This instinct is the drive to put ourselves ahead of sexual competition. The striving of life to reconstitute itself into ever more diverse and creative forms subjects each organism to intense pressure to prove its genetic merit, and to that end, nature has devised a vast range of displays and ornamentations to advertise sexual congruity. Organisms invest an enormous proportion of activity and energy in eliciting the attention and attraction of a potential mate. All the bright feathers, deafening calls, frenetic dances, and other impractical investments of energy seen in animals are for a sexual goal. This instinct discerns who or what we’re attracted to and provides the motivation to pursue it, to enhance and display characteristics that make us more enticing. This instinct is how we signal our sexuality.
Just as Self-Preservation is not the appetite of hunger, but a drive to ensure appetites can be met, this drive is not sexual lust or genital arousal. The Sexual Instinct’s aim is not in acquiring a large number of sexual partners or having the most sex, but cultivating fascination and attraction to hook interested and willing sexual partners. This understanding of the Sexual Instinct challenges some of our cultural narratives around human courtship and mating strategies because it reveals the role and function of sexuality in human beings apart from procreation or bonding. Having evolved in conditions prior to modern cultural and economic forces, the way this drive functions sometimes runs up against strategies modern people employ to garner attraction, such as high status, wealth, or modern notions of romance.
The Sexual Instinct seeks sexual partners with whom we share suitably strong chemistry to bring us to a state of sufficient excitation for full surrender during the sexual act, in what Wilhelm Reich (1986) termed orgastic potency. “Orgastic potency is the capacity to surrender to the flow of biological energy, free of any inhibitions; the capacity to discharge completely the damned-up sexual excitation through involuntary, pleasurable convulsions of the body” (p. 90).
The sexual discharge and renewal of the nervous system is mirrored psychologically as a drive to temporarily relinquish tightly-held psychological boundaries and release our habitual hold on ourselves in a way that regulates the nervous system and counters psychological stagnancy. Genetic recombination is the aim of sexual procreation, and sexuality has a parallel function on the psychological level by pursuing people and influences that have the potential to revise our sense of self, to upend stagnation physically and psychologically. Attraction, therefore, has greater utility than procreation alone.
For our ancestors, sexual relationships were not one-night stands, nor were they lifelong monogamous bonds. Instead, prehistoric humans, along with many indigenous populations today (Ryan & Jetha, 2012), had multiple “polyfidelitous” sexual relationships that required ongoing renewal of interest. So there was a great motivation to be ongoingly self-reinventing in order to maintain the interest of potential mates. This meant not only being physically attractive, but also having a captivating personality. In prehistory, before we could pay for entertainment, we had to be entertainment if we hoped to gain and retain a partner’s attraction. As with any sexual animal, this circumstance produces a variety of behaviors to distinguish oneself from the sexual competition, and in humans this happens by emphasizing beauty, virility, and imparting a distinct impression. It also provides the motivation to invest energy into creative activities, talents, and other expressions of virtuosity that unconsciously function as “courtship displays”—indicators of reproductive fitness.
From an evolutionary point of view, the human mind is as much a sexual ornamentation as a problem-solver (Miller, 2001). If you’ve been deeply attracted to someone, you know it’s not just their body you were interested in. It was also their personality, especially as their inner world is expressed through humour, insightfulness, talents, and so on. All sexual animals have ways of advertising themselves, humans included. In order to capture the attention of those that we want to attract, we must distinguish ourselves physically and psychologically. Remaining neutral is not a successful strategy, so this instinct motivates us to make ourselves dynamic and enticing by developing and expressing our unique “flavour.” This can range in meaning from the superficial—getting nice abs or lip injections—to something more real, coming closer to expressing our individual talents, gifts, and qualities. To keep attraction alive, one has to be willing to break out of habitual roles and personas and to find personal and interpersonal edges. For this, the Sexual Instinct motivates us to invest energy in ourselves—our passions, our interests, and our self-expression. These attraction displays, along with our physical appearance, are akin to the peacock’s tail, in advertising our health, magnetism, and creativity.
Therefore, the motivating force to experience interpersonal chemistry is stronger and more emotionally charged than the need for sex itself. (Fisher, 2017). Chemistry and activation are the tools this drive uses to discern who and what we’re attracted to and repelled by. Chemistry itself is somewhat mysterious, but it’s a distinct and familiar sensation that denotes natural excitation, an energetic syntony between people that suggests, through the body, corresponding polarities with a creative or enlivening potential. It may indicate sexual attraction or attraction of another kind. We can experience different kinds of chemistry with different people, so it’s not that we want to have sex with everyone we feel this energy with, but it’s a means of recognizing creative potential of some sort. For this reason, the Sexual Instinct is attuned to and organized around patterns and pathways of excitation and physiological and psychological arousal. What begins as tracking sexual attraction extends to a sensitivity to what arouses energy when this instinct is engaged.
The Sexual Instinct isn’t just an active, yang energy. It also has a strong yin component, an impulse to surrender, to lose oneself, and to drop one’s boundaries and defenses all at once. This impulse has often been mistaken to be a spiritual drive, as the ego is prone to misinterpret, but if utilized with presence it can serve an authentic willingness to transform.
Somewhat counterintuitively, as much as the Sexual Instinct wants to dissolve boundaries, some degree of separation is desirable so as to have something to push against, which generates excitement. So even if merging is achieved, it is no “romance drive,” as it is coupled with the drive to separate once again, so as to re-engage the intensity and boundary-crossing. The Sexual Instinct acts as a counter to the stability-seeking property of Self-Preservation and the discretion of the Social Instinct in that it is aiming to be undone by our experience and provides the thrust to overcome any obstacle between ourselves and the object of desire.
The Sexual Instinct wants to be met by an experience or person in such a way that there is a reconstitution of one’s habitual feeling of identity, to throw off one’s persona or usual limitations. In addressing the erotic imagery of the sun temples of Konarak and Khajuraho, India in his essay Erotic Spirituality, the Vision of Konarak, Alan Watts (1974) speaks to this facet of the Sexual Instinct as “ecstacy”:
It is hardly recognized that ecstasy is a basic human need, just as much as vitamins and proper nutrition, and that when itspositive and life-sustaining forms are repressed it is inevitably sought in violence and cruelty. For ecstasy, which is beyond pleasure and is always seasoned by a touch of pain, may be approached by the right hand path of love and the left hand path of hate, the way dexterous and the way sinister. In its many forms and moods, ecstasy is life itself. The very word ek-stasis means to stand outside, to be liberated from bondage of oneself – the conceptual ego, personality, and role-player that one is supposed to be. In ecstasy one is no longer an object – a thing or being – alone and separate from the total energy of the world. The ecstatic is beyond the pale of a classified, name-formed, and regimented society where everyone must identify himself with a fixed role (p. 69).
Yet as Watts makes clear, an unhealthy relationship to the Sexual Instinct can mean harmfully acting out. The Sexual Instinct has a creative and destructive polarity, in that it can lead to literal or creative conception and connect us to new impressions and it can help us knock out habits and barriers, but without presence, it can lead to a compulsive seeking to expel, discharge, or spend our life force in ways that can be reckless and self-destructive. Because of its compulsory and polarizing quality, it can be destabilizing from the perspective of other instincts. Without the grounding of self-preservation and the contextual awareness of the Social Instinct, it can render us completely unconcerned with consequences.
The Sexual Instinct brings up a great deal of fear and discomfort because it is unpredictable. We can’t choose who we’ll be attracted to, or for how long, nor can we control whether anyone will remain attracted to us. No one can know if a sudden attraction or lack thereof will upend all our projects, goals, and attachments in an instant. Attraction and chemistry play themselves out automatically. We have no say in them, and they do not care if they undermine our support systems or relationships. They have a mysterious logic.
When this drive is integrated, not only are we really going for what enlivens and arouses us, we’re also investing in ourselves. It helps us to individuate, develop, and express ourselves, and it’s a way we uncover what expands our felt sense of aliveness. It’s how we “shed our skin” and allow ourselves to be renewed, reinvented, and to keep moving toward a deeper source in ourselves with a willingness to let go of what no longer serves us, has stagnated, inhibits us, or holds us back. The Sexual Instinct points to the need to transfigure ourselves and move toward the people, energies, and influences that can best serve that purpose. Like the reliable metaphor of salmon swimming upstream to spawn and die, there’s a strong element of risking a loss of one’s “intactness” or physical or psychological safety for an enlivening consummation. The Sexual Instinct in everyone is the part that is willing to risk losing everything in pursuit of what’s vitalizing and life-affirming.
Sexual Types are identified with the need to elicit the sexual choice of potential mates. The sense of being “chosen” by a desired other is vital to nearly everyone, but for Sexual Types, much of their identity is organized around ensuring that they will be able to win out over sexual competition. Unconsciously, Sexual Types view their personality primarily as a tool for winning sexual interest, and therefore, they become identified with cultivating characteristics and talents that can serve as a means of evoking attraction. While what it means to be attractive varies by person, Sexual Types attempt to distinguish themselves in a distinct and enticing way, broadcasting a unique and often idiosyncratic “flavor.” They typically avoid being broadly-appealing or conventionally attractive because having some “edge” and specificity functions as a filter that repels many and strongly attracts a few.
Sexual Types have distinct ways they go about gaining attraction. Most people have interests, traits, and talents that can constitute sexual displays without any sexual motive, but Sexual Types tend to become psychologically identified with and greatly elaborate these features—their personality functions like a peacock’s tail. These qualities compose a central part of the Sexual Type’s identity, and they often vacillate between pouring intense focus into the object of their desire and putting energy toward these characteristics.
Sexuality and sexual identity are at the forefront of Sexual Type’s self-concept. Sexual virility and viability are a major preoccupation for Sexual Types, and their sexual desirability holds greater weight than the frequency of sex or sexual partners they have. This means there’s far greater emotion around whether or not someone might choose them as a sexual partner than whether or not attraction actually leads to a sexual act. No matter their sexual preference, sexual identity, or gender, their physical and psychological sexual characteristics play a prominent part of their psychological landscape, and they are likely to exaggerate these characteristics.
Their self-presentation often has an element of androgyny that draws from typically both masucline and feminine signifiers instead of going for a neutral style or abiding by standard gender tropes.
People of this type are especially attuned to what “turns them on,” and pursuing attraction becomes the guiding principle for how Sexual Types live their lives. They often find themselves in a series of infatuations for the sake of unconsciously keeping themselves in a state of desire. The emphasis on arousal can convey the impression that Sexual Types are always “on,” which isn’t the case, but there is a characteristic way in which their energy galvanizes when interested and contracts when uninterested, abruptly shifting from intense urgency, activation, focus, and preoccupation on a specific person to hastily veering attention away or cooling off.
Sexual Types have a high tolerance for being “locked on” to a specific person, but unlike the Social Drive, this instinctual focus thrives on creating interpersonal tension rather than ease. Tension invites a repulsion or an attraction. When magnetized by something or someone, Sexual Types can be extremely tenacious and single-minded. They easily drop their current focus in order to arrange their life to make room for their interests and yearnings, often making quick, drastic changes in pursuit of the object of desire. Because of their willingness to let things go in order to give chase, they can have a mercurial quality of overcoming challenges that come between them and their “target.”
The “desire for desire” and capacity to make substantial shifts gives Sexual Types an experimental approach to life, willing to abruptly chart a new course and follow it to its consummation or exhaustion. This can mean voraciously engaging with certain subjects or following their passions beyond where most people have the fire to go. This trenchant quality of attention can also be directed inwardly, to the creative, symbolic, and imaginative. Conversely, Sexual Types can have a hard time mobilizing their energy for practical or social reasons, lending, at times, to undermining their support systems or an inability for their desires and aspirations to really take off due to a lack of practical foundation or support from others.
On one hand, this means that Sexual Types typically have few qualms about following their own inspirations. They trust the pull of attraction without knowing how things will work out. Sexual Types stick with the flow of energy at all costs and let themselves be willing to abandon stability or push past obstacles. When healthy, these pursuits can be genuinely creative, transformative, and vivifying. A negative trade-off for this aptitude is that when imbalanced, Sexual Types can be slavishly devoted to someone or something they feel attraction to, unable to turn away no matter how toxic the dynamic might be. They can be serial monogamists, abruptly ending relationships and impulsively starting new ones. If deeply distorted, it can become a kind of engine to self-obliterate.
The self-renewal seeking aspect of the Sexual Drive leads Sexual Types toward constantly trying to find the “edges” in oneself and in their interests. There’s often a restless, boundary-testing, transgressive streak in Sexual Types, though it plays out somewhat differently through different Enneagram Styles. It’s not unusual for Sexual Types to have many examples of having pushed a situation into something that went far beyond their control and intention, even if the impulse began as well-meaning. Whatever they’re involved in, there’s always a motivation to provoke something to another level, and staying in one “place” for too long is unsatisfying. This can play out in their relationships in needing to continuously push something to its next stage; or it can play out within themselves, needing to constantly undergo personal renewal and transformation. It isn’t so much variety that they’re looking for as how to take the target of their attention to a new level, vista, or state of completion by pushing against existing limitations.
The Sexual Instinct is the part in everyone that is uninterested in remaining “intact,” so what is established and previously-mined holds little appeal for Sexual Types. When healthy, this can mean moving toward growing and developing themselves or their interests. On the other hand, this can take the direction of needing to escalate situations needlessly. A side effect is that Sexual Types typically don’t have a great deal of stability in their lifestyle, nor are they inclined to cultivate particularly deep roots anywhere. Generally, that’s not much of an issue for them unless they’re romantically partnered with someone who desires stability.
When a situation or relationship seems to stagnate, the Sexual Type will either move on or find ways to drum up a push-pull dynamic, throwing up boundaries so they can overcome them again. This can turn drama into the glue of a relationship and cloud over the real quality of relatedness; or, when ego isn’t running the show, it can bring a quality of renewal and prioritizing injections of novelty and freshness into stagnant situations.
Sexual Types In The Ego Cage
If the ego or personality style has co-opted the Sexual Instinct, the ability to discern interpersonal chemistry becomes distorted, like a compass that can’t find true North. The ego reduces this drive of creative self-renewal to drawing us toward people and circumstances that, under the guise of being vitalizing and novel, reinforce a negative and self-destructive psychological status quo. Further, this imbalance blinds us to what makes for real attraction, and therefore the fearful ego tries to control attraction, beginning with objectifying oneself.
When one views themselves through the lens of sexual objectification, one fails to see one’s own full, dynamic presence, and the range of qualities that one might see in oneself as potentially attractive and desirable is severely limited. So the Sexual Instinct becomes run by a fear of being undesirable, not just in terms of appearance, but being un-”fusible,” unchosen, and repulsive. The fear creates a projection that someone else is the means for our liberation from the crushing confinement of being locked into ourselves.
The autonomy conflict for the Sexual Instinct is rooted in a need to temporarily relinquish tightly-held psychological boundaries with a compatible partner. In adults, the primal libidinal craving the toddler had to re-establish the merged state with mother during the rapprochement crisis is displaced onto a new object: the desired sexual partner. Therefore, unconsciously for Sexual Types, the object of desire and the experience of desire itself are both viewed as the keys to survival and to re-establishing connection to essence.
Viewed in this light, the intensity of the basic fears of the Sexual Instinct and the easy confusion between love and attraction made by Sexual Types becomes clearer. This is not a fear of being alone, but a fear of not being able to hook the object of desire.
A fundamental pillar of their self-concept is at risk when attraction is not reciprocated, registering almost like a survival threat or deep personal deficiency. Anyone in love fears being left by their partner, but even apart from love, Sexual Types have a deep, often unconscious, fear of the loss of some connective life-line and insecurity about their capacity to be magnetic enough to keep that pull vital. It’s for this reason that Sexual Types tend to play out their neurosis largely in relation to “attraction objects” and act out most of their negative patterns within their sexual or romantic partnerships and prospects.
For entranced Sexual Types, infatuation plays out largely as a reaction to insecurities around attraction, whether needing to ‘win’ the object(s) of desire or to vivify negative and unconscious relational dynamics carried over from their early childhood. Doing so unconsciously recycles a limited, habitual sense of self, effectively subverting the Sexual Instinct’s aim of releasing oneself from habitual boundaries.
The fear of being undesirable and sexually overlooked translates into the patterned reactivity and Enneagram Type-specific strategies to control attraction (specifically, in the style of the “Passion”, the egoic Achilles Heel of each type):
Eights, in the style of Lust, attempt to wholly occupy the object of desire’s attention and energy while also using provocation to be “too much to handle.”
Nines, in the style of Sloth, use sexuality to dissociate, hiding behind their sexuality or attractiveness and over-adapting to their partner’s preferences.
Ones, in the style of Anger, hold themselves, partners, and relational dynamics to intense standards so as to ward off sexual rejection by rejecting when others can’t measure up.
Twos, in the style of Pride, project their fear of undesirability onto the object of their desire and make the other feel desirable and sexy. They mould themselves to represent the “complete package,” or the ideal lover of their desired partner.
Threes, in the style of Vanity, compete to be the most attention-grabbing, the most magnetic, and the most fascinating object for their desired partners.
Fours, in the style of Envy, amplify their unique and personal “flavour,” mystique, and talents to occupy the complete attention of the object of their desire while also trying to undermine rivals.
Fives, in the style of Avarice, provide intense, penetrating, and captivating insight and focus, then abruptly withdraw from contact when they don’t feel they have enough energy or when other relational demands are placed on them.
Sixes, in the style of Fear, exaggerate sexual characteristics and test others’ level of attraction, often acting out to prove they’re still desirable and exciting.
Sevens, in the style of Gluttony, are high energy and over-the-top, creating a spectacle to dazzle or entertain potential mates; or, they will move on to another object of desire if they fear rejection or boredom.
Insecure Sexual Types make their self-worth contingent on whether or not attraction is reciprocated by the object of desire.
While they can have a solid single-minded focus on one person—lest one get the impression that Sexual Types are noble devotees of their beloved—imbalanced Sexual Types may look for validation of their attractiveness elsewhere. They can give the appearance of committing all the way to something while covertly having their “feelers” out for something or someone more captivating, living as literal or figurative “serial monogamists,” wholly devoted and transcendently in “love” until something or someone more interesting comes their way.
One expression of this insecurity is in trying to shore up our feeling of being desirable by fostering multiple potential or actual sexual relationships without there being clear understanding among their partners about boundaries and intentions. Most Sexual Types generally come across as flirty in social situations, so the line between innocent flirtation and angling to “hook” people is blurry.
What’s important here, however, is not to become rigidly self-controlled or feel flirtation outside a relationship is “bad,” but to clarify one’s own intention to oneself with awareness and presence. This is vital for not allowing fearful ego-programs to co-opt the express of this instinct.
Because the sense of self is so tied up in attraction, Sexual Types can feel compelled to be swept up in attraction even if it’s not really merited. They can throw themselves at unworthy objects. This need to be in pursuit can lead to trying to “force” attraction, or chasing whoever happens to be around rather than someone who is actually special. Compounded with fears about aging and losing attractiveness (even if they are still young and/or attractive), a spiral of self-hatred and embarrassing attempts to shore up attraction can take a Sexual Type’s full attention, and they can act out sexually, not from a place of listening to the body’s discernment for compatibility, but as attempts to narcissistically “prove” their lasting attractiveness through conquests. They may also display a pattern of entrancing others up to the point of physical or emotional intimacy, but bailing when a sexual boundary could be crossed.
On the other hand, Sexual Types can become wholly fixated on a toxic partner or waste their energy in the ego project of trying to win the interest of someone indifferent to them in order to prove their own desirability to themselves. It’s common for imbalanced Sexual Types to move through life motivated by their pursuit of ever-new objects of desire or conquest, neglecting to develop any real content or meaning in their life and taking themselves off the course of their own growth and development. Their passion and intensity can give the appearance of clarity and a sense of purpose, but the speed with which a Sexual Type in this pattern can burn down everything in their life, relationships, health, income, creative projects, etc. to follow a “new shiny object”—almost always a sexually desirable person—is a testament to the lack of any fixed value other than desire for desire’s sake when this type is ungrounded. Some Sexual Types can become paralyzed and obsessive over defects, flaws, or failings.
They become competitive, inappropriately attention-grabbing, or can escalate to violence against rivals, and they can feel entitled to violate the boundaries of their sexual interest. Further, they may be unable to refrain from narcissistically advertising themselves.
The Sexual Instinct is the most obviously energized instinct, so it would seem natural to view it as a fountain of life force. However, slavishness to ego is sure to sap the natural and spontaneous aliveness and direction it wants to take. Ego-interference diverts our path from real opportunities for aliveness, leading many Sexual Types to a kind of burnout or state of running on fumes.
Sexual Types often struggle with a feeling of needing to constantly preoccupy, inhabit, and entertain the attention of the object of their desire. There can be a fear that simply connecting and being themselves is not enough, and that they must constantly strive to entrance their partner instead of recognizing that it’s not their ego’s effort alone that is making attraction happen. To compensate for their fears, Sexual Types are likely to try to push their relationships and short-term flings to be all-consuming fires, often prematurely, even when there isn’t a reciprocal flame.
This illustrates one of the greatest pitfalls that Sexual Types run into when ego is interfering with their Dominant Instinct, namely that they can prematurely push things beyond where they ought to be. With ego in the driver’s seat, the desire to escalate becomes compulsive and often runs counter to the natural flowering of the person, relationship, project, or situation. This can make for very passionate relationships and encounters, but it can also force a dynamic where there is little genuine chemistry to speak of. As a result, Sexual Types may try to artificially amplify feelings and desire through imagination and provocation. Artificial amplification can also be counterbalanced by quick onsets of disenchantment—the requirement to have to have something to charge up or push against can create enormous let-downs when the object of desire has few boundaries left to overcome. The Sexual Type may jump into relationships prematurely or may abruptly drop their interest in someone for no clear reason. The result is constantly looking for a right fit without addressing the real issue of their own disconnect from essence.
The egoic Sexual Instinct becomes a force of trying to throw off the weight of being human so as to return to the experience of essence before birth or even one’s own existence, like a death in reverse, to cast off the limiting shell of personhood. However, the ego cannot be surrendered without something prepared inside, so until the longing for inner freedom can be met consciously, it will compel us to waste and dispel the energy needed for our Work. The authentic love, identity, and vibrancy being sought through the Sexual Drive is only to be found by cultivating a true individuality that is not in opposition to the necessary constrictions of the personality, but by the independent existence of a higher “I” that is in cooperation with the personality.
[Source: Luckovich, 2021]