Chapter Overviews

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In order to have a complete theory of the good life, we need to account for all aspects of a human life, one of the most important of which is sex.  Sex defines who we are to a large degree in our lives: from our orientation, to our desires, to the kinds of people we find attractive, etc.  If we wish to have a good life, we need a theory of ethics that takes our sexual aspects into account.  We need a reunion of sex and ethics: we need a new sexual ethic that accounts for what it is really like to be a person.

Part 1: Theory

Chapter 1: Sexual Ethics

Today, many of the most pressing social issues are related to sex: FGM, abortion, teen pregnancy, AIDS, sex education, prostitution, islamic “honor killings”, gay marriage, etc.  Yet, not only are we are lacking even a general framework from which to understand these things broad social problems, we also lack the framework to understand the way to incorporate sex into our own lives.  For example, if I’m a married man or woman and I sometimes think about others of the same sex men, am I gay?  What should I do about my spouse?  Or, something a little more common, is oral sex or anal sex moral?  In order to answer these questions, we need a system of sexual ethics.

Since we can die, and there are no second chances, we need principles of action if we are to live a good life.  In order to have the objectivity we need in our sexual ethics to help us achieve happiness, we must base it on an objective system of ethics that will be the same for all people.  We must also recognize that our insistence on living a good life means that we are concerned with our own interests: that we are selfish and that this is not a bad thing.

If we want the happiness we seek to be more than momentary, we must seek to understand what happiness is for a person over the course of his entire life.  Doing so, we shall discover that virtue is the means for helping us to achieve long-range happiness.  Furthermore, we shall discover that this happiness is more than a simple feeling, although it is partly an emotional response, but it is more fundamentally a way of living well.

Chapter 2: Emotions

Sex is intricately connected to emotions in a variety ways, but unfortunately emotions have historically been considered to be beyond the ability of our reason to penetrate.  In order to better understand the intricacies of sexuality, we shall first have to analyze emotions so that we have the framework from which to understand the inner workings of sexuality.  Luckily, we shall find that emotions are actually open to our analysis.

Emotions are actually responses to judgments: they are an automatic form of evaluation.  Although we cannot consciously control their operation, they rely upon our conscious judgments as their standards.  Thus, if I consciously come to accept a judgment as true, and I internalize this truth, my emotions will begin to use it as a standard.  This, consequently, gives us an avenue for analysis.  Not only can I ask what I am feeling, I can ask why I am feeling it and be able to find an underlying judgment.

This gives us the ability to both understand our emotions in a way entirely closed to us before and gives us the opportunity to structure our emotions so that they help contribute to our lives.  Our emotions, once they are properly understood, can become a very important avenue for us to build meaning in our lives and are vital if we are to understand love or sexual attraction.

Chapter 3: Relationships and Love

While there are many different kinds of relationships in life, Eros and Ethos focuses solely on two distinct kinds: friendship and love.  A good friend, someone who helps you to become a better person, is necessary in order to have a good life.  Through our friend, we can come to better understand ourselves and enjoy the kind of connection we can find only with someone we can truly trust.

Although friendship can help one attain a good life, it cannot rival the ability of a good lover to do so.  The level of intimacy and openness in a good romantic relationship gives it a unique advantage as lovers will be willing to change to improve themselves for each other and they will drive themselves to be the best they can be for each other.  A good romantic relationship is, of course, no easy achievement.  Yet, it is only on the basis of a good romantic relationship that we can hope to incorporate sex into our lives in the most life-affirming way possible.

Chapter 4: Sexual Attraction and Fantasy

Through our new understanding of emotions we will now be able to better understand sexual attraction, since sexual attraction operates as a response to prior value judgments (making it an emotion).  This will allow us to understand our sexual attraction in terms of our ideas and not simply as something that just strikes us from the ether.  Further, we will be able to analyze our attractions in terms of the judgments from which they come and gain a deeper understanding of why we are aroused by certain people and not by others.  This will also allow us to judge whether our attractions are consistent with our conscious ideas and whether our attractions are aiding or hindering us from achieving our goals.

Moreover, understanding sexual attraction will enable us to see the intimate connection between it and fantasy.  Indeed, fantasy has a much more important role in sexuality than is currently understood: without it, attraction would be bereft of much of its passion.  This is because fantasy creates for us an idealized object of attraction and this serves as the locus for the attraction.  Fantasy, however, is not limited to its role in attraction.  Fantasy allows us to simulate an experience in the safe confines of our mind, allowing us: to test whether we would be interested in a particular experience, to explore this experience’s possibilities, and to help us to relive past experiences.  Thus fantasy is critical for both understanding our sexual limits as well as serving as fuel for erotic encounters and masturbation.

Chapter 5: Sexual Identities

Our sexual orientation is more than just some kind of general description of us; it is a major component of how we understand ourselves.  Most of us define ourselves as either heterosexual or homosexual.  Further, we think of sexual identity as being polarized: you are either on one end or the other.  However, what about bisexuality, which would stand directly between the two poles?  In order to understand sexual identity, we shall have to give a careful analysis of each of the possible positions (heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual) as well as the ways in which sexual attraction is the same and different for each orientation.

A man feels masculine when he is being sexual with the object of his desire, whereas a woman feels feminine.  In order to deepen our understanding of sexual identity, we shall have to analyze the concepts of masculinity and femininity and the ways in which they are connected to sexual orientation and identity.  Through doing so, we shall find that the historic concepts of masculinity and femininity are narrow and rigid, designed to serve as a protection to the idea that any deviation from the “natural order” (of heterosexuality) is immoral.  Thus, we shall have to redefine them in such a way as to capture their actual experience and their role in sexual attraction.  In order to do so, we shall have to analyze how masculinity and femininity are actualized and we shall find that they actualize in different ways, depending on a person’s orientation.

This will once again raise questions about sexual orientation and the idea of a continuum of sexual orientation, like the Kinsey model.  However, in order to decide where someone goes on the scale, we’ll have to discuss whether a person’s orientation is a function of his desire or his action.  These are very different positions and our answer will influence not only how we think about sexual orientation, but also how we think of the idea of sexual fluidity, or flexible sexual identities, and whether these make sense.  Ultimately, we shall argue for an idea of natural bisexuality from our refined understanding of masculinity and femininity and how this operates in our new conception of sexual identity.

Chapter 6: Sexual Perfection

Human sexuality is different from sex for other mammals, who can only have sex during specific periods of heat and only for procreative purposes.  Humans, on the other hand, are capable of sexual pleasure at almost any time during their lives and capable of sexual intercourse at any time after puberty.  Sex for humans, being unrestricted to special breeding times, and with the advent of birth control, is freed from any biological necessity: today human sexuality has no necessary connection to reproduction.  Sex can be used for reproductive ends, but a couple could just as easily have sexual intercourse for the simple pleasure of it or because they want to enhance their connection to each other.  Indeed, sexual pleasure is as much of a intellectual, or psychological, pleasure as a physical pleasure: the same physical action may or may not be pleasurable depending on our judgment of the other involved and the context (e.g. sex with our lover and being raped can be the same action, but with fundamentally different experiences).  The intellectual pleasure of sex is primarily from unifying with our partner.

If two lovers are truly in love and have established a good relationship, then they will be open to each other and to the possibility of their union.  In sexual union, intercourse goes from being just intensely pleasurable to the experience of the totality of your values and goals as embodied by your love.  Sex becomes an act of unification: as you physically become one, you also spiritually open yourself to the importance of your lover and her irreplaceability.  By accepting your lover’s pivotal role in your life, and her status as constitutive of your happiness, you internalize her ends as your own, her goals as your goals, and her happiness as yours.  In this way you become one in spirit as well as body, you achieve complete unity with your lover.  In sexual union you meet your lover naked both in body and spirit: you open yourself up completely to your lover, without reservation, and offer to her the sum of your existence.

Sexual union is the primary impetus for sexual perfection: if one wants the best kind of lover, then one must become the best kind of person and worthy of the lover one hopes to attain.  This provides a drive for both of the lovers to continually push themselves for perfection in their lives: constant improvement becomes the leitmotif of the relationship.  This is pivotal to becoming the best kind of person for two reasons: this kind of relationship with an excellent lover is part of happiness and the drive to perfection that stems from it is unrivalled.  Sexual perfection is the key to becoming the best kind of person possible and the path to maintaining this high level of excellence.

Part 2: Applications

Chapter 7: Erotic Decadence

Sexuality is not necessarily life-affirming.  Indeed, any sexual act can be perverse: it can cause a decline in life.  This can come from conscious intent or implicit anti-life premises.  Perversion is not only symptomatic of unhealthy ideas about sexuality, but it also precludes healthy sexuality as far as it is actually practiced.

Fetishism is a kind of perversions that involves a strong fixation on certain rote actions, parts of the body, and/or artifacts.  The fetishist invests his object of obsession with special power and feels that this thing is then necessary for his sexual satisfaction.  Indeed, some fetishists become so attached to their object of obsession that they are completely unable to orgasm without it.  This can be a severe problem in a person’s life and generally indicates underlying psychological problems.

The most extreme form of perversion is sexual violence.  There are many forms of this, but one of the worst is undoubtedly rape.  Although it is commonly argued that rape is a crime of dominance and not a sexual crime per se, this argument makes little sense.  If the rapist simply wanted to dominate, then why involve sex at all?  Rape is perhaps the most perverse of all violent acts because it is a complete inversion of the proper role of sex.

Chapter 8: Faith, Mysticism, and Sex

Historically, Sexual Ethics as a field has been dominated by religion and has typically operated under the “procreative standard,” or the idea that sex is only moral if it is in a sanctioned social relationship (marriage) and for the purpose of reproduction.  While this standard might have been great for early tribes who wanted to increase their populations and guarantee paternity, they are no longer appropriate to us in an age of modern medicine, contraception, and equal rights for men and women.  The procreative standard is, of course, the underlying reason religionists advocate for both virginity and abstinence.  This combination prompts them to teach “abstinence only” instead of actually giving children real information about birth control, STI’s, or the mechanics of sex.  Instead, many abstinence only education programs lie about sex, which is ironic because children who are taught abstinence only education have much higher STI rates, are far more likely to have a baby at a younger age, and have a higher incidence of abortions.  In short, their anachronism leads religious people to advocate for the most spectacular failure of education imaginable, all in subservience to a hatred of sexuality.

Another factor contributing to the religious prohibition on sex for pleasure is their commitment to dualism, or a soul/body disjunction.  Dualism is the idea that we are actually intangible “souls” that are trapped inside physical bodies.  How this happens is a mystery even to the religious, but its unfortunate results are all too real.  If a person thinks that they are truly an intangible soul and that their soul is trapped away from the best place ever (heaven) because of a body, then they will come to hate their body.  They will come to see their body as base and low, their emotions and desires as distracting and corrupting, and they will begin to hate their prison of flesh.  The dualistic doctrine is the origin of hatred for the body and of the ideas of shame and disgust.  The alternative is to accept that we are human: that we have both a mind and a body and that these are intimately connected to each other, that we are fundamentally integrated beings.

As a consequence of their hatred of the body and of its great capacity for pleasure, religions have long advocated mutilating the body to conform to a non-human standard of beauty.  Both male and female genital mutilation (or circumcision) are testament to this fact.  Both MGM and FGM cause a reduction in pleasure, they have both been discredited as having health benefits, and they are both egregious aesthetic violations from a rational standard of beauty: that of a healthy and well functioning human body.  All forms of genital mutilation should be ended and it should be illegal to circumcise anyone who is not a full adult and capable of making the judgement of whether or not they want to mutilate themselves.  The practice of circumcising babies is both brutish and uncivilized and must be stopped.

Taboos are subjects that are a violation of a set of norms to speak of.  What constitutes a taboo is dependent on the set of norms in question: taboos vary by time period, culture, religion, philosophy, etc.  Typically, however, taboos are religious in origin and motivation.  The problem with taboos is that while it is true that there are things that it is immoral to do or unpleasant to think about, the answer is not to avoid all discussions of these subjects, but to engage in rational discourse on them in an attempt to reduce incidences of them.  Taboos are nothing more than an attempt to institute ignorance about a particular subject through prohibiting speech about it.

Chapter 9: Reproductive Issues

The debate about abortion has become a quagmire of static positions, on both sides, and has failed to address the real issues.  Indeed, in order to answer questions about abortion, we need to first understand what a person is, when a person becomes a person, what rights are, who has rights, and what it means if a woman is denied an abortion.  We also need to distinguish the morality of abortion from the legality of abortion, although the former always has an influence on the latter.  Ultimately, we will conclude that abortion must be a legal right if a woman is to be a full person.

In order to help reduce the number of abortions, both women and men must have easy access to birth control methods.  Birth control is the key for unlinking our sexuality from the chains of unwanted parenthood and preventing the spread of disease.  We need to remove the ineffective, misleading, and religiously motivated  “abstinence only” educational programs from schools and give kids the facts about sex: about diseases, different types of contraceptives, about how their bodies works, and even that sex feels good.  We should not scare children, but rather give them the facts to help them make informed decisions, since these decisions will affect the rest of their lives.

We also need to have new conversations about the choice to have sex and the responsibility for the consequences.  Somehow, the idea of responsibility for our actions has been lost in our culture and we desperately need to revive it if we are to keep progressing.  If a person makes the choice to engage in actions that can cause pregnancy, then they are obligated to deal with the consequences, whether through birth control, abortion, adoption, or raising a child.  If they choose to raise the child, then they have a responsibility to raise it to the best of their abilities.

Chapter 10: Sex for Sale

The morality of pornography is contingent upon one question: is it negatively impacting the person’s life?  There is nothing intrinsically immoral about pornography.  In fact, there are many benefits of pornography, the biggest of which is that pornography functions like external fantasy for us and can allow us to vicariously experience things we might otherwise never get to do, or perhaps never want to happen to us in real life.  Additionally, recent research shows that, contrary to the feminists’ assertions, availability of pornography actually serves to lower incidences of sexual violence.  As if that wasn’t enough, pornography improves satisfaction with masturbation and can help a couple to improve their sex life in a way that is safe.  It is ironic that those who purport to champion the cause of women attack something that, in reality, functions to make the lives of women, and men, better.

Strip clubs function much like pornography does, insofar as they function as a form of external fantasy.  The primary difference, of course, is that in strip clubs the people are live.  In strip clubs, a person is focused on how attractive the other person is and indulges in the fantasy that the interest the performer shows in them is authentic and not merely mercenary; the draw is that one is able to interact with fantasy.  The other draw is that one is able to see nude people live.  Sexual shame is very prevalent in our culture and we keep our bodies hidden even in cases where it would be better not to.  Consequently, the nude body gains a whole new level of excitement, as not only is the body sexual, but it’s also forbidden.  Obviously, the other major draw is the ability to participate in generally low-level sex acts with attractive strangers, such as having them strip for you, having them rub their bodies against you, or even having a full out lap dance.  Nevertheless, while stripping may perhaps be considered to be a weak kind of prostitution, there are very important distinctions between the two groups.

One of the most challenging questions regarding prostitution is about what, exactly, it is.  Obviously, it is when one person accepts money for sexual acts.  The problem is that many people say that this is “selling oneself,” since sex is such a fundamental piece of our identities.  This position only makes sense if all labor is selling oneself, since there are clear parallels with all labor; in fact, the only difference is sex and even I wouldn’t say that our sexuality is all of who we are.  Prostitution is, thus, just selling a service.  But, what are the ethical implications of this?  We will have to draw careful distinctions, but ultimately we will show that engaging in prostitution can be moral as long as one takes certain precautions and as long as certain conditions are met.  However, even the prostitutes who are engaging in prostitution should have a legal right to do so, if we are to have the right to our own bodies and sexuality.  Ultimately, even if we don’t like it, if we are to be sexually free and have a right to our own bodies, prostitution must be legal.

Chapter 11: Children and Sexuality

Something that makes us really uncomfortable in our culture is the fact that all humans are sexual animals, even children.  Indeed, our bodies are sexed from the moment of our birth and remain so until we die.  Many of us are completely unable to handle the fact that young children and elderly adults are sexual.  This is most pronounced in the case of children, where some of us like to wish that they wouldn’t have a sexual thought before they were 18.  The problem is that children are born sexual and if we don’t teach them about their bodies and about sexuality, then we leave them to try and discover this information for themselves, often through the painful process of trial and error.  The fact is that we cannot protect children through condemning them to ignorance, but only by giving them the knowledge they need to make good decisions.

For some time now an important distinction has been neglected that actually serves to clarify issues of adults interacting with those under the age of consent.  The distinction is between pedophilia and ephebophilia.  Pedophilia is a term used to describe an adult who sexually desires a pre-pubescent child.  Ephebophilia is a term used to describe an adult who sexually desires a post-pubescent young adult, who is still below the legal age of consent.  The distinction here is major: a pedophile desires children who are not sexually mature, whereas an ephebophile desires sexually mature young adults.  Of course, the fundamental issue is whether these underage people can provide real consent to sexual action, but it seems clear that there is a radical difference between a pedophile and an ephebophile and to lump these two things together is gross intellectual dishonesty.

One taboo that is very prevalent among many cultures and times is that of incest.  Incest is, of course, sexual activity between members of a family.  Usually incest is discussed in terms of inter-generational sexual activity (between a child and an older adult, like a parent, aunt, uncle, or grandparent), but can also happen intra-generationally between siblings or cousins.  The problems with incest are manifold: increased risk of retardation among progeny, a perversion of familial love into sexual love, a violation of familial roles and possibly parental responsibility, potential lack of ability to consent, etc.  Although incest shouldn’t be taboo, it is morally problematic in most cases and a social censure against it is perhaps a good thing.  However, an exception must be made for intra-generational incest when the participants are young: there is nothing wrong with engaging in explorative sex play and children should not have their earliest experiences of sexuality be those of shame and disgust.

Chapter 12: Orientation and Identity

Although we analyzed homosexuality in chapter five and found if to be a completely natural sexual orientation, we now need to address some of the arguments against it.  Indeed, the arguments against homosexuality are generally of one of two kinds.  The first is that homosexuality is immoral because it is a violation of the procreative standard, which god has decreed.  This argument has force only with the superstitious and cannot be taken seriously by any rational person.  The second is that homosexuality is unnatural, because it is not found among other animals and does not lead to offspring.  This argument obviously tries to smuggle in the first argument as well as making the demonstrably false claim that homosexuality is not found in nature: it is.  All of the arguments showing that homosexuality is immoral are easy to refute and in this section we shall take on the strongest of them and show how they fall short.

Bisexuality has many of the same objections against it as does homosexuality, but since we addressed them in the last section, we will not address them here.  Instead, we will further elaborate on our thesis that bisexuality is the most natural of the sexual orientations, because it does not require a person to attempt to force their desire to conform to a narrow conception of orientation.  Indeed, bisexuality allows a person to have the fullest experience of his or her sexuality possible: it does not impose limits on what sex a person should desire.  Freed of cultural impositions, people would be naturally bisexual and would be attracted to well-developed people of either sex who shared their values and with whom they could be themselves and reach their highest potential.  It is strange, then, that bisexuals should be so universally condemned by both heterosexuals, for being too homosexual, and by homosexuals, for being a “transition state.”  We shall analyze this problem from both the perspective of heterosexuals and homosexuals and see if we can’t understand the near universal aversion to bisexuals.

We’ll conclude this chapter by looking at the related phenomena of Transvestism and transsexualism.  In transvestism, a person assumes the traditional clothing of the other sex in order to appear and/or feel, at least somewhat, like a person of the other sex.  In transsexualism, a person tries to get their body to become the other sex, because they feel as though they are actually of that sex and want their body to match the way they feel on the inside.  In both transvestism and transsexualism, a person wants to be, at least to some degree, of the other sex than the one they actually are. In this chapter we will identify some of the causes of these and their moral implications.

Chapter 13: Relationship Issues

Building on our discussion of marriage from chapter three, we will look at the issue of same-sex marriage and whether it will have the kinds of negative effects that its opponents claim it will on other-sexed marriages.  Indeed, it’s easy to see that allowing same sex couples to marry will change the idea of marriage, but it’s hard to see that this change will be for the worse.  Indeed, it even seems that same-sex couples should have a legal right to marry, since marriage as a political institution is primarily about state recognition of a relationship and of a couple’s desire to be able to act as one for economic and political reasons.  If same-sex couples are not given this legal right, then it means that they, as persons and citizens, are being deprived of their rights.  This could only be because some people think that homosexuality is immoral, but we have already dispelled these arguments and it’s certainly not clear that the government should be legislating morality.  This is especially true for christian morality, since our government has an explicit wall separating religion and government.

Swinging, much like same-sex marriage, raises questions about the proper nature of relationships.  Swinging is an activity primarily engaged in by people in heterosexual marriages where they maintain a core relationship, but allow sexual activity with other people.  The couple usually engages this outside sexual activity jointly, with other couples or with select single people.  Frequently swingers will form communities in their towns and there will often be clubs at which they meet.  Swinging is generally engaged in as a solution to a waning sex life or by couples where one or both of the partners are unable to be completely sexually satisfied by monogamy.  The morality of swinging is dependent on the reasons that a couple has to engage in it: it can be moral as long as both partners are completely open and honest about why they desire to do it, if they maintain clear communication and respect their partner’s boundaries, and if they do not devalue sex through swinging.  Swinging can also be done immorally, if there is deception between the partners, or if they begin to treat sex too lightly, or if they are not safe and do not practice safe sex with the other couples with whom they swing.  The fact is that the people in them must define relationships, if they are to work, and for some people swinging might be an optimal solution.

Open relationships and polyamory, on the other hand, are relationships where partners form a primary relationship and then are free to have sex and/or relationships with other people besides their partner, with or without them, with the only stipulation that the primary partner be kept informed.  Open relationships are just that: open to having sex or other relationships outside the primary one.  While I don’t see a particular problem with opening a relationship for sex, like swinging, opening it emotionally seems to be entirely different.  Instead of desiring sex that would be done jointly with one’s partner, and in a way that does not detract from the primary relationship, open relationship desire multiple relationships and multiple partners.  This necessitates that each partner will receive less than a person’s full attention, because there is only so much time in a day and so much energy that a person has to devote to relationships.  This is not to say that one cannot love more than one person at once, clearly a person can.  However, in the case of romantic relationships, which require a deep sense of intimacy and of a shared identity, it’s clear that open relationship require a person to have multiple diluted relationships.  I will argue that the desire for open relationships reveals a fear of commitment and of a fundamental insecurity that prevents a person from truly revealing himself to his partner.

Having made the case against open relationships, I should specify that I think it might be possible for some people to successfully have a polyandrous or polygynous relationship, if both of the people in the primary relationship commit themselves to a third person equally, such they all three spent time together and therefore there would be not dilution of affection through lack of time.  Although I think the couple for whom this kind of relationship might work is rare, I think it’s much more reasonable than an “open relationship.”  Regardless of whether non-traditional and non-monogamous relationships are moral for the people involved in them, they should still be legal and a person should have the right to engage in these kinds of relationships as long as they are freely consented to.

One final major issue related to relationships is that of promiscuity.  Promiscuity is generally considered to be when a person has sex with too many people.  However, the sheer number of sexual partners a person has doesn’t really seem to be the actual problem.  Rather, it seems like it is the quality of the sex that one is having is the problem or the fact that one is engaging in sex divorced from values and emotions.  This is contemptible because it involves a fundamental inauthenticity as a person cannot actually sever sex from values and emotions, and so in order to engage in casual sex, they must attempt to stifle their emotional responses and act as though they were simply a body with no mind.  Of course, the ironic part of truly casual sex is that the reason people desire it is because if they do not actually know anything about a person, they can project their ideal onto them.  This projection of an ideal involves projecting values and traits onto the other person that one desires: it is self-deceptively returning values and emotions to the sex through treating the other person as a blank canvas and not as a real person.  Through this a person is able to have a sexual response to the person, and possibly even a stronger one than they would normally experience, since they are responding to their “ideal partner.”  Promiscuity is immoral because it involves a fundamental self-deception, an attempt to divorce one’s mind from one’s body, and because it is a devaluation of sex.

Chapter 14: Kink

Although term “sodomy” today is usually only identified with anal sex, historically it has meant both anal and oral sex.  Sodomy is, of course, a reference to Genesis and of the moral perversions practiced there (in christian mythology, the transgression is actually homosexual rape, see Gen. 19:5).  Nevertheless, both oral and anal sex stand outside of the procreative standard and are often considered aberrant sex acts.  However, the arguments against these acts rest solely on misused teleological arguments about the function of the genitals.  The argument is that the function of the penis and vagina is for reproduction and so to use them in any other way is against their function and their nature.  However, this argument is nonsensical.  As any man can tell you, the penis has at least two functions: a sexual function and an excretory function.  It turns out that men urinate from their penises.  This glaring oversight casts doubts on the procreative standard’s instance on the proper function argument and shows that there are lots of functions of our genitals.  This means that pleasure could be one of those proper functions and that there is nothing wrong with oral sex.  The same argument applies to the anus, where it is argued that it’s function is only excretory, but it’s clear that it can also function for pleasure.

Anal sex isn’t limited to men penetrating women, it can also be done to a man through the use of a dildo by a woman.  We call female-on-male strap-on sex “pegging,” a term coined by author and sex-advice columnist Dan Savage.  Through anal play, a man can come to learn more about how his orgasm functions.  Indeed, although the penis is the focus of the male orgasm, it is the prostate that is the seat of a man’s orgasm.  Through pegging, a man can experience direct prostate stimulation.  Pegging can also be used to test sex roles and help a person to gain a fuller understanding of their own sexuality, although it does not have to be used this way.  It is important to understand that pegging does not mean a man is homosexual; indeed, since pegging necessarily involves a female, it clearly doesn’t mean this.  Nonetheless, although many men will have to get over a number of fears before they will try pegging, the knowledge gained about one’s sexuality and about one’s body are well worth it and make pegging an extremely valuable activity.

Fisting is another activity that is considered to be “kinky,” mostly because it is so poorly understood.  Contrary to the name, fisting is rarely done by making a fist and sticking it into a person’s orifice.  Rather, one has to slowly work up to fisting, usually over a period of time.  People who like to pursue extreme pleasure enjoy fisting: people who like to stretch the bounds of their endurance and play along the line between pleasure and pain.  Some people are apprehensive about fisting, due to fears that they will be permanently stretched out and become loose.  However, whether the fisting is done vaginally or anally, becoming stretched out can easily be avoided simply by exercising one’s muscles.  For those who question why one would even want to engage in fisting in the first place, anyone who has ever done so can tell you that the orgasms from fisting are some of the most intense orgasms possible.

The field of BDSM is wide and encompasses many different types of sexual activity, such as bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism.  What unites all of these disparate things in common is that they all operate through power exchange or power play.  Power play is the giving up of control by one partner to the other.  This can be done many ways, such as allowing oneself to be restrained (bondage), feigning to be “naughty” so that one has to be punished (discipline), explicitly giving one’s partner power (submission) so that they can do what they will (dominance), or allowing one’s partner to use erotic pain for your own enjoyment (masochism) as well as for their own (sadism).  In this chapter, we will explore all of these subjects in detail and why anyone would want to engage in these kinds of activities.

Chapter 15: Public and Private

Although technically the issue of public nudity and the related issue of nude beaches does not belong in a book on sexual ethics, since they are not sexual, we must address them due to the culturally prevalent idea that all nudity is sexual.  Although the idea is patently absurd, it’s effects are far reaching, such as the banning in many places of women breastfeeding, since there will be an exposed breast, or of nude beaches, even when there is no sexual activity going on.  The fact is that we are human and our bodies are natural: it is natural for a woman to breastfeed and it is natural to swim naked.  To insist otherwise is to have a fundamental shame for being human and disgust at the human body, which is, as we have already seen, a function of religion.  While there is great value in keeping our bodies private and only showing them to our sex partners, in certain contexts, such as swimming, athletics, and breastfeeding, the value gained from being in our natural state far outweighs remaining clothed.

Of course, the issue of exhibitionism and voyeurism is different: these are sexual issues.  Exhibitionism is the desire to display one’s nude body for others to admire.  The morality of exhibitionism depends on a number of factors, the most important of which is a person’s intentions.  If a person is fundamentally second-handed and is attempting to use exhibitionism to gain a false sense of self-esteem, then it is immoral.  If a person judges their body to be beautiful and wants to share it with others, or even gain validation of their judgment from others, then it is moral.  The major issue is whether a person is acting on his own judgment or attempting to substitute the judgment of others.  There are, of course, other important issues like: is the person to whom you are exposing yourself a willing participant? or are you being dishonest with a partner?  Provided that a person can meet a couple of minimal requirements, there is nothing wrong with the desire to be seen and sexually desired.

The conditions for voyeurism are similar to exhibitionism.  Voyeurism is, of course, the desire to see another person naked and/or engaged in sex acts.  The primary moral question, much like in exhibitionism, regards the fundamental reason that a person wants to watch another naked and/or engaged in sex acts.  If it is because a person wants to watch someone else is in order to gain a sense of self-esteem by being chosen by the other person as being worthy of seeing them naked, then it is wrong.  But if a person is secure in himself and has authentic self-esteem, then there is nothing wrong with voyeurism.  Beyond the fundamental motivation, there are two other very important considerations: first, that the other person must consent to being watched and second, that there is no dishonesty involved.  Just as with exhibitionism, the morality of the action depends on the intent and the execution.

Chapter 16: Obscenity and Legal Issues

Historically, obscenity has presented a challenging case for law as the concept has never been well defined, leading to contradictory rulings and arbitrary standards.  This presents radical problems for law, since “obscenity” is generally defined by “community standards,” so if your community says it is obscene, then it is obscene and what is obscene in one place, may or may not be obscene in another.  In order to begin to unravel this quagmire, we need to start by defining obscenity and drawing distinctions between it and related phenomena.  Obscenity is something that is offensive by commonly accepted standards of morality.  The problem is: which system of morality?  I agree with Bertrand Russell that the very idea of obscenity presupposes that all things sexual are bad and dangerous and so must be suppressed, and that therefore the very concept of obscenity does not belong in law and should be eradicated.

The push to make sexual materials illegal by declaring them “obscene” is partly a function of evangelical forms of christianity, but also due in large part to the idea that a person has a right “not to be offended.”  This pernicious idea reduces to the proposition that it is okay to silence another person, to destroy their freedom of speech, so that a person doesn’t have to hear ideas that might offend them.  The fact is that freedom necessitates that some people will be offended at least sometimes.  However, if we value freedom, including freedom of speech, we must accept this as inevitable and, indeed, even embrace it as the price of admission to a free and civilized society.

The problem of the age of consent is quite complicated and there are many questions involved, for example: should age of consent be set at a national level or at a local level?  How should this be enforced?  Should there be exceptions for partners in close proximity in age?  It seems rather absurd to call consensual sex “statutory rape” when the two partners are only one month apart in age, but one has just had their 18th birthday and so is therefore an “adult” while the other is still a “child” for another 29 days.  It seems to me that for the sake of consistency, the age of consent must be set at the federal level, so that what is legal in one state will also be legal in another, and the law should be enforced with discretion on the part of the prosecutors and judges, taking into account the principle of harm: was the child harmed by the sex act or was it completely consensual and healthy?  It must be acknowledged that where there are large imbalances of age or of relative power, that the ability of the child to consent is reduced and that they might sometimes be mistaken about the effect of their own actions.  While this might amount to some exception for ephebophilia, there should be absolutely no exception for pedophilia and it should be prosecuted rigorously with severe penalty.

One last major legal issue that we must deal with is the issue of the right to privacy.  The right of Autonomy, the right of a person to conduct his life however he sees fit as long as he does not violate the rights of others, is a fundamental right stemming from our right to our own lives.  In order to be truly free, a man must have the right to privacy of action for those actions that do not violate the rights of others: the man who is forced into the public eye against his will is not living a free life.  Consequently, there should be strict laws restricting how and when the government can monitor its citizens, only in the case that they are actually violating laws or there is clear evidence that they present an immediate danger to others, as well as laws restricting the ability of private citizens or corporations to invade the privacy of individuals.  Privacy is also necessary for sexual self-determination: our sex life is private and should remain so unless we choose to share it with another.  The right to privacy demands that any sexual act that does not violate the rights of others, no matter how odious someone might find it or how offended they might be by such action, should be beyond the purview of the government, this includes birth control, anal sex, sex toys, prostitution, etc., all of which have either been illegal or are still illegal in different states.

Conclusion: The Path to Happiness

Through the reintegration of sex into our ethics, we now have the knowledge we need in order to achieve happiness in our own lives.  We can use these principles to not only improve the state of sexuality in the world, but also to improve our own happiness.  After all, to paraphrase Ayn Rand, our happiness is our highest moral purpose in life.