Question: How does Objectivism define and classify sexual desire and lust? It seems they do not actually flow from convictions, but instead have a biological basis. Since sex is a large part of an individual’s self-identity, what role do sexual desires and actions play in an Objectivist's life? Doesn't sexual desire undermine the whole Randian theory of mind-body synergy?
Answer: Sexual desire and lust are simply aspects of our nature as human beings who get plenty of pleasure from the act of sex itself. They are analogous in many ways to hunger, in that they can be satisfied in ways that bring us long-term health and happiness, or in ways that are ultimately self-destructive and irrational.
Objectivism holds that at their best, our sexual desires are based on an appreciation for the unified whole of another person’s mind and body.
Of course, we can feel a reflexive physical attraction to a model we see on television or a beautiful passerby on the street. This can be a quite healthy reaction if it inspires us to speak to that person, start a relationship, or even just appreciate the esthetics of human beauty.
On the other hand, if one meets a cute guy or girl and they turn out to be intellectually vapid or morally unscrupulous, that should have a bearing on the desire one feels toward that person, even sexually. This is because our intellectual and moral fibers are critical aspects of our nature as rational human beings. Passing over or evading these traits in others is psychologically harmful.
Love and sex satisfy many of our most important psychological, physical, and even philosophic needs and desires.
The Objectivist view of sex is not cold or repressive. As in all areas of life, we must use reason in evaluating our sexual partners, not to quash our true feelings and instincts, but instead to give our emotions and actions a firm rational grounding conducive to our long-term happiness. A person in a relationship with someone for whose evil or stupidity he is constantly concocting excuses cannot achieve the kind of harmonious psychological state underlying all happy sex lives.
So sexual desire does not undermine the mind-body harmony promoted by Objectivism . In fact it reinforces it, since it is only when these two are united that we feel a non-contradictory, non-evasive desire for the totality of our lover’s person, mind and body included.
It is possible to focus entirely on the realm of the mind and do things that are not inherently bad or self-destructive. Similarly, one can turn entirely to material and bodily pleasures and, presuming one takes the necessary precautions, derive a lot of pleasure and no harm from the experiences. However, this split, incomplete pursuit of happiness is not the best that we can achieve for ourselves. Compare, for instance, the difference we feel waking up next to someone we admire and love instead of someone we find embarrassing and shameful.
Love and sex are an important component to achieving happiness. They satisfy many of our most important psychological, physical, and even philosophic needs and desires. But like any value in life, they can be pursued most successfully with a critical eye and the guidance of an explicit and rational code of ethics. This is the promise of Objectivism as it relates to lust and sexual desire.