by Basil Gala, Ph.D.
In Search of Meaning
After food, shelter, security, and sleep, necessary for our survival, we tend to seek sex and love. Sex is our action for the survival of our genes, to which our bodies our hosts, genes characterizing us as individuals, families, tribes, humans, primates, mammals, animals–living things. In sexual activity we may combine genes with our mate, serving our genes that they may survive indefinitely long, because we don’t. With science and bio-technology in the future we may manage to live longer even than our genes; then genes will lose control over us as we gain mastery over them. We’ll be free of their tyranny at last. To the extent we now live longer, we attain some freedom from the pressures of begetting offspring. For example, we may love a child which doesn’t carry our own genes. Also with longevity, we may decide to devote ourselves to another person without procreating, dedicating ourselves to romantic love.
Sexual love is potentially one of life’s most satisfying states and the inspiration for much art. Erotic play leads to artistic creation, a play with materials we have at hand; most of our arts, and sciences, were invented for love’s sake. Finding sexual love, however, is frustrating for most people throughout their lives. Frustration comes in many forms to different people. Keep in mind, we need to feel dissatisfaction with our present situation in order to desire a better one; then we have a problem. The problem could be: how do I find a suitable mate to raise children; how do I get to know a person intimately to avoid loneliness; how do I find an outlet for my sexual desire; how do I keep my marriage together by having mutually satisfactory sex; how do I achieve the heights of sexual joy; how do I stay chaste and pure for marriage, as dictated to me by my religion or society? Easy solutions are not often available to these problems, leading us to frustration. We desire to know how to get past painful frustration to a more satisfying, fulfilling sex life, or at least to lessened frustration.
The baby likes to suck on mommy’s delicious nipple; instead baby often gets a bottle of formula. Have you tasted milk formula lately? The taste is nothing to prompt smacking of the lips. Similarly, when children try sex, parents say “no, no, no.” Unless they’re growing up in Samoa observed by Margaret Mead, when children fondle their genitals a little–parents immediately punish or shame them. When I was about five years old I did sin thus. My mother yelled at me that my tsoutsouni would fall off; also that the cat would get it. No, I was not gullible enough to believe such a story, but for a while I kept away from cats.
Then with puberty came self abuse as it was called. Jerk off and you become a moron, we were told. It’s a sin, the sin of onanism, spilling your seed, castigated by God. Thus prompted, I devoted myself to my studies, becoming an honor student. Girls were told back in my youth to save themselves for marriage. I wondered what it was exactly that the girls were saving. Were the girls saving their ignorance, their lack of erotic art? Granted that precautions needed to be taken against pregnancy and venereal disease, I saw no harm in petting, even massaging sensitive parts of the body. Few opportunities existed for sex in my youth except in the streets, and my allowance from dad stretched only to snacks, movies, and other such little luxuries. Sexual frustration was constant, hormones whipping me to go for sex every day, every hour. I walked around with a boner.
But in the sixties, we had a sexual revolution, encouraged by new contraceptive methods, among them the famous “pill.” Sexual love became almost free for most of us, the constant unsatisfied longing a thing of the past. But conservative thinking returned with a religious resurgence, a spread of VD culminating in the AIDS virus, and concerns about establishing careers, marriage, and family. Sexual frustration came back.
Coming back to onanism, masturbation, malakia or auto eroticism as it’s called today science has found no ill effects from it, outside of encouraging lonely behavior. Auto eroticism is safe, with no danger of infection if hands and toys are clean and safe. It’s almost free, outside of a few tools and pornographic materials; you can even save this expense given a vivid imagination with enough desire. But you and I aspire to something better for our sex life than masturbation. Besides, most religious faiths and moralities are dead set against self abuse. The command given to us by God was to multiply and master the earth, planting the male seed in fertile female ground; no divine command was passed down to us to play with ourselves for amusement and relief.
Masturbation (onanism) is a much maligned form of sexual expression, the lonely sin. Apes do it, at least in the zoo, if that’s a recommendation for it. Scientists have found no bad effects on health from masturbation; moreover, it’s safe, convenient, and cheap. Studies show that daily ejaculation in young men increases sperm health and motility. At worst, masturbation may become a habit, restraining someone for seeking other forms of sexual contact–with people. Self abuse or jerking off may be a contemptible act to some, but it’s useful when one can find no other outlet for sex; at least masturbation keeps the ductless glands open, so the flow of hormones continues during abstinence from reproductive sex. In Greece, young people call malakas (jerk) anyone they don’t like–an idiot with glazed eyes and lethargic ways, unable to find a sexual partner.
If you aren’t a malakas, you marry the right (or wrong) person, settling down to work, usually raising kids, working at your favorite (or necessary) occupation, and aging. Married life, work, family, friends, and sexual love (life’s sweetest reward) all become dull. You start looking at other possibilities besides your spouse with longing, frustrated again in your sexual drive. The seven-year itch comes on, then the eight-year itch, the nine-year itch, and so on. Even among monogamous animals, birds and such, who mate for life, much cheating by the partners is common. Biologists estimate as much as 30% of the offspring in a typical nest are not the father’s, but he works just as hard to feed them, whether these are cuckoos or not.
Quite often in our society, divorce ends the marriage; loneliness, masturbation, prostitution, casual sex beckon again–and frustration.
Eventually, if you stay alive, you become old, alone or together with the same spouse who stirs no desire in your loins. Your libido gets weaker. Finally, you have no desire for sex or you are frustrated again, seeking a little pleasure with auto eroticism or with prostitutes. You resort to Viagra, Cialis, or rhino horn, paying due attention to the warning, “If erection persists for more than four hours, consult a physician.” A four-hour erection, wow–unless it’s painful priapism!
Worse still, you may end up with no interest in sex. No interest, no problem, right? Yes, if lacking an interest in something so basic and vital to living is okay. Remember, solving a problem means moving from an unsatisfactory present state to a desired future state. Change is fueled with dissatisfaction with the present state of being and the want of a better condition. The present state of many women is that 30 to 40 per cent of them, all age groups, have little or no interest in sex; they experience little or no pleasure. For many women, sex is simply a chore, a price they pay for having children, husband, security, or companionship. Many men are cold to sex too, apparently having no problem living without it. These people have the problem of missing out on one of life’s most meaningful experiences. It’s like choosing the peace of coma or death to life’s grand adventure. If you have no desire for something, you have no problem. Put away all selfish desire and you end life’s frustrations, reaching Nirvana.
Nirvana is a choice; fulfillment is a choice too. I propose the fulfillment of sexual desire, through liberation of the mind from irrational constraints. After religious or other cultural taboos are set aside, sex is free for all–one reason, living naturally like our plant and animal relatives, the poor are so rich in children.
Plants and animals of many species, those that are widespread, produce a superabundance of offspring, so a few may survive. Plants have many flowers, much pollen is scattered by the wind or insects so a few seeds may formed, even fewer mature, find suitable ground, and grow to adulthood. It may have been so with humans who until a few hundred years ago didn’t limit fertilization, allowing many babies to be born, with two or three surviving childhood diseases and accidents to mature. Because of the need for acquiring surviving descendents, men became very sexy, so that the trap of fatherhood was set in youth, middle age, or even dotage.
For the acquisition of descendents, animal sexual behavior is varied. Ethologists find polygamy, marriage (pair bonding) with infidelity, rape and other aberrations, such as we find in humans; but finding such aberrations in nature does not excuse us from aiming for a higher ideal in our behavior to achieve optimal sex (similar to optimal nutrition), truly seldom reached. Still, we can seek greater fulfillment in our sexual expression.
Sexual fulfillment is constrained by the procreative function of sex, evolved over millions of years, restricting our freedom of sexual expression to a substantial degree. A young woman is partly a blooming flower, her pistil ready and waiting to be fertilized by the male stamens. That’s why women often dress in flowery, colorful, and shapely clothes. A young human female is much more than a flower, but her lovely shape keeps whispering, “Fertilize me, fertilize me.” The function of sex for her and the male is primarily procreation, producing new life of our species. The male and female organs have evolved to a high degree of perfection for that purpose. The male inserts his penis, marvelously enlarged many times from its flaccid state, into the female’s vagina well lubricated with mucous, ejaculates sperm with secretion from the prostate, fertilizing one or more ova, if ripe, in the female’s fallopian tubes. The vast majority of animals perform this function in a matter of seconds or minutes. Only humans may take hours, days, or years to get to this process of impregnation, after much growth, search, courtship, romance, marriage and devotion to each other—all these behaviors important for the nurturing of human children during their many years of dependency.
Among animals, the female comes into heat, the couple mate and procreation is on. Romantic love doesn’t exist among animals, except in tales with poetic license. Love, a human characteristic requiring imagination, is greatly desired by both human males and females, especially by females, love–that encounter with the one special person some enchanted evening. Romantic love is a product of our human imagination, the same as a symphony, a poem, or a spaceship, like Don Quixote’s Dulcinea, not a thing of the world as we find it, but yet a product which can hold a couple together for a lifetime. Before and after marriage, a couple has sex thousands of times in a normal lifetime, usually to produce two or three offspring. That’s the human sexual paradox, all these failed attempts at procreation. It’s not so much of a paradox with men; men had lots of babies and several wives in the long past; strong men had several wives producing many offspring. Why did older men still remain virile if in good health? Old men remained virile to populate the tribe again after the young men had been killed in war, hunting, and other adventures. Males tended to fire buckshot at procreation. They scattered their bullets of semen wide of the mark, but some got to target. Human females evolved to become receptive to sex at all times, although they enjoyed it more during estrus. Being receptive was an advantage to woman to retain man for the protection of the children, by pleasing and bonding to her the father–or another man.
Animals, with few exceptions, have sex for procreation only. In humans, non-fertilizing sex promotes pair bonding, especially binding the man to his wife, benefiting the children; that’s a facile explanation. Pair boding doesn’t occur without mutual fun in sex between man and wife. Support for offspring can come from the woman’s relatives or the tribe. Also, other pleasures and means can build up pair bonding. Older couples who share no sex still are often bonded to each other strongly till the end of their lives out of a sense of duty, religious tradition, or habit. That was the case with my own parents, who stopped having sex in their fifties, but continued living together until their deaths in their nineties; they argued frequently and did not play together in any way.
Dolphins, bonobos, and chimpanzees have sex for social reasons, such as play. Havelock Ellis, famous British sexologist, called it the play-function of sex for humans in a 1921 address. At that time, society commonly ignored the erotic rights and needs of women. Before their liberation, women bore children, pleased men, and took care of hearth and home. Few lovers bothered with a woman’s orgasm, unless she was Lady Chatterley, made famous by D. H. Lawrence. Havelock Ellis stated that “the function of sex for humans extends much further than procreation; for love is not primarily self regarding. It is the intimate, harmonious combined play of the personalities; the act of intercourse is only an incident, not an essential in love. Sexual activity is the function by which all the finer activities of the organism, physical and psychic, may be developed and satisfied, furthering the higher mental and emotional processes.”
That’s a psychologist’s view of sex. Charles Darwin’s view of sex as a biologist was “a cooperative venture between two individuals to produce variable offspring, able to adapt to a changing environment.” Now for my view of sex as a thinking layman, I’ll begin by comparing sexual desire to other appetites, needs, or drives.
We hunger for food to nourish our bodies, repair tissues and produce energy for action. Consider what we have done with food, making it a major entertainment medium and a health hazard. We use foods in social contacts and interactions. We take raw foods from nature and we shred, mince, grind, blend, chop, bake, fry, toast, steam, grill, roast, after adding salt and spices. Cooking is no longer for softening tough foods, for killing bacteria and parasites in it, but to produce savory dishes and liquors for gourmands, or just for family fun with pizza, hot dogs, ice cream, candies, cookies, pies, cakes, and colorful soft drinks. What we eat is often far from what we need for optimal nutrition in view of health and well being.
Once we had furs like other mammals to protect our bodies from cold, rain, sun, and impacts. In hot weather, we shed. The invention of fire led us to a largely naked condition, and eventually to clothing fashions, art we wear to wow the opposite sex.
We seek shelter for security from the elements, rain-snow-cold, and for privacy. Look at the houses and gardens many of us have today, opulent palaces by the standards of a century ago, designed and built to impress, but often mortgaging our entire lives.
We have a need to move around for work or play; our legs and animals not being fast enough for us, we invented cars, trains, and planes whisking us across oceans and continents in luxury and comfort.
When it comes to sex, however, every form of its expression, even marriage, has its critics. Prostitution is illegal in many countries and states; male gay sex is sodomy, punishable by death in some societies; premarital sex is banned by church leaders; extra-marital sex is to be avoided; sex without condoms is dangerous because of AIDS and other VD; masturbation is despicable; sex with a condom is like eating with plastic over your palate. Chastity is the only expression of sex nobody objects to, except those that it’s imposed on. This situation is similar to diets: you cannot eat this food or that, fat is a no-no, sugar is deadly, meat clogs your arteries, starches lead to obesity, fruits and vegetables are full of pesticides; dairy is only good for babies, etc. Criticism of any kind of sexual expression is even more emphatic.
In spite of the opprobrium, humans have cultivated sex for many reasons: to express love and affection (the mouth is not just for eating and speaking), to have fun in play, to please themselves, to gain favors from partners, to advance socially, to earn money, and yes, to reinforce the pair bond between parents. We are the sexiest of animals, unless we are too busy or stressed, we constantly want sexual love.
Is it good to desire so much sex? Does it promote our lives? The media certainly do much to stimulate our sexual desires with nubile young models on the cover of popular magazines. Some people are obsessed with sex, even when they are happily married. They are sex addicts. Some sex addicts engage in swinging, swapping partners, and random sexual intermingling–with large risks of VD, marriage breakup, bad publicity, and expense. If too much sex is damaging your health or marriage, you go to a therapist or join Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), patterned with 12 steps after AA. SAA is also a good place to meet people with similar interests. Oh no, that would be a swingers club. Consider that if a woman enjoys a lot of sex, she’s a nymphomaniac; a male who gets plenty of sex, he’s a lucky bastard. Deriving pleasure or avoiding pain is not the answer to what is virtuous, in spite of the philosophy of Epicurus to which I heartily subscribe, especially the concept of ataraxia (mental peace) and deriving as much happiness as possible whatever the circumstances.
If you find you have little or no interest in sex, you are a neuter, born that way or gotten that way because of age or ill health; you may join a monastery or become a priest in the Catholic Church. If not a neuter, you may have other inclinations, such as pederasty. You don’t need to be a neuter to become a priest in the Greek Orthodox Church, just a male; you may marry and have a multitude of brats, all getting extra support from the Church. But if your wife dies or leaves you, even when you’re young, according to the dictates of the Church, you’re done with sex for life. As my mother would say, tie a knot with your penis.
In Church or out of it, too much of anything can be detrimental to health and well being. It distracts you from other important activities, such as working, socializing, parenting, and cultivating your body and mind. In moderation, sexual activity has many benefits besides procreation. Among these are: good, strong exercise to improve your circulatory system, fine recreation, and stimulating as well as balancing hormones, such as oxytocin (the love hormone), estrogen and testosterone, which in turn promote the strength of muscles, bones, and other organs.
Studies show that people who have sex on a regular basis are healthier and live longer than those that don’t. Of course, healthy people are more likely to want sex more often than the sick.
Still, the main function of sex is procreation. Outside of deviant behaviors, everything we do in sex is a trap for us to procreate: when we’re married; when we’re young, single, or old; when we try contraception; when we don’t want children; when we try abortion, like throwing up after a meal; when we just want to find pleasure, whether we are aware of the possibility of procreation or not. The sex trap is fine for most religions and tribes, which stress this function of procreation for their own survival and growth. Strict religion forbids unfruitful sex, such as fellatio, cunnilingus, anal sex, 69, mutual masturbation, and contraception, except the rhythm method, on which sooner or later you can rely for impregnation. Thus we get more little Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, Orthodox Jews, Hindus-whatever. Sex is for begetting children. All the begetting was a good idea when humanity had few members, close to the brink of extinction from predators, cold spells, droughts, floods, and food scarcities. Now we are too many on earth, too masterful of it for the health of the planet. A different ethos is in order, one even allowing gay sex, recreational sex, and lonely sex.
More commonly, after having one to three children, most couples in developed nations, voluntarily or otherwise, quit begetting. A woman may still produce 300 ova, and a man billions of gametes. Before or after begetting, together or separately, a couple may do more than 10,000 acts of sexual intercourse–failed attempts at baby making, as a friend likes to put it. These couples and many singles beyond the child-bearing years, persons still sexually potent, look forward to many years of living and loving, not for procreation, but for other reasons. I will address myself to these reasons.
First, if you are gay or bisexual, you would be wise to stay in your closet, not challenging the mores of a society given to stoning people for sodomy, or ostracizing them for deviant sexual behavior, even if such behavior does no harm to anyone. Bisexual persons have an especially difficult problem satisfying both a wife and a gay lover. Scientific studies have so far found over 2,500 animal species with bisexual or homosexual individuals, but humans are not yet ready to accept this form of sexual behavior in most societies.
Second, if you are prone to child abuse, sadism, bestiality, necromancy, and other such insanities, seek help from a head doctor.
Third, if you’re married, know that sex with love is caressing, stroking, and massaging, sometimes vigorously, often gently. The human body, both male and female has four major erogenous zones: the mouth, nipples, genitals, and anus. These primary erotic skin areas are (oh, irony of nature) close to organs of eating or waste elimination. Secondary erogenous zones of the body are mainly the ears, nose, neck, abdomen, and thighs, but many other areas sometimes come into play, such as the back (for scratching), the neck (for biting), the instep of the foot, the crook of the knee, and the cheeks. The nose is good too, if you’re Inuit (Eskimo), kiss with nose rubs. Hands and feet, rich in sensitive nerve endings, can be main sources of sexual excitement in some cultures, such as those of China and Japan. Even hair can play a big role in love, especially for a woman, who in some societies must cover it, so she will not tempt the men in the streets with her hair. With all the available fetishes, practically every square inch of skin has erotic possibilities with caress and massage. One partner can massage, the other relaxing and enjoying, or both can go at it together.
Erotic massage, the same as regular massage, relaxes and promotes lymph and hormone flow, stretches muscles and tendons, improves the skin (largest organ) and joint flexibility, pumps oxygen into tissues for circulation, reduces swelling (edema), adhesions, spasms, cramping, migraines, and stress by releasing endorphins. You can try Shiatsu massage, finger pressure on acupuncture points; experiment with Reiki, aligning chakras and chi flow, or align the body vertically with Rolfing. Depending on the existence of body meridians, chi and chakras, these techniques may have a beneficial relationship with human physiology.
The physiology of sexual massage shows that it stimulates nerve endings directly connected to the brain’s pleasure centers for sex. You can rhythmically rub, knead (petrissage), press, squeeze, roll, tap (tapotement), wring, stretch, scissor, slap, pinch, vibrate–as in therapeutic massage. Begin with light stroking, effleurage, to warm up your partner’s body and mood. If your lover is in a receptive mood, the right sort of sexual massage can transport your partner to sensory heights, sweeping away all thought in the excitement of the moment, sometimes producing a deep state of meditative relaxation. Warmth and various oils, such as coconut, pecan, macadamia, grape seed, as well as the aromatic Neroli or myrrh, add to the enjoyment of touch. In one form or another, erotic massage, like therapeutic massage, needs to be given and taken in daily doses of at least 15-20 minutes each to be more fulfilling and become an elixir for love and well being. The benefits from daily practice also apply to playing any musical instrument or to meditating with yoga, tai chi, or qigong.
Besides the sense of touch, smell plays a critical role in sex, with bodily chemical signals, called pheromones. Smell stimuli set in motion the energies of the whole organism via the pituitary gland. Our species was perhaps as good as the wolf in the sense of smell long ago. But the olfactory part of our brain has shrunk in our evolution as the visual and thinking parts have expanded. The space inside the skull is limited, and our skull could not expand indefinitely without jeopardizing its passage out of the womb. The master gland in the brain, involved in the sense of smell together with sensors in the nose, the pituitary is also the instigator of sexual function. No wonder good perfumes are so prized by those who seek to be attractive to the opposite sex.
Hearing in sexual activity cannot be ignored either. The lover’s words are the finest notes of music, exciting the emotions as much as the smell and sight of the beloved.
The Kama Sutra manual of love from India dwells on all the senses in sex and instructs us (given limber bodies) in the many available coital positions for achieving variety and spiritual awareness during sex. Kama (art, eros) is one of the four purusharthas (goals of living), along with Dharma (virtue), Artha (prosperity), Moksha (liberation). Today married couples can find many texts
on the joy of sex. No reason exists for a partner to claim headaches or business to avoid sex. My point is: if married or committed to your partner for life, you will run out of days on earth before you exhaust the wealth of loving possibilities together.
Fourth, even if you and your spouse have no sexual desire remaining, numerous possibilities and adventures are open to you for romance together: you can play, travel, study, socialize, follow the arts, or pursue exciting careers together for money or charity. You can practice love in a variety of ways, other than with the sexual organs. You can make love like Mr. Spock in the old Star Trek episode of the cloaking device, hands to hands with your lover, but with total focus on your partner.
Fifth, man’s capacity to make love with his penis is less valuable than it’s made out to be in the advertising for Viagra and other size enhancers; size is less important than skill. Consider lesbian lovers, satisfied with each other without penises. Sex is caressing and massaging sensitive areas of the human body. Love, skill, and empathy for your partner count for more than physical equipment.
Now returning to our stated goal of a more fulfilling sex life, even living alone offers many possibilities for satisfaction. No matter where you’re at present in sex, you can take a step towards greater fulfillment, then another step, incrementally improving your condition. In Japan this method of small but continuous improvements, used in manufacturing, is called kaizen. In America we tend to go for a breakthrough, a radical improvement, but that’s difficult, less likely to happen. Instead of a breakthrough in your sex life, look for small but steady improvements in satisfaction. If you have no sex whatever, consider auto eroticism. Make that gradually better. From auto eroticism move to some kind of a relationship with a congenial person. Think of kaizen. Let’s say you’re single, wanting to be married to the right person, it may be more practical to go for a date with someone with potential, rather than right away seek a big romance.
I am dealing here with a class of problems, how each individual human can find sexual fulfillment. There are as many problems as they are individuals, each with particular needs, wants, attributes, abilities, and inclinations.
Some people have the genes, hormones, or nurture to become gay–homosexuals in Old English. If you desire sexual massage with a member of your own sex, why, that’s an abomination in the eyes of God. Why would God bother with how you get your erotic massage? Is it so important? Who exactly gets hurt if you like to enjoy yourself with others of the same sex? It’s forbidden. No wonder so many people feel frustrated in getting enough satisfactory sex, and instead they overindulge in food, gambling or drinking, usually worse for them than homosexual massage. Fortunately, gay people are a small minority in any population, so what they need or want is of little concern to the rest of us.
Most young adults need and want sexual love for marriage, children, and emotional security. The solution to their problem is to go out to social gatherings, meet suitable members of the opposite sex, and choose one for marriage or long-term relationship. Thus the primary function of sex is satisfied. The couple may stay together for the common purpose of raising their children, or for convention, often continuing sexual relations with the function of bonding as a pair. Eventually, the children are grown and on their own, with the old couple sometimes continuing with sex to bond as grandparents.
But many marriages in our society end up in divorce, or sexual disability of one of the partners. What is the remaining potent partner to do with his or her sexual drive? That person should have the right and freedom to seek sexual fulfillment, difficult as that outcome may be after the age of fifty or sixty. It’s difficult, because persons of the same age as this sexually potent senior individual are unlikely to be desirable lovers. When you get old, you’re supposed to have no desire for sexual love, and if you do desire it, why that’s ridiculous, act your age. Where are the opportunities for an older man or woman to find sex, with children and grandchildren hanging over them, watching them? You’re sixty five, dad, how can you be in love? When you’re past sixty or over people suppose you can’t get it on with sex. Your relatives expect you to stay chaste, even if your spouse has passed on to heaven or other pastures. You’re back again to being like a child or teenager, being forbidden to have sex with the opposite sex or even by yourself. The sexy elder may a attract a desirable younger lover with fortune, fame, good looks, or talent, as is sometimes the case with aging movie stars and media moguls. Such relationships don’t last as long as customary marriages, but then the elder isn’t going to last long either.
Other elder citizens with sexual urges, who are not wealthy or famous, are less fortunate. They may resort to the age-old practices of abstinence, masturbation, or prostitution.
Those who urged the young to be chaste, saving themselves for marriage, may now find themselves unwillingly practicing the art of sexual purity, brahmacharya in Sanskrit. Mahatma Ghandi observed the Hindu brahmacharya, an act of piety, abstaining from sex with his wife, after having had four sons with her and wanting no more children. He was 36 then and believed that sex for reasons other than offspring was sinful. It’s not known how Mrs. Ghandi felt about the issue, but an Indian woman is bound by tradition to be obedient to her husband, sometimes even bedding down on his funeral pyre in the admirable ceremony of suttee. But in old age, Ghandi at 77 years was known to be sleeping nude with his 19-year-old grandniece Manu, as he said, to test his brahmacharya vow.
The Hindu notion of brahmacharya was based on the theory that semen is sacred, its preservation essential to the development of intellectual and spiritual capacities; a man (or a woman abstaining from sexual intercourse when fertile) is thus enabled to harness energy and mind for self realization or enlightenment with chastity. Hmm!
Most young people today, urged to be chaste by parents and preachers, know how they feel about such advice. With their hormones gushing, they usually say the hell with chastity. Moreover, the young in their teens, especially females, are fitter to bear healthy children than older persons after college and career. For the sexual needs of the young while trying to get set financially, Bertrand Russell suggested in “Marriage and Morals,” what is common today: living together. In 1940 the great philosopher’s appointment as lecturer at City College of New York was voided by a judge, who declared Russell morally unfit to teach. As for child bearing by the young and fit, B. F. Skinner in “Walden II” had his utopian community supporting young couples to create families–like welfare for dependent children without the social stigma. When older, children in Walden II went to free communal nurseries, at which time the parents trained and worked for the commune, much like an Israeli kibbutz.
Some young people, defying their hormones, aspire to chastity for religious or philosophical reasons, to focus their energies on matters important to the spirit, the mind, or the arts. A few persons castrated themselves to make such a focus more practical. In the eighteenth century, we had in Italy the phenomenon of the castrati, made out of young boys with fine voices, for the glory of the Catholic God and Music. Castration of males or females certainly makes it easier for them to adhere to abstinence. In some parts of Africa, young females suffer circumcision of the clitoris to prepare them for a life devoted to husband and family, fortified against the temptations of sex.
More common than abstinence among old and sexually frustrated people is auto eroticism with vicarious sex. Masturbation is the comfort of youth and of old age. It’s an outlet for your sexual drive which you can’t ignore, yet an outlet for which you can’t be proud.
Finally, prostitution offers many opportunities for sex, if you can afford it, tolerate the risks, and have the stomach for it. Moralists usually declare prostitution to be abhorrent, debasing the sex worker as well as the customer. Why debasing? Because the worker is supposed to get no pleasure, may even be disgusted from the act, and the customer hears fake moans for the money. Prostitution doesn’t customarily lead to family and offspring; hence it’s illegal in many religious societies, where it goes underground, like recreational drugs, exploited by criminals and pimps.
In a truly free society, not burdened by ancient religious dogmas, objections to prostitution make no sense. The exchange of sexual favors for money is left up to the individuals who engage in it, each obtaining the benefits they desire. Prostitution is simply another business service, like a haircut, manicure, or massage. For the people who can afford prostitution, it’s one of the ways to satisfy their sexual drive, and for the providers, a means to serve others and earn a living. Prostitution is a poor solution to the search for fulfilling sex, but for some people, it may be the only one available, except for the even less admirable one of masturbation. As to the risks of prostitution, risks exist for client and service provider, as they do for persons who are sexually active without paying for a partner.
Pimps, madams, and gangs may exploit the sex worker, getting most of the money. A large number of prostitutes are addicted to drugs, as much as 50% by some accounts, and are exposed to venereal disease and violence from clients and pimps. The patron is sometimes robbed by the prostitute’s associates or infected with disease, if precautions are not taken, which also happens in free sexual relations. In spite of these risks, the world’s oldest profession will continue in all societies, either openly or secretly, because demand from sexually hungry individuals and supply of needy young persons will be with us for a while longer.
Prostitution, homosexuality, and masturbation are vices and sins for a small population in danger of extinction; these may be considered virtues in an over-crowded place, like the earth today. They help preserve our planet from the ravages of human activities; preserving the planet is one function of such failed attempts at procreation.
Generally, pleasure follows function, even as in the arts form follows function–function defined as what is needed for the survival of the individual, the group, or the living web on earth. Blindly pursuing pleasure in life can be damaging. In sexual behavior, fixing on pleasure may lead to addiction, with the risk of neglect of others areas of living, too much expense in time and money, or greater risk of STD, sexually transmitted disease. Pleasure did evolve connected with what is usually beneficial to the body and mind, and pain with what is harmful; but don’t guide your behavior with pleasure or pain. Rather use your reason to seek what is beneficial and avoid what is harmful, enjoying yourself, else accepting the situation stoically. As stated earlier, regular sex has many benefits, such as relaxation, recreation, improvement in blood circulation, balancing of the hormones (estrogen as well as testosterone), pair bonding for committed couples, etc. You may obtain all of these benefits by means other than sexual activity, engaging in exercise, sports, meditation, and creative interests; but sex in a variety of ways is more fulfilling, if sex does no harm to the individual, family, or community.
Is pleasure divorced from utility, from function, a proper goal in life? Hardly! Hedonism fails, because it often leads to destructive behavior, or at the very least to the loss of valuable resources needed for survival and growth. Taking pleasure in doing what you need for survival, that’s good; it enhances performance. For example, you work better and longer when you love your job. Besides, we have created the fine arts, rising above ordinary pleasures. After all, what is the purpose of a secure life with money and comforts, achieved after seeking utilitarian ends for many years, except to know and experience the arts, including romantic love? Having completed their biological function of bearing children and fostering grandchildren, a couple can finally devote themselves to the practice of loving each other, with sex if still possible for them, or with other means. Not the young, but the mature can best appreciate the art of loving.
If the function of sex, outside of making babies, is the growth of erotic art, not for pair bonding, but art for the simple joy of it, then such an assumed function excludes prostitution, vulgarity, masturbation, and casual or compulsive sex. Crassness destroys art. Keep searching for your own Dulcinea or your Romeo. “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” When romance enters the picture, you have eros, the art of sexual love. Art is the meaning of life, its celebration and the reason for its existence, raison d’être. Survival, existence, science, technology, and procreation are justified by art. Does art serve life or life serve art? As art has structure, form, design, patterns with meaning (otherwise the medium is not the message but noise), so does life. True art is ineffable, like life itself, not subject to analysis and dissection without losing its magic. Try making love while analyzing your moves or your partner’s responses; see what happens to your fervor. Or, talk about the chemistry or production of your food, and watch your appetite wilt.
Life uses art in promoting itself. But art exists, whether it’s used by life or not; art is independent of the entities that use it. So it is with the art of loving sex, Kama Sutra. Functions are fine for survival; after survival what? What do we do after we have survived as individuals, as societies? We seek the art of living, dancing the dance of life, with art, technology, and science. The knowledge we gain from science is vital for our survival; but it is also true that Truth is Beauty and Beauty is Truth–knowing and experiencing are one.