Sex and Love

The nature of loving

The philosopher Ortega y Gasset went so far as to say that love is "intense affirmation of another being, irrespective of his attitude to us." This is romantic or religious love, the love of the chivalric knight for his lady though she ignores him, or of man for God who may send him only suffering and woe.

It is adoration, and in the context of human loving it is not generally an aspect of love that endures, for contrary to the romantic myth unrequited love soon palls for the majority of people.

But if we disregard the second part of Ortega's definition, and say that love is "intense affirmation of another being," we have a statement of more general relevance.

Not only to accept the other, but to affirm him, is a mark of love. And affirmation can be of two kinds. We all have within us, particularly when we are young, a feeling of alienation, and it is gratifying and important for another person to affirm that our existence is real and relevant.

Then there is the affirmation of one's personality; of what we are as well as of the fact that we are. This kind of affirmation manifests as respect and admiration, the discrimination of qualities and characteristics that are valuable to others as well as to the lover.

To love, then, is to see the loved one as a unique being, and to see him steady and whole without his protective armor. But then there arises the sense of possessing.

Although possessiveness is generally a deplorable characteristic, people intensely in love do feel that they belong to each other and the sexual act becomes an act of taking possession. "You are mine," lovers constantly tell each other, and they feel that for a third party to have a sexual experience of the other would be an intolerable violation of their property rights.

Possessiveness invariably brings jealousy. No human being can regard another as property, yet many, while intellectually agreeing with this, cannot deny that they have experienced at some time in their lives that destructive feeling.

Jealousy is an emotion not generally susceptible to reason, but reasoning is the only remedy. It is pointless to fret about being unable to do what it is not in one's power to do; for nobody has the power to coerce love.

Nakedness is private and an expression of sexual intimacy. The first exposure whether provocative or coy, is a sensual yet tense moment....

The Commitments Of Love

There is a distinction between a feeling and an emotion. A feeling need not have an object but an emotion must have one.

We can feel pain or melancholy alone but anger, hate or love are emotions that are directed toward another person, who incidentally may be an aspect of oneself.

The confusion about feeling and emotion is found in articles about sex and love today. When love is presented as mutual indulgence in pleasure, and sex as the release of tension or gratification of desire, it is feelings that are being discussed.

Being internal, feelings do not involve any commitment to another person. Love that is mutually undemanding and involves no commitment, only pure joy, can be very convincing; but there is no emotion involved in such loving. We can control our feelings better than we can our emotions.

Emotions are more enduring than feelings; they can last a lifetime, and they can be obsessive and consuming. That is why the arousal of the emotion of love in a person involves a commitment.

True lovers do not resent their commitments, they embrace them because they afford a means of expressing their love. They get together and marry or declare a partnership because they want to declare to the world their commitment to each other.

It is a commitment strengthened by every act of love, for in each act both engage their emotions, and the effect of emotions shared is to bind people.

The more intense the emotion and the more frequently it is experienced, the stronger the bond becomes. Masters and Johnson spoke of The Pleasure Bond, and wrote that "mutual pleasure sets a seal on emotional commitment."

The idea is right but the metaphor may be misleading because to set a seal on something is to finalize it, and in a relationship of love the emotional commitment needs to be regularly expressed and thereby renewed.

This is where many relationships go wrong. In fact, the very word "commitment" is partly responsible because to many it implies that when they marry they "take on" commitments, for instance a mortgage payment or a house to maintain or children.

These secondary and incidental commitments tend to become primary, particularly where children are concerned.

Parents of young children often ask themselves why and how they got into their situation.

They think that life has burdened them with commitments they would rather be without, and what in fact has happened to them is that they have neglected their emotional commitments to each other as two separate beings and have come to regard their life together as a commitment to share a number of tasks.

Too many people sadly find, when all the tasks have been done and the commitments met, when the children have grown up and left home and the mortgage has been paid, that they are living with a stranger.

Commitment must be, first and always, to the sexual partner, and to his or her emotional being. He or she alone is capable of experiencing satisfactions and joys that make the mundane, inevitable aspects of life worthwhile.

Loving is caring, both caring about and caring for. It is also communicating, and it is wanting to be together and do things together, not just the daily tasks but play and relaxation as well.

The psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed that human beings have a hierarchy of needs: physiological needs, safety needs, love needs, esteem needs, and self-fulfillment needs, in that order, and that each need becomes pressing only when the ones before it have been satisfied, which normally happens in this sequence in the first two decades of life.

Sex needs may become urgent before love needs because they may be purely physiological. But when the love needs appear they tend to encompass the sex needs and the love needs show themselves as both a need to receive and a need to give love.

And, Maslow further proposed, love that began as needing love should develop in the course of time into "unneeding" love. He distinguished deficiency love (or D-love) from being love (or B-love). D-love is the love that needs the partner to fill an emptiness or to heal a wound, and its motivation is basically selfish.

B-love on the other hand is "love for the Being of another person, "unneeding" love, unselfish love." D-love can be gratified and sated, but B-love cannot be. It is the B-lover who really cares about and cares for the loved one.

And an important aspect of this caring is wanting the other to develop and grow as a person. The conservatism of the lover who wants nothing ever to change is an irrational if understandable reaction to the experience of being ecstatically happy. But change and growth is essential to love; without them love stagnates and atrophies.

"B-love," wrote Maslow, "creates the partner. It gives him a self-image, it gives him self acceptance, a feeling of love-worthiness, all of which permit him to grow. It is a real question whether the full development of the human being is possible without it."

And B-lovers, really mature lovers secure in each other's love, "are more independent of each other, more autonomous, less jealous or threatened, less needful, more individual, more disinterested, but also simultaneously more eager to help the other toward self-actualization, more proud of his triumphs, more altruistic, generous and fostering," than D-lovers.

Also they see each other more clearly, truly and penetratingly than D-lovers see each other. "Far from accepting the common platitude that love makes people blind," Maslow writes, "I become more and more inclined to think of the opposite as true, namely that non-love makes us blind."

These are the perceptive insights of a psychologist who made it his task to study not the causes of psychopatholoy but the conditions of psychological health, the optimum, conditions under which human beings function and are able to fulfill their potential.

Another of Maslow's concepts that is highly relevant to the subject of human love and sex is that of the "peak experience." Peak experiences may occur in many different circumstances.

A mother may have one nursing her baby, as can an athlete breaking a record, a philosopher hitting upon a new idea, a music-lover listening to a favorite performance, or a lover in the moment of sexual orgasm. Peak experiences bring feelings of goodness, unification, wholeness, and integration. The feeling makes a person energetic, ready for action.

People feel grateful for the experience, and -often this feeling of gratitude is expressed as or leads to an all-embracing love for everybody and everything, to a perception of the world as beautiful and good, often to an impulse to do something good for the world, an eagerness to repay, even a sense of obligation.

The slogan "Make love, not war," was thought by some to advocate a retreat from the harsh realities of life into a cult of sensuality, but it should be understood to mean rather that a peak experience of sexual love so strongly affirms life that the issues over which men make war seem absurd and irrelevant.

The world's scriptures and religious leaders have always taught this, though their devotees have often thought that the love they spoke of was a spiritual concept distinct from physical love.

What psychologists such as Abraham Maslow and Wilhelm Reich have shown us is that true physical love is an experience that gives human beings their sense of fulfillment and wholeness. It makes them creative, outgoing and giving, disposed to celebrate, to worship, to praise, and to affirm. In fact, it is akin to the experience of religion.

 

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