Humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow theorized that when a person has several levels of needs met, they are then able to attain access to their full potential as a person and desire for self-fulfillment–a state of being known as self-actualization. Self-actualization can span across many dimensions of a person’s identity–intelligence, career, family roles, talents and hobbies, relationships–and even sexuality. So what are a few of the key ingredients for sexual actualization?
Other Needs Must be Met
To reach a point that self-actualization is possible, a person must have their physiological, safety, love and belonging, and esteem needs–in that proposed order–met. Check out Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to learn more about each prerequisite to self-actualization. As these needs have been met, an individual can shift their focus onto more abstract concepts of being (like morality) and has developed the skills and characteristics that will allow for greater exploration of self-fulfillment. To move towards reaching one’s full sexual potential, the partners or companions that a person seeks out should not disrupt or conflict those already met needs, but potentially expand and fortify them.
Self-Acceptance & Acceptance of Others
Recently, there has been a huge shift in how sexuality is viewed. Both major and subtle shifts in thinking allow for greater self-acceptance and less judgmental attitudes towards those who may be different from us. People now challenge double standards about sex, have become aware of more fluid definitions of sexuality, and have shown a spotlight on the essence of consent and respect. Accepting yourself, your sexuality–however you may construct it–and that of others sets you up for a greater level of happiness and fulfillment by creating a greater sense of unity and empathy rather than judgment and criticism. I know I would rather feel united and empathic instead of apathetic or even disgusted towards those who may differ from me.
The peak experiences that Maslow described are more than just a physical climax, but involve a sense of wonder and awe, spirituality, and transcendence. For a person who has attained a state of self-actualization, peak experiences happen more frequently. With regards to sexuality, an orgasm could in fact be a true actualized peak experience, but that isn’t the only way. Acts of intimacy or connection or philosophical thoughts about sexuality can also be a peak experience.
Appreciation of The Journey
In all aspects of life–including sexuality–finding that the journey is just as important as the goal is an important way of thinking that promotes mindfulness and greater life satisfaction. How much of our lives are truly spent reaching goals or endpoints? If we expand our appreciation of life to include the journey, we’ll find that we’ve drastically increased the amount of enjoyable moments instead of simply relying on accomplishments for satisfaction. This easily relates to sex and sexuality. The journey can be anything from reflecting upon personal growth, the development of relationships with partners, or the progression of sexual acts. There is often greater sexual satisfaction with those who are aware of and emphasize the importance of arousal rather than racing to the finish line.
This list is by no stretch all inclusive of Abraham Maslow’s theory of self-actualization. How will you continue to use his ideas about reaching one’s full potential to increase self-fulfillment?
The Stone Foundation is a community of counseling professionals who are committed to helping you live your best life. If we can assist you in any way, please contact us at 410.296.2004 or visit www.thestonefoundation.com. Please know that this article is intended for general, educational purposes only. This article, and others like it, should not and are not meant to take the place of professional counseling services or medical care.
Lauren Greenberg, MS, LGPC is a graduate of Loyola’s Counseling Practitioner Program. For three years, Lauren provided hotline crisis intervention to residents of Baltimore City. She also has experience providing counseling to students at a local college for issues including grief and loss, depression, substance abuse, self-harm, anxiety, and trauma. Her professional interests and areas of study include positive psychology, promoting social and emotional competence, and women’s issues.