07 September 2013

Sex and Selfishness

The other day, I was in a bar. I was chatting with an American girl, an Icelandic guy, and a German guy. And as is typical whenever there is alcohol involved in the conversation, every now and then, the conversation topic goes to sex. And somehow, as we were earlier discussing altruism and selfishness, the question that appeared was whether sex is a selfish act or not.

I don't remember who, but someone in the group said that sex is not a selfish act. After all, during sex, we do things that are actually pleasureable to one's partner. We want our partner to have fun and experience pleasure, we want our partner's neurons to fire and send pleasure waves in our partner's brain. Hence, in order to do that, we do things to our partner's bodies and explore their erogenous zones. So, one can say that sex is not a selfish act, as we actually have our partner's pleasure as the goal. In fact, one of us pointed out (I think it was the Icelandic guy) that if sex is only one-sided, then at its most extreme case, it is actually illegal and is called rape.

True, there is rape. But I think that rape exists as a concept only because most if not all societies have institutionalized the idea that when sex happens but one of the partners is not a willing participant, then it is legally wrong, and therefore a crime. However, this does not mean that the pre-requisite of sex is selflessness. In fact, I think that being unselfish in sex is not a pre-requisite, but just icing on the cake. Sex can happen without thinking about one's partner, and also without it being rape. And it can still be enjoyable.

Consider this scenario. You meet someone, a total stranger. You find this stranger really hot, to the point that this stranger actually gives you a hard-on, or perhaps makes you wet. You flirt, you play the game, and after a little bit of chat, one brings the other home. You have a one-night stand. I would argue that this is perhaps one of the most selfish manifestations of sex, because why would you care for a stranger you haven't known for a long time? No, it is not about making this stranger experience pleasure. It is all about one trying to derive pleasure using the body of this stranger. It just happens that there are two people who mutually agree that the other one is hot, and therefore would be willing to allow his/her body to be used so that the stranger can get pleasure, and vice versa. You have something I want, I have something you want, let's go to bed. Where is the selflessness in that?

Of course, I agree that not all sex is like that. What if the stranger is not a stranger anymore? What if this person is actually someone who you have got to know for a significant amount of time, and opened his/her heart to you? Sex therefore becomes a shared act, or in a more mushy way of saying it, an expression of love. So there is the chance that one definitely would like the pleasure the other as an expression of erotic love. However, one can still argue that one can gain personal satisfaction by seeing one's partner get pleasure. Vicarious, I know, but I would personally feel better if I see my partner derive enjoyment from the act, than not. Of course, I know that this is a circular argument, and cannot be proven nor disproven. Just like charity, if one donates money for the benefit of the oppressed, another one can argue that this act is only done because the donor derives pleasure from this supposedly altruistic act. Whether one can disentangle these two possibilities, I do not know.

Anyway, I still think that sex is a selfish act, and I still think that humans are inherently selfish. I know that my arguments cannot be proven nor disproven, so unless a real test comes along, we can discuss this topic for ages and not reach a conclusion.


  1. I like to think it's a mutually benefiting exercise :-) But I see your point!