Profound intrinsically valuable activities are essential for developing our capacities and for enabling us to flourish; their value is both for the short and long term. Listening to music, painting, dancing, intellectual thinking, behaving morally, writing and reading are examples of such activities where we enjoy and value the activity itself and it is also essential for our personal flourishing.
In superficial intrinsically valuable activities, people briefly enjoy the activity for its own sake, even though it does not contribute much to the development of our capacities and to our flourishing. Such activities hold short-term value for us and in certain cases they can cause us harm (especially when we engage in them excessively). Examples of superficial intrinsically valuable activities are watching television, gossiping, going to a movie, or eating at a fast food restaurant. The superficial pleasure gained in such activities is an immediately rewarding, relatively short-lived experience requiring few or no profound human capacities; such pleasure merely sustains our interest and joy, but gives us no profound satisfaction in the long term.
Feeling good may be good enough in the short term, but it is certainly not enough for our long-term flourishing. Thus, despite its success in inducing moderate emotional states, television does not require much personal investment, since the viewers are involved in imaginary relationships. When viewing television, people report feeling more passive and less challenged and alert, as well as concentrating less and using fewer skills than in almost any other daily activity except resting and "doing nothing." Because of its fictional and superficial nature, television succeeds in stimulating moderate emotional states without inflicting upon us the great costs associated with intense emotions. Such costs can occur if we watch television constantly. In some cases, such superficial activities can even have a negative functional value, as we might pursue them instead of engaging in more beneficial activities.
Emotions typically express our most profound values and attitudes; as such, they often express not merely superficial involvement, but deep commitment. The difference between involvement and commitment may be illustrated by the traditional breakfast of egg and bacon. The chicken’s attitude is that of involvement, the pig’s attitude is that of commitment. Unlike emotional states in which the evaluative concern is typically profound, non-emotional evaluations do not tend to involve a profound motivational component.
Profound and superficial activities in the romantic realm
The difference between profound and superficial activities is illustrated in the romantic realm by the difference between the activities typical of profound love and those of superficial sex.
Profound intrinsically valuable activities are crucial for long-term love as the satisfaction that arises from performing these activities is not transient—it involves the optimal development and function of the individual. Profound love does not stem from subordinating one’s activities to those of the beloved, but from considering the activities for and with the beloved as compatible with one’s own intrinsically valuable activities. The choice of such activities cannot be arbitrary, as it must be of benefit to and compatible with the agent’s personality and flourishing.
A sexual activity can be intrinsically valuable in the superficial sense of providing fleeting pleasure to the participants. It can be intrinsically valuable in the profound sense when it is part of the more profound attitude of love. A study examining long-term love found that among the individuals who reported no physical affection, not a single individual reported being intensely in love. However, couples with marital problems sometimes report excellent sexual interactions and strong feelings of love. Despite the great sex and physical attraction, their overall level of marital satisfaction is not particularly high (O’Leary, et al. 2012). Good sexual interaction is often an expression of profound love, but sex is not everything—other, more profound, features are significant as well.
Profound love cannot be achieved by only repeating pleasant experiences. Love is not an isolated achievement; rather, it is an ongoing, dynamic process in which we feel good about the whole process and not merely about an isolated feeling within it.
Sex addiction is a destructive superficial intrinsically valuable activity. It may be pleasurable in the short term but it is still destructive. Shannon Fox speaks about four aspects of sex addiction:
1. Obsession: The person is consumed by thoughts of sexual activity.
2. Compulsivity: The person completely lacks control over the compulsion to have sex.
3. Increased tolerance. As time goes by the person needs more and more and must increase the frequency in order to achieve the desired effect.
4. Behavior continues despite heavy consequences. The person needs the rush, no matter what the cost.
It is obvious that such aspects do not contribute to one’s flourishing but rather endanger it.
Sex addiction is not rare and there are many celebrities who are purported to be addicted to sex. The list —the reliability of which is unknown— includes people such as Warren Beatty (one list estimates that he slept with 12,775 women), Charlie Sheen (5000+), Gene Simmons (4600), Mick Jagger (4000+), Julio Iglesias (3000), Jack Nicholson (2000+), John F. Kennedy, Michael Douglas, David Duchovny, Amy Winehouse, Amber Smith, Kendra Jade Rossi, Jennie Ketcham, and Kari Ann Peniche. A documentary on Fidel Castro puts the number of his sexual partners at 35,000—two a day (one at lunch, one at dinner) for the entirety of his four-decade rule. There are rehab institutions that specialize in helping people who are addicted to sex.
Like other types of addiction, the addiction to electronic sex involves an element of self-destruction. Thus, one woman reported that she spent 16 hours a day visiting sex sites on the Internet, which resulted in her marriage collapsing. Therapists testify to the growing number of marital problems caused by online activities, and various support groups, such as one called “CyberWidows,” have been formed to help people to deal with this problem. Indeed, there is a significant increase in the number of people who cite their spouse’s online sexual and romantic activities as grounds for divorce.
Even though sex addiction occurs among both men and women, the term “sex addict” is more derogatory concerning women since our culture discourages women from being assertive and open in expressing their sexual needs.
Madly in love and sex addicted
Superficial intrinsically valuable activities are enjoyable but they can be destructive in cases of addiction in which the person devotes a disproportional amount of time to this enjoyment and neglects other more meaningful aspects. Profound intrinsically valuable activities are very valuable for one’s development and flourishing. There are, however, cases in which such activities can cause harm, particularly when they are done in excess. Thus, if someone loves her job and spends a great deal of time on her work, she could flourish from a personal point of view, but her family might suffer.
Excess of any type is typically harmful. This is more so in the case of superficial intrinsically valuable activities, in which addiction is more frequent and rehab is crucial in order to restore normal functioning. In the case of profound intrinsically valuable activities, our concern is typically not to cease pursuing such activities; rather it is to maintain the great initial profoundness. Here the issue of excess is of lesser weight than in superficial activities.
A clear line exists between praiseworthy romantic behavior, expressed in the phenomenon of being madly in love, and the highly criticized phenomenon of sex addiction. This line is based on the above mentioned differences between profound and superficial activities.
This difference is in turn related to another significant difference: when someone is madly in love, he can think of nothing but the beloved; when someone suffers from sexual addiction, his thoughts are only about the next sexual object. Focusing on one person enables a profound attitude to be sustained. Focusing upon one object increases the resources that are available for that object and hence the attitude toward that object can be more profound. It is like a laser beam, which focuses upon a very narrow area and consequently achieves a high intensity on that point.
In this regard, Basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain, who claimed to have slept with 20,000 women, said, “It would have been better for me to have one woman 1,000 times. I wasn’t bragging that I was a great lover. Actually, if you look at it, you can say that I had so many women because I was such a bad lover; they never came back a second time.”
Another significant difference between being madly in love and sexual addiction is that the first helps the lover to flourish, while the second disrupts other activities in life. Intrinsically valuable activities, which develop and further one’s capacities, are at the basis of profound love. This provides the person with the ongoing satisfaction of fulfilling himself. Such fulfillment makes you feel good and smile, whereupon “the whole world smiles with you,” as “everybody loves a lover.” Addictive sexual activities damage the addicted person’s other activities and his environment.
Being madly in love involves many different activities with the beloved; being a sex addict confines your world to very narrow and partial activities. The partial and superficial attitude involved in the sexual interaction of a sex addict greatly impedes his ability to be involved in other significant activities.
To exemplify these differences, consider the following true case, described in the News of the World, of Terri Hunter, a 25 year old British woman who needs sex up to a dozen times per day and admits that her addiction is out of control. Despite insisting she is not a "slut," Ms. Hunter trawls the Internet for partners, agreeing to sleep with them no matter how unattractive they turn out to be. She says: "That's another sad part of this problem -- my desire for sex overrides any quality control issues… It doesn't matter to me how it happens or what they look like and it's a bonus if they're well-endowed… I've done it with hundreds and hundreds of men. I don't keep a tally because I'm not a slut -- I am just satisfying a need… Most people who know me think I'm really sweet and charming. I don't smoke, I hardly drink, I've never taken drugs, yet I've slept with nearly one thousand men. It's like having dry skin: You know you shouldn't scratch it, but when you do it just feels so good."
Unlike someone who is madly in love with her beloved, Ms. Hunter does not perform any profound activities with the men she sleeps with; hence, her sexual activities ruin, rather than develop her. Her mind is not occupied with the man she is with, but with her next sexual partner, and her activities with these men are extremely superficial and limited. Being madly in love with one person is the height of romantic behavior; being addicted to sex with many people is a very different matter.
The problem of sex addiction is not mainly about sex, but about a more profound issue, and it mainly concerns the degree to which it damages our ability to engage in profound activities that develop our capacities and enable us to flourish.
Genuine love involves a deep emotional involvement, which facilitates our engagement in many activities with the beloved that are intrinsically valuable activities in the profound sense. Such love is clearly different from the very superficial and partial activities associated with sexual addictions. Accordingly, Tiger Woods said, after undergoing sex addiction rehab, that “For the rest of my life, I can’t have sex with someone unless I genuinely feel something for them. If I do, I’m putting myself in jeopardy.” In making this statement, he indicated that he has learnt that the presence of profound emotional involvement is crucial in avoiding sexual addiction.
The above considerations can be encapsulated in the following statement that a lover might express: "Darling, I know that I may not be the best sexual partner in the world, but focusing upon me and loving me a bit more will make you happier than running through the streets of London.”