Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Sex And The Single Thinker

Too much thought is undoubtedly the enemy of enjoyable sex. Too much introspection, or allowing well-intentioned solicitude to get to the front of the mind can transform the fires of passion into an internally conducted solo seminar in inter-personal etiquette:
"Am I being too rough? Would she tell me if there were something I could be doing that she'd enjoy more? Is she faking it?..."

But after the event, earth-moving or not, there are few human activities more thought about and picked over.Sex also provokes high levels of anxiety, and there's nothing so enimical to clear thought as anxiety. We take refuge in statistics. Sometimes we want to be "normal" (please tell me I'm not weird), and sometimes we look for measures of performance to prove that we're above average, or, if not the best, that there are poor souls below us in the striking rate, orgasm rate, or measurable pleasure stakes.

I have some recommended reading for you.
Try this or this if you have a taste for ratings and classifications, serious or more light-hearted.

Desperately hanging onto those numbers in search of some clarity,
even those trying really hard not to "rate" sex in general, or their own performance in particular, find it a difficult temptation to resist. But it's a temptation worth resisting because it leads to muddle. What other sources of pleasure might sex be "better than" or "worse than"? How does it feel? How do the orgasms of men and women differ? How do we measure those differences? When someone pronounces themselves "aroused" what do they mean? Is an account given after the event reliable? The sex might be mixed up with all kinds of feelings about intimacy and love. "Ay there's the rub". Well if sex is the rub in the mechanical sense, love is one of the many complicating factors which make for a pretty damn good rub in the Shakespearean sense.

However, I'm not taking any kind of serious issue with the number crunchers. It's interesting, analysis can always get more sophisticated and explained to the rest of us, and people like me are not going to pick arguments with statisticians. I'm just saying it's complicated and can't be relied upon to reveal any great absolute truths; not least because there may not be any absolute truths, at least not comprehensible by mere human beings.

However, once we cast our raft adrift in open philosophical waters, with no numbers to steer by, we have to be extra careful, and the most surprising people can become careless (or I think so anyway).

I've read some helpful and wise articles by Aaron Ben-Zeév. But, unless I'm mistaken - always a possibility of course - in this article,
Mr Ben-Zeév seems to have been overcome by the confusion which is always a risk when attempting to wax profound on the subject of sexual morality. He's asking "Are love and sexual desire moral?" I don't think this is a question that could be given house room even in the humble abode of this non-philosopher. Can romantic love or sexual desire be moral or immoral in and of themselves? Surely not. Desire is just a drive, and romantic love may mark the height of human aspiration, but it doesn't seem to me to be codifiable as required by anything I would associate with rules of morality. To give an obvious example, for a theologically correct Christian, love and sexual desire are only moral when practised within a monogamous marriage. But love and desire are notoriously good at destroying such marriages when coming in from outside them. Someone whose morality was more relativistic would start talking about consequences. Again stressing my lack of philosophical credentials, I think that if we ask a question, and our first answering thought begins with "it depends...", then we're not asking a sensible question.

We desire whom we desire. We love whom we love. The morality part is what we choose to do about it. And that morality is our morality. Asking ourselves "should I be having this sex?", when we're already having it is rather late, and will probably result in bad morality and bad sex.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Feelings, Reality and Imagination

When I say "We" in this post, I mean that (see my final paragraph). I'm telling myself off as much as anything else.

If we have strong negative feelings about other people, if, for example, we feel angry or ill-used, what should we do about it? What should those who love us do about it?

Anger can be quite enjoyable, and we all relish being right, or feeling right. But supposing we have it wrong, or perhaps partially wrong. Does that mean that the relish, or some of the relish, will have to stop? Far better, our demons may say, to obstinately cling to those feelings as our sacred right, without regard to their justification in fact.

If those we love are in the grip of such feelings, whether towards us or others, what is our duty to them? Should we try to point it out if we think they're wrong. Does that depend on whether their feelings are making them suffer or whether they're in some sense glorying in their righteousness? Overall, either way, I think we have to try and reason with them. First, because we don't want those we love to suffer needlessly if we think they are suffering needlessly. And second, because if we think they're nurturing feelings without regard to their basis in fact, because they just need to have that feeling, and don't care against whom it's levelled, or what its consequences might be, then we may think that they've lost their way, spiritually or otherwise, if they put their right to have feelings ahead of everything else.

I speak as someone who has caused pain by relishing disproportionate anger. It can displace love and rationality, and I must resist it if I wish to be capable of either, and I know I am.