Thursday, February 3, 2011

Still Stoic?

I finished my book on Stoicism and it is clear that although many of the ideas and goals behind Stoicism are especially applicable and appealing to me there are some real problems with me adopting it entirely.  To start with many or most of the ancient Stoics were really anti sex.  They generally seemed to believe that sex is the source of innumerable troubles (true!) and greatly disturbs one's tranquility (not as much true).  This was true to the extent that once when someone asked Seneca in his old age if he could still make love to a woman he answered that he could not and that he was quite thankful to no longer have to deal with that sort of thing.  Some of the ancient Stoics believed that sex was acceptable and advisable as a means of procreation within a marriage and was inappropriate in all other circumstances; mostly they seemed to be very much for marriage and children but against sex for recreation.

As much as I am interested in adopting many of the practices of Stoicism I am not remotely interested in removing sex from my life.  Firstly this would result in a very great loss of tranquility when I tried to tell Wendy about this new set of rules and secondly I can't even see a good reason for it.  Sex is good for the health, both mentally and physically, and although it is certainly possible to take lust to unfortunate extremes I cannot fathom how total abstinence is an improvement over regular, monogamous sex within a relationship.  There is no denying that many people cause themselves great distress by having extramarital affairs and clearly spending your life chasing some hot young thing in a bar night after night isn't going to give the tranquility the Stoics seek but I doubt you would find a lot of people suggesting that those are good ways to life a happy life.  Perhaps many of the benefits of sex were not viewed in the same light back then, after all, getting enough exercise has not been a challenge in times before the modern day and the other health benefits of sex have only been documented and proved within relatively recent history.  Also of course the risks of STIs and unwanted pregnancies are now something we have mostly within our control while the ancient Greeks and Romans did not.

I won't deny that lust has a distinctly powerful effect on my actions and emotions.  Being male, young, and in a relatively normal state of mind I lust after women constantly.  I have the self control and perspective to not act on that lust inappropriately but I suppose to some extent sex is always disturbing my tranquility in small ways.  That said, refusing to have sex would not make those feelings go away, in fact I am fairly certain it would increase and exacerbate them so I cannot fathom celibacy as a solution to sexual desire.  Generally speaking the people who are the most laid back about sex are the ones that are having it regularly and can expect to continue to do so.    My feeling is that to increase tranquility and reduce the effect lust has you should find someone who is happy to have sex with you regularly for most of the rest of your lives and then go about doing that.  While I am generally very impressed with the instructions and ideas of the Stoics in this case I am going to go to Dan Savage for my advice and not so much Cato.

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