The Good of Sex: a Gedanken Experiment

In The Good of Sex, I discussed what I had figured out about the various aspects of that good we are after in pursuing sex. But as the first sentence of that essay indicates, another way of getting at the same understanding is to go ahead and answer the question it asks: what is it that we most want from sex? That way, we can discover the answers quite concretely, and when we get them, we can proceed to wonder why we gave the answers we did, and then – as I tried to do in that article – try to explain them.

This was in fact how the essay came to me in the first place. I asked myself the question, and the answer came up, just as it is written in the second sentence. Those two sentences were my “note to self” about the basic idea of the essay, on my list of Orthosphere posts to write.

The answer came to me all in a rush, as a coherent notion. But there is no reason we should not unpack it in a gedanken experiment that anyone can run on his own constitution. Try it; answer the following series of questions as honestly and quickly as you can. If for any of them you choose the second option, stop; otherwise, go on to the next. Alright then, ask yourself: Would I rather have sex with:

  1. Someone else, or all by myself?
  2. Someone of the opposite sex, or not?
  3. Someone I care about, or not?
  4. Someone I love and admire, or not?
  5. Someone who reciprocates my feelings of love and admiration to the same degree, or someone who does not?
  6. Someone with whom I share such utmost devotion that we have joined in a public, legally binding pledge of permanent mutual loyalty and support, or someone with whom I do not?
  7. Someone who has joined with me in what we both understand as an adventure with meanings that transcend our own lives, or someone who has not?

If you stopped at any of the steps, then you have chosen against the beauties possible to you had you proceeded further along the list. If on the other hand you answered the seventh question in such a way that if there had been more,[1] you would have gone on to them, why then you get the subsidiary goods of all the preceding options in the bargain, and on top of that you get a shot at something even bigger and more glorious. Not a bad deal!

What does it tell us that the goods available at the seventh option include all the goods available at any of the precedent options? It tells us that as we go down the list, we approach the true good of sex, that encompasses all the other goods; and that the greatest and noblest option open to us in respect to sex is the one that does not in principle foreclose to us any of the subsidiary riches of worldly life.

This sort of plenitude of riches is just what we should expect of an approach to a Platonic ideal such as Saint Augustine saw at work in creation – ‘eternal things,’ as he calls them, “principial forms, or stable and immovable essences of things … contained in the intelligence of God.” St. Maximos the Confessor denoted these formal causes with the term the Stoics invented for them, logoi spermatokoi, seeds of the Logos – fitting, given our subject.


[1] NB, there is always a subsequent question, of greater scope and import than any which preceded it.

9 thoughts on “The Good of Sex: a Gedanken Experiment

  1. Pingback: The Good of Sex: a Gedanken Experiment | Reaction Times

  2. I have asked secular people these questions and it seems they jump off at step 6. Loyalty, legally binding, is not beauty to them at first glance. They don’t like it because they want to be able to sleep around until they find the right one, and they want to find another “right one” if the first turns out to have been wrong. They also don’t like the possibility of getting stuck with someone that is no fun in the sack. What I usually ask them at this point is, “Which do you find more romantic: what your said is your ideal, or the elderly couple that’s been married for 50 years and has never kissed another, and enjoyed their first kiss on their wedding day?” They have so far always conceded my point.

    You can’t end up when someone that is no fun in the sack if sex with them is all you know. Porn and promiscuity ruin the chances people will experience the fullest good of sex. Ironic.

    • Oh no! Absolutely not, Bill. If you’d rather not stop at #1, it can only be because you’d rather be able to keep going on to #2 and then onward from there, to qualify just the sort of person you’d find acceptable. If you’re stopping at #1, it shows that the properties of your counterparty are irrelevant, because you don’t want one in the first place. But if you aren’t stopping at #1, then those properties are *terrifically* relevant. I.e., only if you’d rather not stop at #1 do the other options even become salient; but since you don’t want to stop at #1, they are salient, willy nilly. The logic of the list is that it pushes you toward the ideal rather irresistibly. Or else, to a really ugly conscious decision to opt for something less than what you think is really right.


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