When Benjamin Franklin sat down to think about the virtues, he did so with a particular goal in mind. He tells in his autobiography that he agreed with Cicero that creation of the universe was proof enough that there must be a GOD. Franklin reasoned that if there is a GOD, then GOD must delight in virtue and that anything that GOD delights in must lead to health and happiness.
So, Franklin decided to study the virtues as outlined in scriptures and by the philosophers and to condense these virtues as much as possible–then go about living by those virtues.
As a teenager, I read Franklin’s writings and wondered what he meant by having sex “for health.” It’s not too hard to understand what he meant by not having sex to the damage of peace of mind or reputation or to weakness or dullness. The part about offspring is easily understood. But, what about sex for health?
I don’t want to dwell on it too much. I don’t want to try to play philosopher or sex expert. I just want to tell you how I think I’ve seen patient’s and friends and my own life work in using sex for health. I’m not going to fiddle with a fancy definition or start preaching, I just want to give you a quick way of thinking about how sex can improve health and how it can damage health (and I’m not talking about sexual transmitted disease). I’ve lived in a committed marriage relationship and I’ve lived with sex freely offered from many directions and freely taken. I’ve had the honor of serving as physician to conservatively 10,000 people over the years (as ER physician and in general practice and in research) and have cared for the Sisters from the Catholic Church, Priests of Buddha, prostitutes, erotic dancers, married and devoted, and single and living free. I’ve cared for the elderly with young lovers, for the elderly living alone. I’ve taken a few notes about myself and others and will simply offer what seems to me the way to use sex for health.
Sorry for all the pre-ramble, but I want you to know that I’m not going to repeat a Sunday School lesson or a high-school warning about sexually transmitted disease. I want to offer simply what I’ve noticed seems to work. Sex should be fun and exciting. It should result in better health. It should increase energy (not drain it). It should cause better health–mental and emotional. To show how that can be accomplished, I can’t think of a direct way to explain or understand; but, the following analogy helps me keep it straight most of the time:
Sex for health is like Leonardo’s famous painting, the Mona Lisa–it’s very good art.
Leonardo reportedly carried this painting with him everywhere. He looked at it from every angle. He added to it occasionally, always looking for a way to make it better. Some say that it was a painting of a woman he loved. Some say it was a self portrait of his feminine side. I think it was both.
Sex for health is sex where one person studies another in the most intimate way. Rather than splashing paint everywhere, it’s as much what’s left out as it is what’s put in. One lover starts to see his or her own soul when looking into the other’s eyes. Emotions and personality and sensation and conversation (even conversation with GOD) becomes so mingled that it’s a chorus of two with harmony and dissonance instead of two people separate like two separate conversations in the same room.
Some, go around town splashing as much paint on as many canvases as possible. Their sex becomes like a cartoon: many caricatures but no detail. There’s no study, no deep emotion, and so no real high and no real low. It’s simply a pleasant distraction for a time. But, there’s no art and there’s no energy from the health and energy of synergy.
Some, marry, paint a cartoon and then simply settle for the cartoon–repainting it over and over again. There’s no sense of the art. Each person in a love relationship is both the painter and the canvas. Each canvas wants to be studied, to be understood. Each canvas wants the painter to look from the outside and find a way to add more depth, more detail, more inspiration, more emotion. If the painter loses focus and goes about town painting cartoons, and you are the Mona Lisa begging to be studied, wanting to be taken to a new level of art; then you will not be pleased that the artist took his/her eye away to simply focus on creating a cheap sketch on a chalk board that will be erased when the next school child comes along to draw a caricature.
As Leonardo studied the Mona Lisa for years, carrying the art with him, seeing himself in the art, seeing his lover in the art, he created a masterpiece. As two people travel together using sex as art; that art spills over into the remainder of their life. Strength, creativity, confidence, energy, and health start to emerge. Emotional and physical vitality grow and disease must work harder to break the fort.
People who look for entertainment with another sketch on another canvas, quickly bore with their simple sketches, so they erase, find and find another canvas. They look for the deep pleasure but they cannot find it so they become more frantic and use more paint tearing up one canvas after another but never stopping to become better at the art. So to add to the pleasure, rather than improve the art, they start to use alcohol or cocaine. Even a simple cartoon seems like art now. A little cocaine, a little alcohol, now the sketches become simple, then they become so simple they become meaningless and ugly. Rather than art, they’re drawing crazy and ugly lines on page after page and think they’ve made art until the drug wears off and they see the ugliness of what they created. So they become angry and reach for another canvas. Or they blame it on the canvas and increase the number of sketches and canvases but don’t study the art or the canvas. Finally, they can no longer hear the muse of love and art that would have whispered to a sensitive ear. When they come across a clean canvas (open to art) they don’t recognize it, draw a little diagram. If it starts to turn to art, they’ve become so insensitive to the muse that they don’t even see it. They can’t hear the rhyme. They can’t see balance of composition or even color. Sex becomes more like a way to fight their demons.
Now they are drawing for anger at another person. Sex becomes hate mail that the other person can’t read.
Now they’re drawing for damage control. Sex becomes plaster on a damaged ego that washes away by the next day calling for another patch.
So I’ve seen the women who two weeks ago were the dissatisfied house wife: now,they’ve been dumped in the ER–exhausted and near dead after playing the crack house prostitute until she finally became nearly useless and was dumped at the ER waiting room–it happens every day. Just a little too much dissatisfaction and landing at the wrong party is all it takes.
I’ve examined the depressed woman who’s tried to commit suicide after finding no purpose and no energy and no new goal; unable to be painter or canvas, she feels unloved and would rather know permanent sleep than know another day without depth of affection.
I’ve also seen the lovers of many years or of a few weeks. They only see each other. If another canvas comes along; they don’t want to take their eye away from the masterpiece they’re creating. Another canvas is only a distraction. They want to study the painting they’re working on and find a way to bring more life to it.
If someone comes along and wants to add to the painting–they protest, No! Can you imagine Michael Angelo walking by the Mona Lisa and picking up a paint brush and starting to add to the picture? Nope. Canvas and painter would be insulted. The Mona Lisa is Leonardo’s Creation alone.
It seems those who know the best of love, don’t really want another person painting on their canvas. They don’t need the affections of another. They want to save the blank places (libido and hunger for affection) for their painter. To allow another to fill in the spaces would be to mix colors and mix the effect until it became muddled. That’s why dishonesty hurts the lover even if the mate never knows: the emotional and physical mixture changes. Then when the painter comes home, he’s adding to a canvas that’s been altered by another. So, he/she becomes inept. The cheating person feels bored or unattached but the result can be more that the canvas allowed another’s brush rather than exposing the empty places to the painter and letting that person work the paint to find the best way (starting and restarting—studying until it’s very good).
I’ve seen the elderly couple who continued to create. Sometimes, another person has even come in and defaced the painting occasionally. But, these master painters just got out the brush and turned the graffiti into another interesting part of the masterpiece.
I’ve met the widow or widower who after losing their lover felt so complete that they didn’t want another person to touch them with the brush. Would you want to try to add to the Mona Lisa now that Leonardo is gone?
I’ve also met the widow or widower (or divorcee) who felt defaced or empty and who found another person who could continue to develop the art in progress.