“The fact that a man's sex life is shaped by his conclusions and value-judgments is evident in every aspect. It is evident in the setting he prefers, the state of dress, the caresses, positions, and practices, and the kind of partner. This last is particularly eloquent.”
~ Leonard Peikoff, OPAR
Ayn Rand's Theory of Sex
Rand introduces a theory of sex in Atlas Shrugged which is purportedly implied by her broader ethical and psychological theories. Far from being a debasing animal instinct, sex is the highest celebration of our greatest values. Sex is a physical response to intellectual and spiritual values—a mechanism for giving concrete expression to values that could otherwise only be experienced in the abstract.
One is sexually attracted to those who embody one's values. Those who have base values will be attracted to baseness, to those who also have ignoble values. Those who lack any clear purpose will find sex devoid of meaning. People of high values will respond sexually to those who embody high values.
Though radical for the time Atlas Shrugged was published, the general idea of sexual desire as a response to the embodiment of our values originally appeared in Socrates's Speech in Plato's Symposium.
(Sanction of the Victim - Atlas Shrugged - pg. 453)
"Do you remember what I said about money and about the men who seek to reverse the law of cause and effect? The men who try to replace the mind by seizing the products of the mind? Well, the man who despises himself tries to gain self-esteem from sexual adventures - which can't be done, because sex is not the cause, but an effect and an expression of a man's sense of his own value."
"You'd better explain that."
"Did it ever occur to you that it's the same issue? The men who think that wealth comes from material resources and has no intellectual root or meaning, are the men who think - for he same reason - that sex is a physical capacity which functions independently of one's mind, choice or code of values. They think that your body creates a desire and makes a choice for you just about in some such way as if iron ore transformed itself into railroad rails of its own volition. [snip] But, in fact, a man's sexual choice is the result and the sum of his fundamental convictions. Tell me what a man finds sexually attractive and I will tell you his entire philosophy of life. Show me the woman he sleeps with and I will tell you his valuation of himself.
[...] The man who is proudly certain of his own value, will want the highest type of woman he can find, the woman he admires, the strongest, the hardest to conquer - because only the posession of a heroine will give him the sense of achievement, not the possession of a brainless slut."
Other important illustrations of this theory are found in:
- Section 152 - recounts Dagny's relationship with Francisco d'Anconia.
- Section 161 - recounts Hank and Lillian Rearden's courtship, and Lillian's attitude towards sex.