Sex. There, I've said it. A little word everyone thinks about occasionally or constantly. We all have an opinion about it. The major world religions have deemed sex only appropriate for procreation, but it is otherwise a base desire that one ought to avoid. Hedonists proclaim that as the most intense form of physical gratification, men and women should enjoy sex wantonly. It's a 'natural urge,' after all. What about the third view - rarely expressed but nevertheless worthy of examination? I am referring here to sex as a rational pursuit.
Before we can delve into that other view, let's look at human values in general. By values, I mean those things that enhance our lives or further our experience of being human. A man who loves his career and excels in his chosen field has spent many years thinking about the type of productive work that invigorates him. A close friend of mine is a professional opera singer. When I hear her sing live, her passion for the art shines through unmistakably. I have had many conversations with her over the years about her chosen work. It's a tough life. Opera is a hard sell in America, and she must constantly struggle to get good gigs. And yet, my friend cannot think of another career that would fulfil her the way singing opera does.
Everything man does to advance his life requires thinking. So why is it so many people view sex as merely physical gratification? I sometimes ask people to tell me with whom they have had their best sexual experiences. Of course, I don't ask for the prurient details - that is an entirely private matter. Surprising to some of the people I ask is that they can recall exactly their best sex. More often than not it was with someone with whom they shared an intense emotional connection.
How fascinating, then, that when asked to reflect on the matter, people begin to realise there is more to sex than 'getting off.' Without my prompting, some give details about the person in question, and not just the physical attributes of that man or woman. Some recall the infectious laughter, others the intensity of the dinner conversation, still others the way the person carried himself with confidence.
If sex were purely a physical act, why would we spend so much time seeking out the partner we find most attractive to us? I have been on first dates, for example, where I found the other person enormously attractive, but uninteresting to me. Couldn't I just blot out my mind and jump into the sack? In a word, no. In keeping with the theme of this blog, I would be betraying my own values if I sought out mindless pleasures. If living well means living the examined life, then could I not be accused of sullying the very thing I espouse every day? Absolutely!
What about all those men and women who do engage in promiscuous sex? Are they happy people? To borrow from the Greek, do they experience eudaimonia - that highest state of human fulfilment for which there is no good English word? My answer to that question: ask them!
When I think of my ideal partner, I list personality traits that I find attractive first, followed by the physical types that get my blood pumping. What about you? Do you use sex as an escape from your mind or as the greatest reward for a life of rational pursuit? I welcome your comments.