Monday, November 05, 2007

Teen Spirit?

Is it just my imagination or has anyone else noticed that when teenage girls talk about having "spiritual yearnings" it means they're horny?

I don't mean to put down teenage girls here. They face a lot of challenges and don't need to be dumped on. Yet, at the same time, I believe I've noticed on many occasions how the word "spiritual" can seem almost synonymous with the word "horny" as it's used by teenage girls. Not always, but often enough to be noticeable.

I even have a theory about it (why, of course I do!). My theory is that most of us, when we enter puberty, don't make an instant connection between the new feelings we experience and horniness. In both boys and girls, feelings of horniness are created by the hormone testosterone. But those feelings don't come labeled "horniness". Instead, we must learn to interpret them as horniness. And while we are learning to properly interpret them as horniness, we often interpret them as something else, such as a "spiritual yearning".

What are the feelings produced by testosterone? Well, one of the most common feelings is sometimes described as "a desire or longing to hit the road". You can see how easily that feeling could be interpreted as spiritual if you listen to Led Zeppelin's famous "Stairway to Heaven" while Plant sings, "There's a feeling I get when I look to the west and my spirit is crying for leaving."

Testosterone also produces a feeling very akin to "emptiness" -- and I've long noticed that when adolescent girls talk about their spirituality, they often talk about it in terms of feelings of longing and emptiness.

I speculate it might be a little harder for girls to make the connection between the feelings produced by testosterone and sexual yearning because girls don't come equipped with an appendage that frequently rises up and points out the connection to them. Boys do. But perhaps a bigger reason it might be more difficult for girls to make the connection is that society expects and accepts that boys will get horny, while at the same time, society more or less still frowns on girls getting horny. Therefore, there might be some pressure on girls to find a more socially acceptable label for their testosterone induced feelings than "horniness". What could be more socially acceptable than a "spiritual yearning"?

None of this is meant to discount the genuine spiritual needs of adolescent girls. I merely wish to point out my impression that girls (more often than boys) sometimes confuse horniness with "spiritual yearning". Adolescence is usually the first time in our lives that we become intensely concerned with spiritual matters. It is also usually the first time in our lives that we become intensely concerned with sexual matters. Since both concerns are in many ways new and unfamiliar to us, it seems possible that we might at times confuse the two.

If so, I wonder how often an exceptionally fervent teenage interest in religion is due to good, old fashioned horniness?


stevo said...

I think you're onto something. I have often wondered why so many young people are deeply involved in church youth groups and missionary work. It's good to think there may be a biological explanation instead of brainwashing and peer pressure.

Webs said...

What I took from the post was your part about how horniness in girls still isn't accepted in our society. How true. A guy has sex with as many girls as possible and at worst he is a playa. A girl has sex half as much and is a slut.

Weird thing is, in college you hear girls calling other girls sluts just because they have a little more sex. I had friends that called my now fiance a slut and a hoar, and she only had three boyfriends before me. They didn't know her and didn't know anything about her. Meanwhile, most of the same people were all mutual friends with this guy that had sex with anything that has two legs and walked. Yet he was just a friend, not a slut or a hoar.

Our society is pretty f***ed up. That's the message I learned growing up.

Paul said...

Thank you, Steve. When I used to hobnob with kids, I more than once got the impression that hormones had quite a bit to do with one or another kid's religiosity.

So far as I know, Webs, all societies are screwed up -- each in its own way. We are, after all, the least sane of the Great Apes. Anyone who called your fiance a slut and a whore for having had three boyfriends before you is missing the toy from their Crackerjacks box. It's a shame society all too often condones such opinions.

Webs said...

LOL, whoops, I misspelled "whore". Thanks Paul.

Nita said...

When I read your post I went back to my own teenage years. I was very much on to philosophy and read chinese philosophers like Lin Yutang. I also had this huge crush on a film star which I felt was an outlet for the horny feelings as you put it. About the spirituality phase I went through this was more because I had some problems about my pimples and my very thin self which I felt made me less attractive! this led me to retreat into myself and I remember we had this dance in the 10th grade with the boys school and I was terrifed that no one would ask me to dance because I was too thin! I sort of slunk to the darkest corner of the hall and stood with my back to the wall,hoping that no one would notice me! Someone did however and even then I told myself it wasn't because I was pretty, it was because there weren't enough girls! So my spirituality arose from that...I had these vague feelings of being separate from my body!!
Strangely all these spiritual feelings disappeared the minute I found a boyfriend! :)
So you can read and analyse this the way you like!

Rambodoc said...

Thanks Paul!
Were you feeling spiritually inclined to write on this?
You must have known by now that I am other-worldly and saintly in most aspects, and now I can't even say I am spiritual, thanks to you!
In your society, when girls have sex, or are feeling horny, they may be forgiven for confusing this with spirituality. After all, at seven or eight years, how much of maturity can you expect of them, poor things?!

Brendan said...

Interesting theory, Paul. I was surfing a little and found this old article (1915)from the NYT, laying out the argument that sex and religion/spirituality share many of the same tools (the "erotogenic theory of religion").

"Sexual feelings are the levers which control religious emotion and the so-called religious convictions are the cryptic, mystical, dogmatized elaboration of them."

Psychoanalysis has long recognized the connection between religious feeling, religious iconography and mythology and human sexuality.

I've read accounts by many girls who found images of Jesus sexually attractive.

Brendan said...

D'oh, the link to the NYT article got chopped. Here's a tinyURL instead:

Shefaly said...

What about the converse? Are people not inclined to spiritual/ organised religion type things low on horniness too?

Is it also possible that nerds find spirituality in quantum physics instead? Nothing comes closer to poetry than that.. :-)

Brendan said...

"What about the converse? Are people not inclined to spiritual/ organised religion type things low on horniness too? "

I think the idea is that it's redirected horniness.

Robin said...

Very interesting theory. It might explain a lot about those Christian youth groups and their popularity.

I had a brief fling with Scientology during my adolescent "spiritual yearning" days. At least it was mostly harmless.

Jackie said...

Provocative post! Made me think of Paul Theroux's extensive travels and familiarity with Africa, so well related in his book "Dark Star Safari".
He noted, while traveling from the north of the continent to the south, that the young missionaries he met were obsessed with sex.
So lust and wanderlust is connected. Perhaps these folks should just get a sexual partner, instead of preaching to others.
I was not raised, really, on any organised religion, Never saw my own experiences in spiritual terms. We were just horny teenagers, like everyone else :-)

Paul said...

Hi Nita! It's quite interesting how those "spiritual feelings" disappeared once you had a boyfriend! Thanks for sharing that!

Rambodoc, I myself have often been alarmed at your "otherworldliness". But what can you possibly be thinking to criticize the rampant sexualization of seven and eight year olds? Don't you know the earlier we start them on sex, the more they will know by the time they come of age? Are you anti-knowledge or something?

Thanks, Brendan! That was an interesting article.

Hi Shefaly! I think it's possible that people who have low levels of horniness might be less inclined to confuse their horniness with spiritual yearnings. But I'm merely speculating.

I'm not prepared to say my theory entirely explains those Christian youth groups, Robin, but I think it might explain one influence at work on them.

Jackie, that's very intriguing. Thanks for telling me about Theroux's observation!