I am young, moderately good-looking, and, with current technology (e.g., phone apps), I can easily sexually hook up with others. In between bouts of sex, I can see friends, go to the gym, movies, whatever. But my deepest enjoyment-my life-plan, to use philosophical jargon-is to pursue the pleasures of sex.
Is there something we can say to prove X wrong, especially if X has the talent for something considered more important? Perhaps we can claim that pursuing sex is not as worthy as reading Russian literature, but even here we are on insecure ground.
One can argue that X is not using X’s intellectual powers. But this underestimates the reliance on intellect in sexual pursuits or presumes that such use is unimportant. Alternatively, one can argue that X is not using X’s intellectual powers deeply or in a theoretical way. But this would rule out many a life as good. One can argue that there are more important things in life than pursuing sexual pleasure. But X need not live without friends, family, and other important things present in normal lives. One can argue that sex objectifies, so it is wrong to make it central to one’s life. But unless one were a die-hard Kantian, the objectification involved in sex can be redeemed by other factors.
One can argue that sexual sensory pleasure “will not be at the center of a rational life plan”, and that these pleasures are “intermittent and short-lived”, their value ultimately depending “entirely on the interpersonal relationships into which they fit and which constitute their context” (Goldman 2016: 98). But it is not clear why the pleasures’ brevity and intermittency are problems. One can argue that someone who prefers masturbation to sex with others “could reflect a failure to understand the importance and value of sex and sexual pleasure” (Scanlon 1998: 175) because the importance of sex is its expression in relations with other people (Scanlon seems not to have in mind casual or promiscuous sex). But X can have affectionate sexual relationships with others, and friendships, etc., with different others. Even casual hookups have their bonding aspects. Finally, one can argue that sex “achieves a level of passion” with “no equal in other forms of interaction”, and such that when it occurs between lovers
it defines a most significant moment of goodness between two people, where each achieves a most profound moment of affirmation and satisfaction that is inextricably tied to the endeavor to please the other. (Thomas 1999: 59)
Thus, even if pursuing sexual pleasure is not as intellectually stimulating as reading classical Arabic poetry, it is not worthless, whether intellectually or non-intellectually, and it is on a par with many other pursuits that people undertake that are far from having intellectual depth. Moreover,
[I]sn’t being a provider of sexual pleasure an important and valuable attribute local lesbian dating apps, one to be cherished? Maybe we should construct a theory of human dignity based on our sexual capacities … instead of looking for something ‘finer’ beyond or above the sexual. (Soble 2002: 58–59)
If X conducts X’s life morally, and if X develops some talents or hobbies for those rainy days (sure to come) when X is no longer sexually desirable and X’s friends are busy with other things, we can say to X, “Enjoy!”
Abbreviations for Classic Anthologies
The following anthologies are crucial resources for someone studying the field of the philosophy of sex. The following abbreviations were used above.
- DLI: Desire, Love, and Identity: Philosophy of Sex and Love, Gary Foster (ed.), Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press, 2017.