Saying How You Feel - Cape Breton University

Robert Scott Stewart, Ph.D.
Department of Philosophy
Cape Breton University
Sydney, NS, Canada
[email protected]
Compare three philosophical discussions of sexual
desire and examine them in light of some recent
empirical research on sexual arousal and desire.
Distinguish between sexual arousal and sexual desire.
Argue that properly understood the recent empirical
evidence offers support for philosophic positions (or a
least doesn’t contradict it).
Namely, that sexual desire is interpersonal, intimate
connection that represents an existential need, while
sexual arousal is restricted to the physiological level an
tends to be biologically based.
Sexual desire is “multilevel interpersonal
awareness” I.e., A’s awareness of B’s desire
towards A increases A’s desire, and vice-versa.
Incomplete (or “perverse”) sexual desire is
narcissistic. I refer to it as sexual arousal.
Sexual desire is “a subjection to or immersion in
his body.”
The object of sexual desire is a particular
person, not just to body parts or actions.
Thomas Nagel, “Sexual Perversion,” Journal of Philosophy, LXVI, Jan. 16, 1969: 5-17.
“Sex is not a matter of frictional force… It is the
most intense way we relate to one another
person… The excitement comes largely from
how we interpret the situation and how we
perceive the connection to the other.”
“In sexual intimacy, we admit the partner
within our boundaries or make them more
permeable, showing our passions, capacities,
fantasies, and excitements, and responding to
Robert Nozick, The Examined Life: Philosophical Meditations Simon & Shuster, 1989),
Sexual desire is “a need based … on … an
awareness … of having a gender which implies
a sense of incompleteness that calls out to be
fulfilled by the gender of another person.”
It is a “desire for mutual baring and caressing
between oneself and at least one other person
(real, fantasized, or symbolized.”
It is the expression of a need to be cared for.
James Giles, The Nature of Sexual Desire (University Press of America, 2008), 181182; 93; 87; 174.
Sexual desire is non reductionistic – to bodily
parts, to particular actions, or mere physiology.
It is a self-conscious desire for intimate
connection with another (whole) person.
Measure physiological and subjective
responses to videos containing different levels
of sexual activity by different entities in male,
female, and male to female transsexual
subjects, all of whom self-labeled as hetero- or
M. Chivers, M. Seto, & R. Blanchard, “Gender and Sexual Orientation Differences
in Sexual Response to Sexual Activities Versus Gender of Actors in Sexual Films,”
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2007, 93 (6): 110801121; and many other
articles. See paper.
The video: (1)clothed, non-sexual, both men
and women; (2) naked, non-sexual, both men
and women; (3) naked, solitary masturbation,
both male and female; (4) naked, sexual
‘intercourse’, male-male, female-female, and
female-male; (5) bonobo chimps having
intercourse (in one experiment).
Attached to devices to measure female vaginal
lubrication or male erection.
Simultaneously answering questions regarding
level of arousal from watching various video.
Both (objective) physiological and subjective
responses measured.
Men are “category specific,” (heterosexual)
women are not.
Women are “flexible,” men are not.
For women, sexual response comes from level
of sexual activity, not gender.
For men, sexual response comes from gender of
actors, not sexual activity.
Female lubrication and evolution
Proximate and ultimate biological causes
Biology vs. social construction vs. existential
Women’s lubrication = sexual arousal (not
sexual desire) and is biologically based.
Male erection = sexual arousal (not necessarily
sexual desire)
Women’s subjective response = sexual desire
Men’s subjective response = sexual desire
Sexual desire in men and women differs some
but not as much as we might think/
“It’s more for intimacy … I am like a hermit if
you like. I am a lonely guy. I don’t have many
real time friends or I don’t see them that often.
There you are for five years, most of the time
sleeping in your bed alone … it’s very nice to
have a cuddle” (‘Steve’, 47, divorced IT)
Teela Sanders, Paying for Pleasure: Men Who Buy Sex (Devon, UK: Willan
Publishing, 2008), 40.
Brian Alexander, America Unzipped
American’s pursuit of sex is an attempt at
intimate connection to avoid personal isolation.
“That is why I think the sex explosion is just
about over. People will still watch porn, and
we will certainly still have sex, and some
people will still want to be tied up as some
people always have, but the hypersaturation of
it all is about to fizzle.”
Brian Alexander, America Unzipped: In Search of Sex and Satisfaction (Three Rivers
Press, 2008), 302.
Americans are ready for a turn away form
mere sexual arousal toward sexual desire.

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