Carnal Wisdom and Sexual Virtue

I. Introduction Sex has been thought to reveal the most profound truths about individuals, laying bare their deepest desires and fears to their partners and themselves. In ‘Carnal Knowledge,’ Wendy Doniger states that this view is to be found in the texts of ancient India, in the Hebrew Bible, in Renaissance England and Europe, as well as in contemporary culture, including Hollywood films.1 Indeed, according to Josef Pieper, the original, Hebrew, meaning of `carnal knowledge’ was `immediate togetherness, intimate presence.’ 10 But equally prevalent in both ancient and contemporary culture is the view that sex generates the deepest illusions, hiding people’s true selves behind layers of deception, blindness, deception, or self-deception.2 Tthere is, however, no contradiction in holding both that sexual deception and illusion blindness are widespread, and that sex reveals some profound truths about us. Indeed, if deception or illusion blindness about our sexual desires and fantasies is widespread, one likely explanation is surely that many of us implicitly or explicitly believe that our desires and fantasies say something important about us – or at least that we believe that others believe that they do. There is little reason to hide from ourselves or others that which we regard as unimportant. But while such blindness to or pretence about one’s own or partner’s sexual needs and desires saves one from embarrassment or from the effort to understand and satisfy one’s partner or oneself, it also subverts a central value of any fulfilling personal..
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