Dear Princess ‘Ishka,
Sex is healthy and good. At least, this is what we hear from sexologists in a world mostly liberated from religious obscurantism. At the same time, sex is somewhat controversial. Feminism has shown us how important the question of consent is, whereas the social stigma on pedophiles proves how hard it is still to distinguish between sexuality and sexual act.
For months I have not been able to illustrate the philosophical condition I think sex has to fulfill in order to be healthy and good. My biggest worry was that of being mistaken for a puritan. Thanks to the help of the French novelist Marguerite Yourcenar, I have overcome this worry and I can now proceed to express my opinion.
Let me spend a couple of words on why it is important to spell out this condition. Nowadays, it is unproblematic for most people to find sex. Moreover, the taboos around it are crumbling and the wars for sexual liberation of the past decades are showing their fruits. A question now arises: is the availability of sex enough for sex to be healthy and good?
I don’t think so, because the simple fact that we can mutually consent to have sex is compatible with terrible sex. That kind of sex can be morally ok, but not good in the very concrete sense of the term. Besides, it is hardly definable as “healthy”: even if it might be “physiologically healthy”, it remains psychologically terrible. Hence, we need an additional condition to the mere availability of sex to make sex healthy and good.
How about love? That seems to be too demanding. As A pointed out to me once, a person can enjoy sex without displaying any profound emotional bonding to the sexual partner. One night stands can be often fun.
The short story “The Man who Loved the Nereids” by Marguerite Yourcenar has helped me shed light on this issue. The story goes like this: Panegyotis was a rich young man who enjoyed the company of many girls. Unfortunately, he was charmed by the Nereids, magical creatures living away from human civilization. After his encounter with these “supernatural man-eaters”, no common human pleasure could arouse him anymore. Indeed, he longed for the rest of his life for his nonhuman lovers.
To describe his condition, Yourcenar writes the following:
As much as no love exists without dazzlement of the heart, there is no true sensuality without wonder of beauty.
The condition of poor Panegyotis applies to many more cases than what you might expect. Without being amazed by another person, sex won’t be good nor healthy. This amazement needn’t be as pretentious as the one you’d experience in front of the Nereids. But it can’t be absent, if you are not willing to get terrible sex.
Too many people have sex without even questioning whether they like it, because sex is supposed to be intrinsically “healthy and good”. It is not. Sex is good only upon at least what we could call “Panegyotis’ condition”: there must be something that amazes you about your sexual partner(s). There must be “beauty” in that person, which could fill you with a sense of genuine wonder. Otherwise, sensuality isn’t “true”. It remains the social construct of void expectations it concretely is. Sex becomes a dull routine, a set of mechanical gestures to achieve an orgasm – sometimes even without the orgasm.
You can’t expect sex to be good independently of what you feel for a person. But this feeling needn’t be as strong as love. It can simply be an emotion related to our “inner sense of beauty”, call it wonder, amazement, inspiration or what you like.
No matter how hard we strive to understand it, sex remains a pretty complicated thing. To make it a little easier, we shall first figure out that we have been hit underneath, rather than under the bed sheets. For that might be too late.