Readers' Comments on "The Future of Sexuality" (DIALOGOS Issue #10) Updated as of Jan. 20, 2000

Kris Roose, a psychiatrist in Gent, Belgium, sent a number of comments. From them we have selected the following remarks:

Francoeur's text is a projection of the future of the sexual dimension of society, based upon some apparent trends in today's society. But to make safe projections of the future, it isn't sufficient to be an expert in that particular field. One example illustrating the danger of unilateral expert predictions: In the early seventies IBM predicted that in countries as Holland and Belgium there would be a need for 4 to 5 computers -- one for the government, one for the army, and one or two for the bigger universities and companies. Still, these [grossly inaccurate] predictions were made by skilled professionals, having access to classified data!

What I'm trying to illustrate is that for reliable descriptions of the future some conditions have to be respected. Among them are (1) a profound analysis of the underlying processes, in this case the psychology of sexuality, the psychological differences between men and women, and perhaps psychology in general; (2) a broader framework of general evolution, in this case socialization, to situate the sexual evolution. [See Dr. Roose's comments in Dialogos Issue #8 in this regard.]

Regarding the first, sex and (sexual) relationships are essentially psychological phenomena, where emotions and communication are paramount. The most intensively studied psychological processes during the past decades concern precisely emotional and intellectual communication. Psychology is probably on the point of elaborating some useful psychological tools to improve human communication... So we are entitled to expect more "scientific" and "psychotechnological" approaches of fundamental issues in society and private life as one of the major changes in the next decades.

[Regarding the second qualification -- concerning a broader evolutionary framework] the strength of the theories of Teilhard de Chardin was that they took nearly every scientific aspect of the micro- and macrocosmos into consideration, and even a number of "intuitions" of Christian "mythology". I don't see any referral to Teilhard's theories on (the phases of) noogenesis, apart from two very general quotes at the end. The fact that sexual patterns evolve, is perhaps not exclusively, or even not mainly due to medical, economical or emancipatory factors. Perhaps the demystification of the sexual taboo (as many other taboos vanished in the 20th century) is simply the reason for the emergence of the normal but repressed sexual needs.

One of the biggest differences between Western and other cultures in the world is sexual repression. Western society, especially in the last centuries, seems to be the only society in history where monogamy and sexual exclusivity were promoted, but also there it never really succeeded, even not with kings, popes and priests. It created feelings of guilt and high levels of hypocrisy. The actual laxity of sexual behaviour is generally considered as a kind of decadence. {But] it could also be interpreted as a (healthy but still tentative) return to normal emotional human interaction.

The problem is that most of Western people seriously underestimate the psychological and cultural impact of that sexual repression. Though Freud was one of the first to warn us for the devastations of that repression, already one century ago, we have still a long way to go. Even the most "progressive" American gay subculture is not as liberated as Plato and his fellows were, two and a half millennia ago. (For that, read Plato's texts). The introduction by the Americans of the notion "sexual harassment" is perhaps more counterproductive than they believe, because it frames more within a Victorian and hypocritical culture. (In the meanwhile the lawsuits regarding Clinton and his girls highly amuses European TV-watchers). For me, that kind of psychological and sex-cultural considerations are too absent in the highly interesting and inspiring text of Mr. Francoeur.

Kris ROOSE, M.D.

Yes, but I wonder if sexuality is not first of all a biological (specifically reproductive) phenomenon before anything else and if the repression which Kroose decries (but which Freud also admitted is the price of civilization, see "Civilization and its Discontents") is not more an artifact of a misunderstood or mismanaged evolutionary development more than anything else? In this regard, Robert Wright in his controversial book The Moral Animal (Pantheon, 1994) has argued that Victorian sexual morality was essentially more idealistic than merely traditional, and even if it fostered a certain hypocrisy, it nevertheless provided a more stable basis for society than today's sexually liberated "honesty". I have asked Francoeur to respond these points, but meanwhile some further comments in this regard come from closer to home. (ed.)

Francoeur's paper missed an important point that now artifical [purely societal] laws are replacing natural ones. So now the biological state for conception to take place is being altered by state laws which limit what biology is prepared and willing to do - which is why I think we have so many out -of-control teenagers now. They are ready to start families and control their own lives but society says "no" -- so they are in a societal-imposed state of insanity. They are ready and equipped to reproduce but are stymied by artificial laws. Thus we do have a whole "new species of humans" -- the adolescents which with their high suicide rate and gang related activity, high alchohol and drug use etc... are for several prolonged insane years defining a new approach to evolution. Of course in other countries where girls still marry at age twelve, I doubt this happens.
Patrick Stonehouse, Wolverine MI

(More editorial comments/questions) Recently, the State of Michigan has reported a rather substantial drop in teenage pregnancies, due (according to the offical report) not only to improved knowledge regarding sex (and no doubt, the availability of contraceptives), but also, the state believes, to an increase of teen abstinence. Likewise the number of abortions continues to drop. Now if this tendency were to continue, would it not also undercut Francoeur's dismissal of Teilhard's prediction of a "virginal" future? If so, then it would be very instructive to see whether teenage crime, addiction, and suicide rates go up or down. Would anyone like to place any bets? But please list your reasons. We'd also like to know what is the situation in some other countries. (RWK, ed.)

Some More Editorial (i.e. the editor's) Comment: A summary reading of Francoeur's paper and the responses so far (as well as current events) seem to indicate to me a number of things.

First, that we have a crisis of the first order concerning the role or function of sexuality in today's world. After reviewing Francoeur's list of recent changes in Part I of his paper (population growth, contraception, AIDS, etc. -- just to mention some of the major factors) we hardly need to elaborate further on the subject.

But (second) it also seems to me that this crisis revolves around one basic fact, and that is that deprived of, or threatened with the impending loss or drastic curtailment of its basic biological function of reproduction, sexuality faces a much deeper crisis, one of  "purpose" -- or to put it another way, without a clear "end", what do the "means" mean?

Third: Francoeur seems to be suggesting (in Part II) that some kind of higher, or may we say "spiritual", level of unity (here he invokes the teilhardian notion of the "noosphere" -- a greater interaction or bonding between human consciousnesses) is in the making, or at least could be made out of all this. Perhaps. For example, has not even the Catholic Church (at Vatican II) finally recognized that the marital bond or unity in love of the couple is a purpose of equal value or importance as that of procreation?  If so, this represents a major step in the same direction.

However (fourth) it appears that something has gone wrong between the theory and the results. It seems the that the more emphasis that has been placed on sexual satisfaction and fulfillment, even within marriage, the more unstable marriages have seemed to become. This despite the continued popularity of life-long monogamy as the ideal. In the USA, approximately one-half of all marriages are ending up in divorce, even among Catholic couples who are now required, in most US dioceses, to spend up to six months in preparation (counseling, psychological testing, etc.) before the marriage can take place. Somehow this suggests to me that we are approaching the whole subject somewhat backwards.

All of which, in a way, takes us back to my second point, but this time examined not biologically but psychologically. According to psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, where Freud, and to a lesser degree, Adler, got things wrong was in mistaking means for ends. Pleasure or satisfaction pursued as an end in itself sooner or later ceases to please. Pleasure can goad us into action, or as Aristotle pointed out, it can indicate that we are on the right track, so to speak, but when we do things simply for the pleasure of it, we have inverted the natural order of things. As Frankl never tired of pointing out, happiness or fulfillment can only "ensue" or "happen" as a by-product of something else. Yes, you can "pursue" it -- but in the long run it just doesn't work out that way. So too the Adlerian goal of self- fulfillment. Without a higher goal or purpose ("meaning") these things can only satisfy for a limited amount of time.

Now, if we take that insight back to the biological order, I think we can find a helpful parallel when we compare two basic human "drives" or instincts -- sex and, for want of a better name, self- assertion (usually viewed as aggression or violence). Both seem to have been built into us, or to have evolved, for the long-term good not so much of the individual but of the species as a whole. So this self-assertion (which really is the driving force in Adlerian psychology, mostly under the terms "self-realization" or, again, "self-fulfillment") has, like sex, become increasingly problematic as the world has become more crowded, to the point that the human species itself could eventually engineer its own self-destruction. Territorial self-assertion produces more and more war, and economic self-assertion, much touted for its growth-oriented competition, becomes, much the same as over-population, increasingly dangerous in terms of the world's limited resources. Yet the self-assertive drive (or even over-reactive self-defense) remains. So what to do with it? Let off steam, I suppose, in athletic competition, etc. -- but the continual outbreak of ethnic, territorial, and economically-motivated violence, or even the mob mayhem of soccer riots and the like suggests that this is not working very well at all. So too with most of our attempts to deal with sexuality. The "polymorphic perversity" (noted by Freud) has certainly grown less repressed and in doing so, only seems to have made matter worse. (If any one doubts that, witness the latest spectacle provided by the Whitehouse and the US Congress!)

Toward the end of his paper, Francoeur pooh-poohs what he calls Teilhard's vision of a "virginal universe". Perhaps that is not a very happy expression -- at least not today, if indeed it ever was. Yet in a later paper (not yet published) Francoeur makes the assertion that sexuality is fundamentally a "spiritual force" that has to be utilized for the growth of the human spirit, which in turns suggests a "pan-erotic" view of the universe. I take this to be an allusion to Teilhard's views, though I must confess that latter phrase sounds like Freud all over again. However, I don't think I have to remind Francoeur that Teilhard never saw things in terms of "spirit" as something distinct from "matter" and that it is, instead, really a case of the universe being a single "weltstoff" or fundamental energy evolving in one or another of two vectors or directions. Either we, as evolutionary creatures, evolve to a higher, more "spiritual" plane of existence, or else we sooner or later "de-volve" to a more material and ultimately entropic (disorganized) level -- which we experience as death.

If by "eros" Francoeur means this one fundamental reality or energy, then, while it may forestall the death of the species by means of reproduction, it can cheat death entirely only by becoming more "spiritual" -- by being channelled in a more spiritual direction. In other words, by fostering spirituality. This is what, I think, Teilhard must of meant by a "virginal universe" -- if indeed he used that phrase. What that means in practice remains to be seen. I suspect that what he was thinking of was Jesus' reminder to the more materialistically-minded Sadducees (the Pharisees believing in angels and the like) that in the next life there is no such thing as marriage or sex. But in the end, rather than the usual (and childish) images of heaven, Teilhard did not hesitate to speak of a kind of mystical "pantheism" in which the human spirit (or all humanity) becomes one together in God who is "all in all". A big leap forward (or upward?) indeed! But all that speculation aside, I hope that Francoeur can at least see the problem more clearly -- that "making love" (to use that euphemistic phrase in its usual sense) without understanding all its psycho-spiritual dynamics, may turn out to be no more helpful in the long run than "making war" by other means. (RWKropf 12/28/98)

Recently we have received the following remarks from Dialogos consultant Dr. Selim Uzunoglu, a microbiologist at Bayar University in Turkey.

Dr. Francoeur's are in some ways true, providing that the following paradigm is always true: that sexuality is the only instinct for determining human behavior. Personally I do not agree on this paradigm. My paradigm is that sexuality is only one of the factors affecting human behaviour. I believe in a "system" or holistic- thinking paradigm. From this perspective, we should calculate or predict the percentage of sexual behaviour in terms of determination of social behaviour and structure. There are also some traditional and cultural and religious beliefs and attitudes affecting our all behavioural patterns. All of these factors form an interaction of networks. There is no small (or inconsequential) thing in this world. As everone knows that there is also a "butterfly effect" in all kinds of chaotic and complex systems. Humanity is a complex and adaptive system. Therefore we can only speculate on the future of social patterns of sexuality.

Especially setting up a family and bringing up children is still at some degree is a holy affair and religious act. It seems to me that in the future, spiritual and metaphysical aspects of the human will flourish and compensate for the negative effects of materialistic approaches. We should build up a new social ecosystem similar to the natural ecosystem where every creature has a specific niche and contribution to the life of ecosystem. In this social system, plurality is main paradigm and man always needs a religion, science and culture. So we should provide all these in healthy combination.

In life, every human need is working as a drug. A drug is good and useful provided that it is given in the right dose and combination, and in the proper frequency to the right man. It is an art to find the right combination of religious, cultural and scientific foods for each person. There is no general prescription which is valid for everybody. We should write a specific prescription for every person. We should not allow any ideology or idea to grow up and dominate all ideas and beliefs. Although it is so difficult to do this, it seems to me that we can only work for peaceful social relations in all over the world in the 21st century.   Selim Uzunoglu

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