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I am thinking about these two quotes:

"Sex is a physical capacity, but its exercise is determined by man’s mind—by his choice of values, held consciously or subconsciously. To a rational man, sex is an expression of self-esteem—a celebration of himself and of existence. To the man who lacks self-esteem, sex is an attempt to fake it, to acquire its momentary illusion."

"A sexual relationship is proper only on the ground of the highest values one can find in a human being. Sex must not be anything other than a response to values. And that is why I consider promiscuity immoral. Not because sex is evil, but because sex is too good and too important . . . ."

From the lexicon.

asked Mar 10 '11 at 01:31

Cherman's gravatar image


edited May 21 '11 at 19:44

Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

Andrew Dalton ♦

"The meaning of life is to mate and make new life." (Look around you at living things; note all the energy expended by life forms trying to reproduce. "Replication" is the driving force moving living things.)

Humans are animals. While we have a brain structure giving us that capacity we call "intelligence," our core nature drives us as all other animals. Your sex drive is your biological nature "demanding" you reproduce and pass on your genetic code to offspring.

The "human choice" is not to HAVE children, but to choose NOT to create offspring. (Rand never really "got" this.) continued...

(Mar 10 '11 at 06:56) Joe Egan Joe%20Egan's gravatar image

...continued: If we make mating choices AS intelligent animals, we will act consistent with our nature and actually USE our intelligence abilities. (For humans, successful reproduction is a lot more than just "popping out babies" so the biological drive for "relationship" with a mating partner is a part of our nature.)

To NOT choose a mate carefully, to not seek compatibility, understanding, shared values, etc, is to ignore a part (the "intelligence") of one's nature.

People pursuing sex as a "mindless act" are ignoring their full self as the intelligent animals they are.

(Mar 10 '11 at 06:58) Joe Egan Joe%20Egan's gravatar image

Joe makes an interesting point. In all her talk of sex, A.R. seems to totally ignore the reproductive aspects which could have helped her explain why it is genetically smart and, for that matter, "rational" to value sex above just the next fling. A.R.'s silence on the issue of children other than her "Comprachicos" essay is always interesting to me. Reproduction seemed to be something she was really uninterested in. Surprising since it is somewhat important in human life.

(May 21 '11 at 15:41) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image
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This is one of the most controversial topics I have personally encountered in Objectivism.

The basic question, "How does she know?" is answered simply: by self-reflection. observation and integration of the concretes available. In other words, by engaging in sex and reflecting on its nature, by watching other people engage in sex and understand how their various desires and psyches influence the experience and vice versa, how the sexual experiences they have influence them.

So what do you really give up by promiscuity? To see it, it would help to imagine promiscuity in its extreme: a never-ending string of sexual encounters, public, and involving many partners, most of whom you do not know. On the opposite extreme, remember that feeling of falling in love and longing for another, continuing to build the excitement and the tension, and what sex feels like when you finally connect. What is lost is in the former case is intimacy and a kind of special significance to the connection that exists in the latter.

Haven't convinced you? OK, let's do this. Imagine this phone call: "I've been thinking about you all day!" "Me too! I can't wait to see you! Though do you mind picking me up an hour later, I have two other guys I was planning on having stop by for some love making, and I am running late." Granted, that's rude, and you don't have to be overt like that. But why does it feel so rude? Because whether we live by it or not, we like to envision sex as a culmination of feeling. Even when pursuing a purely physical relationship, we still like to imagine there is something special there and would not want to stand in line.

I could go on creating one preposterous extreme after the next. I'll leave that as an exercise to the reader (actually, it might be kind of fun!) In the end, you ought to come around to the realization that we seek a connection with a person and the greater the connection, the greater the happiness brought about by the sexual relationship. (Note, I did not say, the greater the pleasure - many of us have discovered that the greatest purely physical pleasure often comes from mechanical devices! Happiness is the overall state of being that does not change when it's over, nor the morning after, except to intensify.)

answered May 20 '11 at 00:40

Kate%20Yoak's gravatar image

Kate Yoak ♦

Though I have not yet come to a firm opinion on Ayn Rand's view of sex, and I have long since learnt that I should oppose her views with great care, I disagree with your explanation. It reeks of subjectivity.

The meat of your case rests on a monogamist society's conditioned response to polygamy. Run that scene in Utah.

Additionally, I do not doubt that one can love more than one person simultaneously and neither did Ayn Rand.

(May 25 '11 at 08:35) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

You might want to look up how Ayn Rand's personal experiment with two simultaneous romantic relationships worked out.

(May 25 '11 at 12:20) Andrew Dalton ♦ Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

Actually, I was not talking about polyamory, but promiscuity. Is it possible to have a loving relationship in a family of four adults? Ayn Rand's view is no. She talks in terms of "highest", not "higher" value. I have insufficient firsthand knowledge to form an opinion. As far as her own affair... it's one of those topics objectivists tend to feel embarrassed about. Yes, she screwed up royally (though I have heard claims that it was one sexual relationship at a time). We are all entitled to mistakes, even when we happen to be brilliant and right most of the time.

(May 25 '11 at 17:38) Kate Yoak ♦ Kate%20Yoak's gravatar image
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The question, "How does Rand know that sex isn't just physical," apparently is based on the interpretation that the two quotes by Ayn Rand say so. But look closely at what Ayn Rand is actually saying: "Sex is a physical capacity, but its exercise is determined by man’s mind...." What does "is determined by" mean? She's simply saying that sex, like so many of man's physical capacities, can be used in many different ways. She then describes how that capacity ought to be used by a rational person in pursuit of rational, fully life-serving happiness.

This doesn't mean at all that one can't treat sex as purely physical. It simply means that one will be giving up a great value in so doing.

The comments raise two follow-up questions:

  1. "What great value does one give up by engaging in promiscuity....?"

  2. "How does she [Ayn Rand] know that the rational way of having sex is only with someone you value?"

Regarding (1), the great value is the value of romantic love. Perhaps question (1) is actually attempting to ask why romantic love is a great value. The essence of the answer is that for a rational producer and achiever, it's one's most intense form of happiness. If this raises the further question of how happiness benefits one's life, we can address that topic as a separate question by itself, examining the nature of happiness and of emotions. But just try to visualize a life without happiness.

Question (2) actually appears to be asking if two people couldn't still want to have sex even if they despise each other. I find it difficult to take that question seriously, if we are talking about people who understand the role of reason in human life and strive to live by reason in all its aspects, including purpose and self-esteem and the seven essential virtues. Why would such people -- rational people -- have no preference for sex in a context of deep mutual affinity, over sex in a context of mutual emotional indifference or contempt? Does question (2) implicitly deny that there is an emotional element involved in a desire for sex (and in the capacity for sexual response, too)? Does it assume that we are all just pawns of deterministic physical drives? If one has a choice to pursue sexual happiness, or sex without happiness, why on earth would a rational valuer evaluate the latter more highly than the former (or equally with the former, as if the emotional aspect of sexual desire is irrelevant)?

The Lexicon entry on "Sex," from which the two brief excerpts in the original question are taken, contains a wealth of essentialized explanation of Ayn Rand's view of sex and her reasons for it. All of those excerpts should be studied carefully to understand her view. One major thread that runs through those excerpts is the relation between one's approach to sex and one's degree of self-esteem (or the lack of it). Certain questions about sex surely do seem to imply (or confess) a serious lack of self-esteem, exactly as Ayn Rand describes.

Update: Some Additional Elaboration

A new comment asks for further elaboration of the claim that "for a rational producer and achiever, [romantic love is] one's most intense form of happiness." Ayn Rand explained it in terms of self-esteem, particularly for rational producers and achievers. Refer to the topic of "Sex" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon. Some additional insight can also be found in the topic of "Love."

The same comment also mentions prostitution. Based on psychology books, my understanding of the psychology involved is that the payer (typically male) seeks only physical gratification unless he massively deludes himself psychologically and the payee (usually female) helps him in the fakery. She, in turn, feels nothing but utter contempt for him, but hides it in order to be paid for her services -- and is often paid very well if she is a good enough actress. Compare that psychology to the state of mind of fully rational producers and achievers who do not fake reality in any manner.

answered Mar 10 '11 at 02:31

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

edited Nov 21 '14 at 03:00

How does she know that the rational way of having sex is only with someone you value?

(Mar 10 '11 at 13:54) Cherman Cherman's gravatar image

"How does she know that the rational way of having sex is only with someone you value?"

This appears to be a direct repetition of Question (2) that was already discussed above. To understand Ayn Rand's view, one needs to read Ayn Rand's explanation, as expressed in the references cited. More abstractly, if the issue is how one identifies what is rational and what isn't, refer to the discussion of the virtue of rationality in the literature of Objectivism. A good place to start is with the topic of "Rationality" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon.

(May 22 '11 at 03:22) Ideas for Life ♦ Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

"Regarding (1)" totally fails to answer question 1. It provides a circular answer: "why is romantic love a great value" and answers with "it's one's most intense form of happiness". Happiness is the result of achieving one's values. If you are claiming that nothing compares to the happiness possible in romantic love... then we are back to the original question.

A clarification for question 2. Even if one is to engage in sex with a prostitute, they still value that prostitute to some degree. Whereas none exists when considering your loved one's murderer who has HIV and a bomb fused to them.

(Nov 21 '14 at 00:22) Epistemology Epistemology's gravatar image


One cannot debate this in a rationalistic manner. The best way for you to understand Rand is to go and have sex with a prostitute. Experience the feeling of emptiness that arise after the act. Experience the longing for more. Then you will understand.

(Nov 24 '14 at 13:42) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image
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Asked: Mar 10 '11 at 01:31

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Last updated: Nov 24 '14 at 13:42