Archive for the 'Formspring' Category

Question: Marriage without Attraction

by Jason Stotts

Here’s an interesting question submitted by a reader recently:

Can you base a decision on marriage without sexual attraction and only because you like the persons values and character and for the things he has done for you? Would this marriage last ?

I think the answer is obvious: sure, you could, but the marriage would be doomed from the start.  The person you’re describing is a really good friend.  A necessary part of marriage is sexual attraction and your sexual relationship.  Without these things, you’re only really close friends.

Of course, there is such a thing as a “companionate marriage,” where two people cohabitate, share resources, maybe even have children, but who either don’t love each other or who aren’t sexually attracted to each other.  This can be a fine choice in certain circumstances, but it’s not an ideal marriage.

If we’re talking about normal cases here, then I think deciding to marry someone you’re not attracted to is a terrible idea.

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).

Formspring: When is Sex Appropriate?

by Jason Stotts

I’ve received another question from Formspring, this one about when it’s appropriate to have sex.

When is it an appropriate time in a relationship to have sex? How do you know when one should? I have very little experience in this arena (I’m a 20 year old male in college), and don’t know how to apply Objectivist sexual ethics in this arena. Thanks!

The most important thing to remember is that for Objectivism the over-arching principle guiding all of ethics is for an individual agent to act to maximize his happiness, taken in the rich sense of eudaimonia as originally elaborated by Aristotle, over the long term.  Obviously sex and love play a very important role in what it is to live a good human life and thus we must treat love and sex as important values.  In fact, I think love and sex are necessary conditions for happiness.

Some questions to consider are:

1. How long have you been dating?

By spending lots of time with a person and being close to them, you learn who they truly are.  The longer you have been dating, the better you should know someone.  If it’s very early in a relationship and you don’t know each other well, especially at your age and probable experience level, it’s best to wait until you get to know each other better.  Having sex too early may cause the relationship to fall apart if it doesn’t go well or you might find that you’re not able to be your true sexual self in front of your partner and you don’t know your partner well enough.

2. Is the relationship based on shared values or just pleasant association?

Your relationship will be in a position to have sex sooner if it’s based on real values than if it’s based on simple pleasant association, assuming in the latter case that you actually want a relationship.  The more your relationship is based on shared values, the stronger it will be.

3. Do you actually care about each other?

This sounds like a strange question at first, but if you don’t care about your partner for herself, then you should wait to have sex.  Sex is selfish.  In a good and healthy relationship you care about your partner for their sake because they are a value in your life and make your life better, but you still care about them for their own sake as well.  This is important as some people take the stance that “of course I care about X, she is my girlfriend (or whatever),” but you should wish your partner well even if they were not your partner.  To put it another way, you shouldn’t care for your partner only because they’re your partner, but because they’re a good person and deserve good things.

4.  Are you virgins or do you have some experience with sex?

If you’re both virgins, you need to wait until you each feel comfortable with the idea of having sex and of having sex with each other.  If you’ve both had sex with multiple people, you will not need to wait long at all.  Knowledge of sex and what you like and need sexually makes it much easier to have sex with new partners.

I’d also like to add that virginity is no value for a rational person as it simply means a state of ignorance and inexperience with sex, which we Objectivists think is an important value.

5. Are you going to jump right to coitus or are you going to work your way up to it?

Going from only having kissed directly to penis-in-vagina (or butt) sex is a bad idea.  Actually, it’s a terrible idea at your age and experience level, if you care about your relationship.  You need to work your way up to vaginal intercourse together, learning about each stage and enjoying it for the pleasure it brings you both.  That is, you need to master oral, not because you simply need to postpone vaginal sex, but because you’ll learn about yourselves, each other, your likes and dislikes related to sex, and important skills.  Once you master each stage, then you move to the next one and keep going until you’re good at vaginal sex too.  Of course, there’re lots of side roads and detours and the like, but I think a good basic trajectory is manual – oral – sex.  I’m not saying that it’s obligatory to follow this trajectory, but it can really help you to gain knowledge and experience, and comfort with your partner, so that when you do decide to have intercourse, you’ll be ready.

A couple of final thoughts: I’m of the opinion that we shouldn’t be too rationalistic about sex and that it is better to learn from experience than to try to guess what you may like or not.  I think it is better to err on the side of trying new (safe) things and then judging whether you like them than to attempt to a priori deduce this.  This shouldn’t be taken as permission for promiscuity, but it does mean that I think you shouldn’t reserve sex for the one person you hope to marry.  In fact, I think that pre-marital sex is morally obligatory, as going into a relationship as serious as marriage without knowing if you’re compatible in one of the most important aspects of marriage is beyond foolhardy.

Since you’ve taken the trouble to write me, I’m going to offer you a free copy of my recent speech “Sexual Ethics and Objectivism.”  Just e-mail me at Jason(at) and I’ll send you a copy.  (Please include the date you submitted your question for verification.)


Do you have questions for me?  Feel free to submit them via Formspring or by e-mailing me directly at Jason(at)

Formspring: Love without Sexual Attraction?

by Jason Stotts

Some time ago I received this question via Formspring.  Unfortunately, it got lost in the shuffle of getting things ready for ATLOSCon, but I thought it was a good question that deserved an answer.  Better late than never, right?

Is it still possible to fall in love with someone without being sexually attracted to him/her?


This is, in fact, a very common theme that is explored in some of the greatest fiction.  For example, this is the exact worry that Cyrano de Bergerac has with fair Roxane, he thinks that she could never love him because he thinks he is ugly and, implicitly, that love needs beauty to thrive.  Or, consider the case of Quasimodo in regard to the fair gypsy Esmerelda, who he desires, but who believes that she would never be able to care for him because he is (actually) hideous.  There is also the case of pauvre Eric in the play version of The Phantom of the Opera (not the book version, which is radically different), who worries that his hideous visage will make it so that no one could ever love him.  In each of these cases, one of the main characters worries that ugliness, whether real or imaginary, will prevent them from ever finding love and will condemn them to loneliness, since they worry that no one could be attracted to them.

Now, there is much more that could be said about this issue.  For example, sometimes we fall in love with a person to whom we are not sexually attracted and over time we develop sexual attraction for them. I know of at least one couple where the woman was not initially attracted to the man, not that she found him unattractive, but that she was not attracted to him, and after their relationship developed, she became sexually attracted to him because of his character and values.

In cases where you find a person completely unattractive or even ugly, I think it’d be a bad idea to pursue a romantic relationship.  As Objectivists, we consider people to be beings of both mind and body and we strive to keep these things integrated.  If you end up in a relationship with a person that you just cannot be aroused by, you’ll be put in a position where you’ll love someone, but be unable to bring this love into reality because your lack of sexual desire or even disgust at their physical appearance.  This is more than just a little problematic as human relationships and love involve sex and if you just can’t have sex with a person, you’re going to be missing out on a large part of what makes a good relationship and a good life.

I’d also like to point out that sexual attraction is more than simply an issue of physical beauty, although obviously physical beauty can be very important here.  See my essay “What Causes Sexual Attraction?” for a more detailed explanation of how I think sexual attraction works.

I might recommend that you consider having this person as a close friend for some time and see if attraction doesn’t develop.  If it doesn’t, then at least you have a new good friend.  If it does, then you can re-evaluate your position in light of this new information.


You can ask me questions via Formspring or by e-mailing me at Jason(at)  Unless otherwise stated in the question, I will assume that any question and response is fair game for Erosophia.

Formspring: Sleep Sex

by Jason Stotts

In response to my request for questions the other day, a reader asks:

I’d love to see your thoughts on “sleep sex” aka sexsomnia. I think it raises some interesting ethical issues around consent, and I would just like to hear more about it from your perspective. Thanks!

Unfortunately, I haven’t thought much about this issue before and I don’t know that I have a whole lot to say about it.

My first thought is that you’re definitely right that it raises some interesting ethical questions.  From the perspective of the sleeper, the problem is that Ethics applies to voluntary actions and the actions performed while we’re asleep are certainly not voluntary.  Yet, by the same token, we are still performing actions.  For example, let us say that the sleep sex happens with someone who doesn’t consent, would this be rape?  Well, yes and no.  Certainly there was nonconsensual sex, but there was no intention to rape.  In fact, if both people had sleep sex, then what would we call it? I would oppose calling sex when one or both of the people is/are asleep rape, as in these instances calling it rape would serve to diminish the severity of the act of intentionally and forcibly having sex with another person without, or against, their consent.

This is a good place to bring in a distinction between voluntary, involuntary, and nonvoluntary action. Voluntary action is action that we choose to do and that has a consequence we will; as, for example, if you choose to do X and X is the outcome, then the action is voluntary. Nonvoluntary action is action that we choose to do, but that has a consequence that we do not will; as, for example, if you choose to do X and Y is the outcome, then Y is nonvoluntary. Involuntary action is action that you do not will; as, for example, if you do something accidentally or if you are forced to do something against your will. The distinction is important, because these kinds of actions are very different.

In sleepsex, it’s clear that the action is involuntary: given that the person is asleep, they are not choosing to have sex with the person.

From a moral standpoint, the sexsomniac must be considered morally blameless.  Unless, and this is an important caveat, he knows that he is a sexsomniac and does not reveal that information to a person who is (literally) sleeping with him.  If he knows that he is a sexsomniac and does not reveal it, then he is blameworthy because he should have revealed to the person that he has been known to have sex with people in his sleep and that if they did not want this, then they should not sleep with him.  In this case of a sexsomniac who does not reveal this, it seems like you could hold them morally blameworthy and it could be considered to be some kind of lesser moral offense, perhaps “unconsensual sex,” as opposed to full blown rape, since they still are not choosing to have sex with the person.

From a legal perspective, sexsomnia is very problematic.  One could easily (intentionally) rape someone who was sleeping in the same bed and then claim that one is blameless, because it wasn’t voluntary, but was sexsomnia.  As a legal defense, then, it must be treated as improbable and it must be proven to be something that the person actually suffers from by independent doctors.  I would support a legal distinction between rape and some lesser crime, like “unconsentsual sex,” based on intentionality, like the distinction between murder and manslaughter.

It is interesting, though, that while sexsomnia is rather rare, the phenomenon of people doing things in their sleep is really not all that rare.  Many people talk in their sleep or sleepwalk.  The problem is that in these people, the paralysis that is supposed to keep us immobile during sleep is, at least sometimes, ineffective and this allows their body to be controlled by their sleeping mind.  There is also the opposite, where in some people they become conscious while still being under the effect of sleep paralysis, with the effect of them being completely awake and conscious, but unable to move or speak.  Frankly, I’d rather have sexsomnia than awake to find myself apparently paralyzed.

I hope this, at least somewhat, answers your question.

Additional questions can be submitted via Formspring or by e-mailing me directly at Jason(at)

Formspring: Donations

by Jason Stotts

Question: If a person is a laissez faire capitalist is it morally acceptable for that person to request or accept altruistic donations to maintain a business venture / lifestyle choice such as this website?

Well, yes and no.  The problem is that your question is loaded.  Donations that were actually altruistic, where the person had to sacrifice to give it, would not be moral (for the person making the donation).  On the other hand, capitalists operate by the trader principle, or the principle of Justice.  This principle says that one should give value for a value.  So, if I want your skills and labor, I need to give you something to make it worthwhile to you, like my skills, merchandise, or money.  The trader principle is the application of Justice into Economics. How does this relate to your question?  If a person finds value in my skills, like my writing, then they should want to trade value with me by doing something in return.  Since most of you don’t personally know me to buy me lunch, or something tangible, donations are the most convenient way to do this.

On the other hand, I put this blog and my essays into the public sphere with no expectation that someone will actually pay me for them.  I do it selfishly to practice my writing, test out ideas, and generally make a web presence for myself, for when my book comes out.  So, it’s not like I was expecting to be making lots of money through blogging (and I haven’t!).  In fact, I’ve only ever had one person donate (thanks Chris!).

So, is it moral to request and accept donations?  Yes, especially where one is offering a value in exchange.

Is it moral to make altruistic donations?  No, a person should never trade a higher value for a lower one.

As one final thought, I’ve never thought of blogging as a “lifestyle choice” before. Personally, I think that’s kind of a weird way to think about it.  It was certainly a “choice,” but I’m not sure I’d consider it a “lifestyle.”