Arguably, there is no issue that kindles as much controversy and interest as the issue of human sexuality. Paradoxically, it is an issue that draws both attraction and repulsion for many people. Thus, it would be fair to suggest that on the part of most people, there tends to be a schizophrenic disposition towards the issue of human sexuality. This schizophrenic disposition towards the issue of human sexuality particularly in the Western world stems from antiquity. Plato was one of the Western thinkers in antiquity who contributed to the idea that desire and love impairs judgment and that erotic love is to be viewed as a form of insanity. Thus, human sexuality was viewed through a highly critical lens and in a negative light.
Furthermore, Plato saw sexuality as the key hindrance to the promotion of the greater good. Into the “Enlightenment” period of European history, Kant viewed sexuality as the main impediment to man’s upholding of the “categorical imperative,” which equated to compliance with moral law. Only with Sigmund Freud in the early 20th century did the general discourse on sexuality take on a more scientific disposition and thus free itself to a certain extent from the confines of ignorance, superstition, and tradition. Between Sigmund Freud and Bertrand Russell on one hand and the outlook towards human sexuality in antiquity and the medieval period on the other hand, the general disposition towards human sexuality in the Western world is still based on teetering ambivalence.
Even modern cultural formation during Britain’s Victorian period as well as more recently in the backlash against America’s counterculture movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s was based mainly on resistance towards the open expression of human sexuality. From antiquity to the medieval period all the way down to the “Enlightenment” period, the issue of human sexuality was the subject of both censorship and degradation. Even now, when the issue of human sexuality is discussed, it is often done through the context of “locker room talk” or women’s gossip, or it is done dismissively with a giggle and a degree of shame. To a great extent, sex is seen as something totally impure, despite the fact that there is such a strong inclination towards it not just in the Western world, but also globally. Also, the widespread notion in much of our past was that if love were to exist, it was generally believed that it had to disassociate itself from the impurity of eroticism and thus love had to take on a platonic form with a spiritual slant.
In the medieval period and well into the “Renaissance” era, courtship and difficulty would take the place of easy sexual attainment. Culture and convention would also place one obstacle after another in the way of sexual attainment. Thus, from Plato, to Kant, and finally to the period of Anglo-American hegemony, human sexuality has largely been viewed in a negative light throughout the discernible history of Western civilization. With this historical context and situation in mind, it becomes quite difficult to develop a scientific discourse on human sexuality that would lead to constructive contributions to a theory of sex in a global intellectual climate that is still largely defined by censorship and ignorance towards an issue that nonetheless preoccupies much of human thought.
The tragedy of all societies, both past and present, is that credible scientific viewpoints are put through rigorous censors and reviews, whereas ignorance and stupidity are given a license to run around free and rampant. Nevertheless, a frank discussion on the issue of human sexuality is necessary, if not vital, given the positive moral and social implications that such a discussion would have on our respective societies. As Bertrand Russell said: “There is only one way to avoid indecency, and that is to avoid mystery.”
Western discourse on human sexuality has had an adverse impact globally, given the realities of colonialism and globalization that have enabled such a discourse to spread. As Mark Hay has written in an essay titled “Islamic Sexology,” European colonialism is largely to blame for the perversion and repression of sexual life in the Islamic world, which before British and American hegemony was largely open and free. The institution of “Mut’a” which equates to a highly sophisticated form of prostitution as well as the Prophet Muhammad’s openness towards polyamory are examples of Islam’s libertine and romantic sexual character.
When Freud sought to bring a scientific element to sexual discourse in the Western world at around the beginning of the 20th century, he faced immense resistance from European society, and it is evident that there is still immense resistance towards his discourse even to this day. Freud’s discourse was not merely a change in the Western outlook on sexuality; rather, it was a revolution that has been facing a counterrevolution ever since it emerged. One would suppose that a civilization as advanced as the West would be open and transparent about the issue of human sexuality, but it is not.
One of the key arguments embedded in Freud’s theory of sex was that the impulses emanating from the sexual life of the “Eros” and the “libido” were “poorly controlled” by psychic activity, even in those who we consider to be “normal.” For Freud and his followers, there is no energy or force that is more powerful than “Eros,” despite the denial of a disingenuous majority. Also, what has been impressed upon us regarding human sexuality as children, particularly during the ages of six to eight, will remain with us for the rest of our lives. Thus, the taboo of sexual knowledge is something that is conceived very early in one’s life, and as a result the general attitude towards human sexuality is one that is “irrevocably poisoned” in the words of Bertrand Russell.
According to Freud, roadblocks placed in the way of union with the “sexual aim,” or copulation, would result from these mentally conceived taboos and thus would lead to the formation of new sexual aims that would take the place of the original aim. Thus, the roadblocks set in front of the attainment of the original sexual aim lead to the perversion of sexual energy in the form of a particular fetishism, masochism, or sadism on one hand, or on the other hand neurosis takes root and as a result the attainment of a normal sex life becomes difficult. Symptoms of neurosis are merely “substitutes” for the failed “strivings” stemming from Eros and libido, which come from the individual’s sexual instinct. Thus, neurosis is merely a substitute for sexual satisfaction.
Freud also argued that homosexuality is the result of the inversion of sexual energy resulting from a history of political repression. Thus, one should not incriminate homosexuality but instead incriminate political repression. Culture and organized religions that are rife with rules and regulations that govern one’s sex life are thus fundamental factors in the trajectory of sexual energy towards neurosis. In Freud’s view, culture is the impetus behind the repression and inversion of the libido which in turn leads to neurosis. Cultural conventions such as morality and shame are viewed as “resistances” to the sexual life of the mind which in turn hinder normal sexual evolution. Normal sexual desires are often met with “exaggerated” sexual rejection. Thus, Freud viewed the general reaction towards sexuality as being disingenuous.
Thus, in the words of Freud: “The transformation of love into hatred, of tenderness into hostility, which is characteristic of a large number of neurotic cases and apparently of all cases of paranoia, takes place by means of the union of cruelty with libido.” The failure of the libido, or sexual energy, to place itself upon a sexual object inevitably leads to neurosis, and the withdrawal of libido away from a sexual object leads to melancholy. Moreover, cruelty is the nature of our worldly reality, and as a result the libido, according to Freud, is “continually struggling against subordinating itself to the realities of the world.” Fear is then deemed to be the state of the libido that is “awakened by the realization of danger.” To conquer fear means to conquer the source of one’s fear, namely, the world, which is undoubtedly a daunting task.
What one learns from Freud is that the issue which mankind seeks to mitigate, namely, the sexual life of the mind, is actually an all-permeating energy or force to which one must be receptive towards through an intellectual discourse that acknowledges its ubiquity. Only then can the issue of human sexuality be treated as an issue that is on par with other scientific issues. Like the intellect, the sexual life also has its own character and rules which need to be assessed objectively. For one, sexual life, like the intellectual life, requires freedom from government and religious authorities in order to prosper, with ‘perfect coitus’ as the sole aim. One of the scientists of Fin de Siècle Europe who sought to objectively assess the character and rules of human sexuality was a rather obscure figure by the name of Otto Weininger. For one, Weininger argued that human sexuality is based on “taste” in the sense that there is a likeness to all the women that a man falls for, and the same goes for all the men which a woman falls for. Sexual attraction is also something that is reciprocal, according to Weininger.
Also, for every man, there is a corresponding woman that has a sexual effect on him, and vice versa. Both men and women possess elements of masculinity and femininity, and the proportion of masculinity and femininity in each individual has to be complementary in order to form an ideal pairing. Clearly, there is a gender spectrum rather than definitive gender categories. Another factor in sexual affinity, according to Weininger, is age. Often times, younger men are attracted to older women, and when a man’s age advances, a man becomes attracted to younger and younger women. Likewise, younger women are often attracted to older men, and as a woman grows older, she is more than likely to be attracted to young men. As a result, monogamy rests on very shaky foundations, which is why polygamy and polyamory are considered by the Islamic tradition as something natural which corresponds to natural laws.
In terms of the fundamental psychology of men and women, Weininger argued that while a man is able to concern himself with issues other than human sexuality, the female psychology revolves solely around the issue of sexuality due to her reproductive capabilities. Women, according to Weininger, engage with men over extra-sexual issues like business, art, politics, and religion not out of a genuine interest in these issues; rather, the purpose of engaging a man over extra-sexual issues is to garner the love of the man. The male counterpart of the female is the “Don Juan” who is concerned solely with chasing women and is interested in nothing except love affairs and sexual relations. Humor is a key characteristic of the Don Juan, given that a sense of humor equates to “well-disguised eroticism.”
However, while the man has the choice of becoming either a Don Juan or a Saint, women are not afforded such a choice given the pervasiveness of sexuality throughout the entire being of a woman which for one is prompted by her capacity of reproduction. The basic point that Weininger was trying to make was that all encounters between males and females are governed by certain laws, and that these encounters should not be left to chance for an explanation. Thus, perfect coitus is subject to precise natural laws that can only be discovered through education and rational inquiry.
Because of the complexities of sexual life, Bertrand Russell suggested that sexual ethics and institutions, which are in turn impacted by legal institutions, public opinion, and the individual, should be determined by “rational considerations” rather than “superstition and tradition.” Russell had the courage to openly advocate for the loosening of rigid sexual morals. The insights provided by the likes of Freud, Weininger, and Russell regarding the individual aspect of human sexuality should then be taken into consideration when forming public opinions and legal views concerning the issue of human sexuality on a community and institutional level.
There is also the issue of romantic love and whether it can truly exist. Based on Bertrand Russell’s view, it can exist only if there is a perfect balance and equilibrium between convention and freedom. Thus, the “conquest” of romantic love can neither be too attainable nor completely unattainable. But romantic love need not be an essential ingredient for marriage. The central organizational factor of marriage is children and the creation of a family, which take precedence over romance for a great number of people. It is through children and their upbringing that marriage and the creation of a family distinguish themselves from romantic love. Arguably, love is something that transcends romance, given that love can exist without the desire for sexual intercourse. Thus, love is the foundation for a happy and stable relationship and in reality, love is the most important aspect of life. As Bertrand Russell wrote: “Those who have never known the deep intimacy and intense companionship of happy mutual love have missed the best thing that life has to give; unconsciously, if not consciously, they feel this, and the resulting disappointment inclines them towards envy, oppression, and cruelty.”
Given the possible dichotomy between love and sex and the inclination of a man towards both, there has always been a distinction or the supposition of a difference between the mother and wife type on one hand, and the mistress on the other hand. Or, as Weininger put it, the mother type on one hand and the “prostitute” or “lover” type on the other hand. Prostitution, throughout human history, has been the natural supplement to the institution of marriage. As counterintuitive as it may seem, these two institutions reinforce one another, and are juxtaposed as a reflection of the animal and spiritual aspects of man. As absurd as it may sound, the institutions of marriage and prostitution check and balance one another to facilitate the integration of man’s animal self with his spiritual self.
As a result, education on human sexuality not only leads to a better sex life, but it also results in greater harmony and stability in societies as a whole. Not only is there a local and national dimension of sexual ethics and morality that needs to be developed, but there is also an international dimension that should address critical issues pertaining to international peace and security such as human trafficking, mental health, and overpopulation. In the United States, Kamala Harris has been one of the few political figures, if not the only political figure, to support the idea of legalizing and regulating prostitution. Harris’s position on prostitution, when looking at the scientific evidence before us, is not an ill-advised position, given that prostitution is an inherent, if not the foremost aspect of gender relations and it is in fact the world’s oldest business and institution. Moreover, legalization and regulation of prostitution would disempower an illicit economy run by human traffickers and mafia groups.
It is also evident that the legalization and regulation of prostitution has a profound social impact for the better. Holland, which is a country that has legalized and regulated prostitution, has such a low crime rate to the extent that empty prisons were recently converted into refugee shelters. Ideally, love should serve as the impetus for sexual intercourse. But we do not live in an ideal world, and the idealization of love as it pertains to sexual intercourse would disregard the automatic and physiological aspect of sex that is undeniably real and should be addressed for social and economic reasons. From a public and mental health perspective, prostitution is perhaps a mechanism for the “integration” of the animal and spiritual selves with the latter being defined by character development and scientific awareness whereas the former is defined by appetite and sexual desire. But from an ethical and moral standpoint, the legalization and regulation of prostitution is perhaps the only means available through which society can confront a rigid Nietzschean moral code that is passed on by tradition and is founded on disingenuity and hypocrisy. Inertia hinders the proactive development of a new set of sexual ethics and morals through public opinion that lacks scientific awareness, which is why the scientific impetus behind the development of new sexual ethics and morals needs to be taken into consideration by legal institutions.
Only for a select few, or the “elect,” is there no compromising between the higher and lower selves. Only the elect sees the victory of one self over the other self as a zero-sum game. But for most people, only through the “integration” of the higher and lower selves can the higher self be elevated to borrow from Abraham Maslow. The animal and spiritual aspects of man cannot be at war with one another. They must be reconciled. Thus, the path of the higher self to victory over the lower self is a tumultuous one. According to Weininger: “Certainly the life of the great person is not a harmony granted by fortune, but is much more troubled and stormier than the life of others.”
The role of the woman in the elevation of man’s higher self is thus a controversial one, which renders the woman as merely a “means to an end,” after which the utility of the woman becomes diminished. Women are thus either the object upon which man projects his higher self, or is a means to a developmental end for man. When viewed through this intellectual prism, today’s “#MeToo” Movement is a demand on the part of women for an intrinsic meaning and value to womanhood that is separate from the long-standing notion of woman as being an instrument used for the attainment of man’s seemingly parochial ends. The demand for an intrinsic meaning and value to womanhood is yet another stage in the evolution of a women’s rights movement that began in the modern age with the demand for economic and political rights. It is often forgotten that at one point, America only allowed white land-owning males to vote. Nevertheless, whether the “#MeToo” Movement succeeds in truly emancipating women from men and prompting a notion of womanhood that is more meaningful than the one that has been prevalent throughout the history of gender relations is yet to be determined.
While Western women have made significant progress in garnering economic and political rights through greater female employment and universal suffrage, the attainment of equal social rights is still an uphill battle for women. The fight for women’s social rights is the key power struggle in the postmodern epoch that women on a global scale are likely to lose, unfortunately. From a male patriarchal point of view, there cannot be two kings in one kingdom. Only one can rule. Perhaps there will always be a difference, unfortunately, between “equality” and “equity” when it pertains to women’s social rights due to a global structure of male patriarchy that never seems to diminish. Whether a new form of sexual ethics and morality based on gender equality and sexual freedom can develop in the face of a global social system defined by male patriarchy is questionable.
For one, in many parts of the world, there is still an uneven distribution of value placed on male chastity versus female chastity and also male virginity versus female virginity. Perhaps these double standards will always exist in many parts of the world. Thus, the stagnation of the social process that women seem to have put in place for themselves in the way of attaining equal social rights with men and removing double standards that would enable women to do what men are free to do without any social stigma appears quite self-evident in the face of male patriarchal types in the corporate and political world as well as society at-large. In turn, the centrality of women in a world predominated by men is based solely on the role of women in the elevation of man’s “higher” self, which tragically is replaced in due time by religion, given that in a traditional sense culture and religion are indispensable and integral when it comes to the perpetuation of a society’s way of life. If we are to conform to culture and tradition, then it is culture and tradition that suggests Eve was created for Adam, not vice versa. To be clear, this author does not recommend conformity to culture and tradition.
In essence, it is a particular way of life that a society, which is now a global society as a result of globalization, seeks to preserve through the hegemony of the male over the female. Women are to assume a secondary role when the preservation of a particular way of life, namely male patriarchy, is in question. Given the global culture and tradition of male patriarchy, which itself is a superstructure of white male patriarchy, the way of life that is in question is also underpinned by theories such as Malthusian economics and “Social Darwinism.” Male patriarchy, particularly white male patriarchy, and its global scope resulting from globalization, renders this way of life as universal and it surpasses all borders and national boundaries, thus rendering the world at the behest of man’s impulse towards domination and sexual gratification. Even in the corporate and political world, an individual is in need of a white male patron in order to climb the ladder. The main qualification needed for inclusion into this type of system is not a sound intellect. Rather, the main qualification for inclusion into a system shaped by white male patriarchy is to kowtow to its hegemonic discourse.
Today, the physical manifestation of white male patriarchy is the presidency of Donald Trump, in which the core objective – if not the sole objective – is to preserve the white man’s rule over the world. However, even though the majority of the world’s people, which includes a significant number of white women, are clearly fed up with white man rule given that the majority of the world is non-white, it is still unclear, unfortunately, as to what will replace the global governance system based on white male patriarchy. The intent of this essay is not to pass normative judgments about the world or to suggest that the world should be a certain way. Rather, the intent is to objectively assess the world for what it is and to perhaps suggest some reforms here and there.
One may contend that the only remedy for the global system of male patriarchy, particularly white male patriarchy, which hinders the attainment of true gender equality and sexual freedom, is natural religion with a clear set of natural laws, principles, rules, and regulations, not organized religion. Natural religion may be exemplified by Rousseau’s notion of an “original state of nature.” Arguably, the main point of life is to identify natural laws, principles, rules, and regulations and to simply adhere to them. Perhaps this has been the main point of this entire blog, both overtly and indirectly. In regards to religion, Weininger wrote: “A person can perish from nothing other than a lack of religion.” He adds: “The genius shows this most horribly, for the man of genius is the most devoted man, and when devotion leaves him, his genius leaves him.” Nevertheless, the hope is that a greater level of social awareness that arises from a religious discourse or outlook that takes into consideration a natural way of life prompts either an evolution or a reformation of the status quo, which is something long overdue. Bertrand Russell wrote: “The desire to understand the world and the desire to reform it are the two great engines of progress, without which human society would stand still or retrogress.” And despite our progress, there is always room for improvement.