Why does our sexual appetite come and go? Is sex an activity that brings pleasure because it nurtures our ego? Or is it the opposite? Is sex so good because it disrupts our ego? Philosophy and psychology give two similar answers to this issue.
In his Symposium, Plato seems to say that sex is divine. Even more, it’s exactly because of its divine nature that sex does not belong to just the ego, but is an outpouring that floods the ego and stretches its boundaries. Marsilio Ficino, who centuries later rewrote Plato’s beautiful dialogue, seems to agree with him in emphasizing the sense of divinity and wholeness that an egoless erotic life can generate.
Honorable guests were invited to this banquet (symposium in fact means banquet) in order to happily drink together and tell their wonderful stories about love. None of these stories was in defense of a view of erotic love as individualistic and ego-centered. The poetic story of Aristophanes splits the person into two perfect halves bound to find each other forever; Phaedrus speaks about a kind of love that is all about sacrificing our own self for the beloved one, like Alcestis with Admetus, or Achilles with Patroclus; Eryximachus speaks about erotic love as a force that moves the universe and keeps its elements together.
The only one who seems to refer to eros as a force in some way connected to our ego is Socrates who, relating a story he heard from his female teacher Diotima, described eros as being one with daimothe (a Greek word which is very difficult to translate) that indicates the most intimate self.
The question is what kind of self is this daimon? Interestingly, an answer comes from two psychotherapists, Guggenbuhl-Craig and Lowen. Both cite the story learnt from the Symposium as an example of deconstruction of the ego and of the mechanisms that are supposed to protect it.
According to their interpretation of the Symposium, eros is the vital flow of nature. We are part of this flow and we find our meaning through it. In that sense, eros is the deepest root of our self, meant as body and spirit. It is from this root that we acquire the sense of what is right or wrong, pleasant and painful, before any intrusion of our social surrounding and intellectual reasoning. In this pattern, the ego is a fickle structure continuously emerging from the swirly flow of nature. The ego is the pole that tries to organize this swirl and make sense out of it; whether it can or not is another problem entirely.
I think that with sex, we do not come back to that ego-centered structure, but we bathe ourselves in the vital flow. In our sexual life we can (and sometimes want to) lose our personal identity in order to be in contact with an absolute one that has the taste of the divine; we abandon ourselves in that absoluteness and in that loss we feel complete. When sex is something lived à la American Psycho—I apologize for those who haven’t seen the movie—that is having sex and staring at our own triceps (if any) and clearly feeling absolutely anything, the sexual experience may not be as rewarding because the ego is too bulky and prevents the establishment of real contact with the vital flow.
Hence yes, sex seems divine to me—especially if it is your self and not your ego living it.