I was recently listening to a podcast that mentioned a ‘growth mindset’ towards sex.
If you’re not aware of the work of Dr Carol Dweck, the idea is that we can have a fixed or a growth mindset and that this has implications for our lives, achievements and satisfaction.
What is a fixed mindset?
A fixed mindset is one where we believe our character, intelligence and abilities are static givens that cannot be changed. This means we might constantly strive for success and avoid failure at all costs (because what would it mean about me if I ‘failed’?).
What is a growth mindset?
A growth mindset is one where we see ‘failure’ not as something lacking in us but as a chance for growth. It can be seen as an opportunity for stretching our potential and developing our abilities.
How does this relate to sex and pleasure?
Those of a fixed mindset might think of erotic and sexual capacity and ability as being fixed and static. That they are either erotically gifted, or not. It could also mean that they strive for success in a goal orientated way (usually evidenced by things like ‘giving’ people orgasms or getting and keeping a partner). These people would need to avoid ‘erotic failure’ (or what would be seen as erotic failure) at all costs.
On the other hand, those with a growth mindset may see ‘failure’ not as something lacking, and will risk ‘failing’ in order to grow and develop. These people understand themselves as being in constant transformation and have a passion for learning. They engage with effort and deliberate practice in their relationships with intimacy, sex and erotic pursuits. This might involve listening to podcasts, engaging in mindful erotic practices or attending workshops (Quintimacy for example, but other sex education is available!).
A 2015 study was conducted on fixed vs growth mindsets in relation to sexual and relationship satisfaction, which also addressed ‘problematic’ pornography use. The researchers found that those with a growth mindset were more likely to report higher levels of relationship and sexual satisfaction than those with a fixed mindset. They concluded that there was a lot of over-emphasis on the harmful consequences of porn, and it would be more useful to focus on people’s mindsets around sex!
Cultivating intimacy and building community
I suspect if you’re reading this, you’re interested in how we can grow and cultivate intimacy, develop as people within communities and learn new skills and ways of being. You’ll likely already be aware that you have the capacity to change and grow as an erotic person and in your relationships with others.
I don’t think it’s binary though (not much is, is it?). Your erotic growth mindset might be a quiet flicker rather than a roaring flame. People might feel ‘stuck’ at times, in a way that looks like a fixed mindset, but this could be caused by a multitude of factors (hormones, depression, trauma, minority stress and so much more). I want to recognise the parts of all of us and our experiences that are a bit ‘fixed mindset’.
How do you build intimacy?
I suggest that we interweave our erotic and intimacy ‘growth mindset’ with compassion, kindness and (self and community) care. We can do this in a way that is forgiving and understanding, and inclusive of the multitude of ways human beings relate to bodies, sex and pleasure.
We must recognise that we all have stuff to heal, so it’s about healing as we grow and growing as we heal. Where we help each other with this important work — not just make sure our private sex lives are enhanced — with resources only a wealthy few can afford.
I have been thinking about how we can have a growth mindset towards intimacy in all its forms. We need each other to do this. Recently I introduced the idea of an Erotic Peer to a client of mine. They have gone off and found some Erotic Peers to practice with. Now there’s some growth mindset!
You can read more about Erotic Peership here.