Formspring: Moral Differences between Sex Acts?

by Jason Stotts

I received this question recently, which is partly a response to my answer of the last formspring question “When is Sex Appropriate?“.  The question is this:

What is the moral difference between manual, oral and vaginal sex? Is there one? Should one’s standards for partners vary for each of these activities? Why is the accepted practice to go in the order listed above, when often oral to many is more intimate?

First, when I said that “I think a good basic trajectory is manual – oral – sex,” I was being descriptive, not prescriptive.  That is, I was merely noting that this is the usual way people learn about sex, but not that it’s the “right way.”  I do think that, in general, it’s best for younger people without experience to start with the less intimate acts and move to progressively more intimate acts.  You note that oral can be more intimate to some people and there’s no doubt that’s true, so I would recommend that these people act according to their values and their own hierarchy.  That’s the beauty of treating sex in an abstract way, you can give general rules that any individual agent can adapt to their own lives.

Now, on to your other question: is there a moral difference between sex acts?  No, there’s not.  The relevant moral questions regard the way you chose your partner, not what you do with them.  For example, you need to think about the moral ramifications of how you’re picking your partners, but given that you can clear that hurdle, there’s no concern over what you do with them.  Assuming, of course, that you’re not deceiving this person, acting from bad psychological premises, harming your body (note that hurting and harming are very different), etc.  I think you should have the same set of ethical criteria for all your sexual partners, even if you don’t plan on doing certain activities with them for whatever reason.


As always, feel free to ask me questions via e-mail at Jason(at), via formspring, or twitter (@jstotts).

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