Are Sex and Love Mutually Exclusive?
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Because the two distinct types of love -- companionship love (sometimes called comfort or attachment love) and passionate or romantic love -- have their logic, many of the social tensions and individual moral ambivalence arises from each person or community seeking to balance the twin forces of the two loves. By comfort love I mean a deep affection felt toward "those with whom our lives are deeply intertwined. It involves feelings of friendship, understanding, and concern for the welfare of another." In contrast, passionate love involves idealization of another, within an erotic setting, with the presumption the feeling will last for some time into the future. This does not mean companionate love is not without its passions. Percy Shelly, the nineteenth century poet, thought passion an integral aspect of both loves, albeit romantic love tended to be more physical, while companionate love more spiritual. Although both forms of love are present in every culture, they are often not equally valued, celebrated, or honored. This results in a tripartite tension that extends beyond love and sex being more than the simple contrasting of two desires, but rather a tripartite conflict between the sexual imperative, the romantic, and the companionate.
Throughout history there have been various responses to the tripartite tension. For example, contemporary American swingers have institutionalized a set of ritual practices designed to uphold the primacy of the pair bond or comfort love, prevent the formation of a passionate love entanglement, and remain open to experiencing sexual pleasure with strangers. For swingers this is the ideal solution to the competing demands of the tripartite passions. Another contemporary response is found in the development of sex-tourism trade throughout the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and other parts of the world. The construction of sexscape zones enables mostly men to pursue rather inexpensively a variety of sexual encounters. In the case of mature European and American women, these zones enable some the opportunity to construct, however momentary, an imagined romance with someone unsuitable to form a long-term comfort love relationship.
The above societies, like societies everywhere, have constructed an often uneasy arrangement between the forces of passionate love, comfort love, and sexual desire. It is one that requires continuous adjustment at the individual and societal level. In the domains of love and sex there can never be a stable society. The emotional tug between the competing and often contradictory desires ensures every generation will revisit, renegotiate, and modify their "traditions" used to account for the relationship between love and sex.
Different Views on the Ideal Links Between Sexual Desire and Love
Every sexual encounter need not be about the desire for some kind of transcendental merging with another. Some people desire nothing more than physical gratification without emotional entanglements. Simply put, sex, the use or objectification of another, can be an act of pleasure; the norms and guidelines regarding its conduct can, at least, be successful in their clarity of expression. For individuals interested exclusively in uncomplicated sexual gratification, the ideal partner is anyone belonging to the individual’s preferred sex-orientation who is willing, available, and nonjudgmental. In this way, sexual desire, in its most objectified form, is a total pursuit of physical pleasure. A perspective captured in Henry Miller’s numerous sex-scenes that graphically depict the acts of sexual intercourse. For Miller and many men, sexual intercourse can be, at least some of the time, only about heightened physical sensation.
Other times, however, the motivation for seeking sex can be more complicated. The Central African Aka forgers’ pursuit of sexual pleasure is intertwined with another more important value -- reproduction. For the Aka sexual intercourse is a pleasurable experience that is secondary to their primary goal, which is to have a child. Or in the words of a young Aka woman, "Love is the work of the night; love and play are nice together if it makes a pregnancy." For the Aka, unlike many contemporary Americans and urbanites worldwide, reproduction, not erotic satisfaction, is the higher value.