“Drives”: From Biology to Psychoanalysis
As we have seen, even on a theoretical level "sex isn't that simple". Furthermore, it is obvious that the way in which people commonly talk about "sex", "sexual behavior," or the "sex drive" is quite imprecise. It certainly is not adequate for an objective analysis. For example, if there is such a thing as a sex drive, what exactly is it? Is it a drive to reproduce? Or is it a drive to release a specific tension in a specific way? Or is it a drive to experience pleasure? Indeed, what exactly is a drive to begin with?
The English terms "sex drive", "sexual drive", or “sexual instinct” had their parallel in the German “Sexualtrieb”, a concept that became especially popular in the early 20th century. Instincts or drives were said to be innate forces or energies which "drove" animals to behave in certain predictable ways. Specifically, drives prompted an animal to avoid discomfort, like hunger or thirst, and to release physical tension through sexual activity. Thus, for example, the animal's hunt for food indicated the workings of a hunger drive, the search for liquid those of a thirst drive, and the attempt at sexual activity those of a sex drive.
Originally, the word "drive" was simply a narrow biological term. However, as we have seen earlier, for Sigmund Freud the concept of a sex instinct or sex drive soon acquired much larger dimensions. Under the name of libido, and later that of Eros, it became part of his increasingly ambitious psychoanalytical theory which tried to explain the (largely unconscious) motivations of all human behavior. Indeed, to this day Freudians continue to use the term "sex drive" in a special way of their own which is not very widely shared, but which is justified in the context of other psychoanalytic assumptions. Still, also to this day, psychoanalysis has remained more a matter of faith than of scientific proof.