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How Mimetic Desire Influences Our Sex Lives & Relationships

Dr. Lisa Lawless

Dr. Lisa Lawless, CEO of Holistic Wisdom
Clinical Psychotherapist: Relationship & Sexual Health Expert

Paper peeled back showing the word desire

What Is Mimetic Desire?

Ever heard of the term 'mimetic desire'? No? Most people haven't. Basically, it's a term coined by French philosopher René Girard that is based on a four-stage process that dives into what we crave socially as well as what we are attracted to in our partners based on society's standards.

So, once we've got our basic needs covered, such as a roof over our heads, food on our plates, and the feeling of safety, our brains are free to ask ourselves, what's next? And in comes the need to socially connect with others and fit in. But, as we all know, not all social influences are healthy.

Attraction Based On What Others Think

It is a pretty common human trait to point fingers at a convenient 'scapegoat' to blame or even push people out of our social circles so that we can eliminate negative influences or, in other cases, feel superior. It's an age-old behavioral pattern that roots itself in our sense of self-esteem and one we should recognize when looking at ourselves.

What is a scapegoat when it comes to attraction and desire?

Mimetic desire is not necessarily bad or good, but it can be destructive when guided by prejudice, and it causes harm. This can include bigotry, where people different from the majority are seen as less than or bad.

A typical example of this is seen in body shaming. Consider how society often has a 'preferred' look, such as a particular body shape or style that becomes the 'in' thing. We are constantly fed such ideals, and many people start wanting to look that way without even realizing that it is society's influence over them.

It's like taking part in a fashion trend where everyone's wearing a certain shoe style, and suddenly you want it too, even if it might not be the most comfortable for your feet, and you may not have liked that style if no one were wearing them.

When it comes to our bodies, this trend-following can have serious health consequences. There's a hidden cost in a world that might be obsessed with being super skinny, young, curvaceous, or muscular.

Not only do people feel the pressure to look a certain way (sometimes even harming their health), but they might also look down on those who don't fit that 'ideal' image. This type of hypocrisy is often demonstrated by those who are obese, criticizing someone else for being overweight, or someone who rarely exercises, making a comment on how someone else only goes to the gym once a week.

Why do people do this? It's sometimes easier to point fingers than confront our insecurities, and it is further driven by a strong desire to fit in and not be the outsider or 'scapegoat.'

Another example can be seen when humans are attracted to the same sex but live in a homophobic society, so they may suppress their true desires and exhibit disdain and bigotry toward those who are homosexual.

In fact, this example is so common that studies show the more vocal one is against homosexuals, the more likely they are suppressing their own homosexual desires. It certainly aligns with the Shakespearean quote, "Methinks he doth protest too much."

Even if not overt, we unknowingly harbor biases towards groups that have been historically marginalized. For example, plus-sized people, short men, women, the LGBTQ+ community, people of color, and those with disabilities. Our society's lens is tinted with preconceptions that may distort how we view these groups.

For those who participate in this type of discrimination, there's a natural urge to hide the real issues that caused this unfair blame game in the first place. Thus, people often craft narratives to conceal prejudices that might make them look bad.

Our tendency to desire what others want so that we can fit in while acting as though we do not have any biases is a darker side of mimetic desire.

How Mimetic Desire Impacts Attraction

Mimetic desire applies to a broad range of human behavior, including sexual relationships and attraction to others. For instance, have you ever noticed how sometimes we're drawn to someone simply because others find them desirable? That's this concept at play!

As we navigate our relationships with others, it's important to remember that external social influences often shape our perceptions. However, with a bit of introspection, we can develop our emotional intelligence to be more empathic toward others, even if they are not our personal cup of tea.

An Opportunity For Growth

When we talk about sexuality and relationships, mimetic desire is an opportunity for personal growth to explore diversity and new experiences. Yet, like any journey of discovery, it can sometimes trigger feelings of fear, jealousy, a sense of competition, or even bouts of insecurity.

Just remember, it's all a part of the human experience, and understanding these emotions can pave the way for deeper self-awareness and connection with others.

Tapping Into Your Healthy Desires

In today's world, where we're constantly scrolling through social media and the news, it's so easy to feel like we're being swept away in a sea of everyone else's dreams and achievements.

There is a tension between what the world tells us to want and what our own soul whispers to us. Below are ways that you can tap into your own desires and find the path you were made to travel on your own terms.

Acknowledge Social Influences

Have you ever stopped to think why you want what you want? Mimetic desire shapes our desires based on what we see others valuing. But ultimately, it is essential to discern what you desire based on your wants and needs.

It's like having a light bulb moment where you recognize that our surroundings and society play a part in what draws us to someone. So the next time you feel a particular pull toward someone, remember it might be society's influence over you. And there's power in understanding that.

Each of us has our own unique desires. Sometimes, these align with societal norms; other times, they don't. But here's the thing: No matter where your attractions lie, they're genuine and valid. After all, it's our differences that make us beautifully human.

Examine Your Desires

It's often tempting to simply mirror the desires of those around us to fit in. But here's a thought: Before you dive in, pause and reflect. Ask yourself, "Is this genuinely my desire, or am I riding the wave of someone else's aspirations for me?"

Finding authentic connections for ourselves can make our journey richer and more meaningful. Remember, it's okay to dance to your own rhythm, even when the world is swaying to a different beat.

Communicate Openly

When we dive into open and honest conversations with others about what we long for, it can be healing for those creeping feelings of not feeling that we belong, envy, or not being 'enough.' Plus, it's a beautiful way to truly experience intimacy when we share our true desires and needs with a trustworthy person.

Practice Self-Compassion

It's tempting to glance at someone's life and wonder if ours pales in comparison. But when we do this too much, it is easy to lose sight of our own authentic path. Remember, your story is uniquely yours, with its own unique story. Embrace your own path by honoring it.

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