Every April, thousands gather at the Kanayama Shrine in Kawasaki, Japan, for Kanamara Matsuri. Also known as the "Festival of the Steel Phallus," the ritual pays homage to a young woman whose vagina was inhabited by a vampire demon named vagina dentata. Since her vagina would destroy any penis inserted inside, she had a local ironsmith forge a metal penis to break the demon’s teeth.

With humble roots in 1977, the festival has become something of a tourist attraction. Prostitutes have prayed to this shrine to ward off venereal diseases since the 17th century, however. Today, proceeds from the fete now fund AIDS research, putting the mysticism to real-world progress. The heaviness of the content is offset by playfulness: women licking penis-shaped ice cream cones, burning penis candles, and riding giant wood penises bronco style.   

Americans have something to learn about this open-minded sexuality. While fetishizing sex is regular business in Japan, we have a tendency of slamming the closet door on our sensuality. Refreshingly, that door was thrown wide open with the recent Supreme Court decision to lift bans on same-sex marriage nationwide. As the sentiment goes, it’s no longer gay marriage. It’s just marriage, for whomever wants to partake in the ritual. 

Sure, plenty of resistance surfaced. The reliably ridiculous Pat Robertson said this will open the doors to Christians being asked for anal sex and bestiality. Former Texas pastor Rick Scarborough backtracked on his promise of self-immolation, saying it was just a metaphor. Pretty incredible, considering the entirety of the Bible is metaphorical, something pickers-and-choosers have a problem understanding.

While the court’s decision is certainly refreshing, it doesn’t solve the continual plague of sexual discomfort America projects. As was noted by Jon Stewart regarding Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover photo, she was immediately subjected to the same ludicrous judgments and assumptions most women suffer from: Photoshop, breast size, anti-aging secrets. The focus immediately went from the psychological/neurological question of gender identity to good old sexism.

Then the flip side: Model Chrissy Teigen joined the #freethenipple campaign on Instagram in this photo for W magazine, which was promptly removed from the app. It’s hard to get a grip on sexuality when it’s constantly censored. Forget the human realm: Marketers for the new film Max, based on a male dog of the same name, have removed his penis from all pictures. While his package freely swings around in the movie, forget about seeing it on any billboard.

As we castrate phallic images, so goes our relationships. It’s ironic that the "Christian" definition of marriage insists only members of the opposite sex apply, yet the bonds solidified by the ritual — like, say, being faithful to your partner — are regularly ignored. The plight against same-sex couples waged by members of religious sects stems from an inability to hold up a mirror and look at the nuclear family, a term that has been practically incinerated. 

Divorce rates are at an all-time high while happiness in relationships is nose-diving. Forget about online dating sites catering to single adults looking for love: Tinder, an app no deeper than looks and hook-ups had over 10 million daily users in April 2014, while services like Ashley Madison specifically target married individuals looking for other married folk. The company’s tagline is "Life is short. Have an affair." Twenty-two million people have signed up worldwide.

It’s hard to imagine any civilized nation being as uptight as we are about sex, save those under the grips of sharia law, perhaps. Actually studying human sexuality is daunting given the nature of research — it’s hard to become aroused if you’re in an fMRI machine or trying to get it on with scientists watching.

Not so for rats, our genetic cousins. Researchers inserting catheters into rodent brains found that a male rat’s nucleus accumbens was flooded with dopamine when separated from a female rat. Once the barrier is opened and the male gets what he wants, levels of the hormone drop sharply. Show him another female and dopamine surges again, pretty much immediately.

We need to educate our children on what being a sexual animal means. And that just might mean leaving some of the old definitions behind. A new ethos emerging from our sexual proclivities might save some marriages, even if they don’t look like our grandparents’ households. Therapist Esther Perel, dubbed a "sexual healer" by The New York Times, has extensively researched the benefits of affairs. On this topic, she writes:

Very often we don’t go elsewhere because we are looking for another person. We go elsewhere because we are looking for another self. It isn’t so much that we want to leave the person we are with as we want to leave the person we have become.

I’m not advocating for affairs. But it’s the shadow side of sex — the lying, the cheating, the running around, the covering up of genitals and nipples at every turn — that’s really confusing. Instead of enjoying one of life’s great pleasures, we pile on heaps of guilt and misunderstanding. That’s the real definition of "marriage" that the religious have been working with for so long — one, we can hope, will fade as quickly as legislation against certain people getting married just did. We can dream. 

Image: Stefano Tinti / shutterstock.com