Forms of Love

May (1969b) identified four kinds of love hi Western tradition—sex, eros, philia, and agape.

Sex is a biological function that can be satisfied through sexual intercourse or some other release of sexual tension. Although it lias become cheapened hi modern Western societies, "it still remains the power of procreation, the drive which perpetuates the race, the source at once of the human being's most intense pleasure and his [or her] most pervasive anxiety" (May, 1969b, p. 38).

May believed that in ancient times sex was taken for granted just as eathig and sleeping were taken for granted, hi modern times, sex has become a problem. First, during the Victorian period Western societies generally denied sexual feelings, and sex was not a topic of conversation in polite company. Then, during the 1920s, people reacted agahist this sexual suppression; and sex suddenly came hito the open, and much of Western society was preoccupied with it. May (1969b) pohited out that society went from a period when having sex was fraught with guilt and anxiety to a time when not having it brought about guilt and anxiety.


In the United States, sex is frequently confused with eros. Sex is a physiological need that seeks gratification through the release of tension. Eros is a psychological deshe that seeks procreation or creation through an enduring union with a loved one. Eros is making love; sex is manipulating organs. Eros is the wish to establish a lasting union; sex is the deshe to experience pleasure. Eros "takes wings from human imagination and is forever transcending all techniques, giving the laugh to all the 'how to' books by gaily swinging hito orbit above our mechanical rules" (May, 1969b, p. 74).

Eros is built on care and tenderness. It longs to establish an enduring union with the other person, such that both partners experience delight and passion and both are broadened and deepened by the experience. Because the human species could not survive without desire for a lasting union, eros can be regarded as the salvation of sex.

Chapter 12 May: Existential Psychology 353

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