Copyright © 1975, 2000 Raymond J. Noonan, Ph.D.Originally appeared as: Noonan, R. J. (1975, Spring/Summer). Sex and the mind. Philadelphia Review, 2(1), 6.
I’ll begin with a letter. Some objections:
In your column, you state that you will explore the “Philosophy of Sex.” Needless to say, you fail to define what is the philosophy of sex. The statement can be viewed as patently absurd, since, generically, the term “philosophy” is the antithesis of sexuality—or, for the most part, the physical preoccupation of sex as we understand it.
The fulfillment of sex, for many, because of social conditioning and moral imprinting of which no one is totally devoid, is a goal in itself. The gratification of physical needs. It inevitably reduces, as the oft-coined phrase “the emperor without clothes,” everyone to a common denominative state. There is no individuality involved in gratifying one’s sexual desires.
There are, however, levels of sexuality, only recently being explored—but we have become fixated in a primary and secondary level due to media, church, government, advertising and the Master’s & Johnson cocktail circuit. It may be quite true that the full expression of one’s sexuality provides personal satisfaction. Yet, until we resign ourselves to pure physical enjoyment (in which case, sex would be undifferentiated from any other physical pleasure) or the acknowledgement of tertiary levels in the development of sexuality, the machismo temperament will persist in our culture. The gay movement, the feminist movement, the human development movement are saying, in effect, that sexuality without sensitivity and a humanistic understanding is about as rewarding as overindulging in ephemeral fantasy.
In contemporary terms, sexuality is a definition of a physical need—even though the way by which that need is satisfied originates in the mind—at which point it begins to explore the mystical world of eroticism. In fact, if one were to explore the sexual question on a philosophical level we would have to admit that none exists. The idea, however, of sexuality can be viewed in a different milieu—since the idea of sexuality is a qualitative judgement.
In that case, the idea of sexuality can be interpreted never as fact but as opinion, to one’s condition. The expression of sexuality, then, can be motivated through a variety of sex-related indices (interpretations) and preoccupations. However, for many, there is only one socially accepted action: the act of sex itself.
This, of course, is not only immature but inconsiderate of the needs, the individual needs, of others. If one were to study the philosophical idea of sexuality one would have to refer to a history of “sexual” thought, dating to Agamemnon, Jean Genet and Jill Johnston, and also how individual cultures express their sexuality.
Sexuality, per se, is not the sine qua non of our human existence—we exist as a result of sex. It is a universal constant which, as questioning humans, we have woven into a mysterious and problematic example of our inability to communicate.
Until some time in the future, which seems very far, when we cannot only shed our clothes as a final act of individuality, but also express our fears, inhibitions, feelings, and emotions through a variety of modes without the anachronistic sexist labels, there is little prospect of improving our attitudes on the relation of sex to the human condition. Rather than wholistic, we shall be living on two levels, each conflicting, each fighting for supremacy, each self-defeating.
To the first objection, I will just say that a definition of philosophy of sex will be developed gradually in this series of articles. The Oxford English Dictionary defines philosophy as: “(In the original and widest sense.) The love, study, or pursuit of wisdom, or of knowledge of things and their causes, whether theoretical or practical.” As such one can conceive of a philosophy of language, a philosophy of science, a philosophy of mind, etc. Philosophy is, therefore, central to every (human) thought or action. Feibleman, in Runes’ Dictionary of Philosophy, further embellishes it as “technically, the science of sciences, the criticism and systematization or organization of all knowledge, drawn from empirical science, rational learning, common experience, or wherever.” A philosophy of sex is therefore not inconceivable. “Sexuality is one of our needs,” as I quoted Wilson, “to express ourselves through our bodies.” Mind or spirit or animus can be conceived as one of our needs to express ourselves through our intellect or emotions (or mind). A philosophy of sex is, therefore, mandatory.
The fact that one can sit down and argue in words about what I have written (and further, the fact that many people believe in and act in vastly different ways to a given set of circumstances) directly assumes the existence of a philosophy of sex. But given that, so what? Who cares?
Indeed, many have cared. Acknowledging the existence and influence of contemporary philosophies (the Playboy—do it—philosophy, feminist—our bodies—philosophy, religious—don’t do it, but if you do, don’t like it—philosophy, utilitarian—don’t do it, but say it anyway, if it sells the product—philosophy, etc.), we have to listen to some other thinkers. (A good anthology of philosophical writings is Verene, Sexual Love and Western Morality.)
Ancient Greeks regarded sex—both homosexual and heterosexual—as a natural human function. It didn’t involve any intrinsic moral problems for humanity. For that reason, Plato and Aristotle seldom discuss sex. But they do question the nature of love and friendship, the roles of women and men in society, and relationships among humans. Platonic love, today asexual, began sexual. Roman Stoicism, on the other hand, found self-denial as the means to a better life: the will should dominate over the pleasures of the body. Others, such as the Roman poet Ovid, sang the praises of erotic and sensual pleasures.
Ancient Jewish tradition placed the woman in complete submissiveness to the man. St. Paul rejected divorce and justified it with the view of woman’s subservience to man. The Protestant Reformation, too, signaled new sexual mores by rejecting certain views of the Church and St. Paul, particularly those related to divorce and clerical celibacy. St. Paul also regarded marriage as a concession to the desires of the body. St. Augustine first connected intercourse with the Christian problem of original sin. St. Thomas Aquinas further elaborated on marriage and fidelity, firmly establishing the foundation of Christian ethics. And of course, the Virgin conception and birth of Christ certainly made those who had to rely on intercourse look pretty bad.
The eighteenth century enjoyed few inhibitions about sexual behaviour. The Enlightenment of that century (the writings of Rousseau are especially noteworthy) produced many works on relationships between the sexes. Hume and Kant also expanded sexual ethics.
Notable intellectual theses also were advanced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Schopenhauer expounded a non-theistic explanation of sexual behaviour. Nietzsche criticized Christianity’s denial of the body and sublimation of the passions. Marx and Engels developed theories of the role of marriage in supporting various kinds of property relationships (particularly related to women) in the development of capitalism. Other significant thought on the problems of relating came in the opposite positions of Hegel and Kierkegaard.
Sigmund Freud’s writings on sex completely changed the course of Western thought concerning sex. Bertrand Russell wrote on the virtues of rationally appraising sexual customs, which he did, and was regarded as an advocate of “free love.” Simone de Beauvoir expanded feminist thought relating to economics with her writings. And Jean-Paul Sartre analyzed the sexual relationship of men and women in his Existentialist writings.
Here we have just skimmed the top. The point is that other philosophers before me have considered and written on sex. Sex is a universal entity and, as such, is open to all types of enquiry.
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: http://www.SexQuest.com/IES4/, including supplemental chapters available only on the Web. Order from amazon.com!
“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 amazon.com!
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 amazon.com.
“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 amazon.com.
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 amazon.com.
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