by Dr Graham Stevenson, World Association of Sex Coaches Certified Sex Coach
While usually associated with children, play is also good for adults like you and me. Without play, we would have had a miserable childhood and learned very little. It stimulates our minds and enables us to practice adult roles in preparation for going out into the big wide world as doctors and nurses, policemen or pirates.
Play is even used for therapy, not only to diagnose problems in children but also as an antidote to depression and to counter anxiety. After all, if we’re playing it’s not for real. For others it is an effective way of revisiting areas of trauma and putting memories to rest within the narrative of their lives.
The amazing thing is that, when two people play together, their right brains become attuned and they enter into an altered state where joy and laughter are spontaneous. Here, we learn to trust each other and build an unconscious language to communicate that trust. Through play, we have bonded together from the beginning of humanity, enabling our species to not only survive but thrive on this planet.
Play and Sex
Our evolutionary cousins, the Bonobos, have discovered other benefits to play. Play and sex are at the core of their society and they use both to reduce stress and bond together. This synergy enables them to live peacefully together with no recorded incidents of fatal violence – could this be a possible recipe for peace on earth? Make love not war.
In the play zone people are open to making new connections not just to each other but between objects and ideas. It is the playful who cross boundaries and invent things. This has been exploited by more innovative employers who have made work more like play and found improvements in productivity and creativity. Conversely, play should really be without purpose otherwise it begins to feel like work and loses its spark.
Play does have rules, though, that we instinctively create, as all that freedom can be dangerous. As children this helped us to learn to be law abiding but we also learned which rules could be broken and with what consequences. This may be why ‘naughtiness’ can add that frisson to new experiences – doing what you shouldn’t, but you really want, to do.
Good sex depends on connection and for many the quality of connection starts with the quality of foreplay. And foreplay is aptly named as it should be playful and precede more intensely sexual activity. Another vital ingredient for both sex and play is presence or focused attention to be in the moment. When presence and lack of purpose are missing then sex becomes about performance, which is a major problem and hindrance to good sex. Play lets our bodies and desires take us where they will in an atmosphere of purposeless spontaneity.
Play does have a serious side as it promotes development due to the personal involvement and stretching of boundaries. It can therefore be a powerful ally in keeping a relationship fresh and growing. People who play together stay together. This is why play is important to people who are serious about life and ongoing personal development.
This was cited as the main reason people get involved in BDSM. This group of adults have been making personal journeys of discovery and become bonded around play in the area of Bondage and Discipline, Domination and Submission, and Sadomasochism. Their discoveries have greatly helped our understanding in the area of consent – a current topic on many university campuses dealing with abuse and rape.
A simplified rule of psychology is that whatever is repressed only gets stronger and finds another way of expressing itself. By exploring those edges and owning our desires they can be transformed and incorporated into a more authentic conscious whole. The desire is often not the real problem but rather the way it is channelled in denial and subterfuge.
If you are interested in exploring playfully, a good rule of thumb is to go where you feel an internal pull and avoid going where you feel an external push. This is just the difference between volition and coercion, what you want and what others want for you.
Play for the World
If couples tried play fighting, there might be less real conflict. Just as playing Blind Man’s Buff might help us empathise with blind people, so dressing up and role playing another gender might help us to become more appreciative and socially tolerant as a society. It is after all good to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before you judge them.
Another benefit of getting to know yourself is that it increases the power of you presence. It is a more substantially you that is here in the now and less ego and pretence. This all makes for better connection.
We need a new model of adulthood that doesn’t leave the child behind but adds to it to make a whole human being who enjoys life in all its diversity and creativity. We need a culture that gives us permission to play with the expectation of completing the human lifecycle which ends in individual maturity not conformity.