Over 400,000 people visited Farnam Street last month to learn how to make better decisions, create new ideas, and avoid stupid errors. With more than 100,000 subscribers to our popular weekly digest, we've become an online intellectual hub. To learn more about we what do, start here.

Andy Warhol on Love and Sex

Warhol

“People should fall in love with their eyes closed.
Just close your eyes. Don’t look.”

***

Pop art luminary Andy Warhol had a lot to say about love and sex.

As found in the wonderful pseudo memoir The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again).

Love affairs get too involved, and they’re not really worth it. But if, for some reason, you feel that they are, you should put in exactly as much time and energy as the other person. In other words, “I’ll pay you if you pay me.”

People have so many problems with love, always looking for someone to be their Via Veneto, their souffle that can’t fall. There should be a course in the first grade on love. There should be courses on beauty and love and sex. With love as the biggest course. And they should show the kids, I always think, how to make love and tell and show them once and for all how nothing it is. But they won’t do that, because love and sex are business.

But then I think, maybe it works out just as well that nobody takes you out of the dark about it, because if you really knew the whole story, you wouldn’t have anything to think about or fantasize about for the rest of your life, and you might go crazy, having nothing to think about, since life is getting longer, anyway, leaving so much time after puberty to have sex in.

Warhol didn’t see Snow White until he was 45.

It was probably a good thing that I waited, because I can’t imagine how it could ever be more exciting than it was then. Which gave me the idea that instead of telling kids very early about the mechanics and nothingness of sex, maybe it would be better to suddenly and very excitingly reveal the details to them when they’re forty. You could be walking down the street with a friend who’s just turned forty, spill the birds-and-the-bees beans, wait for the initial shock of learning what-goes-where to die down, and then patiently explain the rest. Then suddenly at forty their life would have new meaning. We should really stay babies for much longer than we do, now that we’re living so much longer.

It’s the long life-spans that are throwing all the old values and their applications out of whack. When people used to learn about sex at fifteen and die at thirty-five, they obviously were going to have fewer problems than people today who learn about sex at eight or so, I guess, and live to be eighty. That’s a long time to play around with the same concept. The same boring concept.

Parents who really love their kids and want them to be bored and discontented for as small a percentage of their lifetimes as possible maybe should go back to not letting them date until as late as possible so they have something to look forward to for a longer time.

Sex is more exciting on the screen and between the pages than between the sheets anyway. Let the kids read about it and look forward to it, and then right before they’re going to get the reality, break the news to them that they’ve already had the most exciting part, that it’s behind them already.

Fantasy love is much better than reality love. The most exciting attractions are between two opposites that never meet.

Later, he writes that the biggest price we pay for love is giving up our solitude.

The biggest price you pay for love is that you have to have somebody around, you can’t be on your own, which is always so much better. The biggest disadvantage, of course, is no room in bed. Even a pet cuts into your bed room.

Love does not mean sex.

Love and sex can go together and sex and unlove can go together and love and unsex can go together. But personal love and personal sex is bad.

You can be just as faithful to a place or a thing as you can to a person. A place can really make your heart skip a
beat, especially if you have to take a plane to get there.

Mom always said not to worry about love, but just to be sure to get married. But I always knew that I would never get married, because I don’t want any children, I don’t want them to have the same problems that I have. I don’t think anybody deserves it.

I think a lot about the people who are supposed to not have any problems, who get married and live and die and it’s all been wonderful. I don’t know anybody like that. They always have some problem, even if it’s only that the toilet doesn’t flush.

On trying to learn about love, Warhol turned to the movies.

I tried and tried when I was younger to learn something about love, and since it wasn’t taught in school I turned to the movies for some clues about what love is and what to do about it. In those days you did learn something about some kind of love from the movies, but it was nothing you could apply with any reasonable results. I mean, the other night I was watching on TV the 1961 version of Back Street with John Gavin and Susan Hayward and I was stunned the whole time because all they kept saying was how wonderful every precious moment they had together was, and so every precious moment was a testimonial to every precious moment.

But I always thought that movies could show you so much more about how it really is between people and therefore help all the people who don’t understand to know what to do, what some of their options are.

What I was actually trying to do in my early movies was show how people can meet other people and what they can do and what they can say to each other. That was the whole idea: two people getting acquainted. And then when you saw it and you saw the sheer simplicity of it, you learned what it was all about. Those movies showed you how some people act and react with other people. They were like actual sociological “For instance”s. They were like documentaries, and if you thought it could apply to you, it was an example, and if it didn’t apply to you, at least it was a documentary, it could apply to somebody you knew and it could clear up some questions you had about them.

On the best love

The best love is not-to-think-about-it love. Some people can have sex and really let their minds go blank and fill up with the sex; other people can never let their minds go blank and fill up with the sex, so while they’re having the sex they’re thinking, “Can this really be me? Am I really doing this? This is very strange. Five minutes ago I wasn’t doing this. In a little while I won’t be doing it. What would Mom say? How did people ever think of doing this?” So the first type of person— the type that can let their minds go blank and fill up with sex and not-think-about-it—is better off. The other type has to find something else to relax with and get lost in. For me that something else is humor.

Funny people are the only people I ever get really interested in, because as soon as somebody isn’t funny, they bore me. But if the big attraction for you is having somebody be funny, you run into a problem, because being funny is not being sexy, so in the end, near the moment of truth, you’re not really attracted, you can’t really “do it.”

But I’d rather laugh in bed than do it. Get under the covers and crack jokes, I guess, is the best way. “How am I doing?” “Fine, that was very funny.” “Wow, you were really funny tonight.”

If I went to a lady of the night, I’d probably pay her to tell me jokes.

The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again) is full of Warhol’s interesting insights.