Advanced Search

Is our society's assumed negative view of pre-marital sex only because of what

Sex
Is our society's assumed negative view of pre-marital sex only because of what is said about it in the Bible? Or does this also account the fact that sex is used for procreation? But at the same time, why is it more shocking to hear that a high school student hasn't had sex rather than has?

I suspect that you put it well when you state that it is our society's "presumed negative view," since I suspect that it is a minority of people who actually do marry as virgins these days. So if our actual cultural values are reflected in our practices, then I think what we find is that only a minority actually share the negative view of which you speak. Truly, I think even where there is some sort of negative view, it falls within something of a double standard: We have a negative view about others engaging in pre-marital sex (especially if the others happen to be our daughters!), but we do not regard that view as applying to our own behavior. Anyway, I think that most people now realize that pre-marital sex is much more the norm than the exception, which is why it is more surprising to hear of someone in their late teens who has not yet had sex than to hear that they have. I'm not sure what the current statistics are, as to high schoolers, but obviously the percentage who have had sex will go up as their grade levels go up.

I also think that most actual instances of sexual activity are not "used for procreation," as you put it.

The origins of the prohibition in our culture may go back to the Bible, as you say, but I expect (as I have said in reply to another question recently), I actually think the prohibition falls more generally under the cultural norms that require monogamy, which I have specualed go back to the change from hunter-gatherer societies to agrarian ones, where the value of private property becomes extremely important, and now the idea that other people can also be made into private property also becomees salient to human beings. Hence, all forms of ownership of people, from slavery to notions that we can have our very own spouse and also regard our children as truly our own, and so on. A prohibition against pre-marital sex would simply derive ffrom this value--we don't want to own a spouse who is "used goods," and so came to expect the uses of our property to be entirely private to us. The biblical prohibition simply reflects this way of thinking and encodes it into doctrine.

I reckon some of my colleagues will think there is much more to this than I have proposed, so it would probably be wise for you to wait for other responses here!

A website I came across reads: "Can I Kiss You?" Ask any woman and she will tell

A website I came across reads: "Can I Kiss You?" Ask any woman and she will tell you – a man should NEVER "ask" for a kiss. Asking for a kiss goes against EVERYTHING a woman is looking for in a man… you may as well just tell her right there that you are a BOY. Her answer might be "yes" if she is being polite… but her attraction meter on the inside will read a firm, "No!" Now assuming this is true--------Aren't women essentially demanding that men are supposed to risk a violation of their boundaries during the courtship ritual? According to academically sanctioned feminists (most of whom are ironically put in place by the predominantly male controllers of the universities) "unwanted sexual attention" is always a problem that men impose on women unfairly. People who advocate for men's rights (who are actually trying to help women realize their true powers) say that actually women's courtship demands often require that men take a risk that might be unwanted and that the expectation that men always read...

I guess I'm wondering why we should assume any such thing is true. Frankly, the website where I found that advice sounds like it's trying to explain precisely how to manipulate women. So the rest of the questions just don't seem to arise.

And why believe there is any such thing as "women's courtship demands"? Is there some kind of secret society that decides what those are? Are they passed by majority vote? or is the decision imposed by an unelected dictator?

Prior to the mass availability of condoms, and reliable birth control it seems

Sex
Prior to the mass availability of condoms, and reliable birth control it seems to me that the act of sex had a very different meaning than it does now. It seems to me that "lust" had a very logical and sane basis for it to be feared. If you had sex then babies would likely happen as a result and unless both parents were prepared to take care of that baby then that would be a bad thing. Of course there were institutions like prostitution or even sacred prostitution that I imagine involved some kind of blunt surgery to prevent child birth. I don't know really what kind of evils which were really tangible in a way that a baby is tangible, or lack of evils that that institutions provided that may have lead people to condemn prostitution as products of an evil called "lust". Anyways people tend to want a lot of sex and prostitution has a limited availability. So when people say that we live in an age where people are more "enlightened" about sex I can't help but to wander if that is the case? Isn't our so...

Very interesting! I suspect that you are quite correct that the advent of birth control has done much to alter many people's assessment of the meaning of sex. And it may be that (depending on the kind of birth control used) some of the ethical implications of sex has changed. So, insofar as you can divorce sex and pregnancy, the ethics involving child-birth may be put to one side. But if you look at work on the philosophy of love from the medieval era (roughly from Augustine onward) to this day, there remains in place a tradition that sees what is called "lust" as a kind of degenerated passion. Someone who lusts after another may use the word "love," but in lust one largely seeks self-gratification and perhaps even a sort of possession over someone else rather than truly valuing the beloved for her or his own sake. For an excellent overview of the difference between love and lust, you might check out the book Love and Western Tradition by Denise de Rougemont.

On the ethics of prostitution, I suspect that the traditional case against the practice extends beyond matters of child birth and rests also on a philosophy or theology of the place of sex in a loving, non-commercial context, worries about when prostitution involves involuntary servitude (the sex trade), exploitation (I have a colleague who has worked hard to help families be successful in Thailand so that girls are not compelled by one or both parents to become prostitutes, and so on).

On December 9, 2005, Nicholas D. Smith wrote a response that said in part:

Sex
On December 9, 2005, Nicholas D. Smith wrote a response that said in part: "For the ancient Greeks, prostitution was entirely socially acceptable... whereas free males were expected never to commit oral sex (on any sex partner, male or female)." From what text(s) do we know this? Is there some text in which it is explicitly forbidden? Or do we infer it from stories and plays?

The gounds for my claim are twofold. On the topic of committing oral sex on females, it is an inference based upon the practice being treated as shameful in Aristophanic comedy. (See the note on this in Jeffrey Henderson's The Maculate Muse on p. 185; though compare what Henderson has to say on p. 52--obviously, I draw a different inference from the evidence! See also Kenneth Dover's understanding, given in his Greek Homosexuality on p. 102.)

As for oral sex on males, those who were eligible to become citizens in Athens could be denied this opportunity if evidence could be given that the candidate had ever allowed any part of his body to be sexually penetrated. For other evidence, see Dover, p. 99.

My girlfriend and I have recently moved to a new area, and have encountered an

My girlfriend and I have recently moved to a new area, and have encountered an unfortunate problem. In this area, the birth control pill is only available upon prescription by a gynecologist, and gynecologists are required by law to refuse handing out the prescription until after a woman has undergone a standard checkup. Normally, this doesn't seem like such a big deal, but my girlfriend has only been to a gynecologist once and adamantly refuses to do so again, as she is afraid the check-up will be horribly painful. She has, in fact, declared that we should simply stop having sex until we find a way to acquire the pill without her undergoing a gynecological check-up (we only ever use double-protection, condom and pill, to try and minimize the risk of unwanted pregnancies); her only idea is to get her mother (who works in a pharmacy) to send birth control pills per post. If that doesn't work, it looks like I'm in for a dry spell. I am confused as to what I am allowed to do, ethically speaking. I know...

Tough to say. Off hand it seems that trying to convince her to have such a check-up is profoundly to act in her interest in terms of her fundamental health. Also, it certainly seems that desiring to have a healthy sex life is not something that "taints" or should taint the boyfriend - girlfriend relationship. You mention "authority" --which is an interesting term here, but it may not be out of place. I suppose in a close friendship, we do give authority to our friends to offer (even unasked for) advice. But that authority does seem to be limited by an acceptance of one's friend's or partner's independent judgment. You write about accepting "whatever she decides to do with her own body." That does seem right, don't you think? You cannot (with justice) compel her or trick her into having the check-up, and that leaves you with deciding what the future of your relationship will be like (under the conditions you both commit to) or to decide whether you even wish to continue being in such a relationship. You may decide that such a neglect of health reflects some serious misjudgment. You and she might get lucky and get the pills anyway. Or you both might explore the many varied ways in which one can achieve sexual satisfaction without intercourse. These are very personal matters, which is my clue to simply wish you and her the very best!

Why is prostitution considered immoral, as long as it is a service that is

Why is prostitution considered immoral, as long as it is a service that is provided, just like the service of a driver or a cleaning person? Why is a prostitute seen like a person of low value and why do we think it's immoral that she sells herself for money, because, if we think about it, any person who works and gets paid is also selling himself for money. Thank you!

Kinda depends on what you think is OK to buy, sell or rent, doesn't it? We don't accept slavery, because we don't think people should be for sale or should ever be owned--though we accept that it is OK to pay for the labor that people can perform in some cases.

So I agree with the premise of your question: in general, we seem to be OK with paying for services. Is sex something that we should (or could permissibly) think of as a kind of service? Notice that such a view of sex is different from the view we take in romantic circumstances. There, we take sex to be a kind of intimacy between two people--a way of relating lovingly to one another. Prostitution, I think it is safe to say, isn't like that. It is more, as you say, like a service. But surely one could reasonably wonder whether thinking of sexual acts as services is the right way to conceive of them.

Now, as with so many ethical questions, we might find that we are led to different sorts of answers if we apply different kinds of ethical insights. Do people have rights with respect to the uses of their bodies? Well, it seems so. So why do the prostitute and john not have the right to do with their bodies as they please, given consent by both parties? Well...maybe the rights of others get engaged here, too--rights of the members of the rest of society to determine what sorts of commerce they will, and what sorts they will not, permit within their communities. So perhaps an individual's right to the uses of his or her body is only a prima facie right that might be defeated if it comes into competition with the political or economic rights of communities to regulate commerce or other aspects of social interaction...?

(I confess I am not all that good at this way of thinking, so I will allow others better at this to chime in here.)

But let's take a different tack. Go back to what I said about sexual acts as services. I'm a virtue theorist in ethics, so the way I take this sort of question is as follows: Would a virtuous person think of sex acts as services? I think not. It seems to me that an admirable human being would neither think of sex acts as services, nor would he or she wish to have others serve them in such a way. This is not at all to say that admirable human beings would abhor sex! It is, rather, to say that they would think of sex acts from a point of view that was other than that of serving or being served. So, from this point of view, there really does seem to be something wrong with prostitution--it functions on the basis of a view of sex that we would not really wish to promote, if we were seeking to encourage virtue, and one that seems to be the product of a faulty view of the value of the activity in question--a value that is not virtuously commodified.

Notice that this is not at all an argument to the effect that prostitution should be outlawed, or that it should be regarded as morally impermissible. Lots of stuff falls short of virtue that we would not outlaw or anathematize. There may even be aspects of certain kinds of sexuality that actually find sex-as-service part of the thrill.

But even so, we can fault such things on the sorts of grounds I have given, and so it seems that there is, from a virtue theoretic point of view, a genuine moral fault in prostitution (from both the prostitute's and the john's points of view) that we would not similarly assign serving as a driver or cleaner. These latter activities seem to be correctly (and thus virtuously) conceived as services. Not so, for sex--even if the idea turns you on!

People drink beer to have fun and nobody calls that selfish. People play games

Sex
People drink beer to have fun and nobody calls that selfish. People play games and sports with one another to have fun and nobody calls that selfish. But when two persons have sex with one another just to have fun many people call that selfish. Does that make any sense?

No.

There isn't anything intrinsically selfish about sharing fun a deux, whether it is singing duets, riding a tandem, or sex.

Of course, the sex-for-fun might be cheating (if you are in a relationship) or unwise (if you don't know where s/he has been) or against professional ethics (if you are a doctor, s/he your patient) or a bad idea for other reasons. But then again, it very likely will be just fine.

In this question, I'm going to assume there are strictly two human biological

In this question, I'm going to assume there are strictly two human biological sexes, male and female. That assumption isn't exactly true (chromosomal variations), but it's a close enough approximation to ask the question. At restaurants such as "Hooters," provocatively-clad females serve food to patrons. There are no male waiters. No one seems to think too much about it. I think, however, that many people would be appalled if we had restaurants whose theme was to have provocatively-clad Jewish people serve food, or provocatively-clad African Americans serve food, or provocatively clad [insert religious or ethnic or national group] serve food. There are, of course, ethnic restaurants. So we might think of Hooters as nothing more and nothing less than another type of ethnic restaurant, this one peculiar to sex instead of ethnicity. Is this good reasoning? Maybe that reasoning is not valid. Women have a sex (female) and men have a sex (male). There can't be anything intrinsically more sexual about...

The questions that you are asking are terrific! They can also be taken further. E.g. is it necessary for you to assume that there are strictly two biological sexes? (I don't think so). Or e.g. What is wrong (if anything) with sexualization of a group? What is wrong with sexualization of a subordinate group? It is not difficult to turn up inconsistencies in what society considers to be socially normative.

As an argument against bestiality, it is often said that animals are not able to

As an argument against bestiality, it is often said that animals are not able to consent to sex. If this is the case, though, wouldn't that mean that every instance of two animals mating is an instance of rape, since presumably neither of them are able to consent?

Well, if someone is struck by lightning is it murder? A necessary condition for the commission of a crime is that the candidate criminal be an agent. Arguably, non-human animals are not. So, just as they can't consent to sex, they are incapable of rape or murder. Concepts of moral or criminal propriety just don't apply to non-human sex. One reason one is tempted to think otherwise is that non-human animals have moral standing. That is, they are the proper objects of moral consideration, and one can act morally or immorally towards them. But not everything with moral standing is a moral agent. Now, having said that, I do think there are other reasons for your justly wondering about this question. The sexual congress of plants and microbes doesn't raise this question. You aren't likely to wonder whether bees rape flowers. But the sexual activity of animals more closely related to humans seems strikingly similar to our own conduct, as do many non-human ways of eating. Moreover, non-humans close to us can be trained to behave in all sorts of ways in conformity with our own rules of conduct--e.g. dogs can be trained not to defecate in the house. Plus the sexual activity of other primates seems to involve something like rules of propriety as well as violations of those rules (e.g. deceptions and infidelities). And, perhaps most of all, as anyone who's spent a lot of time with non-humans will know, a good deal of sexual activity engaged by non-humans close to us resembles rape, as it commonly involves the violent subduing of females by males. But still the question must be asked whether non-humans can come to grasp and self-regulate using norms of sexual conduct that would include prohibitions against rape. Dogs can be trained not to hump the legs of humans. Can they be trained to gain consent before engaging in sexual conduct? My guess is that the concept of consent or anything approximating the concept of consent is beyond them. Non-humans that live among humans and possess a sufficient level of intelligence and tractability may be capable of acquiring less violent forms of sexual activity, but without consent (both given and understood) the concept of rape just won't apply.

Is it unethical to look at a woman's breasts? What if she has cleavage?

Is it unethical to look at a woman's breasts? What if she has cleavage?

Here's a plausible principle: in general, we shouldn't do things that are likely to make people uncomfortable. This is particularly true if our only reason for doing whatever we're doing is that we get some sort of enjoyment out of it. And if we're in doubt about whether we're likely to make the person uncomfortable, better to err on the side of caution.

The principle is actually a broad one, as we can see if we change the example a bit. Suppose the person sitting across the room from me has a very sweet face. There's nothing wrong with noticing, but staring is another matter; that's likely to make the person uncomfortable. This is true even if the s/he has made some effort to highlight facial features. Noticing, even appreciating is one thing; staring, let alone ogling, is another.

That's the general advice. In real life, there are lots of subtleties. It's not unusual for one person to notice that another is "checking them out," as it's sometimes put, and to be flattered. That might be particularly true if the setting is a bar where people go to meet one another. But even there, the general rule is still a good one.

Maybe the simple version is this: I shouldn't be creepy. And if someone might well think what I'm doing is creepy -- even if I don't mean it to be -- I shouldn't do that either.

Pages