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Most people have a shallow understanding of the nature of Eros. Yes, they do know the biology and mechanics of sex, but not the psychology of erotic life. It is true that advertisers often use sex to sell their products. But does sex always sell?

I have been on Facebook for over four years. There have been days when I get “friend requests” from gorgeous young women dressed in a provocative way. This often happened several times a day. But I immediately declined these requests. Why? Isn’t a goddess-like woman a powerful magnet to men? From society’s point of view, having a young and beautiful girlfriend is a status symbol, and trophy wives are objects of great desire. But context is important. Sex is never just about sex. Sex can be either appealing or revolting, depending on one’s interpretation of the situation. In my case, many of such friend requests from young women are essentially requests for “sugar daddies.” It is similar to being solicited for sex by prostitutes when one is walking down the street. It is purely a business matter. There is no other social or romantic meaning. Certainly, it does not boost my male ego when I am being solicited for my money. What makes for sex appeal? Yes, there is a biological and aesthetic dimension of Eros. What many people overlook is the fact that sex appeal is also closely tied to self-esteem, ego, and the need for admiration and social validation. The truth is that being solicited for sex does nothing to boost one’s self-image. On the contrary, falling for such traps may be an indicator of one’s stupidity.

Every sexual encounter has a deep social and psychological meaning. We react to any interaction with a member of the opposite sex based on the symbolic meaning of such interaction. Several years ago, I was teaching at a Catholic college. I used to have a few female students from Saudi Arabia. I remember a few occasions when I extended my hand to these female students in an attempt for a handshake greeting and they recoiled in horror and embarrassment. According to Islamic religious practice, the handshake between members of the opposite sex is allowable only in the case of close family members. Sexual gestures and symbolism vary widely, depending on the culture. This is why a gesture that is deemed innocuous in American culture can be interpreted as sexual in other cultures. Just like in the case of “friend requests” on Facebook, the meaning of a certain action depends on its social meaning and our interpretation of it within certain context.

Sex is not simple and it is never simply a physical act. We must remember that humans are social beings. Whether we regard certain things as sexual or erotic depends heavily on our interpretation of social meaning. The Buddhist practice of mindfulness can help us decipher the subtleties of the erotic mind. Our sex drive is a powerful phenomenon. A better understanding of our erotic mind is crucial in navigating our sexual life. How does our ego enter into the equation? It is important to find out. Observation of how our ego drives our emotions and actions should be a big part of a Buddhist’s daily practice.

Published author, Zen teacher, professor, scientist, philosopher, social commentator, socially-engaged human

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