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.
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 Yoak ♦
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:
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.