From Sexual Ethics to Sexual Eros Part 1
We recently had dinner with a colleague who has written some significant work on Eros. It is far more nuanced than virtually anything else out there. In general, we think her work is studded with insight, and we are delighted to recommend it. However, we believe she makes two important mistakes that need to be addressed in the spirit of public debate because they are so impactful in terms of how we experience our lives.
First, she collapses the sexual and the erotic. For her, Eros is a term that for the most part refers to the sexual. She is talking, however, not about banal sex but about what is often called great sex. By Eros she means sex that is, at least on some level, hot and deep. She then makes a very dramatic claim: that Eros by its very nature is transgressive. With this we take exception. The nature of the erotic (including the sexual) is subversive but not transgressive. The difference between these two positions is vast.
Transgressive means to violate an appropriate value or boundary. Subversive implies the intentional subverting of cultural values or boundaries for the sake of a higher vision. Transgressive undermines that which should not be undermined. Subversive is revolutionary, undermining that which needs to be overthrown. The difference is subtle but highly significant.
Our colleague is somewhat of a sexual anthropologist. She looks at the practice of sexuality and finds that what is most alive in people’s sexual lives involves transgression—by which she means transgression of the cultural mores held by society or even by the people themselves. Of course, that is exactly the point we were making in the previous chapter. But we would argue that transgression is not the ideal state of the sexual but what one might call the unconscious or shadow expression of the sexual. It is descriptive of the fall of Eros. The goal is to move from the unconscious to the conscious, from shadow to light. When we liberate Eros, we are able to access the aliveness of transgressive sex in the context of our committed relationships of whatever nature they might be. The way to do so is to restore temple consciousness—that is to say, a world in which sex is not transgressive but subversive.
Sex is subversive in that it points to an order of being beyond the conventional. Ordinary reality involves pragmatic surface relationships in which each person looks out for his or her own self-interest. The basic social contract of society is built on precisely such notions of individual self-interest and civil interaction. Sexuality models the possibility of breaking the boundary of the superficial to enter the deep. Sex, in its ideal form, subverts the “normal” order of society.
Let’s look at one example. In conventional life, a person is either giving or receiving. You are either making money, and therefore receiving money, or you are losing money—that is, you are giving money away. That distinction between giving and receiving is elemental in our economics, politics, relationships, and just about everything else. The place where this axiomatic relationship between giving and receiving breaks down is in the sexual. We all know that to be a great lover is not merely to give pleasure. The great lover also has a well-developed erotic capacity to receive pleasure.
But it is even more than that. In great sex, the entire split between giving and receiving is effaced. Giving and receiving collapse into one. The giver of pleasure is also the receiver. The giver receives the pleasure of having his erotic gift received. The receiving of pleasure is giving the gift of receiving. The entire conventional split between giver and receiver breaks down in the delightful chaos of Eros.
It in this precise sense that sex is subversive. Sex subverts the conventional order of reality and opens up the possibility of a higher and deeper order of being. As we will see in later chapters, all twelve faces of Eros are subversive relative to the conventional functioning of society. Sex, as the model for Eros, is revolutionary at its very core, opening up the possibility of a politics of love.
From Sexual Ethics to Sexual Ethos
Sexual ethics is vital. One of the great evolutions of consciousness in our generation is sexual ethics. We need to have zero tolerance for all forms of sexual harassment and abuse. This includes domestic violence, date rape, sexual harassment or abuse, false complaints about sexual harassment or abuse, internet abuse, and all the other violations of our sexual integrity. There can be no new sexual conversation without sexual ethics. We must all stand together on the side of the victims, even as we must be careful to discern who the real perpetrators are and who the real victims are. In a classic victim triangle, sometimes the perpetrator disguises him or herself as either a victim or a rescuer.
But while sexual ethics is a prerequisite for any new sexual narrative, it is not the story itself. We need not only sexual ethics but also a sexual ethos. A new sexual ethos transcends and includes ethics. A new sexual ethos includes a new sexual story, what we have called in this book a new sexual narrative. The articulation of the new sexual ethos is precisely the intention of this writing. What must emerge from this new ethos, however, is much more than simply sexual ethics. When we really understand that reality/God is Eros, and that the sexual models the erotic, then the door opens to a possibility far more shocking than externally imposed sexual ethics. What emerges is a new sexual ethos—not only sexual ethics—but that sex is ethics. The text of ethics is written in the body sacred. That is the implication of the new sexual ethos.
In the previous chapter, we talked about the relationship between the erotic and the ethical. We saw how all failures in Eros lead to a breakdown of ethics. When we are not filled with the aliveness of Eros, we try to fill up the emptiness with pseudo Eros. Pseudo Eros expresses itself as all forms of addiction or acting out—the moves we make to cover up the void. But the principle that sex is ethics is a momentous leap in understanding, even beyond the intimate nexus between the erotic and the ethical.
Let us say it again: The text of ethics is written in the body sacred. That is the mantra of the new sexual narrative. Sex is ethics means that the quivering tenderness of the sexual contains within it a complete human bill of rights. Sex is ethics means our moral code is enfleshed in our bodies. Sex is ethics means that the ecstatic urgency of the sexual contains within it all principles of virtue and integrity.
Sex implies human rights. The exquisite beauty of the moist feminine open to penetration, the rawness of desire, the yearning to touch and be touched, to ravish and be ravished, to hold and be held—all are radical affirmation of our irreducible dignity and intrinsic worthiness.
In the sexual we are divinity in motion, screaming the name of God. In that divinity our dignity is disclosed. All interpersonal ethics are inscribed in our flesh. That is what the author of the book of Job meant when he exclaimed, “Through my body, I vision God.”
Sex implies human rights in another crucial way as well. The radical pleasure and beauty of throbbing phallus and dripping yoni are democratized pleasures. These erotic capacities are not limited to the wealthy or the aristocratic. Every human being is personally addressed by an intensity of pleasure that cries out in affirmation of our infinite worth and dignity. The bill of rights is encrypted in the goodness of sexual pleasure. The democratization of dignity has its source in the democratization of desire. But like all that is democratized, sex can be degraded and taken for granted. To access the radical affirmation of human rights implicit in the texts of sex, wisdom and training are required—rigorous training and practiced attention to become a good citizen in the sexual polis. But with that training, it starts to become self-evident that sex is the seat of all wisdom, sex is ethics. Once we are planted firmly in sexual ethics we can take the momentous leap to the next level of consciousness. It is not only that we need sexual ethics, but rather that sex is ethics.
Let us now turn to some of the specific ethical precepts engraved in our flesh so that we may understand more fully the meaning of “sex is ethics.”
To be continued…
A Return to Eros: On Sex, Love, and Eroticism in Every Dimension of Life, from Drs. Marc Gafni and Kristina Kincaid, reveals the radical secret tenets of relationship between the sexual, the erotic, and the holy. They reveal what Eros actually means and share the ten core qualities of the Erotic, which are modeled by the sexual. These include being on the inside, fullness of presence, yearning, allurement, fantasy, surrender, creativity, pleasure, and more.
A Return to Eros shows why these qualities of the erotic modeled by the sexual are actually the same core qualities of the sacred. The relationship between the sexual and the erotic becomes clear, teaching you how to live an erotically suffused existence charged with purpose, potency and power.
To be an Outrageous Lover—not just in sex but also in all facets of your life–you must listen deeply to the simple yet elegant whisperings of the sexual. This book will forever transform your understanding and experience of love, sex, and Eros.
with Dr. Marc Gafni
Imagine being fully expressed with an unstoppable life force that aligned you with the will, the desire, the knowledge and the creative impulse to engage ALL areas of your life full-on; without fear or shame stopping you from moving forward. Imagine the transformative power and positive impact you’d have on your personal relationships and potentially be a major influence in the world.
This is the ideal companion to our think tank book A Return to Eros by Dr. Marc Gafni and Dr. Kristina Kincaid.