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Sex and the Mind I


Copyright © 1974, 2000 Raymond J. Noonan, Ph.D.

Originally appeared as: Noonan, R. J. (1974, Summer/Fall). Sex and the mind. Philadelphia Review, 1(2), 8-9.

Sex and the Mind will explore some of the problems in the philosophy of sex. What will occur will be, more or less, a wedding of ideas drawn from the disciplines most relevant to our needs: philosophy, psychology, biology, chemistry, sociology, and medicine. The result will be a synthesis: a Philosophy of Sex.

The goal of philosophy has historically been to form the best judgment that one can of what man (and more recently, woman) is, what the nature of his world is, and what kind of life he ought to lead in that world.

It turns out that there are (perhaps) myriads of worlds within which man and woman must learn to survive and live separately and together. A common ground, (though certainly not the only), and necessary prerequisite for existence, is sex, the sine qua non of individuality and existence.

We will attempt to clarify the problems that still exist regarding sex, considering particularly the metaphysics of sex, i.e., its nature and manifestations in human life. Problems in the ethics of sex will not be explored except for cursory allusions where absolutely necessary for clarification and better understanding. Emphasis will be on the philosophical aspects of sex and its conceptualization.

We will, however, also have fun. It’s surprising that so important and all-encompassing a subject as sexuality is, that it should be so virtually ignored outside of the medical sciences (and there taken seriously only recently) and Madison Avenue, and so carefully hidden within the arbitrary boundaries of “art.” Sex plays a very important role in most of human endeavor, and could possibly be one of the prime motivating factors in almost all human endeavors. The realization of that possibility and some sort of acceptance of its truth will be a goal in seeing just “where is sex in human life?”

The Questions

The general mind-body question in philosophy: where does sex fit in?

The language and mechanisms of sex: how is the physiology of sex related to the many words and sentences that describe its many manifestations?

Science and individuality: what comes from being human? Do tests? science? laws? individuality?

However, what else comes from being an individual, both biologically and psychologically?

And if individualism is true and valid, what is it? Is it, as some claim, that individualism could not have developed without the concurrent development of at least rudimentary forms of sexual reproduction? In other words, is individualism somehow dependent upon sex? Or, in another manner of speaking, did death insure the development of sex by forcing the evolution of sex by death’s own affirmation of individuality in that circus of Darwinian struggle for existence?

How does individuality, if it does at all, conflict with the notions of science?

The individual self versus the individual other: what of it? What is Sexuological Existentialism?

Where is sex in human life? What is the impact of sexuality in the arts on our lives, and vice versa?

How do the traditional sex roles fit into the philosophy of sex, and what is the justification, if any, of upholding these roles in modern society?

What is a relationship, and what does it mean in terms of sex and human living7

Robert R. Wilson, begins his recent excellent book, Introduction to Sexual Counseling (Carolina Population Center, University Square, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514, 1974) by asking the question “What is sexuality?” His purpose in asking is the same as ours in quoting his answer: to introduce the concept of sexuality, what it is and isn’t. His answer is important enough to quote:

Sexuality is one of our needs—to express ourselves through our bodies. It is within the core of our personality and identity. It is a basic part of our maleness and femaleness, our self-image, our identity, our human awareness and development. Sexuality is part of our desire for personal satisfaction and happiness and stimulates our need to establish fulfilling relationships with others.

Sex is a function of sexuality. Sex is not something that we do which is separate from our selves. It is not a goal, not an objective. It is an integral part of us. We cannot work towards gaining it. Sex does not establish who we are, it expresses who we are.

Human beings don’t have a body; we are a body. Thus, we cannot seek, find, and obtain sexuality or sex by looking outside of ourselves. They are already within us.

Each person has three potential responsibilities to his sexuality. I label them potential, for few of us have integrated all three into our lives. But to incorporate these as responsibilities into our own selves can bring great rewards. These are:

1. To become aware of our own sexuality
2. To accept and be comfortable about sex
3. To express our sexuality

First, each of us can get in touch with our own sexuality: our needs, our desires, our pleasures, our fantasies, our functioning. We need to know the “goods” and the “bads” of our sexual personality. Unfortunately, we sometimes get wrapped up in faulty logic such as the following: the more we know, the more responsible we have to be. The more responsible we are, the easier we can be blamed if something goes wrong. And so it is with sex: if we don’t really understand our desires, our needs, our functions, then we feel justified in pleading innocent to charges of sexual misconduct. Few of us realize that when we do understand and accept our sexuality, making decisions conceming our sexual life is not so frightening.

Second, we can accept and be comfortable with sex as a natural and integral part of every person’s life. It is not enough to accept certain aspects of sex in theory. Sexuality and sex are real, alive, and a part of each of us. Our sexual organs, for example, identify and can be used to express our sexuality. In a physical sense they are no different than any other organs in providing pleasure—as do the eyes and other senses. They are not shameful or embarrassing in and of themselves and it is not wrong to seek pleasure through our sexual organs. In fact, they have much more capacity for pleasure than for reproduction.

A glance into the physiology of sexual response can illustrate clearly just how natural a function our sex is. For example, the majority of male babies have a penile erection soon after birth. For some, their first erection comes before their first breath of life. The same is true of vaginal lubrication in the female. Adult males usually have an erection and females usually lubricate every 90 minutes during their sleep.

True self-acceptance and comfort cannot be conditional or selective. We cannot accept the positive aspects of our thoughts, actions, and feelings and, at the same time, reject or ignore the negative aspects. Only by accepting both negative and positive attributes as real parts of us can we begin to alter any one of these parts in ways which would be more comfortable to us. . . .

. . . I have found that some of us far more readily accept a wart than certain aspects of our physical as well as our emotional sex. How about you? What would you do if you began to be attracted to a member of your own sex? You might feel that homosexual feelings are undesirable (a sexual wart?). But would you be able to accept that those feelings of attraction did exist? Or would you deny them, run away from them in disbelief? Only when you accept that those feelings are a part of your sexuality will you be able to begin to work with them in any constructive way.

Our third responsibility can be to express our sexuality: to ourselves, and to others, especially to those we love. This requires that we become more open about our feelings than we have been in the past. This new openness does expose our true selves more, thus we become more vulnerable to others. But if we have fulfilled our first two responsibilities—coming in touch with our sexuality, and accepting what we find—then this vulnerability can be rewarding.

We will realize the need we have for sexual expression. A failure to meet in some way all three of these responsibilities can possibly lead to one of two polar-opposite outcomes. We may suppress a natural part of our humanness, with all the frustrations that follow from suppression. Or, we may act through instinctual desire, or short-run hedonism, which commonly brings with it guilt and self-rejection.

In considering our responsibilities towards ourselves as sexual beings, it can be helpful to think about some of the more intimate terms involved. To be able to use these when contemplating and discussing sexuality is a large step towards realizing ourselves as sexual human beings. Think about these terms first as you relate to yourself. Then consider them again as you relate to others. What value do you give them: awareness; touch; feeling; love; trust; honesty; acceptance; listening; vulnerability; giving; getting; patience; intimacy; personal; tenderness; understanding; tolerance; expression; being comfortable; warmth; caring.

Other terms associated with our sexuality can have negative connotations for some but are just as much a part of our sexual interaction and need to be accepted as such. A few examples are: anger; unacceptance; hostility; aggressiveness; exploitation; distaste; taking; selfishness; manipulation.

Introduction to Sexual Counseling is an excellent little book, not only for counselors called upon to help solve sexual problems, but also for students of sexuality and other people interested in learning more about their own sexual interactions in the world.

Go to [Part II of Sex and the Mind]



Check Out These Recent Books of Note with Contributions by Dr. Ray Noonan

 Click on the button to buy it!  Click here to buy it!  New! Volume 4 of the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality (IES4), including 17 new countries and places, Robert T. Francoeur, Ph.D., Editor, and Raymond J. Noonan, Ph.D., Associate Editor, published in May 2001 by Continuum International Publishing Group: Includes my chapter on “Outer Space,” which highlights cross-cultural sexuality issues that will have an impact on the human future in space, based partly on my dissertation. For the table of contents or more information, see the IES4 Web site:, including supplemental chapters available only on the Web. Order from!

 Click on the button to buy it!  Click here to buy it! “The Impact of AIDS on Our Perception of Sexuality” and “Sex Surrogates: The Continuing Controversy,” in Robert T. Francoeur’s Sexuality in America: Understanding Our Sexual Values and Behavior, published in August 1998 by Continuum Publishing Co. This new book contains an updated version of the chapter on the United States contained in the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality, Vol. 3 (in the set below). Now available in paperback at!

 Click on the button to buy it!  Click here to buy it! Two articles in Robert T. Francoeur’s International Encyclopedia of Sexuality, published in August 1997 by Continuum Publishing Co.: “The Impact of AIDS on Our Perception of Sexuality” and “Sex Surrogates: The Continuing Controversy” in the United States chapter in volume 3, and additional comments (with Sandra Almeida) in the chapter on Brazil in volume 1. Encourage your library to purchase this three-volume, 1737-page set—the most comprehensive cross-cultural survey of sexuality in 33 countries ever published. Order from

 Click on the button to buy it!  Click here to buy it! “The Psychology of Sex: A Mirror from the Internet,” in Jayne Gackenbach’s Psychology and the Internet: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal and Transpersonal Implications, published by Academic Press in October 1998. Visit the publisher to see the table of contents and more information, then come back here and order it from

 Click on the button to buy it!  Click here to buy it! The third edition of the book, Does Anyone Still Remember When Sex Was Fun? Positive Sexuality in the Age of AIDS, 3rd edition, edited by Peter B. Anderson, Diane de Mauro, & Raymond J. Noonan, published by Kendall/Hunt in September 1996. Click here for more information about the book.

The latest on positive sexuality from the first book to address the issue: For anyone concerned about the increasingly negative ways in which sex is being portrayed in public life—and who wants to do something positive about it.

Now out of print, but available soon in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format! However, used copies might be available at

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