What is sex? I can picture asking an adolescent boy this question and he’d say “You don’t know…?!”

We all know what sex is on the general level. It’s a capacity and action that is an emotional response to someone we find appealing, physically, and mentally. Sometimes we don’t know the person (e.g., a Victoria’s Secret model, Pierce Bronson) but we project onto that person our ideal fantasy person and we feel sexually aroused. Even in fantasies, sex is tied to what a person values.

What actions are considered sex? You can define sex more narrowly as limited to intercourse but that would leave room for devious politicians to proclaim innocence. You could explain sex technically as the stages one goes through (excitement, plateau, orgasm and recovery) but that is typically only of interest if you’re having trouble in one of these stages. Sexual expression varies from a gentle caress, a fiery kiss, to oral sex, or intercourse.


Common views about sex

Most people start out loving sex from their first discovery of their capacity to experience such an intensely good feeling, either while fantasizing or when first feeling aroused with a potential partner.

Unfortunately, this healthy experience is all too often perverted by unhealthy views of sex that seek to repress it. For an example of a common view of sex that is seriously damaging, Catholicism’s attack on sex is one of the worst. I was never raised Catholic, but in my practice I have seen the damage done by Catholic doctrine; it is a deliberate assault on a person’s sexual capacity.

First there is the unearned guilt in which children are taught that touching their private parts is somehow dirty. Second there is the nonsense about the Virgin Mary giving birth. Thirdly, there is the supposed ideal of saints, priests and cloistered nuns who are supposedly sex-free.

You can see how these irrational ideas destroy a person by making one feel as though one’s body is low and dirty and one’s sexless mind is lofty.

They have what is called a mind-body split. The consequences of their policies result in ugly perversions. In my state alone we’ve had multiple cases of pedophilic priests. Or look at the “good” Catholic mothers with 8-10 children; these mothers are tearing their hair out. Catholic fanatics see abortion, an option in a rational civilized society, as murder. You are supposed to have sex only for procreation. Pleasure, they try to convince their worshipers, is not a value. Catholics have mutilated romantic sex for millions.

Another damaging view, that can happen with a religious or a secular viewpoint, is the notion that sex is a duty, something that you have to do to make someone else happy. That’s a deadly formula. Sex is fundamentally a self-valuing, selfish act. If you don’t allow yourself to relax, with both you and your partner mutually enjoying and feeling erotic sensations, but exclusively focus on pleasing your partner, then you will be watching the clock till the dastardly deed is over, as unfortunately many long-term married women do.

Another view of sex is that it is just an animal capacity for reproduction. And though sex does have an animal basis, with humans–rational beings–sex has a potential for something more. One can observe this first hand by conducting a simple thought experiment. Think of the most repulsive person you know — I mean corrupt, ugly, and smelly — and imagine having sex with this partner. Nauseating! Rabbits might be indiscriminate, but to us, sex is more than just a physical action.

Is sex purely physical such as when a man sees a voluptuous woman in a bikini and becomes immediately aroused? If you’re a guy, try another thought experiment. Imagine having sex with this woman. I suspect you imagined that she had character traits that you value. Now imagine that you met her in real life and discover that she’s a child abuser, who lies to you and she stole your wallet. Notice what happens to your arousal. Even a lovely body can’t cover up a lousy character.

Is sex purely a chemical response? There are street drugs that mimic an orgasm. If you were told that you could become a crack addict for life, would you choose that instead of finding a romantic partner? Something is still missing. Crack doesn’t carry on a stimulating conversation or look sexy in a bathing suit.

A healthy sexual response involves two positive evaluations: you admire your partner and you yourself feel worthy of that partner (you admire yourself). When that admiration is intense and mutual, romantic love flourishes.

This brings up the connection between love and sex. Pathetically, sometimes there is no connection, as in the case of the macho man who womanizes and keeps tabs of the number of woman he’s “laid.” However, in romantic love, love and sex are intimately connected. Love is your response 1) to what you value most in yourself and 2) to your awareness that your partner also embodies these same high values. Romantic love is a mutual expression of your own self-esteem and your intense admiration of your partner.

You can probably think of a range of examples of sexual attraction that violate the above description. For example, there are womanizers who try to “conquer” as many women as possible, men (or women) who use sex as a method of controlling another person, rapists, masochists, individuals with fetishes, casual sex, and so on. We are certainly capable of inferior or subhuman varieties of achieving orgasm, but why not shoot for the heights of romantic love, our actual potential: sex as a response to another person’s admirable character and a celebration of similar qualities in yourself.