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Among the many topics explored by the philosophy of sexuality are procreation, contraception, celibacy, marriage, adultery, casual sex, flirting, prostitution, homosexuality, masturbation, seduction, rape, sexual harassment, sadomasochism, pornography, bestiality, and pedophilia. What do all these things have in common? All are related in various ways to the vast domain of human sexuality. That is, they are related, on the one hand, to the human desires and activities that involve the search for and attainment of sexual pleasure or satisfaction and, on the other hand, to the human desires and activities that involve the creation of new human beings.
For it is a natural feature of human beings that certain sorts of behaviors and certain bodily organs are and can be employed either for pleasure or for reproduction, or for both. The philosophy of sexuality explores these topics both conceptually and normatively. Conceptual analysis is carried out in the philosophy of sexuality in order to clarify the fundamental notions of sexual desire and sexual activity.
Conceptual analysis is also carried out in attempting to arrive at satisfactory definitions of adultery, prostitution, rape, pornography, and so forth. Conceptual analysis for example: what are the distinctive features of a desire that make it sexual desire instead of something else? In what ways does seduction differ from nonviolent rape? Normative philosophy of sexuality inquires about the value of sexual activity and sexual pleasure and of the various forms they take.
Thus the philosophy of sexuality is concerned with the perennial questions of sexual morality and constitutes a large branch of applied ethics. Normative philosophy of sexuality investigates what contribution is made to the good or virtuous life by sexuality, and tries to determine what moral obligations we have to refrain from performing certain sexual acts and what moral permissions we have to engage in others.
Some philosophers of sexuality carry out conceptual analysis and the study of sexual ethics separately. They believe that it is one thing to define a sexual phenomenon such as rape or adultery and quite another thing to evaluate it. Other philosophers of sexuality believe that a robust distinction between defining a sexual phenomenon and arriving at moral evaluations of it cannot be made, that analyses of sexual concepts and moral evaluations of sexual acts influence each other.
Whether there actually is a tidy distinction between values and morals, on the one hand, and natural, social, or conceptual factson the other hand, is one of those fascinating, endlessly debated issues in philosophy, and is not limited to the philosophy of sexuality. Our moral evaluations of sexual activity are bound to be affected by what we view the nature of the sexual impulse, or of sexual desire, to be in human beings.
In this regard there is a deep divide between those philosophers that we might call the metaphysical sexual optimists and those we might call the metaphysical sexual pessimists. The pessimists in the philosophy of sexuality, such as St. AugustineImmanuel Kant, and, sometimes, Sigmund Freudperceive the sexual impulse and acting on it to be something nearly always, if not necessarily, unbefitting the dignity of the human person; they see the essence and the of the drive to be incompatible with more ificant and lofty goals and aspirations of human existence; they fear that the power and demands of the sexual impulse make it a danger to harmonious civilized life; and they find in sexuality a severe threat not only to our proper relations with, and our moral treatment of, other persons, but also equally a threat to our own humanity.
On the other side of the divide are the metaphysical sexual optimists Plato, in some of his works, sometimes Sigmund Freud, Bertrand Russell, and many contemporary philosophers who perceive nothing especially obnoxious in the sexual impulse. They view human sexuality as just another and mostly innocuous dimension of our existence as embodied or animal-like creatures; they judge that sexuality, which in some measure has been given to us by evolution, cannot but be conducive to our well-being without detracting from our intellectual propensities; and they praise rather than fear the power of an impulse that can lift us to various high forms of happiness.
An extended version of metaphysical pessimism might make the following claims: In virtue of the nature of sexual desire, a person who sexually desires another person objectifies that other person, both before and during sexual activity. Certain types of manipulation and deception seem required prior to engaging in sex with another person, or are so common as to appear part of the nature of the sexual experience. We go out of our way, for example, to make ourselves look more attractive and desirable to the other person than we really are, and we go to great lengths to conceal our defects.
During the act, a person both loses control of himself and loses regard for the humanity of the other. Those engaged in sexual activity make themselves willingly into objects for each other merely for the sake of sexual pleasure.
Hence both persons are reduced to the animal level. Finally, due to the insistent nature of the sexual impulse, once things get going it is often hard to stop them in their tracks, and as a result we often end up doing Promiscuous sex while more risky is also very exciting and pleasing sexually that we had never planned or wanted to do.
Sexual desire is also powerfully inelastic, one of the passions most likely to challenge reason, compelling us to seek satisfaction even when doing so involves dark-alley gropings, microbiologically filthy acts, slinking around the White House, or getting married impetuously. Given such a pessimistic metaphysics of human sexuality, one might well conclude Promiscuous sex while more risky is also very exciting and pleasing acting on the sexual impulse is always morally wrong.
That might, indeed, be precisely the right conclusion to draw, even if it implies the end of Homo sapiens. This doomsday result is also implied by St. More frequently, however, the pessimistic metaphysicians of sexuality conclude that sexual activity is morally permissible only within marriage of the lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual sort and only for the purpose of procreation.
Regarding the Promiscuous sex while more risky is also very exciting and pleasing activities that both lead to procreation and produce sexual pleasure, it is their procreative potential that is singularly ificant and bestows value on these activities; seeking pleasure is an impediment to morally virtuous sexuality, and is something that should not be undertaken deliberately or for its own sake. Sexual pleasure at most has instrumental value, in inducing us to engage in an act that has procreation as its primary purpose.
Such views are common among Christian thinkers, for example, St. Metaphysical sexual optimists suppose that sexuality is a bonding mechanism that naturally and happily s people together both sexually and nonsexually. Sexual activity involves pleasing the self and the other at the same time, and these exchanges of pleasure generate both gratitude and affection, which in turn are bound to deepen human relationships and make them more emotionally substantial. Further, and this is the most important point, sexual pleasure is, for a metaphysical optimist, a valuable thing in its own right, something to be cherished and promoted because it has intrinsic and not merely instrumental value.
Hence the pursuit of sexual pleasure does not require much intricate justification; sexual activity surely need not be confined to marriage or directed at procreation. The good and virtuous life, while including much else, can also include a wide variety and extent of sexual relations. Though at times people may be used as sexual objects and cast aside once their utility has been exhausted, this is no[t].
By awakening us to the living presence of someone else, sexuality can enable us to treat this other being as just the person he or she happens to be. There is nothing in the nature of sexuality as such that necessarily. A person who has vulgar eros is one who experiences promiscuous sexual desire, has a lust that can be satisfied by any partner, and selfishly seeks only for himself or herself the pleasures of sexual activity.
A similar distinction between sexuality per se and eros is described by C. The divide between metaphysical optimists and metaphysical pessimists might, then, be put this way: metaphysical pessimists think that sexuality, unless it is rigorously constrained by social norms that have become internalized, will tend to be governed by vulgar eros, while metaphysical optimists think that sexuality, by itself, does not lead to or become vulgar, that by its nature it can easily be and often is heavenly. See the entry, Philosophy of Love. Of course, we can and often do evaluate sexual activity morally : we inquire whether a sexual act—either a particular occurrence of a sexual act the act we are doing or want to do right now or a type of sexual act say, all instances of homosexual fellatio —is morally good or morally bad.
More specifically, we evaluate, or judge, sexual acts to be morally obligatory, morally permissible, morally supererogatory, or morally wrong. Note that if a specific type of sexual act is morally wrong say, homosexual fellatiothen every instance of that type of act will be morally wrong. However, from the fact that the particular sexual act we are now doing or contemplate doing is morally wrong, it does not follow that any specific type of act is morally wrong; the sexual act that we are contemplating might be wrong for lots of different reasons having nothing to do with the type of sexual act that it is.
For example, suppose we are engaging in heterosexual coitus or anything elseand that this particular act is wrong because it is adulterous. The wrongfulness of our sexual activity does not imply that heterosexual coitus in general or anything elseas a type of sexual act, is morally wrong. In some cases, of course, a particular sexual act will be wrong for several reasons: not only is it wrong because it is of a specific type say, it is an instance of homosexual fellatiobut it is also wrong because at least one of the participants is married to someone else it is wrong also because it is adulterous.
An analogy will clarify the difference between morally evaluating something as good or bad and nonmorally evaluating it as good or bad. This radio on my desk is a good radio, in the nonmoral sense, because it does for me what I expect from a radio: it consistently provides clear tones. If, instead, the radio hissed and cackled most of the time, it would be a bad radio, nonmorally-speaking, and it would be senseless for me to blame the radio for its faults and threaten it with a trip to hell if it did not improve its behavior.
Similarly, sexual activity can be nonmorally good if it provides for us what we expect sexual activity to provide, which is usually sexual pleasure, and this fact has no necessary moral implications. It is not difficult to see that the fact that a sexual activity is perfectly nonmorally good, by abundantly satisfying both persons, does not mean by itself that the act is morally good: some adulterous sexual activity might well be very pleasing to the participants, yet be morally wrong.
Further, the fact that a sexual activity is nonmorally bad, that is, does not produce pleasure for the persons engaged in it, does not by itself mean that the act is morally bad. Unpleasant sexual activity might occur between persons who have little experience engaging in sexual activity they do not yet know how to do sexual things, or have not yet learned what their likes and dislikes arebut their failure to provide pleasure for each other does not mean by itself that they perform morally wrongful acts. Thus the moral evaluation of sexual activity is a distinct enterprise from the nonmoral evaluation of sexual activity, even if there do remain important connections between them.
For example, the fact that a sexual act provides pleasure to both participants, and is thereby nonmorally good, might be taken as a strong, but only prima facie good, reason for thinking that the act is morally good or at least has some degree of moral value. Indeed, utilitarians such as Jeremy Bentham and even John Stuart Mill might claim that, in general, the nonmoral goodness of sexual activity goes a long way toward justifying it. But that judgment rests not simply on the fact that he or she did not provide pleasure for the other person, that is, on the fact that the sexual activity was for the other person nonmorally bad.
The moral judgment rests, more precisely, on his or her motives for not providing any pleasure, for not making the experience nonmorally good for the other person. It is another thing to wonder, nonetheless, about the emotional or psychological connections between the moral quality of sexual activity and its nonmoral quality. Perhaps morally good sexual activity tends also to be the most satisfying sexual activity, in the nonmoral sense. What would our lives be like, if there were always a neat correspondence between the moral quality of a sexual act and its nonmoral quality?
I am not sure what such a human sexual world would be like. But examples that violate such a neat correspondence are at the present time, in this world, easy to come by. A sexual act might be both morally and nonmorally good: consider the exciting and joyful sexual activity of a newly-married couple. But a sexual act might be morally good and nonmorally bad: consider the routine sexual acts of this couple after they have been married for ten years. A sexual act might be morally bad yet nonmorally good: one spouse in that couple, married for ten years, commits adultery with another married person and finds their sexual activity to be extraordinarily satisfying.
And, finally, a sexual act might be both morally and nonmorally bad: the adulterous couple get tired of each other, eventually no longer experiencing the excitement they once knew. A world in which there was little or no discrepancy between the moral and the nonmoral quality of sexual activity might be a better world than ours, or it might be worse. I would refrain from making such a judgment unless I were pretty sure what the moral goodness and badness of sexual activity amounted to in the first place, and until I knew a lot more about human psychology.
Sometimes that a sexual activity is acknowledged to be morally wrong contributes all by itself to its being nonmorally good. Whether a particular sexual act or a specific type of sexual act provides sexual pleasure is not the only factor in judging its nonmoral quality: pragmatic and prudential considerations also figure into whether a sexual act, all things considered, has a preponderance of nonmoral goodness. Many sexual activities can be physically or psychologically risky, dangerous, or harmful.
Anal coitus, for example, whether carried out by a heterosexual couple or by two gay males, can damage delicate tissues and is a mechanism for the potential transmission of various HIV viruses as is heterosexual genital intercourse. Thus in evaluating whether a sexual act will be overall nonmorally good or bad, not only its anticipated pleasure or satisfaction must be counted, but also all sorts of negative undesired side effects: whether the sexual act is likely to damage the body, as in some sadomasochistic acts, or transmit any one of a of venereal diseases, or result in an unwanted pregnancy, or even whether one might feel regret, anger, or guilt afterwards as a result of having engaged in a sexual act with this person, or in this location, or under these conditions, or of a specific type.
In addition to inquiring about the moral and nonmoral quality of a given sexual act or a type of sexual activity, we can also ask whether the act or type is natural or unnatural that is, perverted. Natural sexual acts, to provide merely a broad definition, are those acts that either flow naturally from human sexual nature, or at least do not frustrate or counteract sexual tendencies that flow naturally from human sexual desire.
An of what is natural in human sexual desire and activity is part of a philosophical of human nature in general, what we might call philosophical anthropology, which is a rather large undertaking. Note that evaluating a particular sexual act or a specific type of sexual activity as being natural or unnatural can very well be distinct from evaluating the act or type either as being morally good or bad or as being nonmorally good or bad.
Suppose we assume, for the sake of discussion only, that heterosexual coitus is a natural human sexual activity and that homosexual fellatio is unnatural, or a sexual perversion. Even so, it would not follow from these judgments alone that all heterosexual coitus is morally good some of it might be adulterous, or rape or that all homosexual fellatio is morally wrong some of it, engaged in by consenting adults in the privacy of their homes, might be morally permissible.
Further, from the fact that heterosexual coitus is natural, it does not follow that acts of heterosexual coitus will be nonmorally good, that is, pleasurable; nor does it follow from the fact that homosexual fellatio is perverted that it does not or cannot produce sexual pleasure for those people who engage in it. Of course, both natural and unnatural sexual acts can be medically or psychologically risky or dangerous.
There is no reason to assume that natural sexual acts are in general more safe than unnatural sexual acts; for example, unprotected heterosexual intercourse is likely more dangerous, in several ways, than mutual homosexual masturbation. Since there are no necessary connections between, on the one hand, evaluating a particular sexual act or a specific type of sexual activity as being natural or unnatural and, on the other hand, evaluating its moral and nonmoral quality, why would we wonder whether a sexual act or a type of sex was natural or perverted?
One reason is simply that understanding what is natural and unnatural in human sexuality helps complete our picture of human nature in general, and allows us to understand our species more fully. With such deliberations, the self-reflection about humanity and the human condition that is the heart of philosophy becomes more complete. A second reason is that an of the difference between the natural and the perverted in human sexuality might be useful for psychology, especially if we assume that a desire or tendency to engage in perverted sexual activities is a or symptom of an underlying mental or psychological pathology.
Finally a third reasoneven though natural sexual activity is not on that score alone morally good and unnatural sexual activity is not necessarily morally wrong, it is still possible to argue that whether a particular sexual act or a specific type of sexuality is natural or unnatural does influence, to a greater or lesser extent, whether the act is morally good or morally bad. Just as whether a sexual act is nonmorally good, that is, produces pleasure for the participants, may be a factor, sometimes an important one, in our evaluating the act morally, whether a sexual act or type of sexual expression is natural or unnatural may also play a role, sometimes a large one, in deciding whether the act is morally good or bad.
A comparison between the sexual philosophy of the medieval Catholic theologian St. Thomas Aquinas and that of the contemporary secular philosophy Thomas Nagel is in this regard instructive.
Both Aquinas and Nagel can be understood as assuming that what is unnatural in human sexuality is perverted, and that what is unnatural or perverted in human sexuality is simply that which does not conform with or is inconsistent with natural human sexuality. But beyond these general areas of agreement, there are deep differences between Aquinas and Nagel. Based upon a comparison of the sexuality of humans and the sexuality of lower animals mammals, in particularAquinas concludes that what is natural in human sexuality is the impulse to engage in heterosexual coitus.
Heterosexual coitus is the mechanism deed by the Christian God to insure the preservation of animal species, including humans, and hence engaging in this activity is the primary natural expression of human sexual nature. See Summa Theologiaevol. In none of these activities is there any possibility of procreation, and the sexual and other organs are used, or misused, for purposes other than that for which they were deed.
Although Aquinas does not say so explicitly, but only hints in this direction, it follows from his philosophy of sexuality that fellatio, even when engaged in by heterosexuals, is also perverted and morally wrong.
At least in those cases in which orgasm occurs by means of this act, the sperm is not being placed where it should be placed and procreation is therefore not possible. If the penis entering the vagina is the paradigmatic natural act, then any other combination of anatomical connections will be unnatural and hence immoral; for example, the penis, mouth, or fingers entering the anus.
Applying this formula, Aquinas concluded that the purpose of sexual activity and the sexual organs in humans was procreation, as it is in the lower animals. Nagel, by contrast, argues that to discover what is distinctive about the natural human sexuality, and hence derivatively what is unnatural or perverted, we should focus, instead, on what humans and lower animals do not have in common.
We should emphasize the ways in which humans are different from animals, the ways in which humans and their sexuality are special. For it is human psychology that makes us quite different from other animals, and hence an of natural human sexuality must acknowledge the uniqueness of human psychology. Nagel proposes that sexual interactions in which each person responds with sexual arousal to noticing the sexual arousal of the other person exhibit the psychology that is natural to human sexuality.
In such an encounter, each person becomes aware of himself or herself and the other person as both the subject and the object of their t sexual experiences. Perverted sexual encounters or events would be those in which this mutual recognition of arousal is absent, and in which a person remains fully a subject of the sexual experience or fully an object.
That is, for a sexual encounter to be natural, it need not be procreative in form, as long as the requisite psychology of mutual recognition is present. Aquinas and Nagel agree that such activities are unnatural and perverted, but they disagree about the grounds of that evaluation.
For Aquinas, masturbating while fondling shoes or undergarments is unnatural because the sperm is not deposited where it should be, and the act thereby has no procreative potential. The arousal of the fetishist is, from the perspective of natural human psychology, defective. See Alan Soble, Sexual Investigationschapter 4. A different kind of disagreement with Aquinas is registered by Christine Gudorf, a Christian theologian who otherwise has a lot in common with Aquinas.Promiscuous sex while more risky is also very exciting and pleasing
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