I'm about done with my analysis of the notion of sex as a need - or I think I am, I just found another post on another blog that deals with the subject and I want to spend some time interrogating it. We'll see if/when I get to it.
Let me spell this out in earnest: I question the notion that a need must entail a right to demand something of another. To illustrate, I point out another candidate for a socially constructed need. Viktor Frankl's classic Man's Search for Meaning has been quoted in several General Conference talks and Ensign articles, though of course you get a better understanding of Frankl's important message by reading the book itself (in a similar way that you have a better chance of understanding what the book of Job is really about by actually reading through it than you will by taking and passing along the facile interpretations that ignore most of its substance). A significant flaw that threatens Mormon understandings of Frankl's message is this idea that we should be happy, that we can choose to be happy in whatever circumstances that face us. That would be a crude caricature of the point Frankl was trying to make.
I take his point to be that meaning is the most driving need of human beings. Now: from whom or from what can you possibly demand its fulfillment? Robert Fripp wrote: “The attitude that life owes us something, if not everything, encourages life to thwart our endeavours.”
Nobody else can give you a purpose and meaning for your life. But when you have it, it has the power to carry you through sorrow (without expecting you to put a lying smile on your face), through almost any suffering that you can't otherwise avoid – even enduring years of slow starvation and the constant threat of the gas chamber. (Compared to that, what is the frustration of your sexual needs or desires?)
Here is one hypothesis: those who are able to live a more fulfilling, meaningful and correct life as a whole will be far less troubled by any sexual urges that go against God's morals, maybe far less troubled by sexual urges of any kind. It would be wonderful to test the hypothesis. The world has not seen anything like a really peaceful society since the Nephites stopped sharing their goods commonly around 200 A.D. Continuing economic and cultural hangovers from the industrial age and other nightmares of the apostasy still keep most of us from even imagining how we could live anywhere near the level of respect and moral purpose that our souls long for (need?).
Indeed, Frankl says something close to this:
Moreover, there are various masks and guises under which the existential vacuum appears. Sometimes the frustrated will to meaning is vicariously compensated for by a will to power, including the most primitive form of the will to power, the will to money. In other cases, the place of frustrated will to meaning is taken by the will to pleasure. That is why existential frustration often eventuates in sexual compensation. We can observe in such cases that the sexual libido becomes rampant in the existential vacuum. (112)
That seems very close to the point that Stearmer was trying to make in the first place: sex really isn't that important, and we should stop thinking that it is. Unfortunately that won't make the colossal problem of sex go away or lie still, which is why I wrote the rest of this essay.
I want to deal with one more proposal and its pragmatic consequences. I might propose that sexual needs do exist, though not in the sense of the most basic biological needs (I haven't even mentioned Maslow's heirarchy). They occupy a shadow space due to our weird human sexuality: we carry a leftover biological imperative to reproduce sexually, which leads our brains' dopamine mechanisms to reward sexual activity as if it were indeed a need. This is conflated with intimacy and eroticism due to our species' unique sexual innovations. Jared Diamond's Why Is Sex Fun? is a quick read up on the basics of this, though not exhaustive by a long shot.
But then we're back to this: If we were to accept that sexual needs are real then we leave another door open for frustrated married people and lonely single people, who knows how many of them struggling with same-sex attraction. They can go off by themselves and wank. This could actually be seen as a humane solution to a bodily problem that might otherwise put unfair demands on others, but to advocate it is to go up against a huge weight of tradition and quasi-doctrinal teaching against masturbation throughout Church history.
Such teaching is another barricade in a system of restraint designed to direct the sex drive towards licensed procreation and family life. After all, we might say, if lonely people feel justified in fapping, how will they ever go out and build relationships, make covenants, multiply and replenish the earth? If the urge (supposedly planted in us by God) to rub nerve clusters and produce orgasm could be managed privately without guilt, how could it fulfill its supposed purpose of impelling men to take on the commitments of family that they otherwise would be too selfish and lazy to do?
So if we want to go all the way (pun intended) and deny an excuse for the victimless "indiscretion" of masturbation, it looks like we have to go along with the pragmatic proposition that we don't really have sexual needs, and therefore no matter how strong our sexual urges and drives are, they can and must be (need to be?) kept within strict boundaries without excuse.
Here we are then: no excuse for sexual coercion, manipulation or even pressure to grant sexual favors within marriage. It all should be negotiated reasonably. No excuse for rubbing certain nerve clusters located on the bodies of anyone else of either sex, or on your own. I think that was the real goal all along? Then, if this is so, for the sake of consistency, as I’ll explain in more detail below, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints can’t really be “sex-positive.”