On Junk Food and Junk Sex
Is sex outside home similar to eating outside home?
Posted Sep 09, 2020
"Great food is like great sex. The more you have the more you want." —Gael Greene
Sex and food are connected in many ways. Are they also similar in terms of morality? Is having sex outside your house as moral and acceptable as eating out?
Sex and food
“My hot lover feeds me with superb chocolate and green tea after sex; I always want the sex to be over fast.” —A married woman
Throughout history, eating and sex have been related in various manners. In both experiences, all senses are involved and good meals, especially those including wine, generate a romantic atmosphere. There are also types of food, such as chocolate, apples, and oysters, that are considered to enhance sexual desire. Other foods are perceived to be erotic because of their shape and texture—e.g., bananas, asparagus, and avocado. Other foods, like whipped cream and chocolate spread, are sometimes part of a sexual game.
Sex, eating and morality
“Sex is no more a moral issue than eating a good meal.” —Catherine Hakim
“I love you more than coffee, but please don't make me prove it.” —Elizabeth Evans
Catherine Hakim (2012) argues that meeting a secret lover for a casual encounter should be as routine as dining out at a restaurant instead of eating at home. Hakim agrees with those who do not consider sexual desire as an emotion, but a biological drive like hunger and thirst. In her view, “The fact that we eat most meals at home with spouses and partners does not preclude eating out in restaurants to sample different cuisines and ambiences, with friends or colleagues.”
Roger Scruton (1986) rejects the comparison between sexual desire and the appetite for food. He argues that only sexual desire is an interpersonal response involving the perception of another as a unique person who is replaceable by another, and is not a means to an end, but an end in his own right. Scruton concludes that what distinguishes sexual desire from hunger is not the structure of the impulse itself, but the nature of those entities to which it is directed.
Scruton is right, and it is the richer nature of the other that essentially differentiates between eating and having sex. A restaurant will not be offended if you eat there only once, but your sexual partner might be offended if you treat her in a humiliating and disposable manner.
Another comparison between eating and sex is that of "whetting your appetite outside, while also eating at home." Unlike Hakim’s view, this practice does not equate bedrooms with restaurants, but “merely” combines them in a way that still keeps the main dish (and the dessert) inside the house and not out of it.
Like other emotions, sexual desire is mainly about a human being. Hunger and thirst are feelings, expressing states of deprivation. The role of imagination in generating hunger and thirst is significantly smaller than in sexual desire. You can imagine a good meal, but such imagination is no substitute for actual eating. It is said that the ancient Greek Diogenes the Cynic was found masturbating in the public square. When reproached for his behavior, he explained: “I wish I could rub my stomach to satisfy its hunger.”
Like eating, sex can also be done in various places and with different people. However, the replaceable nature of sex (and romantic love) does not mean that democracy should be applied to it and that it is like linen—the more often changed, the sweeter. On the contrary, people who rapidly replace their romantic and sexual partners may have trouble forming profound loving relationships. Eating is different; constantly dining out at different restaurants has no moral problems attached to it. Hence, we cannot be as unromantic about sex as we are about eating, although there are cases in which sexual desire has nothing to do with romantic love. Many people think that love and sex can be separated but would prefer to have them combined. Moreover, most people would consider sexual involvement between their partner and a rival a threat to their romantic relationship.
Junk sex and healthy romantic relationships
“Junk sex is like junk food—not bad enough to avoid, but definitely not good enough to make a steady diet of.” —The Urban Dictionary
“I’ve been eating a sandwich with no mayonnaise, lettuce, tomatoes, or cheese with my spouse. Now I can eat the whole sandwich. My lover is the condiments and veggies . . . my spouse the meat or stable foundation I’ve had for over 25 years! With both in my life, I am satiated but not overly full!” —A married woman
The very use of the term “junk” implies that both junk food and junk sex are inferior to the “real thing” and are therefore unhealthy. However, are they unhealthy in the same sense? The word “junk” refers to something of poor quality. What is poor quality in junk sex? Should we avoid junk sex, just as we are advised to avoid junk food?
Consider the following common claims about both junk food and junk sex:
- a. Junk food and junk sex both have little long-term value for nutrition or for romantic love—they provide instant satisfaction.
- b. Junk food is high in fat, sugar, salt, and calories; junk sex is high in superficial, egoistic desires.
- c. Many foods and sexual activities are healthy or junk depending on their “ingredients” and on the way in which they are prepared.
- d. Consuming or engaging in a limited amount of junk food or junk sex is generally safe when integrated into a well-balanced diet or relationship.
- e. Junk food and junk sex can easily become addictive.
In comparing junk food to junk sex, intimacy can be considered the “nutritional value” of sex, while one’s overall flourishing is analogous to one’s overall health. Intimacy involves a feeling of closeness and belonging, both of which are vital in healthy sex. Consider the following confession of a married woman: “Last night I had sex with my husband, but he did not actually touch me—just penetrated me. I was so sad, I could cry.” Intimate sex does not merely involve penetration; it also entails positive, close feelings between the partners. In good intimate sex, as with a good meal at a restaurant, the intimate atmosphere is important; in junk food and junk sex, there is hardly any time or need for atmosphere (Ben-Ze’ev, 2019).
Junk sex is all about one’s own satisfaction; healthy sex is also, and often mainly, about the other. The positive experience of junk sex is over the moment that the agent is sexually satisfied. The experience of healthy intimate sex takes place before and after the climax; some people (more so women) claim that this is the most meaningful part of intimate sex. As one married woman said after her first extramarital affair, “What I enjoyed the most that evening was the kissing, cuddling, and his emotional presence.”
Living healthily is more than just eating healthily. It is a huge canvas on which many factors make their mark. It’s hard to pin down exactly what makes up a healthy life. But longevity and flourishing are likely candidates. While longevity is easy to measure, it is more complicated to characterize flourishing. There is no one way to live a healthy life and no blueprint for achieving it. Nevertheless, profound romantic activities have a lingering positive impact on our life and are basic to our flourishing.
Love is important in forming a valuable marital framework. However, there are various types of loving relationships, and exclusive sexual intensity is not essential for all forms of marital frameworks.
Julia Child once said that "people who love to eat are always the best people." I would say that people who love junk sex (and food) will never be satisfied—they will always be hungry for their next superficial sexual (and edible) encounter.
This post is based on my recent book, The Arc of Love: How Our Romantic Lives Change over Time.
Ben-Ze’ev, A. (2019). The arc of love: How our romantic lives change over time. University of Chicago Press.
Hakim, C. (2012). The new rules. Gibson Square.
Scruton, R. (1986). Sexual desire. Weidenfeld and Nicolson.