The men who think that wealth comes from material resources and has no intellectual root or meaning, are the men who think—for the 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. Love is blind, they say; sex is impervious to reason and mocks the power of all philosophers. 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.
While this doctrine may appear absurd in light of common experience, it is entirely consistent with Rand's general views of human psychology. If, like Rand, you believe that an individual's psychology is the product of his "choice or code of values," then of course his sex psychology must be a product of his "choice or code of values" as well. What is particularly interesting about this passage is the suggestion that desires are a product of choice. Rand had speculated that desires are a product of one's thinking (or choice) in her journal, but she generally kept a distance from that view in her public writings, opting instead to merely insist that emotions, rather than desires, are the product of value-premises. However, as Rand left no detailed account of her view of human nature, it's difficult to determine exactly what she thought, or how far she wished to extend her belief that value-premises and choice determined psychology. As usual for Rand, she opts for grand, sweeping rhetoric, mixed with scolding against unspecified dissenters.
Nonetheless, her insistence that emotions are produced by value-judgments, held "consciously or subconsciously," while controversial and almost certainly wrong, does not begin to reach the heights of absurdity of the belief that one's desires are produced by value-judgments. Yet it is precisely this belief that Rand flirts with in her "metaphysics of sex."
In the passage quoted above, Rand mocks the view that the "body creates a desire and makes choice," equating it with the view that a railroad makes itself of its own volition. But would Rand extend this criticism against the desire of sex to such desires as hunger or thirst? Hunger is every bit as much a desire as sex. Then why can't the same things be said of hunger that Rand says of sex? But when we substitute the word hunger for that of sex Rand's passage leaps from moderate to palpable absurdity in a single bound:
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. Hunger is blind, they say; hunger is impervious to reason and mocks the power of all philosophers. But, in fact, a man’s hunger choices are the result and the sum of his fundamental convictions. Tell me what a man finds appetizing and I will tell you his entire philosophy of life. Show me the food he eats and I will tell you his valuation of himself.These absurdities aren't noticed because Rand is reasoning on the basis, not of fact and logic, but of her own wishful thinking. Meanwhile, if we glance at some of the scientific research done in the field of sexual desire, we will quickly understand why Rand's views of sex are so easily ridiculed.
According to the best evidence compiled by experimental psychology, "the mind is attuned to an assortment of cues, usually registering below our level of consciousness, that have evolved over time to tip our decisions and direct us toward the most desirable mates." [Desteno & Valdesolo, Out of Character, 64]
Precisely because these cues operate below the threshold of consciousness, we are not aware of them, and while some of them are pretty obvious, some of them are rather odd. The most obvious cue is physical looks. Research demonstrates that these cues begin operating at a very early age, so that they cannot possibly be produced by "fundamental convictions." "Several experiments have revealed that even infants show a preference for faces that adults rated as attractive.... This evidence suggests that concepts of beauty not only are well agreed on but emerge very early and automatically." [ibid, 66] These concepts of beauty are rooted in intuitive cues about the relative health and fitness of potential sexual partners.
Just as we have evolved a taste for sweets because we have a biological need for glucose, we have evolved a taste for particular features of the body and face associate with evolutionary "health": we find certain physical features to be attractive in another person because they signal to us on an intuitive level that this is a person who would be relatively more successful in passing on healthy genes to future generations....A curious experiment demonstrates the degree to which sexual desire may be triggered by hormones and unconscious mechanisms (rather than by conscious convictions):
Study after study shows that we consistently rate people who have more symmetrical features as being more attractive. Why?... In fact, much research has shown that bilateral symmetry is a good predictor of reproductive success.
Mothers of more symmetrical infants, for example, have been found to suffer fewer infectious diseases during pregnancy. Of course, it's not symmetry in and of itself that makes the mother more resistant to infection, it's just that symmetry is a marker for better overall health....
Facial features signaling elevated hormone levels (which are also linked to health and fertility) are also generally interpreted as more attractive.... And in women, elevated estrogen levels are associated with such envious features as high cheekbones and an immaculate complexion....
The mind is loaded with [innate] mechanisms meant to ensure that our genes are passed on, and the urge to have sex with an attractive (and thus genetically fit) stranger is one of them. [ibid, 67-68]
Now it's important to remember that all these strange cues operate below the threshold of consciousness. That's why they seem so strange. But the research shows that such cues exist, regardless of whatever "conscious convictions" one might have accumulated that may be at odds with them.
[R]esearchers brought women (some ovulating, some not) into a lab and asked them to smell a number of men's unwashed T-shirts and indicate which man's scent they preferred. Keep in mind they never saw these men; they simply sniffed their laundry. We know, it sounds a bit strange, but believe it or not, the ovulating women overwhelmingly preferred the smell of men who have more symmetrical features. They sniffed out the scent of genetic fitness, so to speak. In other words, women in the most fertile phase of their cycle preferred the scent of men whom they probably had more to gain, genetically speaking, by sneaking of into the laboratory closet. This interesting revelation that smell can trigger physical attraction has not been lost on the perfume industry, we might add. [ibid, 69-70]
Certainly we don't consciously scan the people at the bar to compare relative positioning of a potential mate's eyes and ears. Nor do we give each candidate a good long sniff to determine whether he or she is worthy of our fleeting affections. No, our minds do this work for us. Our intuitive mechanisms are so highly attuned to the subtle cues in our social and physical environments that they can direct our attention in a crowded room, if even for the briefest glance, and tip the scales that determine whether and with whom we may try to score, and at what cost. [ibid, 70-71]