Red Pill Latecomer noted that courtly love is considered pure, in part because it doesn’t involve sex:
But as I learned it, the highest form of Courtly Love was chaste. No adultery involved. The Knight would have a pure love for his Lady, never to be consummated. Serving her without expectation of reward, other than maybe her handkerchief or nod of approval.
This is why a man could not love his wife. Because their relationship was polluted with sex.
The idea that romantic love is pure is certainly something we hold to be true without really even considering the source. This is why modern Christian leaders believe that sex in marriage requires romantic love to purify it. And we also just know that pursuing a woman romantically without expecting anything in return (beta orbiters) is the purest and noblest form of love a man can express. These ideas have profoundly warped our thinking away from the biblical view of sex and sexual passion, and it isn’t something we generally even know to question.
There is also the fully intended confusion around whether courtly love is sexual in nature and/or involves physical sexual contact. As Roissy would say, it’s complicated. Just like with the modern term hooking up, the degree of sex involved is deliberately vague. If the lady who is the object of courtly love wants to have sex with her lover, she is free to do so. We see this in the story of Lancelot and Guinevere (King Arthur’s wife) as told by Chrétien de Troyes. Not only is physical adultery present, but Lancelot is compelled to defend Guinevere’s honor after she is rightly accused of adultery:
They spend a passionate night together after Lancelot breaks into her tower. He injures his hand during his break-in, and leaves blood all over Guinevere’s sheets. Lancelot sneaks out of the tower before sunrise, and Meleagant accuses Guinevere of committing adultery with Kay, who is the only wounded knight nearby. Lancelot challenges Meleagant to a fight to defend Guinevere’s honor.
The rule in courtly love isn’t that the lady and her lover can’t have sex, it is that her lover can’t expect sex. It is fully at the discretion of the lady to decide if she wants this ambiguous relationship to include physical adultery, and it is the duty of her lover to keep her confidence in this regard.
Moreover, even when the physical act is never performed, the nature of the relationship is still sexual. It is always adultery, either physical or in the heart. Courtly love (romantic love) is not brotherly love, nor the kind of love you would have for your sister. It is in fact forbidden in the rules of courtly love for a brother to be his sister’s lover. CS Lewis explains, citing the rules provided by Andreas Capellanus:
What is the courtly law in the case of two lovers who find out that they are related within the degrees which would have forbidden their union by marriage? They must part at once. The table of kindred and affinity which applies to marriage applies also to loving par amours.77
It is also impossible for a blind man to feel this form of love for a woman, because it is rooted in her physical beauty. If you’ve never seen her, you can’t love her in this way:
The aim of love, for Andreas, is actual fruition, and its source is visible beauty: so much so, that the blind are declared incapable of love, or, at least, of entering upon love after they have become blind.68
Lastly, we can see another twisted (but cherished) idea that we commonly hold today that has its roots to courtly love:
Even a young unmarried woman should have a lover. It is true that her husband, when she marries, is bound to discover it, but if he is a wise man he will know that a woman who had not followed the ‘commands of love’ would necessarily have less probitas.74
None of these things should surprise us given what we know about the nature of men and women. Women are strongly tempted to elevate themselves to a god like position, and men are strongly tempted to go along with this and worship women. This didn’t start with courtly love, but instead goes all the way back to the fall. And the specific details should also be familiar to anyone with a basic understanding of female sexual nature. Women see their own sexual motives as pure, even purifying. At the same time, while seeking the formal status conferred with marriage, they have a very strong tendency to cloak their sexual choices and motives in ambiguity.