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Of all my books, this may be my favorite.  The title comes from a conversation in one of my classes.  One of my students had expressed loathing for the characters in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World:  “These people are disgusting,” he said.  Thinking that I knew what he meant, I nodded and said, “Sex ought to mean something.”  He surprised me by answering that sex doesn’t have to mean anything.  Yet on closer examination, the seemingly unrelated reason for his disgust with the people in the book implied that sex does have to mean something -- and that it means it already. 

This ambivalence is at the heart of a lot of our problems.  I see a terrain of unutterable sweetness, despoiled by unmentionable pain.  What interests me is how to redeem that unutterable sweetness.

In fact, I wanted to title the book The Sweet Science, a phrase suggested by the mystical poetry of John of the Cross, who wrote “There He taught me the science full of sweetness …. There I promised to be His bride.”  The publisher pointed out that the expression “the sweet science” is also used for wrestling.

Most of the chapters begin with conversations I’ve had with real students.  An early version of the article that eventually became Chapter 2 can be found here; I apologize for its title, which is not the one that I gave it.

  1. Does Sex Have to Mean Something?
  2. The Meaning of the Sexual Powers
  3. The Meaning of Sexual Differences
  4. The Meaning of Sexual Love
  5. The Meaning of Sexual Beauty
  6. The Meaning of Sexual Purity
  7. Transcendence