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Philosophy of Love and Sex Essay

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Updated: Jan 26th, 2022

Goldman’s Theory of Sexual Desire

Throughout history, a lot of scientists and philosophers have been investigating the issue of sexual desire. Though the nature of sex is considered to be generally acknowledged, there are many contradictive theories that describe the sources of sexual desire.

According to Alan Goldman (1977), “sexual desire is a desire for contact with another person’s body and for the pleasure which such contact produces” (p. 268). In his article, the author rebuts the “means-end analysis” that is often used to research the concept of sex. Thus, Goldman exposes sexual activity as a pleasurable process that is sustained with no special purpose and is meant to bring joy to the partners.

There are two counter theories, due to which making sex suggests reaching a definite purpose. Therefore, according to Solomon’s theory, sex serves as a type of communication and is meant to express the feeling of love. The second objection to Goldman’s idea, which was raised by Nagel, implies that sexual activity is based upon the awareness of the partner’s arousal. These ideas are rooted in the ancient theories of Platonic and Kantian moral traditions, according to which aimless sex was viewed as a matter of vulgarity. However, in his study, Goldman proves that such ideas are not successful, since the feelings of love and awareness can be expressed without sex. People can reveal their emotions through words, sacrifices, heroic deeds, and so on, while sexual satisfaction can be reached only by making sex. Moreover, the philosopher claims that natural sexual pleasure can be derived not only from standard sexual acts but from pervasive ones as well (Goldman, 1977).

Sexual Arousal vs. Phenomenal Attraction

Any sexual activity is evoked by a specific feeling or desire. However, it may be argued that similar feelings are sometimes experienced without a subsequent accomplishment of the sexual act. In his article, Bradley Richards (2014) provides a distinction between such notions. Thus, the author explains the differences between sexual arousal and phenomenal attraction.

Richards’ study is based upon the overview of the sexual concepts that were previously introduced by such scientists as Jacobson, Nagel, Solomon, and some others. The author points out that these scholars distinguished purely the notions of sexual desire and sexual appetite, which constitute the concept of sexual arousal. In contrast to them, Richards elaborated a theory of phenomenal attraction that falls into the category of sexual concepts but differs from the notion of sexual arousal. Due to the author, “phenomenal attraction can not be relieved through a specific activity; in this sense, it lacks a proper object, an object of satisfaction” (Richards, 2014, p. 11).

Richards claims that phenomenal attraction can not be perceived as sexual arousal, since it is not always accompanied by physical reactions of a human body. Moreover, these two states inflict contrastive consequences. While sexual arousal can be assuaged through the accomplishment of various sexual activities, phenomenal attraction, if it is not conflated with sexual arousal, can not be satisfied. To illustrate the difference, Richards compares phenomenal attraction to aesthetic admiration. Thus, physical attraction can prompt some changes in personal perceptions of the outer world or become a source of inspiration. However, in contrast to sexual arousal, it has a permanent character and requires no subsequent actions or reactions (Richards, 2014).

Aristotle’s Theory of Friendship

The concept of friendship has some consistent parallels with the notion of love. Thus, the person who can be called a friend is usually an object of admiration and some special appreciation for his/her partner. However, according to Aristotle’s opinion, friendship has its distinct underlying features and can exist only under specific circumstances.

Due to Aristotle, friendly relationships should always be based upon the concept of goodness. Therefore, the ancient scholar emphasizes that even if one of the friend’s changes and does not present an interest for a partner, the latter should still preserve the friendly attitude towards/him her. However, this principle should be followed only in the case when the changes in relations between the friends do not imply wickedness. Besides, Aristotle claims that real friendship is rooted in unanimity. The author suggests that friends need a common direction to follow, while the quality of having views on different things is a precondition of friendship. Finally, the philosopher argues that friends have to love each other just as they like themselves. Consequently, Aristotle describes friendship as an elevated feeling.

In his work, Aristotle discriminates against different types of friendship. He argues that any kind of friendly relations can be determined either by a sense of equality or by a sense of superiority. The scholar acknowledges that friendship, which is based upon domination, is more common than the former one. The author, however, implies that every type of human correlation is rooted in some differences. Still, even those people who feel being better or worse than their friends should love each other and desire the best for each other, since only such type of friendship is successful (Aristotle, 2007).


Aristotle. (2007). The Nicomachean Ethics. Minneapolis: Filiquarian Publishing LLC.

Goldman, A. (1977). Plain sex. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 6(3), 267-287.

Richards, B. (2014). Sexual desire and the phenomenology of attraction. Dialogue, 21(3), 1-21.

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