At some point in life– usually in the
middle of our teenage years– we end up learning from our friends or our parents about the birds and the bees. But what happens to us when we’re adults? In his recent book How to Think More About Sex, pop culture philosopher Alain de Botton takes on the philosophical aspects of sex, desire, and intimacy. While sex is most definitely in the book’s title, there are no awkward diagrams to be found. Instead, in his usual wry, witty and provocative style, de Botton takes on the philosophical aspects of one of our most intimate acts, arguing that, “We don’t think too much about sex; we’re merely thinking about it the wrong way.” To understand better why we’re thinking wrongly about sex, de Botton explores the influence that sex has on desire in modern intimacy. “Tame it though we may try, sex has a recurring tendency to wreak havoc across our lives: it leads us to destroy our relationships, threatens our productivity and compels us to stay up too late in nightclubs talking to people whom we don’t like but whose exposed midriffs we nevertheless strongly wish to touch.” From a very early stage in life, we begin building the foundation for the havoc foisted upon us by desires. As we age, however, he writes, “Deep inside, we never quite forget the needs with which we were born: to be accepted as we are, without regard to our deeds; to be loved through the medium of our body; to be enclosed in another’s arms; to occasion delight with the smell of our skin– all of these needs inspiring our relentless and passionately idealistic request for someone to kiss and sleep with.” When it comes to attraction, “what we find ‘beautiful’ and what we find ‘sexy’ are indications of what we most deeply crave in order to rebalance ourselves.” While the age-old mantra that “opposites attract” may come to mind, modern lovers are not in search of opposites; instead, we’re each looking for another person to act as a counterbalance to ourselves. When we find ourselves attracted to and
becoming intimate with another person, de Botton argues that we’re ultimately looking for someone who, to us, represents the things missing in ourselves. “The pleasure we derive from sex is also bound up with our recognizing, and giving a distinctive seal of approval to, those ingredients of a good life whose presence we have detected in another person.The more closely we analyze what we consider ‘sexy,’ the more clearly we will understand that eroticism is the feeling of excitement we experience at finding another human being who shares our values and our sense of the meaning of existence.” If we’re ever going to get anywhere with modern intimacy, suggests de Botton, we need to come to terms with our humanity, and accept that attraction, intimacy and sex wield great power over our being. “This is not to say that we cannot take steps to grow wiser about sex,” he writes, “we should simply realize that we will never entirely surmount the difficulties it throws our way. Our best hope should be a respectful accommodation with an anarchic and reckless power.” When it comes to modern intimacy, exploring the motivations that drive our intimate behavior can help us connect with our partners on a deeper level. When combined with intimate and private communication, we have the opportunity to be closer to one another than ever before. Sex doesn’t have to be as complicated as society, our friends and our lovers make it; instead, accepting sex for what it is– a sometimes awkward thing that we do when we’re attracted to one another. And as any couple will tell you, there’s nothing better than the incredible feeling that comes with being close to another person when it comes to the crazy, sexy, beautiful world.