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Excerpts from "A Guide to Psychology & its Practice" - Sexuality & Love

by Dr. Raymond Lloyd Richmond, PhD

“The great philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas said that “To love is to will the good of another.”  So if you think about it, all the moral decisions about marriage and family actually derive psychologically from love— Real Love , not the “love” of popular fantasy. Infidelity, contraception, abortion, divorce, and even stem-cell research, all defile love through a focus on personal pleasure and convenience, at the expense of the dignity—and even the life—of another human being.

Unfortunately, contemporary culture tends to think of “love” as a way to find personal fulfillment in life. That is, each person in a relationship expects the other to fill up the existential void in his or her life. Ultimately, this is impossible, and so when there are problems, the conflicts are usually about one partner complaining of not getting what he or she wants. In this situation, only one psychological solution can be possible: Take responsibility for your own life satisfaction. True love is about giving, not receiving. If you’re mainly concerned about getting pleasure or security, you’re being selfish, not loving.”

What is “truly sought” is something we all experience as painfully missing from life: some comforting sense of absolute belonging and acceptance.

The brilliant French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, points out that although love—as commonly conceived—is, in essence, a futile chasing after something that doesn’t exist, there is nevertheless a love beyond this “making love,” a love that exists beyond lack and limitation and that involves a sort of ecstasy of being. The irony is that in making love we think we know what we want, but it turns out to be an illusion, while this other love touches on a real experience of which we know nothing. It’s a mystical sort of thing, as Lacan acknowledges.

Most persons don’t realize this, but the common, or popular, view of love involves an element of receiving something. “I love chocolate” really means that “I enjoy getting the experience of the taste of chocolate.” Similarly, “I love you” commonly implies “I enjoy touching your body,” or “I enjoy believing that you will give me security or protection,” or “I enjoy having sex with you” (or “I want to have sex with you"). As a result, Lacan, in his teachings about love, described the typical act of love as “polymorphous perversion.” 

Don’t be put off by the big words. You already know what perversion means. Polymorphous simply means “having many forms.” So this amounts to saying, like the popular song from the 1980s, that we’re looking for love in all the wrong places. That is, we look for satisfaction in all the various titillating parts of the body but never find what is truly sought.

Now, although Lacan doesn’t say it this way, the difference between these two kinds of love can be conceived of as the difference between receiving and giving. It’s why St. Francis of Assisi was led—led right to the point, actually—to pray that he might seek “not so much to be loved as to love.”

As shocking as it might sound, most of us who claim to be “giving” or “loving” are not giving selflessly. Instead, we are addressing a covert psychological desire to avoid being abandoned. Sad to say, the apparent generosity is more an act of bribery than of love.

Therefore, those who have the most to gain have the greatest desire to deceive. Those who have the least to gain—and who want nothing, like the saints—can love perfectly."

"And so here is the psychological lesson: As long as you pursue sexuality out of a need to be loved—as a form of something you want—you will be led right behind illusions straight into perversion. Only a renunciation of what you think you want and a dedication to loving rather than being loved can lead to anything productive, and it’s the only attitude that can begin to carry you through the agony of human limitation and mortality.

I’ll be honest here and say that this view is not at all popular in the U.S., and especially not in San Francisco. But I can say confidently that the surest way to prove me right is to try to prove me wrong. So go ahead and chase after perversion, and see for yourself if you don’t find anything, in the end, but emptiness.

It is interesting to note that a religious perspective can be even more focused than the psychological perspective. It has long been understood that chastity is a core aspect of religious experience. Sexuality, after all, is not a recreational sport. It is grounded in the concept of a man and a woman joining their lives together in order to form a family. Severed from the family, the sexual desire for “recognition” in another person—arising from the contemporary social pressure for every individual to be in a “relationship”—amounts to nothing but a narcissistic renunciation of love itself.

Think about that. Are you tired of AIDS, sexual diseases, prostitution, pornography, unwanted pregnancies, abortion, adultery, divorce, and using others and being used? All great religious mystics have discovered for themselves the same secret: until you stop being obsessed with getting sexual pleasure you will never be able to find true spirituality; until you stop insisting that God accept your sexual perversions before you can accept God, you will never truly know God; until you stop looking for yourself in the desire of others, you will never find God; until you die to yourself—and your selfish desires—you will never have life.

But regardless of whether you approach the matter from moral theology or from the psychology of the unconscious, you will discover that the final choice in regard to sexuality is really between glorifying yourself and glorifying something greater than yourself. So take consolation and remember—if you only partially apply this principle to your life you will still experience great psychological benefits."


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