From Platonic love to internet pornography

From Platonic love to internet pornography

By Dr Tanja Staehler, head of philosophy at the University of Sussex.

‘From Platonic love to internet pornography’, created by Dr Tanja Staehler, attempts to explore the question: What is the role of sexuality in our contemporary world? The film was created and screened as part of Being Human 2015.

According to German philosopher Martin Heidegger, being human means always being a question, never an answer, and to the Ancient Greek philosophers it is having ‘logos’, having word, speech, dialogue, and many other facets of that important Greek concept. But Plato considered Eros, or love, crucial to being human: it can draw us into philosophy. Yet the concept of Platonic love has contributed to an impression that philosophy turns away from one important facet of being human and being in love, namely, sexuality.

However, closer attention to the Platonic dialogues reveals that love does not appear to rule out sexual activity, and that Plato is quite attentive to the ambiguity of love which he represents through different voices. Today, Plato’s philosophy can still help us see how complex and multi-faceted love is. Plus, the Platonic dialogues can be immensely funny.

But how does this perennial topic of love and Eros present itself to us nowadays? As the Being Human festival wanted to address adolescents as a group, I wondered how love and sexuality appear in their world and asked for contributions from philosophy students, which are depicted in the film.

Modern technology seems to have an enormous influence especially on adolescents, and the topic of internet pornography has recently received a lot of attention, including scientific research. The deeper problem appears to be that we are estranged from one another. Modern technology seems to have a lot to do with that. Being together in the flesh is becomingly increasingly rare. When humans travel together, for example, instead of enjoying human social interaction they tend to  spend the journey staring at their own mini screen. As a result, phenomena like flirtation or seduction become scarcer.

The humanities can help us re-attend to ourselves in our entire being human, body and soul. They can also help us understand why it is difficult for us to relate to each other: we are difficult creatures, and strange to one another. Opening up takes courage; yet talking to each other is one of the best things we can do.

During the discussion after the film, everyone agreed it is important that the curriculum for sexual education in this country is expanded to include topics like love and relationships (as advised by the NSPCC). Ideally, pornography should also be a topic. It is reported that at least a third of teenagers view some form of pornography before actually engaging in sexual activity. Putting the subject on the sex education curriculum would be a means to explain how pornography misrepresents sex. This could be done through film or with the help of experts if teachers are uncomfortable.

This film is part of a project designed to develop online learning resources, so feedback is welcome via a brief questionnaire available from