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The philosophy of sexuality is a more recent development. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy says:

Among the many topics explored by the philosophy of sexuality are procreation, contraception, celibacy, marriage, adultery, casual sex, flirting, prostitution, homosexuality, masturbation, seduction, rape, sexual harassment, sadomasochism, pornography, bestiality, and pedophilia. What do all these things have in common? All are related in various ways to the vast domain of human sexuality.

According to this author sexual attraction and love are two unrelated feelings. Love is the act of caring for someone else and giving them all their needs, while sexual lust is all about receiving sexual satisfaction from your partner. The author thinks that modern society has confused the two to the point that if you don't have sexual attraction to your partner that means you don't love them as much. She insists we should not be conflating these two very independent feelings, and learn to love our partners without sexual dependence.

Now although I find myself somewhat agreeing with her, I do not believe that this is a purely modern construct. The most ancient civilizations viewed adultery as the gravest sin and the ancient codes of law (including the Old Testament) even prescribed execution for the adulterer. So the connection between love and sexual attraction (at least in marriage) was there from the dawn of civilization.

I would like to know what are some counter-arguments to this? It is certainly false to state that "love" only involves giving, and that sexual lust only involves receiving. There are always overlapping between the two. You almost can't love without receiving anything from the object (Even the love to your child, although unconditional, cannot exist without you receiving some type of satisfaction from him, at least in the past). But although love and lust operate the same way, should we assume that they all fall under the same category "love"? Is this purely a social construct, or is there any philosophical merit to this association? It is certainly true that love and sexual attraction must not have the same object, but philosophically speaking are they related at all? If yes, what is the best argument to prove it? I would appreciate any thoughts on the subject.

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  • It is quite obvious that they are not identical, but to assert that they are "unrelated" sounds quite strange to me... What about millions of poems, books, movies? Mar 2 at 15:37
  • I disagree that love is about actions at all. Love is about self and the boundary between self and other. The more love toward someone, the less distance, less distrust, less otherness. Basically the other is seen as being closer to oneself, closer to being the same substance, and hence deserving of similar care or concern as one gives oneself.
    – Michael
    Mar 2 at 15:40
  • @Michael in this framework do you think sexual attraction belongs to the same category?
    – Bach
    Mar 2 at 15:43
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    The problem here is the definition of love. Sexual attraction can be objectively (and even physically) assessed, but not love, which is therefore quite subjective. Ergo, subjectivity propagates logically: the answer is also subjective. So, you are asking for opinions.
    – RodolfoAP
    Mar 2 at 16:12
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    I don't see the connection you make between ancient law and the mixing of love and sexual attraction. The ancient law of marriage was primarily intended to give men confidence in who their own children were and to control sexual attraction and the violence that can arise from it (one of the most common causes of murder is sexual jealousy). Not only does this not imply anything about love, I don't believe love was particularly associated with marriage in the non-Christian world. And even among early Christians, love was primarily the man's duty. The woman's duty was obedience. Mar 3 at 0:11

5 Answers 5

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Spinoza defines love as "a feeling of joy associated with the idea of a cause". It is to say, if you have the idea that something or someone gives you joy, you love that something or someone. You will crave their presence in order to maximize your joy. Joy in Spinoza's work is any positive feeling, that lifts you up and makes you feel more powerful, however base (drugs, sexual pleasure) or elevated (the enlightenment of learning, etc...)

The concepts of joy and sadness in Spinozas work have been associated by neurologists like Henri Laborit and Antonio Damasio to the mechanisms of reward and punishment on our brains,i.e. the way we identify that a given behavior was good for us and should be reproduced (or that is was bad and should be avoided). In other words, the way we instinctively identify things like playing with our children or having sex with a partner are good things we should crave to do again is biologically the same.

So according to his definition sexual attraction is love. Or at least one form of it. Although it is clear that one can love someone else without feeling sexual tension, the opposite is not true, and so the two can't be completely unrelated.

Just a word about your adultery argument: adultery was considered a crime in ancient times mostly for lineage and legacy purposes. Many civilisations like the Polynesian didn't even have this concept, and it has always been punished most harshly on women than on men, because men can avoid responsibility for their bastards while women import their lover's children into their husband's lineage and legacy. Marriage was often a question of business and politics, even at the farmers level. The political and economic side of things was much more prevalent than the romantic feeling of betrayal. It appears to me on the contrary that the conflation of love and marriage, and thus the assimilation of adultery to heartbreak and betrayal is a recent development.

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Love comes down to self and its embrace of other. To love someone, at its core, is not about action, but rather how closely that someone is held psychologically as being of the same path or substance. Family is naturally seen as having at least some closeness of substance. But even a soulmate or twin flame can have closeness in life-path and purpose, making for a more abstract substance of similarity.

To lust for someone is to experience not so much psychological closeness as physical appetite. Material attraction, whether of a sexy potential mate, a tasty looking food, or a comfy sleeping spot, is about compatibility with one's material needs. Physical attraction has only minimal requirement for psychological closeness -- perhaps only enough for basic safety.

The key distinction between love and physical attraction is that of self versus substrate. An object of love is taken as being a part of oneself, deserving of the same care and affection as for oneself. Two become one, so as to form an extended body. Here we have a union of identity and often a sharing of resources and protection. On the other hand, with physical attraction, we seek compatible substrate, or environmental object and amenity, which suits our current appetite. While love involves an overlap of identity, physical attraction involves an overlap of nature. To share nature is to belong to the same ecosystem, but not necessarily the same body.

The key similarity is attraction. We love what we see as a part of ourselves. The closer, the more emotion. On a perhaps less spiritual level, we also love what we see as a part of our ecosystem and especially our substrate. The game of attraction seems as a continuum on which emotion grades, having four basic levels: (1) personal self -- our person; (2) extended self -- our family; (3) direct substrate -- our appetite; (4) indirect substrate -- our ecosystem.

While the experience, or quale, of attraction certainly varies, particularly between the first two and last two levels, we no doubt have feelings for all four levels. The thought of losing any level brings sadness. Perhaps a key difference is the size of each pool. Because lower levels are smaller in size, a small loss is a big problem. Presumably we love the whole continuum, but lower levels are a lot more personal.

Further on the experience, appetitive attractions involve some physical system of consumption, hence the additional qualia. One could argue that love is present for all levels, but the specific extra sensations place another dimension.

In conclusion, both love and lust involve attraction. All attraction likely involves some level of love. But that involving appetite has its own special qualia.

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Eros is not a feeling, nor an emotion — so calling them “different feelings” is misleading. The two are clearly connected, but the explanation is illusive. Some examples, “Of course I love you, but not that way.” This is crushing b/c it implies it is not eros, but some kind of friendship. Related, going too long without sex (barring illness or other reason) leaves one feeling unloved. The shallow answer is that making love expresses love, but I find that too loose. Love without sex is merely mental; a rejection. You can have sex without love, but it has a way of inviting one in. GJ

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philosophically speaking are they related at all? If yes, what is the best argument to prove it?

A boring "think about it" answer.

You should ask yourself what you mean by "philosophical speaking"? Is that a pseudo moral claim, akin to "I wish they they overlapped more". Are you asking whether philosophers can repudiate the relation between the two shown in psychology and indeed self help?

To be a little Heideggerian about it, I would suggest that the basis of perhaps even both - what is love and what is sexual attraction - involves the meaning of Being, and by extension history and philosophy/thought. Whether or not that ends up trivialising love, sex, or both, is not an easy question

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If fathers love their children, then the two can not be inextricably related. Likewise for a loving friendship. These cases show that the two are very often completely unrelated.

However, your word “completely” does not fit the dynamic above. Certainly, sexual attraction can be a component of love. This one case you offer shows how they are not completely unrelated.

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  • If they are completely unrelated, we would expect them to sometimes coincide -- being mutually exclusive is a relation.
    – Mary
    Mar 3 at 0:25
  • What about in the case of incestuous pedophelia? Is that not an exception to your claim?
    – J D
    Mar 4 at 13:11
  • @JD The question asks about completely unrelated concepts. Your case only applies if all paternal love was that way without exception.
    – Vogon Poet
    Mar 4 at 14:55

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