The Strange World of Emotion

Home Glossary List of Articles Emotion E1 Abreaction A1
< previous Article 4 Section 4  -  Idealism next >

Sexuality and Ethics

The text size is relative and can be enlarged or reduced in Internet Explorer and Firefox from the View Menu. 

The links in the table on the left take you to sub-headings on this page.


Ethics is not the same as Morality

Morality is uncritical acceptance of social norms, and originates from social abreaction (see previous article on Morality). Ethics is the intellectual attempt to understand the basis of responsibility and to formulate satisfactory codes of behaviour or attitudes to life. I justify its difference from morality by a consideration of origins. In my view, ethics has a different origin from morality.

Interestingly, in eras when sexuality was repressed, ethics was always on the agenda of the serious thinker. But from the latter half of the twentieth century, when sexuality has become rampant in Western society, ethical theory appears to have gone into decline. Is this decline terminal?  No. Once sexuality passes its peak of popular obsession then ethics will emerge from hiding, hopefully with a new vitality.

Sub - Headings
Three structures 
Defect of religion
Mechanics of sexual sublimation

In the millennium of the New Age dream, ethics will be very important. New Age idealism will require a foundation of both ethics and psychological self-awareness.

Is there a link between ethics and sexuality ?

To answer this question I have to answer another question first. What is the meaning of sexuality, in all its forms?
The purpose of sexual union is procreation and pleasure. But what is its meaning?  I digress briefly into the concept of psychological structure.

First, I need to introduce an opposition between subjectivity and objectivity. A traditional way of expressing this opposition is that of  free will  versus determinism. The reason for introducing this opposition is that it is one of the basic structures of consciousness.

Free will reflects subjectivity, or the existential reality of a person. In contrast, determinism represents fixed psychological structures : these create psychological objectivity for the person.

Psychological structures are just the fixed beliefs, attitudes and prejudices that have been acquired, voluntarily or involuntarily, during the process of childhood growth (together with other fixed beliefs, attitudes and prejudices carried over from previous incarnations, that is, from previous lives lived on Earth). They give an element of rigidity to a person’s character, and help determine his actions and behaviour. Hence they are objective.

Structures are anchored in the past, whilst existentialism revolves around the present. The existentialist accepts his limitations from the past ; his character is his present starting point. And from this starting point he tries to live a life of choice, a life of free will, a life of flexibility. Consciousness is a dialogue between the past and the present.

Top of Page

Three Structures

Now I can return to the overall philosophical theme. When consciousness is considered philosophically there are three basic structures operating within it :

Sexual desire has two parts : a mental and emotional experience, and a physical desire for body union. Hence it forms part of the mind - body dualism.

What meaning is attached to these three structures ?

In my view, these are the three main attributes of consciousness, within a philosophical perspective.
[A psychological view of consciousness is that it is structured by will, mind, and feeling].

Top of Page

The mind-body dualism is orientated to experience, and a powerful, almost irresistible, form of experience is sexual desire. Sexual desire usually only wanes when the person loses the capacity for intense experience. In early childhood, the child uses its power to create its first achievement : a sense of identity based on sexuality. [²]. Power is invisible, since it is subconscious, but sexual impressions are conscious and can be explored. It is these impressions, these emotions and desires, that attach the child to the parents. So sexual attachments are the means by which the child tries to create its first sense of identity. Awareness of one’s own identity is the first step towards attaining self-awareness. [³]

The importance of self-awareness is that if a person has not developed it then a coherent set of ethical principles cannot be cultivated. How does self-awareness develop?   Primarily through sexuality. I outline my understanding of the process.

Suppose that a person is intensely fascinated by the glamour of sexual experience and so regularly practises sexual activity or obsessively phantasises on it. Sooner or later he begins to realise that although sexuality can produce happiness it can also produce unhappiness. Sorrow cannot be separated from sexuality. Why is this ?  As he tries to understand the cause of the periods of sorrow he realises one day that he has to examine his sexual activity as a mode of relationship to other people. Then eventually he realises that it is not sexuality that is basic to his happiness, but that instead he needs harmonious emotional relationships across the whole theatre of thought and activity. This understanding brings into his consciousness the need to examine morality and ethics. As his understanding changes so too does his sexual activity or his sexual phantasising. As sexual needs begin to lose their central importance so the desire for such activity or phantasy slowly fades away. In this scenario, the person’s sensitivity progresses from awareness to self-awareness.

Now I can answer the prior question.

The meaning of sexuality is that it facilitates the birth of self-awareness.

Top of Page


When life is good we take it for granted. But sorrow dispels our illusions. Sorrow can make us do many things. In my view the main purpose of sorrow is to make us question why things are as they are.

We need to question our life, our beliefs, our values. We can escape this questioning so long as we can blame someone for our failures. When we can no longer blame someone then we can escape this questioning by relying on our social supports, especially by joining groups of fellow sufferers. When this ceases to be rewarding, or becomes too stressful, then we can escape this questioning by immersing ourself in religion. But even religion can fail us. We can still escape this questioning so long as we can fall back on sexual activity (primarily that of sexual intercourse, and secondarily that of masturbation) when all other consolations fail. Sexuality is the last consolation. When even sexual activity itself becomes the source of obvious sorrow then, for the idealist, self-questioning can no longer be avoided. It will have to be faced, sooner or later.

This pattern of self-questioning is the way that the sublimation of sexuality leads to an holistic ethics (rather than to a puritan ethics). In the attempt to escape from the sorrows of everyday life, the two attractions that remain after social support is exhausted are the consolations of sexual pleasure or the consolations of religion. Sexual desire is much greater than the attractions of religion since sexual desire is powerful enough and compulsive enough to override the sense of individuality. The ability of some features of religion to override the sense of individuality is only derivative: this religious effect just builds on what was first achieved through sexuality.

If sexual desire did not exist, then we would not need to develop self-awareness because our individuality would be strong enough and adequately self-sufficient for us ; we would then regard social problems as being trivial and would not concern ourselves with them. Virtue and social concern would be unlikely to arise if we were just minds without a sexual body. The sexual body is only an evolutionary expedient. Once virtue and integrity have arisen and been stabilised by practises then we can evolve into bodiless minds and dance in the sexless infinity between the stars.

Top of Page

Defect of Religion

Religion has a major defect.

It is an inhibiting force to the cultivation of self-awareness.

Religion is traditionally used as an escape route from understanding the problems of sorrow and sexuality. What enhances the inhibitory effects is the prevailing attitude of denigrating the influence of the analytical intellect. Where religion is vigorously healthy then self-awareness is minimal or even absent. Self-awareness only begins to develop as religion goes into decline.

Dynamic psychology, because of its unusual ideas about morality and sexuality, can only arise in a society where the influence of religion is weak. [4]  When a religion is healthy, then ethical debate is lively, but the ethical codes propounded are often just imaginative, or confused and self- contradictory. ( Imagination might centre on a theme such as whether or not man is a Noble Savage. Contradictions can only be identified once the subconscious mind is explored).

Interestingly, periods when religion goes into decline are usually labelled ‘decadent ’ eras. Up till now the value put on such periods has been confined to the artistic styles that the periods give birth to. However, such periods (and modern times can be viewed as such a period) offer the opportunities for psychological progress in ways not otherwise possible.

Once religion goes into decline and self-awareness arises, then ethical debate can become based on the realities of consciousness. In my view, the purpose of religion is to be an intermediary in the transition of the person from amoral barbarian to New Age psychological person.

The contents of the subconscious mind radically affect ethical thinking. The repression of sexuality leads to a puritan ethics. When sexuality is rampant and used as a vehicle (or even as a substitute) for personality then ethical thinking becomes confused and retreats from centre-stage. Once self-awareness develops then ethics can finally centre on forgiveness, compassion and acceptance. [5]

As a brief summary,

Puritan ethics arise when sexuality is repressed.
Holistic ethics arise when sexuality is sublimated.

Top of Page

Mechanics of Sexual Sublimation

I consider in more detail the mechanics of the sublimation of sex. [6] The primary emotions that are involved are those of  jealousy and narcissism. The factors of these two emotions are :

jealousy = love + self-pity
narcissism = love + vanity  [7]

Note 1. In the following expressions  I use the notation ‘leads to’ to indicate the beliefs and attitudes that arise from an emotional effect. And the mode of  jealousy or narcissism means only which of its factors is being emphasised.

Love Modes
I start with the love modes of jealousy and narcissism.

These modes produce different results, depending on whether the social situation is perceived as generating anxiety or as being free from anxiety. 

a). When no anxiety is currently being felt in a social situation, then:

Jealousy leads to caring attitudes towards other people.
Narcissism leads to friendliness towards other people.

b). When anxiety is being felt in a social situation, then:

Jealousy + anxiety  leads to sexual transference. [8]
Narcissism + anxiety  leads to egoism.

Now in these two forms of love there is no connotation of sexual desire, or desire for sexual intercourse. Sexual transference is only the pattern of sexual preference. It is one way that the sexuality of its parents affected a person when he was a child.
Love, in all its three forms (narcissism, jealousy, and pure love), never produces sexual desire ; however, the person who is in the mood of love may be willing to satisfy a partner who does need sex. The sublimation of jealousy (love mode) is sociability, the ability to relate to people independently of sexual desire, and the sublimation of narcissism (love mode) is individuality.

Top of Page

Self-pity and Vanity Modes
Now I consider the self-pity mode of jealousy and the vanity mode of narcissism.

These modes (which are areas of weakness in the person) produce different results, depending on whether the social situation is perceived as being non-sexual or sexual.

c). In a non-sexual situation:

Jealousy + anxiety leads to the need for social approval.
Narcissism + anxiety leads to the inferiority complex. [9]

d). However, when the social situation is felt to be sexual:

Jealousy + anxiety leads to ‘sexual desire’.
Narcissism + anxiety leads to ‘sexual attraction’.

Note 2.  ‘sexual desire’ arises when the person is sexually stimulated through the self-pity mode of jealousy. It engenders physical intimacy and passion. Whereas, ‘sexual attraction’ arises when the person is sexually stimulated through the vanity mode of narcissism. It engenders admiration for compatible personality characteristics. [10]

The desire for sexual intercourse always arises from the self-pity mode of jealousy. In other words, the desire for sexual intercourse can be interpreted as being an intense need for social approval.  [Another motive for desiring sexual intercourse is that it is a means of exerting power over the weaker partner ]. Similarly, sexual attraction is only an intense inferiority complex.
To put these ideas into perspective: love in all its forms is part of the strength of a human being, but sexuality is part of human weakness.

Top of Page


In a previous article on ‘Morality’, I described how morality is the sublimation of jealousy in self-pity mode. Sublimation works through idealism ; if sexual desire is stronger than the person’s idealism, then sublimation is unlikely to happen. As long as a person is uninhibited in his sexual activity he will not be inclined to develop a sense of ethics, since in social situations his sexual desire will overrule his principles. Conversely, the person can only begin to control his sexuality by developing principles of ethical behaviour ; this occurs when his idealism is greater than his sexual desires.

In the same article  I made the distinction that morality transforms into a social ethics and virtue becomes an ethics of individuality. I give my view of the sequences of the transformations. Now I use the term ‘conscience’ to indicate moral values and virtues that have been acquired involuntarily, either by social abreaction, or by a reaction against it.

Sexual desire produces conflict in a person’s moral beliefs.
This conflict occurs within his social aspect of conscience. Eventually, when the idealist becomes wearied with the emotional turmoil that he is regularly experiencing, a social ethics is generated as the means of controlling this conflict. The sequence is:

Sexual desire leads to conflict in conscience, which then leads to a social ethics.

Sexual attraction produces conflict in a person’s system of virtues.
This conflict occurs within the aspect of conscience that relates to individuality. The compulsiveness of watching the girls go by becomes intolerable. The process of perception itself is felt to be controlled by sexual allures. Eventually an ethics of individuality is generated as a means of controlling the conflict. The sequence is:

Sexual attraction leads to conflict in conscience, which then leads to an ethics of individuality.

In my understanding, the origins of morality, virtues and ethics are different.
Morality and virtue arise from social abreaction, and an holistic ethics from the sublimation of sexual anxiety.

The sublimation of sexual anxiety into ethics can only occur when sexuality is not oppressive. A society where the media (especially that of cinema, television and video) thrust pornographic and blatant sexuality into every corner of one’s life can become nothing other than an unprincipled society, with ethics relegated to the heritage museum.


The number in brackets at the end of each reference takes you back to the paragraph that featured it.  For the addresses of my websites, see the Links page.

[¹]. A person is the sum of ego and karma. This view is presented in the article Structuralism, on my website  A Modern Thinker[1]

[²]. See the article on Power. [2]

[³]. There are articles on identity and self-awareness on my website  The Subconscious Mind[3]

[4]. The major source of unusual ideas occurs during the process of catharsis, which reverses the values of convention and tradition. See the third article on Abreaction : Catharsis and Suggestion. [4]

[5]. Forgiveness and acceptance are the subject of the fifth article on Abreaction : Forgiveness and Acceptance. [5]

[6]. There is an article on Sublimation. [6]

[7]. My definitions, descriptions, and analysis of emotions are given in the three articles on Emotion. See home page. [7]

[8]. See the article Transference. [8]

[9]. For a description of the need for social approval and the inferiority complex, see the article Aspects of Personal Identity. [9]

[10]. The terms ‘sexual desire’ and ‘sexual attraction’ are explained in more detail in the article Two Modes of Sexuality. [10]

Home List of  Articles Links Top of Page

The articles in this section are :

Sublimation - deriving good attitudes from distressful beliefs.

Faith - completes the patterns of bonding ; three forms of faith.

Morality - a look at origins and terminology.

Sexuality and Ethics - how sexuality affects ethics.

Personal Evolution - practising ethics, and negotiating goodness.

Nihilism - static and dynamic structures ; sexuality and authority.

The copyright is mine, and the articles are free to use. They can be reproduced anywhere, so long as the source is acknowledged.

Copyright © 2002 Ian Heath
All Rights Reserved

Ian Heath
London, UK

The address of this site is

My email address is likely to change,
so if you want to write to me, go to the Home page
and use the address at the bottom.

Also, since there are numerous articles on this site, please include the title of the article if you want me to clarify or discuss particular issues.

It may be a few days before I can reply to correspondence.