There have been quite a few articles and blog posts lately discussing whether men and women can have friendships without sexual desire getting in the way. There’s something in them that I see over and over that annoys me.
Quite often, the shorthand for non-sexual friendships is a “platonic relationship.” Of course, that’s generally used to discuss male/female friendships, though the issue of non-sexual same-gender friendships for gays and lesbians does have some similarities. But what bothers me, regardless of the gender or sexual orientation combination is the idea that a non-sexual friendship is “platonic.”
If you’re not familiar with the history of the word, the Platonic Ideal comes from Plato’s Theory of Forms. Plato thought that the things that we perceive in the world are a dim, imperfect reflection of the ideal. So the trees that we see are like fuzzy photocopies of the ideal, abstract tree that exists in a state of perfection.
The idea behind Platonic love is that:
the most correct use of love of other human beings is to direct one’s mind to love of divinity. In short, with genuine platonic love, the beautiful or lovely other person inspires the mind and the soul and directs one’s attention to spiritual things.
Granted, this definition comes from wikipedia, but you get the idea. So at the root of the term is the idea that sexual interactions sully the more pure form of love that people should strive for. The notion that having sex makes a relationship less pure is solidly grounded in the belief that sex somehow taints or soils it. Seems pretty sex-negative to me.
I certainly don’t think it’s a problem to discuss non-sexual relationships, to explore how they differ from sexual ones, or to examine the challenges and rewards they offer. And I know that most people who use the term “Platonic relationship” are unaware of its erotophobic history. But it’s still there and I see no reason to reinforce it.
And anyway, calling it a Platonic relationship rather than a non-sexual relationship is a euphemism. There’s no reason to hide what we’re talking about behind a veil. I’d much rather use language that makes it clear what we’re discussing: non-sexual relationships.
So I invite you to stop calling them “Platonic relationships.” They’re no more pure than sexual relationships and we don’t need to keep reinforcing the idea that they are.