How to Think More About Sex - The school of life
How much do I want to read more? 6/10
Weird. A philosophy about sex? Why not. For the curiosity of it.
Not as interesting as psychology itself.
The priority of a philosophical book about sex seems evident: not to teach us how to have more intense or more frequent sex, but rather to suggest how, through a shared language, we might begin to feel a little less painfully strange about the sex we are either longing to have or struggling to avoid.
for thousands of years across the globe, due to a devilish combination of religious bigotry and pedantic social custom, people were afflicted by a gratuitous sense of confusion and guilt around sex. They thought their hands would fall off if they masturbated. They believed they might be burned in a vat of oil because they had ogled someone’s ankle. They had no clue about erections or clitorises.
Then, sometime between the First World War and the launch of Sputnik 1, things changed for the better. Finally, people started wearing bikinis, admitted to masturbating, grew able to mention cunnilingus in social contexts, started to watch porn films and became deeply comfortable with a topic that had, almost unaccountably, been the source of needless neurotic frustration for most of human history. Being able to enter into sexual relations with confidence and joy became as common an expectation for the modern era as feeling trepidation and guilt had been for previous ages. Sex came to be perceived as a useful, refreshing and physically reviving pastime, a little like tennis – something that everyone should have as often as possible in order to relieve the stresses of modern life.
Despite our best efforts to clean it of its peculiarities, sex will never be either simple or nice in the ways we might like it to be. It is not fundamentally democratic or kind; it is bound up with cruelty, transgression and the desire for subjugation and humiliation. It refuses to sit neatly on top of love, as it should. Tame it though we may try, sex has a recurring tendency to wreak havoc across our lives: it leads us to destroy our relationships, threatens our productivity and compels us to stay up too late in nightclubs talking to people whom we don’t like but whose exposed midriffs we nevertheless strongly wish to touch. Sex remains in absurd, and perhaps irreconcilable, conflict with some of our highest commitments and values. Unsurprisingly, we have no option but to repress its demands most of the time. We should accept that sex is inherently rather weird instead of blaming ourselves for not responding in more normal ways to its confusing impulses.
Our best hope should be for a respectful accommodation with an anarchic and reckless power.
we worry about how problematic sex has become with our long-term partner due to mutual resentments over childcare and finances; or about our addiction to internet pornography; or about the fact that we seem to crave sex only with people we don’t love; or about whether, by having had an affair with someone at work, we have irretrievably broken our spouse’s heart and trust.
Great sex, like happiness more generally, may be the precious and sublime exception.
During our most fortunate encounters, it is rare for us to appreciate how privileged we are. It is only as we get older, and look back repeatedly and nostalgically to a few erotic episodes, that we start to realize with what stinginess nature extends her gifts to us – and therefore what an extraordinary and rare achievement of biology, psychology and timing satisfying sex really is.
II. The Pleasures of Sex
1. Eroticism and Loneliness
why sex should, on rare occasions, be such a deeply pleasurable and rewarding activity.
human beings, like all other animals, are genetically programmed to reproduce themselves and need the pleasures of sex as a reward for undertaking the immense efforts of getting together and raising children with a partner.
The pleasure we take is not rooted purely in stimulated nerve endings and the satisfaction of a biological drive; it also stems from the joy we feel at emerging, however briefly, from our isolation in a cold and anonymous world.
It goes almost without saying that the majority of people we encounter will be not merely uninterested in having sex with us but positively revolted by the idea.
The Kiss – Acceptance
The tongues engage each other in a tentative dance. One person can lick the other’s teeth as if they were his or her own.
It could sound disgusting – and that’s the point. Nothing is erotic that isn’t also, with the wrong person, revolting, which is precisely what makes erotic moments so intense: at the precise juncture where disgust could be at its height, we find only welcome and permission. The privileged nature of the union between two people is sealed by an act that, with someone else, would have horrified them both.
The Undressing – An End to Shame
we wear clothes not only to keep warm but also – and perhaps even primarily – for fear of provoking repulsion in others by the sight of our flesh. Our bodies never look quite as we would want them to;
Excitement – Authenticity
Erections and lubrication simply cannot be effected by willpower and are therefore particularly true and honest indices of interest.
the wet vagina and the stiff penis function as unambiguous agents of sincerity.