Although our society is saturated with sexual imagery, it could be argued that true romantic love and the pleasure that it brings have faded greatly. Stable gender identity, which seems in retrospect to be a critical requirement for real romance, is certainly on the wane.
Superficially at least, the erotic sphere is not a political matter, and it seems that it should not be connected to the ideological projects of the age. Nonetheless, the pragmatic approach of current-day society long ago relegated this sphere of life to the category of common, material needs, analogous to our requirements for food, shelter, clothing, and money. On the other hand, erotic stimuli areâ€”in a way seemingly unique in historyâ€”ever-present and everywhere. Our culture and everyday life are filled with images, allusions, and suggestions appealing to erotic desireâ€”just consider advertising and clothing fashions.
In this way, business considerations reduce sex to its most material and straightforward aspects, its purely physical mechanics, where, because of its central role in human life, it nonetheless serves as the major source of meaning for today’s society, replacing the role once played by Marxist materialism. It could be argued that sexual relations have taken the place of what were once the all-explanatory Marxist â€œrelations of production.â€ The highly complicated human psyche is observed from the point of view of extremely simplified concepts such as desire, libido, complexes, deviancies, frustrations, and the like.
Such an understanding of the erotic might appear to be self-evident, but on the contrary, it is an understanding based on an artificially created system of values imposed on the human being as something â€œnaturalâ€ and â€œself-evident.â€ In fact, it is an ideology of erotic materialism which sees the lowest form of bodily pleasure as something worthy in itself, never serving any higher purpose. It thereby reduces the human psyche to that very level.
It should be well noted that many people today consider traditional approaches to sexuality, such as abstinence, passion, ascetisism, morality, and the search for true love, to be anomalies that have dangerous consequences. Passion creates heroic thinking, which might lead to dictatorship and fascism. Strict morality carries the dangers of theocracy. Abstinence cannot really suppress our impulses and hence must ultimately lead to frustration and consequent violence.
To avert these catastrophes, todayâ€™s social and sexual mores are increasingly reminiscent of the sterile promiscuity prevalent in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, where one of the leading precepts of the authorâ€™s dystopic society was to suppress the passions of exclusive love, as expressed in the catchphrase â€œeverybody belongs to everyone else.â€
In our own society, sex has been easily integrated into the general system of use and consumptionâ€”it is simply another part of the contemporary materialistic-sensual conception of the good life. Romantic love is by no means a requirement in the equation, and is in fact a threat to it, as noted earlier.
Yet, for all the innovations and â€œprogressâ€ of the last few decades, sexual relations between men and women in Europe have probably seldom been such a massive, conflicted mess. In addition, the freeing of human sexuality from reproduction has had an unexpected consequence that portends a dire future for Europe. The birth rate, even in traditionally prolific societies like Spain and Italy, has slipped far below the replacement level. These societies are aging rapidly and will soon face a crippling burden of transfer payments from younger workers to their retired forebears (which are already very high).
In the meantime, in most developing countries birth rates are still high. Lower levels of social-transfer payments from the young to the old will give these workers an advantage in the global marketplace by allowing them to keep more of the income they earn.
But that speaks to the pocketbook, not the soul. What is missing from todayâ€™s common conception of sex is any sense of higher purpose.
Real romance can still be found in the current-day Europe, as a submerged social feeling bridging high romance, long-term commitment to a person one loves both erotically and spiritually, marriage, and the desire to raise a family. It challenges radical feminism, materialism, and sterile promiscuity, and hopes for the return of â€œfriendly relationsâ€ between the sexes. At the same time, such an attitude is not exclusively tied to any one religion or denomination.
It will be interesting to see whether these pockets of resistance can develop into a new counterculture of civility, decency, and common sense in sexual relationships. A restoration of real romance to society could play a very important part in the restoring of Europeam civilization as a whole.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and researcher who has written for several publications, including Telos and The World & I.