Saturday, August 23, 2008

Aphrodite's Divided Heart

“Oh, but don’t mention love. I’d hate the pain of the strain all over again”

One of the inherent disassociations in modern, western culture, is that between our erotic and our emotional lives.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard it said: “Sex is not Love. Love is not sex”. It’s not a small number. It’s one of the many mantras of our times. It reveals much about our contemporary condition, namely the Wasteland.

As it happens, on the other hand, I don't deny that some people can veer wildly to the other extreme, saying that sex is love and that nothing but sex is love. But that may be for another post.

To my knowledge, the perspective which says that sex is not love and that love is not sex is often held by people interested in ‘progressive’ or ‘emancipationist’ views of sexuality, whatever they are understood to be. The underlying understanding, as I see it, is that if I want to get love I don’t need to have sex to get it. And that, on the other hand, if I want to have sex, I don’t need to feel a pre-existing love for my sexual partner first. I can use his or her body as I might a motorcycle, upon which I might be taken to my sunset of sensual joy. Presuming that they had consented to play the role of motorcycle, of course.

Actually, when I look at the first of these understandings, that one can get love without sex, I don’t have any difficulties at all. On the contrary, I entirely agree. I can give and receive love without sex being involved. After all, I myself love and have loved many people whom I have not even kissed, let alone exchanged bodily fluids with. This is just as well, given my low score rate with the ladies. If I had only loved people I had had sex with, I wouldn’t have had much love in my life.

It is only the second understanding, that sex can be had lovelessly, that causes me to ponder and reflect.

Call me a wild-winged hypothesist. I can’t help wonder about the roots of this understanding. Why should someone want to set themselves up to think of the interrelationship between sex and love in such a divided way. It seems unnatural to me; forced, strenuous, a ‘disconnect’, to polarise these aspects of life in this way. This essentialist understanding, which asserts that sex and love are distinct, not to be confused: it wants to see the sexual-emotional life of humanity as something divided. I wonder why.

I see three reasons. The first relates to a reaction amongst secular progressives to what has been understood, with fair justification, to be the ancient sex-hostility on the part of the Church towards consensual sexual acts between adults. The Church logic rebelled against, I think, has been something like this: If you want to have sex, you will need to get married first. If you want to get married, you should first love someone such that you will want to spend the rest of your life with them*. To look at it algebraically then: Love (Horse) + Marriage (Carriage) = Sex (Joyful journeys hither and thither).To break out of this necessity, weakening the causal nexus between Love and Sex, naturally becomes a cunning strategy to get more sex, or to get sex at all.

The second reason motivating the sexual-emotion split, relates to a felt need amongst those engaged in casual sexual relations, so I speculate, to defend themselves from the unwanted emotional consequences they feel and fear might arise from their intimate, compromising actions with relative strangers. Even though I’ll be coming inside of her; even though I’ll be penetrated by his phallus, none of this will hurt me. After all, it’s only physical. My heart I defend behind a wall of confident disassociation. Until such time, of course, as I choose to open it to someone, or more adventurously to those, I share my bed with. In this regard, I am reminded, as an extreme example of this split, I grant, of how many prostitutes (or so I hear?), while they will happily have all and every orifice phallically serviced to procure money, will not allow their clients to kiss them on the lips. The irony that this defensiveness implies, on the contrary, - that a link between sex and love is unwittingly acknowledged by the very people who might deny it - should not go unnoted, I feel.

The third reason relates to a recognition that, given the relatively loveless nature of our contemporay, highly disappointing world, feelings of love in general between the people that one meets are seldom experienced. If one is only to have sex with people you meet whom you also happen to love, so it might be thought, you would not have very much sex with anyone.

People can, and perhaps will, believe that sex and love are separate. Perhaps for them they really are. Ultimately, I can only speak for myself.

Speaking personally (yawn, cringe, shudder), and maybe it’s just me, what can I say? That I cannot imagine not feeling an emotional bond, at least of some kind, with a woman I might come to sleep with; just as I know that I do feel emotional connections, at least of some kind, and always a special kind, with the relatively few women that I have slept with. I can see how I might want to deny this in order to cope with certain unfortunate realities, but this wouldn’t make the denial true, would it?

This does not mean, as it happens, that I am angling after imitating or recycling Paul’s threatening implications regarding the iniquities of extra marital sex, in case you were wondering. It just means that I was saying what I said: that I do not believe that sex and love are separate.

* I realise that feelings of love have not always been considered a prerequisite for matrimony, and that considerations of family status and connections, the right religion and good health, have often been far more important, whenever arranged marriages were the rule, at least, and especially in the higher classes. In any case, I speak of marriage in relation to sex as it is understood in Occidental Christendom today.


Anonymous said...

What an interesting piece.

I think I broadly agree with you. I have never had sex without love but that is probably because I have a complicated background when it comes to sex. I can imagine that had things been different I might have had sex (a one night stand type of thing) if I had got drunk - you get to feel all emotional and affectionate in a drunken state but that is NOT love. But I've never done it nor will I.

I don't think I am good at love without sex either. I love my children and some friends without desire but that is different surely. I find my heart withers a bit if sexual desire dries up.

Fascinating anyway.

Jonathan said...

Well, Love is a multicoloured bird; and each feather of a different colour is a different love.

I know what you mean how a certain kind of love needs sex (or is it at least physical intimacy/closeness?)

Love of friends and children is just as much love as is sexual, romantic love, its just a differnt kind.

Whyt are you reluctant?