The Psychology of Desire
On the three different types of desire and the need for progeny, power and purpose
Desire is a very intriguing subject to poets, philosophers, psychologists and to every inquisitive human. Desire is shaped by several factors which could have physiological and endocrinal explanations, psychoanalytic, sociological and philosophical explanations. Desire is a fundamental force of human existence and the primary manifestation of sexual energy and is present in all human beings without which survival would be meaningless. Although desire can have negative connotations with societal pressures on controlling desire, desire is largely positive and constructive although aggressive impulses lead to destructive desires as well.
Desire is the root of all human activity from creative pursuits to business pursuits and we are all motivated by one form of desire or another and these may be a desire for fame, desire for benevolence, desire for money, desire for admiration and popularity or even desire for power. Of course this is not an exhaustive list of desires and the range of desires could vary according to the range of human emotions and experiences. The manifestation of desire could be largely restricted by society and there is a huge difference on how society perceives desire in men and women. Society still remains hypocritical as far as sexual desire is concerned and sex or sexual desire is not talked about freely. In fact negative perceptions about sex are rather widespread in which men are considered as sexual predators and women are the victims. At best sexual desire in men is still accepted although sex desire in women is still perceived with certain skepticism. This would not be the right kind of perception as both men and women should have a healthy sexual drive and negative perceptions in society are detrimental to one’s moral and sexual development.
In psychoanalysis, Freud has differentiated between the libidinal or sexual urges and the aggressive or death urges. Sexual urges when sublimated or channeled would result in creative and constructive pursuits and aggressive urges usually lead to feelings of depression or destructive behavior. Desires could thus be constructive and creative or destructive and although both these types of desires would have similar roots in the unconscious, the manifestation would be exactly opposite. Aggressive desires can manifest in violence although sex desires can also be closely related to violence and when sex desires are thwarted, individuals could resort to violent behavior. Desire could have many underlying causes and there could be biological and physiological explanations with high testosterone or hormonal levels being responsible for strong desires, whether aggressive or sexual. Thus men and even some women with high levels of testosterone would show higher desires, levels of competitiveness and stronger physical and even aggressive urges.
Some traditional eastern philosophical texts have suggested that women have higher levels of sex drive. However considering that testosterone is responsible for sexual desire, the levels of testosterone in a woman’s body would be responsible for the strength of her sex drive. Some women with lowered libidos are often advised to take testosterone patches and this suggests that higher amount of maleness in terms of personality traits in a woman could also be related to higher level of sexual desire. So a woman with more male interests and having masculine mental and even physical traits could be considered as having more sexual desire. Men naturally have high levels of testosterone and associated aggressive and sexual desires although they may manifest this through other constructive pursuits. It however remains debatable whether men or women have higher sexual drive and although theoretically men with naturally higher levels of testosterone could have strong libidos and life drives and associated ambition and desire to excel, women could also manifest very strong libidos and life energy.
I would consider three different meanings of desire and all desires could be categorized under these three major kinds of desires. I would call this the Three Ps theory of desire – the three Ps being Progeny, Power and Purpose. The three types of desire are explained here as follows:
1. Desire as mating need for Progeny:
From an evolutionary viewpoint, the human desire for sex which according to Freudian psychology is the basis of human survival is motivated by the need for progeny. Strong libido could be very positive for the human species and men and women with strong sexual desires would have evolutionary advantage and would be able to leave their progeny behind ultimately required for human species survival. The biological need to leave offspring could thus be connected to the Freudian explanation of sex and our desire to mate. Sexual drive is thus not about release but about release with the aim of species propagation. Freudian psychology and its emphasis on the libido is quite compatible with evolutionary psychology that would consider the sexual and aggressive drives as absolutely important for survival of an individual and the human species as a whole. The human needs for partnership, love, security are all aspects of this type of basic desire. All creative and constructive desires also have roots in sexual desire and the creative act could be itself considered as an act of mating according to psychoanalysis. Creative artists, painters and writers are guided by this type of desire.
2. Desire as manifestation of Power:
Desire is however frequently manifested in the need for power and control and the desire to be a parent could be motivated by an underlying need to exercise control on one’s own children. The need for authority is mainly associated with aggressive impulses and the desire for power could be considered as motivated by both sexual and aggressive urges. Politicians, leaders, managers, directors and people in positions of power whether financial, social or political often manifest strong desire to control and dominate people and situations. The desire to earn more money, fame or attain certain social position is guided by the need for power and the need to protect and provide care through control would also fall under this category. All political, social and financial leaders manifest this sort of desire. The question would definitely arise whether celebrities (pop stars and film stars) are also guided by this need for power. Of course celebrities are motivated by a need for admiration (this is common even in authors and leaders) and the need for admiration is manifestation of subtle power rather than any aggressive need to dominate and control as seen more clearly in political leaders.
3. Desire as fulfillment of Purpose:
Desire could also be revealed as the need to fulfill a purpose and in this case the desire takes the proportion of a mission and achieving this goal becomes almost an obsession. This sort of desire could be found in social or political leaders motivated by the need for change and a sense of purpose although this is akin to self realization needs in psychology and all humans are guided by a sense of purpose, no matter how big or how small. Religious leaders and sages have a strongly developed sense of mission and purpose and are driven by this sort of desire. Some authors and creative artists may also be fired by a sense of mission while writing a book or creating a piece of art. Activists and social leaders and even terrorists and sometimes criminals are also motivated by this sort of mission or purpose. Many serial killers, terrorists, activists, social and religious leaders have a similar sense of purpose and the roots of this would be aggressive urges channeled either destructively or constructively depending on how the urges are manifested.
All human desires could be categorized into these three groups with the motivating factor being creation of progeny through sex and all creative urges would fall within t
his category; the need for power and all goals and ambitions to acquire fame, money, status would fall in the second category; and finally the category of desire associated with a sense of purpose explain self realization needs in monks, religious leaders, and a sense of mission in activists, spiritual and political leaders and even terrorists.