Saturday, July 28, 2007

Four Principles On Which To Base A Sexual Ethic?

A short while ago, Decrepit Old Fool laid out a few principles on which to base a sexual morality. I think they're pretty good principles and will paraphrase them here with a bit of elaboration:

1) Meaningful Consent. Sex should not occur without meaningful consent. A person can give meaningful consent only if they (a) mentally and emotionally mature enough to give consent, (b) in possession of their senses, and (c) significantly aware of, or informed about, the possible consequences of their actions.

2) Meaningful Honesty. Closely related to the above, partners should be frank and honest with each other about their expectations. For instance, if one partner expects sex to lead to a long term relationship, and abhors casual sex, then that partner needs to inform the other of his or her expectations.

3) Diversity. A sound sexual ethic must allow for diversity in sexual practices, relationships, and orientations. The notion that only my preferred sexual practices, chosen relationships, and sexual orientation are valid ones is simply untenable.

4) Autonomy. Those not affected don’t get to decide what's ethical. This principle does not rule out intervening to prevent abuse -- since the abuse the abuse of one person in the community affects others in the community -- but it certainly rules out such nonsense as telling people they cannot use birth control or must always use the missionary position.

What do you make of those four principles? Could a decent sexual ethic be based on them? Are other principles needed too?


Mahendra said...

1. Meaningful Consent: I agree completely.

2. Meaningful Honesty: I'm not sure I understand. Are you saying that both partners should communicate their expectations before having sex? That is ridiculous. No ethic or moral standard can demand that partners communicate about this before the sex. As long as rule #1 is satisfied, it's between the two individuals, period.

3. Not sure I understood. Why does an ethic need to say that diversity is allowed?

4. Didn't understand at all. Please explain...

amuirin said...

Sounds pretty good. #1 protects the livestock though, so you might get some flack from the red states.

decrepitoldfool said...

Thanks for the link, Paul - I updated with one that comes back.

The need for honesty in expectations should extend to one's self. Whether this is an ethical or health guideline (or of a distinction between the two can be drawn) is an open question. But I do wonder about someone who'd sleep with another person on the third date, then be grief-stricken when it turns out the other person was thinking "short-term". Then again, I never even kissed a girl on the first date and have been with MrsDoF for 26 years.

Why a requirement for diversity? Well good question but apparently a large portion of the religious population needs that one explained to them in very small words; "Move along, nothing to see here, it's none of your business what they're doing"

I guess the limits of autonomy occur when rule number 1 is violated. Such as, when one person is intoxicated, or a child is involved, etc.

Paul said...

Hi Mahendra!

I'm glad we agree on meaningful consent, but I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on meaningful honesty.

It seems to me the basis for this entire ethic is autonomy. That is, people are morally autonomous to the extent their actions do not interfere with the rights of others. If we make that assumption then such things as meaningful consent, meaningful honesty, and allowing diversity seem to naturally follow.


While I agree with the spirit of what is said, I think that some more qualifiers need to be added. decrpitoldfool has made some particularly good points in that regard.

The issue that I have is with the unqualified word 'meaningful'. Here's a short example that I think illustrates why I have a problem with that word as it stands. A person who has never had sex before doesn't have any real way of knowing what he or she is in for. Thus the meaningfulness of the consent is somewhat questionable.

I'd like to reiterate that I think what you said is worthwhile. I merely want to encourage some tightening up to make it clear how to work it for people who don't already follow said ethic.