How To Think More About Sex by Alain de Botton
My rating: 7/10
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Sex is complex.
Great sex may be the precious and sublime exception.
We are granted an extraordinary opportunity to feel comfortable in our own skin when a lover invites us to say or do the very worst things we can imagine. It makes no sense from an evolutionary–biological point of view; it is only through a psychological lens that being slapped, half strangled, tied to a bed and almost raped starts to feel like a proof of acceptance.
The act of sex is an ecstasy we feel at encountering someone who may be able to put to rest certain of our greatest fears, and with whom we may hope to build a shared life based upon common values.
Beauty is a promise of health. What we call a ‘beautiful’ person – or a ‘sexy’ one – is in essence someone with a strong immune system and ample physical stamina.
A ‘sexy’ person is in essence someone whose face is symmetrical and whose features are balanced, proportionate and undistorted.
The solution to long-term sexual stagnation is to learn to see our lover as if we had never laid eyes on him or her before.
Sex will never be either simple or nice in the ways we might like it to be.
Sex remains in absurd, and perhaps irreconcilable, conflict with some of our highest commitments and values.
We should accept that sex is inherently rather weird.
Eroticism is the feeling of excitement we experience at finding another human being who shares our values and our sense of the meaning of existence.
Only religions still take sex seriously, as something potentially dangerous and needing to be guarded against. This point they’ve got it right: sex and sexual images can overwhelm our higher rational faculties with depressing ease.
A happy marriage is not a myth. It is a possibility, yet a very, very rare one. The odds are just stacked overwhelmingly against us – a tragic truth we should calmly face head on, before life drives it home to us in its own brutal way.
We think we already know everything necessary about how to be with another person, without having bothered to learn anything at all.
Our culture locates the primary difficulty of relationships in finding the ‘right’ person rather than in knowing how to love a real – that is, a necessarily rather unright – human being.
We can achieve a balanced view of adult love not by remembering what it felt like to be loved as a child but rather by imagining what it took for our parents to love us – namely, a great deal of work.
Pornography, like alcohol and drugs, undermines our ability to endure certain kinds of suffering which we have to experience if we are to direct our lives properly. More specifically, it reduces our capacity to tolerate our ambiguous moods of free-floating worry and boredom. Our feelings of anxiety are genuine but confused signals that something is amiss, and so need to be listened to and patiently interpreted.
The entire internet is in a sense pornographic, a deliverer of a constant excitement that we have no innate capacity to resist, a seducer that leads us down paths that for the most part do nothing to answer our real needs.
The ready availability of pornography lessens our tolerance for the kind of boredom that grants our mind the space it needs to spawn good ideas – the creative sort of boredom we may luxuriate in during a bath or on a long train journey.
A degree of repression is necessary both for the mental health of our species and for the adequate functioning of a decently ordered and loving society. Because we have to go to work, commit ourselves to relationships, care for our children and explore our own minds, we cannot allow our sexual urges to express themselves without limit, online or otherwise; left to run free, they destroy us.
Adultery grabs the headlines, but there are lesser, though no less powerful, ways to betray a partner, including not talking to him or her enough, seeming distracted, being ill-tempered or simply failing to evolve and enchant.
The three things we want in this sphere – love, sex and family – each affects and harms the others in devilish ways. Loving a person may inhibit our ability to have sex with him or her. Having a secret tryst with someone we don’t love but do find attractive can endanger our relationship with the spouse we love but are no longer turned on by. Having children can imperil both love and sex, and yet neglecting the kids in order to focus on our marriage or our sexual thrills may threaten the health and mental stability of the next generation.
We might be so much better off if we didn’t have a sex drive; for most of our lives, it causes us nothing but trouble and distress.
A gradual decline in the intensity and frequency of sex between a married couple is merely an inevitable fact of biological life and, as such, evidence of deep normality.