>Ayn Rand on Sex

Posted: 26/03/2009 in Ayn Rand, sex

The recent string of marriages and long term relationships have got me thinking about some kind of positive view of sex. Obviously, the Christian faith doesn’t teach that sex is dirty. My many theologically minded friends and I have often joked about the bizarre sexual repression of Victorianism. Yet still the other extreme is really not right either. In Atlas Shrugged, I came across something interesting. Ayn Rand (among the mountains of other expositions) dealt with sex in it. Like just about any secular philosophy, I found a lot of good and some things bad. Either way, at least it gives a secular justification to prefer something other than skirt chasing.

The exposition is the in the form dialogue. Two Characters, both super-men in their own rights, have a frank and intimate discussion on the subject: one is Francisco, another is Hank Rearden. The two men already respect each other as equals. Francisco has even gone to the point of telling Rearden that he is “one of the last moral men in the world.” Hank Hearden is confused by this compliment because Francisco is an apparent rich play boy who is always in the company of women -not exactly someone that you would accept a comment on morality from. What makes it even more confusing for Hank has never thought of Francisco as a low-brow kind of guy. Francisco responds to this confusion:

[Francisco asked Rearden] “Do you know of your own first-hand knowledge that I spend my life running after women?”
“You’ve never denied it.”
“Denied it? I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to create that impression.”
“Do you mean it isn’t true?”
“Do I strike you as a man with a miserable inferiority complex?”
“Good God, no!”
”Only that kind of man spends his life running after women.”

Naturally, this is something that is probably grating in our world of rap stars and Hugh Hefner’s. Fortunately for us, Francisco goes on to explain what he means. First, love and the sexual impulse are not blind, uncontrollable, forces in his world. Rather, sex is connected with our minds and our views of ourselves. He says, “A man’s* sexual choice is the result and sum of his fundamental convictions… Show me the woman he sleeps with and I will tell you his valuation of himself.” In other words, who we are attracted to depends largely on how we subconsciously (or consciously!) view ourselves. A man “will always be attracted to the woman who reflects his deepest vision of himself.” From here, he either expresses his own value, or he fakes it.

Francisco goes on to describe two types of men. The first is Ayn Rand’s hero. This man, as Francisco says, “will want the highest type of woman he can find, the woman he admires, the strongest, the hardest to conquer –because only the possession of a heroine will give him the sense of an achievement, not the possession of a brainless slut.” In other words, real men don’t chase porn-stars and strippers. These women, at very minimum, act like brainless meat. Instead Ayn Rand’s hero will look for someone as accomplished as himself, as moral as himself, as hard-working as himself and so on.

Someone who is secretly insecure is far worse off. Someone who feels worthless “will be drawn to a woman he despises-because she will reflect his own secret self, she will release him from that objective reality in which he is a fraud, she will give him a momentary illusion of his own value.” So the problem with a play boy is this: since they have little value in themselves, and they secretly know it, they try to create through sex with someone equally empty. This is, in Ayn Rand’s terms, is putting the effect (sex) before the cause (self-worth). This is much of fraud as someone who has a college diploma without finishing college, buys a BMW on money they didn’t earn, or takes control of a railroad that someone else built. Most obviously, it may be the attempt to use the effect and expression of emotional intimacy to create emotional intimacy.

Some Flies in the Ointment?

Naturally, there are somethings I don’t like. Ayn Rand believes that sex is a selfish act, and cannot be done any other way. Additionally, what someone admires in another person is all that one sees as good in oneself. Now obviously, people may have sex have their own “rational self interest” but in Christianity I can’t see why it should ever be only this. One’s own interest and the interest of the other need not be disjunctive. Furthermore, Love can never be just a simple extension of narcissism.

Also, in this same conversation, Fracisco decries “charity” as a pitiful response to flaws whereas his idea of admiration is a response to values. It’s evident from the rest of the discussion that this is an implicit criticism of Christian love. What confuses me is that in Christian charity people may respond to flaws, but never because of flaws. Acts of mercy and charity overlook flaws precisely because it sees values -potential values, but still values.

Even beyond that, the type of Love that a Christians have when they take pity or charity on someone in need is different than the kind of love that motivates them to seek out a partner, which in turn is different than the love they have for friends. Ayn Rand is on to a good start, but her look at love here seems very binary, whereas Christian charity is multifaceted.

The end?

So there it is. I really think Ayn Rand had something worth saying here. I like the idea, and am more happy to think of sex and romance being tied closely to my code of values. I like the idea that who I seek out and may be interested in are naturally those who closely reflect those values. I think she is clearly also right about sex and a sense of low self-worth. Even more right that people may use sex to fool themselves.

Naturally though, I think Ayn Rand was off about sex being a purely selfish act. I can’t imagine a healthy sexual relationship can ever happen between two narcissists, and anyone who wants to be lovers to anyone will have to overlook flaws.

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to comment!


* My apologies to those of you who have the “XX” chromosome set. Obviously, I write from the “XY” perspective. I can’t help my gender or what Ayn Rand wrote.

  1. Q says:

    >”[S]ex is connected with our minds and our views of ourselves. He says, “A man’s* sexual choice is the result and sum of his fundamental convictions… Show me the woman he sleeps with and I will tell you his valuation of himself.” In other words, who we are attracted to depends largely on how we subconsciously (or consciously!) view ourselves. A man “will always be attracted to the woman who reflects his deepest vision of himself.””I sort agree with that, but the psychology is backwards. I’m fresh off of counseling and one of the things we talked a lot about is self-worth. If a person has a very low view of themselves, that person is typically attracted to the opposite of what they see themselves to be, not the reflection of it. If you’re already down in the dumps, why would you want to be romantically involved with something that reflects your low self-worth? More often, those with a low self-images will be romantically involved with those whom they admire and look up to. They want someone strong to lift them up, to affirm them. That usually doesn’t work. I can say that in my own experience, that is a lot of what I did. I was attracted to women who I viewed as strong and well put-together.I can understand what Ayn Rand is going for, and I think there are a bunch of tools out there who date women who they can control. But I don’t think that’s the way things actually play out most of the time. At least from my experience.

  2. >I believe I have more thoughts on this, but I have to wake up early and it’s 11 here.But I will say that I think it is interesting that Rand does not comment on the type of man a woman chooses, considering that, in evolutionary terms, a woman should be more picky since she has to have the baby and the man has the potential to mate with other females and spread his DNA faster.That said, the longer I live, the longer I think Freud was sort of right, because I think we marry our fathers/mothers or some mishmash of what we believe our father/mother is. I say this out of pure observational evidence. And I also hate saying that I think Freud was right about anything.

  3. Jin-roh says:

    >@JeffI don’t think anything here should be taken as all or nothing -or a one size fits all, although regarding self-worth consider this: someone who has a low view of themselves may only ever be able to find someone else in their “league” so to speak. It does make sense that a “low self worth guy” would look for someone confident, but I always remember that confident people are in general attractive to anyone.@Nicole please feel free to comment again. I don’t want you admitting that Freud might’ve been right about something to be the last word. 🙂

  4. Stephanie says:

    >have several thoughts on this. First I agree with you Joel that confidant people are generally attractive to everyone. However insecure people with a low sense of self worth will generally not go for confidant people because they are intimidated by them and feel inferior or undeserving. That’s why abuse victims (who haven’t had any healing or recovery) will very often graviate towards abusers in relationships. They are familiar with that kind of treatment and feel (usually unconscioucously) that it’s what they deserve. Also from a pop psycology stand point, it stands to reason that healthy people don’t generally involve themselves in chronicly unhealthy relationships. Along Jeff’s line of reasoning, that those with low self worth go for those that they view as well put together and confidant, I would say that “view” is the opperating word here. Usually we go for people who have qualities we feel are weak or lacking in ourselves. We all do this; however with unhealthy relationships, it can tend to be exagurated or disproprotionate and people with low self-esteem can go for people who seem overly confidant, even dominant, which is ususally a cover for insecurity in itself. I would say this is the second of two responses to inadaquacy- Rand only really covered the first in her hypothetical discourse, probably because (in my opinion) it is the road most commonly taken by men, where as the second is the more feminine.

  5. Pianogrl says:

    >As I was reading through the comments, I was thinking pretty much exactly what Stephanie said, and found myself nodding my head the whole time I read her comment. I have found that the healthier I am, the healthier the type of man I’m attracted to and want to allow into my life. I think it’s true that the way you see yourself plays the biggest role in the type of person you seek out as a potential partner, and the more negative or distorted your views of yourself are, the more distorted your assessments of others and what type of person you need and deserve are. That’s why people with low self esteem are often drawn to overly “confident” people who are over- compensating for their own insecurities (as Stephanie said). I think there’s still something to be said about seeking out a “reflection” of oneself… I think healthier individuals tend to desire qualities similar to their own because they would have come to a point of self love and acceptance, where they have a sense of pride in their own qualities and are seeking them out in a potential partner. If someone hasn’t come to that point individually, I think they are more prone to be attracted to someone who seems to be put together yet, under the facade, offers a type of enabling and dysfunctional relationship. As Q talked about, I think self-worth plays the biggest role in this topic. Only when you acquire a healthy relationship with yourself can you then successfully develop a healthy relationship with someone else. Thanks for sharing, Joel. Very interesting find!-Gina

  6. […] and taught.  In fact, I’m fairly well read Christian, but I had to read something written by a pyscho-balls atheist woman before coming across a very thoughtful affirmation of male […]

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