The Cloth Monkey

In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, physiology(food, water and originally sex) was on the bottom on the pyramid. It was believed that until we meet our basic animalistic physiological needs, we cannot nor do we have the drive to fulfill other needs (i.e. Safety, Love and Belonging, Esteem and Self-Actualization respectively). However, the argument of whether sex is a basic physiological need is debated among psychologists. Is it the sex itself and its promise for reproduction of the species, or the need for physical connection with other human beings?

Harry Frederick Harlow, an American psychologist, hypothesized in the twentieth century that contact comfort was extremely value to developing children. He had a wire monkey with food source and a cloth monkey with no food. The baby Rhesus monkeys spent a clear majority of their time clinging to the cloth monkey and the bare minimum amount of time feeding on the wire monkey. So, they met their physiological need for food and immediately afterwards found safety, comfort and belonging in the cloth mother.

Harlow's Wire vs. Cloth Mother

Freud believed that if we were not allowed to develop through the Oral, Anal, Phallic, Latency and Genital periods properly and encouragingly, that we would have corresponding issues as adults. For example, someone that did not get their oral needs met as an infant, may have an eating disorder or smoking addition as an adult.
So, what is it about sex that made Maslow believe it to be a basic physiological need?

As an Evolutionary Psychologist myself, I’ve always believed sex to be a need because of reproductive drives that are innately within us as a species. I’ve believed it to be a major motivator for many of our choices. However, I find myself questioning it now.

Maybe our sexual urges are merely an extension of our need for contact comfort, safety, love and belonging. Maybe it contributes to of all three of Maslow’s first three tiers rather than only the first.

The next time you feel uncomfortable or down, try hugging someone just a few moments longer and notice your body’s emotional response. Notice how you feel before and after. There is a sense of calmness, belonging and safety that occurs after prolonged physical contact of any kind with another human being.

My hypothesis is this: Nymphomania or high sex drive comes from a place that longs for physical contact to satisfy the needs of safety, love and belonging.
Furthermore, I think that regularly having physical contact with other human beings can decrease sexual desire in individuals seeking validation from sexual activities.

As someone with an extremely high sex drive that has chosen to remove sex from my life temporarily, I am going to experiment with this on myself and maybe do some interviews with others that share my struggle. We shall see what comes of it!

As a good friend told me yesterday, “Look at your problem through the eyes of a child to discover what the true source of the problem is.”

So that’s just what I’ll do.


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