Scholars talk love, sex in arousing discussion

By Blake Rachowin

Centuries before Haddaway’s eternal question “What is Love?” filled the airwaves of A Night at the Roxbury, philosophers, biologists, and psychologists had attempted to answer the very same question. Following their curious—and amorous—predecessors, the Chicago Society invited a dream team of University professors to contemplate love on Thursday night.

Held in the Cloister Club of Ida Noyes Hall, “Love: A Symposium” brought about 300 students eager to hear the intellectual musings of psychology professor Martha McClintock, Classics professor James Redfield, and social sciences professor Bertram Cohler in a talk moderated by Comparative Human Development Chair David Orlinsky.

McClintock, who is studying human biological and mental influences on love and sex, began with her speech, “Love at First Whiff: Pheromones, Partner Preference, and Romantic Intimacy.”

While discussing the brain’s tendency to remember first loves, McClintock asked audience members to recount their first loves, then took a jab at her colleague in the social sciences division, saying, “Bert certainly doesn’t remember his.”

McClintock talked about the lack of research being conducted on the biology of love and sex. She did, however, share the results of her scientific experiments and personal experiences with pheromones.

“One time, I found a man’s T-shirt that I thought smelled like freshly baked bread, but my colleague thought it smelled more like a vaginal yeast infection,” McClintock said, prompting laughter from the audience.

Redfield took a significantly different perspective as he began his speech, “The Socratic Notion of Love: Sex as a Poor Substitute for Philosophy.” While citing the philosophies of Socrates and Plato, he distinguished cosmic love from friendly and romantic love.

“The paradox of love is that we idealize the imperfect,” he said, agreeing with McClintock that love is inherently subjective.

Recalling his first love, Redfield said, “Mine came in fifth grade. Right on time. She was a tall, leggy blonde from California, and that’s all I ever knew about her.”

“I ended up marrying a tall, leggy blonde from California,” he added.

Cohler focused on Freudian psychology in “Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Love: Freud and Relational Psychoanalysis.” But playing off of Redfield’s title, Cohler swiftly changed his presentation title to “Freud’s Notion of Love: Philosophy as a Poor Substitute for Sex.”

Recalling Freud’s tenets of childhood development and psychoanalysis, Cohler discussed the application of these ideas to adult relationships.

“We develop object relationships in order to feel satisfied,” he said.

Cohler concluded in the Freudian spirit by saying, “And it all comes back to the mother and the love of the mother.”

Questions among panelists and from the audience sparked witty banter, audience laughter, and endless sex jokes. Panelists and audience members alike were particularly amused when one audience member asked about the relationship between sweaty T-shirts at Ratner and romantic attraction.