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I am a 39 year old married woman. I recently attended an adult party (a.k.a.

I am a 39 year old married woman. I recently attended an adult party (a.k.a. pleasure party) hosted by one of my friends. I did not ask my husband's permission to attend, thinking it wasn't a big deal. I did not purchase any "toys" but nonetheless, my husband is furious at me for attending. He says I "violated" our relationship and socially embarrassed him by going. He has called me a liar, hypocrite (because I don't allow our children to swear, watch porn, etc. but I went to this party) and a whore. I don't understand what is happening. He says I must "admit my guilt" or live a lonely, sex-less life. He also doesn't think he will ever be able to have sex with me again. I want to stay with him but I don't know what I did wrong. Is it morally and ethically wrong to attend a party like this without my husband's consent?

Good heavens, indeed. This isn't, as Charles said, really a question for philosophers. But just on an ordinary human level, it will strike most people that your husband is behaving pretty appallingly, in a way that probably reveals a deep fear or even horror of female sexuality. His response is that of the frightened emotional bully. In the face of his absurd reaction, it must be difficult not to feel crushed, and begin to doubt your own good sense. But of course it wasn't a big deal to go the party (with all the female banter and amused teasing and gibes at male inadequacies -- or so I'm told!); and you need to hold on to that thought in the face of the bullying, and not start to doubt your own sense of moral proportion. To echo Charles again, good luck!

Why is the notion of a child having sex with an adult considered so profoundly

Why is the notion of a child having sex with an adult considered so profoundly offensive? It is widely believed that sex with a child is psychologically harmful to the child. However, why should that be? Is it the act itself that is psychologically harmful to the child or the belief that they (the child) have participated in something psychologically harmful which psychologically harmful to the child? Some people have claimed that when a child participates in a sexual act that they lose their "innocence." Yet I do not perceive any direct connection between innocence and sexuality. It is possible to express ones sexuality in ways that are disrespectful and even sadistic, for instance a person might feel deeply insulted if they allowed a person to have access to intimate parts of their body only to discover that that person had no respect for them as a person. The complexities and dangers of sexuality are one reason that it seems to be no less prudent to restrict the sexual activity of children than it...

Not only is it possible that pedophilia is in general not judged philosophically; as it is with virtually everything it is a near certainty. That, however, doesn't make the judgment incorrect. I can't speak to the reasons that pedophilia is thought to be harmful psychologically, but philosophically the issue is one of consent. That children should be initiated into and involved in a set of practices (i.e. sex) with such profound emotional, social, political, and moral implications without their consent is what offends philosophically. What determines when someone is able to give consent to sexual interaction, what criteria ought to be employed to determine when consent is properly given, etc., are interesting and difficult philosophical issues. I don't however think the aesthetic line of thought you pursue will prove terribly useful in this regard or in underwriting moral judgments about pedophilia, as what is thought to be disgusting pedophilia today was not so in the past--for example, in ancient Greece, in the Middle East, in Europe, etc. And, of course, even today there is likely to be little uniformity among individuals about this sort of aesthetic. Most of us, myself included, would find mutually consensual sex with, among, or between specific individuals disgusting aesthetically but perfectly acceptable in a moral sense. Consent is the issue and properly so.

I am HIV positive. Is it wrong for me to sleep with an HIV negative person if he

I am HIV positive. Is it wrong for me to sleep with an HIV negative person if he knows the risk and wants to take it anyway?

One question to consider is whether the willing lover is making a sufficiently thoughtful and informed decision -- enough for it to count as mature, informed consent. We do not usually think of a teenager, or a drug addict, or someone in a rage as capable of mature, informed consent. Have you and your potential lover discussed the risks in detail, more than once, and at times of emotional calm?

From what you have said, I can't tell whether you are considering 'safe' sex or 'unsafe' sex. The risks of safe sex are so much lower than the risks of unsafe sex, it is hard to imagine that it could ever be rational to engage in unsafe sex with someone who is HIV positive.

Finally, and most importantly perhaps, you have some responsibility for the outcome of your actions -- even if your partner has offered mature, informed consent. It is not just he, but also you, who would be risking his life for the sake of sex. How would you feel if he contracted HIV as a result of your actions?

I studied Sinology for a year, and met a great deal of Chinese people. Whenever

I studied Sinology for a year, and met a great deal of Chinese people. Whenever the topic came up, most of them - particularly the women - insisted that they would only ever date Chinese men, and were particularly vocal about not dating blacks or Japanese men. On the other hand, I met a Korean woman who had moved to Germany (where I lived at the time), and who said she had come looking for a husband, because she believed "Korean men are no good". Interracial relationships are becoming more and more common, and with them come stereotypes: there is one stereotype that would have us believe that all women love black men, and another that all men love East Asian women. For many people (though not as many as the stereotypes would have us believe), these racial preferences in dating and sexual attraction are real, not just media tropes. There really are women who only date black men, and men who only date East Asian woman (as well as the reverse, and all other possible combinations). The relationship of...

Some of the stereotypes that drive such preferences could, of course, be racist. But it is also true that the factors that attract us to others erotically are not generally matters of simple choice, and the mere presence of a preference "type" does not seem to me to be clear evidence of racism. Some of us prefer tall partners--is this "shortism" because we tend not to prefer short partners?

I think of racism as consisting in beliefs or practices that would deny equal moral, political, or economic rights to members of the targeted race. I don't think anyone has any kind of a right to have me attracted to them as a potential romantic or sex partner, so I can't really see how my preferences in these areas can have the consequences of denying anyone equal rights.

Having said this, I also think that many cultures do lend some support to sexism or to regarding women as second-class citizens. I wouldn't blame a woman from such a culture for having a preference against men of that culture.

Why is there such a taboo in society about children and sexual content? It seems

Why is there such a taboo in society about children and sexual content? It seems quite odd to me that we attempt to hide something so fundamental from children. Is it really the case that children, even very young children, are somehow harmed by knowledge of sex, or that they are too immature to comprehend the material? Isn't it more likely that lack of knowledge about sex could lead to unsafe experimentation in early adolescence (or even before, for especially precocious children)? Children seem to have a natural marked disinterest or repulsion about the nature of sex in any case; does hiding even moderately suggestive images and language, dressing up natural processes such as childbirth in misleading euphemistic fairy tales, and cultivating a general atmosphere of awkwardness and embarrassment when discussing sex around children actually help anyone? For my part, natural curiosity caused me to gain a working knowledge of the mechanics of sex from a biology textbook at age 7, so perhaps I am simply odd.

Freud would certainly agree with your concerns but disagree with the notion that children do not have an interest in sex. I think there is a sense that children would not be able to integrate certain kinds of detailed information about sexual life but I'm not sure why we would want to conceal the facts about reproduction. Adults clearly have their own interests in imagining that there is a non sexual time in life- a time of innocence.

Can sexuality be fluid? Does it have to be black and white?

Can sexuality be fluid? Does it have to be black and white?

Minor reservation about Professor Smith's observations: Peter may be absolutely right, though I suggest that amidst all the cheerfully multicolored possibilities, I think that there are some clear cut goods and ills or, to use your terms, black and white issues. Perhaps this is similar to many other areas of life in which we (rightfully) expect decency (no improper coercion or harmful manipulation, deception, and so on). But because of the important role of sexuality in intimacy when it is possible to bring others (and oneself) joy or profound harm, I suggest that sexual relations may come with a higher degree of respect and consideration than we expect under other circumstances. The point is difficult to state with clarity or force, but I wager that while many of us can live with a colleague who is occasionally manipulative and misleading about his true aims and not fully trust worthy, but this becomes a great deal more serious if this involves one's lover.

Many people criticize the concept of an "open relationship", that is, a

Many people criticize the concept of an "open relationship", that is, a relationship in which both partners are allowed to have sexual relations with people other than the primary partner. There are also other forms of so-called "polyamory", for example a three-way relationship which excludes sexual relations with anybody besides the other two partners. While in some cases such relationships may only benefit one party, may involve coercion or neglect, or sacrificing for one's partner, there are some such relationships in which both or all partners find themselves more fulfilled and happy than they otherwise would. Yet these "good" polyamorous relationships are the subject of the same moral aversion and disdain as the abusive, coercive ones. What kind of moral argument could lie behind the idea that such relationships are wrong - surely not a morality based on happiness. Is some kind of deontological sexual ethic at the root of the criticism of open relationships and polyamory? What does this ethic...

I will leave it to others to supply whatever they may think is a good reason for supposing that there is some kind of rule written in Heaven (about which, more in a moment!) as to why "one size fits all" in terms of fulfilling sexual relationships. As you quite rightly point out, it is one thing not to abjure any kind of relationship that amounts to abuse or coersion, and quite another to lump in with these any sort of relationship that deviates from the social norm of a single partner.

Nor can it even be said that single-partner relationships are a norm that is or has been always realized in human societies, even if it is endorsed in most (but not all) cultures. Were that the case, prostitution would not be, as the saying goes, the world's oldest profession, and polygamy would be unknown.

I rather suspect that the historical basis for the very restrictive ideal to which you refer goes back to a time when women were regarded as men's property, which is why in so many cultures the sexual fidelity of the female has been a topic of acute and intense social and legal mandates, whereas the sexual fidelity of males has been treated as a matter of indifference (or even regarded as a kind of "unmanly" aberration). This "double standard" received strong support from religious institutions, which have generally regarded sex purely instrumentally as the process required for procreation, but the pleasures of which were mostly regarded as morally corrosive.

Some will object that there are strong evolutionary advantages that accrue to societies in which both parents are deeply invested in child-raising. But, of course, these advantages speak not at all to the issue of polyamorous relationships. (Must a "swinger" not be deeply invested in her offspring? Must a society in which polyamourous relationships are widely accepted also be one in which children are too often neglected? I fail to see why! Of course, if the only way in which adequate support of children is expedited in a culture is though strong enforcement of norms of private families, then of course those who feel unfulfilled in such relationships will be forced into decisions that can have the cionsequence of putting the welfare of children at risk.) Moreover, these same considerations apply not at all to relationships not involving fertility (either from controlled fertility, infertility, or in same sex relationships not involving adoption).

Not all people prefer polyamorous relationships, of course. But I can think of no good reason why such relationships among fully consenting adults should be anathematized or demonized in the ways they often are. So I stand with you in hoping someone (else) can explain well why such relationships are regarded so negatively.

Nazism is an anti-Semitic and therefore immoral ideology. Public officials and

Nazism is an anti-Semitic and therefore immoral ideology. Public officials and institutions in Nazi-era Germany which did not speak out against Nazism therefore can be seen as having had a moral failing. Christianity is a homophobic and therefore immoral religion. Public officials and institutions of today which don't speak out against Christianity therefore have a moral failing. Is there anything wrong with this logic?

I think the logic is fine, but I'm not sure about the content of the argument. The argument structure is:

1. X is an institution with an essential goal that is clearly immoral.

2. It is wrong for individuals and institutions not to do what they can to prevent an institution from achieving immoral goals.

3. So, it is wrong for individuals and institutions not to do what they can to prevent X from achieving its immoral goals.

If we fill in Nazism for X and wiping out Jews for their essential immoral goal, the valid argument also looks sound (i.e., the premises and therefore the conclusion are true). But if we fill in Christianity for X, that argument is less clearly sound, mainly because Christianity is a much more diverse institution than Nazism with more varied essential goals. Some Christians take their religion to require fighting against homophobic practices, just as some fought against slavery and racism, while other Christians take it as an essential implication of their religion that homosexuality is wrong, just as some fought to protect slavery and segregation.

If we focus on the latter, fundamentalist Christians, then I think the argument is sound. Public officials and institutions, as well as individuals, should speak out against the homophobia of fundamentalist Christians (and Jews and Muslims and others). All of this is based on the premise, which I believe is true, that homophobic practices (such as discrimination against gays in employment, marriage, adoptions, etc.) are immoral.

However, there is one other problem with your argument by analogy. Very very few Christians suggest that homosexuals should be treated the way Nazis treated Jews (and the way Nazis treated homosexuals!). There is a big difference between saying homosexuals cannot marry and saying homosexuals should be rounded up and systematically slaughtered. This difference suggests different reactions--e.g., violent war against Nazis vs. non-violent protests and public confrontation against homophobes. Nonetheless, as we have seen recently, homophobia can have deadly consequences, and it needs to be banished from our society along with other forms of discrimination.

What constitutes "consent" in sexual matters? Is a person who allows themselves

What constitutes "consent" in sexual matters? Is a person who allows themselves to be tortured and humiliated for an extreme pornographic production consenting if that consent comes from a pressing need such as a payment for a surgery or obtainment of drugs?

This not my particular area, but I suppose one could define the word "consent" however one pleases -- but if you define it such that it stops applying whenever there are 'pressing needs' then you will probably find that very few actions count as consensual ... And anyway 'needs' only constitute some of the conditions which might take away 'consent' (eg what if physical detemrinism is true, that every action we perform we are necessitated to perform by virtue of the laws of nature -- do these count as consensual actions in any sense that matters?) .... You probably couldn't begin to define 'consent' in the absence of further concepts such as 'freedom' and 'responsibility' too -- so probably one useful way to proceed might be to begin making a list of all those factors which 'constrain' or 'limit' our autonomy in our actions, and then seeing if it's even meaningful to determine a 'cut off point' such that once certain factors are present, 'consent' is lost .......


Is the question of whether homosexuality is "a choice" at all morally relevant?

Is the question of whether homosexuality is "a choice" at all morally relevant? Does it bear, e.g., on whether homosexual lifestyles are morally permissible, or whether gay marriage should be allowed? Many people seem to think so, including many of those who support gays and lesbians.

Just one footnote to Sean. If homosexuality is a choice, it's not, as Richard Mohr once pointed out, like the choice of what sort of ice cream you're going to buy. Here's a thought experiment to try. Think of someone you find sexually attractive. Now try to choose not to have that response. Part two: think of someone you don't find sexually attractive. Now try to choose to be attracted to them. Step three: repeat steps one and two for broad categories of people where you find you have pretty stable patterns of attraction. If you are anything like me, you'll find that the attempt to choose doesn't get you anywhere.

Just how we end up being sexually attracted to the people we're attracted to is not easy to say. What seems pretty clear is that it's not in any ordinary sense a choice,

Of course, having predilections is one thing; that may not be a choice. Acting on them is another; that usually is a choice. If a case could be made that it's wrong for homosexual people to act on their attractions, then the fact that their orientation is not a matter of choice wouldn't simply excuse them. In fact, however, the arguments I've seen are pathetically bad. A bit more carefully, there are of course lots of situations that call for not acting on our attractions. But that said, the idea that there's some special problem about homosexual attraction is a lot harder to defend than some people seem to have thought.