Sex seems to be a fundamental drive. To satisfy sexual desire, a person will often masturbate or have sex.

  • What happens if a person abstains from anything sexual?
  • Can this drive be "transferred" to other areas of an individual's life?
  • That is, can sexual energy be transformed into productive energy?
  • $\begingroup$ Can you clarify the link between hunger and sexual desire in your question? I thought you were going to ask whether abstaining from sex leads to greater eating or some such. Also, how do you define sexual energy and productive energy? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 1:54
  • $\begingroup$ @JeromyAnglim Depending on your model of human sexuality, you might conceptualize it as an instinct or drive that motivates behavior that aims to satisfy the sexual "need". This motivation would be "sexual energy". "Productive energy" would be whatever causes you to be "productive", i.e. achieve goals beyond your base physiological or emotional needs. $\endgroup$
    – user3116
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 6:48
  • $\begingroup$ @What thanks for that. I guess I was seeking to make this question more operationalised. e.g., "What is the effect of sexual abstinence of work motivation?" The concept of transferring energies just seems a little harder to talk meaningfully about. That said, I think gradually this question is becoming answerable. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 7:01

1 Answer 1


In Freudian Psychoanalysis, sublimation is the transformation of unacceptable sexual desires into mental achievements or culturally accepted behaviors. Sublimation is one of the mature defense mechanisms of the Ego. Freud believed that human culture as a whole is a result of sublimation. He sees especially in artistic expression and scientific research the conversion of base desires to a higher realm.

In their review of recent studies in social psychology for evidence relevant to seven Freudian defense mechanisms, Baumeister, Dale and Sommer (1998)

have found nothing at all to suggest that people can defend themselves against unacceptable feelings or desires by transforming them into socially desirable activities, thereby producing superior achiement in those activities. The best available data concern education and sex, and those findings consitently fail to support sublimation theory (and in some cases are in the opposite direction). At present, our best educated guess is that sublimation is not a genuine or effective defense mechanism, and it seems doubtful that anything resembling sublimation occurs at all.

The question "What is the effect of sexual abstinence on intellectual and artistic achievment?" has specifically been answered by studies on celibacy, which show either no or a negative effect (Baumeister, Dale, & Sommer, 1998).



Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.