The human soul as a whole is directed to another soul — and not merely toward certain organs — as its complement, man to woman and woman to man. […] This is why self-abuse and pornography are corrupting — they take what by its nature can be fulfilled only by another soul and turn it inward, like an arrow pointed back at the archer.

It is this psychological “other-directedness” that makes human sexuality especially interesting and strange. I had occasion in an earlier post to discuss C. S. Lewis’s useful distinction between Venus and Eros. Venus is sexual desire, which can be (even if it shouldn’t be) felt for and satisfied by any number of people. Eros is the longing associated with being in love with someone, and no one other than that one person can satisfy it. Obviously, Venus can and very often does exist without Eros. Eros typically includes Venus, but it not only focuses Venus specifically on the object of romantic longing, but carries that longing to the point where Venus, along with everything else, might even be sacrificed for the sake of the beloved if necessary. Sexual release is the object of Venus; the beloved is the object of Eros. 


I am inclined to argue, then, that Venus and Eros are, considered in terms of their natural function, not distinct faculties, but opposite ends of a continuum. Eros is the perfection of Venus; mere Venus is a deficient form of Eros. Human experience seems to confirm this insofar as it is the rare Lothario who does not at some point desire something more substantial, and the rare Erotic lover who is willing entirely to forego Venus. A pair of anecdotes illustrate (and I don’t claim that by themselves they prove, but merely that they illustrate) the thesis. Consider first the following exchange, which Dustin Hoffman reports having had with his co-star (and notorious womanizer) Warren Beatty during the making of the movie Ishtar:

Despite his growing difficulties with [director Elaine] May, Beatty never complained about her—except once. He and Hoffman were in the desert, along with 150-odd extras. He took his co-star aside and started venting. “Warren was going off about how painful it was to make this movie with Elaine,” Hoffman recalls. “He said, ‘I was going to give this gift to Elaine, and it turned out to be the opposite. I tried this and I tried that … ’ He was so passionate, but in the middle of it—it’s like he had eyes in the back of his head, because there was some girl walking by, maybe 50 yards away, in a djellaba. He turned and froze, just watched her. I mean, this was while he was producing and everything was going in the toilet. But he couldn’t help it.”

Finally, Beatty turned back to Hoffman and asked, “Where was I?”

“Warren, let me ask you something,” Hoffman said. “Here everything is going wrong on this movie that you planned out to be a perfect experience for Elaine, and here’s a girl that you can’t even see a quarter of her face because of the djellaba—what is that about?”

“I don’t know.”

“Let me ask you something else. Theoretically, is there any woman on the planet that you would not make love to? If you had the chance?”

“That’s an interesting question: Is there any woman on the planet”—Beatty paused and looked up at the sky—“that I wouldn’t make love to? Any woman at all?”

Hoffman continues: “He repeated the question, because he took it very seriously. This problem with the production was now on the back burner, and it was like he was on Charlie Rose.”

“Yes, any woman,” said Hoffman.

“That I wouldn’t … ?” said Beatty. “No, there isn’t.”

“Theoretically, you would make love to any and every woman?”


“You’re serious.”




Hoffman: “He was thinking. He was searching for the right words. ‘Because … you never know.’ I thought that was the most romantic thing I’d ever heard a man say, because he was talking about spirits uniting. He was not talking about the cover of the book.

End quote. Beatty, it seems, saw in his womanizing, at least in part, a search for something that would finally put an end to it — the right woman, a particular “spirit” concealed behind one among all the many “covers” he was keen to open in quest of it. (Apparently, that woman was Annette Bening.)

Edward Feser