Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Emotional Responses to Sex

Posted by Jerry on February 27, 2007

The object of one’s love is the embodiment of one’s values; love is the reward one attains for one’s virtues. When one’s subconscious premises are congruent with one’s conscious philosophy, the result is a state of harmony between the emotional and intellectual. The emotional response of love is one’s own subconscious appraisal of the code of values held consciously by the object of one’s love. Since one can only have access to the conscious contents of another person and not to their subconscious thoughts, one can only assess the code of values held consciously by the other person. However, the nature of this assessment–whether we assess it favorably (with pleasure) or unfavorably (with disapproval)–depends on our emotional responses stemming from our subconscious contents.

According to Rand, sex is the highest expression of love and the greatest tribute–of one’s own physical existence–that one can offer to another within the context of romantic love. Sex is the affirmation of one’s body and spirit–the union of bodies motivated by and in response to the intimate connection of minds, and one’s mind is identical to one’s self.

Sex is man’s way of molding the very actuality of his body into a conduit for the transmission of love; indeed, man uses his own body as a concrete referent of love and views his lover as the personification of this abstract emotion.

However, there is no logical derivation from the above to the claim that sex outside the context of love and with a person whom one does not despise, is degrading, slavish, and immoral. For example, from the proposition that Edgar is the most beautiful man on Earth, one cannot logically and legitimately derive the proposition that all other men are ugly, dirty, or repulsive. Similarly, the true proposition that sex is the best and highest expression of love and acquires the greatest spiritual significance with the union of lovers does not render logical support to the claim that sex in contexts otherwise are degrading or immoral.

Indeed, while Ayn Rand vehemently denounced the divorcing of sex from love or love from sex (which to her exemplified on the most intimate level the severance of the mind from one’s body), she also constructed a philosophical system that rejected any notion or principle that was accepted as an intrinsic or dogmatic truth.

Thus, Rand describes sex as “an overpowering necessity” akin to one’s need for food. She argues that one cannot be described as a “slave of sex” merely “because he needs it so strongly”. Given that logic, man should also be described more appropriately as a slave of food, because the need for food is stronger and more pertinent; however, as she rightly points out, “nobody thinks of himself as a slave to food. We simply take it for granted that we need it–and we are in complete control of the means by which we get it.”

So, Rand goes on to say, the fact of sex as a need is similar in this fashion, although man’s means of satisfying this need are not quite as simple as in the matter of food (here, she intends to allude to the issue of another human being involved in the matter of sex, which makes the matter of sex more complicated than the matter of acquiring food).

“But still,” Rand says, “[man] is in control of them [i.e., the means of satisfying the need for sex].” She says that if man does not find the right woman to be his wife, “he would learn that he can find a second-best substitute… an attractive mistress. It would not be sex at its best and highest–not the perfect union of the spiritual and the physical–but it would not be terrifying or degrading or enslaving. That typically adolescent feeling [the feeling of being terrified, degraded, or enslaved] comes, I think, only from physical impatience–a strong physical desire that drives the man to women he despises, for lack of anything better, while his mind naturally objects. Why should his mind object if he found a woman he did not despise?”

To that last question, I would add: why should man’s mind object if he found a partner he did not love?

If the emotions of terror, fear, self-loathing, and degradation are the responses to such a situation, then either one is engaging in sex with a person one already despises or one’s subconscious contents are incongruent with one’s consciously held philosophy; that is, the person subconsciously desires to have sex but is wracked with the guilt of giving in to his “base” impulses due to the consciously and (dogmatically) held principle that sex should never occur outside of love.

[Note: Other posts related to this topic are in the category of Love and Romance; the post titled Rand on Love and Sex includes extensive discussions on the matter.]

5 Responses to “Emotional Responses to Sex”

  1. Luis said

    I can understand self-loathing or feeling degraded from having sex with men with whom I’m not in love, but terror, and fear I can’t understand.

    In the past, when I had sex and later felt self-loathing, or degraded, it was usually because the sex was really bad, and I thought to myself, “after all that, and I’m still not satisfied.” I don’t think I ever despised the men. I never knew them well enough to despise them…

    Oy vey, that is a declaration!

  2. Ergo said

    Luis,

    I think the terror and fear are emotional responses to the conscious awareness of guilt stemming from the sexual act. Of course, this applies to those whose conscious moral code is brought into confrontational conflict with their desires and implicitly held values.

    Also, despising the men need not require you to know them well enough. Here, “despise” is meant to convey one’s emotional response to the act and the object of this act, i.e., towards one’s self (self-hatred) and towards the other person (e.g., being disgusted with having slept with a prostitute/stranger).

    In any case, different people have different emotional responses to such an event. The point is to analyze the reasons behind such emotional responses.

  3. I wonder what sort of person would want to have sex with someone they did not love.

    Why would they want to do this? Merely to satiate a need for sex? If this is the case, and it is moral to do this, why not allow rape? Once you start talking of sex merely in terms of fulfilling desires, why balk at initiating force to do so? Is it because the initiation of force violates someones rights? Rights, as we know, are moral principles instituted socially that protect the necessary conditions of living a human life, i.e. a rational life. But, to treat yourself merely as a being who has desires that must be satisfied is much more damaging than any violation of rights. It is a direct assault on one’s human nature!

    We, as unified beings, must never attempt to divorce our physical existence from our spiritual existence, unless we abdicate our quest for flourishing. This is why sex with someone you do not care for is bad. It is not intrinicist, it is part of Objectivism proper.

    If you want to understand why sex is important in a human life, and consequently not to be taken lightly, see my essay here:

    http://erosophia.blogspot.com/2007/06/what-is-purpose-of-sex.html

    Also, Be careful of calling things you don’t understand, as you do in other essays, subjectivist or intrinsicist, it could merely be a lack of understanding on your part.

  4. Ergo said

    Jason.

    You’re making some serious errors by conflating the violation of rights with satiating natural desires. Read the excerpt from Rand that I quoted in my post. Note how Rand draws a comparison between the compelling need for food and the compelling need for sex. For your benefit, I shall point out the relevant section. READ THIS CAREFULLY!

    “Rand describes sex as “an overpowering necessity” akin to one’s need for food. She argues that one cannot be described as a “slave of sex” merely “because he needs it so strongly”. Given that logic, man should also be described more appropriately as a slave of food, because the need for food is stronger and more pertinent; however, as she rightly points out, “nobody thinks of himself as a slave to food. We simply take it for granted that we need it–and we are in complete control of the means by which we get it.”
    So, Rand goes on to say, the fact of sex as a need is similar in this fashion, although man’s means of satisfying this need are not quite as simple as in the matter of food (here, she intends to allude to the issue of another human being involved in the matter of sex, which makes the matter of sex more complicated than the matter of acquiring food).”

    You said: “to treat yourself merely as a being who has desires that must be satisfied is much more damaging than any violation of rights. It is a direct assault on one’s human nature!”

    Under all that linguistic hubris, what you are essentially saying is a logical absurdity (at best): It is worse to give into your desire to have consensual sex with another adult whom you don’t love than it is to kill that adult (thereby, violating his right to life). You are saying, it’s better to kill him than to satisfy my need to have sex with him.

    You’re out in an intellectual wildnerness on that one!

    You said: “This is why sex with someone you do not care for is bad. It is not intrinicist, it is part of Objectivism proper.”
    Now, read the quote from Rand–the founder of Objectivism proper–directly: “Rand says that if man does not find the right woman to be his wife, “he would learn that he can find a second-best substitute… an attractive mistress. It would not be sex at its best and highest–not the perfect union of the spiritual and the physical–but it would not be terrifying or degrading or enslaving.”
    So, next time you’re looking for places to plug the link to your post, just have the balls to do it frankly and openly without getting into a mighty pretense at superior understanding, least of all when you find yourself contradicting Ayn Rand. It’s an honest advice.

  5. Flibbert said

    I don’t think Ergo’s post advocates NOT having sex with one that one loves. Although it may not be clear, I took his post to mean that in the decided absence of an ideal, one may partner with someone one admires less deeply.

    While everyone here agrees that we “must never attempt to divorce our physical existence from our spiritual existence” we also agree that we must never attempt to divorce our spiritual existence from our physical existence. More to the point: to pretend that one does not understand the biological urge to copulate is an overt denial of the facts of reality; everyone has a basic, physical need for sex.

    Our physical need for sex is part of who we are as animals. So, if you’re at all puzzled about why you might want to have sex with someone you don’t love, simply open a magazine and begin perusing pictures of physically attractive individuals. I don’t know what Hugh Jackman’s spirit is like, but the thought of being physically intimate with him is extremely appealing — and that is a perfectly moral and proper response that is in line with my values.

    Note: I am not and have not been confronted with the option of having sex with Hugh Jackman. Were that the case, then his “spiritual” nature would become a consideration. As things stand, the case represents an ready example of wanting to have sex with someone one does not love.

    Even as someone who didn’t/doesn’t quite understand all of Ergo’s post, I think it frightfully unfair to suggest that he would make the implausible leap from being immoral in one’s own life to being a rapist. I know lots of people who are idiotically altruistic but they somehow manage not to rob banks.

    Also, I have the benefit of other discussions with Ergo on this topic and I believe his position to be simply that there are situations in which one might have — even desire — sex with someone one does not love and still be completely moral.

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