Sexuality in Conversation

The Men Who Bone While the World Burns

Dimitris Tsiopos, 35, a Greek web designer and marketer, is still wrapping his head around the fact that the dramatic dip in income he has experienced in the wake of the Greek crisis has somehow put him on fire. 

“In 2015, at the peak of the recession and after the initial shock had dissipated, everyone around me went about their lives in a zombie-like state, fazed, numb. It was almost like a kind of collective depression was thick in the air. And it was at that point that I started finding it hard to contain myself in bed. I wanted more, and of more variety,” Tsiopos says. He was not the only one reporting a heightened state of sexuality in the midst of an economic slump. Most of his friends shared the same surrealist feeling of living in a country that was sinking to an economic, but also political and psychological low point, while at the same time wrestling with a sexual drive that was mounting.

Both Tsiopos and his friends are far from alone. True, since 2009, the southeast Mediterranean country has witnessed its economic output go down by 26 percent, unemployment hover around 22 percent, and three-quarters of its young graduates leave it in search of greener pastures. At the exact same time, however, Greek men aged between 25 and 64 have been having 35 percent more sex than what they used to have before the crisis, according to a recent research paper titled “Uncertainty in Negotiations Becomes Certainty in Sex,” which was done on 600 Greek men by the Andrology Institute of Athens. The reason? You may want to blame civilization.

Civilization is built on the repression of sexuality, said Austrian neurologist and much-revered but also equally debated founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud in the early 20th century. And, that’s what, more or less, the lead author of the study and president of the Andrology Institute, Konstantinos Konstantinidis, says to explain the findings of his survey, which inquired into things like the frequency of sexual activity and the quality of desire. Once the establishment that serves to keep you socialized collapses and employment becomes unemployment or safety becomes unsafety, but also, generally, on a personal level, the order you previously knew devolves into mayhem, anger wakes the beast inside you, says Konstantinidis.

Tsiopos has seen this anger turn into eroticism and offers quantifiable proof for that. Before the crisis broke out in 2009, he had had sex twice a week. Over the past years, he says he has doubled this to four times weekly, while lately he has even set a personal high with multiple times a day . “It is a drug. It is a drug that makes me feel only well. I feel like a savage,” he says. More than that, he has also started enriching his sexual life with sadomasochistic toys, an experimentation he thinks he should have tried out far earlier for he now finds it “salvaging.”
Greek men aged between 25 and 64 have been having 35 percent more sex than what they used to have before the crisis. The reason? You may want to blame civilization.
Chris Hoover is a 50-year-old writer and filmmaker from Ventura, California. On his part, Hoover has not had a major financial crisis, but has not made a ton of financial income from his books or efforts so far so as to claim he is “rich or ultra-successful by anybody’s standards,” especially “by nearby Hollywood’s standards.” A single man with no kids, he keeps himself in tip-top shape, regularly working out with weights and yoga and cross training, and leads a lifestyle that he thinks is more compatible with the lifestyle women younger than him have. Last December, Ventura was in the midst of evacuations after about 9,000 wildfires tore through California, burning 1.2 million acres of land, leveling more than 10,800 structures and killing at least 46 people. In the midst of these petrifying evacuations, Hoover also experienced the scarring personal trauma of being dumped: All of a sudden, a much younger woman he had been dating walked out on him. “There was no disillusionment, no dissatisfaction on her behalf either on a personal or physical level. Even during the last night we were together, I could hear it in her expressions. I could see it physically that she was satisfied,” he says.

Not long ago, Hoover had placed an ad on an online dating forum. There he met “Willow,” a 19-year-old college student and English major. “I was immediately flattered that this beautiful and much younger woman would take interest in me,” Hoover, who disarmingly admits he is most probably going through a midlife crisis, says. He and Willow quickly hit it off into a relationship based on passion and mutual attraction. Then Willow dumped Hoover, who is still scratching his head trying to figure out what went wrong. He has come to the conclusion that Hollywood is to blame for his mishap. “Most younger women who have been close to the Hollywood scene (Willow might have harbored acting aspirations, says Hoover), cannot help but be attracted to the Hollywood energy. So, once she saw I could not provide her with the lifestyle she wanted, you know the fancy cars, she dumped me. And this left me feeling inadequate.”

But no matter what the reasons Willow distanced herself from Hoover were, the eerie combination of having experienced a large-scale natural disaster and an unexpected and ego-bruising breakup ironically helped the 50-year-old man turn a new page with his sexuality. “Seven weeks after the separation and, though I am frustrated, distressed and slightly depressed, honestly, in the wake of all that, I have noticed a heightened level of my libido. I have had sex a couple of times, and the actual act of it was quite satisfying to my partner and myself. You know, I was able to go several times in a night whereas...in a typical relationship like this past one, sometimes that was not the case,” he says. (In the days following his misadventure, Hoover was energized enough to even write 300 pages in less than two weeks and a romance novel going by the name Willow’s Whispers.)
Once the establishment that serves to keep you socialized collapses and the order you previously knew devolves into mayhem, anger wakes the beast inside you.
About 1209 kilometers away to the northeast of Ventura, in Salt Lake City, Utah, lives Justin Peck, a 44-year-old off-road race car driver. Peck is a back-to-back series champion in off-road motorcycles and national winner and third overall winner of The Challenge of America Series among his other racing titles. Throughout a life chasing adrenaline, he has broken 83 bones, had 19 surgeries, suffered multiple concussions and gone through the insertion of plates, rods, screws and cadaver parts. He even says he “has died twice.” Be that as it may, Peck is also very vocal about the bipolar disorder episodes he has been struggling with for a big part of his life, which all culminated in a recent suicide attempt he says.

“After I went through a major depressive crisis, I drove my jeep up a hill, pulled my pistol from the center box of my truck, loaded it, put it to my head and immediately pulled the trigger. I had no intentions of going as far as I did, and it was a split second of irrational thought that ultimately put in my mind that suicide was the only way out. The gun didn't go off, but the adrenaline I got for that experience immediately pulled me out of the depressive feeling,” Peck says in a plain-dealing way. The 44-year-old (who has also penned a book called Bulletproof, a memoir that talks about how a man who lives on top of the world slips down a rabbit hole and climbs back) feels his failed suicide attempt breathed new vigor into his sex life as he has been having sex three to five times a week since, climbing to new heights of libidinous euphoria. “I am amazed at how hypersensitive everything has become lately. Many a time I feel like a superstar,“ Peck confesses.

“There are two basic explanations why crises positively affect libido,” says the president of the Athens Andrology Institute. “One is biological and the second sociological.” The biological explanation is that, under intense stress, organisms release euphoric substances to offset the onset of a possible depression. These substances, in turn, increase sexual desire and, ultimately, activity. The sociological explanation is that when we experience extremely threatening conditions, we might shake off social conventions, the “musts and shoulds”, which turned out to be ineffective in protecting us from life-or-death situations anyway. Instead, we embrace the wilder instincts lingering beneath the veneer of civilization, one of which is the sexual instinct.

Konstantinidis’s survey found that, in the thick of the Greek crisis, men between 35 and 54 had more sex by 30 percent and those over 54 by 27. Those under 35 scored the highest, increasing their sexual frequency by 35 percent. Steelworker Mike T. is an under-35 man who saw his sexual urge spike after his own financial and personal crisis. In July 2017, the 27-year-old was laid off at a factory in his native Huntington, Indiana. This was after three years of working for the company, right at the moment when good health benefits and a pay raise were imminent, right when he started catching himself daydreaming of attending an online college for business and then climbing the social ladder up to the fancier bunks of the middle class. Then, management told him and at least 600 more workers they were downsizing, “just like that,” he says.
“I was in shock. For many days, I fluctuated between wanting to break anything made of glass into thousands of pieces—these were the same people that had promised me a great future, the powers-that-be that candidly shook hands with me when on my first day at work—and staying in bed under the comfort of my blanket all day. Soon afterwards, my father died from a heart attack, and for a moment, I thought God was playing some kind of ugly joke on me.”

Logically and by society’s standards, a person losing his father and job will most probably spiral into depression, all previous signs of vitality and thirst for life or sex going down the drain. It’s not that Mike T., who grew up in a single-parent family by his father’s side and developed a strong attachment to him, didn’t grieve for his father’s passing. It’s that at the same time he started having more sex—several times a day.

“I was crying in the morning, then literally begging my girlfriend to go for more and more rounds in the evening. I don’t know what’s been happening to me. I must admit I am a petty excuse of a human being—jobless, an orphan and overly sexed up,” he says.

As early as the turn of the 20th century, Austrian psychoanalyst, writer, teacher and close colleague of Freud, Otto Rank, theorized that sex can be an effective panacea. Sex becomes a "screen for terror," blocking out the fear of death, said Rank, because it is an intense experience, one of the few activities with an innate power to counter the terrible pain of loss. A person who has more sex after experiencing a loss of any sort, is a person who wants to control their own mortality and a way to do this is by “inviting the beast,” as Konstantinidis puts it.

“What’s the opposite of death?” asks Konstantinidis. The opposite of death is desire, he says, adding that no one should be surprised at seeing an increased libido at hospitals or in those who cater for a dying relative or a sick friend (and this falls evenly upon genders). “Where there is the force of death, actual death, but also a symbolic one manifested through a crisis, there is also the struggle of the opposite force, libido, life,” says Konstantinidis. “It’s no wonder why funerals have been called the great corrupters.”

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