Why Atheists Have Great Sex
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For some reason, the sex- positive community is also, very often, a spiritual community. (At least in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live.) It’s not often a conventionally religious community; but many varieties of Wicca, Goddess worship, shamanism, Tantra, astrology, chi, chakras, belief in a collective metaphysical consciousness, and other forms of New Age belief and magical thinking permeate it, both privately and publicly.
This troubles me. I am a hard- core atheist/ materialist/ naturalist/ humanist/ skeptic/ whatever you want to call someone who doesn’t believe in any supernatural entities or substances. And I’m just as unconvinced — and almost as troubled — by the ideas of the Goddess and chi energy and immortal consciousness and so on, as I am by the ideas of God and angels and Hell.
Now, I’m not writing this piece to argue against religion. I may yet write a piece criticizing spiritual beliefs and practices in the sex- positive community . . . but it’s not what I’m doing here. (If you want to see my reasons and arguments for my lack of spiritual belief, you can do so here, and here, and here and here and here.)
What I want to do here is offer an alternative.
I want to offer a positive way of looking at sexuality and sexual transcendence that doesn’t involve any sort of belief in the supernatural. I want to offer a sex- positive philosophy that is entirely materialist. The materialist view of life in general and sex in particular is often viewed as cold, bleak, narrow, mechanical, reductionist, and generally a downer. I don’t think it is. And I want to talk about why.
The materialist view says that there is no supernatural world. At all. There is only the physical world. All those things that seem non- physical — thoughts, feelings, choices, selfhood, transcendent sexual ecstasy, consciousness in general — are actually products of the brain, and of the brain’s interactions with the rest of the body and the rest of the world. We don’t yet know exactly how this works — the science of neuropsychology is still in its infancy — but the overwhelming evidence we have so far is that this seems to be so.
And to me, this is not a downer. This is magnificent.
To me, the idea that, out of nothing but earth and water and sunlight, these wildly complex living beings have developed, not only with the capacity for consciousness but with the capacity to create the experience of ecstasy for ourselves and one another . . . that is just jaw-droppingly astonishing. We can create the experience of joy, of deep, expansive pleasure that takes us out of ourselves and into one another . . . and we do it through a complex re-arrangement of the energy of the sun, and the atoms and molecules of the planet.
That is magnificent. That, more than any spiritual belief I ever had, makes me feel both humble and proud. That makes me feel intimately connected with the rest of the Universe . . . in a way that no spiritual practice ever did. What’s that old hippie song about how we’re stardust, made of billion- year- old carbon? You don’t have to believe in metaphysical energy to think that that is wicked cool.
There’s something else, too. When you look at human beings from a materialist and evolutionary standpoint, not as special spiritual entities or children of the Goddess but simply as another twig on the evolutionary tree . . . that view puts sex squarely front and center in the human experience. Sex has an immensely important place in the evolutionary scheme. Darwin wrote an entire book about it.