The Healing Power of Erotic Love

Let's not give up on the idea that sex might help save the world.

Posted Apr 17, 2014

In her new book An Intimate Life, Berkeley sex surrogate Cheryl Cohen Greene (yes, she’s the one whose work was featured in the movie The Sessions) describes the confusion and dread that gripped the sex surrogate community in the 80’s with the arrival of AIDS.  Many sex surrogates died of the disease, and many more quit the profession.  Today professional surrogates are hard to find. 

Sex had been different before AIDS.  When I entered medical school in 1979, a decade and a half after oral contraceptives had ushered in the so-called sexual revolution, people still talked about the idea that erotic love might heal the world.  It was "Make love, not war."

AIDS changed all that.  By the time I became a sex therapist in the mid 80’s, one no longer heard much about the healing power of erotic love -- either for individuals or for society. 


As my colleague Leonore Tiefer has argued in her excellent paper “Sex therapy as a humanistic enterprise” (Sexual and RelationshipTherapy 21:359-375, 2006), eros as a source of intimate connection faded from public discussion once the 80's got underway.  

Sex still continues to get a lot of attention, of course. But our current public sexual preoccupations  -- from Viagra to pornography, sex addiction, Game of Thrones, and Miley Cyrus -- haven’t centered much on the healing potential of erotic love.  

We no longer hold by “Make love, not war.”  Eros is no longer seen as much of an answer to the world’s problems.  One looks wistfully back to the 70s' cockeyed idealization of our gentler instincts, including our instinctive love of sexual pleasure.  

But the goofy idea that sex might heal a fractured world still probably occurs now and then to young couples discovering erotic love together for the first time. It’s an idea we probably shouldn’t let vanish completely.  

The sexual impulse, like the religious impulse, can do tremendous harm as well as good.  We need powerful social structures to contain it and direct it for the good.  

But let’s not forget the power of sexuality not just for procreation and entertainment, but for affirmation, connection, and healing as well.  

Copyright © Stephen Snyder, MD   2014 New York City

See Dr Snyder's interview with Cheryl Cohen Greene here:

. . .  Sexualityresource interviews sex surrogate Cheryl Cohen Greene fromThe Sessions

And see related articles:

. . . Slow Sex in Manhattan

. . . Sex Therapist at the Academy Awards:  Helen Hunt in The Sessions

. . . The Courage to be Seen