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Why is Sex Important?

by Sheldon Litt, Ph.D.(more info)

listed in psychology, originally published in issue 52 - May 2000

I'm at a party in New York. There's a lull in the conversation. A young woman next to me smiles with evil intent and asks – "Why do you psychologists think sex is so important?" I look at my watch.

I decide that discretion is the better part of valour here, so I ask her to wait for my friend Ben to show up, he's the expert. I search for Ben on the balcony and ease him into the conversation. Ben specializes in Tantra Yoga; he also loves to talk about sex – the perfect guy to handle this tricky question.

He's had a classical education, so he begins this discussion by taking us back to Plato's Dialogues. Here a fable describes the origin of sexuality: at the beginning there was no division into male and female; we were spherical one-sex creatures, tumbling around with four arms, four legs, etc. The wicked old gods became envious of these high-spirited gambols, so they split each frolicking being into two parts. And ever since then the two halves have been trying to find their matching 'other' and get back together again That's the power of sex – we're all going around looking for our missing half, trying to reconstitute the primaeval 'animal with two backs'. Thus, in this interpretation of Aristophanes, who is the speaker in this part of Plato's Symposium, there is a powerful force behind this quest for the Whole and the pursuit of it. Or to put it another way, sex provides the best unity known to mankind, it brings harmony.

This tale brought smiles all around. Not content to rest on his laurels, Ben went on to give us some more ideas. I forgot to mention that he loves to talk: in fact he is the proverbial mouth in search of an ear.

Now Ben was just getting warmed up. He couldn't take his eyes off the woman, and he could not stop his rhetoric either "Why is sex so important? You want to hear more about it?"

And his smooth vocal cords continue the story.

"For one thing, there is the uncontroversial truth that sex represents the biological origin of life. Just think of it – if there were no more sex, there'd be no more life. No more human life, that is. Need a better reason than that? Then there's the DH Lawrence approach, with its own mystique developing from this – that sex lies at the core of life itself, therefore it is basic. Just think, each of us in this room, on the planet, is a result of a sexual act. Even though it may be difficult to imagine your mother and father locked in a warm sexual embrace, that is the truth about your beginning, isn't it?"

The woman coughs. Ben, his eyes fixed on her now, resumes. "So since sex lies at the very origin of life, it must also be the core of life, don't you see?

"Sigmund Freud brought another perspective to this question: pleasure. Sex not only fulfils the utilitarian function of replenishing the species, it also brings a great deal of pleasure to its participants, or at least it is supposed to. And in the Freudian system, since man is a pleasure-seeking animal, you can see the motivation clearly. Another Freudian dimension here is a secondary one – that in the life of most children, sex often results in punishment. Remember being a curious kid and being caught by adults in a semi-sexual situation – young kids playing 'doctor' and looking at naked body parts? Well, what happens next? Heavy punishment by the parents followed by anxiety, possibly years of frustration and fixations. Thus, most of us are reduced to sexual cripples, – frigidity, impotence, etc.' And for these people, their life may be filled with anxiety resulting from their innocent early sexual encounters. Many are thus warped for life.

"Let's not forget Freud's ingenious notion of the libido," adds Ben, before the listeners have a chance to break in or break away. "Libido is sexual energy – and it's that energy which represents the life force, or elan vital. To know what a person is like, don't bother asking his sign, but check out what goes on with his libido. In Freud's view, it's like a hydraulic pumping system; the energy has to be used in some way. Unlike other instincts, for example, hunger, if the libido instinct is unsatisfied, you don't die: no, believe it or not, the energy simply shifts to another channel. Thus, the healthy person expresses his libido as flowing sexuality; a blockage may result in some perversion, – fetishism, masochism, etc., or perhaps the unexpressed energy gets transformed into a neurotic symptom.

In a few fortunate people, libido becomes sublimated into great works of art. But we all have this sexual energy, and it expresses itself dynamically in the human personality.

"Want more? Sex, according to Alexander Lowen, founder of the bioenergetic school, is the one area in which we see the union of mind and body. Think of it – it is the sexual act which brings the mind and body closer together, perhaps for the only time in our lives bridging the gap between these two disparate regions. You know, that's why psychologists and philosophers are endlessly discussing the so-called mind/body problem."

There was no stopping Ben now.

"Yes, in addition to sex bringing us in contact with our Selves, it also is a way to transcend loneliness – let's face it, sex is a social event, a perfect way to get in touch with another person, at a deeper level." Here I finally got a word in, interrupting him just long enough to cite Paul Goodman's line: "According to St. Thomas, the chief human use of sex is getting to know someone."

Ben ignores me, recites on. "Another interesting thing about sex is that here one cannot lie, one can see others as they truly are – passionate, or if they are disconnected, or frigid, patient or impatient, warm, loving, caring, or maybe brutal and nasty. Hard for someone to hide their true sexual selves. So sex, you see, is a way to really get insight into people, in addition to the social function of bringing us together. It also serves the course and cause of Evolution, bringing the human animal further along on its inevitable path, wherever that may be."

The woman by now is beginning to tire, but Ben labours on in his inimitable way. "Interested in Wilhelm Reich? I've read all his books; have a look at The Function of the Orgasm and The Sexual Revolution. Reich sees one of the major thrusts of sex, if I may use that term, to serve the cause of tension-reduction. We build up tension, and then comes orgasm and release, with a renewed flow of energy. Very healthy and helps break down the body armour."

She was about to leave, but Ben never gives up. "Let me conclude with the finale – according to Tantra Yoga, the sexual act reveals the spirit and ultimately God."

By now it was getting very late, the party was breaking up. As I left the two of them, I could see Ben taking her hand, and heard him say to her, "Now we've discussed sex, come home with me and I'll tell you all about the secrets of Love."


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About Sheldon Litt, Ph.D.

Dr Sheldon Litt is an American psychologist who trains professionals in modern methods of psychotherapy. He has taught at many universities in northern Europe. He was trained by Fritz Perls at the New York Institute for Gestalt Therapy.S. Litt, Inedalsgatan 25, S-11233 Stockholm, Sweden. Tel: +468 651 2489 Email:

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