The analogy of sexual objects

The sublimation of sexual desire has been taught from Plato to Freud. Sexual desire – or more likely human sexual desire – has no definite or fixed object but is a drive for a series of analogously related objects. For Plato the objects are all analogously beautiful, starting with a desire for physical beauty, advancing to the desire for appropriate and fitting social-political relations, and culminating in a vision of the eternal and invariant beautiful itself; for Freud sexuality is libido or life-drive, starting with, again, the familiar desire to reproduce one’s own life but advancing to a desire to contribute to the higher life of culture and learning.

The indetermination of libido is not just to objects at different analogous levels but also to objects at the same level, which is why, as one sex researcher has put it, human sexuality seems to be an experiment that nature is running to see what happens when it makes a species with no fixed object of sexual desire. Even on the basic physical level of sexual expression the range of objects is vast and with no obvious common denominator: the Graeco-Roman encomia to heroic pederasty strike most of us as both wicked and simply unthinkable, just as the Christian sexual ethic that replaced it would strike them as effeminate (to them, monogamy and fidelity were as feminine as skirts and soap-operas) and strikes the children of the sexual revolution as morbid, superstitious, degrading and (most of all) completely impractical. Even within a single Romantic tradition there are differences so vast as to render the feeling strange and bizarre- Dante never even spoke to Beatrice? Josephite marriages are possible? Seriously?

Human sexuality refers to analogues. It is a desire to bring forth from within oneself or continue living in another, and so in human life this is conditioned by our sense of self and of what human life consists in. New beliefs about the self therefore require new kinds of sexuality and vice-versa, and there will be as many fulfilling, corrupting, and simply diverse sexualities as there are correct, distorted, and different views of the person and the beautiful.

The Scholastics gave an account of all this through artificial concupiscence, though they did not apply it to sexuality. And so we while it might make for better instruction to say hat Christ and Mary did not suffer from concupiscence (meaning the fomes of sin or disordered concupiscence) it would be truer to say that the more familiar forms of concupiscence aren’t most of all what concupiscence is, and that the saints have a good deal more of the genuine article than the sinners. As with all analogues, the first X’s we know aren’t what most deserve the to be called X. When libido is understood correctly as a desire to bring forth from within oneself and continue living in another, Mary’s Josephite marriage shows infinitely more libido than even a normal Christian marriage, to say nothing of the paradigm serial sterility of contemporary sexual ethics.


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