penetrative, and donative role vis-a-vis the external world. I contribute ‘seeds’ for the ‘seedbed’ of their minds out of which trees of well-lived lives can grow. Fingers crossed!
Does this mean that women are more suited to listening than to speaking, to being taught than to teaching? This idea certainly has support from traditional religions, as when St. Paul instructs women in church gatherings to keep quiet while men speak. It also shows up in the belief that men are to be the head of households, the ones who control the inflow and outflow of information and the behaviors influenced by it. To the above question, I would answer ‘absolutely not’. Even if speaking is taken as a prototypically masculine act at some kind of super basic level, all people can and should be free to speak, to share knowledge and wisdom, and express the meanings of their minds and bodies. Likewise, even if listening is seen as prototypically feminine at a super basic level, all people can learn to be excellent listeners who can filter out and reject unwanted input and receive and integrate desirable input. Speaking is dissemination, and listening/hearing is being inseminated – the sexual metaphor is alive and well. Yet I believe it would be best if all people could become fully comfortable with and highly skilled at both.
The problem with ‘traditional gender roles’ around the world is that they settled too rigidly on the stereotypical difference between the sexes that I outlined above: the woman as wife, mother, and homemaker – passive, receptive, inward – and the man as husband, father, and earner – active, penetrative, and outward. These roles are ‘natural’, no doubt, but they reflect an overly restricted view of our sexual nature. Women aren’t all ‘feminine’; neither are men all ‘masculine’. These two polar energies have literally created the incredibly diverse, complex, beautiful, and awe-inspiring universe we live in. It stands to reason, then, that these same energies could create – if we allow them to – and now even more with our conscious agency – a dazzling array of genders and gender roles divided out across the spectrum of how bodies are biologically sexed. Biological sex is a spectrum, relatively limited in its expression, while sexuality and sexual polarity above the bodily level – in the soul, mind, spirit – are freer to combine and yield more diverse expressions.
I believe what both women and men want is more freedom. Women don’t want to be locked into traditional roles that tell them who they can and cannot be. They have rightfully rebelled against anyone who insists they stay in that disempowered place. But in claiming their freedom to self-define and self-determine, they do not have to reject the feminine aspects that the traditional role upheld as the only right way. Similarly, men are aching for freedom to self-define and self-determine beyond the narrow role that recent traditional western culture imposed upon them. But in stepping into their freedom, they do not have to reject the masculine aspects of the traditional role nor adopt aspects of the traditional feminine role to an extreme. In sum, as Teal Swan so powerfully relates in the videos linked above, both men and women (and people along the spectrum) yearn to step into the freedom to become their whole selves, masculine and feminine combined. And what’s more, that ‘whole self’ need not stay static for a lifetime anymore than the world around us stays static (it never does except by illusion). Freedom, then, in our sexuality and sexual expression, is the permission to be authentically who we are from moment to moment. It is the ability to consciously engage with our subconscious instincts and drives as they bubble up and co-create with them the person we want to be.