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How to Think More About Sex

Sage sex advice from a philosophical polymath

By Alain de Botton
22-minute read
Audio available
How to Think More About Sex by Alain de Botton

In How to Think More About Sex (2012), Alain de Botton dives into the strange and often uncomfortable world of sex. A nuanced reflection on the true meaning of sex and its place in our lives, these blinks are full of both insights into the psychology of desire and practical advice, such as how to maintain sexual interest within long-term relationships. Sex, de Botton ultimately concludes, will never be simple, but it can be enjoyable. All we need to do is think about it more.

  • Anyone who wants to understand their own sexual desires
  • Fans of Freudian psychology and would-be philosophers of sex
  • Anyone who’s ever felt sexually deprived or been stung by rejection

Alain de Botton is a thinker determined to bring philosophy into the heart of everyday life. The author of seven books on topics ranging from architecture to social anxiety, he is also the founder of the School of Life, an educational company that offers courses designed to help us lead fulfilling lives.

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How to Think More About Sex

By Alain de Botton
  • Read in 22 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 14 key ideas
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How to Think More About Sex by Alain de Botton
Synopsis

In How to Think More About Sex (2012), Alain de Botton dives into the strange and often uncomfortable world of sex. A nuanced reflection on the true meaning of sex and its place in our lives, these blinks are full of both insights into the psychology of desire and practical advice, such as how to maintain sexual interest within long-term relationships. Sex, de Botton ultimately concludes, will never be simple, but it can be enjoyable. All we need to do is think about it more.

Key idea 1 of 14

Biology can explain attraction and why we have sex, but there’s a lot more to it than that.

In the 1960s, the way most Westerners thought about sex suddenly changed. During that decade, intercourse became a topic of conversation, something that could be discussed as casually as a game of tennis – and, like the racket sport, it came to be regarded as an activity beneficial to your constitution.

It’d be logical to assume that, once sex was accepted as a natural biological function, all sex-related feelings of shame and guilt would have been forever dispelled. But that’s not quite what happened. The fact is that sex remains a sensitive subject even today.

So why do so many of us still feel awkward about it? A good place to jump in is by asking what sex really is.

Here, the biological account of sex and attraction only gets us so far. If we want to understand desire, we have to dig a bit deeper.

Take evolutionary biology. It offers a compelling account of why we find intelligence, strength and beauty attractive.

The first quality, for example, implies an ability to swiftly adapt to a range of different situations – a handy skill when it comes to ensuring the survival of offspring.

Strength is another attractive quality indicating an ability to protect infants from potential predators. That’s why displays of brawn are often so beguiling.

Beauty is suggestive of yet another important quality – health. A huge number of studies carried out around the world show that most of us find facial symmetry attractive. The reason? Evenly distributed features are indicative of a well-functioning immune system and the absence of genetic diseases.

Though compelling, these explanations don’t account for people whose tastes diverge from the norm.

Nor does a purely biological account of sex give a full enough picture. Why, for instance, do we derive so much physical pleasure from the act of copulation?

An evolutionary biologist would claim that the pleasure stems from the nerve endings in our genitals, which are stimulated during sex. That, they’d add, is our reward for engaging in the tricky but vital task of propagating the species.

That’s a persuasive explanation, right? But think about what it leaves out. Why, for example, is masturbation – an act of straightforward nerve-ending stimulation – never quite as satisfying as having sex with another person? Or take impotence. What explains the fact that someone can suffer from the condition even with the most attractive and considerate of partners?

Such counterexamples suggest that we need to turn elsewhere if we want a fuller picture. If we’re interested in finding out why sex can make us feel awkward, we need to look at our psychological development.

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