Sexuality and Psychological Visibility
In part 4 of this essay, I argued that one's gender integrates a broad range of physical individuating elements of self, and that these elements are stressed when he perceives a member of the opposite sex. Those familiar with Nathanial Branden's "Muttnick Principle" may have noted a similarity between my description of sexuality and what Branden calls psychological visibility. This was no accident.
The psychological experience of sexuality results from perceiving an integration of values as reflected through another human being. Psychological visibility could be described in the same way. This section will explore the relationship between these two phenomenon.
Branden described psychological visibility as our capacity "...to perceive our self as an entity in reality, to experience the perspective of objectivity through and by means of the reaction of other human beings" (Branden, The Psychology of Romantic Love, pgs 77-78). In order to better understand what he meant by these words, I will offer a summary of his argument for the "Muttnick Principle" as presented in The Objectivist and in his book The Psychology of Self-esteem (partially taken from a summary I gave in an earlier essay, The Morality of Monogamy). Along the way, I will relate Branden's discoveries to my theory of sexuality as presented in the first 4 parts of this essay.
Branden begins by attempting to explain the joy he feels when perceiving other living beings. For instance, one may experience pleasure when looking at plant or lush landscape. Why is this pleasurable? What values are achieved in looking at a plant? While trees can be used as tools of production, the pleasure in perceiving them goes beyond their potential industrial uses. To the admiring viewer, a tree seems to have inherent value that makes it pleasurable to look upon.
Branden's answer -- One shares with a tree the struggle for survival. A tree grows towards the sun and pushes its roots deep into the earth in an effort to gain the minerals and chemicals that sustain its life. One perceives in the tree a miniature mirror of his values, and he experiences the actualization of those values as an emotional sum. Based on the mind-body connection I described in Part 3, this reaction is understandable. If the mind has automatized the connection between the perception of living things, life itself, the values that make life possible, and the positive judgments associated with these, then one would expect to experience pleasure when perceiving a being that represents life.
We share even more values with animals, which have the capacity of perception and locomotion. Animals possess a form of emotion, which is obvious to anyone who has ever owned a dog. The dog can often tell if one is happy or sad, excited or stagnant, and it responds in kind. One experiences pleasure when a pet displays recognition of his intentions. This opens up a whole new level of psychological experiences. An animal can provide not only a passive reflection of values, but also an active reflection -- an awareness of a one's self as an individual. A tree doesn't care who you are, but a dog will respond to its owner completely differently from anyone else. Once again, based on my explanation of the mind-body connection, this is exactly what we would expect when perceiving a being that represents both an integration of shared values and an awareness of one's individuating elements.
Through another human being, one can perceive a reflection of a huge range of values. A good friend can reflect both the broadest and most specific aspects of self simultaneously. He reflects one's broad intellectual values like philosophical and political beliefs, and also the specific traits, personality quirks, and physical attributes that make one unique. If individuating elements of self can properly be experienced as a value, as I argued in part 2, then perceiving the integration of such a broad range of individuating elements through the awareness of another conceptual being should yield very positive emotions -- which, in fact, it does. This is the joy of friendship.
The pleasure of psychological visibility can be taken to its highest level in the context of a romantic love relationship. Through a lover, one can experience the greatest reflection of values possible. As one's best friend, a lover can reflect the broadest and most specific aspects of one's self more fully than any other. Beyond that, she represents the integration of physical individuating elements of self (as described in part 4) by stressing the physiological difference between the sexes. This kind of reflection yields the greatest emotional pleasure possible to man: romantic love. Considering that sex is also the greatest physical pleasure possible to man, one can understand why this sacred act is so revered. When the experience of sexuality is combined and integrated with the greatest potential source of psychological visibility, the result is a thing of beauty.
I argue that one also experiences sexuality to the greatest degree in the context of a romantic love relationship. A lover is more aware of one's distinguishing physical attributes than any other. And the reciprocal is true -- one is more familiar with his lover's body than anyone else in the world. This acute awareness of each other's bodies allows for the most profound experience of masculinity and femininity. One becomes aware of his sexuality through perceiving a member of the opposite sex and observing the differences. This experience is heightened through psychological visibility. With a lover, one can not only observe the differences between the sexes, but he can also be observed by his lover as an integrated, physical whole. One's lover perceives him fundamentally as a man.
Based on the arguments I have presented in the first 5-parts of this essay, I am now fully justified in proclaiming the following: Sex in the context of a romantic love relationship is the most pleasurable, most profoundly spiritual experience possible to human beings.
**Update- Part 6 can be found here.