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Sex and selfishness: a response to Brendan Rhatican

Published: November 14, 2013, 1:09 am ET
Contributor

Last week, The Collegian published an opinions piece that presented two ways of viewing sex. 1) As a selfless act of giving that is completely altruistic and self-sacrificial. 2) As a selfish use of another person in order to get pleasure for yourself without regard for the other individual. This false dichotomy over-simplifies a topic that is as complex and as full of depth as any political or economic issue, but it also is representative of a broader issue that plagues many people’s ways of thinking. And that issue is the vilification of selfishness.

The word “selfish” is frequently used as either an insult or a means of reprimanding someone. The phrase “you are so selfish” has very bad connotations, and is synonymous with “you are an asshole.” But what is the actual meaning of the word “selfish”? Its common usage suggests that it means “excessive concern with personal interests to the point that others are negatively affected.” By this definition, it is synonymous with “asshole,” and this is not the position I defend. However, the pure definition of the word selfish is: “concern for one’s own interests.” It is this position I defend, and it is where selfishness ties in with the discussion of sex.

A healthy concern with one’s own interests is vital to a good life overall, as well as a good sex life. Human beings are wired to be very concerned with their own well-being. This is why we naturally prefer not to jump off of tall objects or let ourselves get hit with heavy things. It is absolutely natural to want to maximize your pleasure and minimize your pain. There is a reason that human beings have evolved the way we did, and our instincts and thought processes come from millions of years of evolutionary fine-tuning. Why should we demonize a characteristic that has proven its worth through millions of years of testing?

There is also a less scientific argument in favor of selfishness. Namely, that we human beings (you, I or any person) cannot live to our full potential and therefore give to our full potential unless we intimately know, and care about, ourselves. You are the focal point of your life. It is undeniable that the environment you are in and the people you are around have an effect on your life. However, in the end, it is each of us that plays the biggest role in the satisfaction and happiness that we achieve in our lives. And unless we are selfishly concerned with our own interests, these things will always be lacking.

In the article I mentioned in the first paragraph, we were told that sex outside of marriage, especially in a hook-up scenario, is selfish and mutually demeaning. The simplistic dichotomy of sex that was presented in the other article is absolutely mistaken. Certainly, sex can have a negative impact on the people involved, but that is not a judgment that one person can objectively make about the infinite variety of circumstances and feelings involved with sex. Perhaps some people feel used and demeaned when involved in a casual pre-marital sexual encounter. That is a valid perspective, and it is up for those people to decide for themselves, just as it is for those who enjoy casual sexual encounters and “selfishly” want to satisfy their own desires.

Plus, sex has to be a little bit selfish for both parties involved. There should be a balance of wanting to satisfy your own desires as well as a mutual interest in satisfying the other person as well. The physical reality of sex demonstrates that it cannot be completely self-sacrificial. It is an act that, in order to feel good and be healthy, depends on mutual interests in pleasing yourself and the other person.

Being selfish is critical to living a fully happy life. It is only by knowing yourself well and caring about your interests that people can make the best choices regarding their future careers, their potential spouses, which house to buy, who to have sex with or something as simple as which movie to watch. Of course, it is important to balance selfishness with selflessness, but a balance means equal parts of both. So stop letting people tell you that it’s wrong to be selfish. Care about your own interests and put yourself first sometimes, and often things will work out better for everyone (including when it comes to sex).

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