Sexual Desire: A Philosophical Investigation by Roger Scruton
Normal Sexual Desire
Normal sexual desire is the “union of the genitals in the act known as copulation. Sexual perversion involves directing the sexual instinct towards an abnormal aim.”
Roger Scruton maintains, “To be penetrated by a man’s penis is to be penetrated by him. To be enclosed by a woman’s vagina is to be enclosed by her. The lurid dildos which are on display in sex shops owe their appeal precisely to the fact that they are attached to no human body and no human will (and which therefore have precisely no sex appeal to the person of normal inclinations).”
Sigmund Freud Chimes In
It was Sigmund Freud who revolutionized our thinking about human sexuality, leading to a great upheaval of our attitudes toward sexual morality. Of course, humans have an animal dimension. That side perhaps comes out most in sexual reproduction, since it goes on throughout the animal kingdom. But it is a mistaken conclusion that sex is nothing but animalistic. Human sexuality cannot be reduced to animalism.
Even though Freud's sexual theories have long since been discredited, they remain incredibly influential. As Scruton says, “Freud was neither an accurate observer nor a plausible theorist.” What he did do was invent new concepts about our mental states, motivated by a desire of his own to change our attitudes toward sex. His goal was to eliminate disgust, shame, and morality about sexuality, which he labeled inhibition and repression. “
Such is the character of Freud's writing - his ability to proclaim speculative nonsense in the tone of voice appropriate to meticulous science – that many writers have been disposed to accept him at his word, to adopt his fictitious certainties as their own, and to suppose that the mystery of desire has been solved by his redescription of infantile pleasures as though they were the true basis of adult longing. Readers of Freud's papers are constantly reminded that 'science has shown,' that 'the evidence has been conclusively established,' that 'there can no longer be a shadow of a doubt;' and that those who question are told that they are 'resisting' a truth that is uncomfortable to them. The ‘observations’ are reported as though they concerned matters as publicly observable and as incontrovertible as changes in the weather or the migration of birds, while their language is that of the wildest fantasy.”
The problem is that “people feel irresistibly impelled to see their predicament in the terms offered to them by Freud,” despite how wrong and wicked as his ideas are.
Men and Women are Different
Love is not the same thing as desire. As Scruton asserts, "Love seeks companionship, in which mutual wellbeing will be the common purpose; it is nourished on counsels and conversations, on gifts and tokens, on affection, loyalty, and esteem. It is not a commodity that can be received, now from this provider, now from that. To love is to acquire a need for another individual, and to wish for one’s solace there. Where love is, there too is the certainty of grief. Love in all its forms involves a desire for another’s good.”
The sexual act is about reproduction, biologically speaking. “The material concept of sexuality is the concept of a division between natural kinds—between male and female. The existence of sexual normality – the man or woman, in whom everything relevant to the reproductive function is also optimally suited."
It may be startling to hear, but men and women are different. Their bodies look different and have different capacities; they think differently and do not have the same aptitudes. We can quickly see how different they are by observing them socially. All of this teaches us that they have genetic differences. Males and females develop differently in the womb from early on. More than all that, the most significant divide of all is in their reproductive organs: Women can have babies.
In every known culture all over the world and all down through history, there has been a biological division of labor—without exception. Men and women have always everywhere dressed differently. All through nature, there is a male and female, a masculine and a feminine.
The very idea of a 'sex change' is an absurdity. Mutilating one's genitals or taking hormones cannot make a man a woman or a woman a man. You are a man or woman in every single cell in your body, in your genes, chromosomes, DNA.
Obscenity & Pornography
According to Scruton: "Obscenity is a direct assault on the social order, which has personal love as its goal and fulfillment. No doubt, the normal conscience cannot remain neutral towards obscenity, any more than it can remain neutral towards pedophilia and rape."
Pornography does not promote sex because sex is something only a mated pair can do. It fosters masturbation—self-gratification without intimacy and love. It is sinful and devastatingly harmful: marriages left in tatters, sexual dysfunction, promiscuity leading to sexual disease, and, as the addiction deepens, an inability to be turned on by real, live women. As Scruton says, "They risk the loss of love, in a world where only love brings happiness."
Masturbation is accompanied by sexual fantasy, as a rule. That replaces the human encounter, simplifying sexual gratification while bending the sexual impulse away from the interpersonal union. Kant considered masturbation the archetype of all perversion precisely because it replaces the real object of desire through a self-created fantasy and, therefore, obedient to the will.
As Scruton has noted, this is sexual gratification without the trouble of human relationships. This alternative is uncomplicated but displays the defining feature of perversion. The thoughts of the masturbator are obscene, and therefore so is the deed. Diogenes masturbated in public, arguing that he also ate in public and that an act does not become evil, or change its moral character, simply because other people observe it.
The Biological Basis of Reproduction Organs
Sex can be fantastic or dangerous, just as fire can heat your home or burn it down. To flourish as a human being, and to find lasting happiness, it is needful to successfully employ “those capacities that are integral to your being,” as Scruton states. Aristotle defines this as “activity of the soul in accordance with virtue.”
According to the philosopher Henry Sidgwick, the function of sexual morality is the maintenance of a social order that is the most conducive to the prosperous continuance of the human race. We are not animals because, unlike them, we project ourselves forward and backward through time.
Schopenhauer wrote that homosexual acts are condemned by civilization because they pose a threat to the survival of the genes, and of the species. Homosexual behavior is distinctly different from the natural sexual union. It is more akin to making love to yourself since there is no 'other' involved. In natural desire, you seek what you are not.
In homosexual behavior, the parts of the body are used unnaturally. At least one famous homosexual activist, Michael Bronski, admits to this difference: “Homosexuality offers a vision of sexual pleasure completely divorced from the burden of reproduction; sex for its own sake, a distillation of the pleasure principle.”
Scruton writes, “The other sex is forever to some extent a mystery to us, with a dimension of experience that we can imagine but never inwardly know. In desiring to unite with it, we desire to mingle with something that is deeply - essentially – not ourselves.”
We are sexually reproducing beings. The natural sexual act is a union of the genitals in intercourse. Biology 101 shows us that the very purpose of this union is procreation. Natural human love is to seek out and be with the other. The penis is made to penetrate the vagina, which is made to envelop the penis. That is the scientific nature of sexual organs.
According to biology, the persistent struggle of genes to perpetuate themselves is the root reason for the sexual union. Natural sexual behavior is genetically generative—it is intended to produce children. That does not promise it always will; it means that is what it is for.
There is a perverse ideology creeping across our land that denies any distinction between the natural sexual act and sexual behaviors that are abnormal and unnatural, not to mention exceedingly unhealthy. Sexual perversity is to direct sexuality towards deviant behavior.
Freud described perversion as any sexual impulse that diverted from the biological aim of sexual union—the objective of which, in favorable circumstances, leads to the creation of more human beings. Hence, all acts that do not involve or proceed to (as in foreplay), the insertion of a penis into a vagina are 'abnormal,' and the disposition to perform them is 'aberrant.' That means that fellatio and cunnilingus as foreplay are rational but not as the sole way one expresses sexuality.
Some fools today outrageously deny that there is any such thing as normal behavior. But a zoologist can tell you the normal behavior of any animal, which means it is a real thing.
As Scruton expresses it, “Perversion is morally contaminated.” He approvingly quotes theologian Eric Fuchs: "Sexual difference crowns the creative action of God. The couple thus experiences in their flesh the order of differentiation, which structures the world.”
The Purpose of Sexual Morality
Sexual morality, like all morality, has two purposes. One, it maintains the social order most conducive to the prosperous continuance of the human race. Two, It leads to flourishing and happiness for individual persons.
What the Devil presents as ‘sexual liberation’ does not make one free but a slave to lust. This requires the vanquishing of what is sacred about others and ourselves. That is the corruption of desire.
With no moral laws to restrain our impulses, sex becomes about technique and it only. Morality is easily destroyed but is destroyed at our personal peril and danger to our community. The extinguishment of all scruples leads to a life without meaning. We become “morally incompetent and spiritually empty.” That, my friends, is not progress.
In every civilization where records exist, marriage is a bond between man and woman in which the whole community has an interest. Marriage is the way families begin, and the obligations undertaken by those wed in holy matrimony reach far beyond just the two of them to include people who are not yet born, who will depend upon this powerful tie between their parents. The wedding is a ceremonial recognition that a man and a woman are dedicating themselves not merely to each other but the offspring of their union and to the future of their community. As the word 'matrimony' makes clear, it is not about sex as much as motherhood.
Christian marriage is a sacrament, which means it involves sacred vows to God. It is a holy covenant before God and blessed by God. Husband and wife consecrate their lives to each other—sacrifice their individual lives for something greater.
In our culture, the sacred has gradually been diminished, leading to the diminution of marriage in our country, as it becomes a quickly terminated contract—a means instead of ends. With God and sacred vows out of the picture, it can become a temporary way station until a better prospect comes along. No higher force than man's capricious laws then seals our bonds.
A contract has terms that define an agreement. A contract has an end. Vows may not have precise terms and are open-ended commitments that tie parties together in a shared destiny. A vow is a gift of oneself, on which the other is invited to rely. The paradigm case of this is marriage, as its vows create an existential tie, not a set of specifiable obligations.
The new view of the Left is that marriage is primarily a sexual relationship. But a vow is a much higher thing; it is to entwine your destiny totally with another. It is about loyalty and inseparability. That is more than a promise. As Scruton writes, "It involves the complete surrendering of one's future to a present project, a solemn declaration that what one is now, one will always be, in whatever unforeseeable circumstances."
To quote Scruton again: “Marriage imposes on erotic love the pious arrangement of the home. In entering a marriage, they do not merely exchange promises: they pass together into a condition that is not of their own devising. It contains the deposits of countless previous experiences of intimacy, which has been passed from generation to generation. The marriage ceremony is, therefore, one of the most important of human ceremonies," a recognition of the sacred, the transcendent.