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When I read contemporary theories of sexual ethics, they all seem to boil down

When I read contemporary theories of sexual ethics, they all seem to boil down to "if it's consensual, it's okay." I'm not religious, but this sounds awfully reductionist to me. Isn't there more to sex than just pleasure and emotional bonding? I could go hiking with a woman and that would be pleasurable and bonding. Are there any significant differences between sex and hiking? Or am I appealing to a baseless intuition?

But note there's no conflict being saying that "if it's consensual, it's ok" while also saying there can be more to sex than pleasure and a bit of temporary (maybe very, very temporary) bonding. After all, saying something is ok is saying it is permissible, it isn't positively wrong, it isn't to be condemned. And something can be permissible without being optimal; it may not be positively wrong but may fall well short of being particularly to be admired or sought after.

Woody Allen jested "Sex without love is an empty experience, but as empty experiences go, it's one of the best". And there's nothing wrong with a fleeting consensual sexual romp (assuming neither partner is committed elsewhere, or is underage, etc. etc.). Which is worth reiterating in the face of the crabbed puritanism of screwed-up moralists, religious or otherwise. And cheap music and cheap booze have their moments too, contrary to other kinds of puritans. But that's quite consistent with the thought that we can and should strive to do better than always going for cheap and cheerfully empty experiences (whether it's with wine, wo/men or song).

There's a kind of deep intimacy that can be bound up with sex -- but doesn't have to be -- that is immensely worth pursuing (and which hiking probably won't get you!). But, to repeat, it doesn't follow from that that sex without the intimacy has to be deemed not even permissible, not even ok.

Why do people praise virginity as a value? Sex is a wonderful part of the human

Why do people praise virginity as a value? Sex is a wonderful part of the human experience, why is it sacralized so? Isn't it just as silly to say "I'm saving myself for marriage" as it is to say "I'm only eating pork chops for the first time on my wedding reception" or setting some other normal human event to happen on a specified day? Shouldn't we want to experience the best things in life as soon as possible (of course we shouldn't experience sex when we're ten, but you get my meaning)? I'm not going for sexual promiscuity but why is it so important to say "you were my first" or for a person to think they were the other person's first?

I'll leave it to Freudians and others to speculate on what part of some people's psyches makes virginity seem valuable. Suffice it to say that I share your bewilderment. Obvious caveats and qualifications assumed, there's no clear reason why staying a virgin should be considered virtuous. (Odd, by the way that there is a close conventional association between virtue and virginity.)

That said, it's not really so strange that we might think about the first person we made love with -- or even kissed, for that matter -- with a certain wistfulness. But that's different from wishing that the person we eventually end up with should have been the first.

What is ethically the difference between a prostitute and a model? They both

What is ethically the difference between a prostitute and a model? They both make a living by selling their body, and the fact that there is sex in one activity seems to me not enough to morally judge a prostitute.

There are at least two different sorts of moral questions one might ask about prostitution and modeling. On one hand one might ask about the moral status of a particular agent's engaging in modeling or prostitution, and whether one action is morally worse than the other. On the other hand, one might ask about the moral status of the general practice of modeling and the general practice of prostitution, i.e., is it worse for the society to tolerate prostitution than modeling? (I'm assuming you don't have in mind by modeling the sexual display of one's body, but the modeling of clothes for the LLBean catalog and such.)

Regarding both sorts of questions it seems to me that much more should be considered beyond whether the practice or the act is an instance of "selling one's body". In the case of an agent, the moral evaluation of the choice would plausibly depend on the circumstances, the beliefs, desires and intentions of the agent and others involved, the consequences of the choice, etc. And in the case of the broader practice, modeling and prostitution potentially have quite different effects on a society (I'm assuming that modeling need not be sexualized).

As a result, I don't think it can be assumed that it is right to judge an individual prostitute to be doing something wrong, or a model to be doing something harmless. It depends on the circumstances. What you seem to be after, however, is whether there is a moral difference between selling visual access to one's body and selling sexual access to one's body. And if there is a moral difference, what is it?

One strategy for establishing a moral difference would be to argue that in the case of modeling, one isn't really selling one's body at all. One is displaying one's body for others to look at, but there is no sense in which the veiwer "possesses" or controls the body of the model. In the case of prostitution, the implicit contract seems to involve a giving of one's body for another's use. In order to develop this argument, one would need to be clearer about what sense of "possession" is at issue in "selling one's body" as a model or prostitute, and who the buyer is. (Maybe the buyer of the model's time does take possession of the model's body, but then the question is whether this is also true of all employers -- if I am a construction worker, have I sold my body to my employer? If so, then it doesn't seem that selling one's body is, in itself, morally wrong.)

Another strategy would be to argue that there is an important moral difference between selling visual access and selling sexual access, because looking at someone or being looked at is profoundly different than having sex with someone. Sex involves vulnerability of various sorts (vulnerability to disease, pregnancy, emotional pleasure and also emotional scarring); sex is something that is considered by many to be an expression of a deep emotional connection; and sex is often considered central to one's personhood. On this approach, it isn't just that selling one's body is a problem, the problem is that one is selling something central to one's personhood, in a way that makes one especially vulnerable, and trivializes something that carries deep significance. Since visual access to one's appearance isn't meaningful in these ways, there is nothing morally wrong with selling it, even if prostitution is morally problematic. This argument too needs some work, however, since more would need to be said about the significance attributed to sex.

Finally, it isn't clear to me why the question frames the question of the morality of prostitution in terms of the morality of the prostitute rather than the morality of the individual who buys the prostitute's services.

A common moral argument made against sex or sexual relationships between adults

A common moral argument made against sex or sexual relationships between adults and minors is that there will always an imbalance of power between the adult and the minor involved. Because of this, such relationships are said to be exploitative, even if there is informed consent and the minor is not harmed either physically or psychologically by the experience. Assuming that such a scenario is possible - a minor gives informed consent to a sex act or a sexual relationship with an adult, and is not physically or psychologically damaged by what follows - is the imbalance of power between the adult and the minor really enough to render the adult's behaviour morally wrong or exploitative?

Lorraine ends with "which is why most people think sexual relationships between minors and adults are exploitive." Yes, but it is also the reason that some philosophers, legal scholars, and feminists think that heterosexual relations are also coerced and exploitative. Men have power, woman have less. Hence female consent is in doubt. Assuming women are subordinated, how do we then argue against pedophilia but for adult heterosexuality?

Being a transvestite all my life I have wrestled with the reasons why I have

Being a transvestite all my life I have wrestled with the reasons why I have this need and, essentially, compulsion. Some seem to argue that transvestism has a organic origin while others say it is developmental in some way. I would appreciate constructive views on this.

I'm not sure that the questioner is seeking an excuse or explanation to "explain away" the condition. The words "wrestled" and "compulsion" suggest some psychic pain about the questioner's transvestism. If that is so, the pop-psychological advice to "be who you are," to accept yourself in the face of the negative assessments other people make about the condition, is short-sighted. According to the American Psychiatric Association (see DSM-IV [1994] and DSM-IV-TR [2000]), "fetishistic transvestism" is a sexual mental disorder if the condition [the sexual desires, in part] is accompanied by psychic pain (or, which we can ignore for our discussion, functional impairment). The goal of therapy is to cure the patient by eliminating the psychic pain/distress (this is a modification of the medical model of physical ailments). This elimination, however, can be sought and/or attained in two very different ways. The root problem is a conflict between the patient's desires and the patient's own negative belief-dependent assessment of the condition. One solution (or attempted therapy) is to attenuate the psychic pain by eliminating, if possible, the desires, leaving the personal assessment intact. This re-integration of the personality should relieve the psychic pain. The alternative solution (or therapy) is to leave the desire structure intact but to alter, if possible, the patient's own negative assessment of his/her condition. Again, the re-integration of the personality should bring relief. In both cases, relief from psychic pain marks the "cure," and the person is no longer sexually mentally disordered. Which therapy is the best bet will be determined, on a case-by-case basis, by whether the desires are more easily changed or the belief system that gives rise to the negative self-assessment is more easily changed (or even, which of the two--the desires or the assessment--the patient would prefer to try to change). Nicholas rather nonchalantly opts for the second therapeutic intervention. Sure, that's the PC/liberal response to this sort of psychological problem. But ask yourself, seriously, whether it makes sense (ever, at all, mostly, or always) to think that it is easier to change one's belief system than one's desire structure. Nicholas tells you to accept yourself. If only you could follow his advice by snapping your fingers. Notice that whether the condition is "organic or developmental" may, after all, bear on these questions about therapeutic efficacy.

Does involving the word 'love' alongside sex in a relationship make it worse to

Does involving the word 'love' alongside sex in a relationship make it worse to cheat than if it involves just 'sex' alone? I recently discovered my husband had a 7-month affair while working away during the week and he claims it is forgivable because he did not love her and it was 'merely sex'.

I think the problem with cheating is the cheating part. You and your husband made an agreement, presumably in good faith, that you would not do the very thing he did. I doubt if at the time he stipulated that he might have "merely sex," but would abstain from sex + love. So...he violated your agreement, and this gives you a reason to regard him as in the wrong. Period.

As to whether his violation is forgivable, I suppose it is. But that is entirely up to you--not up to him. He doesn't get to tell you that he deserves forgiveness--that adds presumption as an additional violation to the one he already committed. So the issue of forgiveness is yours to decide. He may ask for it; he may beg for it. But it is your decision entirely.

I can see how loving the other woman might have added to the offense (though I don't see how the addition would convert a "forgivable" offense into one that is unforgivable--because even had he loved her, you might reasonably determine that it was best to forgive him--after all, it would still be entirely your decision whether to forgive him or not). But I think the main issues here are two:

(1) He already violated your love (whether or not he loved the other woman), and the isssue that needs to be resolved is what you (and he) are going to do about that. So I think his trying to make the issue whether or not he loved her to be a case of misdirection--he's changing the focus from what is most important to something much less important.

(2) He seems to think he is in a position to command--or at least make a justified argument for--it being the right thing for you to do to forgive him. He is in no position to make such a command or argument, because it seems to me that you, as the wronged party, are entirely in charge of that issue. On this point, too, it sounds to me like he is trying to put one over on you. Were I in your shoes, I would regard his argument as making him less worthy of your forgiveness, on the ground that he doesn't seem to "get" the fact that he is the one wholly in the wrong here.

If you do decide to forgive him, then he should be humble and grateful. If you don't, then he should make his retreat knowing that once he did what he did, he lost any ground for telling you what you owed him. He owes you!!!

Can two people be correct if one says, "Two members of the same sex should not

Can two people be correct if one says, "Two members of the same sex should not have the right to get married," and the other says, "Two members of the same sex should have the right to get married"?

I think the only way both people could be right is if they don't mean the same thing by "married." Here is a case that might go like that. Suppose the first person is thinking of marriage as a holy sacrament in their religious sect. According to that sect, same-sex marriage is an abomination. Because of that sect's point of view, then, someone might think that there should be no right of same-sex marriage within that sect. Now, even if that is a strongly held belief of that religious sect, it is quite another thing to try to enforce one religious sect's view of things as a matter of law for the rest of the nation (or world). So someone else might think of marriage as a legal contract between two people, one that protects certain civil rights they can enjoy as a result (such as the right to adopt a child as a married couple, for example). It might be that same-sex marriage is an abomination according to some religious groups, but also should be legally permitted as a civil right.

Here's my challenge for those who think we have the right to sell our bodies (i

Here's my challenge for those who think we have the right to sell our bodies (i.e. prostitution): Suppose Travis, a hardworking businessman who is too busy to have a romantic relationship, calls Elise, a prostitute he finds on Craigslist. Elise tells him that she would love to service him, but he'll have to wire the money in advance (she's been taken advantage of too many times). Travis complies, and the two agree to meet next Thursday night. That night Elise thinks about her career and has a change of heart. When Thursday rolls around, she comes to Travis's house and explains that she cannot go through with the act. She offers to refund the money, but Travis refuses. Travis, you see, has already invested more than the money. For one, he set aside a night for Elise that will be wasted if she leaves. And he's already accepted some risk to his reputation by contacting Elise. More importantly, Elise agreed to a contract, and contracts are not reversible on the whims of a single party. If Elise had sold...

I'm having a bit of trouble finding the argument here. Let's take a "transaction" that most of us think is just fine: accepting a proposal of marriage. If Pat agrees to marry Robin and then gets cold feet, Robin can't force the issue. But what of it?

Or take another example: I agree to buy your house. I sign the contract. And then I back out. In most jurisdictions, far as I know, you can't sue me for specific performance; you can't force me to buy the house, though there are various damages that you would be entitled to recover from me.

As things stand in most places, a contract for an act of prostitution isn't enforceable, and so Travis has no legal claim against Elise -- particularly if she gives back the money. But suppose that these sorts contracts were legal, since your issue is presumably with people who think they should be. In that case, there's still no reason to think that Travis has some sort of right to rape Elise, though depending on the legal regime, he might have a civil claim against her that would allow him to recover monetary damages.

In fact, there's a strong whiff of red herring here. All of us agree that some kinds of consensual arrangements are legitimate, and the law recognizes a good many. That means we'll always face the question of what someone is entitled to if the other party reneges on a legitimate agreement. The answer will depend on the case. It might be nothing at all; not all private agreements amount to enforceable contracts. It may be that some sort of monetary damages are in order. It might be, depending on the case, that requiring the original agreement to be kept is the remedy. It all depends. But the fact that people sometimes go back on consensual agreements tells us nothing at all about whether private acts between consenting individuals should always be permitted. In particular, someone who thinks prostitution should be legal doesn't need to be committed to the bizarre view that a prostitute who has a change of mind should be required to submit to rape.

I have a daughter that is 14 years young. As a mother I understand that

I have a daughter that is 14 years young. As a mother I understand that teenagers in her age grow up and they want to have fun, most of them with the guys. But still I can't let her go out. I think it's wrong. But my question is, Is that really wrong? Because I remember myself in her age... I also see the friends around her, they don't go out... well she's the only one. But she suffers because of me not letting her to have a boy-friend. Do you think I should let her? Because I'm really confused...

Just three quick afterthoughts, to add to Nicholas Smith's and Jyl Gentzler's wise but perhaps slightly daunting words.

First, remember most teenagers do survive just fine (with a bit of a close shave here, and an emotional storm or two there): it is our burden as parents to worry far too much. So when your daughter tells you to lighten up, she's probably exactly right!

Second, in any case, the big things that matter -- like your daughter's level of self-esteem, her self-confidence, how she regards men, and so on -- were shaped years ago. It's too late to do very much about them, and being over-protective won't help one bit. So the best thing you can do now is to be positive and supportive in her next phase of growing up.

And third, to get back to the question originally asked: is it wrong to let her go out? Well, how could it possibly be wrong, if she's an ordinary girl wanting to do ordinary things? I can't see any compelling moral principle that has that implication. So just set some sensible ground rules and insist they are stuck to ... and enjoy watching her become a young woman.

Is cybersex a sexual encounter? If you discover that your partner engages in it,

Is cybersex a sexual encounter? If you discover that your partner engages in it, is he/she cheating on you?

I can't comment on Alan Soble's intriguing suggestion that one can have sex by taking up a philosophical position (can one become a philosopher by taking up a sexual position?), but I would like to suggest that anyone who doubts that "virtual sex" is a kind of having sex view the excellent and hilarious film The Truth About Cats and Dogs. Look for the scene where Janeane Garofalo has a "conversation" with her new client. And watch it at home, preferably with someone you like to do philosophy with, if you see what I mean.