The Metaphysics of Sexual Desire
Sexual desire is a subjective aim toward satisfying intensity that is found in animals and plants, hills and rivers, trees and stars. It can be expressed in healing and harmful ways, and its ultimate expression is love. God, too, is sexual.
Pittenger, Norman. Making Sexuality Human. Philadelphia: Pilgrim Press, 1970.
Wink, Walter, ed. Homosexuality and Christian Faith: Questions of Conscience for the Churches. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999.
Spencer, Daniel T. Gay and Gaia: Ethics, Ecology, and the Erotic. Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 1996.
Bennett, Joel B. Time and Intimacy: A New Science of Personal Relationships. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000.
For a bibliography on Whitehead and human sexuality, click here.
Below please find a sample of abstracts.
The Cosmology of Sexual Desire
Sexual desire is an expression of, not an exception to, an eros toward satisfaction that is part of the very nature of the universe. In Process and Reality Whitehead speaks of this eros as a subjective aim toward intensity and says that it can be found in pulsations of quantum events in the depths of atoms, in the desire for a satisfying quality of life in living organisms, and in the desire on God's part for the well-being of life on earth. Wherever there is life of any sort, there is a desire for satisfying experience. Let eros be another name for the desire for intense experience. We live in an erotic universe.
If this is true, then sexual desire is a particular kind of eros: namely a desire for intimacy and novelty in which people seek know one another with their bodies. Whitehead proposes that, in life on earth, we are forever with our bodies and our bodies are with us. He calls it the withness of the body.
In sexual desire our aim is enjoy an expanded form of bodily withness so that our bodies are intertwined with another. We are not one but also not two. We are together and flowing in and through one another.
The intimacy is not a collapsing of differences but rather a sense of being fully and completed related to another in a satisfying way such that boundaries are deeply and delightfully blurred, and the novelty unfolds as playful exploration of the surfaces and depths of their worlds.
This play is a form of what Whitehead would call adventure: the enjoyment of novel possibilities in the moment at hand. In the very play there is a sense of pleasure and also a sense of transcendence. The other person transcends us and yet is with us.
In human life we interpret sexual desire in various ways, and these interpretations are socially constructed. The interpretations may have a patriarchal slant, a matriarchal slant, or a gender-inclusive slant. The interpretations may be constructive or destructive, relative to the norms by which they are evaluated.
But the desire itself is deeper than the interpretations, and it is what is given for interpretation. Immediacy of the moment, it is a metaphysical necessity. There cannot be life without sexual desire. We Whiteheadians believe that there is something like a desire for satisfaction even in the depths of atoms and also in the very soul of the universe, in God.
This means that sexual desire does not begin with human life or even with other forms of animal life; even as sexual reproduction may well begin with them, at least on our planet. The inner impulse animating sexual reproduction in living organisms, including human beings, has been present in life on earth and, in all probability, in life beyond earth as well, long before sexual reproduction became a mechanism for biological evolution. In short, sexual desire precedes sexual reproduction.
Sexual desire is the subjective aim at satisfying harmony in experience. It is a desire that the many of the world become one, in the immediacy of experience, in a way that is intense and satisfying, pleasurable and beautiful. The aim of this desire is indeed beauty, understood as the living beauty of satisfying experience.
In human life it can unfold in constructive and destructive ways, but always it is filled with a desire that the world outside us -- often as revealed in another person -- become one in the immediacy of our own experience; or, to say that same thing, that we ourselves become one with the world around us. In sexual intimacy the many become one and the one becomes many. Thus sexual desire always has two poles. It is desire to become one and to become many, to contract and to expand, to be fully oneself and to be with another. There is a yin-yang quality to it:
This desire to become one is not necessarily a desire for union, for a collapsing of differences, but rather a desire for communion, for intimacy, for an occasion in which two are not one but also not two. It is almost as if there is a third reality that animates us, a holy spirit, who brings us together without keeping us apart.
the many become one and are increased by one.
This yearning for intimacy, for communion, can sometimes selfish, as if we are the center of things and the other person is here for us alone. But it can also be wonderfully expansive: a context in which we lose ourselves in other person.
This eros is found, not only in human beings and other living beings on our planet, but also in the very Soul of the universe, whose desire is the adventure of the universe as a whole. When we are filled with sexual desire we are participating in this divine desire, albeit in our own human ways. The desire itself has a sacred quality and is a form of prayer. And the enacting of the desire is itself a liturgy, a way of joining God in the adventure of the universe as one.