Tripartite Analysis of Sexual Gratification

by Saikat Guha

The three com­po­nents of sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion are the phys­i­o­log­i­cal com­po­nent, the aes­thetic com­po­nent, and the erotic com­po­nent.  We will con­sider these in turn, with a view to dis­cern­ing their moral sig­nif­i­cance and the moral sig­nif­i­cance of the sex­ual act.  I warn the reader in advance that we will have occa­sion to con­sider the sex­ual act in some­what explicit detail.  This mate­r­ial is not suit­able for children–not that a child could have much under­stand­ing of it anyway–and it may unset­tle espe­cially squea­mish adults.  How­ever, just as the physi­cian gains knowl­edge of anatomy by dis­sect­ing corpses, and other such dis­taste­ful things, so we may gain greater under­stand­ing of sex­u­al­ity by an unflinch­ing and detailed philo­soph­i­cal analy­sis of its ele­ments.  In this con­nec­tion the reader should note that the pur­suit of under­stand­ing often does require one to speak of things unsuited to our con­ven­tional tastes, and ignor­ing con­ven­tion in this regard is jus­ti­fied because knowl­edge and truth are higher val­ues than con­for­mity to custom.

A. The Phys­i­o­log­i­cal Component

Phys­i­o­log­i­cal sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion is relief of phys­i­o­log­i­cal sex­ual arousal/tension, pri­mar­ily the arousal of the gen­i­tals and the sen­sa­tions asso­ci­ated thereto.  This is not a plea­sure at all, prop­erly speak­ing, but a release from pain or dis­com­fort.  I owe this cru­cial point, and much of what fol­lows, pri­mar­ily to Plato, who in The Repub­lic dis­tin­guishes real and merely appar­ent plea­sures in this man­ner.  Plato shared my neg­a­tive assess­ment of phys­i­o­log­i­cal sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion, includ­ing my recog­ni­tion of las­civ­i­ous­ness as a vice, as does much of the ancient, medieval, and early mod­ern tra­di­tion.  As late as the early 20th cen­tury, G.E. Moore in the Prin­cipia Eth­ica rec­og­nized las­civ­i­ous­ness as self-evidently evil.  Thus I will not be say­ing any­thing new or orig­i­nal here, but sim­ply clar­i­fy­ing and expound­ing old truths in a more explicit and timely man­ner.  There­fore, if any­one, blinded by the present Zeit­geist, regards these claims as incred­i­ble or thinks I am a fool, they should con­sider how many of the great moral philoso­phers from Plato to Moore (many of the great­est moral thinkers in West­ern his­tory) they are will­ing to dis­miss so read­ily, and with what qual­i­fi­ca­tion on their own part.  This is not to say that I am there­fore cor­rect, but only to urge a fair con­sid­er­a­tion of the argu­ments and views to be pre­sented here.

Phys­i­o­log­i­cal sex­ual ten­sion is a dis­com­fort anal­o­gous to hunger, thirst, or the need for excre­tory relief (uri­na­tion or defe­ca­tion).  In all these cases, a need of nature (to eat, drink, excrete, or have sex­ual inter­course) is indi­cated by a cer­tain dis­com­fort, which when acute is dis­tinctly painful.  Any­one who has expe­ri­enced orgasm can see this clearly by reflect­ing on the acute ten­sion or stress that exists in the gen­i­tals imme­di­ately prior to the sex­ual cli­max; if this ten­sion, which is the high­est phys­i­o­log­i­cal sex­ual arousal, were indef­i­nitely prolonged–if, say, one were kept “on the brink” of a sex­ual cli­max for an hour or two–this would be an acutely painful, indeed hor­rific expe­ri­ence, akin to hav­ing a full blad­der, des­per­ately need­ing to uri­nate, and being unable to do so for a sim­i­lar time, albeit per­haps more painful because the ten­sion or dis­com­fort is greater in the case of sex.  When the rel­e­vant need is sat­is­fied, the dis­com­fort rapidly dimin­ishes, phys­i­o­log­i­cal stress or ten­sion is released, and this reduc­tion in dis­com­fort or release from pain is appre­hended by the sub­ject as relief.  Release from pain is not itself a plea­sure, prop­erly speak­ing, but merely a ces­sa­tion of suf­fer­ing; plea­sure is a pos­i­tive good, while ces­sa­tion of suf­fer­ing is good merely in a neg­a­tive man­ner.  The orgasm, there­fore, is an abrupt release from acute suf­fer­ing, and is not as such plea­sur­able at all.  The phe­nom­e­nol­ogy is for­mally the same as relief from suf­fer­ing induced by some phys­i­o­log­i­cal malfunction–for instance the relief expe­ri­enced when an anal­gesic takes away the pain of a headache.  The phys­i­ol­ogy dif­fers, how­ever, in that, like hunger and thirst, sex­ual arousal is an expres­sion of a nor­mal appetite in accor­dance with the proper func­tion­ing of the body, and ordered to a phys­i­o­log­i­cal end (repro­duc­tion), unlike a headache, which indi­cates some injury or malfunction.

Relief is fre­quently mis­taken for true plea­sure; thus peo­ple often think that there is plea­sure in sat­is­fy­ing hunger, or in drink­ing water when acutely thirsty.  If one will care­fully attend to the phe­nom­ena, how­ever, one will per­ceive that what hap­pens is sim­ply that, at first, one is acutely hun­gry or thirsty, which is a form of suf­fer­ing, and that as one eats or drinks the hunger or thirst dimin­ishes (which con­sti­tutes relief of hunger or thirst), until at the point of sati­ety one is no longer hun­gry or thirsty.  Other things being equal, relief is desir­able when one is suf­fer­ing, of course, but it is bet­ter still not to suf­fer; it would be stu­pid to induce a headache in one­self in order to have the relief of cur­ing it, or to induce itch­ing for the relief of scratch­ing.  Inso­far as one real­izes that relief is not real plea­sure, more­over, to do these things is per­verse as well as stu­pid.  Assum­ing that it is wrong to induce suf­fer­ing for no good reason–and that induc­ing suf­fer­ing is not jus­ti­fied by the inten­tion to relieve it later–it is also morally rep­re­hen­si­ble, wrong, to pur­sue any form of relief as if it were a true plea­sure, by induc­ing first suf­fer­ing and then release from it.  This applies to sex­ual release as much as to any other, so it is plainly stu­pid, per­verse, and immoral to seek phys­i­o­log­i­cal sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion for its own sake, as if it were a true plea­sure, by induc­ing (in one­self or another) sex­ual arousal or dis­com­fort and then release from it.  It is true that, inso­far as one fails to real­ize what one is doing and mis­takes relief for real plea­sure, one may be less than fully blame­wor­thy for such acts, but their objec­tive wrong­ness, per­ver­sity, and fool­ish­ness remain.  This vice, the pur­suit of phys­i­o­log­i­cal sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion as a plea­sure, for its own sake, used to be called las­civ­i­ous­ness.  (Obvi­ously, one can per­form the sex­ual act for other pur­poses, such as pro­cre­ation or as a vehi­cle of emo­tional bond­ing or inti­macy.  We will con­sider these later.)  Those who are in the grip of this vice are akin to peo­ple who imag­ine that it is enjoy­able to bang their heads against a wall and then take aspirin, or to put itch­ing pow­der on the skin so as to scratch.  If they do this to them­selves, they are of all peo­ple per­haps the most mis­er­able and pitiable, since there is no gen­uine plea­sure what­so­ever in what they do; they sim­ply inflict dis­com­fort or pain on them­selves repeat­edly and imag­ine that they have gained plea­sure when they take away from them­selves the mis­ery which they have inflicted.  Hence the vice of sex­ual self-stimulation used to be called self-abuse.  And if they do this to oth­ers, they are, objec­tively speak­ing, wicked and cruel, since they abuse oth­ers to no pur­pose, though they may imag­ine that they are doing good to oth­ers.  (It is worth not­ing that, like a patho­log­i­cal scratcher, peo­ple in the grip of this vice may pur­sue sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion so vio­lently as to cause phys­i­cal damage–tearing of the skin, bleed­ing, and the like.)

The illu­sion that phys­i­o­log­i­cal sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion is plea­sur­able is encour­aged by the man­ner in which sex­ual cli­max is achieved.  For, first, there is the dis­com­fort of unful­filled sex­ual need, which is designed to moti­vate sex­ual inter­course.  This may be induced by an exter­nal stim­u­lus, such as the pres­ence of an appro­pri­ate sex­ual part­ner, but it may also sim­ply build up over time.  When, in response to this dis­com­fort, the gen­i­tals are stim­u­lated, there are ini­tial “plea­sur­able” sen­sa­tions asso­ci­ated with the relief of this ini­tial dis­com­fort, but this imme­di­ately gives way to a height­ened state of arousal and increased dis­com­fort.  It is as if an itch gave one a sen­sa­tion of relief when scratched before becom­ing yet more acute.  If stim­u­la­tion con­tin­ues, sex­ual arousal con­tin­ues to increase (though not in a lin­ear man­ner) until the supreme excite­ment prior to the sex­ual cli­max, which sud­denly releases the ten­sion.  (This is the ideal case, though of course the process may fail or be inter­rupted in any num­ber of ways.)  Up to the point of orgasm, this process has the char­ac­ter of a pos­i­tive feed­back loop–the more you “scratch”, the more it “itches”, thus build­ing higher and higher lev­els of dis­com­fort.  It is easy to see how such a process presents us with the pow­er­ful appear­ance of plea­sure and how it can, absent rea­soned reflec­tion, take on the aspect of some­thing desir­able.  Those who fall prey to this illu­sion are, as such, per­haps more to be pitied than blamed.

More­over, sex­ual relief dif­fers from other forms of relief in at least the fol­low­ing three ways, which together facil­i­tate las­civ­i­ous­ness.  First, the gen­i­tals them­selves, espe­cially the male gen­i­tals, are very durable, capa­ble of tak­ing a great deal of repeated stimulation-and-release with­out per­ma­nent harm, though they do have their lim­its.  (The female gen­i­tals can more read­ily suf­fer dam­age because the vagi­nal lin­ing can tear and bleed if used too often or too roughly.)  If one scratches the skin on most parts of the body for sev­eral min­utes at a time, the skin will soon tear and bleed; infec­tion is then liable to set in, a clear bod­ily warn­ing that one is doing harm.  Like­wise, bang­ing your head against a wall will soon cause con­cus­sions, brain dam­age, and the like.  But sex­ual vice can con­tinue to a very con­sid­er­able extent with­out per­ma­nent bod­ily harm; we have, as it were, thick skins when it comes to this vice.  Sec­ond, the sex­ual appetite grows by that upon which it feeds, not only as to qual­ity but also as to quan­tity, and to a degree far beyond the other nor­mal bod­ily appetites.  A man who eats too much can, in extreme cases, eat two or three times what is appro­pri­ate for him, but not much more than that.  In any case, eat­ing by itself has no strong ten­dency to increase one’s appetite for food; one gen­er­ally has a cer­tain nat­ural appetite, and one tends to eat until that is sat­is­fied.  But one’s sex­ual appetite, if it is not restrained (by rea­son, by tem­pera­ment, or by cir­cum­stance) but given free rein, often tends to grow more and more demand­ing, until it reaches aston­ish­ing lev­els.  Hence there is a huge vari­ety in how fre­quently a per­son engages in the sex­ual act; some may do so only a few times a month, or not at all, while those who give them­selves up to the appetite with­out any restraint may do so sev­eral times in a day or even in a few hours, for weeks or months at a time.  Hence, some peo­ple have an appetite twenty or thirty times greater than oth­ers.  Such a rag­ing appetite destroys good judg­ment, pre­vents those in the grip of vice from reflect­ing on their con­di­tion, and encour­ages a quasi-bestial pur­suit of imme­di­ate grat­i­fi­ca­tion.  This is sim­i­lar to the way in which other addictions–for instance, to nar­cotics or gambling–tend to cre­ate self-enhancing appetites that destroy the good judg­ment of those in their grip.  Third, although phys­i­o­log­i­cal sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion is not itself a real plea­sure at all, there are real sex­ual plea­sures, as we shall see below.  Because these plea­sures are closely asso­ci­ated with phys­i­o­log­i­cal sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion, it is easy to trans­fer to the phys­i­o­log­i­cal grat­i­fi­ca­tion the pos­i­tive sta­tus actu­ally pos­sessed by other sex­ual plea­sures, or to con­fuse cer­tain gen­uine plea­sures with mere sex­ual relief, and this encour­ages las­civ­i­ous­ness, because true plea­sure is, other things being equal, wor­thy of pur­suit for its own sake, as the con­comi­tant of what­ever good’s pos­ses­sion it signals.

Before we pro­ceed to con­sider the other com­po­nents of sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion, we should note one fur­ther point.  Since the gen­i­tals are repro­duc­tive organs, phys­i­o­log­i­cally ordered to pro­cre­ation, their func­tion is not to pro­vide any bod­ily ben­e­fit for the organ­ism to which they belong.  Hence, refrain­ing from their use does no harm to the per­son who refrains, unlike a per­son who starved him­self or denied him­self water, or other bod­ily needs.  To be sure, if one has been in the grip of las­civ­i­ous vice, regain­ing one’s equi­lib­rium will be a painful process, just as it is painful to cure one­self of drug addic­tion or alco­holism.  One will suf­fer the sex­ual equiv­a­lent of “with­drawal symp­toms”, and some­times these symp­toms may feel as if one were com­ing to some grave harm.  But, in point of fact, noth­ing bad will hap­pen.  In the long run, if one sim­ply refuses to give in to vice, the sex­ual appetite returns to nor­mal, and the “with­drawal symp­toms” dis­ap­pear.  The effects of the vice are per­ma­nent, unfor­tu­nately; just as an alco­holic remains one his whole life, even if he has sobered up, so too a per­son who has once been deeply in the grip of sex­ual vice remains for­ever dam­aged and weak­ened by it, and must always remain vig­i­lant to avoid a relapse.  But this dam­age can to a degree be healed and one can regain equi­lib­rium and a nor­mal life.  Obvi­ously, since the sex­ual appetite is itself a nor­mal bod­ily appetite, it is not as such wrong to indulge it, but equi­lib­rium requires that it be indulged in accor­dance with right pur­pose and right judg­ment, from which fol­lows mod­er­a­tion in its use.  (What this means will be made clearer later.)  And for those in the grip of las­civ­i­ous­ness, this means that a nor­mal sex­ual life may seem, in their imag­i­na­tions, and per­haps at first even in real­ity, to be mis­er­able and unre­ward­ing, since they can­not indulge the appetite nearly as much, in gen­eral, as they would like, and must exer­cise con­sid­er­able self-control.  There are, how­ever, rewards which not only com­pen­sate for this “loss” (no real loss, but only a felt loss, since one loses only a dis­or­der), but greatly out­weigh it, so that the nor­mal sex­ual life is much richer and more ful­fill­ing.  We will con­sider this in greater detail later.

B. The Aes­thetic Component

There are two quite dif­fer­ent sorts of grat­i­fi­ca­tion inher­ent in any good meal.  First, there is the relief of (i.e. from) hunger, which we have con­sid­ered.  Sec­ond, there is the plea­sure of taste, or more exactly, of the taste, smell, tex­ture, felt tem­per­a­ture, and the other desir­able sen­su­ous char­ac­ter­is­tics of the food.  The lat­ter is a kind of aes­thetic plea­sure, which good cook­ing aims to enhance as far as pos­si­ble, and which requires for full appre­ci­a­tion an aes­thetic judg­ment like that involved in the fine arts.  Hence we refer to cook­ing as an art.  That these are dis­tinct forms of grat­i­fi­ca­tion we can see from two con­sid­er­a­tions.  First, a hun­gry man, if he had no other choice and were hun­gry enough, would con­tent him­self even with a taste­less bowl of gruel, so long as it filled him and sup­plied him with suf­fi­cient nutri­tion.  This would relieve his hunger, but would afford him lit­tle or no plea­sure of taste.  Sec­ond, peo­ple some­times chew gum, eat sweets, or taste a food (wine, for instance) just for the taste and fla­vor, with lit­tle or no con­cern for hunger.  Here there is lit­tle or no relief from hunger, but appre­cia­ble plea­sure of taste.  This aes­thetic com­po­nent of one’s meal is, unlike the sat­is­fac­tion of hunger, a gen­uine, pos­i­tive plea­sure, a delight­ing in the good qual­i­ties of the food.  It is akin to the plea­sure one gets from smelling flow­ers (or any other good smell), or from the visual enjoy­ment of some beau­ti­ful view, or the audi­tory enjoy­ment of a good piece of music.  As such, it is, other things being equal, desir­able for its own sake.  It is true that “hunger is the best sauce”, mean­ing that one gains much more appre­ci­a­tion for the taste of one’s food when one is hun­gry; this is because hunger moti­vates appre­ci­a­tion of what one eats, if it is good, even though this appre­ci­a­tion is quite dis­tinct from the sat­is­fac­tion of hunger itself.

Now, this applies to sex as much as to food.  There is a gen­uine, purely pos­i­tive sex­ual delight in the desir­able sen­su­ous qual­i­ties of one’s lover or sex­ual partner–in the person’s visual beauty, smell, taste, skin tex­ture, and so forth, to the extent that these are judged as good.  This is indeed why such beauty is prized in the object of one’s sex­ual desire.  There is also a sub­tler and more spir­i­tual delight in the good inner qual­i­ties of the desired one–for instance, intel­li­gence, kind­ness, fidelity, and other (typ­i­cally) desir­able “per­son­al­ity traits” of one’s part­ner.  This is why these traits are prized, not only in gen­eral, but espe­cially in prospec­tive sex­ual part­ners.  No one wants an ugly per­son for a lover, whether that ugli­ness be out­ward or inward; even if (or even espe­cially if) beauty is in the eye of the beholder, what we all want in our prospec­tive sex­ual part­ners is beauty as we under­stand and appre­ci­ate it.  The appre­ci­a­tion of this beauty is a key part of sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion, far more impor­tant, in gen­eral, than phys­i­o­log­i­cal sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion.  The inten­sity of this appre­ci­a­tion is such that the details of a lover’s visual appear­ance, smell, taste, and so forth can be imprinted in one’s mem­ory of a pas­sion­ate sex­ual encounter years after the fact.  Again, the imag­i­na­tion can con­jure fan­tasies of such desir­able qual­i­ties either out of mem­o­ries or unsat­is­fied sex­ual long­ings.  There is a deep and oft-noted con­nec­tion between sex­u­al­ity and cre­ativ­ity as it is man­i­fested in art.  At least one impor­tant rea­son for this is that art can also sum­mon up, with near-hallucinatory inten­sity, the remem­bered or imag­ined impres­sion of some sit­u­a­tion (of what­ever sort) in rich sen­su­ous detail.  Both art and sex are vehi­cles of intense aes­thetic appreciation.

Nonethe­less, it is morally rep­re­hen­si­ble, wrong, to pur­sue aes­thetic sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion for its own sake.  This is not because there is any­thing inher­ently wrong with pur­su­ing aes­thetic plea­sure generally–quite the contrary!–but because sex is directed to per­sons in a spe­cial way.  Con­sider the pos­si­bil­i­ties.  If one pur­sues aes­thetic sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion for its own sake, one must do so either in another per­son, or in one­self, or in sex­ual fan­tasy (includ­ing pornog­ra­phy).  (I leave aside the dis­taste­ful case of those who attach sex­ual feel­ings to ani­mals or things yet lower; I will take it as obvi­ous that human sex­u­al­ity has to do with per­sons and ought to remain on that level.)  If in one­self, this is nar­cis­sism, a form of self-absorption that is plainly self­ish, per­verse, and dam­ag­ing.  There is hardly any­thing so unlovely as some­one in love with him­self, or his own mir­ror image; to imag­ine some­one else who is like this is to see imme­di­ately every­thing that is wrong with it.  Sex­ual long­ing tends nat­u­rally out­ward, and finds its ful­fill­ment in oth­ers; to twist it inward is to maim one­self, to destroy one’s capac­ity for gen­uine ful­fill­ment and hap­pi­ness.  Much the same is true with regard to fan­tasies; they are imma­ture and inad­e­quate sub­sti­tutes for real grat­i­fi­ca­tion.  They stunt one’s sex­u­al­ity rather than devel­op­ing it, for we grow by feed­ing on real food, not imag­i­nary feasts; they fos­ter cow­ardice, in one’s with­drawal from real encoun­ters and the anx­i­eties they bring; they envelop one in an atmos­phere of self-delusion and unre­al­ity, and destroy or at least dam­age one’s abil­ity to develop healthy, mature, other-regarding rela­tions with real peo­ple.  To fan­ta­size is to see the world through the lens of one’s fan­tasies; to see one’s lover through the lens of fan­tasy is to see one’s own lies in place of the truth.  Because fan­tasy part­ners do not exist, they can make no demands on one.  They “exist” only to serve one’s needs.  This kind of sex­ual expres­sion is, there­fore, lit­tle dif­fer­ent from nar­cis­sism, since one’s fan­tasies are merely pro­jec­tions of one’s own needs, and there­fore of one­self.  Such behav­ior is child­ish (if not infan­tile) and solip­sis­tic.  The more it is indulged, the more dan­ger­ous it is, for the more it tends to cut one off from real ful­fill­ment, and even from the abil­ity to appre­ci­ate any­thing beyond one’s own conjured-up hal­lu­ci­na­tions.  To pur­sue sex­ual fan­tasies instead of peo­ple is like liv­ing in dreams instead of in life.  (There is noth­ing wrong with pur­su­ing one’s dreams–but they must be pur­sued in life, not in the dream-world.  And one must have sense enough to dis­tin­guish good dreams from bad ones, if one does not wish to end up liv­ing a night­mare.)  To add pornog­ra­phy to enliven such fan­tasies is sim­ply adding fuel to the fire, which if it rages out of con­trol will likely destroy one’s abil­ity to ever have true sex­ual enjoy­ment.  Finally, this sort of pur­suit either pro­duces, springs from, or accom­pa­nies and encour­ages the vice of las­civ­i­ous­ness, and it is tainted by this association.

If, on the other hand, one pur­sues aes­thetic enjoy­ment in another person–as opposed to find­ing aes­thetic enjoy­ment in a per­son whom one pur­sues–then one degrades another per­son to the level of an objet d’art, or a slave.  We speak of a man putting a woman on a pedestal.  If this means that he admires her just as he might admire a statue, he is reduc­ing her some­how to a statue, with­out con­cern for her as an indi­vid­ual or for her own inter­ests, which degrades her.  It is not per­mis­si­ble in this con­text to regard a liv­ing, breath­ing human being as a mere vehi­cle of aes­thetic delight, like a fig­ure in a paint­ing.  No-one with any sense wants to be regarded in this way, as if one were of no more worth than a talk­ing doll, and to regard some­one in this way is to be per­fectly pre­pared to aban­don that per­son as soon as a more appeal­ing prospect comes along.  For after all, what one appre­ci­ates is the person’s beauty, and such purely aes­thetic appre­ci­a­tion does not bring in any ele­ment of good­will or con­cern for the per­son, except per­haps as some­thing pre­cious to be kept, like a china fig­urine.  Such a “con­cern” is quite com­pat­i­ble with enslav­ing some­one else, like a harem girl, to grat­ify one­self; indeed, inso­far as one seeks to reduce a sex­ual part­ner to a mere object of aes­thetic enjoy­ment, one has already looked upon that per­son to enslave her in one’s heart.

Of course, there are inter­ac­tions in which one quite per­mis­si­bly regards oth­ers in a more or less purely aes­thetic light.  If I see a per­for­mance of Ham­let, I may not care much at all about the actors, for I may regard them sim­ply as vehi­cles of aes­thetic enjoy­ment, of the char­ac­ters and the play.  I do not thereby wrong them, for that is the whole point of watch­ing the per­for­mance.  But for the most part, it is wrong to take this atti­tude to peo­ple who are inti­mately involved in our lives, to any sig­nif­i­cant degree, and even towards strangers.  There are a few spe­cial con­texts where we can legit­i­mately dis­re­gard the indi­vid­ual for the sake of aes­thetic enjoy­ment, but all the world is not a stage.  A per­son who truly regarded it as such would be crim­i­nally indif­fer­ent to the suf­fer­ings, joys, and inter­ests of oth­ers, just as one does not care to save Ham­let from his fate and does not really grieve at his demise (as one would at the death of a loved one).  It goes with­out say­ing that we would regard such a per­son as a very con­temptible char­ac­ter indeed; he could watch a lit­tle child drown before his very eyes with­out feel­ing the least urge to help, as if he were watch­ing the event on a stage, or on TV.  And so too, when it comes to any­thing as seri­ous and inti­mate as sex­ual involve­ment with another per­son, some­one who regards the whole thing sim­ply or mainly in an aes­thetic man­ner is con­temptible.  It is his good for­tune if his con­temptible atti­tude has no sig­nif­i­cant bad con­se­quences; but this good for­tune does not excuse the act.

Just as the sex­ual appetite is a nor­mal bod­ily appetite, so aes­thetic sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion is a nor­mal part of aes­thetic appre­ci­a­tion and also of sex­ual activ­ity.  There is much that is good about it.  It is one of life’s great and gen­uine plea­sures, and the goods in which it delights are wor­thy of delight.  Obvi­ously, then, there is noth­ing as such wrong with indulging in such plea­sures, but, as with the sat­is­fac­tion of the bod­ily appetite, this plea­sure may not be pur­sued sim­ply for its own sake, and must be indulged with right pur­pose and judg­ment.  This too leads to a kind of mod­er­a­tion in its indul­gence, which how­ever is per­fectly com­pat­i­ble, in the right cir­cum­stances, with exceed­ingly fre­quent and per­haps even con­tin­u­ous indul­gence in this plea­sure.  How this can be the case, and what mod­er­a­tion in sex­ual indul­gence means, we will see from a con­sid­er­a­tion of the third and most impor­tant com­po­nent of sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion.  (I have kept the best for last.)

C. The Erotic Component

Eros is the love in which one “falls” when one “falls in love” with some­one.  It is the inspi­ra­tion for all so-called “love poems” and “love sto­ries”, from Romeo and Juliet to the trashiest romance novel on the super­mar­ket check­out aisle.  It is a unique kind of inter­per­sonal love, for it is the only kind of love inex­tri­ca­bly tied to a par­tic­u­lar sort of bod­ily activ­ity.  The activ­ity in ques­tion is, of course, sex­ual inter­course, towards which Eros tends and in which it finds its con­sum­ma­tion.  Hence Eros is sex­ual love.  Sex­ual love is the low­est form of inter­per­sonal love, because it is the most self-centered and the most prone to self­ish dis­tor­tion; it brings with it a pow­er­ful urge to own or pos­sess the beloved, as well as ten­den­cies towards jeal­ousy, rage, and vio­lence.  Above it stands the love of friends and fam­ily, some­times called “broth­erly love”, though it extends to fil­ial and parental devo­tion as well as love between sib­lings.  Unlike Eros, this love is more benev­o­lent, self-giving, self-sacrificing, espe­cially in its high­est form, which is parental love.  (Con­sider what sac­ri­fices good par­ents make for their children–up to and includ­ing grave suf­fer­ing and death.)  Nonethe­less, it is self-centered in a sub­tle man­ner, for it attaches only to our near and dear–that is, those who are close to one­self.  Our “loved ones” are, in a cer­tain way, exten­sions of our­selves, at least from our own point of view; we tend to iden­tify with them and thereby to care about their suf­fer­ings, joys, and inter­ests, because they are our own in some way–either our own flesh and blood, or at least our own friends.  So even broth­erly love has in it a com­po­nent of self­ish­ness and pos­ses­sive­ness, and can degen­er­ate into a tool of emo­tional manip­u­la­tion or abuse.  More­over it can dis­tort judg­ment and lead to injus­tice, when one wrongs the stranger or out­sider out of an exag­ger­ated regard for one’s near and dear.

Above both sex­ual love and broth­erly love stands spir­i­tual love, which is love of a purely dis­in­ter­ested and unselfish sort–love for a per­son based not on any spe­cial tie to that per­son, but sim­ply from a recog­ni­tion of his or her dig­nity as a per­son.  This love is exem­pli­fied by those who vol­un­teer to help the poor, the stranger, the sick, or oth­ers in need out of com­pas­sion and the sim­ple recog­ni­tion of their duty towards oth­ers.  I call this “spir­i­tual love” because it springs from con­science and from the intel­lec­tual recog­ni­tion of per­sonal dig­nity in oth­ers, in other words, from one’s mind or spirit, with no prompt­ing from the body; unlike the other forms of inter­per­sonal love, it is not based on a bod­ily urge or on per­sonal affec­tion or sym­pa­thy, nor does it have to serve any need of one’s own.  (Inso­far as it does serve one’s own needs to help oth­ers, one’s benev­o­lence is impure.)  It can be bol­stered by the imag­i­na­tion, if we put our­selves in another’s place and imag­ine their suf­fer­ing, yet this effort of imag­i­na­tion must often be delib­er­ate, and it is quite dif­fer­ent from the spon­ta­neous prompt­ings of sex­ual imag­i­na­tion and from the imag­i­na­tive sym­pa­thy one has with friends or fam­ily, based on long acquain­tance.  Love in this sense may also be called “good­will” or “benev­o­lence”, since it con­sists in wish­ing good to oth­ers and act­ing accord­ingly.  It is only after the model of spir­i­tual love that one can imag­ine (in some fee­ble mea­sure) the love of God for His crea­tures, or the love of any such pure spirit, unat­tached to a body and unhin­dered by fleshly ties.

Eros is not purely self­ish, even if it is largely self­ish.  It bor­rows or imi­tates cer­tain ele­ments from the higher forms of inter­per­sonal love.  From broth­erly love it bor­rows friend­ship with and affec­tion towards the beloved; that is why one nor­mally likes the com­pany of one’s (erotic) beloved.  From spir­i­tual love it bor­rows good­will towards the beloved, con­cern for her inter­ests and plea­sure in her well-being and hap­pi­ness.  (Broth­erly love itself bor­rows this ele­ment of good­will from spir­i­tual love, albeit to a greater degree.  Peo­ple walk out on their spouses far more often than they aban­don their own chil­dren.)  Eros retains its own iden­tity even while bor­row­ing or imi­tat­ing the higher loves; it never loses its pos­ses­sive, self-centered char­ac­ter and its phe­nom­e­nol­ogy remains quite dis­tinct from the other loves, as any­one who as ever been in love can attest.  Nonethe­less, it is only inso­far as Eros imi­tates the higher loves that it becomes some­thing more than self­ish desire or long­ing, and it is only to this extent that the sat­is­fac­tion of Eros con­sti­tutes a gen­uine, pos­i­tive plea­sure.  If it is stripped of the higher ele­ments, Eros becomes mere infat­u­a­tion, a child­ish or ado­les­cent obses­sion with the “beloved” (or more accu­rately, the desired object) that is in fact a form of stress or emo­tional ten­sion, and as such con­sti­tutes a form of suf­fer­ing.  This suf­fer­ing is tem­porar­ily alle­vi­ated by the inti­mate sex­ual pos­ses­sion of the desired one, and the relief thereby engen­dered par­al­lels, on the emo­tional plane, the phys­i­o­log­i­cal relief of the gen­i­tals at the sex­ual cli­max.  As we have seen, relief is not a gen­uine form of plea­sure.  There­fore, while the relief of this ten­sion is desir­able, other things being equal, while one is in the state of suf­fer­ing and ten­sion, it is wrong, per­verse, and fool­ish to seek this relief for its own sake, as if it were a form of plea­sure.  One should not seek to become infat­u­ated and then to relieve the infat­u­a­tion (tem­porar­ily, to be sure) by sex­ual pos­ses­sion of the desired one.  This vice, which is per­haps less com­mon than las­civ­i­ous­ness, still does occur; we may call it the vice of roman­ti­cism, the pur­suit of romance for its own sake.  Roman­ti­cism is to real sex­ual love what sex­ual self-abuse is to real sex­ual intercourse–a self-centered, obses­sive and unreal form of grat­i­fi­ca­tion, which the sub­ject unre­flec­tively mis­takes for plea­sure or ful­fill­ment.  Apart from its own taint, it tends to be tainted fur­ther by its asso­ci­a­tion with las­civ­i­ous­ness.  The two go hand in hand, because the same con­fu­sions under­lie both.

I spoke before of the role hunger plays in encour­ag­ing aes­thetic appre­ci­a­tion of one’s meal.  Eros plays a sim­i­lar role in moti­vat­ing aes­thetic appre­ci­a­tion of one’s beloved.  This is why it seems that the beloved sim­ply looks dif­fer­ent to the lover–somehow more radi­ant or more suf­fused with beauty.  What hap­pens is sim­ply that Eros moti­vates the aes­thetic fac­ulty to appre­ci­ate to the full what­ever beauty the beloved has, and simul­ta­ne­ously dis­torts aes­thetic judg­ment to sup­press one’s recog­ni­tion of faults or defects in the beloved.  (Hunger does this too; if one is hun­gry enough, one will sim­ply not care if the food is not prop­erly cooked or sea­soned.)  There is a reverse influ­ence as well, in that Eros is sparked by aes­thetic appre­ci­a­tion of oth­ers, both of their out­ward and inward beauty, if the per­son appre­ci­ated is of the class of per­sons to whom one can feel sex­ual attrac­tion.  (Thus, typ­i­cally, the per­son must be an adult of the oppo­site sex, not a blood rel­a­tive, sin­gle and unat­tached, and roughly in one’s own age group.  Other fac­tors vary depend­ing on social con­text and cir­cum­stance.)  This also has ana­logues to bod­ily appetites, for the smell and appear­ance of a favorite food can spark hunger even when one is not antecedently par­tic­u­larly hun­gry.  Eros is involved in some small way in all sex­ual attrac­tion, and no sex­ual encounter, how­ever casual, would hold much ful­fill­ment (even appar­ent ful­fill­ment) oth­er­wise.  (It is pos­si­ble for a sex­ual encounter to hold no ful­fill­ment what­ever for one or another of the par­ties to it; this is the typ­i­cal expe­ri­ence of pros­ti­tutes, as they will read­ily attest.)  This is why the aes­thetic impact of a pas­sion­ate sex­ual encounter can be so strongly imprinted in one’s mem­ory, even years after the fact, though one may not have been truly in love with one’s part­ner at the time.  But since nei­ther infat­u­a­tion nor aes­thetic sex­ual appre­ci­a­tion may be pur­sued in their own names, they may not be pur­sued jointly either, for their own sake.  One can­not make a virtue out of two vices–or three, if one adds las­civ­i­ous­ness.  That is what is wrong with “casual sex”, or with any sort of sex directed pri­mar­ily at self-gratification.  The con­sent of both par­ties to such self-gratifying sex is no defense of it, for if two peo­ple pur­sue vices together with the aid and con­sent of one another, this does not jus­tify their acts, but merely makes them co-conspirators.  (One can­not morally jus­tify greed on the grounds that greedy peo­ple can make won­der­ful prof­its by being busi­ness part­ners with one another; co-operative greed is just as rep­re­hen­si­ble as com­pet­i­tive greed.)  We have can­vassed all the self-centered aspects of sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion, and found that none of them is appro­pri­ate to pur­sue for its own sake.  Yet sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion is a nor­mal part of human life, includ­ing these self-centered aspects, and at least the aes­thetic com­po­nent con­sti­tutes a gen­uine plea­sure, a good in its own right.  If so, then, if they can­not be pur­sued in their own name, they must be obtained in the pur­suit of some­thing else.  Prop­erly speak­ing, they are merely instru­men­tal val­ues, or pos­si­bly even side-effects of the proper object of sex­ual pur­suit.  But what is this pursuit?

The answer lies in the other-regarding aspects of Eros, which Eros bor­rows from the higher loves, and which dif­fer­en­ti­ate gen­uine and mature sex­ual love from mere infat­u­a­tion.  What is appro­pri­ate to pur­sue for its own sake is the friend­ship, com­pany, and wel­fare of the beloved, of which the sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion of the beloved is one ele­ment.  Aes­thetic appre­ci­a­tion acquires instru­men­tal value in serv­ing this pur­suit, for we delight in being admired just as we delight in admir­ing oth­ers.  There­fore, if I delight in the beauty of my beloved, she gains hap­pi­ness and plea­sure from being thus admired, and Eros can inspire this appre­ci­a­tion to greater heights than is nor­mally pos­si­ble, thus enhanc­ing the plea­sure of the one admired.  Another aspect of the aes­thetic com­po­nent con­sists in mak­ing one­self beau­ti­ful (inwardly and out­wardly) for the sake of one’s beloved.  This results in a kind of benev­o­lent feed­back, for each party is delighted by the admi­ra­tion of the other and seeks to improve in order to be fur­ther admired–not self­ishly, but out of a desire to please the other.  Such a pair of lovers is like a pair of mir­rors, reflect­ing one another’s light end­lessly.  Like­wise, sex­ual inter­course with the beloved should be directed to serve the needs of the beloved, not of one­self.  If both par­ties do this, both are ful­filled with­out self­ish­ness on the side of either.  This means that to pur­sue my beloved prop­erly, I must be loved by her in turn.  For if I pur­sue her to pos­sess her for my sake, I am self­ish.  But if I pur­sue her to ful­fill her long­ing for me, I act for her ben­e­fit rather than my own.  I must not seek to pro­duce long­ing or desire in another, how­ever, in order to ful­fill it.  This is to seek suf­fer­ing in some­one else, which is a vice as we have already seen.  But if I know of some­one else’s exist­ing needs and seek to relieve them, I am act­ing benev­o­lently.  It is the dif­fer­ence between bring­ing food to one’s beloved when she is hun­gry, which is vir­tu­ous, and mak­ing her hun­gry in order to feed her, which is vicious.  This extends to the “feed­ing” of both the phys­i­o­log­i­cal and emo­tional (i.e. erotic) sex­ual needs/desires of one’s beloved.  How­ever, it is nec­es­sary to be care­ful here, since the object is to relieve suf­fer­ing, not to fur­ther inflame it.  It is no ser­vice to another to feed her appetites exces­sively, to her detri­ment.  Like­wise, right judg­ment is needed to ensure that one does not degrade the beloved, even with her con­sent, by feed­ing these appetites wrongly.  (It goes with­out say­ing that one is not to degrade her for one’s own gratification.)

Aside from the aes­thetic ele­ment, what pos­i­tive good is served in this process of serv­ing another?  There are two such goods.  The first is the good of inti­macy, that is, of friend­ship and com­pany on life’s way and amidst life’s adver­si­ties.  For not only do we human beings derive enjoy­ment from admir­ing one another, but our enjoy­ment of any other good is enhanced when the expe­ri­ence is shared.  Even a sim­ple meal between two lovers becomes some­thing infi­nitely more enjoy­able than a meal by one­self.  This is all the more so for greater goods.  More­over, there are many goods that can only be gained co-operatively–for exam­ple, con­ver­sa­tion and advice.  Fur­ther, hav­ing a close and loyal com­pan­ion at one’s side obvi­ously helps greatly in fac­ing the dif­fi­cul­ties of life, and what­ever tal­ents each one has can be pooled together.  There are many other details of this sort, that do not need much elab­o­ra­tion.  Were this the only sort of good obtained by means of Eros, one would won­der why nature had fur­nished Eros at all, since one may have inti­macy and friend­ship with a friend, sib­ling, par­ent, or child as well as (or bet­ter than) with a lover.  But the sec­ond good, which is unique to Eros, is the cre­ation of new peo­ple, the gate­way to par­ent­hood and fam­ily.  This goes far beyond the phys­i­ol­ogy of pro­cre­ation.  Par­ents infuse a child with its iden­tity, not only by giv­ing it their genes in the very act of pro­cre­ation, but by rais­ing the child together in their home.  They do not merely “make babies”, they make new peo­ple, new indi­vid­u­als, by rais­ing them.  Eros comes into this from the fact that the bringing-up is done best when it is done by both par­ents together.  But for this to occur, the par­ents must be together, and they must co-operate.  That is why there is such a thing as Eros in human beings; that is why the sex­ual act is asso­ci­ated with a pecu­liar kind of inter­per­sonal love, since it is this act that nat­u­rally begins (but only begins) the process of bring­ing new peo­ple into the world.  That is also why there is a phys­i­o­log­i­cal com­po­nent to sex­ual desire and grat­i­fi­ca­tion.  The dis­com­fort and ten­sion in the gen­i­tals, itself of no value, urges us phys­i­cally towards sex­ual inter­course, just as roman­tic long­ing, itself like­wise worth­less, urges us emo­tion­ally in the same direction.

D. Eros and New People

It is com­mon­place to refer to the sex­ual act as an “expres­sion of love”, and so it is, inso­far as one seeks to meet the needs of one’s beloved and to strengthen one’s bond.  But this bond is not meant merely to exist as one pecu­liar form of inti­macy and friend­ship; if it were, it would not be linked so closely to the cre­ation of new peo­ple.  Like­wise, pro­cre­ation and par­ent­ing are not meant to be sep­a­rate from the inti­mate friend­ship of lovers.  Sex­ual love leads nat­u­rally towards preg­nancy and thence towards par­ent­hood, while par­ent­hood suf­fers with­out love between the par­ents.  There­fore there is an unde­ni­able, inti­mate con­nec­tion between these two goods; they are, as it were, of a piece with one another.  Nor is it plau­si­ble to sup­pose that the two goods may be neatly sep­a­rated and the one pur­sued with­out regard to the other, since to do this is to ignore a nat­ural real­ity, namely that the two are inex­tri­ca­bly linked in nature.  But to live in igno­rance of one’s own nature is to live a lie.  One can­not be ful­filled with­out per­fect­ing one­self, and one can­not per­fect one­self with­out real­iz­ing the poten­tial­i­ties latent in one’s nature, and one can­not real­ize one’s nature with­out attend­ing to it.  That is why the first dic­tum of antiq­uity was, “Know thy­self”.  We have already seen how those who fall prey to las­civ­i­ous­ness and other self­ish vices fail to find true ful­fill­ment, even as they mis­tak­enly sup­pose them­selves to have done so.  So too, those who try, in what­ever way, to sep­a­rate sex from its nat­ural fruit deny them­selves that ful­fill­ment which is the com­plete fruition of Eros.  If they try to have sex­ual love and inti­macy with­out off­spring or fam­ily, their love is ster­ile, bar­ren, and so incom­plete.  (Cou­ples who are unable to bear chil­dren often under­stand this, and give wit­ness to it in their acute desire to be fruit­ful.)  If they try to have fam­ily and off­spring with­out sex­ual love and inti­macy, their fam­ily will be joy­less, unhappy, and prob­a­bly a failure.

It is pos­si­ble to make adjust­ments to unhappy sit­u­a­tions.  Thus, a ster­ile cou­ple who are unable to cure them­selves may take con­so­la­tion in adopt­ing a child, or con­tent them­selves with liv­ing with­out chil­dren.  Nor is there any­thing nec­es­sar­ily wrong in a union between two peo­ple who are (indi­vid­u­ally or col­lec­tively) ster­ile; if they have no bet­ter alter­na­tives, their mis­for­tune should not be held against them, by one another or by out­siders.  Like­wise, though the ideal lover is beau­ti­ful, there is noth­ing wrong with tak­ing as a lover some­one who is lack­ing in beauty or other desir­able qual­i­ties, if one wishes to do so.  (Out­ward beauty is far less impor­tant, in such con­sid­er­a­tions, than inward beauty, and the lat­ter may well out­weigh the for­mer.)  In such cases, steril­ity, like ugli­ness, is regarded as a mis­for­tune and over­looked, or it is hoped that it may one day be cured.  Adjust­ments of this sort are an unfor­tu­nate fact of life.  But it is one thing to adjust to cir­cum­stances in this way, and quite another thing to prize and value bar­ren­ness.  A cou­ple who chose to unite in order to avoid hav­ing chil­dren, so as to enjoy sex­ual inti­macy with­out its nat­ural fruit, are act­ing unnat­u­rally, per­versely, and wrongly, just as if one had mar­ried some­one, not in spite of a bad tem­per or cal­lous dis­po­si­tion, but in order to abuse or be abused by ill tem­per or callousness.

It is no answer to say, “This what they want”, in either case.  For not every­thing we want is good, either for our­selves or for oth­ers.  To desire to be abused is bad for one­self; to desire sex­ual union with­out fruit is bad both for one­self and for oth­ers.  It is bad for one­self because one fails to ful­fill one’s poten­tial as a par­ent, a poten­tial writ­ten into one’s nature, while avail­ing one­self of the enjoy­ment which nat­u­rally leads to par­ent­hood.  (Here it is the cou­ple, col­lec­tively, who are being self­ish, mak­ing a mutual admi­ra­tion soci­ety out of what ought to be a vehi­cle for cre­at­ing new peo­ple.)  It is bad for soci­ety because one fails to enrich one’s com­mu­nity with new indi­vid­u­als, as sex­ual love is meant to do.  It is plain enough that if peo­ple gen­er­ally failed to enrich their com­mu­ni­ties in this man­ner, the com­mu­ni­ties would wither and die.  I do not mean any­thing so tedious as replen­ish­ing with fresh bod­ies the ranks of the dead.  The point is not pri­mar­ily to main­tain our num­bers.  The point is that each indi­vid­ual brings some­thing fresh and per­haps unique into the world, a new per­spec­tive and a new set of skills and tal­ents with which to con­tribute pro­duc­tively to society–quality, not quan­tity.  Pretty nearly every human accom­plish­ment in his­tory derives, ulti­mate, from the deci­sion of some man and some woman to have a child.  (I leave aside the cases of unin­tended preg­nancy.)  They did not know what their child would do when they made this deci­sion; nei­ther will you.  But unless you think it would have been bet­ter if the species had gone with­out all those won­der­ful indi­vid­u­als, you must admit the good peo­ple do when­ever they bring a new one into the world, since each infant is the pos­si­bil­ity of a life­time of human achieve­ment.  Of course a child can turn out badly too–but surely it is bet­ter, if one is not a cow­ard, to take that risk rather than set­tling for noth­ing.  Nor can one argue against this on the basis of over­pop­u­la­tion.  Over­pop­u­la­tion is a rea­son to have fewer chil­dren, no doubt, but if no-one had any chil­dren the species would go extinct in a few generations.

It is against this back­drop that we can raise the ques­tion of homo­sex­u­al­ity.  Granted that homo­sex­ual unions can, in prin­ci­ple, sup­ply the same inti­macy and friend­ship as a het­ero­sex­ual union, and granted also that homo­sex­u­als can­not derive any such ful­fill­ment from mem­bers of the oppo­site sex–and this is the best case for sup­port­ing such unions–are they morally licit?  One might think that this is anal­o­gous to a licit union of a ster­ile het­ero­sex­ual cou­ple; just as the ster­ile cou­ple do not wish to be ster­ile, but make the best adjust­ment they can to this unhappy fact, so a homo­sex­ual cou­ple does not wish to con­sist of two peo­ple of the same sex (that is either regarded as irrel­e­vant or unfor­tu­nate), but are sim­ply adjust­ing as best they can to their sit­u­a­tion.  And if so, what rea­son can there be to for­bid their union?

The anal­ogy fails, how­ever, when we con­sider that sex is a mat­ter of nature, while steril­ity is a mat­ter of acci­dent.  We might put it this way: if a ster­ile cou­ple were able to cure them­selves of steril­ity, they would remain the same cou­ple, with a newly gained abil­ity, which they ought then to exer­cise, in due time.  But if one mem­ber or another of a homo­sex­ual cou­ple were to change sex–to change bio­log­i­cally, down to the genetic and phys­i­o­log­i­cal level–then this would sim­ply not be the same cou­ple any­more.  Any homo­sex­ual cou­ple who reflect on this can see imme­di­ately that the change would be as great as night from day.  If some demon or god waved a magic wand and sex-changed one of the cou­ple, what would the other do?  They would have to either aban­don their part­ner, or cease to be homo­sex­ual.  In the first case, the union would dis­solve, and in the sec­ond case it would become a com­pletely dif­fer­ent union.  There­fore, it is, in the first place, sim­ply never the case that homo­sex­ual cou­ples don’t wish to be homo­sex­ual cou­ples.  It is not pos­si­ble for them gen­uinely to regard homo­sex­u­al­ity as a mis­for­tune to be overlooked–it is the soul and sub­stance of their union, which is mean­ing­less with­out it.  There­fore, homo­sex­u­als must seek sex­ual love and inti­macy (if at all) in a man­ner guar­an­teed to be ster­ile and with­out fruit.  To be sure, they do not typ­i­cally seek these unions in order to have sex­ual love and inti­macy with­out the has­sles of pro­cre­ation, but they are drawn to unions of a type that, by their very nature, and not by acci­dent or mis­for­tune, are bar­ren.  Even though one does not seek the union for its steril­ity, to seek a union that is guar­an­teed to be ster­ile by its very nature is to deny one’s poten­tial to bring forth new peo­ple.  That seems to me just as unnat­ural, or nearly so, as seek­ing a union pre­cisely for its steril­ity.  In either case, one’s actions guar­an­tee that one’s love will fail of fruition, and thereby will always remain incom­plete.  In either case, one thereby fails in one’s duty towards soci­ety.  And unlike a licit union of two ster­ile peo­ple, this fail­ure is not acci­den­tal or a mere misfortune–it is the very point, or nec­es­sar­ily linked to the very point, of the union itself.

To this, there is the rejoin­der, “What else are they sup­posed to do?”  By hypoth­e­sis, they can­not derive ful­fill­ment from the oppo­site sex.  Are they to go their whole lives com­pletely unful­filled?  Would not at least a par­tial ful­fill­ment be prefer­able to noth­ing at all?  But this argu­ment proves too much.  If a per­son were so addicted to pornog­ra­phy and sex­ual self-abuse as to be unable to have a mean­ing­ful rela­tion­ship with another per­son, would it fol­low that that per­son should stay in this unful­fill­ing and unnat­ural lifestyle on the grounds that some ful­fill­ment is bet­ter than none?  If a man sex­u­ally desired his own (adult) daugh­ter and found him­self unable either to desire any­one else or to cease desir­ing his own child, would it fol­low …?  I think these ques­tions answer them­selves.  I am not unsym­pa­thetic to those in such dis­turb­ing predica­ments.  I have, indeed, sym­pa­thy both where it is fash­ion­able (i.e. for homo­sex­u­als), and where it is unfash­ion­able (as with the porn addict or the father with inces­tu­ous incli­na­tions).  Life has indeed dealt them a wretched hand.  Nonethe­less, I can think of no legit­i­mate pol­icy for them but to with­draw from their unnat­ural lifestyles (if they have indulged their unnat­ural incli­na­tions), hope for a cure, and try in the mean­time to live with­out sex­ual ful­fill­ment.  I fully under­stand the dif­fi­culty of fol­low­ing this course, for I did not always hold these con­vic­tions on sex­u­al­ity, and in order to con­form my life to them I have had to go to much trou­ble and hard­ship, and have endured much shame and guilt along the way, since my habits did not change as read­ily as my beliefs.  But duty can exact dif­fi­cult sac­ri­fices of us, here as elsewhere.