By Eros I mean of course that state which we call "being in love".... The carnal or animally sexual element within Eros, I intend (following an old usage) to call Venus....
I believe we are all being encouraged to take Venus too seriously; at any rate, with a wrong kind of seriousness. All my life a ludicrous and portentous solemnisation of sex has been going on.
One author tells us that Venus should recur through the married life in “a solemn, sacramental rhythm.” A young man to whom I had described as “pornographic” a novel that he much admired, replied with genuine bewilderment, “Pornographic? But how can it be? It treats the whole thing so seriously”—as if a long face were a sort of moral disinfectant. Our friends who harbour Dark Gods, the “pillar of blood” school, attempt seriousiy to restore something like the Phallic religion. Our advertisements, at their sexiest, paint the whole business in terms of the rapt, the intense, the swoony-devout; seldom a hint of gaiety. And the psychologists have so bedevilled us with the infinite importance of complete sexual adjustment and the all but impossibility of achieving it, that I could believe some young couples now go to it with the complete works of Freud, Kraft-Ebbing, Havelock Ellis and Dr. Stopes spread out on bed-tables all round them.... We have reached the stage at which nothing is more needed than a roar of old-fashioned laughter.
But, it will be replied, the thing is serious. Yes; quadruply so. First, theologically, because this is the body’s share in marriage which, by God’s choice, is the mystical image of the union between God and Man. Secondly, as what I will venture to call a sub-Christian, or Pagan or natural sacrament, our human participation in, and exposition of, the natural forces of life and fertility— the marriage of Sky-Father and Earth-Mother. Thirdly, on the moral level, in view of the obligations involved and the incalculable momentousness of being a parent and ancestor. Finally it has (sometimes, not always) a great emotional seriousness in the minds of the participants.
But eating is also serious; theologically, as the vehicle of the Blessed Sacrament; ethically in view of our duty to feed the hungry; socially, because the table is from time immemorial the place for talk; medically, as all dyspeptics know. Yet we do not bring bluebooks to dinner nor behave there as if we were in church. And it is gourmets, not saints, who come nearest to doing so. Animals are always serious about food.
We must not be totally serious about Venus. Indeed we can’t be totally serious without doing violence to our humanity. It is not for nothing that every language and literature in the world is full of jokes about sex. Many of them may be dull or disgusting and nearly all of them are old. But we must insist that they embody an attitude to Venus which in the long run endangers the Christian life far less than a reverential gravity. We must not attempt to find an absolute in the flesh. Banish play and laughter from the bed of love and you may let in a false goddess. She will be even falser than the Aphrodite of the Greeks; for they, even while they worshipped her, knew that she was “laughter-loving.” The mass of the people are perfectly right in their conviction that Venus is a partly comic spirit. We are under no obligation at all to sing all our love-duets in the throbbing, world- without-end, heart-breaking manner of Tristan and Isolde; let us often sing like Papageno and Papagena instead.
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (1960; Harcourt Brace: 1991) 91-92, 97-99.