17 February 2004

Is it love or is it sex?

Is it love or is it sex?

Love and sex keep coming back as subjects for discussion like the proverbial bad penny. So let's get to the point: Love pertains to the rational and what is civilized in us and sex pertains to the beast in us.

When we think of love we think of such things as duty, loyalty, promise to love, affection, selflessness and even sacrifice. And in the person we love we attribute such qualities as kindness, interesting, intelligent, caring, anyway you know what I mean!

Sex is probably more straight forward. We are basically looking, both metaphorically and literally at height, proportions, ratios, sizes, body mass, aesthetics, facial features and the rest of the body put together. And of course a bottle of Champagne thrown in wouldn't go amiss.

The first question we must address ourselves to is this, why do we, as individuals and as a society, generally insist on forming love type relationships and not sex type relationships? I mean, when was the last time your morality mentor told you 'sex fulfils our lives' as opposed to 'love fulfils our life?' You get the idea?

Nevertheless, sex is very easy to measure even in a quasi scientific manner, something we cannot always do with love. We can always draw a bell curve on the type of person we are sexually attracted to. Moreover, we have all sorts of manuals and 'DIY' type of books written on the subject. Another aspect about sex is that we can have verifiable objective confirmation that sexual behaviour is taking place. What criteria do we use to objectively verify love type behaviour/event? What would a forensic science/methodology for love be like?

Most of us can easily decide whether someone is sexually attractive and, more importantly, whether we are sexually attracted to them. A task I'm sure we can do in a few seconds. This might not be that hard to believe, after all scientists are able to give a fairly accurate description of the universe, and its future state, three minutes after the big bang; i.e. the Lepton epoch. Surely, three minutes worth of information about us mortals is enough to make a reasonable judgement about our sexual attraction (or not) towards someone? After all, we have been doing this for much longer than dating the universe.

Although this three minutes idea sounds ridiculous, the consequences ought to be serious. Let's look at it from the other side of the fence.

As I was thinking about this issue on the train I counted at least six very pretty women; QED. Admittedly, I'm not the best of guinea pigs, but I'll have to do. No matter how pretty these women on the train may have been, I certainly didn't feel like doing anything about it. However, the time when I was bitten by the love bug, I did feel I ought to do something about it, and I did. And if behaviour is anything to go by, hundreds of thousands of couples are doing something about it as you read this piece.

The consequences of all this are: Firstly, we are very quick to judge and have an opinion about matters of sex and at face value much quicker than matters of love. Secondly, in matters of love we feel obliged to always act and do something about it, which is not the case with matters of sex. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, but I'm not going into all that.

On the other hand, epistemologically, we are more convinced about matters of love than sex, given that we feel we ought to do something about it. And the emphasis here is on the ought more than anything else. In other words, love is based on conviction whereas sex is based on instinct.

This also suggests that action based on love takes its authority on something more than just the physical. For example, the act of promising is a moral act. The same goes for the idea of duty. Once again we also encounter in love the idea of altruism. Love seems to find its justification in some sort of moral system which sex does not need at its foundation.

At this point we have reached the situation where matters of love are: based on conviction rather than instinct, supported by some form of moral foundation, pertain to conscious epistemology and to voluntary action. Of course we can go back to the slippery slope argument of reductionism and into chemicals firing in the brain or the metaphysical entity of Devine fate. But I'm not doing that because the average passenger on the Clapham omnibus is not into this sort of thing in a big way.

However, there is something the average and not-so-average passenger on the Clapham omnibus does care about: rejection. We can and are rejected for both sexual advances and declarations of love.

We can accept that sex is pure instinct and a numbers game; for example, we just do not fit in someone's sexual attraction bell curve. But how can we be rejected when we are in love? What's more certain than love? And why are we rejected when justice and reason seem to be on our side? After all, love matters seem to be on a higher plane than sex matters; i.e. the plane of moral and rational order.

Basically, what is going on when we are rejected by someone we love? Exactly with whom are we in love with when we are rejected? And what are the consequences of rejection? I call this the Lover's Dilemma in an article* I wrote on this issue.

To bring all these ideas together, reason tells us that we ought to look at rational motivation (for want of a better expression) instead of just the physical in matters of love. This is not to say that sex and love are incompatible. There are two issues here: how important are the love component and the sex component in a relationship? And even more important, which comes first, love or sex?

It's not unreasonable to assume that we can decide on sex matters within the first three minutes of meeting someone. If, however, it takes us longer to fall in love how do we then know that love is not the manipulation of the long arm of determinism? That is, sexual determinism.

Now here is a funny idea, can we fall in love in less than three minutes? Can we, in other words, fall in love before the long arm of determinism gets hold of us? Could it be that there is more to the expression, love at first sight, than meets the eye?

Take care


* http://www.shef.ac.uk/~ptpdlp/newsletter/issue92.html

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