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February 24, 2023

Let's Talk About Sexual Energy

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In my last Going Deeper I talked about feeling feelings from presence and above the line. Several of you asked why I didn’t include sexual feelings along with anger, fear, joy and sadness; what we suggest are the five core feelings. 

We have also been receiving feedback on social media that what we’re saying about feelings doesn’t align with the latest research, which I want to address. It seems to me that scholars differ on how many feelings there are and what they are. In addition to anger, fear, sadness and joy some also include disgust, shame, and guilt. In his latest work Awe, Dacher Keltner includes awe as a feeling. Some scholars list dozens of feelings/emotions and make meaningful distinctions about how various cultures experience all of these. Experts also differ on the distinction between feelings and emotions, or if there is a distinction in the first place. Finally, some find differences between feelings, emotions and drives. 

I/we are not academics. However, I have consulted with academics over the years and read and listened to their current thinking in the field of emotions and feelings. What I have learned reinforces my belief that there is not agreement and alignment amongst those who study these things deeply. If you’re interested, at the end of this blog I list some of what I have been exploring lately.

That said, I want to address sexual feelings. 

It’s not my desire to distinguish whether it is a feeling, emotion or drive. Rather I want to speak to leaders about how to be with sexual feelings from above the line/presence. Our individual and collective inability and unwillingness to be with sexual feelings in a clean, clear, mature way is causing all kinds of drama and suffering in the workplace and our private lives. 

The Basics

Sexual feelings, like the other core feelings, show up as energy in and on the body, manifesting as sensations. We coach leaders to become expert at knowing when and how sexual energy shows up in their body. For many, it includes, and often begins, as sensations in the erogenous zones. For others this is not the case. Once sexual energy begins to flow it can occur all over the body. Many report that through concentrated practice it can become a current or recirculating energy moving up and down the spine and the front of the body. They report that this experience is pleasurable. 

Like the other core feelings, if one simply notices, allows and welcomes the feelings they naturally release and the body returns to equanimity. Unlike the other core feelings, as mentioned above, some cultivate the practice of circulating sexual energy throughout the body and keep the flow going until they choose to end it. 

Also, like the other core feelings, sexual energy contains information designed to support us and our wellbeing.  Sexual feelings offer the information of attraction, connection and creativity. It asks the questions, “What wants to be created?” “What connection wants to occur?” 

And, like all feelings, sexual energy can occur from below or above the line. 

When sexual energy occurs below the line several things happen: 

1. Objectification

From below the line, we believe that the cause of our feelings is external. Another is making us feel this way. This is the to me, victim experience of sexual energy. This is happening to me because another looks the way they look, is moving the way they move, is saying what they’re saying.

When I believe that the cause of my sexual feelings is someone or something outside of myself, I objectify the other. I must believe that the other is the object, I am the subject, and my experience is caused by the object. We all objectify others as long as we think the other is the cause of our experience.

2. Attraction or Aversion

Once I have objectified the other and made them the cause of my experience I either want to get closer or move away. These are two sides of the same coin. If I want to get closer it’s because I believe that it will increase, satisfy or complete my sexual desire. If I’m afraid of my sexual energy or the consequences of acting it out, I’ll run from my sensations and often from the person who I believe is causing my sexual attraction. In doing so I might turn them into a fantasy object and create a cognitive emotive loop. Like the other core feelings, sexual energy, below the line, is often a cognitive (thinking), emotive (feeling) loop.

3. Lust

Lust is having one foot on the gas pedal and one foot on the brake; the experience of “I want and I can’t or shouldn’t.” I want the cookie, but I shouldn’t eat the cookie. I want the car but shouldn’t have the car. Lust requires the push/pull. If only one side of the coin is present, there is no energy of lust. Many leaders are consumed with lust, often because they don’t know how to be with sexual feelings in a clean and clear way. After wrestling with lust and either winning or losing the battle they experience guilt and/or shame. 

From below the line, I make sexual energy about another. I objectify and want to possess or avoid. I get stuck in cognitive emotive loops and am sometimes wrestling with lust. I’m a victim at the effect of my sexual feelings.

From above the line. I take responsibility for being the source and creator of my sexual feelings.

My sexual feelings are about me, not the other. I experience them as a natural, normal part of being human. They arise, the more alive I am and available to all feelings the more often they arise—and when they do I welcome them and allow them to flow in and on my body. I direct my attention internally to my sensations. Like the other feelings, I support the experience by breathing, moving and vocalizing until the sensations have moved through the body. 

When we don’t know how to experience sexual feelings from above the line we limit our flow, especially our creative flow. 

With current global conditions, we need more creativity, more innovation, more improvisation. High levels of creativity come when we feel our sexual feelings all the way through to completion. 

The Workplace Conundrum

Because our culture doesn’t promote mature relationships with sexual feelings (above the line), it’s highly likely that we and our colleagues have immature relationships (below the line) with sexual feelings. This can lead to verbally and physically acting out sexual feelings, causing disruption, hurt, and fear. Add to this the dynamics of power disequilibrium and we have a drama filled mess. To manage this, we create rules about what people can say and do. We try to legislate sexual energy out of the workplace, which doesn’t work. Enculturation is infinitely more powerful than legislation.  

We’re asking our people to be more creative while telling them overtly and covertly not to have sexual feelings in the workplace, which is a fool’s errand. When one of my friends who leads a very large advertising agency filled with creatives got this, a light bulb came on. “Oh my god, I see it. People in this place have huge creative and sexual energy, and absent knowing how to be with it in mature ways they immaturely act it out.”

Imagine a work environment where people are encouraged to feel their sexual feelings just like they’re encouraged to feel their anger, fear, sadness and joy. 

They also learn that other people don’t cause their feelings, so they don’t objectify others and pursue or avoid them. Instead they see their sexual energy as a gift of being human, they enjoy the flow of sensation in and on their body, and they use the energy to create and connect in clean, clear, powerful ways. This is the workplace we envision and stand for. 


1. Some thoughts on emotions

This article is written by Joshua T. Voglstein. Joshua has been very helpful, and generous, in giving perspective on this subject.

2. Neuropsychology: How Many Emotions Are There?

Psychological theories disagree on how we attribute emotions to people. A new neuroimaging study shows that such attributions involve a large number of abstract features, rather than a small set of emotion categories.

3. Hidden Brain Podcast: Decoding Emotions

The ‘hidden brain’ podcast has a few episodes on emotions that are very helpful. 

4. Emotor control: computations underlying bodily resource allocation, emotions, and confidence

Emotional processes are central to behavior, yet their deeply subjective nature has been a challenge for neuroscientific study as well as for psychiatric diagnosis. Here we explore the relationships between subjective feelings and their underlying brain...

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