Tolkien on sex

TurningPointSynergy Explorers

Men are not [monogamous]. No good pretending. Men just ain’t, not by their animal nature. Monogamy (although it has long been fundamental to our inherited ideas) is for us men a piece of revealed ethic, according to faith and not the flesh. The essence of a fallen world is that the best cannot be attained by free enjoyment, or by what is called “self-realization” (usually a nice name for self-indulgence, wholly inimical to the realization of other selves); but by denial, by suffering….

Marriage may help to sanctify and direct to its proper object his sexual desires; its grace may help him in the struggle; but the struggle remains. It will not satisfy him—as hunger may be kept off by regular meals. It will offer as many difficulties to the purity proper to that state as it provides easements.

No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial. Too few are told that—even those brought up in “the Church.” Those outside seem seldom to have heard it.

When the glamour wears off, or merely works a bit thin, they think that they have made a mistake, and that the real soul-mate is still to find. The real soul-mate too often proves to be the next sexually attractive person that comes along. Someone whom they might indeed very profitably have married, if only—. Hence divorce, to provide the “if only.”  (Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, pp. 51-52)

Disillusionment

Orphaned at 12, Tolkien fell in love with his wife as a teen. His guardian forbade him any further contact with the woman he loved until Tolkien was 21 (in part because his infatuation so preoccupied him that his marks suffered at school). As soon as he turned 21 he proposed. Edith broke off her interim engagement to someone else, and Edith and J.R.R. married shortly before he went to the trenches of France in WW I. Two of his three best friends died in the war, and he contracted a recurring fever.

Tolkien was a romantic. He once said, “in our Western culture the romantic chivalric tradition [is] still strong,” though he recognized that “the times are inimical to it.”

Yet from his letter to his son above, it it easy to imagine his heartache when his initial infatuation wore thin and he felt as if he had married the wrong person. Even so his marriage endured for more than 50 years. He died less than two years after his wife, whom he dearly missed. (Tolkien fans will notice the names ‘Lúthien’ and ‘Beren’, famous  lovers in Tolkien’s mythology, carved into Edith and J.R.R.’s headstone.)

Tolkien clearly recognized the biological challenge inherent in sexuality. He obviously experienced the baffling “ons” and “offs”, or pleasures and frustrations, so often experienced in intimate relationships. In his experience conventional sex would “not satisfy.” He warned his son that sex differed from hunger, which can be staved off by regular meals.

Would Synergy have helped?

Tolkien was correct about conventional sex. Yet lovers who master Synergy-style lovemaking typically make love more frequently. And without the bruising attraction-repulsion dynamic that predictably surfaces as lovers exceed the honeymoon period of their unions. Thus the Synergy approach tends to ease sexual hunger more effectively than conventional sex.

In short, it may be that lust can be staved off precisely like hunger, provided that the regular “meals” employ Synergy. If so, perhaps Tolkien was mistaken when he concluded that suffering is essential to cope with marital intimacy. It could be that self-control + regular affection = a workable formula.

Tolkien was Catholic. We don’t know if he would have experimented with an unconventional approach to sex like Synergy no matter how romantic. Intriguingly, however, Tolkien may well have discussed its broad outlines with Charles Williams, his close friend and fellow Inkling (Oxford literary group). In his book The Descent of the Dove Williams expressed regret that the Church had long ago suppressed a solution along the lines of Synergy.

Certainly, Tolkien (eventually) acknowledged the gifts of sexual temperance. He wrote to C.S. Lewis (another of the Inklings) that, “marriage is not a prohibition of sexual intercourse, but the correct way of sexual temperance–in fact probably the best way of getting the most satisfying sexual pleasure”.

Perhaps it’s not farfetched to suggest that Tolkien would have been a “natural” for Synergy.

Of possible interest: