This is the second part of a series of five or six parts, depending on how I decide to divide it. From time to time, I will update the list of references (and note the date) at the end of Part 1.
I plan to post Part 3 on Sunday.
After I post the final part, I will welcome comments.
Heterosexuality in Romantic Love and Sex
In researching this essay, I read numerous other accounts of the role of gender in romantic love. Reading these other accounts convinced me that I had to write my own.
The theory I present in this section is based on my introspection, personal observations of myself and others, and contemplation of heroes and heroines in Romantic fiction. I am not seeking to describe an average or typical romantic relationship. I am seeking to describe an ideal one, one that may be rare, but one that is possible for anyone.
No two individuals are the same, and no two romantic relationships are the same. Every individual would use different words to describe his own relationship. Nevertheless, I think that my words that follow are consistent with the basic pattern of a fulfilling romantic relationship between a man and a woman.
Still, as a statement of universal principles of heterosexual romantic love, this theory is a hypothesis. As a statement of the reasons for my own heterosexuality, this statement is conviction.
In my exposition, I am deliberately omitting any advanced science to support my theory. The evidence for my theory should be available to anyone—even a child—who has lived in Western civilization and had an opportunity to observe adult men and women. The evidence for my theory should have been available to Romeo, so that he could have understood why he was sexually attracted to Juliet and not Mercutio; and to Cyrano, so that he could have known why he was sexually attracted to Roxane and not Christian.
The body of a man and the body of a woman are similar, of course; each is a human body. Each has hands for manipulation, legs for locomotion, etc. Above all, each is guided by a reasoning mind; the primary use of anyone’s body is in the activity of productive work (which can include raising children, a very productive activity). Each body can also move simply for the joy of movement.
When we compare human bodies—male or female—to the bodies of other animals, the human bodies of course are very similar to one another and far different from the bodies of other animals. But when we remove other animals from our field of awareness and focus only on human bodies, we begin to see how starkly different men and women are from each other on a physical level. Anyone can see aspects of this stark difference by walking along any crowded beach or co-ed gym or even a city street on a summer day. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the men’s bodies are far more physically powerful than are the women’s bodies. This difference is even more stark in comparisons of men and women who have the same parents and/or who engage in similar physical activities. Ceteris paribus, men are much more physically powerful than are women.
The thesis of this section has three factors:
1. Each gender has inherited physical advantages.
2. It is rational for an individual to choose to capitalize on these physical advantages in his productive work and physical development.
3. A heterosexual relationship is a further, profound way to capitalize on the physical advantages of one’s gender.
I will discuss these three factors in order.
A woman’s body has the potential to gestate and bear children, whether or not the woman actualizes that potential. This fact is not an isolated add-on to the rest of reality; this fact, like all facts, has implications. Whether or not a woman actually bears children, a great deal of a woman’s physical energy and overall capacity is spent automatically on being ready to bear children, and her body is structured largely for that function. Consequently, a woman’s body cannot be as organized structurally as a man’s for doing heavy physical work; moreover, a lesser proportion of a woman’s physical energy is available for such work.
Here are some particulars. A woman’s skin is less resistant than a man’s to physical stress. In addition to being shaped for bearing children instead of moving external objects, the bones and muscles of a fit woman constitute a lesser proportion of the total weight of a comparably fit man; stated another way, a woman has significantly more body fat. The woman’s extra body fat, compared to that of a man, protects her—and any child she might carry—from extremes of temperature. This fat also is shaped to smooth out her form, making her muscles almost invisible, and making her soft to the touch. A woman has breasts for feeding an infant (and/or for being beautiful for a man), but these breasts cannot lift or move anything. For her size, a woman eats less and metabolizes less than a man does. A woman’s menstrual cycle consumes a significant amount of a woman’s energy. A woman’s sources of energy do not give her nearly the amounts of physical power and quickness that a man’s sources do. A woman has enough strength to move her own body, especially if she is graceful and therefore efficient in her movements, but proportionally far less than a comparably trained man does to move external things.
The legs of a woman can be very strong, though not as strong as a man’s can be. Legs are used for locomotion. The woman can move herself—along with a child that she may be gestating—around in the world. The much greater difference between men and women is in the upper body. The upper limbs are for manipulation, for reshaping the environment to further man’s survival.
No matter how small the man, his body is still organized to do physical work to reshape the world. A small man will have less strength than a large man has to move as much of the world in one go, but the small man can make two trips instead of one. However much he can do in one go, any healthy man can do enough to survive. If he does not have the physical power to work well enough to survive, he does not have the physical power for sex.
Moreover, a man’s body thrives on physical work. His large bones can take on a range of muscle mass, depending on the specifics of the work he does, without sacrificing speed, flexibility, and other physical virtues.
Of course, in rare cases, a particular large woman is stronger than a particular small man. But the difference between the energy and physical power of a man and a woman is a matter of proportion, not merely absolute amounts. A man has a much greater portion of his energy available for moving things. No matter how physically strong and powerful a woman becomes because she values physical power highly, she knows that a man, ceteris paribus, with values similar to hers, can far exceed her in this respect.
In short, the physical work of moving heavy things or dealing with physical danger is, ceteris paribus, more in harmony with a man’s physical nature than a woman’s.
The disparity in physical strength between men and women applies even more categorically to the main sex organs. In sexual arousal, many physical changes occur, but the most dramatic change—in terms of the degree of physical transformation and the degree of sensational urge felt—is in the area of the man’s and woman’s genital organs. When these areas of the man and woman meet each other, the male organ—the penis—penetrates; the female organ—the vagina—gives way. The ability of one entity physically to move another, or physically to resist movement, is the literal meaning of strength. In this act of sex, it is the male’s sex organ—the one that penetrates—that is stronger than the one that gives way.
The fact that the stronger sex has the stronger sex organ is no coincidence. The source of a man’s muscle power is the same as the source of the power of his sexual arousal. We do not need advanced science—such as knowledge of testosterone and other specific hormones—to know this fact. In both cases, the man experiences general excitement, faster heartbeat, and so on. Moreover, if a man needs all his physical power channeled to his muscles, he does not have an erection. Only if he has power to spare does he get an erection. A man’s energy does not get channeled into sexual arousal when he needs that energy to move the world. That energy is channeled to sex when the moving of the world is done.
Now let us consider the kinds of productive work that men and women can do, and the kinds of work they might choose to do.
Consider this slice of life of a woman in a modern city. The woman awakens in the morning and sees the ceiling. Her house or apartment was built with steel or wood and bricks. She and other women perhaps could have built it, by great struggle and physical hardship. Instead, the home was built by men who thrived on the work. The woman rises and flicks a switch, and light floods the room. The power cables deep underground, the electrical generators, the nuclear power plants, were built by men. With another flick of the wrist, the woman turns on the water faucet. The water that flows traveled through steel water mains deep underground, from powerful rivers dammed by men. The woman lifts a pencil and writes on a sheet of paper—perhaps as part of her professional work— made from trees chopped down by men or cut down by tools made in factories built by men. She turns on the TV news a sees a fireman, with heavy tanks and other equipment on his back, climb out of a mine shaft while carrying another man in his arms.
The woman takes an elevator down to the lowest basement level, dug into the ground by men. She drives her car, built in a great factory built by men, through a tunnel under the bed of a great river. The tunnel was built by men. She arrives at an office and shows a group of men and women her plans for a great new bridge, to be erected by men.
Women benefit a great deal from the intermediary of men in their physical dealing with much of the world. A group of men stranded on a desert island or in a wilderness could survive; women would have a much more difficult time if they could survive at all—even though women are just as rational as men are—simply because they lack the physical power of men. Women need men to tame parts of the world for them; women operate within those parts, such as a home or a city.
Of course, women can perform their own enormously challenging physical function that men cannot perform: bearing children. But regarding their own physical survival, women must trade with men in a way that is equal but not symmetrical. A woman needs a man for the man’s strength and his mind combined into his ability to face nature alone and bend it to his will, and to her will too. Nature, to be commanded by woman, requires man to execute the commands. A woman also needs a man for his ability to defend her against evil men. It is good men who make the world safe for and yielding to women. Even in a home or a city, a woman needs the continued presence of good men—most importantly, her man—for the universe to be a benevolent place for her. (See Peikoff 1991, 342 for a discussion of Ayn Rand’s term “benevolent universe.”)
No matter how technologically advanced a society becomes, so long as human beings remain physical beings with the physical differences between men and women, there will always be new adventures that have a significant physical element requiring physical prowess, and it will always be man who is most able to lead the way in facing those challenges.
Similarly, there will always be physical threats—often from evil men—to the safety of men and women, and it will always be a man—a good man—who is most able to defend against such threats.
A woman does not rue the fact that she must trade with men to make the world benevolent for her. Instead, she celebrates the existence of such men and, above all, her man.
There is much leeway for rational individual preferences; some women may reasonably engage in physical training, diet, or perhaps even drugs to build physical strength. But if a woman goes too far in this direction, she will sacrifice her physical asset that not only equals, but—in an important respect that I will discuss later—surpasses a man’s: beauty.
About beauty, Aristotle writes,
The chief forms of beauty are order and symmetry and definiteness … .[1078b] [Metaphysics, book XIII, Ch. 3].
… to be beautiful, a living creature, and every whole made up of parts, must not only present a certain order in its arrangement of parts, but also must be of a certain definite magnitude. Beauty is a matter of size and order … . [1450b][Poetics, Ch. 7].
Ayn Rand once said (Binswanger 1986, 48),
Beauty is a sense of harmony. Whether it’s an image, a human face, a body, or a sunset, take the object which you call beautiful, as a unit [and ask yourself]: what parts is it made up of, what are its constituent elements, and are they all harmonious? If they are, the result is beautiful. If there are contradictions and clashes, the result is marred or positively ugly.
Because a woman—for physiological as well as structural reasons—is, ceteris paribus, much less strong than a man, it would take a great deal of extra bulk on a woman’s slighter frame to give her nearly the same strength as a comparably large and fit man. Such a woman would have unharmonious constituent elements as compared to the man, because the man’s body would clearly be much more efficient, versatile, and healthy. The woman’s body would be downright ugly. Even if a woman merely moves in the direction of acquiring a man’s strength, there comes a point where she begins sacrificing her beauty.
In my judgment, a woman’s beauty shines when she is not doing heavy or dangerous work and not expressing an ability to do such work. It is no accident that, in ballet, the man lifts the woman, not the other way around. Even when the man dances solo, his movements demonstrate power, agility, and quickness, along with the ability to lift a woman when he chooses to.
Instead of trying to build a male’s physical strength onto her female frame, a woman has another option: find a man. In so doing, she will be leveraging her comparatively best physical asset: her beauty. As I will argue below, she will also be leveraging an even greater asset: her rational judgment of men.
Indeed, the fact that a woman’s body is capable of gestating children is conclusive evidence that a woman’s body is not organized to be as physically self-sufficient as a man’s. When a woman is pregnant, she cannot fend for herself physically; she needs someone else to protect her. If a woman can find and trust someone to protect her when and if she is pregnant, she should be able to find and trust a man to protect her when she is not.
Conversely, however strong a woman is able to make herself without sacrificing her beauty, she will reasonably require a man who is even stronger. That is the only way for her man to concretize for her the value of men in making the universe benevolent.
Now it is time to discuss a heterosexual romantic relationship.
The specific gender roles of the man and woman in a heterosexual relationship transcend these roles in the act of sex. Indeed, it is the more general gender roles that lead to the roles in sex.
Even when a man and woman are together in a place already tamed by men, such as a home or a city, it is the man who leads in facing any immediate physical danger that might arise. If an ominous sound is heard, it is the man who goes ahead to investigate it. Even in a casual evening ride home on his and her bicycles, it is the man who rides in front. In any instance of facing an immediate danger or potential danger, when there is no time for discussion or joint consideration, the man must decide for himself what to do and act accordingly, in defense of the woman even more than of himself. A woman needs such a man, a man who is decisive and efficacious. To choose such a man, a woman must be a supreme judge of individual men.
A man faces many harsh physical elements in the world at large. His essential asset is his mind, but he also needs his body. As I have discussed, he needs a certain amount of physical strength— guided by his mind, of course—to reshape harsh elements of the world to serve his survival and enjoyment.
A rational man succeeds at this task. It is a difficult, challenging task that requires diverse mental and physical actions, in adherence to the highest moral standards, across wide expanses of place and time. Then the man faces a woman. The woman exhibits none of the physical harshness or resistance that the man encountered in the rest of the world. The woman’s body, with its understated musculature, is the final surrender of the world to the man’s power. The woman’s body shows no utilitarian function except to be able to move in ways that enable the woman to feed on the strength of the man. The woman exhibits no physical power except the power to please him. However hospitable and beautiful the man has made his own corner of the world, this woman surpasses his work in those respects. She is the final reward for all his previous work, if he has earned it.
Everything I have written about the comparison between the bodies of men and women can now be stated essentially in this one paragraph. There are many beautiful things in the world: men, women, horses, dogs, cats, children, landscapes. To a man, a woman’s body is the most beautiful physical thing, because it seems to be organized for no utilitarian function other than to please the man. In a heterosexual relationship, the man and woman view their bodies—always guided by their reasoning minds—in this comparative way: the man’s body is for powerful movements to reshape the physical world, while the woman is for leveraging the man’s power and for moving in such a way as to be beautiful to the man.
Now let us see the intellectual and emotional result of this physical difference.
To a man, the mind of a woman can seem like the purest essence of judgment, and it is the man that is being judged. There is nothing more naked in spirit—and requiring of courage—for a man than to be before a woman and be judged by her. Of course, both men and women must judge everything, including each other. But there is something about a woman judging a man that seems more intense, more focused, more elevated, more solemn, more audacious, more central to the very existence of the judge. A woman judges a man as if her life depends on it. It does.
For a woman, judging a man is the true oldest profession.
A courageous woman chooses to be a judge of men, and to cultivate a body pleasing to men, instead of trying to acquire the physical power of men. For a woman, there is nothing more courageous than to assert herself as a judge of men, and then to trust her judgment to trust a particular man—a soul that far exceeds her in physical power—with her body and her life.
The understated musculature in the woman is not a lack; instead, this understatement accentuates her spiritual power and courage. She brings to the encounter with a man her confidence in her judgment of the man and in her ability to reward him. She has ‘gone all in’ on exploiting her female endowment of beauty and other aspects of her womanhood.
The man that a woman chooses does not have to be the best man in terms of physical power isolated from other attributes of men. He does have to be the best man in terms of his combination of mind and body and according to the woman’s personal values. This combination must contain some element of the physical as well as the mental, so that the woman can experience the physical combined with the mental power of man. Her man is not just her partner John (or Frank or Joe); he is her man John. For her, he is the best man among men.
For a man, it is marvelous, or terrifying, to behold another soul—in a much weaker body, because the soul has eschewed physical power in favor of utmost beauty—that has the audacity yet to face the man proudly and, through her actions, pronounce judgment on him.
For a man, Judgment Day is every day that he is naked—in body and spirit—before a woman. The proud man embraces this test. The coward hides from it. The proud man seeks the judge with the highest standards. The coward seeks the lowest, or no judge at all.
The woman’s inviting body and stern mind express the challenge, “Show me how you have shaped the world, and I will judge your work.” Sex for a man is his meeting of this challenge. Sex is his condensed reenactment of his lifelong course of having shaped the world into a form most auspicious to his life. But there is another, most crucial form of condensation that sex provides: the woman’s body is connected to the woman’s mind, a mind that understands conceptually the meaning of all the diverse and dispersed actions taken by the man over the course of his life.
Thus the woman is more than simply a metaphorical ‘mirror’ for the man. The man sees, in the woman, more than just a reflection of his own character traits. The man sees a condensation, through his effect on the consciousness and body of the woman, of the entirety of his effect on the world.
The term ‘benevolent universe’, as Ayn Rand uses it (Peikoff 1991, 342), is a kind of metaphor, a personification; the universe does not literally have a mental attitude toward man. To a man, a woman is that aspect of the universe about which the phrase ‘benevolent universe’ is most literal. The universe has no mind with which to pass judgment on the man, but the woman does.
As a man sees his effect on the woman, the woman sees her effect on the man, and she as well takes pride in this result. But the relationship is not symmetrical. The woman does not construe her effect on the man as the sum of her effect on the world. Rather she sees her effect on the man alone, who in turn affects the world.
In other words, the man conquers the woman as he conquered the world. The woman enchants the man who conquered the world.
Now let us consider more specifics regarding the act of sex.
Sexual arousal in a man is a surge of power. Sexual arousal in a woman is a surge of hunger for the man’s power.
The man leads. The woman judges the man’s lead and decides whether to follow in her own way. Again, the relationship is not symmetrical, but it is balanced—between two souls of equal stature. The woman’s judging is as intellectually demanding and as independent as the man’s leading. There is no sterner, more ruthless judge of a man than a heroine. There is no challenge requiring more strength of character from a man than to win and keep a heroine. If you don’t believe me, ask Howard Roark.
Of course, the man judges the woman too. But that judgment is a preliminary, a qualifying round, the ticket for the woman’s admission to the main event that is sex. Unlike friendship or many working relationships, or even certain (but not all) aspects of a loving relationship, sex has an essential physical component. Because of this essential physical component, it must be the man who is in charge; the man is in command, and the woman judges his command.
In a modern economy, there is much division of labor among men, and also among men and women. But in sex, the man cannot delegate the use of physical power to another man, or to power tools, or to the woman. The job is the man’s alone.
Sexual arousal in a man is an emotional call to express his strength and power to a worthy judge. His sex organ becomes hard and strong; he feels an intense physical urge that can be satisfied only by entering the woman with that organ. Being inside the softer woman with his hard sex organ is an expression of power and strength of the man toward the woman, combined with profound love and intense physical pleasure.
Sexual arousal in a woman is an emotional response based on her evaluation—her judgment—of the man. Her arousal is an emotional call to feed on the spiritual and physical power of the man.
The man dominates—yet always protects—the woman. He overwhelms her with his physical power at the command of his spiritual power. Dominance is not a matter of activity over passivity; both souls are fully active. Dominance is irrespective of relative physical elevation or relative amount of physical motion. Even if the woman at times might seem to be more active or aggressive, it is so only by the mocking by the man of her efforts. There is never any question of which individual is the more powerful one, of who is really in charge, of who is feeding power to whom. If such a question does arise, the celebration is transformed into contempt, humiliation, and mutual despair.
The foregoing does not preclude, in the least, the man being emotionally vulnerable. Being emotionally vulnerable does not mean being physically or mentally weak. Men are not organized to feel less than women do. But men may feel less often than women do. That is because, in times of physical crisis—which men are required to face more often than women are—human beings are required to channel most of their energy to outward action, not to heavy releases of emotion. As the man acts, the woman often is freed to release her energy in the form of emotion. Later, when the danger has passed and the man and woman are together, the man can release his energy as emotion too. At the times when a woman too is required to act in a crisis, she too is not overwhelmed by emotion; her emotions flow later, when the danger is past.
The man is hard, strong, unbending, decisive, the leader, the champion, the protector, the physically dominant one, the indomitable. The woman is soft, supple, eager, challenging, judgmental. (“Yes” means “good.”) The man asserts his power; the woman clutches it and feeds on it. The man dominates and conquers; the woman judges and surrenders. The man’s actions say, “This is how I face nature alone, and command it, for myself and for you. For my success, you are my highest reward.” The woman’s actions say, “Yes. I approve! I commend my self to you, my champion.” All of this is combined with intense, simultaneous, and fully satisfying physical pleasure, as each soul’s aroused anatomical organs conjoin.
Such is the nature of sex between a man and woman.
In short, the man leads and dominates; the woman challenges and judges. The essence of masculinity is rational, decisive, indomitable leadership. The essence of femininity is the passion to judge individual men, and to find one that lives up to the woman’s highest standards.
In other words, the man is the executive, and the woman is the judiciary. There is no legislature, because the laws come from reality, and they set requirements for romantic love and sex.
Some writers on the subject of sexual orientation use the word ‘complemetarity’ to denote complementary functions of the man and woman in procreation. In contrast, I am arguing for a complementarity of physical and spiritual needs of the man and woman in their romantic, sexual relationship.
Some may argue that my theory places too much pressure on the man to perform. Well, that is life, and life is good. Sex is a physical act as well as a spiritual one. The physical world requires performance. In the untamed world, one bad performance brings death. That is why a man needs self-esteem, which brings confidence. A man who lacks confidence cannot perform sexually or in any other way. But to a confident man, the need to perform is not pressure; it is adventure.
Some individuals are born anatomically ambiguous in terms of their gender. Such instances are simply borderline cases and as such have no philosophical significance to my theory. As arguments in favor of homosexuality and/or subjectivity in sexual orientation do not restrict their advocacy to such borderline cases but attempt to apply to clear cases as well—to cases of physically healthy men and women with unambiguous sexual anatomies—so I address such clear cases.
As I have indicated, it is possible for a woman to embark on a regimen of drugs, diet, and exercise that could make her more and more physically like a man. She can even take the ultimate step of surgically changing herself. Consistent with my theory, I am not attracted to such individuals.
In summary, in a heterosexual romantic relationship, the man and the woman each leverage their biological advantages in such a way as to celebrate their efficacy in a benevolent universe.
A man can gather strength from the friendship and love of another man. But such an interaction is a means to an end, a preparation for each man to go on and triumph in his own life. In contrast, sex is an end in itself, a man’s triumph. In sex, there are two individuals, but each man is a man alone, triumphing on his own, on the basis of his power alone.
Such a solitary triumph is not possible if there are two men involved in a sexual act. And, of course, the aroused anatomical parts of two men do not fit together. (This physical fact is one of the ‘elephants in the room’, which I will discuss later, that seem to be taboo in contemporary academic writings in support of homosexuality.) But there is something much worse about sex between two men. A man needs to know that he is indomitable. The notion of dominating another man, or being dominated by someone—as the highest form of pleasure and spiritual fulfillment—is a betrayal of every ounce of a man’s being. The matter is not primarily one of physical attraction or repulsion, but of man’s need for self-esteem.
To a man who seeks his highest pleasure from the power of another man, the healthy emotional response from the other man, if he is heterosexual, is an equivalent of the rebuke, “Be a man! Go forth and claim your birthright!” To a man who would seek such pleasure by exerting his power over another man, the response from a heterosexual man is, “Don’t try it on me if you value your life.” Each response is imbued with contempt, loathing, and perhaps pity.
Nor could there be any alternating of dominance between two heterosexual men. That would just be alternating between two forms of spiritual debasement and torture, between the roles of master and slave.
I suspect that it is no coincidence that the culture that produced the concept of individual rights and abolished slavery is the culture that developed highly stylized, romantic ideals of both masculinity and femininity, each with equally high intellectual and moral stature.
Regarding lesbians, what I observe are individuals unable to experience the most intimate physical contact of coitus, or the full human efficacy and power that comes from man.
It is conceivable that my own, personal response to homosexuality could change if I understood a rational theory of homosexual love, if there is one. But such a theory does not consist of the claim that sexual orientation is a matter of determinism or unexplained preference. That claim brings me to this essay’s next topic: the role of volition in sexual orientation.
Personally, I am more interested in further study of heterosexual romantic love than homosexuality. I hope that my account will motivate others to write on the subject of heterosexual romantic love with objectivity, as I have strived to do.