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What is the relationship between sexual expression and well-being: exploring how people experience sexual expression and the value people place on it Cassie Robinson / January 2009


Currently research in sexuality remains largely fo-

ed sexual expression as important or unimpor-

cused on the potential negative outcomes of sexual

tant in conjunction with their perceived ability

expression. The full scope of the health benefits of

to fully express their sexual selves or not. Inter-

sexual expression can only be minimally understood

pretative Phenomenological Analysis ( IPA ) was

if the research continues to focus so exclusively on

used to analyse the data. There were seven su-

dysfunction, disease and unwanted pregnancy. To

per-ordinate themes that emerged from the data:

address this there is a growing body of research

Constance, Alive-ness, Generating, Liberation,

seeking to demonstrate that sexual expression may

Wholeness in Communication, Completeness and

have health benefits for improving quality of life

Conflicting Inhibitors.

and self-esteem and for reducing stress, depression and suicide.

The study highlighted a number of factors contributing to a relationship between sexual expression

However, as welcomed and necessary as this re-

and well-being, especially in relation to areas of

search is in filling some gaps, it is still large-

well-being that have either been over-looked or

ly focussed on mending and fixing, and per-

under-researched in the sexuality literature. These

haps even some rather outdated constructs,

include emotional aspects of sexual expression that

rather than on the potential life-enhancing and

impact on connectivity with oneself and with oth-

developmental qualities of sexual expression

ers, the process of self-awareness, self-acceptance,

that are more in alignment with eudaimonic

taking ownership, taking action, integrating in to

well-being. Much less is known about how people

a whole and finding balance in relation to one’s

experience sexual expression when asked to define

sexual self, as well as the enabling and develop-

it themselves’, and how they have experienced it

mental impact of doing this. The findings suggest

in relation to their mental and physical well-being.

that by aligning it’s positive affects with eudaimonic

This thesis has addressed these questions through

well-being, the area of sexual expression develops

literature reviews of well-being and sexual expres-

a whole new and important meaning.

sion and an empirical study.

The study employed a qualitative design using self-reporting diaries for each of the 11 purposefully selected participants, proceeding semi-structured in-depth interviews. The participants were selected in to categories of whether they regard-


1.0 Acknowledgements

2.0 Introduction

4 6

3.0 Wellbeing


4.0 Methodology


5.0 Theoretical approach


6.0 Sampling


7.0 Ethical considerations


8.0 Results


9.0 Super-ordinate themes


10 Additional analysis


11 Discussion


12 Conclusion and The Future


13 Limitations of research


14 Future directions


15 References


1.0 Acknowledgements The main people that I’d like to thank and acknowledge in relation to this piece of work are the very people who’s anonymity it is key for me to keep: I was overwhelmed by the generosity of my 11 participants and their willingness to share experiences of such a personal nature.

Alongside this, but again in the vein of anonymity, I’d also like to thank the many people who participated in the online survey that I put out in to the kink blogging world. Similarly, I was overwhelmed with the number of people who wanted to take part and who gave me such rich information about their inner lives.

This study was inspired by my own personal experiences, however, it is the conversations that I’ve been lucky enough to have over the last three years with those people that attended my voluntary groups, the many people I’ve chatted to online, and those friends and family in my everyday life, who’ve actively encouraged, supported, listened and questioned to help me form my ideas.

And one dear man in particular. He knows who he is, but again, I have to be anonymous.

Thank you to you all. And of course, thank you to Ilona, for being an inspiring and patient teacher and for supporting me to start these conversations.



2.0 Introduction Currently, research in sexuality remains largely fo-

et al., 1997) However, pioneering researchers have

Women were examined across various factors in

1988). These are all examples of existing studies

cused on the potential negative outcomes of sexual

demonstrated many of the various health benefits

relation to youthfulness and sexual activity. One

and research in the area of sexual well-being, and

expression. In 1994, the 14th World Congress of

of sexual expression, including its positive physi-

of the strongest correlates of youthful appearance

although they are valuable in encouraging positive

Sexology adopted the Declaration of Sexual Rights.

cal, intellectual, emotional, and social dimensions.

was an active sex life. One study of young married

view points and attitudes towards sex, they mostly

This document of “fundamental and universal hu-

(Ogden, 2001).

women found that positive sexual experiences with

focus on sexual activity, which may be different

a partner may increase self-esteem. Additionally,

from sexual expression ( something that may not

man rights” included the right to sexual pleasure. This international gathering of sexuality scientists

Many studies have been conducted to examine the

accepting and embracing one’s sexuality and desires

manifest itself in intercourse or masturbation for

declared, “Sexual pleasure, including autoeroti-

relationship between sexual activity and physical

may also enhance self-esteem. A correlation was

example ) and they still have a slightly function-

cism, is a source of physical, psychological, intel-

health, with far fewer focusing on mental health

also found between masturbation and self-esteem

al or performance orientation to them, rather than

lectual and spiritual well-being” (WAS, 1994).

and well-being. The potential negative impacts of

in both men and women. ( Hurlbert & Whittaker,

an experiential quality that a qualitative study will

Despite this scientific view, the belief that sex has a

sexual activity on physical health – including sexu-

1991 ) The surge in oxytocin at orgasm stimulates

enable. Overall this body of research is limited and

negative effect upon the individual has been more

ally transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy

feelings of affection, intimacy and closeness with a

often only suggestive when compared with the vast

– have been widely re-

sex partner ( Odent, 1999; Weeks, 2002 ) and con-

sexological literature on dysfunction, disease, and

“Today’s public discourse about sexuality is

ported. Less publicised

sistent mutual sexual pleasure increases bonding

unwanted pregnancy, but we are accumulating data

almost exclusively about risks and dangers:

studies suggest that sex-

within a relationship ( Weeks, 2002 ).

to begin to answer many questions about the poten-

abuse, addiction, dysfunction, infection, pedophilia, teen pregnancy, and the struggle of sexual minorities for their human rights.”

ual activity may enhance

tial benefits of sexual expression.

our well-being in many

A study of more than 4,000 US women examined

Gina Ogden’s ISIS survey shows that people ex-

ways, fostering happi-

mood, sexuality, and the menstrual cycle. Strong

perience expression of their sexuality in differ-

ness, immunity, longevity, pain management and

“The researchers definition of sexual expression

ent ways - from the purely physical (“our

common in many historical and most contempo-

sexual and reproductive health. ( Ebrahim et al,

is to look beyond the physical performance to

lust,” “my vibrator”)

rary cultures. In fact, Western civilization has a

2002; Petridou at al, 2000 ). Following are some

include the emotional, relational, and spiritual

to flights into non-or-

millennia-long tradition of sex-negative attitudes

examples of studies that have taken place in this

dinary reality (the

and biases. This heritage was relieved briefly by

field to date. For example, sexual release can help

dimensions of sexual experience and to look at

the “joy-of-sex” revolution of the 60’s and 70’s, but

people go to sleep.

alarmist sexual viewpoints retrenched and solidi-

the connections between a broader view of sexual expression that expands peoples sense of self, love, creativity and well-being.”

“unseen world” that includes near-death , past lives with lovers

fied with the advent of the HIV pandemic. Public

One study in the US of 1,866 Women had used

discourse about the physiological and psychosocial

masturbation to help them get to sleep ( Ellison,

health benefits of sexual expression has been almost

2000 ). In a study conducted over 10 years and in-

associations between sexual interest and sense

nection with their full sexual expression quite spon-

entirely absent. (Reiss & Reiss, 1990; Davey Smith

volving more than 3,500 European and American

of well-being were found ( Warner & Bancroft,

taneously while they were making love, or while


). Some wrote they experienced the con-


meditating or dreaming. Some wrote that they had

phrases, like “joyous play;” “alive and free;” “life

One reason for choosing qualitative rather than

actively sought them through drugs,or through body

force;” “creative and juicy;” “celebration of life;”

quantitative methods is that the researcher believes

work, energy sessions, yoga, Tantra, or shamanic

“divine connection.” Such phrases differ markedly

it is very important to really hear people’s stories

rituals that invoked the energies of both body and

from the usual language of sex—from the conquest

and voices so that they are represented beyond the

spirit. Some wrote that they discovered the connec-

language of pornography to the analytical terms of

quantifiable, heterosexist, performance-oriented,

tions by finding a love relationship that was “made

medicine. Even the word counts tell this story. The

intercourse-centered, medical models of sexuality

in heaven,” and some through aligning themselves

1,465 letters contain over 4,400 phrases describ-

(e.g., Kinsey, et al, 1953, Masters & Johnson, 1966;

with the energy in nature—trees, sunsets, giant

ing the spiritual, emotional, and relational aspects

1970; Kaplan, 1974; Janus & Janus, 1993).

stones in sacred places. Others discovered them in

of sexual experience, and only 23 mentions of the

Internet chat rooms, or by practicing earth-based

genitals—whose functioning has been the major

The researcher sees value in Gina Ogden’s work (

religions such as Wicca, that honor the erotic energy

focus of every survey on human sexual response.

ISIS ) looking at the intersection between sexuality

of all living things. Some encountered them through

and spirituality and her own beliefs do align with

more everyday activities, such as reading, dancing,

It is these kinds of descriptions that represent what

this view somewhat, however for the purpose of this

or listening to music.

the researcher in this study means by sexual, ex-

study she has chosen to remove any association with

panding the limits of sexual experience beyond the

spirituality, particularly the language of it, because

Despite this finding being based on subjective data

performance definitions of sexual response and sup-

she would like participants and readers of this piece

the multidimensionality of sexual response is now

porting possibilities of an erotic consciousness that

of work to be able to relate to it without any reason

being confirmed by brain research, especially the

is multidimensional.

for disengagement. She therefore has intended that

2001 studies by Beverly Whipple and Barry Komis-

this piece of research sits between the very typical

aruk. F-MRIs performed in their Rutgers University

An important part in understanding the relation-

sex surveys, papers and books that focus solely on

laboratory show that sexual response is much more

ship between sexual expression and well-being

performance, function and clinical considerations,

than physical. Multiple regions of the brain simul-

is also consideration of how people view sex and

to the spiritual associations of tantric sex.

taneously responded to vaginal stimulation. These

what position it has within their lives. Whether it is

included regions that control hunger, emotional

viewed only as a means whose end is the production

response, religious ecstasy, memory, and anticipa-

of physical pleasure or whether it is significant in

tion of reward and punishment. This ISIS finding

terms of intimacy, love and deeper or expanding

on multidimensionality also demonstrates that the

satisfaction is likely to affect the value that people

language usually used to describe sexual experi-

place on it and therefore will define the bounds of

ence expresses only a fraction of the whole picture.

their sexual expression.

Respondents’ letters introduce a range of emotion, meaning, complexity, and mystery. They include 8


3.0 Well-being In order to explore the relationship between sexual expression and well-being it is also important to define what is meant by well-being for the purpose of this study. The term well-being has as many definitions and complexities as sexual expression. There are three definitions in relation to well-being that were initially researched for the purpose of this study. Subjective well-being. Frequently used as a more

The researchers interest lays in the possibility

scholarly version of the term happiness. It is be-

of a relationship between eudaimonic well-being

lieved to comprise both cognitive and affective as-

and sexual expression as it is her own belief that

pects, and is usually measured through assessing

sex and sexual expression have up until now been

one’s cognitive satisfaction with life and their levels

most commonly viewed as hedonistic.

of positive and negative affect. Ryan and Deci ( 2001 ) suggest that there are two


Hedonic well-being paradigm is synonymous

separate philosophies of well-being of which one

with so-called traditional approaches to well-be-

revolves around hedonism, pleasure and happiness,

ing, that are mainly concerned with measuring and

while the other is concerned with the actualization

evaluating happiness or subjective well-being.

of human potential. Defined broadly “ Hedonistic psychology is the study of what makes experiences

Eudaimonic well-being paradigm assures a broad-

and life events pleasant and unpleasant. It is con-

er definition of well-being than the mere pursuit of

cerned with feelings of pleasure, pain, of interest and

happiness, and claims that well-being is found in

boredom, of joy and sorrow, and of satisfaction and

the actualisation of human potential, growth and

dissatisfaction” ( Kahneman, Diener and Schwarz,

meaning. There is a wealth of reading on well-being

1999, p.ix ) Current measures of well-being seem

and new measurement scales, especially since the

to reflect the broad conception of hedonism.

advent of Positive Psychology in the late 1990’s, however sexual expression does not feature as a

Aristotle was the originator of the concept of eu-

correlate of well-being in any major review.

daimonia, which literally means “ good spirit”. He


conceived that true happiness was found by leading

related to striving for change, novelty, curiosity and

sonal resources in the physical, social, intellectual

concept of Flow. Flow is an optimal state between

a virtuous life and doing what is worth doing. This

interest, while hedonism – to resistance to change,

and psychological domains. The resources that are

boredom and anxiety, when a high challenge is met

approach maintains that not all desires are worth

towards stability and familiarity.

built by the broadened thought – action repertoires

with an appropriately high level of skill. It is typi-

are enduring, even though the positive emotions

cally described as:

pursuing, even though some may yield pleasure, they would not produce wellness. The ideas of hu-

Eudaimonic well-being is not without its own prob-

are temporary. Finally, positive emotions can serve

“ Your concentration is very complete, your mind

manists, such as Maslow ( 1968 ) and Rogers ( 1961

lems, one of which is the lack of consensus on what

as an antidote to the lingering effects of negative

isn’t wandering, you are not thinking of something

) also reflected eudaimonic ideals. Waterman ( 1993

it actually entails. Moreover both the hedonic and

emotions and enhance resilience. Evidence like this

else, you are totally involved in what you are doing

) was amongst the first to introduce or re-introduce

eudaimonic paradigms are open to the same crit-

has informed some of the lines of questioning in the

(Csikszentmihalyi, 1975, p.39 ).

the notion of eudaimonia into contemporary psy-

icisms – both definitions have resulted from the

participant’s interviews in trying to establish and

chological literature. He explains daimon as the po-

development of measures that were data or theory

understand the lasting effect of sexual expression

The following characteristics of flow have been

tentialities of each person, the realization of which

driven, but not grounded in exploratory qualitative

beyond its more commonly portrayed momentary

identified: merging of action and awareness; focus-

leads to the greatest fulfillment. Efforts to live in

research. What is meant by well-being is open and


ing of attention; forgetting the self; receiving clear

accordance with one’s daimon, and the congruence

in need of further investigation.

feedback; distortion of time; an autotelic nature of Ryff and Keye’s ( 1995 ) conception of well-be-

experience. Csikszentmihalyi argues that creating

Participants of the study are also to be aware of

ing was derived from a comprehensive analyses

opportunities for flow lead to enhanced happiness

positive emotions in relation to their sexual expres-

of various approaches to happiness and offers six

( 1999 ).

The researcher is keen to explore the experiences

sion as the researcher felt it important to consider

components which include : self-acceptance ( pos-

participants have between their sexual expression

not only positive emotions that include intensity

itive evaluation of oneself and one’s life ), person-

Some authors define eudaimonia as actualization of

and how it relates to them living “ in accordance

but also those that are associated with depth. Kelt-

al growth, purpose in life, positive relations with

human potential ( Waterman, 1993 ), while others

with their daimon “. Whether it is a “ desire worth

ner and Haidt ( 2001 ) emphasise that although at

others, environmental mastery and autonomy. Like

associate it with experience of flow states (Csiksz-

pursuing “ and what affects their views and choices

present there is no known taxonomy of positive

with Keltner and Haidt’s ( 2001 ) clusters the re-

entmihalyi, 2000 ). Other definitions include: real-

in relation to this. Similarly to Waterman , Vitterso

emotions, they can be clustered into four catego-

searcher believes that sexual expression provides

izing one’s true nature / true self ( Vitterso, 2003 ),

( 2003 ) argues that hedonism motivates people to

ries, including resources ( i.e. happiness and con-

a platform for an individual to explore and tick off

personal growth ( Compton et al, 1996 ) and mean-

perceive their internal and external environment in

tent ), social relations ( i.e. love and compassion )

each one of these components. Ryff uses this con-

ing ( e.g.King & Nappa, 1998 ).

stable ways, while eudaimonism motivates people

, distress reduction ( i.e. relief ) , and knowledge (

cept to define well-being which differs from Deci

to understand themselves and the universe by ex-

i.e. amusement ).. The broaden and build theory of

and Ryan’s ( 2000 ) Self-Determination Theory of

panding their knowledge structures. He further finds

positive emotions developed by Fredrickson ( 2001

autonomy, relatedness and competence, who view

Although the definitions are not contradictory there

that in challenging and unstable situations individu-

) helps to explain further the functions of positive

those three factors as fostering well-being.

is a lack of conceptual unity, and also a lack of ade-

als high on eudaimonic well-being experience more

emotions. The broaden and build model postulates

positive effect. This lead him to attempt to combine

that positive emotions increase the breadth of one’s

The other definition of well-being or eudaimonic

ing. As development of such measures is beyond

both eudaimonic and hedonic well-being into a dy-

attention and thinking ( e.g. joy leads to play and in-

happiness that the researcher sees as being most

the scope of this thesis it would not be possible to

namic model of well-being in which eudaimonia is

terest in exploration ) and help to build durable per-

relevant to this study is Csikszentmihalyi’s ( 1992 )

measure the relationship between well-being and

between people’s life activities and their deep values, lead to the experience of eudaimonia.


quate instruments to measure eudaimonic well-be-


sexual expression using quantitative research methodology, nevertheless it may be that the qualitative approach can offer the necessary intricacy and depth which may in turn be useful to map out the field and develop conceptual clarity and help form an overarching framework that was missed in much of the development of existing well-being measures. Therefore the question of the meaning of well-being remains open and for the purpose of this study the researcher has proceeded with participant’s own definitions and viewpoints, in the same way as she has done with the term sexual expression too.



4.0 Methodology The current state of knowledge about sexual expression and its links with well-being, provide an incomplete representation of the subjective experience of sexual expression, with inconclusive examinations into what enables people to express their full sexual selves and what value people place on doing this, and an insufficient understanding of the nature of the relationship between sexual expression and well-being.

The researcher made several decisions in terms

dialogue is expected to flow with a minimum of

of the design for the methodology and sampling.

specified questions ( Pollio et al, 1997 ), thus a

The first is between depth and breadth reflecting

semi-structured interview format was used. It is

the choice between qualitative and quantitative. A

possible using a semi-structured interview, to gather

qualitative approach is seen to benefit research into

a lot of rich, textural data and also to clarify areas

complexities and processes, little know phenome-

that are less clear immediately.

na or where the relevant variables have yet to be identified. Additionally, qualitative methodology

Using a diary added an extra layer of capturing

allows focusing on individual experience and mean-

participant’s experiences and reflections prior to

Yet answering these questions could provide some

sonal and environmental factors and interpersonal

ings in depth. Dr. Linda Garnets of UCLA states:

their interview, a way of containing more ‘ natural’

tools to address the widespread lack of conversation

processes that effect sexual expression and will il-

“Our erotic personalities are as unique as our

personal meanings and understandings through a

and suppression that exists around sex and sexuality,

luminate the relationships between the variables in


process. The diaries were also intended as a way of

that may contribute to people being better able to


setting the scene, and encouraging participants to be Evidence shows that the nature of individuals sex-

explore, understand, accept and express an impor-

more mindful of the areas that the study focused on.

tant aspect of who they are and for each other too,

Study research and design method

ual expression is a complex process and due to

so that we have a more tolerant and sex positive

In any research a number of factors need to

this being a study of experience it therefore makes

One advantage of a diary is that it captures partic-

culture. This chapter will discuss the rationale for

be considered, including the preferred meth-

sense to start from an individual’s standpoint be-

ipant’s own words in their time frame and frame

the methodology that was used to answer the re-

odological paradigm, the degree of desired

fore making generalisations which would happen

of reference and they can also provide personal

search questions.

control over the process, the mode of analy-

from a quantitative study, hence choosing to do a

insights not attainable by other means. Care was

sis, available resources and time frame. Patton

qualitative study. In-depth phenomenological in-

taken in how the diaries were interpreted, for ex-

The objectives

( 1990 ) comments that “ there are no perfect re-

terviews were used as the method of data collection,

ample the researcher asked for the participants to

In line with the research questions the

search designs “ ( p.162 ), because regardless of the

as well as diaries for each participant. The aim of

be explicit about the basis and motivation on which

objectives of this study are: to explore par-

researcher’s choice, certain trade-offs are always

this was to allow access to the phenomena from the

they were compiled. There strength lies in being

ticipants’ subjective experience of sexual ex-

present. These can be either between breadth or

perspective of the person being interviewed , rather

used in conjunction with other methods, hence the

pression; to identify the factors contributing

depth, of studying one or few people versus study-

than the researcher applying her own preconceived

diary-interview design.

to sexual expression being fully satisfied; to elicit

ing a larger group, conducting a study longitudinally

ideas onto the respondents’ responses. An underly-

the meaning and value of sexual expression and

rather than cross-sectionally. Patton concludes : “ In

ing assumption in phenomenological interview is

The third decision in the design of the research

well-being to the participants; and to explore the

brief, these are not choices between good and bad,

that the perspective of a respondent is meaningful,

was what sample characteristics should be used

relationship between the two. It is hoped that the

but choices among alternatives, all of which have

knowable to him or her and can be explicit ( Pollio

to identify participants. The researcher was careful

study results will clarify some of the complex per-

merit “ (p.166 ).

et al, 1997 ). In a phenomenological interview, a

not to only use participants who are satisfied or fully



conscious of their sexual expression so as to only learn from positive exemplar cases, instead seeking to understand not only how people experience sexual expression but also how it feels if they are not able to.

For that reason a confirming and dis-confirming sampling strategy was used to safeguard against a potentially skewed representation of the relationship between sexual expression and well-being. The researcher sought to find participants who self-reported as valuing their sexual expression and experiencing it fully, placing less value on their sexual expression but still experiencing it fully, valuing their sexual expression but not being able to experience it fully, and placing less value on their sexual expression and not experiencing it fully.

Following the above considerations, the study will employ a qualitative phenomenological approach to semi-structured in-depth interviews, primed by personal diaries, with participants.

A thematic analysis, based on the guidelines of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis was used to describe participants’ experience of sexual expression, the value that they place on sexual expression, and the relationship that their sexual expression has to their experience of well-being.


Theoretical Approach

5.0 Theoretical approach Only selecting a qualitative approach is not sufficient as a choice still needs to be determined between different theoretical traditions within qualitative methodology. Grounded theory, symbolic interactionism, discourse analysis, hermeneutics and phenomenology are some of the common approaches employed by the social scientists (Crabtree & Miller, 1992). Patton (1990) writes: “How you study the world determines what you learn about the world.”

be missing, for example ( Smith & Osborn, 2003 ).

( Smith 1994, 1996 ), it connects with a much longer

In its emphasis on the sense making of both partic-

intellectual current in phenomenology and herme-

ipants and the researcher, IPA’s central concern can

neutics and with an often over-looked concern with-

be seen as cognition. However, it views people as

in psychology of subjective experience and personal

cognitive, linguistic, affective and physical beings,

accounts ( Allport, 1953; James 1890 ). IPA is an

and assumes a chain of connections between these

approach to research guided by a particular world-


view and epistemology. It is not a methodology as such as phenomenology is both a philosophical

Smith ( 2004 ) identifies three characteristic features

approach as well as a range of research methods.

The theoretical approach to the data collection

of sexual expression, moving away from objective

of IPA: idiographic, inductive and interrogative.

and analysis that was used for this study is Inter-

accounts. However, IPA also recognises the active

The idiographic approach means IPA starts with

The phenomenological tradition seeks to understand

pretative Phenomenological Analysis or IPA (

role of the researcher in the study process. Not only

a detailed examination of each individual case ,

the lived experience ( which is defined as the in-

Smith, 1996 ). Smith and Osborn ( 2003, p.51 )

are the participants trying to make sense of their

until some feeling of closure is achieved. Once it is

dividual experience of people as conscious human

state that its aim “ to explore in detail how

internal worlds, but the researcher is also trying to

achieved, the tables of themes for each participant

beings ) of participants and their intentions. It is

participants are making sense of their person-

make sense of their making sense. Meaning making

can be collated together, looking both for what is

concerned with the way that things appear to us in

al and social world and the main currency for an

can be complicated and complemented by the re-

shared and what is unique for each individual. The

experience; the reality that we live in is an expe-

IPA study is the meanings particular experiences,

searcher’s own conceptions, but these are neverthe-

inductive approach means unanticipated themes

riential one and it is experienced through practical

events, states hold for participants”. Experience

less necessary to make sense of the other person’s

can emerge during the data analysis, rather than

engagements with things and others in the world,

of and value given to sexual expression appear

world view ( Smith et al, 1999 ).

attempting to verify a specific hypothesis.

and is inherently meaningful.

personal meaning and diversity by which sexual

Meanings here can be seen as interactional ( which

Finally, the results of IPA research do not need to

Phenomenology tries to answer questions such as :

expression manifests itself in people that seems to

represents a symbolic interactionist perspective ),

be considered in isolation , but can be discussed

“ What is the structure and essence of experience of

matter more than any objective characteristic of

and the position of the interpreter as central. Thus

in relation to existing literature, which constitutes

this phenomenon for these people” ( Patton, 1990,

it. IPA is essentially a phenomenological approach

IPA is grounded not only in phenomenology, but

an interrogative approach. This method is deemed

p.88 ), or “ What is it really like to have a certain ex-

( Giorgi & Giorgi, 2003 ), because it is concerned

also in hermeneutics and theories of interpretation.

especially useful when the research questions are

perience” ? Patton has cautioned that the meaning

with individual perceptions and accounts of the

Smith ( 2004, p.40 ) comments: “For IPA, one can

concerned with complexity, process or novelty

of phenomenology varies and can appear somewhat

phenomena rather than with producing an objec-

say human research involves a double hermeneutic”

( Smith & Osborn, 2003 ). Research into subjective

confused, in that it is seen as a philosophy, as synon-

tive statement of the phenomena itself. This is fully

( both parties making sense ). This allowed the re-

experience of sexual expression fit these criteria

ymous with qualitative methodology and increasing-

appropriate for the study because the researcher

searcher to question participants’ explanations and

well. Although IPA was only articulated as a specific

ly as a specific approach to qualitative inquiry. Even

was interested in studying subjective experiences

to reflect on her own feeling that something may

approach to qualitative research in the mid 1990’s

though phenomenology originated as a philosophy,

particularly suitable for IPA analysis, as it is the



it is the third meaning that is of particular relevance

IPA is also influenced by hermeneutics and interpre-

those of Ashworth ( 2003 ), Benner ( 1994 ) , Giorgi

to this study. Phenomenology broadly refers to the

tation theory which were developed by Heidegger,

& Giorgi ( 2003 ) and Van Manen ( 2002 ).

science of phenomena. Van Manen ( 2002 ) trac-

Wilhelm Dilethy and many other German philoso-

es the roots of phenomenology to Kant, who used

phers who are concerned with the study of inter-

There are however, differences between IPA and the

the term “ to distinguish the study of objects and

pretative understanding, paying attention to context

above mentioned approaches, because phenomeno-

events as they appear in our experience from objects

and original purpose ( Patton, 1990 ) . In order to

logical study is more concerned with description

and events ( phenomena ) as they are in themselves

interpret something we need to understand what an

and understanding of what is, and does not encour-

( noumena ) “ ( p.183 ).

author wanted to communicate, what deeper mean-

age questioning or explanation. IPA , because of its

ing was intended, and in what context and from

hermeneutic roots, does explicitly encourage ques-

It is Edmund Husserl ( 1859 – 1938 ), however,

what perspective the speech act took place. Knellar

tioning and contextual interpretation and therefore

who is usually credited with the introduction of phe-

( 1984 ) summarises the essence of interpretation

seems to offer a way of bridging the divide between

nomenology at the beginning of 1900. He intended

as requiring a researcher to open him/ herself to

the worlds of description and interpretation of ex-

to establish it as the fundamental philosophy for

the text, to question it and interpret it in the light of

perience ( Ashworth, 2003 ).

all scientific investigations. Husserl confronted the

one’s own situation. In hermeneutics, a researcher’s

ultimate dualistic split between subject and object,

own perspective must be made explicit, as well as

underlying the philosophy of natural sciences, ar-

anything else that can effect the interpretation.

guing that this split was a source of serious errors. He suggested that “ we can only know what we

Thus phenomenology seeks to understand the

experience” ( Patton, 1990, p.69 ), uniting the ob-

essence of lived experience, whilst hermeneutic

jective and subjective in this assumption.

analysis attempts to give that understanding voice, because the interpretation of the text is an essential

Phenomenology as a method of qualitative inquiry

element in eliciting this experience. These two ap-

has become well established in psychology. Giorgi

proaches have influenced IPA.

and Giorgi ( 2003, p.27 ) write: “…phenomenology seeks the psychological meanings that constitute the

Smith ( 2004 ) himself does not claim that IPA has

phenomenon through investigating and analysing

a very distinct epistemological or methodological

lived examples of phenomenon within the context

position with phenomenology. Rather , he sees it as

of the participants’ lives”. An important assumption

“ ..part of a stable of closely connected approaches

embedded in a phenomenological approach is that

which share a commitment to the exploration of

there is an essence to shared experience. Thus the

personal lived experience, but which have different

focus of phenomenological study is to get to the

emphases or suggested techniques to engage in this

essence of the experience of some phenomenon.

project” ( p.41 ). Amongst these approaches he lists



6.0 Sampling The sampling strategy used for this study was purposeful, which is consistent with the IPA approach ( Smith & Osborn, 2003 ). The researcher aimed to “ select information-rich cases whose study will illuminate the questions under study”. ( Patton, 1990, p.169 ). Patton distinguishes between sixteen purposeful

Opportunistic sampling – this strategy involves

sampling strategies, and each of these strategies

flexibility in following new leads when the field-

serves a somewhat different purpose, however

work has already begun even though a participants

because research often has multiple purposes,

list may be completed. I think it is important that I

more than one sampling strategy can be used,

remain open to new opportunities during the actual

as they are not exclusive of each other. For the

data collection.

study the researcher used a combination or mixed purposeful sampling, that combined the

Qualitative approaches do not require a representa-

following four features:

tive approach to sampling but the researcher aimed to recruit participants of different social and ed-


Intensity sampling – using this strategy I will seek

ucational backgrounds and of different ages and

to study a rich bearer of the phenomena, but not an

genders and with different partnership status, so

unusual example.

as to avoid homogeneity in the sample. With respect to sample size, Creswell ( 1998 ) notes that

Confirming and dis-confirming cases – this strat-

most phenomenological studies involve samples

egy is good for elaborating and deepening analysis

ranging from 5 to 25 participants. Smith ( 1999 )

through expectations and testing variations.

notes that most IPA studies are conducted with 5 to 15 participants, but that single case studies and

Snowball or chain sampling – a strategy for lo-

larger studies are possible. This study involves 11

cating information rich cases which may mean that

participants, which was a realistic sample given the

most of my participants will be identified through

time constraints.

asking well-situated people who know other people that may be good interview subjects.


Inclusion and exclusion criteria

value in their sexual expression and yet do express

enced in such an environment and what it is about

similar information could be obtained from differ-

Participants were included in the study if they feel

their sexuality fully, and the fourth version targets

those conditions that make it possible.

ent people via approximately similar questions. In

either fully engaged in their sexual expression or

participation from those people who do not place

dis-engaged from it, and whether they place a val-

value or importance on sexual expression compar-

There are advantages and disadvantages to recruit-

word questions spontaneously, explore, probe and

ue on their sexual expression or they do not feel it

atively to other aspects of their lives and therefore

ing participants online. The advantages would be

ask further questions within the issues relevant to

has value or importance. Participants were of any

do not express their sexual selves with any vigour.

that they have interaction at their own convenience,

the particular subject predetermined in the interview

there is already availability of text, high responsive-


gender, occupation , educational level, and any age above the age of 18.

semi-structured interviews the researcher is free to

These calls for participation were emailed to those

ness, honest responses, a possible closer fit between

considered potentially suitable participants in ac-

intention, idea and expression, an equality of par-

For this process the researcher developed a set of

The researcher did consider making the age bracket

cordance with intensity sampling procedure prin-

ticipation and access to diverse participants. The

questions that were used to guide but not dictate

more defined but was also interested to see from

ciples, and to well-situated people who could act as

challenges are that there is a culture of superficiality

the course of the interview so that if the participant

the findings how sexual expression and the impor-

start up points for snowball sampling ( e.g. people

and many people whose identity is an alias. There

opened up any novel or interesting areas there was

tance that people place on it changes through the

that attend the groups that the researcher herself

is also abbreviations and speedy typing, and you

the flexibility to pursue these. Given the subject


runs at Coffee, cake & Kink CafĂŠ, friends, and net-

are missing non-verbal clues.

matter the researcher believed it was highly likely

works of people through her own online social net-

that it would happen. In this sense participants were

The exclusion criteria were that anyone person who

working accounts ). The calls for participation were

These will all be taken into account when data col-

viewed as experiential experts of the topic being

has experienced a recent trauma or significant life

also posted on several online forums, chat-rooms

lecting in this environment, however I will still ask

studied and the aim was to facilitate the giving and

event so as not to place any additional burden or

sites and web communities that the researcher is a

for a consent form to be signed and emailed back to

making of an account in a sensitive and empathic

pressure on these people.

member of.

me, even though it may be using an alias name, and

manner, recognising that the interview constitutes

I will collect the data through screen saving shots

a human-to-human relationship ( Fontana & Frey ,

Data collection

Following referral by themselves or another, poten-

or asking participants to move from the chat room

2000 ). The researchers training as a coach and her

The procedure for data collection included the fol-

tial participants were sent an Invitation and Infor-

spaces into Googlechat or Msn for example, where

experience of group facilitation around this subject

lowing elements. A call for participants was sent

mation letter and a Consent form ( all in the Appen-

conversations came be saved.

area gave her the confidence to create a form of

out in accordance with the inclusion- exclusion

dix ) and were asked about their preferred location

criteria discussed above. This call, which can be

and dates for interview as well as then being sent

The face to face interviews took taking place at

she was able to go off-script and probe more deep-

found in the Appendix, is fourfold: the first ver-

their diaries. For those participants that had wished

various locations, depending on availability and

ly where necessary or appropriate. An IPA inter-

sion invites participation from people who place

to remain as on-line personas and not meet in person

the preferences of the participants and several of

view is a synthesis of structure, participant lead

an importance / value on their sexual expression

there was also a structure that made this possible

the interviews were done over the telephone using

and narrative and as the researcher she was aware

and are able to express it fully, the second calls for

and the researcher was keen to explore and compare

a recording device. There was no time restrictions

that she may be taken into surprising and unantici-

those that place an importance/ value on it but are

how sexual expression is experienced through the

on the interviews however they most commonly

pated arenas, and also need to move from empathic

unable to express it fully, the third calls for people

online world believing it would also give some rich

had about an hours duration. The interview guide

understanding to interpretative as the interviews

to participate who do not place any, or consider any

information about how sexual expression is experi-

was prepared in advance to ensure that somewhat



personal engagement with the participant so that


Patton ( 1990 ) identifies six categories of questions that can be included in an interview guide: experience/behaviour, opinion/values, feeling, knowledge, sensory and background questions. Five of these categories (excluding the knowledge questions) were utilised in constructing the guide for this study.

The guide was also constructed using a four-stage process as detailed below. At first it is necessary to think about a broad range of issues to tackle. At the next stage, the topics were arranged in the most appropriate sequence, depending on logic and on whether some of the areas are more sensitive than others ( these are better left until the end ).

The third stage encourages the consideration of and choice between the most appropriate open-ended questions that are related to each area. Finally possible probes and prompts are listed. ( Smith & Osborn, 2003 ).


Ethical Considerations

7.0 Ethical considerations The study adhered to the British Psychological Society’s Code of Conduct Ethical Principles and Guidelines, which require psychology researchers to carry out research in the highest standards of scientific integrity and to “…ensure that interests of participants in research are safeguarded” ( 1993 , p1 ).

The emergent themes from several interviews are

were documented as they emerged onto a map-

gathered together, connections between them are

ping cluster tool

identified to allow for clustering emergent themes

• Each transcript was then read several times in

under super-ordinate themes, and finally a table of

turn and preliminary themes, initial thoughts

master themes is developed.

and other notes were applied to segments of the text.

Detailed guidance on how to carry out IPA has

• All notes and data analysis was done on paper,

The following ethical issues were considered and

or after the interview ( a list of free support

been offered by Smith et al ( 1999) and Smith

by hand, rather than using any of the available

addressed as appropriate:

and information relevant to the topic will be

and Osborn ( 2003 ). The data analysis in this


• The possible dangers and any foreseeable

provided in the Information Letter ).

study followed these descriptions as a gener-

• Emerging themes relating to the research ques-

threats to psychological well-being, health,

All of these issues have and will inform the nature

al guide, selecting from the analytical process-

tions were identified from all of the transcripts.

values or dignity because of taking part in the

of the Invitation and Information sheet, and the

es recommended for both smaller and larger

Identified themes from individual cases were


Consent Form. These were designed to outline the

sample sizes.

organised into overarching themes, which

• The need to inform the participants that they

nature and purpose of the research to participants

reserve the right at any time to withdraw from

and to address the ethical issues considered above.

The researcher used the following process:

the study.

The Invitation and Information sheet was emailed

• The diaries were prior to the interview, with

given to the overarching or super-ordinate

to participants prior to receiving the diary or at-

the participant having used them for a month.

themes and because the qualitative analysis is

tending the interview so that they had the opportu-

The data from these informed some of the ap-

a cyclical process the themes were reapplied

nity to consider it in depth as well as consider any

proach to the interview.

several times against the transcripts to see if

• The necessity to obtain informed consent to the investigation. • The need to specifically communicate to my participants that the information they provide

questions that they may wish to ask.

will remain confidential, and although the in-

pulled together common themes.

• The semi-structured interviews were audio-taped and then transcribed by a profes-

• Once clustering was completed names were

there were any new themes emerging and if there was any need for modification.

terview data and analysis will enter the public

Steps of data analysis

sional transcriber. The researcher then check

domain, the identities of the contributors will

Commonly , the method of analysis in IPA initially

through the transcriptions.

remain anonymous.

follows an ideographic approach, beginning with

• Whilst the transcribing was in process the re-

Qualitative methods have been criticised for the

• They can either take ownership of, or destroy

particular examples and working towards a more

searcher listened to the tapes to repeatedly, try-

potential lack of reliability and validity in terms

the audiotapes and their diaries having com-

general categorisation ( Smith, Jarman, Osborn,

ing to familiarise herself with the material.

of generalisability. The notion of validity, howev-

pleted the study.

1999 ). The process starts with familiarising one-

• With IPA there is an initial focus on one tran-

er, is as important in qualitative research as it is

• The need to identify and provide information

self with the interviews and making brief notes

script, which is read several times to increase

in quantitative. Qualitative methodology may em-

to participants about what support is available

as one goes through them. These initial notes are

familiarity with the text. Preliminary thoughts

ploy different means of rigour that quantitative but

to them should they experience distress during

then developed into so-called emergent themes.

were noted down, whilst emergent themes

this does not mean that it is any less scientific.


Reliability and validity


Qualitative research needs to be judged against cri-

tivity into a crucial resource in the research pro-

tentional, and hence filtered through one’s life ex-

line survey attracted well over 67 replies and is

teria appropriate to this approach ( Smith, 1996 ).

cess, and into something that can be made useful

perience. To argue otherwise is to reintroduce the

still being added to. Due to the time and length

For example, validity or verification in qualitative

to the reader…” ( Parker, 2005, p.26 ). Since phe-

Cartesian dualism which phenomenology sought

restraints of this study the researcher has decided

research is usually approached through consisten-

nomenological research is designed to uncover an

to escape. Faced with this dilemma – that brack-

to only use the data from three of the ten questions;

cy and fit. There have been many suggestions as to

interviewee’s lived experience and the associated

eting is both vital and impossible, the researcher

those three questions that ask about the individ-

which principles should guide qualitative process.

personal meanings, it is generally held that the

strove to take a self-conscious position and make

uals personal interpretations of the words sexual

Creswell ( 1998 ), for example, offers eight verifi-

researcher’s beliefs and meanings should intrude

her own experience part of the research material.

expression and well-being, as well as the question

cation procedures for qualitative research, the use

as little as possible. This is achieved by ‘bracket-

She has therefore stated very clearly her own be-

about what relationship they have experienced as

of at least two of which is recommended in any

ing’ – “the process of setting aside, suspending, or

liefs and experiences. A concern for most social

existing between the two. These were the ques-

one study:

holding in abeyance presuppositions surrounding

scientists is the complex nature of the phenome-

tions that felt most directly relevant to this study at

• Prolonged engagement and persistent observa-

a specific phenomenon” (Gearing 2004, p.1433).

na being studied : human behaviour and therefore

the time, and were also the most straight forward

Gearing considers that exactly what bracketing in-

multiple perspectives help to adequately reflect the

to interpret. The other data will be taken forward

• Triangulation

volves is open to wide interpretation. For him, it

richness of these complexities.

and used in further studies that the researcher in-

• Peer review of debriefing

consists of identifying.


• Negative case analysis

tends to carry out. Simultaneous triangulation was also used as an-

• Clarifying researchers own biases

What is being bracketed:

other process to aide validation. The researcher

Patton ( 1990 ) states: “ A qualitative analyst re-

• Member checks

(e.g. personal knowledge or values) In which parts

used different data-collection methods: along with

turns to the date over and over again to see if the

• Rich thick description

of the study bracketing is being observed (e.g.

the diaries and interviews, she also uploaded an

constructs, categories,explanations, and interpre-

• External audit.

bracketing may apply only to the data collection;

online survey into the sexual blogging world. This

tations make sense, if they really reflect the na-

in the analysis and conclusions it may be legiti-

was an abbreviated version of the interview guide

ture of phenomena. Creativity, intellectual rigor,

At this stage the primary verification procedure

mate to reintroduce bracket elements as part of the

that had already been developed for use with the

perseverance, insight – these are the intangibles

that was implemented was the researcher clarify-

researcher’s reflexive contribution to the study).

key participants.

that go beyond the routine application of scientific

ing her own biases. This is an essential element

The boundaries of bracketing (acknowledging the

of phenomenological method, ( Smith, 1996 ) and

limitations on the extent to which bracketing is

The context in which the survey was engaged

tellectual rigor and professional integrity is a very

she made every effort to be transparent about her

possible, or has been achieved in practice).

with, controlled conditions that were online and

subjective one, but essential. The researcher set

anonymous, meant that the researcher was not able

out with endeavour to undertake this study in line with these principles.

own beliefs and assumptions from the outset. The

procedures” ( p.477 ). Arguably the criteria of in-

researcher make a deliberate effort to be aware of

This last point is particularly significant, because

to seek understanding of those participants in the

her own assumptions prior to the course of this

there is a case to be made that bracketing is funda-

same way or be able to question and probe about

analysis and attempted to bracket them and apply

mentally incompatible with the philosophical basis

her interpretations. However it did have value

Researcher Assumptions:

phenomenological reduction.

of phenomenology (LeVasseur 2003). No matter

in testing the hypothesis and also measuring the

Several assumptions and motivations of the re-

Reflexivity is “a self-consciously and deliberate-

how one tries to bracket, one’s perception of the

validity of the language and interpretation of the

searcher underlie the current thesis. This section

ly-assumed position…[which] then makes subjec-

subject matter of a research study is necessarily in-

terms sexual expression and well-being. The on-

intends to make them explicit:



1. Sexual expression can be interpreted in many

of personal experiences and personal stories from

ways and experienced in many ways but the re-

the voluntary groups that she runs. It is important

searcher’s own experiences of sexual expression

for her to acknowledge this, as even though she

can be defined as follows: the researcher views

will be consciously bracketing her existing beliefs

sexual expression as an instinctive and constant

and personal narrative, ultimately everything will

energy that people access in different ways, at dif-

be going through the filter of her experience. This

ferent times, in different quantities, with varying

may of course have influenced her preference for

levels of adeptness and awareness. Once accessed

the inclusion of certain literatures and for pursuing

the researcher believes that the energy has benefits

certain questions in more depth.

that surpass just the pleasure of the moment and can lead to individuals using it as part of accessing their greater potential.

2. Human beings assign meanings to their experiences and are capable of reflecting upon and describing those experiences and their associated meanings.

3. Although results from qualitative research are generally treated as subject specific and generalisable to the wider population, the author believes that when similar findings are replicated in a number of qualitative studies with different groups of participants, in some circumstances this suggests generalisation akin to those frequently made on the basis of quantitative findings.

4. The author can describe herself as a young white woman of British origin who is quite involved in a number of online and offline communities that are connected to the theme of this research. Therefore the researcher already brings to the study an array 34


8.0 Results This chapter will summarise the results obtained from the interview study using the process of IPA. Limitations on word count means that the emphasis will be on the seven superordinate themes that emerged from the data. These have been divided with six of them remaining as key super-ordinate themes; Completeness, Wholeness in Communication, Constance, Aliveness, Generating and Liberating, with two sub-heading whereby the themes were grouped into Well-being and Confliction. Again, due to the word limit restrictions there was



taken to reflect a balanced use of statements from

four quadrants they fitted in to from the initial Call

Unable to express fully















































for Participants.

It was initially hoped there would be an even spread

Sexual experience unimportant


all of the different participants. Table 1 summarises the participants and distinguishes which one of the

Able to express fully


no space to include a detailed analysis of each individual case in this thesis. However, care has been

Sexual experience important

* *

* *




Table 1

of participants across the four divides, however, one participant had to leave the study and there were several participants who had first self-reported as being in one category then shifted to another. The importance or value that the participants placed on their sexual expression did not fluctuate, however their ability or inability to fully express it was influenced by their relationship status in two cases.



Main results

9.0 Super-ordinate themes

The iterative process of engagement with the transcripts resulted in the identification of 136 emergent themes. An attempt was then made to group these themes in to super-ordinate themes at a higher level of abstraction and generality.

The table below shows all of the emerging themes and their clustering in to super-ordinate themes:


The clustering was performed in a bottom-up fash-

themes focussed on the positive and the remaining

ion, with the emergent themes being clustered on

super-ordinate theme offered the negative end of


the basis of their functional and logical similari-

the spectrum. This super-ordinate theme was titled

Fully human

ty. In most instances a super-ordinate theme was

Conflicting Inhibitors and was divided in to two


built around and given the name of one dominant

sub-themes: Conflict from self voice, and Conflict


emergent theme within it. The clustering process

from perceived external voice.

Closeness to all of oneself

was not always straightforward in that some of the



emergent themes overlapped with one another and

It is recognised that these are unlikely to be the

Full "knowledge of oneself"

could have been positioned in several of the su-

only way that the emergent themes could have been


per-ordinate theme categories.

categorised and other options were considered, such

Full acceptance

as division into body, mind and spirit or self, other, There were also themes that felt too case-specific

perception and language. Or more general ones such


or that were just adjectives rather than themes in

as influences on repression. However the chosen


and of themselves or too obviously representative

categorisation appeared to summarise the results


of many common well-being umbrella terms, such

best and was in part determined by the researcher’s

as authenticity, creativity, confidence. They were

preferences and knowledge of the literature as well

Taking off Mask

grouped in to one sub-theme entitled well-being and

as a desire to introduce different language in to the


clustered together to demonstrate all of the connec-



tions and associations with well-being.

The clustering culminated in there being 7 super-ordinate themes: Completeness/Whole-

Abiliy to be absolutely yourself The next section will introduce the super-ordinate

Natural self


Where you belong Commiting to who you are

ness, Wholeness in Communication, Constancy, Generating, Alive-ness, and Liberating. These 6 38

Being in your body 39

Nourishment (feel fed)

Learning to compromise as a positive

Interaction/Relationship with body

Access to energy sources Shines light on aspects of ones self

FEELING emotion rather than just thinking it

Sexual information as total communication

Comfort with oneself

Interaction opportunities ( Talking, playing etc. )

Sense of Self

Feedback of self opportunities

Ownership of own sexuality

Opportunity to play around with how people

Self Knowledge

respond to your self

Strengthening of sense of self

Acting and reacting

Confirming a belief


Brings you all together

A life force

Reinforcement of ones self

“ Essentially who I am “ Instinctive Primal

Wholeness In Communication ( duality of outwardly communicating who you are, concurrently showing internally all of who you are )

Making oneself understood as a whole


Sexual expression as most SELF revealing All consuming Meta-connection with other people


Commonality Relatedness

Powerful energy

Powerful response from others

Powerful force

Attraction radiating from self, attracts others

Urge Something that can be guided/ channelled

Most honest and indicative of core beliefs

Deep rooted

( authentic ) Opening up all vulnerabilities

A constant

Multifaceted – multi lingual and multi sensual

Silent, always present aura

Complex exchange Flexible 40

Woven in to all thoughts and actions 41

Part of the pattern of life


Natural daily fabric of life Opens your eyes Human- ness

Primes receptiveness

Part of human beings & part of being human

Wonderment Mindfulness in regards sexual energy





Will to live

Come to life

Seduction of being fully seen, understood,

Twinkle in eye


Juicy Brings self in to land of the living Brings colour to life


Enabler to break free of routine

Creates a masterpiece

Broadening emotional capability


Increasing emotional accessibility


Encourages openness to difference

All of you fully engaged

Open up

Engages all of the senses


Connected all over

Enabling of risk taking


Space to experiment

Engagement with life In flow

Door opening – enables connection that is leading Seeking of new things



Growth mindset


Broadening of horizons





Opening and releasing



Raised level of consciousness

Tension between internal desire and external

More receptive to heightened awareness


Heightened creativity

Unease / discomfort with self

Tweaks skills of communication and

Uncertain how to bring it more to life



Priming for all of our senses to appreciate more

Relying on denial and avoidance

An ongoing education of ones self

Needing approval Seeing it as only a reward or to serve a purpose

Resilient making

A bind

Confidence giving

Misaligned with rest of self image

Inner strength building

Holds more weight, therefore unable to laugh off

Triggers positive emotions

mistakes as easily Anxiety making Stagnant and stuck when energy is unable to be




Freeing Exhilarating Carefree

Conflict from perceived external voice

Ridicule Fear

A place to be free

Something to be ashamed of

Allowance of freedom

Fear of judgement

A key to a gateway

Fear of rejection Not permissive Foolishness

Conflicting Inhibitors

Inappropriate Something to hide Morality

Conflict from self voice

Bad body image



Sexual awareness being wrong

Using only as a tool rather than listening to whole 44


The last table gives an overview of the most

A calmness of spirit

commonly used words or themes that related

Positive emotion

directly to well-being in terms of all the well known


literature. It was considered important to highlight


these directly as they relate so fundamentally with the research question and they will be reflected upon

The themes will be introduced within a sequential

within the discussion, however it was decided that

pattern that the researcher would like to present

they did not bear as much interest to the researcher

as having significance or value in being able to

or feel that they would necessarily move the research

understand some of the participant’s experience.

in to more interesting areas.

Well-being vocabulary: Pleasure Delightful Touch Physical release Life affirming Mastery Authenticity Full engagement In control Wisdom Playfulness Physically healthy Mentally connected Emotional connection Self-nurturing Balance Relatedness Creativity Imagination


Super-ordinate themes

Constancy/Consonant 1. the quality of being unchanging or unwavering, as in purpose, love, or loyalty; firmness of

Human- ness

inside myself or with someone else every day, and

This description, with the mention of control,

Part of human beings & part of being human

it’s been, like I say it just seems part of the nat-

suggests something active, like a force; it was de-

ural daily fabric of life to me really. It may not

scribed as a powerful force by a third of the par-

This theme concerned acknowledgement from the

be necessary for survival in the way that eating

ticipants. This is also a description that aligns in

participants that there sexual expression or sexu-

and breathing and sleeping are but for me it is

someway to Freud’s description of libido. Freud

ality was a fundamental part of them, an inherent,

not far after that. “ - AM

talked about libido as an energy that can increase

mind; faithfulness. 2. uniformity or regularity, as in qualities or conditions; invariableness.

or decrease and which can be displaced. Freud in-

Consonant with the nature or character of.

intrinsic aspect of themselves. It seemed as though


the experience was similar with 10 out of the 11

In this instance the participant sounds aware of and

sisted on the sexual nature of this energy, and it

A life force

participants in being aware of this aspect, however

in control of this energy. Recognising it and being

was also described as being active and masculine.

“ Essentially who I am "

how they experienced it differed. Several partic-

able to access it upon his desire and in different

He also thought that it operated as a dualism in


ipants’ descriptions sounded as if it was passive,

contexts. This was not the same for all participants:

which the libido is opposed to another ( non-sex-


that unless they chose to bring it to the forefront

“ I know it is important but its not at the mo-

ual ) form of energy. AM’s experience with his


of their attention it was there as a constant but not

ment, there are certain things that I automati-

sexual energy would seem congruent with this:

necessarily at the surface of their consciousness.

cally think about and there are certain sorts of

“ I think what has happened for me is that sex-

All consuming

“ It has always been a thread that has run

patterns in life and my sexual expression isn’t

ual expression in my marriage transmutes in


through my life. “ - JM

much of my pattern of life and I wish that to be

to something else, it becomes an expression of

different.” - SF

great tenderness and love and longstanding un-

Powerful energy

Three of the participants spoke of it using metaphors

This is an example of where the participant’s aware-

ion but its not really about giving voice to your

Powerful force

from crafting: threads, woven in to all thoughts and

ness is not congruent with her expressive desires

imagination and stuff that makes you go wow.


actions, as well as patterns and fabrics of daily life.

however she does perceive it as something that she

So I think it can take on another form which in

Something that can be guided/ channelled

These descriptions certainly evoked it as something

can self-determine in some way, whether she has

its own right is quite a wonderful thing and can

Deep rooted

fundamental within it, one participant referring to

the knowledge of how to is a separate topic, dis-

be an important cement in a relationship. But

its place in daily life in a nearly comparative way

cussed further in the conflicting inhibitors section.

it’s a bit like a river that gets diverted from its

A constant

to those most basic of needs for survival, indeed,

In contrast, this description suggests that sexual

natural course.

Silent, always present aura

sex does sit amongst the basic needs in Maslow’s

expression has a quality that is both more intangible

hierarchy of needs.

and therefore less controllable:

The energy might be forced to follow that course

“ Its coming from something much deeper and

because that is the channel that has been dug

Woven in to all thoughts and actions Part of the pattern of life

“ What feels right to me is that I access and en-

less controllable and understandable than a lot

for it but the energy has to go somewhere and if

Natural daily fabric of life

gage with the energy myself whether it’s just

of our other actions.” - JF

its not that course, the natural choice for itself,



where it naturally gravitates to, then it is liable to hit the banks or carve new channels or something. “ - AM

However Freud used the word “ urge” to describe the energy ( again perhaps indicative of his perception of it as masculine and active ) although only two participants in this study used the word urge.

Jung on the other hand saw the energy as a single form of life energy, neutral in character and a monism, describing it as the will to live rather than sexual desire, and this description is more fitting to a larger percentage of the participants’ accounts in this study.

All but one participant talks with an inevitability about the existence of this fundamental aspect of themselves. EF’s response is indicative of most participants’ perception: “ I am aware of my sexual expression in me all of the time. It is one of the key aspects that make up me.” - EF

Alive-ness 1. having life; living; existing; not dead or lifeless.


2. in a state of action; in force or operation;


active: to keep hope alive.

Opening and releasing

3. full of energy and spirit; lively.


4. having the quality of life; vivid; vibrant.

Opens your eyes

5. alive to, alert or sensitive to.

Primes receptiveness

6. alive with, filled with living things; swarming;



Mindfulness in regards sexual energy

7. look alive! pay attention! move quickly!: Vitality



Will to live

Come to life

Seduction of being fully seen, understood, accepted

Twinkle in eye Juicy

This theme develops on from the previous one. If

Brings self in to land of the living

the consensus is that the sexual energy is a natural

Brings colour to life

and constant energy, then this section exposes the

Creates a masterpiece

ways in which that energy manifests itself in the


individual, and is quite literally brought to life. The


word alive as a description of feeling was used by a third of participants, GM especially referenced it

All of you fully engaged

and also in being prompted for further expansion on

Engages all of the senses

his experience of this, linked it to other experiences

Connected all over

outside of the sexual realm.

Stimulated Engagement with life

“ With that energy I now sometimes do things

In flow

with a more creative element, getting out on stage and acting in front of people, or doing a dancing



competition, just dancing can normally be quite


exhilarating, and I recently went on a hill walk51

ing holiday and climbing 3,000 feet with the wind

“ It has a place of central importance for me. I

noticed a different energy about me, even in the

sexual expression, but was clear that it felt more

howling around you and being able to see for

feel that when I am engaged with my sexual self

choices of songs to sing that I was making.“ - LF

congruent with who she was to describe it as sen-

20-30 miles, that is exhilarating. I am not sure

and expressing it in any of the ways that I have

that there is a difference actually between feeling

described, I am just in flow; absorbed, engaged,

The choice of the word energy is one preferred by

“ It’s wonderful , the surprise of it, the feel of

alive when I connect with nature and that feel-

connected in all of myself and to others. “ - AM

the researcher, however six of the participants used

the fabric, the beautiful colours, you never quite

the term before the researcher introduced it in to the

know whether the colours are going to come out

ing of being alive in a sexual way. Both take me

suality rather than sexuality:

to raised states of consciousness. I think that is

The description of being connected was used by

interview. PM spoke of how the energy was fluid,

the way that you want them and sometimes you

really probably the distinction, a lot of people go

half of the participants and within the context of

active, in a cyclical, renewable, creative flow:

are delighted and sometimes you are disappoint-

around in a walking sleep, they just go through

this super-ordinate theme it was a description that

“It’s part of what we do when we create, and

ed and umm its this sort of play, ongoing play be-

their lives like someone on a production line as

was enhancing, whereby all of their senses, when

we create if you like because its very much a

tween you and the fabric, its just delightful.“ - JF

opposed to creating their own masterpiece. “

connected with, were opened and also primed for

part of re-creation. When we say recreation we

- GM

the appreciation of many things:

forget that the word actually means to re-create

“ I feel alive, awake, sensitive and aroused in

ourselves and not just have fun you know “’- PM

The coming to life feelings were described with

many areas. “ - MF

value in and of themselves, a vitality, “ juiciness”,

Not all participants could relate their sexual energy

enough to be experienced for that feeling alone,

These descriptions had similarities to Csikszentmi-

to feeling most alive. SiF was the only participant

for the sheer joy or calm but also two thirds of the

halyi’s concept of flow but where they differed was

who was quite unconscious of the energy as a part

participants gave reference to the complexity of that

in the greater awareness of self, rather than the loss

of her at all, although she could understand and

feeling in its role as a facilitator to other feelings

of self; being fully alive was brought in to attention,

had experienced a sense of alive-ness, in relation

and actions.

rather than merging that feeling with an action in

to something else:

which one’s self gets lost.

“ Probably I’m going to sound really sad but

“ I suppose it opens your eyes and confirms your

when we get a big case in at work and then the

belief in the ability to experience more. It is a

The sense of connection and awareness of self was

adrenalin pings in and we’re all working togeth-

feeling of exhilaration, glistening and perhaps

not only benefiting to external experiences with the

er on something major, that is when I have felt

just being really truly alive in a total sense rather

outer world and others, but also by being connect-

most alive, and well, I’ve never experienced that

than a partial sense. “ - GM

ed to their full self, so that all aspects of their self

same kind of feeling through anything sexual.

were acknowledged in the way that they wanted to

“ - SiF

One of the participants of the online survey de-

be acknowledged, was found to be life-affirming:

scribed the feeling as “ every single cell feels as

“ Acknowledgement of being fully me makes me

JF described an experience of fabric dyeing, when

though it is singing “ and this corresponded, al-

feel fully alive. I certainly think that there is a

all of her senses were fully engaged and she felt

though expressed in a different way, with several

twinkle in my eye that wasn’t there before, which

stimulated and roused, and after being probed fur-

of the interview participants:

actually my singing teacher even noticed. She

ther could see the similarity between that and her



Liberation 1. the act of liberating or the state of being

“ Exploring my sexuality has given me the fre-

This metaphorical space was somewhere that felt

dom and space to step beyond where I thought

safe to explore within:

my boundaries were. When people are able to

“I let my guard down when I am really free to

full social or economic opportunities for a

accept their sexuality and they are able to ex-

do so. It is a bit like acting or singing for me. A

particular group.

press it it feels like it is a kind of key to a gateway

place to be free.” - LF

where you can start to stand up straighter and

In some cases it was quite literally a physical space

be stronger in many areas of life. “ - PeM

that had made that exploration more possible:

liberated. 2. the act or fact of gaining equal rights or


“I moved in to a more creative sphere with my

Freeing Exhilarating

Needing permission was an underlying current fac-

work where people are more capable of express-


tor for 2 of the participants. This was mostly due

ing emotion, well it feels like they are, like there

to societal norms and awareness of moral judge-

is more of a freedom to it, they seem to do it

A place to be free

ments, and even those who no longer individually

more and better, so changing spheres of influence

Allowance of freedom

felt bound by such external influences, suppression

helped me. “ - SF

A key to a gateway

through guilt or shame had been a common expe-

Aspects of this theme are very much rooted in the

rience for the older participants in the earlier part

A sense of freedom was also experienced in the

of their lifetimes.

reverse context too. Having spent much of her 20’s

super-ordinate theme of aliveness that preceded

and 30’s on a quest to find a partner, which was done

it, however the word “ free” and the connotation

When JF discovered that she was no longer able to

regularly through her sexual expression, now mar-

to freedom and freeness were a consistent feature

conceive and therefore did not have to be concerned

ried and not bound by that search, JF describes it as:

within 10 of the participants accounts, it therefore

about the moral judgement of pregnancy outside of

“ There was always a drive to find somebody and

felt important to create it as a stand-alone theme.

marriage she described it being:

for sexual encounters, but not anymore and that

In some cases the freedom had an element of be-

“ When I no longer saw expressions of sexuality

is a great freedom. I did have a friend who used

ing permissive to it, and in the description below

in moral terms it was very liberating “ - JF

to describe me as a heat seeking missile.“ - JF

the metaphor of a key and a gateway compounds a sense of unleashing potential, that once feeling able

The use of the words “ space”,” place”, and also “

or permitted to, that there were no bounds in what

sphere” were repeated throughout 8 of the

one can achieve.

participant’s accounts especially in reference to what enables sexual expression.



Generating 1. to bring into existence; cause to be; produce.

Inner strength building

drawn out over months and even stages of life. LF

This highlight’s this participant’s experience of

2. to create by a vital or natural process.

Triggers positive emotions

is describing changes that happened over a period

having personally grown through the exploration

of 12 months:

of his sexual expression, something he believes has

3. to create and distribute vitally and profusely. 4. to reproduce; procreate.

This super-ordinate theme is concerned with the

“ There has not necessarily been a physical

had a direct and quite profound impact on his con-

5. to act as base for all the elements of a

impact, aftermath and residue of that energy and

change but I think that there’s maybe a change

fidence. Nearly all of the participant’s could name

freedom from being expressed. Central to the re-

in how I perceive myself. I’ve come so far in

some way that they felt their sexual expression had

Enabler to break free of routine

search question is trying to understand what other

my confidence that I can absolutely do an acting

enabled them to develop. Two participants’ felt that

Broadening emotional capability

experiences participants’ have had from expressing

scene now where we are lovers and I can believe

it had opened their eyes to living a more diverse

Increasing emotional accessibility

themselves sexually beyond the traditionally viewed

that we are. “ - LF

life whereby they were open and able to embrace

Encourages openness to difference

benefits of pleasure. Nearly all of the participants

Open up

had experienced the expression or awareness and

Below PM is talking about the feelings he has no-


acceptance of their sexual selves as a positive thing.

ticed as being different in him over the last 6 months

“ In a conventional relationship it is about at-

as he has a new sexual relationship in his life.

traction, between two people who sleep with each

given set:.

Enabling of risk taking


Space to experiment

“ I have through all of this realised how

“ I’m more cheerful and I’m more accepting and

other in a fairly set kind of number of ways and

Door opening – enables connection that is leading

strong I am, it has made me realise how resilient

I’m also more tolerant. “ - PM

then in the conventional sense develop a relation-

Seeking of new things

I am. Well I think if I am more comfortable with

Growth mindset

myself and feeling that I am my whole self, then I

Particularly interesting are accounts whereby it is

know it just seems like quite a kind of minimal

Broadening of horizons

feel that I have the strength to face things in life,

evident that the participant’s have experienced their

level of complication, complexity, intensity really.


because I feel strength I feel confidence, so in that

sexual expression as having expanded and devel-

I guess I mean you could say that the love is the


respect I am better prepared and more equipped to

oped them in some way:

intense part but the sexuality within that, I guess


face things.“ - EF

“ There are so many deep seated emotional issues

what I am trying to say is that by experiencing

around sexual expression. They come from so

sexuality less conventionally I think it has opened

Raised level of consciousness

ship that lasts for a number of years and I don’t

More receptive to heightened awareness

EF was very clear that it wasn’t the sexual expres-

many subtle places. It is really so easy to ignore

up heaps of new possibilities and heaps of quite

Heightened creativity

sion itself that had made her resilient but the pro-

them because it can feel difficult to face them.

intense and interesting ways of sexual expres-

Tweaks skills of communication and self-under-

cess of becoming her full sexual self that had con-

You are constantly opening up, being flexible,

sion. I guess its an area where there is lots to do


solidated it. The participants’ accounts in relation

evolving and through that getting over fears

and there are lots of things that take you out of

Priming for all of our senses to appreciate more

to this theme varied in terms of at which point in

and finding a confidence. When we do, and we

umm a lifestyle that or what you see as other’s

An ongoing education of ones self

their expression they were describing. For example,

are able to feel comfortable, then we are able to

lifestyle. “ - JM

Resilient making

positive emotions were evident before, during and

grow.” - PeM

Confidence giving

after and some of the benefits were longer term and



Several participants’ made reference to this, as part

in to our sexual expression is one way that

of their process of learning and discovering and

we can do this. “ - GM

accepting themselves, they had also come to gain more understanding and empathy towards others

“ I also feel that when I am in a relationship I am

and their lifestyles, and were continuing to learn

also more sexually expressive and creative and


explorative. “ - MF

“True sexual expression involves such a lovely

“ I certainly feel that a positive state of mind has

level of trust and empathy. If our society were

a domino effect on lots of other things, whether

better able to tolerate sexual expression, we

that positivity is driven by greater sexual ex-

would go a long way to being able to heal some

pression, yes that would definitely be one way

deep social wounds. “ - PeM

to achieve it, yes absolutely. “ - SF

“ I have really developed emotionally since coming out in how I relate to people, whether it’s at work, whether it’s socially, whether it’s the people in the shop on the corner, you know I feel I am a different person in a good way.“ - EF

The other references of direct or lasting benefits overlapped with some of the emerging themes in the super-ordinate theme of alive-ness. The descriptions were ones of expansion of awareness, or stimuli being activated that then enabled the participant to do something in a new or different way, being resourceful and creative: “ I can go out and have an exhilarating dance or I can go out and do some acting or I can go out and meet a new person who really stimulates me and I think it is stimulation which we can pave by being more receptive and heightening our awareness and tapping 58

Wholeness in Communication ( duality of outwardly communicating who

parts or elements.

you are, concurrently showing internally all

7. an assemblage of parts associated or viewed

of who you are ) 1. Intercourse by words, letters, or messages;

together as one thing; a unitary system. 8. as a whole, all things included or considered

interchange of thoughts or opinions. 2. the act or process of transmitting information (as about ideas, attitudes, emotions, or objec-

Making oneself understood as a whole Sexual expression as most SELF revealing

tive behavior) 3. exchange of information between individuals

Meta-connection with other people

through a common system of signs, symbols,


or behaviour communication between humans


4. the act or process of communicating; fact of being communicated.

Powerful response from others Attraction radiating from self, attracts others

5. the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing,

Most honest and indicative of core beliefs

or signs.

( authentic ) Opening up all vulnerabilities

1. comprising the full quantity, amount, extent,

Multifaceted – multi lingual and multi sensual

number, etc., without diminution or exception;

Complex exchange

entire, full, or total.


2. undivided; in one piece

Learning to compromise as a positive

3. integral, or not fractional.

Access to energy sources

4. pertaining to all aspects of human nature, esp.

Shines light on aspects of ones self

one's physical, intellectual, and spiritual de-

Sexual information as total communication

velopment: education for the whole person.

Interaction opportunities ( Talking, playing etc. )

5. the whole assemblage of parts or elements

Feedback of self opportunities

belonging to a thing; the entire quantity, ac-

Opportunity to play around with how people re-

count, extent, or number

spond to your self

6. a thing complete in itself, or comprising all its

Acting and reacting 59

This is the super-ordinate theme that introduces

“ I can see that I may gradually move away from

to it, if you’re incapable of expressing emotions

exploring little things, allowing for feedback that

another, bringing together the levels of communica-

some of my friends because I don’t want to be

it is pretty difficult to be sexually expressive in

is positively grown. “ - PeM

tion that sexual expression offers, and highlighting

inauthentic around them. It is such a huge part

any sense at any time. “ It is just being more

that the communication is a complex interchange,

of who I am now that keeping that from them is

emotionally capable so that I have more of the

This feedback also generated playfulness and an

that by using one’s sexual expression outwardly one

like keeping from someone that you’ve lost your

subtleties not just in sexual expression but in all

awareness of acting and reacting with the partici-

is expressing fully who they are internally.

leg. “ - LF

my emotions “ - SF

pants. Two participants compared it to their experiences of having acting lessons, one participant ex-

“ Me knowing that I’m emotionally accessible

“ It used to feel normal to feel that there was a

There were many ways in which sexual expression

plored the communication of his sexual self through

but having ways of showing it so that other peo-

missing piece, and not knowing what that miss-

demonstrated itself as a communication platform,

dressing up as a character at parties and testing ways

ple find me more accessible.“ - SF

ing piece was, not knowing what was wrong, or

one by which if you are revealing your true nature,

of being, and below, JF talks about her enjoyment

knowing what was wrong but not being able to

has the richest potential as a place to learn from.

of pottery and after further questioning was able to

“ When I am being intimate I’m not talking only

do anything about it, so it was like flicking a

“ It gave me a chance to experiment, it gave me

draw parallels with her experiences of how she now

with my mouth, hands, feelings, my breath, sex-

switch and finding out that I could be my true

a chance to see what I was comfortable with and

enjoys sexual expression:

ual information is total communication. That’s

self to myself and to other people. “ - EF

where the boundaries actually were. When you

“ I’m not drawn to oil painting for example

think that the boundaries are here and you go

because you are not actually touching things,

Commonality between all of the participants except

and experience something, you realise that there

you’re holding the paintbrush but you haven’t

“They have the potential to be multifaceted ex-

for one was shown through their agreement that

was never any boundary there whatsoever. “

got your fingers in the paint, I want something

periences. Finding someone that I have a kind

sexual expression was a multi lingual and multi

- PeM

where I’ve got my fingers on whatever it is, so

of intellectual and emotional connection with

sensual expression, with complexity and depth.

about the stuff that makes me feel you know

This complexity required a level of awareness and

Multifaceted feedback in how you relate to people,

clay and the cloth and less interested in the cer-

aroused, excited and all the rest of it, and that

competence, almost a new or more expansive vo-

on your performance, on your aesthetic, it incorpo-

ebral things like writing academic papers. I’m

is probably the single most important thing. My

cabulary that you’d need for this form of expression

rates so much of who we are both internally and ex-

not doing it because of the final product of the

sexual expression is private, more honest and


ternally and the feedback from our communication

clay, I’m doing it because I love the interaction

more indicative of my core beliefs about myself

“ I have this sort of explosive stuff at the other

of it is instantaneous and powerful:

that I have with the clay, talking with the clay,

than other expression.“ - AM

end where I’ve bottled it up so long that I just

“ Well self confidence is a very tricky thing and

playing wit they clay. “ - JF

let it all out, it’s the bit in the middle, its all the

when you are dealing with personal confidence

All of the participants made reference to their sex-

subtleties of emotion that I’ve never used and I

it’s a whole feedback thing, when you feel con-

Unsurprisingly sexual expression grooved out huge

ual self being most indicative of who they are, or

think if you translate that into how I think about

fident you act confident and if people respond

potential for connection with others and for experi-

representative of their autonomy. As an authentic

sexual expression yes, either I’m completely none

to you positively you feel more confident. When

encing relatedness and closeness. Not only in an in-

expression of themselves it was viewed with great

expressive, but its all about those subtle bits in

you express yourself sexually there is such a

timate way through the physical closeness of touch

importance and expression of it, in as authentic a

the middle that I feel unconfident about. I think

powerful response from people. So its just this

and smell, but also in relation to emotions:

way as possible, increased feelings of well-being:

the ability to express all emotions is connected

whole discovery. Slowly changing little things or

what I’ve found anyway. “ - PM


yes I’ve become more and more interested in the


“ Within a couple of weeks of my finding the forum, my crying stopped, I felt calmer and finally there were people I could connect with who were in the same position as me. “ EF

Wholeness/Completeness 1. comprising the full quantity, amount, extent, number, etc., without diminution or exception; entire, full, or total: 2.containing all the elements properly belonging;

thorough; entire; total; undivided, uncompromising, or unmodified 15. the state of being complete and entire; having everything that is needed

complete: 3. undivided; in one piece


4. not broken, damaged, or impaired; intact


5. pertaining to all aspects of human nature, esp.

Fully Human

one's physical, intellectual, and spiritual de-


velopment: education for the whole person.


6. the whole assemblage of parts or elements belonging 7. a thing complete in itself, or comprising all its parts or elements. 8. an assemblage of parts associated or viewed together as one thing; a unitary system. 9. as a whole, all things included or considered; altogether 10. a number, group, set, or thing lacking no part or element; a complete thing. 11. an entity or system made up of interrelated

Closeness to all of oneself Acknowledgement Full “ knowledge” of oneself Belonging Full Acceptance Centred Harmony Synchronisation Taking Off Mask Undisguised Unguarded

parts: The value of the whole was greater than

Ability to be absolutely yourself

the sum of its parts.

Natural Self

12. an undivided or unbroken completeness or totality with nothing wanting;

Where you belong Committing to who you are

13. whole"ness\, n. The quality or state of being whole, entire, or sound; entireness; to-

Being in your body

tality; completeness.

Nourishment ( feel fed )

14. having all parts or elements; lacking nothing; whole; entire; full 62

Interaction / Relationship with body FEELING emotion rather than just thinking it 63

Comfort with oneself

Acknowledgement or awareness of it brought in

not being aware of your inner strength and a big

the way I used to dress was fairly, I covered up

Sense of Self

itself a comfort, or closeness to oneself, and a sense

part of that is your sexuality. “ - PM

a lot, I wore baggier clothes and I wouldn’t have

Ownership of own sexuality

of harmony, once that aspect of the self had been

Self Knowledge

accepted, both internally and by others:

Strengthening of sense of self

worn tight trousers, I wouldn’t have worn low Interestingly, one participant had the importance

cut tops, but I have done more recently and felt

of her sexual expression affirmed as integral in re-

comfortable doing it. It is both the doing it and

Confirming a belief

“ Being out socially in a gay environment, I was

inforcing the whole of her when she was ill with

feeling comfortable about it that changes so

Brings you all together

able to be completely relaxed, I was my complete

Hogkinson’s Disease for a period of time:

feeling more comfortable, expressing more of

Reinforcement of ones self

self, my entire self, and being accepted as such.

“ The first thing to go when you are ill, for me,

my femininity in the way I dress and expressing

“ - EF

is my sense of sexuality, I mean I just become a

more of my sexual energy has definitely changed

body or a machine that’s not working very well

in the last few years. Am I necessarily good at

This super-ordinate theme is concerned with a sense of wholeness and completeness. Following on from

“ My motto was that before I can be free I must

and I needed as part of the healing, I needed to

handling the reactions it gets, no not necessarily

the participants’ acknowledgement that their sexual

be cheap, which was may be a funny slogan to

have that sexual encounter again to know that I

I’m not, not at all, but I am better than I used

expression or sexual self is very revealing of their

create for the character, but the philosophy was

was sort of whole again. It wasn’t about the re-

to be. I just feel inept about handling it. “ - SF

true nature and an intrinsic part of them, it was no

to be accepting of yourself, and accepting of your

lationship it was about knowing that I was fully

surprise that all but one participant used the word

lower self, and accepting the things that you feel

human again and in the world of the living. It

“Part of the ability to walk down the street with a

whole or wholeness in their interviews. Not only did

that you shouldn’t, only then you could be free

was in order to feel that I was attractive and

feeling confident in who I am and handle any re-

they use it literally as the word in itself, it was also

and be your whole self. The key area is about

whole and to be able to operate in the world as

actions tat come my way if you see what I mean,

referred to through other language and metaphor.

acceptance. “ - PeM

a woman. “- JF

rather than shy away from them, owning it and enjoying my sexuality rather than denying and

If the super-ordinate theme of Constance was about

Two of the participants talked explicitly about it

“ When I was ill everything gets drawn in, you

an ever-present energy, wholeness seemed to repre-

being strengthening to their sense of self to have

are just down to survival mode and its like

sent awareness, acceptance and ownership of that

accepted and embraced their sexuality:

everything that can go does go and then when

“ With my sexual expression if feels like I am


“ Intimate sexual expression was at first startling

I rose out of that then I started just feeling that

committing fully to who I am. “ - LF

and unnerving ( in a good way ), now it is simply

sexuality again, feeling like a whole person. “

“ I realise how blank my life was and how I

a source of deep contentment. I am my complete

- JF

The same participants that also spoke of emotions

wasn’t my whole self. I was sexually blank for all

true self. I feel strength, confidence, certainty

It seemed that once acceptance or recognition of the

and sensations that were included in the Alive-ness

my adult life until I reached 36. That all changed

and joy. “ - EF

whole self had occurred through expression of their

and Generating super-ordinate themes, also used

sexuality participants’ then needed to be confident

language and narrative of experiences whereby their

“ I think if you are in touch with your sexu-

with it, taking ownership of their sexual energy and

expression, either during, or after, had lead to less

ality, your image of yourself is reinforced and

committing to it:

arousing states, and instead more passive ones, in

“ When you are able to take off the mask you

strengthened, and if you don’t have that you are

“ The was that I dress is definitely a part of it and

which they were brought all together and nourished:

bring your whole self in to reality.“ - PeM

very weak , like a house built on sand, it’s like

there has been quite a shift in the last few years,

“ If I orgasm I will feel a huge sense of peace and

when I finally acknowledged my sexuality, it was as if the scales fell from my eyes. “ - EF


avoiding it. “- SF


well being throughout my body and mind, and

Conflicting Inhibitors

spirit. Will feel fed in some way. “ - MF

“ A sense of fullness.” - JF

Conflict from self voice:


Bad body image

Sexual awareness being wrong

Compartmentalising “ When you are on your own you are in charge,

Using only as a tool rather than listening to whole

All of the participants in the study bar two had

you can be fully yourself and there is none else

Tension between internal desire and external world

experienced conflict in relation to their sexual ex-

to have to take in to account but for me there

Unease / discomfort with self

pression. This was mostly influenced by perceived

has also been a profound sadness about it too

Uncertain how to bring it more to life

societal judgements preventing them from feeling

that although you have a physical release you


comfortable to be who they are in a sexual way.

are not engaging with another person. When you

Relying on denial and avoidance

feel connected and a connection with another it

Needing approval

JM and PM had no narrative that suggested a con-

can feel really nice like something is complete,

Seeing it as only a reward or to serve a purpose

flict, aware of societies prejudices and judgements

where you really do kind of connect and you are

A bind

but had not found this created any suppression for

both able to open up with each other, but incom-

Misaligned with rest of self image

them in their sexual desires. PM had been married

plete when you are just doing something on your

Holds more weight, therefore unable to laugh off

to a woman that shared his proclivities and he is

own.” - AM

mistakes as easily

currently embarking on a new relationship where

Anxiety making

this is also true. JM has found his sexual expression

One participant who had not identified her central

Stagnant and stuck when energy is unable to be

has developed in a natural way over time with little

energy as being related to her sexual self was also


conflict. Those participants that are in relationships

unable to acknowledge it autonomously within her-

were either seeking their sexual expressive needs

self without the need for another:

Conflict from perceived external voice:

from outside of those relationships or were in part-

“ I am not a very sexual person at all so I need


nerships where they felt able to explore and express

someone else to really bring it out of me. “ - SiF


that part of themselves freely.

Something to be ashamed of Fear of judgement

EF described her inner turmoil as being

Fear of rejection

something she could not even compre-

Not permissive

hend, she just knew that she was unhappy.




“I had frequently found myself crying, you know,

Something to hide

almost rocking in a corner, not really knowing


why I was crying, I was just miserable.” - EF 67

For AM the conflict seemed to be something he was

institutionalised environment of school seemed

AM is less sure of the reasons why he compartmen-

“ I think that if you are feeling sexually frustrat-

aware of even from a young age:

to lack and didn’t quite know how to build on

talises his sexual expression but is very aware of

ed, disappointed you know or some other way

“ I was ashamed and anxious about sharing

that in the wider world.” - AM

the impact that this has had on him:

kind of at odds with your sexuality, it reduces

“ I have compromised my sexual expression by

your sense of well-being. “ - AM

my sexual desires with other people because I thought that they would regard them as being

SF also has a competent awareness of her sexuality

simply not being my real sexual self in relation-

silly or ridiculous or foolish, it was like I had a

but is uncertain how to express it:

ships most of my life and perhaps equally by

“I feel not myself, I feel miserable, I feel cut off

gut feeling that it was shameful. “ - AM

“ There are certain things I automatically think

being my sexual self in relationships with other

from something lovely. “ - AM

about in life from day to day and there are

people where I haven’t shared the rest of my life

A sense of shame or ridicule was a common theme

certain things that are always on my mind and

with, so I’ve put my sexual expression in a box

SiF was a participant who upon first contacting the

amongst the inner conflicting voices that two par-

sexual expression isn’t terribly high up that list,

really, in a compartment on its own and kept it

researcher to take part in the study had said that

ticipants heard, who are both of similar ages ( in

it’s just a kind of default pattern. Would I like

there and I wish I understood why that was but

sexual expression was not important to her and that

their 50’s ), and probably indicative of the sexual

it to be higher up, yes I would, does it bother

the effect on me is I think its been a source of

she was not able to express it fully but out of choice,

culture they grew up in.

me that it doesn’t occur to me, yes it does.” - SF

profound difficulty and unhappiness by com-

having decided that she wished to be sexually in-

partmentalising it. It might have been parental

active until she married. Throughout the interview

“ There is a moral judgement going on that it

“It’s been an assumption, its that sort of where

influence but it might have been just my own

the researcher had to be very aware of her own

is inappropriate or wrong and that can cause

the absence of it is normal or the fact that it is

personality.“ - AM

views, noticing that she may have been questioning

feelings of tension or conflict ot stress. “ - AM

played down, that’s what I want to change. But it’s not knowing how to go about it. “ - SF

Several participants spoke of both a conflict but also

this participants choices from a pre-judged place. One other theme that arose from 8 of the partic-

However as the interview continued it became

ipants was a relationship with balance, that their

clear to the researcher that sexual expression was

an uncertainty in knowing how to express them-

Both SF and AM also talk about compartmentalis-

sexual expression was not conflicting when it was

important to this participant, in that she had given

selves in the way they felt was most instinctive. AM

ing their sexual expression, SF because she’s not

in balance with other aspects of their life that they

it a lot of thought, it was her moral identity and it

referred back to his time at school highlighting how

able to find a comfortable or fitting persona for its

felt were important. These are made evident in

did in fact cause her some conflict, so just because

within an institutionalised environment one knows

expression, in the way she has done with her pro-

the discussion about well-being that follows this,

it wasn’t being expressed did not mean that it didn’t

how to act and is given practice at academic expres-

fessional and social lives.

however when sexual expression was conflicted or

have importance.

sion and social expression, but outside of that the

unable to be expressed at all for whatever reason

world can be a daunting place, especially the world

“ I’ve built confidence in my work persona, I can

that was not self-determined the impact was always

Once the interviewer became familiar with the

of sexuality where you are given very little guidance

handle pretty much any situation, and then there

a negative one.

circumstances by which the participant had made

on how to experience it in an authentic way.

is the sporty me, physically fit, strong and capa-

“ I had quite a lot of friends and I used to play

ble and then there is a sexual me that is much

“ I almost feel asexual at times. I feel that I focus

researcher to bracket her own beliefs:

sport and stuff and I was quite good academi-

more underplayed that, who has had much less

so much on my work and my daughter that I

“ I was brought up to believe it was sin. It was

cally and so I was fine, it was just that was ever

attention. “ - SF

become slightly out of balance. My fun and joy

just not something that a nice young lady should

and playful side is slightly squished. “ - MF

do and I was scared probably, scared of getting

was needed to kind of continue outside of the 68

her choices it became increasingly hard for the


caught. But I was definitely tempted, yes. More

However, SiF also self-reported as being happier

“ It depends on the circumstances how often I

often than not I chose to stay away from boys.“

not to express her sexuality, stating that the conflict

will think of it, if I am with a partner then it is

- SiF

did seem to have reduced since leaving university

something that I think of frequently, whereas if

and being way from such peer pressure, and that “

I am single I tend not to really bother about it.

The researcher probed about whether this was in

opening the can of worms” was not something she

“ - SiF

fact a choice or if it was an avoidance through fear.

felt would be more conducive to her well-being.

“ When I was younger I was curious about it, I

For EF she reflected on whether it is so important

wondered what it would be like, and whether I

“ I’m probably happier to leave things as they

to her because it was something that she felt was

would enjoy it, but when I was younger it was

are as much as perhaps at times I’d like to over-

missing and was then found:

probably the fear that drove me away. “ - SiF

come it, on the whole I am probably happier just

“ Maybe its more important to me because I

to well I suppose it is the fight or flight thing, I

didn’t have it before, if one’s always had it,

“ It was fear that was holding me back, fear of

would kind of rather run away from it rather

always been aware of it, you don’t appreciarte

my religion, fear of my parents, I was being ac-

than have to face it. “ - SiF

something until its gone, or don’t appreciate something until you gain it, I don’t know. “ - EF

tively discouraged. “ - SiF SiF, along with MF, raised a very important and The participant stated that despite her initial feel-

crucial aspect of this study, that of oblivion. MF has

ings in regards sexual expression being so heavily

not been sexually active for over 4 years, and both

influenced by her religious beliefs and that of her

she and SiF masturbate very rarely. This raises the

parents, she now positively chooses to uphold the

question of whether in its absence you may indeed


be just as likely to experience well-being as you are

“ When I was younger fear override having sex

when it is central to your existence. Although for

and of course now it is my morals that overrides

MF this is a source of conflict because it is some-

any feelings of having sexual intercourse. “- SiF

thing she has experienced in the past.

Interestingly SiF was also the only participant

“ Sometimes I’ve had the odd feeling that I won-

whose sexual fantasies even seemed influenced by

der what it is like etc but I suppose because I’ve

her external morals, as if they permeated all the

never really had it therefore I can’t miss it. “ - SiF

way through her to create a repression even in her imagination.

“ Being alone I find that I quench my thirst somewhat. I don’t know that I do it on purpose. “ - MF

“ I have a kind of well, respectful fantasy, which is okay and nice. “ - SiF 70


10. Additional Analysis Well-being In addition to identifying the seven dominant

to there nature of not being as open to the depth of

themes, the researcher also added a sub theme that

interpretation that the others would have been, but

clustered together all of the words and themes that

the scale of the study would not permit.

the participants had associated with well-being. This was important in terms of relating very literally

Those 3 questions were:

to the research question. These were either words

• What does the phrase sexual expression

that had been verbalised in the interviews when asked the question “ what does having a sense of well-being mean to you ? “ or they were words or constructs that came out throughout the interviews that the researcher was able to identify as common

mean to you? • What does having a sense of well-being mean to you? • Is there a relationship for you between the two?

to the well-being domain through her knowledge

The results from the survey, for which there were

of Positive Psychology.

47 participants, were used comparatively against the 11 participants accounts from the more in-depth

Additional analysis

Due to the size limitations of this study the research-

interviews. Both sets of experiences are included in

er has not been able to analyse the well-being data

this sub-theme.

with more thoroughness and originality, so for the purpose of this study she just offers a summary

All of the participants spoke of well-being as re-

of what well-being meant to the participants and

lating to a sense of balance in their lives, whereby

how they directly experienced that relating to their

all of those aspects of themselves were given due

sexual expression. Within this theme the author has

attention and care.

also included some of the material from the on-line

“ Well balance everyday, for example work life

survey that she carried out.

balance, umm, not being in an extreme, and different people too. I want to find that balance of

The data from the online survey was so vast that the

different kinds of people in my life that reflect

researcher needed to edit it for the purpose of this

me, reflect an aspect of me, yes I think certainly

study and therefore has only used data from 3 of

in whatever aspect in your life its not being too

the 10questions. Those questions were chosen due

extreme. “ - EF 73

What those aspects were and the different value

The descriptions above related to how the

These were themes that emerged from the inter-

“ For many years since my teens, I’ve suffered

that participants placed on them did vary slightly

participants viewed their interpretation of well-be-

views and in addition to that and in support of that,

from chronic eczema and within a week of me

but the main themes were: relationships, connec-

ing, whereas the table below includes all of the

the following are some statements from the online

coming out as gay it had disappeared, and I’ve

tion to others and belonging, a sense of balance and

words and associations that evolved from the in-

participants who were describing how they feel

never had it since. “ - EF

control, an acceptance of oneself and awareness of

terviews when the participants were talking through

when engaging with their sexual expression.

how to be fully oneself, a sense of achieving ones

the actual tangible experiences of their sexual ex-

potential in all area’s of life, having the freedom to

pression, before, during, after and as a constant.

do so and actively being involved in shaping that,

“ The surprise is caused by the fact that since my • At peace with myself in the world

wife died fourteen years ago I have not experi-

• I feel full, as in complete, I feel light, I feel

enced any such feelings, in fact I had concluded

and also good health in its broadest sense.

Well-being vocabulary:

ecstatic, I feel as if every atom of my body has

that my libido had retired to a quiet corner and

“ For me things like having good friends, having


been engaged and is somehow changed.

died. I had put this down to not just my wife dy-

a good social life in general, having a lifestyle


where there are not too many stressful things


that make you feel that your freedom is being

Physical release

limited and I guess being fulfilled on some level

Life affirming

by what you are doing and that they are inter-


esting, meaningful and worthwhile “ - JM

• Elation and connectedness: I feel free, a flow of power and energy • Excitement, exhilaration, profound connection, happiness and peace

ing but to my age, seventy-three this year. As for my psychological reactions they have surprised me as well, I am much more positive, happier, have more energy, sleep better, think clearer and

• I feel totally free, as if the constraints of society

more accurately and quicker. People who know


have fallen away and I am a small but significant

me well say that I both act and look younger.

Full engagement

part of the universe.

“ - PM

All of these well-being themes fitted in much more

In control

• It is like a sense of knowing me and being home.

with an active energy towards life, about what one


• It is like coming home, being whole, being

can achieve or discover or be involved in, a life


with meaning, rather than just being satisfied with

Physically healthy

what one already is.

Mentally connected Emotional connection

allowed to exist in a full way. • Inner and outward peace and a centred calmness. • Immense satisfaction and a feeling of finally

Ten of the in-depth interview participants all believed that their sexual expression had an impact on their sense of well-being and all 47 of the survey participants shared this belief. The statements that they made through the online method were sup-

“ In no particular order, feeling good about my-


self, feeling happy in the world, feeling that I can


express who I am and not be judged for that,


even as I evolve, feeling happy about my body


and feeling like I am and can make a difference


In addition to this there were also participants that

Below are several examples of statements from the

in the world. “- SF

A calmness of spirit

had physical health transformations as a result of

online participants that highlight correlations with

Positive emotion

their sexual expression and those should not be

the themes of this study:


overlooked, although the researcher recognises that


this is potentially a whole other area of research.


having realised my true self. • Emptying myself and filling myself with a shared energy ( re-newel/ re-creating

portive and comparable to those that the in-depth interview participant’s made, and therefore they aligned well in to the super-ordinate themes.


• Well-being makes you feel alive and that life is

important to my mental, emotional, and physical

worth living – they are both very deeply con-

well-being to express my sexuality as I need to.

nected to sexual expression for me. ( 2 )

When I am comfortable expressing my sexual-

• A sense of well-being is wholeness. And one way or another I need to express myself sexually

ity, I feel better about myself, am less critical of myself. ( 17 )

to have that wholeness. I can’t separate that part

All of the above seem to indicate that being able

of me from the rest.” ( 3 )

to fully engage with the energy of sexual expres-

• When I have a sense of well-being it feels as

sion has a relationship to well-being, however it

though every cell is singing. Healthy sexual

is not possible in this small scale analysis to have

expression is essential to my well-being. ( 5 )

developed clear clusters of themes and explore the

• Knowing where you are home and comforta-

relationship in more depth.

ble and where you are yourself are paramount. Accepting who you are is essential to having a balance. When there is harmony there is a sense of well-being. ( 10 ) • Well-being is when I am happy being me. Sexual expression lets me be the real me. (11) • When I have a sense of well-being all parts of my life are in synch. I am true to myself and the different areas of my life compliment each other. When I am at peace with my sexual expression it is indicative of my peace with myself and also contributes to my sense of peace. My sexual expression and well-being feed one another. ( 14 ) • Welll-being is to be contented with the effort I am making and the effect I am having, feeling like I am using my potential in all aspects of who I am. My sexual expression is one aspect of who I am and also needs its potential filling. ( 24 ) • I didn’t realise it for many years but it is vitally 76


11. Discussion The seven super-ordinate themes reviewed in the

iables, including Self-determination theory, Broad-

available for processing, and for future studies the

relate to libido or life energy ), sexual expression

study highlight what some of the factors are that

en-and-build theory, Positive affect, negative affect

use of a PANAS measurement scale who enhance

and the autotelic personality.

may connect sexual expression with well-being.

and Flow. 10 out of the 11 participants all described

the validity of this.

Sexual expression appears a multidimensional con-

experiences whereby their sexual expression had

struct where its complexity has been either avoided

a relationship with their well-being, they had just

Headey and Wearing ( 1991 ) offer a model aim-

been correlated with many aspects of well-being in-

or overlooked..

communicated it differently from one another.

ing to account for both stability and changeability

cluding vitality and resilience. In the super-ordinate

of well-being. A metaphorical flow of well-being

themes of Completeness and Wholeness in Com-

Acting in accordance with oneself, authenticity has

Although the researcher feels satisfied with the clus-

For the purpose of concluding this study the re-

that is represented in economic terms as stocks and

munication it was a key determinant in participants

tering of the emergent themes for the purpose of this

searcher will connect current research and con-

flows. Stocks are stable personality characteristics

sense of well-being. There sense of satisfaction and

study and the super-ordinate themes appear to work

structs within Positive Psychology referenced in

( social background, sex, age) personality traits (

self-acceptance appeared to be based largely on

well as a means of making sense of the data, she is

the literature review to the super-ordinate themes.

extroversion, openness, introversion ) and social

whether they were being true to themselves, that

networks ( intimate relationships and friendships ).

they were able to live from who they really are, be

aware of the unclear boundaries between some of the emergent and super-ordinate themes and knows

Broadened thought theory – positive and negative

that there were other potential groupings or clusters.

emotions and Broaden and Build Theory: the su-

Flows of psychic income are generated from ad-

per-ordinate themes of alive-ness and generating

verse life events that either cause satisfaction or

Because IPA explicitly acknowledges that it is the

particularly bear a relationship to these constructs.

distress, and therefore change of well-being occurs

This also links with the construct of self-determi-

researcher who is interpreting the data and therefore

There was experience of sexual expression, and

when there is significant deviation in life events (

nation theory. Sexual expression provides opportu-

the author is conscious that her knowledge, values

the energy of fully owning that, having provided

flows ) from the typical pattern that a person already

nity to affirm the importance and value of all three

and preconceptions could have affected the deci-

participants with a wealth of resources and action

has, and it is this deviation from the normal pattern,

aspects of it. The need for competence was met by

sions, interpretations and outcomes of this study.

repertoires that were enduring beyond the tempo-

not the life event per se, that is responsible for a

the participants seeing their capabilities and desires

The themes that emerged from the analysis seem to

rariness of the positive emotion. There seemed to

long lasting change in well-being.

( or energy in reference to the super-ordinate theme

confirm the researcher’s suspicion originated from

be a case for further research in to the real benefits

the literature review, that the subjective or psy-

of sexual expression that extend that narrowly per-

Participants in this study that had actively sought

then developing the competence to master ongoing

chological factors, rather than the more objective

ceived temporary positive state of physical pleasure

out new experiences, and had deviated from their

challenges and experiences, and develop from them.

factors such as physical signs of arousal or quan-

and instead see the expression of our sexual selves

usual pattern using their sexual expression as a

tifying an individuals participation in penetrative

as an on-going process with many opportunities for

means to do this had experienced an increase in

The need for autonomy was experienced by nearly

intercourse offer the key to understanding what

self-development. There was evidence that sexual

well-being as a result. Had there been the scope to

all of the participants in their descriptions of freedom

facilitates well-being in relation to sexual expres-

expression had through positive affect increased

expand on this study the author sees the potential

( a super-ordinate theme ) and it was the restriction

sion. The results of this study indicate that sexual

cognitive flexibility, a more complex and cogni-

research between this model of well-being ( espe-

on the autonomous choice of their actions or inter-

expression is related to a number of well-being var-

tive breadth and made additional cognitive material

cially as it is referring to a psychic energy that may

ference in it by external factors that created conflict.


their full self and connect with their deepest possibility in the world.

Constance ) in terms of their sexual selves and


The range of experiences and forms of expression

expression gave them a huge resource and repertoire

study was focussed solely on flow states and sex-

Csíkszentmihályi goes on to say:

available in relation to one’s sexual self offered the

to enable this.

ual expression, it can be assumed that many of the

“Eroticism is one form of cultivating sexuali-

actions involved in sexual expression culminate

ty that focuses on the development of physical

participants many possibilities for integrating important and complex aspects of themselves in to a

All of the participants acknowledged their sexual

in an awareness and action merging together. The

skills, and eroticism is to sex as sport is to phys-

more fully coherent sense of self. This relates to the

expression was a form of energy, something that

interaction described in the super-ordinate theme

ical activity. The Kamasutra, for example, aims

super-ordinate themes of Completion/ Wholeness

was always there ( as represented by the super-ordi-

Wholeness of Communication demonstrates how

to foster eroticism by providing suggestions and

and Wholeness of Communication, whereby own-

nate theme Constance ) and the researcher believes

sexual expression allows for clear feedback of ones

goals that help to make sexual activity more var-

ership and self-endorsement of their sexual selves

it would be important to research further in to the

self as well as ones actions. Sexual expression is

ied, more interesting and challenging.”

was considered central to their well-being.

relationship between people’s perception of their

such a personal and complex experience that it

control over this energy and therefore how it relates

would be untrue to say that it linked to flow states

This study would suggest that further research

The need for relatedness is relevant to the same two

to the well-being constructs of locus of control and

automatically, but from some of the descriptions

should focus less on the sexual activity and its var-

super-ordinate themes, Completion / Wholeness


of the participants in this study, there were expe-

iation, interest and challenge ( the most obvious

riences that either in the expression or as a result

things that relate it to flow experiences ) but con-

and Wholeness in Communication, where beyond the importance of accepting and owning and hav-

Amongst the participants in this study it did appear

of the expression had generated characteristics of

currently aim to shift perception and understanding

ing some control of their sexual energy, the partic-

the majority had a sense of what the energy was and

being in flow.

to focus on what comprises “ sexual activity “ or

ipants found it an integral way of communicating,

that it was something that they were able to control (

receiving feedback on themselves, and giving them

an internal locus of control ) but there were several

Csíkszentmihályi did write briefly about the rela-

cate about it as we would any other Flow experience

a whole vocabulary by which they were able to

of them, most notably SF and AM who were unsure

tionship between sex and Flow in his book The

without it automatically being regarded only as a

participate in relating with others. Alongside this,

what to do with it, or hadn’t quite found a way of

Psychology of Optimal Experience:

physical act.

the participants’ acknowledgement of sexual energy

expressing it ( low sense of self-efficacy ). When

“ When people think of enjoyment, usually one

being a natural part of being human brought the

participants has felt less in control of it, and this

of the first things that comes to mind is sex. “

sense of a wider and interconnected relationship to

seemed related to age, then there was far greater

all human beings that contributed to it being expe-

conflicted in regards its expression.

rienced as relatedness.

sexual expression so ways are found to communi-

This is not surprising, because sexuality is certainly one of the most universally rewarding experiences,

Another construct that links sexual expression

surpassed in its power to motivate perhaps only by

Due to the size limitations of this study the research-

with well-being is that of Flow. In some instances

the need to survive, to eat and to drink. The urge

er has not been able to fully explore the potential of

the participants of this study spoke of sensuality

to have sex is so powerful that it can drain psychic

sexual expression within relationships but as over

rather than sexuality and it was these experiences

energy away from other necessary goals. However

half of her participants were in relationships it was

that particularly merged together awareness and

the author feels that much of what he has written

clear that as a relationship became more complex

action, however despite the researcher not exploring

is skimming over the surface and still focuses pri-

and each partner was discovering new potentialities

more specifically participants sexually expressive

marily on sex and flow in relation to the physical

in themselves and in each other the energy of sexual

action in the same detail she may have done if the

act rather than the energy that it generates from.



12. Conclusion and the future To conclude, this study has served to show sexual

Through a belief system that communicates about

expression as a very complex process, one that has

sexual expression as an enhancing, life-affirming,

the potential to go on providing people with flow

natural energy, whereby individuals learn to respect

experiences all through life. As Csíkszentmihályi

and value and own themselves, they will be more

says “Sexuality can be enjoyable if we are willing

able to accept others on a deeper level too. Most of

to take control of it and cultivate it in the direction

all though is once people have the permission and

of greater complexity”, the hope is that further

information necessary to become their best sexual

studies developed from this one will enable us to

selves they may demand (and create) a better social

understand more about how to do that.

system that works for people, including their health, their sex and relationship choices, their pleasure, but

Part of that will mean looking with a more critical

also their consideration for one another and how

eye at the “ shoulds” that are learnt from society;

they engage in the world to their fullest potential

tackling issues of shame and self-worth that can be

for a greater purpose.

at the root of much of the conflict within peoples sexual expression enables acknowledgement of our individual value and potential. Remaining powerless and dissatisfied with our sexual energy can


have an impact on a lack of optimum experience in every part of our lives but because we can decide to learn more about something so central, intimate, and accessible the powerful positive change could have a repercussion for well-being at every level. By talking about sexual expression as part of the eudaimonic well-being domain we move it away from only seeing it as something that has to be managed or controlled, not viewing it through a medical, consumerist or political lens and instead looking at the positives that sexual expression generates, at both an individual but also community level. 83

13. Limitations of current research Whilst the sample size of this study was adequate

role of gender may have added a richer perspective

for the methodology employed, one limitation was

on how and why sexual expression is of greater or

the nature of the sample. Anyone who is willing to

lesser value to people.

be a participant in a study of this nature is automatically someone that may not be truly representative

The relationship status of the participants and the

of our everyday society. The very act of coming

longevity of their relationships could have skewed

forward and participating would suggest that one

the emphasis within their personal experiences. For

already perceives the subject of this research as ei-

example LF was only 6 months in to exploring her

ther interesting or important, even those that at first

sexuality with a freedom she’d never experienced

approached it from the standpoint of it not being

before. LF talks of how it is central to who she is

important did in fact soon expose themselves as

and that in the short space of time it has been ex-

valuing it, just choosing to not express it.

citing and affirming for her, and so it may be that the newness and sense of discovery of something

Limitations of research

For those truly ambivalent or indifferent or even dis-

so important has been created to be central to who

regarding of their sexual nature one would perhaps

she is and for further research it would be valua-

need to find monks from a Benedictine monastery

ble to compare if this feeling changes and how it

for example. Sex and sexuality permeates through

changes if the centrality of her feelings is still pri-

our entire culture and to find people that are truly

marily connected to her sexual expression months

unaffected by it would be near impossible.

or even years down the line. Additionally, it is not only the timing and duration of a relationship that

The role of gender was not addressed in this study

would have an impact on how sexual expression

and yet there were some distinctions between the

is experienced but also whether an individual is

genders in terms of the language that they used ( the

even in a relationship. For a future study it would

men used words like urge, powerful, force ) and the

provide further insight in to how sexual expression

themes that they aligned to. For example none of

exists within a relationship, how the energy of two

the male participants mentioned body image at all

people is combined, by doing a comparative study

but two thirds of the female participants did. The

for instance on those in a relationship and those

researcher did try to get a gender balance, with only

that are not.

one more female taking part, however the roots and 85

The notion of importance as a term within the study,

the questions, as well as her unease at expressing

in hindsight, may have been misleading or unhelp-

herself about intimacy.. Interestingly, this was ev-

ful and the phrase “ value” may have worked better.

ident even when the theme was well-being, which

The word “value” was used in the interviews, but

would suggest that less awareness in one area of

in the calls for participants for the study, those that

self-understanding is indicative of a general level

came forward as feeling it was unimportant did not

of awareness of one’s emotional capacity, includ-

remain in that group at all. The study also did not

ing literacy to support it. The meaning of well-be-

take in to account, other than through acknowledge-

ing is still under researched therefore leaving the

ment, that an activity or an experience, if one is

question of meaning ( and subsequently definition

finding it enjoyable or satisfying, is likely to gain

) of well-being largely taken for granted, or mis-

importance the more often it is done.

understood, especially in relation to eudaimonic well-being.

Therefore, to measure how important it is to people, the frequency and its relationship to the growth of

The scope of the project was perhaps overly ambi-

importance needs to be further recognised. Lastly

tious. It could be argued that the author had incor-

as EF stated “ I wonder if it is more important to

porated several large themes, that of sexuality and

me because I didn’t have it before “ and is this

well-being in to one thesis, with several sub-head-

was also not measured as a variable in the study

ings and questions, where there was probably scope

but would prove useful to research in discerning

to create several theses out of the one initial idea,

what makes one’s sexual expression more or less

and certainly the scope for a PhD rather than an

important in comparison to others.

MSc. This was particularly influential in the researcher being unable to do justice or make full

In choosing participants for this study the researcher

the potential of the data collected, especially of the

did not consider what she will call their “ sexual

online response to her survey. The data was only

literacy “ and therefore if any quantitative research

taken from a third of responses online before the

was going to proceed this, establishing the sexual

researcher had to decide to cut off investigating the

literacy of the participants would ensure greater

responses any further, and even then had to limit

validity of comparable results between participants.

using data from only 3 of the 10 questions. How-

For example, SF, who although similar in age to JM,

ever the positive aspect of this is that the author is

has much less experience or interest in her sexual

now in a position to highlight a number of research

expression, and this was evident in her smaller vo-

questions and directions that could benefit from

cabulary and understanding in response to some of

further investigation.


Future directions

14. Future Directions The following show a summary of the re-

shifts throughout the life span. All of the older

keeper and writing is a way for me to under-

Sexual expression sits within many structures, those

searcher’s thoughts and ideas in regards

participants talked about the energy calming and

stand what's going on in my life. I thought

of our own selves and our gender and identity and

where the research could lead to next. It has

having more balance to it, however this also was

I'd write a couple of pages, but I just couldn't

also with the structure of society. It would also be

been presented as both a series of questions

if they were not in conflict over it.

stop. I ended writing 16 single spaced pag-

interesting to apply systems thinking to sexuality as

• “ I don’t think that the need for highs in the

es. It wasn't an angst filled and troubling; it

it is a complex and evolving and fluid life system.

sense of heightened awareness is less maybe

was just part of my life that I hadn't written

the need for one off superhighs has been re-

about before and there was a lot to say. Writ-

“When I have a sense of well-being all parts of

placed by living hopefully on a progressively

ing about something so private and difficult

my life are in synch. I am true to myself and the

higher level most of the time. “ - GM

to describe proved to be a healing way to

different areas of my life compliment each other.

reconcile with that whole part of my life so I

When I am at peace with my sexual expression

could move on in peace.” - JF

it is indicative of my peace with myself and also

and observations: • Is it helpful to try and separate sexual expression from all expression – from the whole person? • Are there similarities in personality types that might determine individuals’ aptitude for sexual expression?

• What is the relationship between sexual expres-

• If it is a new experience that is creating positive

sion and an autotelic personality? Many of the

emotions then it is not surprising that it feels

participants of this study had autotelic tenden-

so central and important to who someone is,

cies and I see that as an enabling factor in full

I was reluctant to call it “ energy” initially as I

however this may not sustain itself.

sexual expression.

thought this may be directing the participants in

contributes to my sense of peace. My sexual expression and well-being feed one another. “ ( 14 )

• “ How did I ever live without expressing that

• Can one’s purpose in life just be to seek out

some way, however it was a term that they either

“ Eudaimonia is related to striving for change,

part of me because its such a big part, in such

feeling alive? Is this a relationship between eu-

used themselves or found other ways to represent

novelty, curiosity and interest, while hedonism

a short space of time its become such a big

daimonia and sexual expression / energy.

it through similar words or imagery; flow, channel,

– to resistance to change, towards stability and

push down, urge, river

familiarity. Vitterso ( 2003 )

part of who I am . “ - LF

• Coming to some sort of sense of our sexuality

• To be able to understand more fully what ena-

seems like an important process that is highly

bles people to start the journey of sexual expres-

linked to feeling whole and accepting of oneself.

Further research in to Freud, Jung and Lacan and

I would ascertain that the participants in this study,

sion if that is what they wish to do.

It also seems that people struggle to express

their writing about Libido, Life Energy and Jouis-

except for SiF, were all striving for change, or if not

• “It was like a conjoining of circumstances, it

their sexual selves more than any other part of

sance would help to establish if there is a relation-

change, then certainly had levels of curiosity and

would have taken much longer without Sec-

who they are. There is so much repression that

ship with Daimon.The following would suggest

interest in life that connected their actions and be-

ond Life, but the combination of the two at

needs shedding that maybe if people embarked

that there are certainly some strong links between

liefs to eudaimonic well-being rather than hedonic.

the same time, exploring things on line as well

on a process of journal writing in this area for

eudaimonia and sexual expression:

as the sort of becoming more confident via

example, as in the case of JF.

the acting classes, so the two of them coming together really. “ - LF • How the experience of the energy changes and 88

Could libido have evolved from a masculine to a

• “ When I was between relationships for a

“Eudaimonism motivates people to understand

feminine energy and needs redefining, where it has

couple of years in my thirties, I wrote a his-

themselves and the universe by expanding their

become less of an urge ( as described by Freud but

tory of my sex life. I've always been a journal

knowledge structures.”

not really similar to how the participants in this 89

study have described it ) Why is it that how my

The online survey continues to be engaged with by

participants talk about it feels different? If this is

the online blogging community and there is scope

just one energy/ one life force, is it changing? Is it

to use this data much more effectively either as part

more feminine and passive? Jung described it as

of a triangulation model of study again or as data

the will to live rather than sexual desire, maybe it

in its own right. This is something that the author

has evolved even further to being the will to live

is currently developing further scope for.

for oneself and others?

“ We need to invest great energy in to re-channelling and restraining it”

“ The saying that “ love makes the world go round “ is a polite reference to the fact that most of our

Another area of interest for Self Determination The-

deeds are impelled, either directly or indirectly, by

ory research is the relationship between vitality and

sexual needs. We wash and dress and comb our hair

self-regulation. Deci and Ryan (2008) define vi-

to be attractive, many of us go to work so as to af-

tality as energy available to the self either directly

ford keeping a partner and a household, we struggle

or indirectly from basic psychological needs. This

for status and power in part so as to be admired and

energy allows individuals to act autonomously. Deci

loved. “- Csikszentmihalyi

and Ryan point out that many theorists have posited that self regulation depletes energy but Self

This is a quote from Csikszentmihalyi writing about

Determination Theory researchers have proposed

sexuality and flow however it reads as very out of

and demonstrated that only controlled regulation

date, we are no longer living in a society that is

depletes energy, autonomous regulation can be

constructed like this, it has already evolved whereby

actually be vitalizing (e.g., Moller, Deci, & Ryan,

the individualist characteristics of people are less

2006). How does this relate to the energy of sexual

dependent on external reward, and are perhaps now


moving towards a society that once again values connectivity over individuality and perhaps this may also link with the notion of an evolved libido?

Can people have a natural talent in sexual expression as others do in other forms of expression like creative expression? In the same way that there are poets and artists, maybe there is a place for sexual experimentalist or expressionists ? 90


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