“Sexual nihilism” is a philosophic term labeling a theory that sexuality has no deep significance. For ordinary conversation the term describes a grim human condition. In the November 14, 2018 New York Times op-ed section Ross Douthat writes of empty lives reflexing empty sexual morality. See: The Huxley Trap: How technology and masturbation tamed the sexual revolution.
Sexual nihilists teach that sexuality itself sets no moral limits on how we seek sexual satisfaction. For sexual nihilists the only restriction on attaining sexual satisfaction is that no one is forced to participate. If there is consent anything goes! Masturbation could easily be a preferred sexual practice. There is no problem of getting consent. Lack of imagination might reduce the satisfactions available. In these times, technology fills this lack with internet pornography.
The so-called sexual revolution of the sixties was the teaching of sexual nihilism by culture forming elites and popular acceptance of the teaching. Douthat reminds us that conservatives predicted widespread sexual licentiousness. There has been some of that. But there is nothing like the wild on-going orgies that worried some conservatives. The reality is duller and more depressing. Ross Douthat reports on studies showing many – under forties- are not dating let alone marrying and having children. Without being gay, they associate mostly with members of their own sex. Their sexual inclinations are exacerbated by pornography and satisfied by masturbation.
In passing, remember that pornography loses its erotic power as users become familiar with it. There is a temptation to seek out sexual images with ever more power to excite. This leads to downloading child-porn and sadistic porn with terrible legal consequences. So, the flight from seeking consenting partners is not safe from disastrous social consequences.
However, the disastrous consequences with respect to the significance of one’s life – a sense of life having a purpose – are even worse. Call these existential consequences. By nature homo sapiens, the human animal has thoughts about right, wrong, good, evil, life having a point or purpose. It is not just theory that says we have the purpose of having children. We feel that command of nature. That’s why I linked to Douthat’s column. A good writer makes us aware of the bleakness of a way of life in which sexuality is morally and existentially pointless. We cannot make sense of our lives if we trivialize our constant sexual inclinations as having no significance other than opportunities for brief episodes of intense pleasure.
Reflect on how dreadful our sexuality seems when we look at it as a means simply for trivial pleasures. We set our sexuality apart from ourselves. It is too trivial to have any important goal keeping us alive. We need to eat. We do not need sexual climaxes. Still we cannot ignore it. It constantly makes demands on us. It is almost like a “demon” driving us to seek trivial satisfactions which are not lasting satisfactions.
In my book, I call this grim condition “sexual alienation.” On one hand, sexuality is too trivial to be an important feature of who we are. On the other hand, sexuality is an external force driving us to act in ways which have bad consequences unless we exercise constant vigilance.
My book on sexual morality cites the existential need for setting aside sexual alienation as the solution for the selection problem. The selection problem was justifying a moral claim that the natural functions of sexuality are not to be intentionally inhibited when, in general, there are no moral restrictions on inhibiting the natural functions of natural processes.
Consider a bit more evidence that upholders of traditional sexual morality were not over emphasizing the crucial moral and existential place of sex. The #metoo movement is in part a rebellion against the insinuation that sexuality, and thereby women, is mostly insignificant fun. Recall also the harrowing recurrent recollections of people who were inflicted with “sexual play” by adults .
My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. These blog posts are in effect work towards a 2nd edition. Free copies can be obtained here by credit card by paying $3.75 for shipping and handling.
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