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Good sex is Mudita non-zero! Pondering sexuality via the internet

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Submitted by Jacob on Thu, 2009-05-14 12:14

I've continued to enjoy TED videos, featuring people like Aimee Mullins, and my interest really doesn't seem to be subsiding any time soon. TED is the "Technology, Entertainment, Design" conference who's video talks and lectures are released on-line every weekday. Most recently, my thoughts on it have circulated around journalist, Robert Wright... his TED talk on optimism contains a few things I don't agree with such as his "business-class morality" rationale (spare me), but what does interest me is the term he introduced me to; "non-zero sum game". He continued that it will grow and make life better for everyone, which is also the topic of his book, but still I was only focused on the term itself.

I really love how this ties in with the ideas flung round at Scarleteen and how wider terminology used in seemingly unrelated worlds like economics and philosophy can be a confirmation of ideas of what to do for happier relationships and sex lives and to see how that fits into the rest of the world and experiences in it.

Non-zero-sum is an economic term from game theory which says that while some situations are "zero sum" meaning however much someone's outcome is positive, their opponent's outcome is always negative and visa versa; a win-lose situation.... other situations are said to be "non-zero"; a win-win / lose-lose situation.

I see this as really reflecting different ways sex is viewed.

Academics and famous writers aren't the only people coming up with ideas, I see great ideas coming from everywhere in society but wonderfully these sorts of speakers on TED can package concepts and collate an existing consensus and then make it excellently easily distributed. It's great when something was always on the tip you of your tongue and someone comes along and just gives it a name.

I've felt that with a number of articles at Scarleteen.com, especially How You Guys Can Prevent Rape, which continues to give me a cold shiver down my back every time I read it, partially because it's so right.

Where I made the jump was that I could suddenly just think "Yes! Good sex is a Non-zero sum game!"

The idea that certain types of sex are things to be given, a sacrifice, or that something becomes owed in return for an act, essentially bargaining, is a view of sex as a "zero sum game".

When I say good sex is non-zero, I really mean this far beyond the idea that sexual situations are better for you if you make it better for your partner, because I don't mean that if you do something good in bed you'll get good in return. I'm seeing individual partnered sex acts, when they're good on their own, as non-zero. Where it isn't a favour which can get returned, but a self-generating pleasure machine. I think that sex is more than capable of being that.

I know that even linguistically oral sex is something that we're used to talking about giving and receiving... if thought about as such, it can be like that, but it can also be something shared... something everyone enjoys... and often is.

Another term I seem to have noticed a lot over the past month or so is Schadenfreude... a German word which means taking pleasure in other's misfortunes, and it's effect is often said to be seen through the arts and can be used to criticise all sorts of depictions of suffering, and context for those depictions. It's a sort of psychological zero-sum game... someone suffers so they loose, someone takes pleasure in it and so they win... we are however not hard-wired to think in this way. I was reading about it in wikipedia, it's really not something I think of as in any way fundamental and from our experiences we can see that we are capable of incredible empathy.

While reading the wiki I came upon another term on my word trail; Mudita... Mudita is the non-zero sum alternative to Schadenfreude, it is a Budhist word meaning "sympathetic joy" or taking pleasure in other people's happiness. The huge popularity of realistic porn may easily be a similar sort of appreciation, seeing someone else's pleasure can give us, through empathy, an understanding and so a recreation of that pleasure in ourselves.

In sex, it may well be that in certain acts one person's body is being stimulated in a far more "erogenous" zone than the other, which might be where the idea of zero-sum sex comes from. But really a little Mudita, or or sympathetic joy can be put right into play here, to make any sex act, wonderfully non-zero. Understanding a partner's pleasure, and stimulation (see Sexual Response & Orgasm: A User's Guide) makes it a lot easier to feel direct pleasure wherever we are within the action.

I love finding words like "Mudita", and terms like "Non-zero-sum" because it means that sensations or notions are things that people have already experienced and have related to each other through creating a word for what they feel. These are real feelings, and so making sex about "we enjoy this act" rather than "my partner does this for me, I do this for them", means that we can work out what both or all like doing and importantly not doing. Wright points out that non-zero sum games, can be mutually beneficial or mutually detrimental... everything becomes mutual, so by sharing feelings what we get are holistic sexual-preferences as a partnership.

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